Monday, May 30, 2011

Learning How to Love

Let's begin with love, and understanding what it is, verses what it's not. More often than not, people have a tendency to think that loving someone or something is easy. That it's just a simple action a person can express and act out on from a combination of emotions and feelings that have amassed over time, or in many cases all at once. Let me make one thing clear: true love takes root in no single emotion. True love is not held together or defined by a powerful feeling that seems to resonate within a person. It does not always evoke feelings of "happily ever after" like many children story-book endings have promised in the past. No, true love is a state of will that we possess naturally; first about ourselves, and, as we grow and learn in our lives, a will that we must exercise and practice towards feeling for other people as well; even those we vow not to love, but yet love to hate. The goal we're striving for, and the model we look to, is God's perfected love given to us in Christ. It is in the very nature of God to love, to pour out blessings and delight in His creation. It is also in the very nature of God to deeply care for us and to constantly be involved in our daily lives. However, no where is it in God's nature to partake in and receive fellowship from sin. When we don't love in the way God has commanded us to, (revealed to us as both our neighbor, who we find easy to love, and our enemy, who we find it incredibly difficult to love), we're sinning against the greatest commandment He ever gave us to obey, and that is to first love Him with everything we are and with everything we have within us, but equally important to also "love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22: 38-29).

I've come to understand something about mankind. I actually find this really interesting, yet not surprising when you reflect on our sinful nature. Naturally, we like to define things in terms of decency, yet we always seems to turn a blind eye to things that tarnish that decency. For example, we think it's absolutely horrible to hear of children in poverty and poor and homeless vagabonds that drift through life without food and without the truth of the Gospel in their hearts. However, when, as "faithful and God-honoring" American church-goers, we meet these kind of people in real life, we think they're disgusting. They are repulsive to us. We label them outcasts, losers, and not worthy of our time or money. After all, isn't the time-honored excuse "Oh, I already give to my church enough. That's all I really need to do with what I have". For those of you who actually think that way, let me remind you of something: God commanded us to take care of those people. People less fortunate than us, people who are homeless, hungry, without clothes, and without a Savior. Christ told us to love those people. And to serve them. And jam-packed in the middle of all these are the people me and you don't feel like loving. That aggravating boy in math class who talks too much. That sorority girl who you think is stuck up. The annoying neighbor who plays his music too loud. That ex-boyfriend/girlfriend who broke your heart and "ruined your life". Yeah, those people. Jesus told us to look at them with loving hearts the same way God gazes upon His creation: with love. powerful, true love. Like I discussed earlier though, it doesn't stop there. We need to do this to people we are scared of loving, those "un-religious people" out there that don't know Christ. The ones that aren't as "good as us" or as "rich as we are" as we like to describe. I want you to think about this: How can a person learn about true happiness and love if God, the only source of this, is unknown to them? Makes sense doesn't it? This is where we step in, where we make a stand and take this Gospel of love and salvation, and we share it with the unreached world; serving the poor, defending the helpless, and pouring out our heart to them the same way God poured out his heart for us on the Cross. I want there to be a social revolution. One that penetrates the hearts and minds of Christians world-wide. One that tells us that it's beautiful how Jesus loves and cares for the sinful. the rebellious ones. the nasty ones. the wicked ones. Wanna know why: Because he came to die for these. Not for those of us who act like Christians, and know a little bit of truth and are religiously religious. No. Christ came for one reason and one reason only: "...To seek and to save the lost", and redeem every one of those people back to His Father. (Luke 19:10) And He commands us to love those people in as equally a powerful way as He did in being murdered for them. In being murdered for you. In being murdered for me.

