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Book - Walk On Water

Tolerance

Before there were kings that ruled nations, there were judges. The judges’ job was to instruct and encourage the Israelites to serve God as their king, but some judges were not very good at their job. Over and over we read “the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.”1  The Israelites finally concluded that their sin was a result of poor leadership and decided the system needed to change. Finally, in obstinate rebellion they refused to follow any authority, and “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”2

It sounds very modern, doesn’t it? It is the definition of tolerance—everyone doing whatever is “right in his own eyes.” Believing that everyone should figure out for themselves how to live. Encouraging everyone to make up his/her own set of rules and follow his/her own desires. Assuming that everyone knows inherently the best path he/she should take. The end result, therefore, is that as people decide who they want to be and how they should live, we should all be tolerant.

But tolerance is foolish and deceitful—not my words but the apostle Paul’s. He warns believers about “false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ,”3 who were preaching “a Jesus other than the Jesus”4 Paul was preaching. And then he says to these false preachers, “You gladly put up with (tolerate) fools since you are so wise! In fact, you even put up with (tolerate) anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or puts on airs or slaps you in the face.”5  Seriously, how “wise” is that? And please remember, Paul is talking about preachers! Preachers who are misleading believers to be tolerant.

Paul’s response? He mockingly retorts, “To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!”6  In other words, Paul and his colleagues were not “wise” enough or strong enough to tolerate that kind of behavior. He tells them that since they were listening to and tolerating fools, he would like to join in: “Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting.”7

And then he proceeds to boast! Which actually, doesn’t sound very Christ-like, does it? But in comparison with those who “masquerade as servants of righteousness,”8 Paul’s resumé was quite impressive. Of course, Paul does not lean on his accomplishments as something to be admired. He, in fact, tells the church at Philippi: “I consider them garbage.”9

But that’s not the point of his message to the Corinthians. His point? Believing in a different gospel, a gospel that “puts up with fools” who tolerate anything and every lifestyle, leads to “discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.”10 And then he adds that some may even indulge in “impurity, sexual sin and debauchery”11 (extreme indulgence in immoral behavior). The gospel of tolerance is deceitful. It appears to be kind and compassionate, and it is often argued that tolerant people are more “Christian” than Christians. But in reality, it is a destructive force—especially amongst believers who will likely “be led astray from [a] sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”12

So, what should our response be to this deceitful gospel? Should we demand that our beliefs be tolerated as well? Ironically, no. Paul concludes that as others boast about their ability to tolerate all beliefs, he will “boast all the more gladly about [his] weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on [him.]”13  He, in fact, tells us to “delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.”14  Why? Because that is how Christ makes us strong.

So, should we tolerate the tolerant? It’s a tricky thing. Paul tells those who are listening to the false teachers: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?”15  Sadly, some people (including churchgoers and preachers) mistakenly believe they are believers! They do not know Christ at all, even though they appear to be good and tolerant people.

Our response, then, is to encourage tolerant people to examine themselves, to help them see the truth about Christ—not to point out their failures. Here is our specific responsibility: “We pray to God that you will not do anything wrong—not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right.”16 And then Paul ends by saying that “the authority the Lord gave me [is] for building you up, not for tearing you down.”17

Our response, then, is to build up the body of Christ, to be an example of Christ’s love, and to “strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.”18 To do anything else would be intolerable.

1Judges 10:6   2Judges 21:25   32 Corinthians 11:13   42 Corinthians 11:4   52 Corinthians 11:19-20   62 Corinthians 11:21   72 Corinthians 11:16   82 Corinthians 11:15   9Philippians 3:8   102 Corinthians 12:20   132 Corinthians 12:9   142 Corinthians 12:10   152 Corinthians 13:5   162 Corinthians 13:7   172 Corinthians 13:10   182 Corinthians 13:11

Lifeboats

     If God is sovereign, why do people suffer? If God is good, why are there storms? Luke tells a great story that answers those questions. It’s his story—one that he experienced when he was accompanying Paul, who was a prisoner on his way to Rome. They were on board a ship sailing on the Adriatic Sea, when “a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land.”1  It was so violent that the sailors were instructed to throw cargo and the ship’s tackle overboard to lighten the load. But even after that, Luke writes “when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.”2 When they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up and shared with them this message: “Take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.”3 He told them he had been visited by an angel of God who promised him that he must arrive safely in order to stand before Caesar, and, therefore, all who traveled with him would arrive safely as well.

