Beloved, as we follow Christ, His goodness will overwhelm our being, flowing outward to all those around us because of who He is and what He has imparted within us, allowing us to become more and more like Him, and allowing others to be touched by His good works.
"Goodness is a process of becoming, not of being. What we do over and over again is what we become in the end." - Joan Chittister, Benedictine nun, author, and lecturer.
When I was in my early teens, a thought took hold of me: Jesus didn’t die to save us from suffering—he died to teach us how to suffer.... Sometimes I actually mean it. I’d rather die young, having lived a life crammed with meaning, than to die old, even in security, but without meaning.
As one country does not bear all things, that there may be a commerce, so neither has God opened, nor will open, all to one, that there may be a traffic in knowledge between the servants of God, for the planting both of love and humility.
To be human is to be responsible. That is the inner meaning of the "dominion" of Genesis 1:26, which is a dominion not of domination but of stewardship, taking care of the world's back yard ... God the world-maker is God the care-taker. Humans properly stand over other creatures only as they stand with other creatures, showing them love, giving them space, and granting them "rights."
And this, then,
is the vision of that Heaven
of which we have heard,
where those who love
each other have forgiven
each other, where, for that,
the leaves are green,
the light a music in the air,
and all is unentangled,
and all is undismayed.
The hunger for God can only be satisfied by a love that is face to face, person to person. It is only in the eyes of another that we can find the Icon of Christ. We must make the other person aware we love him. If we do, he will know that God loves him. He will never hunger again.
The LORD reveals Himself to us as we read the Scriptures, and the fear of the LORD is our response to the revelation. Some definitions of the fear of the LORD are "reverence, respect, awe, etc." While those definitions are true, the fear of the LORD is so much more. The best way to understand the fear of the LORD is to read through Psalms and Proverbs and write down the verses that contains the phrase "fear of the LORD."
...the fear of the LORD is delighting greatly in His commandments (Psalm 112:2) and knowledge of the Holy One (Proverbs 9:10)
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom about God and His will (Proverbs 9:10)
The fear of the LORD brings about repentance - a change of mind, a change in our values, way of thinking, and living.
I clearly recognize that all good is in God alone, and that in me, without Divine Grace, there is nothing but deficiency... The one sole thing in myself in which I glory, is that I see in myself nothing in which I can glory. -- Catherine of Genoa
Upon the killing of Osama Bin Laden, there are a lot of emotions, and opinions circulating freely. I was emailed a very good question yesterday evening that I would like to address in this blog post.
"Greg, what’s your take on the killing of Bin Laden which is another way of asking about the biblical support or non-support for such an operation? i.e., killing an unarmed man who apparently was ineffective to do further harm.
I suppose it parallel’s capital punishment, and if so, please speak to that."
When I heard the news yesterday, there was a part of me that wanted to rejoice in man's justice.
But, there was another part of me that was unsettled.
As a Christ follower, I must base my opinion, and learn to control my emotions, based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
It was under the Old Covenant Law that capital punishment, a life for a life, was instituted by God.
Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (Deuteronomy 19:21 ESV)
But, what did Jesus say under the New Covenant with God that we are currently living under?
Jesus said that He came and fulfilled the Law.
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17 ESV)
Jesus fulfilled the Law in his life, death, and resurrection.
Jesus gave us a new commandment (Law) to live by.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." ~ Jesus
(John 13:34-35 ESV)
So what are we to do when people abuse us?
"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. ~ Jesus
(Matthew 5:38-39 ESV)
Based on the life and teachings of Jesus, I believe a "Christian" nation would have had a better testimony to the world if they would have protected the homeland without entering into two wars, and a ten year manhunt that has cost thousands of American soldier lives, and billions of dollars that could have went to help the marginalized around the world.
I have learned ministering to those in jail that, no matter what people have done in their past, as long as they have breath, God has opportunity to draw them to Jesus, and they have opportunity to repent of their sins, and become a Christ follower.
I have seen the vilest sinner, and offender of others, change by the grace of God.
So back to my personal feelings....