Think of the old analogy of playing your favorite sport. Ever since we were young, our parents, and those older and wiser figures instituted to take care of us, have told us that the more you practice something the better you become at it. So naturally, we see the best example of this with sports. The harder you work at wanting to become better at the sport you wish to be good at, inevitably the better you really will end up becoming at it. And you come to realize more and more that you have to try less and less because of the incredible amount of skill you acquire over time. This is the same with true love. The principle is the same for loving others we don't want to love. We can't just sit back and figure out how we're going to find it in our hearts to love. We need to dive into it readily; and give it an honest try. You will oftentimes discover that you actually grow to love people you used to dislike. This is because God is working in our hearts, breaking down our self-made walls and letting His love for us fill the void we've created. When this happens, we find that, over time, we really don't have to try as hard like I mentioned earlier. The reason is because it will naturally become an ingrained part of us to want to love people; both the easy to get along with ones and the aggravating to get along with ones; the good, the bad, and the downright ugly as it seems to us at times. We learn to make no distinction in terms of people. Why? Because whether you're a Christian saved by faith in Christ, an atheist wanting nothing to do with the faith, or a non-believer on the verge of a breakthrough with possibly desiring a Savior, the central theme will always be the same: not one of us has anything good within us to reason with. We're all sinners, both Christian and non-Christian alike. We're all in need of the grace of God. And it's as we come to know this that we also come to understand that we're called to love no matter what it costs us. Now, this doesn't mean that when sin becomes involved in the picture that we just dismiss and ignore it and keep on riding the love train through life. No, not at all. Sin should be dealt with, brought up when necessary, confronted, and repented of. And Christians have the responsibility of convicting each other when it happens. But sin should never change or distort our view of each other, in terms of how we treat and behave towards one another. We should, as the old addage goes, always hate the sin but always love the sinner too. Why? because that's what God did. That's what He does. He doesn't just turn the other cheek and decide since we've messed up once that He's done with us for good. He gives us chances, all the time. In fact, the biggest second chance any person in this world ever received to "do it right this time around" was Christ's death on the cross. Just saying...

In the Old Testament, in the book of Isaiah, the people of Israel had become "deaf and blind", (Chapter 6:10), to God, and so He called the prophet Isaiah to warn His chosen people of impending disaster and devastation that would ultimately come if they did not turn from their rebellion and keep His commandments handed down to them at Mount Sinai by Moses years and years ago. Isaiah was repeatedly met with hostility and the refusal by the Israelites to listen and take heed to God's warnings of the consequences that would ensue should they continue in their sin. He never batted an eye. He kept declaring that God would bring His judgement upon all of them. He also kept promoting and glorifying the sovereignty of God; loving the stubborn nation of Israel even when they wanted nothing to do with what they felt were his "stupid prophecies".

In the book of Jeremiah, we also see the outpouring of love on a group of people that are becoming ever-increasingly harder to want to love. Yet again the Israelites have fallen back into sin, and God has called the prophet Jeremiah to warn them of His judgement that is to come upon them if they don't come back to Him and stop their sinful ways. Jeremiah looks out over sinful Israel and pours out wave after wave of love; with his desperate cries for them to repent and seek after the righteousness of God. (Chapter 15:19) Not once did Jeremiah sway from what God had commissioned Him to do. Jeremiah loved God's purpose for Him, and he loved the nation of Israel more than he did the fierce opposition he was faced with.

True love is depicted in the New Testament as well. In the Gospels we see Jesus Christ, the son of man, being sent by God not just as the atonement for our sins, but as a powerful offering to demonstrate His mighty love for us. In this way, God sends Christ to be born into the world as a human in a dirty stable in Bethlehem, living a hard life as a modern-day carpenter for thirty years, and then finally embarking upon a three year ministry in which he was scorned, frowned down upon, driven from cities, kicked out of towns, spit upon, mocked for going against the social norms and the established status quo, hated for discussing kingdoms of "another world", laughed at for claiming to be God incarnate, brutally tortured and murdered on an old weather-beaten cross, magnificently glorified after the tearing of the veil, and shockingly victorious over the grave in His resurrection. "Okay, that sounds about right. But why did all of that even need to happen?", you might ask me. Because God loved us that much. We couldn't find a way out of the sin we kept falling into, so God sent His only begotten son to die for us. Why? Because it was the only way. In doing so, God made Himself personal with us. He became the very sin He abhorred because sin itself is contrary to the perfect sinlessness of His character and existence. He became the way of redemption; soaked in the blood of the most perfect lamb that could've ever been placed before His altar. God gave Himself to us in Jesus, giving us something that, should we choose to accept and live for, we would never be able to lose.

