Friday, January 28, 2011

It's All About Love (3)

If you are "late to the party," read my last two posts here, and then here.

- "God is most glorified, when we are most satisfied in Him." - John Piper
- "Love God and do as you please." - Augustine

- "Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart" - King David (Ps. 37:4)

Let me start by asking you a question; do you love God more than anything? I mean, really, do you love and treasure God more than any other thing...any of it? More than your stuff? More than your wife/husband? More than your children? What is love anyways?

Take a look at that quote from Piper. What do you think; do you agree with it? I do, and here's why. God, who is all-sufficient, all-knowing, everywhere, for some reason delighted to share His glory with us, sinful men. That's right, God's glory, shared with us (for more on this, read my post here). God's glory, on us. What words could I type to wrap around this concept? None. What does God ask from us? To sell out to Him...heart, mind, soul and strength. To LOVE Him...with everything. To seek Him and find Him. What's the first commandment? Thou shalt have no other gods...none! Nothing should replace God in our lives. No material things, no people, no children, no goals/dreams or aspirations, NOTHING. God's command is to put Him first in everything.

In other words, when we find our total satisfaction in Him and Him alone, He is most glorified. Make sense? He has shared or placed His glory on us and when we love him fully, He is glorified in us.

And that brings us to Augustine's quote...if, and only if we are loving God in this way, then yes, do whatever you want. It's what Nathan the prophet told David in 1 Chronicles 17:2:

"Whatever you have in mind, do it, for God is with you." The truth is, God is with everyone who loves Him fully.

Which brings us to the third quote up above in Psalm 37:4...when you delight yourself in God, find your sole satisfaction in Him, then He will give you the desires of your heart.

Stop: this doesn't mean that there's some kind of cosmic equation at work; "if I love God, he will give me that boat/car/vacation/money/wife/son/daughter _____ I've always wanted..." This is not a cheap kind of love that is self-seeking...this is a reckless love. A love that will risk all, a blind-love that sees God for who He is. A love that will stop at nothing...a love that is so blind that the only thing that matters is pleasing God. He wants us to love Him, yes, but for the right reasons. We love Him by loving His son. How did Jesus describe to us the way He wants us to love Him?

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:44-45)

God has invited us into His kingdom. Will you enter? Will you forsake everything for Him?

How do you get there? I have some thoughts on that too, coming soon, but first, do what I'm doing right now. Pray. Pray hard. Seek Him. Fast. Give. Serve. Read. Know Him. Learn Him. And whatever you do, don't ever stop running to Him.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

It's All About Love (2)

If you haven't read my first post, read it now (here).

I want to talk about a trap that we all fall into in our pursuit of God.

The first trap is "works-based Christianity." We read our Bible and pray, and that makes us feel good about ourselves. When we don't, we feel bad. We tithe our %10, give a little extra, and that makes us feel good. We go on a missions trip or two, and that makes us feel good. We go to church, possibly even get involved in a ministry...more pats on the back. Certainly, because we're "doing" all these things, we must be a good Christian and God must be pleased with us. The problem? Often all these "works" mask the fact that our heart is far from God. The works in themselves are not the problem; it's the heart that is often lacking.

“The Lord says: 'These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.' " (Isaiah 29:13)

Remember when you were young and you did something bad and your parents told you to say you were sorry? But deep down, you weren't? So with that snide look you said "soooooory." And then your parents said "say it like you mean it." That's kind of the difference between doing something with the right heart.

Actually, the real problem with living "works-based" is that it puts all the focus on US. It becomes self-justification. There's a group in the Bible that were masters at this; the Pharisees. I am always so quick to judge them for their legalism, their religiosity, and yet deep down I wonder if I have more in common with them than with Jesus' disciples.

My point is not to depress you (or myself). My point is, however to hopefully motivate you and I to consider our relationship with God. Is it based on our works, our actions, our pursuits? Is it based on us? Or are we truly motivated by the amazing love that God has shown us?

Truth: For GOD so loved the amount of good works you ever do will ever earn a single ounce of love from God. He already loves you with everything He can. He cannot possibly love you any more. No matter what you do. If you sold all you had and gave it all away and moved to Africa to serve God the rest of your life, He would NOT love you any more than He does right now, today.