     The storm continued for fourteen days though. And some men, afraid for their lives, lowered a lifeboat to try to save themselves. But Paul discovered their mission and reported to the centurion, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.”4 So, the other sailors cut the ropes of the lifeboat and let it float away.

     But wait a minute! What would it matter if these guys got in the lifeboat? God had already promised Paul that no life would be lost. Now he says that unless the guys got back on the ship, the centurion (and the rest of the crew) would die. If God is sovereign and he promised no one would die, what difference would it make what the sailors chose to do? Is God sovereign (have all authority) or not?

    The answer is yes, God is sovereign, and yes, it makes a difference what people do. God’s will will be done. What he wants to happen happens. So . . . that means it does not matter what we do because nothing can stop God from doing what God wants to do, right? Wrong. We have the choice of being in God’s will or not being in God’s will. If we want what God wants, God’s will reigns in our lives. If we do not want what God wants, our will reigns in our lives. Our sovereign God gives us the option.

     The sailors trying to escape in the lifeboat did not trust that God would be faithful. God, in fact, appeared to be absent to them in the midst of the storm. Therefore, they stepped out of God’s will. And almost caused the death of everyone. God loves all people and wants us to trust him with our lives. Those who trust him are saved. Those who don’t, perish. So, what we do impacts God’s will for our lives. God is still in charge, but he will not force his will upon us. That’s partly why there is so much suffering in the world—so many people are out of God’s will, not doing what they were created to do.

     After Paul told the sailors that they would not perish, the storm continued for fourteen days. If God is sovereign, he could have calmed the sea immediately. If God is good, why did he allow the storm to continue? Lots of reasons. During their storm, the sailors were forced to “undergird the ship”5 to keep it from falling apart, and so we will be forced to strengthen our foundation to withstand the storms of our lives. Here are our instructions: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.”6 And just as the sailors “lowered their gear (anchor)”5 to keep from drifting, so will we be forced to rely on our anchor to keep from crashing into the rocks. Here is our promise: “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain.”7  During their storm the men had “to jettison the cargo”8  and we will need to do the same. Here is our task: We must “also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”9 Storms are where we discover our weaknesses, our limitations, and the depth of our faith. The storms are where God seems absent, but we become faithful. And usually, later on, we discover that God was present after all!

     But here’s the hardest part of the story to read. What saved these sailors? Cutting the ropes of the lifeboat and letting it float away. This is the essential part of our journey. Although we want God’s will in our lives and trust that God loves us with an unending love, we all have lifeboats handy—just in case things don’t work out. It’s our “plan B.” In order for God’s will to really be played out in our lives, we must cut the ropes to our lifeboats and eliminate every other safe route. And only trust in God. Trusting in anything else is disastrous.  Here is our reminder: “In God alone, oh my soul, wait in silence. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.”10

     So, to sum up this paradoxical message—God is sovereign; our choices matter; storms can be beneficial; lifeboats can be dangerous.