So, besides the obvious problem we all struggle through with our sins, what usually gets in the way of understanding the beauty of this love God has for us? The answer is actually really simple: Our pride. Once pride is manifest within us, we wish to compete to be better than one another. What this does is it removes our focus off of how insignificant we really are in comparison to the glory and power of God; which in all honesty is our real condition anyway. Encouraging this power we wish to exert over one another, in the form of prideful gains, is an avenue of what I like to call "playing God"; of trying to think that we possess the upper hand in life in something. Frankly, and you can call me crazy but I will make no apologies in stating my belief on this, but the mere presence of God should silence us and bring us to our knees; not provide us with an opportunity to even think for one second that we can compare anything we are to Him. After all, if the only thing I'm ever looking for is more opportunities to build myself up and to ascend the latter towards more self-success and self-recognition, then the only thing I'm really seeking after is more self-love. I'm wanting to indulge in how much I value who I am, and in what I believe myself capable of doing; apart from God. I should be wanting more opportunities to show God how much I love Him. I should be desiring more of God's blessings and more of God's presence in my life so as to demonstrate to Him that everything I am and everything I do is because He loves me and because from Him comes all the power and all the ability.

And so, as always, I'll leave you with my answer to your age-old question after reading all of this: "So what are you getting at Kris? What's the big idea?" The "big idea" is this: we must understand that true love is a solid and firm commitment of our will, not necessarily always a "heart-felt" emotion. Now, before I leave I don't want to discourage or take away from love in relation to things like marriage, or friendships, and so on and so forth. I, just as much as the next guy, believe love does indeed exist on this earth. I love people. I love my family. I love my friends. And to an extent there really are "feelings" I have in my heart for those people. But what drives all of that is the sincere commitment I've promised to follow through with: to love when the going gets tough, to love when something has happened to make me not like those people, and to love when I just don't feel like it. That state of will within me that tells me that this isn't all about me, and that this Christian faith has a bigger picture in mind in which I play a seemingly small, yet profoundly big part in, keeps ushering me on to see that I can't embark upon the promise of true love if in my heart I don't truly desire to want what love entails, and that's: love when it's hard to do so and a dedication to trust in God to keep producing within me the desire to love when I don't have the strength or willingness to. When it comes to true love, these are challenges that I, as well as all of you, should want. And embrace. Not because it can provide us with a sense of self-fulfillment. But because it will allow us to deny ourselves yet again, to admit that we really have no idea how to do it at all, and to receive more of Him.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Heart Broken For What Breaks My God's...

I recently spent a few days in the Smokey Mountains in Gatlinburg, Tennessee with my family for Spring Break. I remember thinking at the on-set of the trip,"Well I hope I can just relax, have a good time, and survive this trip". I had no idea that getting away from everything and spending time out in the great outdoors of God's beautiful nature would result in God revealing so many things to be. About myself. and about Him. I'm happy to say that for once I didn't stampede into the presence of God with words and phrases and worries like Solomon tells us in Scripture a fool does, I just sat back and listened to Him. And honestly, it has pretty much changed everything.

For the longest time now, I've been trying to lay out before myself, and come to a conclusion about, what are the areas in my life where God isn't glorified like He should be. What are the areas in my life where I want to please man instead of exalting Christ? Where have I fallen off the path to holiness in Christ and gone my own way? Every evening, as I knelt down overlooking the mountains, I did nothing but pray. For the first time in as long as I can remember, the only thing that came to my mind was "God, I can't figure this out. Show me the parts of my life that don't love you the way they should. Tell me if I'm not loving you with the best of my life".

