Monday, June 29, 2009

The most important elements

Matthew 5:23-24
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

When we offer our gifts to God, whether it’s money or abilities, we are to give them to him whole-heartedly, but how can we put our whole heart into it when it’s burdened with anger and guilt. Both of these emotions, if left to grow, will destroy any relationship. Eventually, they will begin to grow to an obsession that can fill our heart and mind, pushing out any positive emotion. Ephesians 4:26 says, “In your anger do not sin; do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”

Christ, in Matthew 5:23-24, talks about reconciliation. According to the “American Heritage Dictionary” the word “reconcile” means to reestablish a relationship. It also means to settle or resolve. If we are to love God with all our heart, we can’t allow it to be dominated by anger; we must settle any argument with our loved ones before they grow, and reestablish our relationship with them.

We know that we have to release our anger, but reestablishing the relationship completely is not so easy. There are two elements required to give a relationship its strength. The first element, forgiveness, will help you settle your anger, whether you forgive, or ask for forgiveness. Either way, forgiveness must be present in order to keep anger and guilt from being consuming.

The second element is more important in keeping the relationship from falling apart completely, and that is trust. Even after you have forgiven each other, and the anger has been settled, trust may take some time before it can fully be restored. If we are to restore trust, strengthen our relationship, and keep anger from dominating our heart, we must give full priority to our relationship to God first, then to each other.

Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, and give priority to your relationships, for this is the only way to give your gifts to God with all your heart.

Challenge: If you have a relationship that has fallen apart from anger, forgive each other, then make restoring trust a priority. This will reestablish the relationship, and give it strength. Then you can give your whole heart to God.


Friday, June 19, 2009

Even Jesus had tears

John 11:35
Jesus wept.

One of the sayings I came up with several years ago, and still fully stand behind is, “A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a few well chosen words can describe a lifetime.” These two words say more to me about Christ’s love and relationship with mankind, than so much else in the Bible.

This is the shortest verse in the Bible, and there is a reason for it being singled out. Christ wept because he was moved by the weeping of Mary, and those who came with her, over the death of Lazarus. He knew that he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead so that didn’t bother him, but seeing Mary so unhappy moved him. As we all know, the end is happier, and if you don’t read through verse 44.

Many people think of Christ as distant, and unfeeling, that he was above the pettiness of human emotions. We know that Christ is never petty, and from this verse, that he wasn’t above expressing emotions. I think the only emotion he never felt was regret. He felt sadness, anger, happiness, joy, peace, frustration, and even apprehension when he prayed to let the cup pass from him, but never regret. So why was this small verse so important?

When Christ was in the upper room giving his disciples the new command, he said, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Loving as he loved means expressing your feelings honestly, and without pettiness. In other words, learn to control your emotions, don’t let them control you. There is a time for anger, and a time for sadness. There is a time for every emotion.

Knowing the right time for expressing emotions can mean so much to your relationship. If Jesus had laughed at Mary because he knew what was about to happen, it would have meant that she might not have trusted him to understand. Instead, Christ showed perfect compassion and understanding when she needed it, and he shed genuine tears because of his love.

This little verse also shows me that not only did Christ come to save us, but that he truly understands what we are going through. The fact that he put himself in such a position, when he could have given up and destroyed us, is the ultimate expression of love.

Another thing that it shows me is that Christ relates to us on a very personal level. He created us, and he sees every part of us down to our strengths, and weaknesses. No offense to Bette Midler, but God wouldn’t know every little detail of our lives if he was watching us from a distance. He knows what’s in our hearts, and even how many hairs are on our heads.

I love that poem, “Footprints.” It always reminds me that Christ is always by my side ready to carry me through the difficulties of life.

This is what “Jesus wept” means to me

Challenge: Print out the poem “Footprints”, and keep it as a reminder of Christ’s love when things get difficult.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

For your eyes only

John 13:34,35
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

Christ spoke openly about the fulfillment of the laws, which are based on love. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.” These two laws appear throughout his teaching, and in the Old Testament.

The laws are all about our relationship to God, and man. Now, in the final moments of the Last Supper, after Judas ran off to betray Christ, he gives one more command to his disciples, in private. “Love one another.” He says this two more times. This left me with two questions. Why was the command given in private? Why did Christ say it three times?

Loving God completely, and loving your neighbor as yourself, were given to more than just the Israelites. These two laws were given to everyone as an important part of a relationship with God, and the central point of all the laws of God. Christ gave this new law, or command, in private to his disciples as the one thing that would separate his disciples from everyone else.

Christ started by simply by giving them the command. “Love one another.” This is the same thing as telling someone new to do a job, but not telling them how.

In the second part he tells them how to love one another. “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” In this, Christ becomes their model, and in turn becomes our model for the perfect love.

Finally, Christ gives them the consequence of this command, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” This command is not for everyone, it was meant only for his disciples.

This message, and command, is meant for us if we truly wish to be his disciples. It doesn’t matter what denomination we belong to, or even if we go to church. If we worship God as disciples, then we must also express our love to other disciples in the same way Christ loved us.

I think it would be a good idea to end one of the most confusing thing I’ve heard in churches today. Just because you go to church, and worship God, it doesn’t make you a disciple. A disciple is anyone who has taken on the discipline of learning, and sharing God’s word. In essence, you become a student of Christ for life. This is not an easy road, but it is very rewarding.