1Acts 27:14   2Acts 27:20   3Acts 27:22   4Acts 27:31   5Acts 27:17   6Matthew 7:24-25   7Hebrews 6:19   8Acts 27:18   9Hebrews 12:1   10Psalm 62:5-6

 

 

 

Walking in Christ

     Our earthly lives require us to move at different speeds. The same is true of our life in Christ. At times we need to “be still.”1  We must also make time to be like Mary “who sat at the Lord’s feet.”2  Other times we need to “stand firm.”3 Sometimes we will need to “run with endurance the race that is set before us.”4 But mostly . . . mostly our goal simply needs to be this: “as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.”5 

     What does it mean to “walk in him”? It is to “walk by the Spirit,”6 to “live by the Spirit,”7 and to “also keep in step with the Spirit.”7  As believers, we have the Spirit of Christ living inside us, but that Spirit only becomes a daily walking—not sitting, or standing, or running—but walking part of our lives as our knowledge of him grows. It makes sense that the more we know about Christ, the more likely we will become like him. Make no mistake about it, though, growing in Christ—to “leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity”8—is a choice. Many believers are satisfied with the basics of their faith and remain “unskilled in the word of righteousness,”9 which results in being unable “to distinguish good from evil.”10  Which is a very important skill!

     So to “walk by the Spirit,” although it is not necessary, is the smarter thing to do! Paul says this about that: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”11 Paul urges us “to walk in a manner worthy” of our calling. But be advised: the goal for walking in Christ is not to feel better about ourselves—as mature believers we are secure, not insecure about who we are. Nor is the goal for walking in Christ that we become better people—which will naturally happen as we “walk by the Spirit.” No. The goal for this manner of walking is because we should be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”12  Our goal? Unity.

     What’s so important about unity? It is the very prayer Jesus offered to God in our behalf. He prayed, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us.”13  Only as we become mature in Christ will we be able to experience the oneness that Christ experienced with God. This unity with God then spills over to the whole family of God! Jesus continued to pray: “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one.”14  And that is the goal: unity with God through Jesus and unity with fellow believers. But there is one more reason that Jesus prayed that we would “become perfectly one.” He concludes “so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”15

     Walking daily with Christ, being led by his Spirit, results in oneness with God himself. It can only be experienced as we grow in faith.  Our calling is to grow in Christ.  It is a high calling and that’s why Paul urges us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling.”11 When we begin to walk more and more by the Spirit of Christ, we will live “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.”16  This is how Jesus lived. This manner of living leads to unity. And this is what it looks like to walk in Christ.

1Psalm 46:10   2Luke 10:39   3Ephesians 6:13   4Hebrews 12:1   5Colossians 2:6   6Galatians 5:16   7Galatians 5:25   8Hebrews 6:1   9Hebrews 5:13   10Hebrews 5:14   11Ephesians 4:1   12Ephesians 4:3   13John 17:21   14John 17:22   15John 17:23   16Ephesians 4:2

Mere Humans

   “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ they do not belong to Christ.”1  That’s pretty clear. And not only do believers have his Spirit, they also “have the mind of Christ.”2 Which is pretty amazing! But if believers have Christ’s mind and his Spirit, then why do so many struggle so much? Perhaps it is because many do not “live by the Spirit.”3  We do not access the power that we have!

     And here’s what Paul writes about believers who do not “live by the Spirit.” They are “still worldly.”4  Hmm. Here’s what else he says: they are “mere infants in Christ.”3 It appears that some believers just won’t grow up! Why? Because growing up in Christ is optional. We can all remain immature, not knowing anything but the basics, “the elementary truths of God’s word.”5 And get along just fine—but not great.

     But here’s the really interesting thing. Paul asks those “mere infants in Christ” a critical question: “Are you not acting like mere humans?”4 “Mere humans”? Are we not all “mere humans”? No! Not at all! Why? Because we have the Spirit of Christ and the mind of Christ! (Am I repeating myself?) It’s just that we often do not act like we do and instead refuse to grow in Christ. We act like children, who do not eat solid food but still need milk. And “everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.”6  Is to be “skilled in the word of righteousness” really necessary? No. But it will result in living life as a “mere human.”

