Posted in Christian Living, Christianity, Faith

This Road to Love

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By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.

In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.

The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1: 3-8 NLT)

I have read these words from 2 Peter on many occasions, but they never cease to strike me as a clear roadmap to the kind of life that truly reflects a belief in Christ.  Still, no matter how clear this roadmap is, it also involves steps that we can only survive if we take them knowing we need God every step of the way.

So, let’s begin by spelling out the steps on the road to “love for everyone” that should be the end goal of every Christian.  As Peter makes clear, each step on the path to love leads to the next, as skills build upon skills to reach the greatest skill of all.  Here, then,  is the list of these skills:

  • Faith
  • Moral Excellence
  • Knowledge
  • Self-Control
  • Patient Endurance
  • Godliness
  • Brotherly Affection
  • Love for everyone

I just completed a trip to Disney World that proved my secret plan to spend the last decade or so of my life as a missionary in some country where my paltry retirement might actually keep me just above poverty level went up in smoke about as quickly as you can sing the Mickey Mouse Club theme.  Besides having no physical stamina, I ran out of patient endurance after the first three hours in an overcrowded theme park.  Self-control drifted skyward as I sighted the first Mickey sandwich ice cream trolley.  The only love I had for everyone was the kind where I would have loved for no one else to be in the park!

So, how do we achieve the seemingly unachievable?  Peter tells us we are able because of God’s promises to us: These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires (2 Peter 1:4).  Becoming a Christian is as easy as admitting to God that you are a sinner who needs redeemed.  Becoming Christ-like is a daily, conscious practice of making one’s Christianity not a mantle to be put on and off, but the very act of being.

Because of faith, I seek moral excellence.  I want to say only what is uplifting and/or holy.  I strive to do what is right always.  As I grow in my ability to be right more than I am wrong, I gain a kind of knowledge that can’t be found in a book, the knowledge of ways to act in belief and the knowledge of the superior path of righteousness over worldliness.  As we realize that doing right feels better than doing wrong, we increase our ability to control the self.  When we can control ourselves so that we do not give in to the human desires that lead us further from the ways of God, we are more likely to actively be patient with our circumstances and with others.

A Godly person reflects the daily practice of sowing seeds of righteousness in good soil.  When we join like-minded people in our enthusiasm for living a Godly life, we approach the brotherly affection to which Peter refers.  Our brothers include all those who believe in Christ like we do (including, of course, our sisters as well).

When we can love those who think as we think (which is the easiest way to love), we may just be ready to step out in faith to love even those who do not believe what we believe.  Loving everyone else means turning the other cheek, as Christ instructs.  The Golden Rule is Golden because, not only does it make this world more bearable, it stores up for us the treasures in heaven that Jesus says are our end goal instead of the treasures on this earth where moth and rust can and will destroy.

Like the Fruit of the Spirit of Galatians 5:22, the steps to love of everyone in 2 Peter is your roadmap to a healthier relationship with Jesus, our Lord.  Remembering that our relationship with God must be on the right track for our relationship with other people to have a chance of growing is especially important.

As we enter the busiest time of our holiday season, I hope to bring to mind the lessons of 2 Peter as I wrangle through the increased traffic and crowds.  I will begin by remembering why we have this holiday in the first place: because our loving Creator chose to sacrifice a piece of Himself for the sins of all of us so that we all have the opportunity to grasp with both hands the promise of eternal life.

Now, that’s a road to love that I will gladly travel.  I look forward to seeing you on the journey.

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Posted in Christian Living, Christianity

Our Weapon in Secret: Practical Steps to Shine His Light

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  Matthew 6:6

Child Praying

Do you remember the first time you tried to ride a “grown up” bike–no training wheels, just you and two wobbly tires and the hope that when your parent let loose of the seat, you wouldn’t smash immediately into the ground?  Or what about the first time you slipped behind the steering wheel of a real car, with your parents’ permission or not.  If you were smart, you knew just enough to be a little bit afraid of the almost 2,000 pounds of machinery you had in the palms of your hands.

There is almost nothing besides breathing that we humans do not do without first having some help figuring out how to do that something well.  Even though Paul explains to us that “. . . the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26), we can learn much about how to pray, not only from the Bible, but also from each other:

“Let us never forget to pray. God lives. He is near. He is real. He is not only aware of us but cares for us. He is our Father. He is accessible to all who will seek Him.”
― Gordon B. Hinckley, Standing for Something: 10 Neglected Virtues That Will Heal Our Hearts and Homes

“Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one”
― Bruce Lee

“Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.”
― Mother Teresa

“I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”
― Abraham Lincoln

“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”
― Meister Eckhart

“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
― St. Francis of Assisi

But, lessons on prayer don’t have to be from someone “famous.”  Each church meeting is a chance to listen to others pray and learn from them.  If you listen closely, you will often hear phrases from the Bible and hymns, humble requests in full recognition of God’s will, a truthfulness about ourselves and our relationships with others that is sometimes so raw as to be almost painful.  You will also hear the calm serenity of true peace that comes with the acceptance of that will.

The Bible, of course, is full of examples of prayers and advice about praying:

Philippians 4:6-7

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing. in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Psalm 50:15

And call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me.