Truth: God is after your HEART and your hands. Giving Him our hands is often easier; we can measure that. How many minutes did I read my Bible, how much money did I give, how many good things did I do in His name. However, giving God your hands without giving Him your heart is self-justification. It's worthless.

Truth: God is after an intimate relationship with you; one of reckless, risk-taking love. He wants it all!

Unfortunately, if you're reading this looking to me for the 3-step process to turn your relationship with Christ into a risk-taking, passionate one, you're in the wrong spot. However, I can encourage you to take time...TIME...lots of much as you can pursue Him. How?

When you've fallen in love with someone, how do you pursue them? It's the same...

"You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 29:13)

Friday, January 21, 2011

It's All About Love

(37) " 'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.' 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.' " (Matt. 22:37-40)

4 "If someone claims, 'I know God,' but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. 5 But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him... 6 Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did." (1 John 2:4-6)

"The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." (Gal. 5:6)

It's all about love. God created us because of love. God called us because of love. God sent Jesus because of love. And in response, God calls us to love Him back. To love Him with everything we are...and also, to love each other. How are we doing?

Can I ask you a question? I'm asking it of myself as well. What does someone who is passionately in love look like? Think about that. A few characteristics come to mind;

- They can only think of their and night
- They will act stupid and do silly things for their love...they really don't care what people think
- They will drive long distances, or even fly, just to have a few moments with their love
- They will radically change their lives to be close to their love
- They will try to do things for their love, that they know he/she will enjoy
- They want to be loved back by their love
- They get sweaty hands and a skipping heart when they get close to their love
- A written love letter from their love is cause for delusionary, almost "drunken" behavior

Have you ever seen a friend of yours "fall in love?" Remember how they seemed to change "over-night?" Their behaviors, thought patterns, work ethic; everything got chucked out the door and suddenly nothing, not even you, mattered anymore; the only thing that mattered was them getting close to that person.

Does this describe your relationship with God?

"Love the Lord with all your heart..."

Does God want us to love Him, passionately? Yes.
Does God want us to act foolishly in pursuit of Him? I believe Yes.
Does God make room for us to partially love Him, but not fully? Hmmm. I don't think so.

You see, at the end of the day, there are only two kinds of people; those who love God with everything, and those who don't. Those who love Him with everything will do absolutely anything for Him. And those who don't, well, you know...

My prayer today is this;

"God, even though you've already done everything for me, please Lord, I ask you this one more thing; please re-open my heart to fall in love with you all over again. Strip away my selfishness, strip away my 'works-based Christianity,' forgive me for my 'luke-warmness' and help me to truly love you with everything I have; heart, mind, soul and strength. Lord Jesus, do not allow me to try to earn what you've already given me, nor allow me to believe I am not good enough for You; for both of those paths put the focus on me, not You. It's always been about You; Your grace, Your love, Your plan, Your purpose. Lord, help me to love You more. Amen."

Friday, January 14, 2011

What's your balance?

"Because of this, I always try to maintain a clear conscience before God and all people." (Acts 24:16)

Keep short accounts. These words were first uttered to me by a friend of mine who counsels. They are great words to live by. What do they mean? Think in terms of your bank account balance. You always want to make sure your deposits are greater than your withdrawals. Make too many withdrawals without enough deposits, and you'll soon be out of money...or worse, in debt. By keeping "short accounts," you are making sure that your deposit/debt ledger is never very long. And herein lies the key question; do we keep short accounts with God, and with others?

There are two main commands that God has for us. First, we are to love Him with everything we are. Second, we are to love each other. The "verb" in both of those commands is "love." It's an action. It's God's greatest desire. How do we know if we're succeeding in this? It's complicated, and ultimately God is the only just judge of our heart; however, I believe part of that answer is in that verse Paul uttered.

Strive to keep a clean conscience; first with God, and second with our human relationships. Or, to put it another way, keep short accounts with God first, and with others second.