     On the other hand, if we choose to grow up, we will be eating solid food, and “solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”7 This discerning ability to “distinguish good from evil” is crucial; without it we are lost, tossed back and forth not knowing what to believe and how to act and what to do. Paul prayed this prayer for believers: “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”8

     Discernment also gives us the ability to “approve what is excellent,”—to know what is right and to then do what is right. That is a mature person. And as we do what is right, we will be “filled with the fruit of righteousness.” And that, my friend, is the reward for living by his Spirit.

     So our choice as believers is twofold: 1) to remain “mere infants in Christ,” “worldly,” who “need milk, not solid food,”5 and to act like “mere humans,” or 2) to grow up and to be “conformed to the image of his Son,”9  and then we will be amazed at the fact that “in this world we are like Jesus.”10  Which is way better than living as “mere humans”!

     C. S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity is a great one and I advise everyone—Christians mere and not so mere—to read it. But the title is a bit misleading because some might suppose that Lewis means that Christianity is a small thing when what he actually means is that there is nothing ordinary about the Christian life. Therefore, to live as a “mere human” is to ignore all of what Christ has given us in order that we might live an abundant glorious life. The question for us is this: Are we acting as “mere humans”?

1Romans 8:9   21 Corinthians 2:16   31 Corinthians 3:1   41 Corinthians 3:3   5Hebrews 5:12   6Hebrews 5:13   7Hebrews 5:13-1   8Philippians 1:9-11   9Romans 8:9   101 John 4:17 

Enough, Already!

Paul writes, “for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”1 The question is, have we? Have we “learned to be content whatever the circumstances”? I would say, much of the time, no. For we do not stay satisfied long. We continually ask God for things. Of course, we are instructed to “pray without ceasing.”2

God loves to give us gifts and “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”3  Hmm. But if this is true (and it is) then why do we need more from him than the immeasurable amount that he gives us? Perhaps one reason is that we are not really asking much from him. Or imagining much of him. We set our sights too low. Or maybe we feel what we are asking is not important. Or we do not deserve what we are asking for. Or it is too impossible to imagine actually getting what we wish . . . wait a minute. God is able to do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” He can do more than we can imagine! This verse really tells us to ask away!! Don’t hold back!! And there’s no worrying about asking the wrong thing. God will not ever give us the wrong thing! So ask away!! We do set our sights too low!

However. We are instructed to pray without ceasing,” not ask without ceasing! Praying is communicating with God—venting and praising and crying out to him and asking questions. Praying is also waiting and being silent with God and listening for his voice. Praying is writing to God and singing to God and reading and reciting scripture and spending time with God. Not just asking for things. Unfortunately, many people only ask God for things because that’s all they really know that he is good for. But isn’t that like talking to our dads only when we want something from him? What kind of a relationship is that?

But I digress. Back to our original question. Will we ever be content? When is enough enough? There is something to be said about being satisfied with things, even if there are things in our life that are not satisfying. I think that’s why Paul referred to his contentment as a secret. He writes, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.”4  Being content in all circumstances is not commonly experienced, much less sought after. So what is this secret?

Paul hints at it in his letter to the Philippians but really explains it in Ephesians, right before that great verse about God doing “immeasurably more” than we can imagine. The secret is to “be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”5  For if we are filled, there is no room for anything else; thereby, we are content. How do we become that full? When we seek to “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.”6  That’s how. Knowing the riches of God’s love for us actually completes us and as we grow in that love, we will cease to need much of anything else.

Jeremiah understood this. He writes, “The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’”7  In other words—God is all I have. And that is enough.

Will we ever say to God, “Enough, already, Lord. Really, you’ve done enough!!  I don’t know. But I do know this: we need to get to the place where we understand that God is enough. Maybe then we would not need to ask him for so many things.