My daughter, Kelsey, sums up my feelings as a Christ follower on her post of a Martin Luther King, Jr., quote today.
"Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." - Martin Luther King Jr
Lord, let the thick skin that covers me not be a hindrance to you. Pass through it. My eyes, my hands, my mouth are yours. This sad lady in front of me: here is my mouth for you to smile at her ... This smug young man, so dull, so hard: here is my heart, that you may love him, more strongly than he has ever been loved before.
- Madeleine Delbrjl, Missionary and activist (1904-1964)
Pass through my thick skin Lord, and touch others with your grace, peace and love.
We all have done things in the past that we would do differently in the present.
We were not perfect in the past, nor are we in the present.
As we follow Christ, there are improvements along the way, until one day, when our journey here is completed, we achieve that which we have long awaited.
The struggle is over.
The battle is won.
What a glorious day that will be.
In the meantime, we follow Him.
John Ortberg says, "God sees with utter clarity who we are. He is undeceived as to our warts and wickedness. But when God looks at us that is not all He sees. He also sees who we are intended to be, who we will one day become."
I have a natural tendency to worry and be anxious.
I know those who do not have as much of a tendency, and I admire them.
I'm married to one such person.
Becky and I will celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary tomorrow.
We were wed on March 6, 1982.
Throughout our marriage and ministry together, at times I have leaned toward panic instead of faith.
She has a solid and childlike faith in our Father.
For all those who have the same tendency as I, let me share a quote with you that will encourage:
The secret of Christian quietness is not indifference, but the knowledge that God is my Father, He loves me, I shall never think of anything He will forget, and worry becomes an impossibility. -- Oswald Chambers
It is not the product of a victory or a command. It has no finishing line, no final deadline, no fixed definition of achievement. Peace is a never-ending process, the work of many decisions by many people in many countries. It is an attitude, a way of life, a way of solving problems and resolving conflicts.
I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea.... I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed.... I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war.
A key problem of evangelical churches worldwide is the unilateral emphasis on numerical growth. For the sake of it, the gospel is watered down, church services are turned into entertainment, and Jesus' commandment to make disciples is replaced by a strategy to enroll as many converts as possible. In my frequent travels, I find an increasing number of megachurches with a high rate of numerical growth but a low degree of concern for faithfulness to the whole gospel and the ethical dimensions of whole-life discipleship. Read more....
What distinguishes those of us at the starting line from those of us on the couch is that we learn through running to take what the days gives us, what our body will allow us, and what our will can tolerate.
Much of our difficulty as seeking Christians stems from our unwillingness to take God as He is and adjust our lives accordingly. We insist upon trying to modify Him and bring Him nearer to our own image.
To put it spiritually, much of our political discourse today dishonors the image of God in each other and in the fragile process of human beings trying to govern themselves in peace. An honest political search to find answers to serious problems has been replaced by a politics of warring factions, where winning and losing become the only considerations. We must do more than simply change our language; we must learn to honor the process and its participants by treating disagreement with respect. When we disagree, we should do so respectfully, without falsely impugning the other’s motives, attacking the other’s character, or questioning the other’s faith. We ultimately need a moral debate.
Political debate, even vigorous debate, is a healthy thing for a democracy. But to question the integrity, patriotism, and even the faith of those with whom we disagree is destructive to democratic discourse. And to threaten or even imply the possibility of violence toward those whose politics or worldview differs from ours is a sign of moral danger and, indeed, a sign of democracy’s unraveling.
This fundamental disrespect in the political debate has harmed the public square.
We are entering into the March madness time of year when college basketball has their conference tournaments and then the big dance – the NCAA tournament.
You will hear coaches and commentators commenting on a team’s ability to play offense and defense.
During this time of year, I’m always reminded of teamwork and how championships are won by teamwork and good coaching.
Christ followers belong to a team.
They have been selected by Christ alone.
He is their coach and He is a good coach.
He simply asks them to deny self, take up their cross and follow Him.
He showed them how.
They don’t need a popular sports drink.
Their thirst is quenched by the Holy Spirit who empowers them to continue the point of need ministry of their coach.