With God; has He been trying to get your attention about something? Are you struggling with an addiction or sin issue? Do you find yourself, as Paul did early on, "kicking against the goads?" As a brief side-track, "goads" were used to prod cattle to move them forward. Often, the cattle would kick against them. Has God been trying to "goad" you forward, and you keep kicking against Him? Is your conscience clear before God?

But that's only half the equation. In some ways, the second half is harder. With God we have someone who always loves unconditionally and always forgives. With our human relationships we deal with people who don't love that way. We hold grudges, we get hurt easily, we have sensitive egos. All this can make it hard to keep short accounts with each other. But still, it is God's command. Is there someone you need to ask to forgive you, or someone you need to forgive? A friend you've hurt? Someone you owe something to? Do you have a clear conscience before men?

What a great day it will be when Christ comes back to take us to be with Him forever. I pray that I, and you, have a clear conscience with Him and each other on that day. Start today!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Axioms, Adages, and Proverbs (6): Let it Snow...?

"Live as if Christ died yesterday, rose today, and is coming back tomorrow." (Martin Luther)

1-11-11: what a date! And here I sit, waiting for the much anticipated snow event that is due to hit. I love the snow. If I had it my way, we'd get about 2' of snow right now. Whenever there is even the slightest chance of snow, I grow restless with anticipation, checking weather maps, radar images, forecasts, barometric pressure, and more. And so it is today; I've been watching the snow approach us for the past few hours and as I write this very moment, the snow is at our door.

I wonder; what would happen if I lived my life on earth with this same sense of anticipation for Christ's return? I mean He is coming back, right? And more than just a few inches of snow, when He comes back, He will be bringing me into His presence, forever. Wow! What could be better? A new heaven, a new earth, a new body that works all the time, a wedding feast in the presence of God Himself, a thousand year reign over a renewed earth? Amazing! Even as I write I start dreaming of heaven. And yet...

And yet I confess that most of my life on earth is lived out with no anticipation of this event at all. It's like the songwriter Keith Greene put it; "Asleep in the Light." C.S. Lewis put it this way;

"If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this."

What does he mean? Well let me go back to my snow analogy. If I told you that I had irrefutable evidence that beginning tomorrow morning around 9:00 AM, we would get a snow-storm and by the time it was done we would have about 3 feet of fresh snow on the ground, followed by at least a week of sub-zero temperatures, it would probably change how you lived your life today. You'd probably go to the store on the way home from work to make sure you were prepared. You'd probably make sure you had plenty of food, firewood, flashlights and the like. You'd probably dig out all your warm clothes. Bottom line: it would change how you lived your life.

And yet, Christ has told us that He is absolutely, positively coming back. But are any of us living any differently with that knowledge? Or is it just some distant, future event that has no real bearing on our lives today? In other words, are we, am I, so consumed with my life here on earth, that I've lost sight of the bigger picture?

If I knew that Christ was coming back sometime in my lifetime, it would definitely change how I lived today. And that, my friends, is the challenge. Whatever that "change" is, that's how Christ calls us to live today, right now, and everyday.

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. 35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

The call is not an idle one, to sit back in an arm-chair and "watch." It's a call to action!

Live as if Christ died yesterday, rose today, and is coming back tomorrow. (Martin Luther)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Hezekiah's warning

Reading through the descriptions of the kings of Israel and Judah can be a depressing thing. Time after time, king after king, the people are led astray. Rather than turning to God, Jahweh, who brought them into the very land they were living, time and again the kings turn away from Him and embrace worthless idols. Still, there were some bright spots. Two names jump out, in particular; Josiah, and Hezekiah. I want to take a closer look at Hezekiah right now.

He got off to a great start, solely because he trusted God and followed Him (see my New Years post). Hezekiah was a very bright spot among the kings of Judah...right up until the end (kind of). Hezekiah was struck with an illness and God was apparently about to call him home. We get two accounts of the illness that almost took his life in 2 Kings 20, and 2 Chronicles 32. Hezekiah prays earnestly to God and God decides to add 15 years to his life. This is where the trouble starts...

