Every New Year's we hear a lot about resolutions that help us be physically, emotionally, relationally, and/or spiritually healthier people. The resolutions range from making diet changes, to exercising more, to setting better boundaries, to not losing one's temper, to having more date nights with a spouse, to reading the Bible more often, and to developing a consistent prayer life.
This year I noticed a bit of push back towards those stating resolutions by those who believe resolutions set us up for failure. And to me a resolution does feel all or nothing. Once I've blown it, I feel like I've blown it for the whole year. Some of the discussions I heard about resolutions remind me of the discussions the Lord had in Matthew 22. The Pharisees, who were all about keeping the law, posed the question, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" Even though they were asking with a motive of trying to disprove Jesus, I resonate with the question because I lived in fear and I longed to be a good girl and I longed to please the Lord.
I know I'm not the only one. As a volunteer youth worker, I was often asked how far one could carry out particular behaviors before Jesus (or others) consider them sin. I loved the honesty in the questions, because I think we adults want the same kind of direction, we are too ashamed to express it. At some point we've wondered when social drinking become drunkenness and sinful? We have wondered when does a friendly interaction between two married people moves from friendship to adultery either emotional or physical? How far is too far to go physically in a dating relationship before it is sin? Or, how many times can we miss church before it becomes sinful?
Like the Pharisees, we want clear guidelines. We want to know so we can feel good about ourselves and know we are good people.We may want to know because we feel safer if we know exactly where the line is drawn and what is expected of us. And if there is more than one thing expected, we believe we have a better chance of pleasing God if we figure out what the most important thing to fulfill is. We may want to know because we may have been in bondage to sin and be afraid that we will be sucked back into it if we don't set a protective bar high. But sadly, that may help us, but we may sin by becoming Pharisaical as we judge and push our standard on others, robbing them of their freedom in Christ.
Jesus's answer is probably not the answer they expected, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." It seems somewhat subjective. Not black-and-what enough!
Reading the Lord's words, I remember hearing a sermon on them and asking God to help me understand what it means to love Him with all my heart, all my soul, and all my mind. Those words sound like being completely consumed by love and passion for Him. Though I had experienced moments like that I wasn't sure what it meant to actually live that out continuously. So, I continued to pray for God's help and over the next few weeks, I noticed every sermon I heard was on the love God has for us. Every time I turned on the car radio a song about His love was playing. I also received many unexpected encouragement notes during that time, containing verses about God's love for me--notes written by people who knew nothing about my prayers. I looked up verses on love and one of them said, "We love because He first loved us." and I grasped that to love God the way I desired, I had to first begin to comprehend and embrace the truth of His great love for me. Prior to that, if one asked me if God loved me I would say yes, but in truth I struggled daily to believe it and that doubt often drove my thought life, my responses to God and others and to my circumstances, and it drove my actions.
Over several years God showed me through words and through experience how much he loved me. Sometimes it was when I was showing love to my children, I would sense Him saying, "This is how I love you." Sometimes it was when a friend extended grace that I sensed Him saying, "My loving grace is deeper still!" Sometimes it was in the struggle to overcome sinful patterns, as I cried out to Him for help to overcome that I sensed His presence overwhelming me with love and silencing the angst of desire gone awry! Sometimes it was in the roar of a wave at the beach, or the birds singing in the mountains, the eerie silence of snow blanketing desert town, the roar of the thunder, the tremble of the quaking earth, the beautiful sunrises, and the display of the milky way across the darkened moonless sky reminded me of His loving presence. Sometimes it was in the sacredness of hearing another's pain that I could feel His loving presence wash over us and see the beauty still present in the brokenness. Sometimes I experienced His love as He brought me to specific passages in His Word--passages that revealed how He loves and passages that exposed my misunderstandings of Him and the stronghold of disbelief that kept me from fully enjoying His love.
This was different! Before, my faith had been about me trying to be good. My faith had been about me trying to earn His love. My faith had been about trying not to make Him angry at me. Now, it became about understanding and fully receiving the love He had already demonstrated at Calvary and looking for was to love Him in return.
The more I studied the more I realized how tightly the second command is tied to the first. One cannot totally demonstrate love for God apart from loving others. Matthew 25:35-40, "'For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' and the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you as you did it to me one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'" So, to love another visible person well is to love the invisible God the way He wants to be loved!
I also had been a person who struggled with severe self-contempt and came across the truth of Psalm 139. "I will praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made." That concept blew me away! But the more I pondered it, the more I realized living in shame and contempt draws the focus from God to me in a sick way. The more I dwelled there, the more I tended to hide from both God and man and the more I was driven by self-protective behaviors than love. I grew to accept that Temptation is common to man. Paul, claimed he was the worst of sinners and I decided to quit fighting him for that title and just focus on the fact that by faith Jesus took all of my bad on Himself and gave me His goodness. I began to grasp the freedom of the greatest two commandments. By choosing to believe He loved me, I could focus on getting to know Him by studying His attributes and trusting that He is there when I cry out to Him in desperate need of strength to fight sin or in desperate need of grace and mercy in the face of failure. By focusing on the next loving word to speak I can overcome sins of the tongue, not giving into the tendency to gossip, slander, bear false witness, or spew hatefulness at another. By focusing on the next loving action I can perform, I can overcome both sins of commission and sins omission, and the sin of self-protection. By focusing on love, I can overcome the sinful desires not yet weeded out of my heart. By focusing on serving others, I no longer clamor to be served, living with constant disappointment because other broken creatures like me failed to meet my expectations. By focusing on the love of Jesus, I become empowered to love God, others, and myself well, and the righteousness I used to seek is worked out in a natural way that exceeds my frantic efforts and gives a spirit of humility rather than pride. So, who do you love?
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Who do you Love?
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Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!
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