A lot of defense has been played, but coach showed them by example how to play offense.
It’s time rise up as a team and play offense in our day!
Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness, and pride of power, and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear... Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Cowardice asks the question: Is it safe? Expediency asks the question: Is it politic? Vanity asks the question: Is it popular? But conscience asks the question: Is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular -- but he must take it simply because conscience tells him it is right.
My grandfather, Rev. Andrew Johnson, talked about breaking ice on the creek in the dead of winter to baptize people in the early and mid 1900's once they chose to deny self, take up the cross and follow Jesus.
I've been baptizing people for 18 years now.
I've baptized people indoors.
I've baptized people outdoors.
I've baptized people in swimming pools.
I've baptized people in cow troughs.
I've baptized people in water so cold that my legs where numb and blue, but have never had to break ice yet.
To me, one of the thrills of ministry is baptizing those who choose to deny self, take up the cross and follow Jesus.
But, throughout my time in ministry, it has truly amazed me that there are so many who profess to be Christian, but delay being baptized in water.
Jesus was baptized in water prior to starting His earthly ministry.
If we are following Christ, we will follow Him in water baptism.
If you are a Christian who has not yet been baptized in water, I encourage you to make the transition to being a Christ follower and make the first step of your journey water baptism.
Get your hair wet!
Follow Christ in water baptism.
Allow the Holy Spirit to stir the waters and do something supernatural in your life.
Anne Lamott, in Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith says "Most of what we do in worldly life is geared toward our staying dry, looking good, not going under. But in baptism, in lakes and rain and tanks and fonts, you agree to do something that's a little sloppy because at the same time it's also holy, and absurd. It's about surrender, giving in to all those things we can't control; it's a willingness to let go of balance and decorum and get drenched."
By God's grace, we are called to pick up our cross, deny self and follow Jesus.
We choose to follow or not.
He does not choose for us.
If He did, He would not be a just God.
And He is just.
So the choice is ours.
As we follow Him, a wonderful and supernatural work happens within us on our journey.
We develop His mind.
We develop His heart.
He changes the way we think.
Our behavior toward others change.
His love develops within us and extends to those in need around us.
We stand for faith and justice no matter what it costs us.
That's true religion my friend... that's true religion.
Henry Scougal said "True religion is a union of God with the soul, a real participation of the divine nature, the very image of God drawn upon the soul, or in the apostle's phrase, it is Christ formed in us."
Genuine Christian love is forged against the anvil of our selfishness and possessiveness... It is important to remember that love is more than a feeling. It is active and transitive. The real test of my loving is not that I feel loving, but that the other person feels loved by me. Love is what I do to create this sense of feeling cared for.
We are afraid of religion because it interprets rather than just observes. Religion does not confirm that there are hungry people in the world; it interprets the hungry to be our brethren whom we allow to starve.
There remains an experience of incomparable value ... to see the great events of world history from below; from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled -- in short, from the perspective of those who suffer ... to look with new eyes on matters great and small.
God is quick to forgive us of our sins as we repent, but the consequences of those sins can linger for a lifetime and beyond. American theologianReinhold Niebuhr said that “All human sin seems so much worse in its consequences than in its intentions.”
Humility is what gives us the vision to look upon our world with fresh eyes. Humility enables us to respect others enough to put down our spurious images of ourselves and open our arms, as individuals and as a nation.
As we follow Christ, we will practice humility my friend.
The bread that you possess belongs to the hungry. The clothes that you store in boxes, belong to the naked. The shoes rotting by you, belong to the bare-foot. The money that you hide belongs to anyone in need.
Grace begins and ends prayer. Grace is what we call what is left over after the scouring of the self, the dying into self. Grace is what was there before we ever looked at ourselves in prayer. Grace gives us our initial impulse to pray.
He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world's believing him. -- Thomas Jefferson
Does the compassionate life not demand that we be present to those who suffer; does it not require that we enter into solidarity with the poor, oppressed, and downtrodden; does it not motivate us both to move into the thick of life and to experience the hardships of existence in solidarity with the outcasts?
- Henri Nouwen,
Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life
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