1Philippians 4:11   21 Thessalonians 5:17   3Ephesians 3:20   4Philippians 4:12   5Ephesians 3:19   6Ephesians 18-19   7Lamentations 3:24

The Case for Kindness

I was driving down the interstate and carefully shifted into the outer lane in order to pass the slower moving cars. I was going 70-mph in the 60-mph zone. Suddenly a car appeared behind me. He was right on top of me! It startled me, and I said aloud, “Where did you come from?”  He did not answer. Looking in my rear-view mirror, I saw the driver throw both of his hands in the air in exasperation. In the middle lane to the right of me was a car, so there was nowhere for me to get out of his way. He blinked his lights at me. I threw my hands in the air and said aloud, “Where do you want me to go?” He did not answer.

     I was already going as fast as I wanted so I did not speed up, but honestly, I began to enjoy impeding this speedster. The driver blinked his lights again. I raised my hands again and then I motioned for him to calm down as I spoke aloud, “Calm down!” But his answer was to throw his hands in the air again. This was how we rode for a few minutes. Finally, the lane next to me opened up and I moved over. As he whizzed up beside me, he gave me a furious glare and then sped away.

     I noted that he was driving a Dodge Charger and watched him race down the interstate. Soon he was stuck behind another “slow” driver. I smiled and thought how great it would be to catch up to him. The old tortoise and hare story. But he soon disappeared out of my sight. Oh well.

     A few miles later, I came to my exit and as I drove the ramp, there he was! Pulled over by a Highway Patrolman! I slowed down a little more and as I passed by him, I smugly smiled and waved.

     And that, my friends, is the perfect example of rejoicing at wrongdoing, which is the opposite of Paul’s definition of love. You remember. He said, love “does not rejoice at wrongdoing.”1 Of course, you might be thinking that I was justified to rejoice at this wrong doing, and I would be quick to agree with you. After all, the driver was unnecessarily rude to me.  And he was driving dangerously. And he deserved a ticket. I had every right to rejoice when I saw he was caught. And yet . . . Paul says, love “does not rejoice at wrongdoing.”

     So, how do I resolve this in my heart? What would Jesus do? Jesus walked toward the woman caught in adultery and told her that he did not condemn her and reassured her with these words: “from now on sin no more.”2  This is the proper response. It acknowledges the sin and encourages the sinner. There is no vengeance (like impeding the driver’s speed), no cynical remark (like “Where do you want me to go?”), no insensitive motions (like throwing up my hands), and no condescending gesture (like waving and smiling as the driver was being ticketed).

     The world is quick to “rejoice at wrongdoing.” But what does God require of us? “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord requires of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”3

     What strikes me about the verse is the phrase “to love kindness.” What would it look like to actually love kindness? To look for occasions to be kind, to search for people who need kindness, to act kindly to those who do not deserve it. Kindness is always unexpected, undeserved, and unnecessary, which makes it a powerful weapon, an unforgettable experience, and even perhaps a life-changing event.

     Paul also wrote, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”4  Another good reason to be kind.

11 Corinthians 13:6   2John 8:11   3Micah 6:8   4Ephesians 4:32

Being Good

Three Scenarios of Trying to Be Good

Scenario #1: Recently, Ruth, my 95-year-old mother-in-law called me from her hospital bed. She had been admitted due to multiple issues that were causing her to feel weak and sick.

    “Hey Deb,” she said when I answered the phone.            

    “Ruth, how are you?”

     “Oh, I’m okay. The doctors are running tests.”

     “I’m so sorry you are not feeling well,” I said.

     “Yeah. But listen, I called to tell you that I was talking to my doctor about some things and then I asked her if she was a Christian. She said, ‘Not a very good one.’ So I said to her, ‘My daughter-in-law writes books and I’d like to give you a devotional she wrote; it might help you.’” (That’s my mother-in-law—spreading God’s love everywhere she goes!)

Scenario #2: Denzel Washington plays the role of Robert McCall in the Equalizer movies. In The Equalizer 3, McCall is wounded, and before his doctor considers helping, he asks, ‘Are you a good man or a bad man?’ McCall replies, ‘I don’t know.’  And the doctor said, ‘Only a good man would have said that.’”

