Friday, May 17, 2013

What's Love Got To Do With It?

Photo by Loleia

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,
and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
                                                                     (Rom 5:1-5 ESV)

I hate to admit it, but to me the Scripture passage above always seemed to start at soaring heights, only to plop down with an ungraceful thud.

I would start out reading words that promised to make all of my life's sufferings worthwhile, promised to make sense of the pain.  Promised to make me dare to hope again...even though for many years I had hated hope with my whole being.

Yes, yes, that's what I want.  I need to know that this agony called life will be worth it all in the end!  So tell me...why won't hope put me to shame?  It always has, you know.  Hope strings you along and then drops you in the dust and grinds your face in the shards of your shattered dreams.  Hope is a cruel trickster, a sadistic torturer who preys on weaklings who are stupid enough to believe its lies.

So tell me...why doesn't hope put me to shame?  

"Because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."


With apologies to Tina Turner, what's love got to do with it?  

Want to confuse an Olympic hopeful?  Tell him to keep sweating and agonizing because...what?  He'll get gold and glory?  No, he'll get God's love poured out in his heart.  He'll look at you like you're nuts.  Love is nice, but that's not what he's suffering for.

Romans 5:5 may be a nice sentiment, Lord, but love isn't what I'm suffering for.  You'll need to do better than that if you want to convince me to hope again.

Let those words simmer in your ears.  "Love isn't what I'm suffering for."

Are you sure?  Maybe it's not your goal for your suffering, but could it be His goal for your suffering?

Love is what Jesus suffered for.  True, He suffered for sin...ours, not His.  But He didn't have to do that.  He could have just annihilated us, or tossed us all into damnation without a backward glance.  It was His love for us that brought Him to Bethlehem, to the dusty streets of Israel, to Calvary, to the grave.

And that journey took Him back into glory, as the firstborn from the dead, followed by all those that He purchased for Himself with His own blood.

Either He was a fool, or love is worth suffering for.

Maybe...just is the only thing worth suffering for.

As my prayer life has become increasingly focused on aligning my priorities with His, I'm finding this whole messy "love" business is becoming more central.  And because I'm such a self-centered person, love is something I mostly grieve because of its weakness or even absence in my life.  Only occasionally do I get to rejoice because of how strongly love has poured out of me.

Every sin you and I commit is, at the very least, a failure to love.  Unquestionably, sin is always a failure to love the Lord with all our heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, which is the most important commandment.  And most sins also spring from our failure to love our neighbor as ourselves, which Jesus says is the second most important thing we should do.  And each of these failures harms us and harms those around us.  Sometimes the wounds are deep and lasting.

The more I kneel to pray God's priorities, and the more I see the wounds I cause when I choose my own priorities over God's, the more I find myself pleading for God to fill me with love for Himself and for others.

And suddenly Romans 5:1-5 begins to make sense.

"Hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." 

The words of encouragement won't make any sense until your priorities line up with His.  But when they do, you'll find the encouragement runs deep.  (See Ps 37:4 for another example of this truth...that promises depend on priorities.)

"Lord, I am choosing to hope in Your love for me, and in the outpouring of Your Spirit that will change my heart into a loving one, so that I will love both You and my neighbor as I should.  And I am trusting you that this growth in love will make all of life's sufferings worthwhile."

Prompts for Thinking of Others As Better Than Yourself

Photo by Brokenarts

Prompts For Thinking of Others As 

Better Than Yourself

This command from God, to think of others as “better” or “more significant” than ourselves (Php 2:3) is a tough one for me.  Is it for you, too?

“Why should I?” is often my attitude.  And even when I feel like I ought to obey “just because He said so,” I often catch myself feeling like, “Okay, I need to go live in Pretend World so I can think of so-and-so more highly than myself.”  

My attitude is hideous, I know, which is why I rarely even dare to put it into words in my own mind...but that doesn't mean I don't FEEL it.  Is anyone out there willing to assure me that I’m not the only one?

I'm beginning to truly hate the particular brand of Fundamentalism that permeated the South when I was in my formative years.  The Fundamentalism which forgot the fundamentals of Christlike love and humility, in favor of an attitude of arrogant, hateful superiority.  One which taught me that I already KNEW my neighbor and/or my enemy, because I’d seen and heard his caricature lampooned often enough.  One that saw no reason to even try to get to know those on the Outside better.

Him?  Her?  Just one of those.  You know how those are.

Hateful, infamous travesty.  Nothing Christlike about it.  It was a pleasure to cast it aside at last.

But still...I’m to consider all others more important than myself?  Why not just as important?

Well, frankly, I don’t know for sure.  But I DO know that obedience to this command doesn’t involve a trip to Pretend World.  (The One who issued the command doesn’t live there.)  In fact, it involves two of the most real things in the world (unfortunately often counterfeited):  humility and love.

Those are two things that I need to get from the Spirit, because my flesh has precious little of them to go around.

But even though I don’t know why He gave this command, I’m still to obey it.  So I’m trying to think of ways to help myself do that, and (naturally), I’m writing it down here.  Hey, it’s what bloggers do.  