24 In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. He prayed to the Lord, who answered him and gave him a miraculous sign. 25 But Hezekiah’s heart was proud and he did not respond to the kindness shown him; therefore the Lord’s wrath was on him and on Judah and Jerusalem. 26 Then Hezekiah repented of the pride of his heart, as did the people of Jerusalem; therefore the Lord’s wrath did not come upon them during the days of Hezekiah.

Apparently, Hezekiah had a pride issue. The root of his pride appeared to be in his wealth; ironically, a wealth that he had only due to the kindness of God. Look what happens next, in 2 Kings 20...

12 At that time Merodach-Baladan son of Baladan king of Babylon sent Hezekiah letters and a gift, because he had heard of Hezekiah’s illness. 13 Hezekiah received the messengers and showed them all that was in his storehouses—the silver, the gold, the spices and the fine oil—his armory and everything found among his treasures. There was nothing in his palace or in all his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them... [this little display brings a rebuke from God]

16 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord: 17 The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your fathers have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord.”

I've often thought that Hezekiah would have been better off without the additional 15 years. I wonder - he obviously has a problem with pride, and it appears to be tied to his wealth. I wonder even more if the reason he didn't plead with God for his life to be extended wasn't just so he could enjoy his wealth and life? Of course, that's just conjecture...but it does seem plausible...not unlike someone who's worked their whole lives for a nice retirement, and then wants to kick back and enjoy it.

There's a few things at work here, and it is critically important to remember that God sees what we cannot see; He sees our heart, our motives, our secret thoughts. Pride. I wonder, would I have felt any differently? Pride - Pride is an evil and cunning enemy. None of us think we are prideful, and that is his first lie. Pride uses sneak attacks. He seeps into your thoughts, and leads you to judge others harshly, without waiting to hear the facts. Pride seeks to elevate self above all others, even God. And that, my friends, is the greatest danger.

Pride left un-checked will take God off the throne of your life, and replace Him with you. Think about the stupidity of that; replacing the God of the universe, with a finite man. The greatest danger with pride left un-checked? It leads to idolatry. Hmmm...somewhere I read something that said "you shall have no other gods before me!" Pride has us read the Old Testament, constantly thinking "I would have never been like that..."

The antidote? Humility. But then, that's a dangerous prayer...but it is a prayer that leads to Godliness.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year, Same Path?

It's a new year gives us all a feeling of a fresh start; but if I had to hazard a guess, I'd probably say that well over 90% of new years resolutions go un-fulfilled, goals un-met. Hmmm. What's the answer? Set no goals? I mean, if you have almost no chance of success, why even try?

As I look forward to 2011, I have taken a small turn in my "resoluting." Instead of setting a bunch of 1-year goals, I've decided to focus more long-term. Instead of words like "goals" and "resolutions," I am using words like "path" and "direction." In short, I want to make sure the direction my life is heading is the direction I want it to go.

I do have a goal, though - to do and finish the work that Christ has called me to. The question is, "is my path and direction helping me to accomplish that goal?" Allow me to compare two situations found in 2 Kings 17 and 18. This book chronicles the kings of Israel and Judah...most of whom, chose to forsake God.
First the bad;

14 But they would not listen and were as stiff-necked as their ancestors, who did not trust in the LORD their God. 15 They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their ancestors and the statutes he had warned them to keep. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless.
(2 Kings 17:14-15)

There are three problems with the Israelites that are putting them on the wrong path and sending them further away from God.
1) They are not trusting God
2) They have rejected His covenant
3) They have followed worthless things, and in turn become worthless. (Funny how that works; you become what you chase after).

And what is the result? God left them. He exiled them and removed them from His presence. Now I don't know about you, for I can tell you for sure that I do NOT want to be removed from God's presence. But there is another way...

5 Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. 6 He held fast to the LORD and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the LORD had given Moses. (2 Kings 18:5-6)

In contrast, we have Hezekiah. What did he do?
1) He trusted in God
2) He held fast to Him and His covenant, and did not stop following
3) Hezekiah did NOT chase after worthless things, but in fact chased after God

The result?

7 And the LORD was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook. (2 Kings 18:7)

2011 is here. What path are you going to choose? There are only two...

Want to read more about this principle? Check out Principle of the Path by Andy Stanley.