Scenario #3: A rich young ruler told Jesus he had kept all the commandments his whole life and asked Jesus, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”1 And when he heard Jesus’ answer, “he went away sorrowful.”2

It’s the way many people live their lives—trying to figure out how to be a good person. It’s not a bad mission; it’s just an impossible one to achieve. And before we discuss how to solve this problem, let’s see what Jesus said to the ruler that made him so sorrowful.

“Jesus said to him, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’”3 So . . . does that mean that we should all sell everything that we have, too? No. Jesus knew the ruler could not do what he asked. That was his point. No one can be good enough. But the rich ruler considered himself a good man—which, according to McCall’s doctor means he was not a good man! And Robert McCall wasn’t sure he was a good man, which according to his doctor meant he was a good man! And Ruth’s doctor was sure she was not a good woman, which according to McCall’s doctor meant she definitely was a good woman! Hmm.

Is McCall’s doctor correct? Maybe. I do think that if Robert McCall were to tell Jesus he did not know if he was a good man, and Ruth’s doctor were to tell Jesus she was not a good Christian, Jesus would have said something like, “I don’t care!” Because that’s really what Jesus was saying to the rich young ruler when he boasted about his goodness. His response was, “I don’t care!”  

Jesus does not care how good or bad we are.  And yet most people believe he does. They honestly believe that God only loves good people. So here is the solution to the problem: “God soooo loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”4

It’s not about being good or doing good things. It’s not about doing anything! One time some followers asked Jesus, “‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’”5 God simply asks that we believe that he is who he says he is—the God who loves us. When we allow God’s love to enter our lives, he empowers us to become the good people we have always wanted to be. But even when we are not good, he still loves us!

But if we really want to experience his power and love and become good people, we need to become a disciple of his; that is, study his Word and daily walk in God’s presence.  It’s an option, but that’s how we really begin to “comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”6 When we are “filled with all the fullness of God,” we can stop trying so hard to be good.

And so. The end of the matter is this: Being good, although better than being bad, is not as good as it sounds.

1Matthew 19:16   2Matthew 19:22   3Matthew 19:21   4John 3:16   5John 6:28-29   6Ephesians 3:18-19

 

Loving God

The first commandment is the key to understanding everything. It reads: “You shall have no other gods before me.”1 It sounds simple to us: Love God. Okay. We got it. No problem. And that’s the problem. 🙁 We probably break this commandment every day of our lives! 😯 And here’s how.

     St. Augustine said, “The essence of sin is disordered love.”* In other words, we sin when our loves are out of order. Our commandment is to love God first—“no other gods before me.” There should be nothing more important in our lives than loving God. But what does that look like? How do we love God? Jesus told us. (Of course, he did!) 🙄 One time “a lawyer asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’”2 Okay. Got it . . . 🤔 but what does that look like?

     I think it boils down to this: “We love because he first loved us.”3 We only know how to love God when we realize how much God loves us. Love for him is not something we conjure up! It is a response to his great love. The more we know God, the more we love God. If we do not love God, we do not know him because “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”4 If our love for God consists of going to church, reading the Bible occasionally,  and asking God to bless our food, our knowledge of him is very small, and our love for him will be very small, which means we love other things more than we love God, which means we are breaking the first commandment. And we have proven St. Augustine’s theory: “The essence of sin is disordered love.”

     However. The question to ask ourselves is really not how much do we love God but how much do we know him? Which is why Paul prayed this: “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled to the fullness of God.”5

     Loving God is not a task. It is not something we should do. Loving God is being filled up with him, feeling in our heart the height of his love, sensing in our soul the depth of his love, and understanding in our mind the breadth and length of his love. Loving God is realizing that there is nothing greater than the love of God.