Here’s what I’m hoping to remember when I find myself in a situation that makes it hard for me to think of others more highly than myself (surely there’s one that will fit whatever circumstance it may be):

  • This person has a need, and the Lord has given me the ability to share His love in meeting that need.  Kind-of like triage...people with needs are very significant!
  • I have a need, and this person could help/is helping.  This is humbling for me, and I honor them for their resources and their help. 
  • This person is made in the image of God, but does not yet know her Creator.  Jesus seeks the lost.  He died for the lost!  This person is very significant.
  • This person is made in the image of God, and he knows and glorifies his Creator.  What could be more significant?
  • This person’s life is a story being written by God.  Right now, my story intersects with his/hers, and I don’t know how much or for how long.  I’d better consider him/her very significant!
  • This person wants to share something of herself with me!  What a precious, significant gift!
  • God created this person with his unique characteristics, and placed him in this time and place. He must be significant!
  • God is generous to the generous.  I am free to meet this person’s needs without fear of being drained dry.  (This has been a BIG fear for me all my life).  And since it’s His plan that we should serve one another so He can bless both recipient and giver, then I’d better do my job and prioritize this person!

Hey, I’m beginning to see a trend!  Writing things down really helps to clarify thoughts, doesn’t it?

Do you see it?

To think of someone as more significant than myself does NOT mean figuring out how much each of us is worth, and then sticking those things on a scale, and somehow making sure that my side of the balance always flies toward the ceiling.

It DOES mean deciding whose significance should have my attention right now.  Whose significance should inform my actions and priorities right now.  

God help me to learn to live this way!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Are We Ready to Suffer As REAL Christians? (Part 1)

Are We Ready to Suffer As REAL Christians?

(Part 1)

I suspect, based on what I've seen of American Christendom lately, that there are many people who are going to suffer because they are called "Christians..."
...and it will be undeserved.

Why do I say that?  Is it because Christians shouldn't suffer?

Of course not.  The Bible says that we will.  See, for example, Rom 8:17, Php 1:29, Rev 2:10.

The reason I say that it will be undeserved is because many people who will be suffering as "Christians" will not be suffering as Christians.  They will be suffering for being something they aren't.

The quotation marks matter.

To suffer as a "Christian" means that people don't like you because of your religion.  It's the same exact suffering that could happen to you if you were a Muslim during the Crusades, dying for your faith with bloodied sword (or at least with a hate-filled placard).  There's nothing Christian about this kind of suffering.  It's only religious.  And, according to 1 Co 13:3, it gains the sufferer nothing.

To suffer as a real Christian means that people don't like you because they see Christ in you.  Because you love Christ and follow Him in Spirit and in truth, the hatred they feel for Him rubs off on you.

AND ...get this... it means you suffer LIKE Christ...the WAY He suffered, with the same Spirit.

"As a Christian" means "As people filled by the Spirit of Christ in the world."

Are you and I ready to suffer as REAL Christians? Here's a quick-and-easy little test.  It's not perfect, but it's a good start.

Look closely at the photo above.  It's old and of poor quality, so feel free to click on it to enlarge it.

Look closely.  Feel the reality of this.  It's not from Hollywood.  It's from Nazi Germany.

I know it's taxing on your eyesight, but here is my question.  After taking a close and careful look at this photo, how many tragedies do you see?

If you say "It's hard to see, but there are two, the parent and child," then you have good eyesight.

If you say, "Three," then you have good heart-sight.  Soul-sight.  Christ-sight.

The man with the gun is a tragedy, too.

As is every hellbound soul.

Now, I'm not saying that "No real Christian would have said 'two.'"  Not at all!  For most of my Christian life (which has been much shorter than my "Christian" life), I would have said, "two" also.

But here's the real test.  Does it matter to you and to me that Christ commanded us to love our enemies? To bless those who curse us?  To pray for those who abuse us?  (Luke 6:28, Rom 12:14)  Or are we offended?  Honestly, ask yourself:  "Am I offended by His command (to the point of rejecting it) when I think of that particular enemy?  That particular politician?"

"Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”  (Matt 11:6)

Do we see that enemy, that politician, as a tragedy if they don't know Christ and are bound for Hell?  Or do we only see our own discomfort as a "tragedy?"

Are we...are YOU committed to obeying Him in this matter, by His grace?  Are we submitting to His Spirit's promptings to love our enemies NOW?

Even on our Facebook pages?

Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15).  He didn't expect perfection...that's why He came and died for sinners like me and like you.  But still, the true Christian will keep Christ's commands, will believe that they are best, will seek to submit to Christ in the keeping of them, will repent every time he fails (which will be often), and will love the beauty of His commands.

Since Christ's commands are perfectly consistent with His character, it is impossible to reject His commands without rejecting His character.  (And by the way, "Yes, but..." is rejection.  So is the constant search for loopholes and exceptions.)

And Jesus didn't say that "Love your neighbor" was just a nice suggestion.  He said it was the second greatest commandment, second only to the command that makes such love possible...the command to love the Lord with all your heart.

Are you convicted?  Do you repent of your lack of love for your neighbor and enemy, and renew your commitment to Christ?  Are you committed to seeking, by His Spirit, to love your enemy the next time you get a chance?  Do you commit to repenting every time you fail to love your enemy (which will be often)?  Do you know that you CAN'T do this alone, and are you committed to depending on His love flowing through you as you submit in weakness to Him?  (I ask myself these questions as well!)  Then rejoice!  You are forgiven and cleansed, and you are getting ready to suffer as a REAL Christian.

If you and I are not committed to obeying Christ, especially in the commands that He called "greatest," then He says we do not love Him.

If that's you, if that's me, then we shouldn't bother suffering as a "Christian."  It will gain us nothing.


Will you pray for me about this?  I need prayer on a number of levels:

  • That I will love anyone who might respond to this post with enmity and hatred (!!!)
  • That I will be humble if it gets good responses
  • That I will not be satisfied with merely having written the point of not bothering to keep trying to practice what I preach!
Thank you!
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