James 5:13-15

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him
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And sometimes, lessons on prayer can come when you least expect them, like sitting on the floor of your office putting together a new chair and having your father-in-law ask you point-blank how you pray.  Luckily, after you stumble through your answer, he gives you three really useful pointers for your prayers that go something like this:

  1. Begin by picturing yourself in the long, flowing robe you have been walking around in all day.  The robe was clean when you put it on, but now it is dusty, dirty brown from the sandy path you have been walking.  Pray for God to wash away the grime in the name of Christ; watch the ugliness of sin melt away from your robe until it is beautifully, glaringly white.  You are in a peaceful meadow, washed clean, and ready to enter the perfect Presence of the One and Only.  Take a moment to be thankful of this opportunity to communicate with the Maker of Heaven and Earth, an opportunity purchased for you through Christ’s blood.
  2. Now that you are fully in the presence of God, you can ask to have a heart like Christ’s so that you might fulfill the commandment which encompasses all the others:   “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).  A heart like Christ’s will embrace compassion, seek God always, see through eyes of love.
  3. Finally, you can pray for the wisdom of Christ, so that you might know the true will of God and do it.  Wisdom knows the Bible in its totality and doesn’t decide right and wrong based on what “feels right.”  Wisdom is self-aware of one’s own frailties and failings.  Wisdom is slow to anger and knows that judgment is that work of God and not of man.

When you have prepared your mind in this way as you pray, you will find that your heart and brain are working together to really pray to God with your whole self.  You are more focused on thinking about the needs of others as well as yourself.  Most importantly, you are fully aware of the privilege of standing before the throne of God.

I Will Shine His Light this week by practicing my prayers.  Knowing that, like any good thing worth doing, prayer too takes practice, I will rejoice in my opportunities to approach the Father.  I will be glad that even if my prayers are only groanings, I can be confident that God understands me anyway.

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity

Mastering Observation: Practical Steps to Shine His Light

Practical Steps to Shining the Light of Christ, Part II

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September is National Yoga Month. That doesn’t have much to do with shining the light of Christ, except I’d like to borrow a concept from yoga to apply as a practical step in following Christ. Indulge me a bit here, please. Stick with me until the end and see if you agree or disagree with my idea.

One of the fundamental skills that makes yoga a success is one’s ability to focus, and I don’t mean focusing on some goal like winning the lottery or making all your dreams come true. What I am talking about is focusing on your own body, going inward with your thoughts to really feel what is going on inside your body.

By connecting the mind with the body in this way, in theory, you ultimately reach the kind of centeredness that allows you to stand on one leg for an hour or feel like your strongest, most peaceful self. When you are centered in this way, you are not affected by the things that happen around you. A rainy day doesn’t make you sad. Your decisions and your actions are not easily swayed like the wind.

To achieve this focus, yoga beginners first have to understand the difference in observing ourselves between watching and judging. All the while you are in a difficult pose, or even a relaxed, breathing posture, you are supposed to be paying attention to what you are feeling in your body. This can be hard to do at first. Most of the time, your mind wanders to what you didn’t finish on your to-do list for the day or what you plan to eat after workout.

As you improve in your skills at looking inward, the next difference between watching and judging becomes even more important. You may observe that your left leg feels tight. If you are watching, you breathe through the pain of the tight leg. You accept the tightness. You understand that, if you continue to practice your stretching and breathing, the tightness will eventually go away. Your mind stays inside your body. It stays focused.

If, instead of watching your left leg pain, you begin to judge it, you have a different outcome. As soon as thoughts like, my leg is always going to hurt, or I’ll never be able to do this enter your mind, you are no longer inside your body. Your focus has scattered and in a negative way that will not help you achieve your goals of a healthier body.

Just like a yoga master, a practical doer of God’s word has to master the art of observation: watching instead of judging. Watching means paying attention to our thoughts, words and actions. When we note that these do not align themselves with the word of God, we should immediately shift our efforts into getting back on the right path.

Jumping right into judging ourselves, and most often others, instead of watching is a sure way to get us focused on the wrong thing. In fact, I would venture to say judging is exactly what the devil would like to keep us busy doing.

But, judging is NOT in our job description. God tells us He is the judge. Christ tells us to worry about the log in our own eye before worrying about the speck in someone else’s eye. When the town wants to stone a woman to death, Christ challenges the crowd that if anyone there can look inside and see no sin, then let him cast the first stone.

At the same time, Christ holds us up to the Gold Standard. He promises His yoke is light, which means He is prepared to help us stay on the narrow path. When He tells the woman whom no one stones that He will also not judge her, He also tells her to “leave your life of sin” (John Chs. 7-8). It isn’t enough for the woman to acknowledge her sin. True repentance comes with her leaning on God to turn from the life of sin she had been leading.

So, not judging doesn’t mean not doing what is right in the eyes of God. And, the only way to really know what God says is right and wrong is to study His word. Some people like to think that they can go by how actions make them feel. “God wouldn’t want me to be unhappy,” they say. But God’s definition of happiness is not restricted by the vagaries of the human heart, “the great deceiver” (Jeremiah 17:9). God’s happiness includes what is ultimately the best thing for our spiritual life, which is the most important thing.

When we take it upon ourselves to judge our sin instead of observing it, we take away the strength we need to fight the nature of our flesh. Think about it: what do we gain by telling ourselves we don’t deserve to be loved by God because we have done something bad? Wouldn’t it be more productive, as an observer, to tell God, I acknowledge my sin. I need your help to do better the next time?

God knows we are going to stumble. That’s why He came to the world as a man and died for our sins to save us from our own weaknesses. He loves us enough to give us the freedom to choose Him. He loves us enough to forgive us. All we have to do is ask.

Spiritual watchers acknowledge their stumbles, repent, and continue trying to do better. Like becoming a Kung Fu master, growing as a Christian is a life-long practice that takes commitment, patience, and love.

Observation leads to improving your Holy Spirit muscle, just like watching your body in exercise instead of judging leads to improved muscles and health in the body because observing your spiritual life instead of judging it helps you stay inside yourself, where the Holy Spirit dwells and is waiting to help you back into the Light.

My shine-the-light practice for this week: I will work on improving my spiritual focus by practicing watching my spiritual walk this week instead of judging it.