     Instead of asking folks if they believe in God, we really should be asking if they know God, or maybe even if they love God. That question would make many pause . . . and probably squirm a bit. And after a minute or two, perhaps we should add the questions, What do you know about God and what do you love about God? And then ask ourselves the same thing! 😐 If we do not love God, we really do not know him, because “God is love!” And if we struggle to understand just how much we do love God, then perhaps we love something/someone else greater than him, and we are breaking the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” Breaking the first commandment does not make us feel guilty, it just makes us feel empty. Because our loves are out of order.

     The ten commandments are meant to be a guide for living life the way it was meant to be lived. If we don’t love God more than everything else, following the other nine will be ineffectual. 😦

1Exodus 20:3   2Matthew 22:35-37   31 John 4:19   41 John 4:16   5Ephesians 3:17-19   *Augustine & Disordered Loves – Theology for the People (nickcady.org)

Eternal Life

Oswald Chambers writes, “Eternal Life has nothing to do with time.”*  This is a hard concept for us to digest. We are driven by time, so to imagine that the promise for eternal life has nothing to do with time is . . . well, it’s unimaginable! So, if it is not a reference to time, then what is it? Merriam-Webster’s third definition of the word is this: “characterized by abiding fellowship with God.” Hmm. That puts it into perspective, doesn’t it? Another definition is simply “timeless.” Hmm. And that completes the idea. Eternal life is timeless abiding fellowship with God. Which, by the way, is the life that Jesus lived here on earth.

Therefore, eternal life does not begin after we die! Eternal life begins the moment we give our lives to God. It begins the moment where the Spirit of Christ enters our hearts. Eternal life begins when his power enables us to “be filled with all the fullness of God.”1 Eternal life—timeless abiding fellowship with God—is the act of being filled with God. It is something we can begin to experience now.

The question is Are we? Are we being filled with “the fullness of God”? How do we do that? By tapping into God’s power, the power that lives in us through our faith in Christ. Paul prays: “That according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being.”2  That “inner being,” is our gut feeling. It is our conscience; it is actually where the mind of Christ dwells. We, however, often ignore or forget or rebel against letting the power of God reign. We prefer to run on our own power. And God will rarely push us out of his way. Instead, God waits for us to get out of the way! He “waits to be gracious to you.”3 He actually longs to give us strength if only we would ask. If only we would let go of our pride, our will, our limited way of thinking, and let him lead. And when we do, we see that God’s way is better for “he is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work in us.”4

But here’s the thing. Although God’s power is accessible to us, he is only able to do things “according to the power at work in us.” So, again—the question is How much power are we letting him have? Experiencing the power of God, the timeless abiding fellowship of God, is there for our taking. But it is a process for us—a day by day giving control to God. Chambers concludes that “we have to keep letting go, and slowly and surely the great full life of God will invade us in every part, and men will take knowledge of us that we have been with Jesus.”*  What a testimony that would be! That people would see “that we have been with Jesus.”

And here’s another thing! Some believers will not experience eternal life (timeless abiding fellowship with God) until they die! Why? Because they never tap into the power of God that abides in them. Which is quite sad.

Life lived by the power of God through Christ is the only true life, which is why Jesus told us, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”5  Eternal life for believers has already begun! If we are not experiencing a life “filled with the fullness of God,” it is our own fault.

1Ephesians 3:19   2Ephesians 3:16   3Isaiah 30:18   4Ephesians 3:20   5John 14:6    *”April 12.” My Utmost for His Highest: The Classic Daily Devotional, by Oswald Chambers, Barbour Books, 2015.

 

 

 

 

Too Good to be True

We are a suspicious lot, we humans. We suspect that good things—really good things—are probably not true. Many of us live by the adage If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And so we naturally doubt.

     When you peel it all away, when you break it all down, we just don’t want to be disappointed. It is the source of many of our fears; therefore, we shield our hearts, demanding physical proof before we believe anyone or anything that promises good things. But you know what? Our shielded (and calloused) hearts do protect us sometimes from making foolish decisions regarding business deals, weight loss programs, and relationships—things we hoped were trustworthy—things that were, in fact, too good to be true.