Challenge: Take Christ’s command to heart, and love one another as Christ loves us.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The opportunity to love

One of the lessons to be learned from the Good Samaritan is that while we are taught to love our neighbor as ourselves, being human, we can’t express love to the whole world at once. We are limited by an imperfect body and spirit, and the only way we can express a consistent love is to do so one opportunity at a time.

In the case of the Good Samaritan, he saw the man on the side of the road, beaten and robbed, and left to die. Instead of seeing the man as “just one of those Jews”, an enemy of his people, and someone to be ignored, he saw the man as another human being who needed help, and compassion. He took the man, put him on his own donkey, and brought him to an inn to be cared for until his return.

He took the opportunity to express love and compassion to a human being in need. Christ never said where the Samaritan was going, or if he missed something important, because in the end, that wasn’t important. The point was the Samaritan didn’t say to himself, “I’ll think about helping him,” or pass by on the other side of the road like the others. There was no hesitation in his actions. He saw the opportunity, and rushed in to help out of love for his neighbor. He put the needs of another person above his own, and isn’t this what love is all about?

Another thing people fail to see about love is that it is neither easy, nor casual. If you don’t take a rest once in a while, it will drain you both physically, and emotionally. One of the things the book pointed out was that Christ retreated every day to a quiet place, and he is the model for the perfect love.

God gives us the opportunities to express love, it’s up to us to open our hearts so we can see the opportunities and accept them. Once it comes to the expression of love we must never hesitate to accept or we might miss the chance. If the Samaritan had hesitated the man’s injuries might have killed him. If you devote your life to love as Christ taught, don’t forget to give yourself time to rest, or you will wear yourself down.

Challenge: Trust God to give you the strength to love as you should, and find a quiet place to rest and recharge.


Friday, June 5, 2009

Love, the equal opportunity emotion

Luke 10:25-37
25On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

26"What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"

27He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"

28"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."

29But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

30In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'

36"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"

37The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."
Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

This is another passage where the same two Old Testament laws were brought up. “Love the Lord your God…” is in Deuteronomy 6:5, and “Love your neighbor…” is in Leviticus 19:18

Keep in mind that Christ was talking to Jews, and to them the Samaritans were bitter enemies. The first two people were of the same faith, maybe even the same congregation, and yet they went out of their way to avoid helping this person who was beaten and left for dead. The person who ended up helping was a sworn enemy, and yet he went beyond just bandaging the man up, he also took care of his shelter needs.

The message here is very clear. You must love everyone, even those you once considered an enemy. The thing to remember is that God created us all equal, different, but equal. That means that no one is any better or worse than anyone else. If we were to put this in terms of a business, the president is no better than the janitor. As long as they both do their part the company can flourish.

In this world, there are thousands of religions, and cultures. In the various religions, there are different philosophies, but just because someone doesn’t believe the same way as you do, does that mean that you should love them any less? Of course not; right or wrong, we can disagree with a person’s beliefs, but it is not our job to judge them. Only God has that right. Our job is to extend love to that person, and live life by our beliefs. If we are true to our beliefs, we can lead more people to Christ by example than by force.

I once went to a church that had a sermon that day on loving unconditionally. The one thing I noticed is the dirty looks I got for wearing Jeans instead of slacks, and even though there were different races in the church they still segregated themselves from each other. Unconditional love is a colorblind emotion. It doesn’t segregate, or judge another person’s differences.

The most basic way to put this is, if God created everyone equally, and loves us for who we are, then we should follow his example and love everyone equally.

Challenge: see beyond the exterior appearance of a person to find the good, and love them, as you would have them love you.


Monday, June 1, 2009

The mind of strength

Mark 12:30
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.

Your mind is like a super-computer without an off switch. The saying, “garbage in, garbage out” applies to both computers and the human mind. Whatever we allow to dominate our mind will eventually show up in our actions.

In the book, Tom Holladay says, “Before you can do the right thing, you have to think the right thing.” This phrase makes a lot of sense. Philippians 4:8 talks about what we should think about. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things”

Every day our minds are hit by a barrage of negative influences, and there is no way to avoid them. God gave us the freedom to choose what we allow to dominate our minds, and whatever dominates, will become how we act. This is why it’s important to meditate on God’s word daily. Starting your day with a devotional can give you something to think about throughout the day, and writing down what you learn can keep it fresh in your mind. No matter what influences you come across, you can still allow yourself to focus on what you learned that morning.

Once we have trained our mind to meditate on God’s word, we can turn it into actions. In any relationship you have to give it all you have. This is where the real work begins, and it will require strength of character, and conviction. Do we, as humans, have the strength to do the work on our own? No.

Let me explain. When we try to do something on our own, we are easily distracted with our everyday lives; with paying bills, going to work, raising kids, going to school (and the list continues). If we are to give a loving relationship with God the attention it deserves, we can only do it with the kind of strength that God can give.

We were created by God to have a relationship with him, and he has done everything to prove to us that he is worthy of that love. He even sent his only son to die for that relationship, and we owe it to him to give it everything we have. He is the source of life, love, and strength. Without him we wouldn’t exist, so it goes without saying that if we trust God for our strength, our relationship with him will be healthy, productive, and the greatest source of joy in our lives.

Putting it all together, to have a loving relationship with God, we must first feel it in our hearts. Then we must decide to love him with our soul. After that we must think it with our minds. Finally, we must trust God to give us the strength to put it into action. God wants our relationship with him to succeed, and he is willing to give us the strength we need to make it work. All we have to do is accept it.

Challenge: Learn to meditate on God’s word, and accept his offer of strength, so that you can put him first in both thought and action.