     I think that’s why we do not trust in God. Our American currency boasts “In God We Trust.” But we don’t!  Even if we give in to the fact there might be a creator God, we believe that he must not be very good at it because of all the evil in the world. And we just get stuck there. Especially if the evil things are happening to us! A loving God is just too good to be true. Have people always demanded proof about good things? Yeah, I think so. And here’s the proof.

     After Jesus was crucified and buried, Mary and other women saw Jesus at the tomb and talked with him. And they ran to the disciples and told them Jesus was alive! What did the disciples say? “These words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”1 The NIV translates it this way: “their words seemed to them like nonsense.” It was too good to be true.

     But then Jesus showed up! And the disciples believed! Thomas, however, did not get the memo/text about the gathering and missed the whole event. When they told him they had seen Jesus, he was not convinced. He said, “I will not believe.”2  He needed proof. It was too good to be true.

     Even John the Baptist, while sitting in prison at the end of his ministry, sent his followers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another!”3 He needed proof. It was too good to be true.

     I must admit that it is not a bad approach for living this earthly life—demanding proof of things. Unfortunately, it interferes with the concept of faith because “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”4 So what do we do with that? Where does faith fit in with people who demand proof?

     The answer? Nowhere. As a matter of fact, God requires that we believe he is present when he appears absent, that he is good when it seems he is bad, that he loves us though he acts indifferent, and that he will be faithful even though we feel abandoned. Why is God so demanding? Because faith is illogical. Faith is believing when there is no logical reason as to why we should. It is not natural. How can anyone have that kind of faith? We will not find it within ourselves, which is where people naturally look for it.

     Faith comes from God. It comes when we hear the Word of God and allow it to penetrate our whole being—heart, mind, soul, and strength. That is where it begins. Then our faith grows as we grow in Christ. But if we have faith, then why do we sometimes not have faith? Very good question and one that James (the brother of Christ) answered in his short book—which leads me to believe his readers were struggling with this very issue. The passage is so thorough that it also addresses our first issue of trying to figure out what/who to believe! Read carefully: “If any of you lacks wisdom (wondering if something is too good to be true, ie.), let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”5 So, instead of wondering whether something/someone can be trusted, we should ask God for wisdom!

     But there’s a condition to this promise. “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting.”6  James says that either we have faith or we have doubts; it cannot be both. Why? If we believe but then don’t believe, then we don’t believe! It is an indication that we know God—but not very well. We treat him as a distant relation rather than the loving Father that he really is. Or at the very least it is a sign that we do not trust him in certain areas of our lives.

     James warns us that “the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.”6 Having faith never involves indecision; it is the antithesis of indecision! It is interesting that doubters often blame God for not proving that he heard them—ie. giving them what they want—when their doubt is the proof that they have no faith in God at all. And here’s what James says about that person: “For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord.”7 What? Why would God be so cruel? He is not! God is never cruel! But he appears to be cruel to those who have no faith! Why? Because the man who doubts “is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”8

     So, to be clear—an unstable man is a double-minded man who will not receive anything from God because he does not have faith that he will receive anything from God. Is that clear? It is the unstable man who doubts and is not faithful—not God, who is always faithful.

     What is the answer to all this doubting? How do we conquer our doubts? Jesus told John the Baptist’s followers, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard.”9 (And then Jesus cites the evidence.) And here is what he told Thomas. “Stop doubting and believe.”10

     But you know what? Many people will continue to doubt and not believe. Why? Because the gospel is too good to be true!

     But in this case, it is true.

1Luke 24:53   2John 20:25   3Luke 7:20   4Hebrews 11:1   5James 1:5   6James 1:6   7James 1:7   8James 1:8   9Luke 7:22   10John 20:27