I found out something about myself. Right there, looking out over God's beautiful creation, with no one around but me and God, I was convicted in a way I never have been before. The reality of everything hit me like a ton of bricks: In my own life, I tend to let the smallest circumstances and anxieties distract me away from my dependence on Christ to deliver me through times in which I don't understand, and in the power and understanding of God to reveal to me accordingly what I'm supposed to do in difficult situations. I'll break that down for you: Basically, I try to take the reins of control over my life in my own hands more often than I've ever wanted to admit. God's been awakening in my heart for a while now the desire to want more of Him. And He finally broke my heart this past week for what I would consider one of the most crucial components of following Jesus, and that's this: trusting Him with everything in my life, and never hesitating to hand over myself to Him.

To illustrate what I'm saying, I want to draw attention to an amazing quote by a great man of Christ, Southeastern Seminary professor and Christian author Alvin Reid:

"Some believers fail to witness because they know there are issue in their lives that bring reproach to the name of Christ. While some mistakenly think they have to be on some higher spiritual plane before they can witness, there are issues of obedience we must face to be effective in personal evangelism".

Dr. Reid continues on to point out how the consistency of possessing the true character of a follower of Christ is ultimately what defines everything about us. There simply cannot be voids and holes in our lives where absolute trust and confidence isn't being placed in Christ to lead our lives and give us strength when we need it. We can never grow in the righteousness of Christ, and desire to be vessels through which God can perform His wonderful works through if, in our hearts, we aren't willingly obedient to hand over everything to Him: our worries, our lack of understanding, our fears, our doubts, our confusions, and above all: our sins. every single one of them.

In the quiet of the evening, staring into those mountains, with my head bowed and my heart wide open, I realized a brutal, but yet beautiful truth: If I'm ever going to make a difference for the Gospel of Christ, if I'm ever going to help expand the Kingdom of God and take on God-sized risks, if I'm ever going to have the dream to travel wherever God leads me and evangelize people who I know desperately need salvation through Christ, then what it's going to take is radical abandonment. Abandonment of all of the thinking in my mind that actually tries to convince me that I know how to do it all on my own. Abandonment of the fear of feeling like this is too much for me and I won't be able to do what God has commanded me to do. Abandonment from caring for the judgement and acceptance by the world of people who I know will never understand me in the way my God does. In our personal lives, we must be obedient in allowing God to remove from us what is holding us back from faithfully serving His purposes. If we outwardly are preaching and teaching, and on the inside it's all a massive contradiction to the way that we are Really living our lives, then we're liars and impostors in the faith. We end up doing nothing but pointing people in a direction that Jesus never went in. Why do I call this "brutal"? Because giving it all up and asking God to cleanse me and take control will be the mindset that removes any control I will have on my own life. For most people, that will destroy them: to know that this life isn't up to them to decide where it should go and how it should be lived. But for me, it's a long-overdue promise that I now fully understand is necessary to my faith. If I lose this life I live, I know I will that much more gain the Christ I love. And for the rest of my life, I will let that be the biggest definition of the man that I am.

Some say the hardest thing to do, when it comes to the life of a Christian, is to figure out what God's will for our lives is. I disagree with that. I think that the hardest thing for us as Christians to do is to actually be willing to do what God has revealed and commanded for us to do. And so, with boldness and bravery, with a strong faith and a willing heart, with a powerful trust and a sinful life touched by grace, I will give the best of who I am to God. Gone are the days where this life is mine to direct. Gone are the days where what matters to me the most is how I look to the world. Gone are the days where my main focus in life is everything opposite of what brings honor to, glorifies, and demonstrates the infinite value of my savior to a broken human race. The time is now. My servitude as a steward of God's grace is rooted in the most powerful force this world has ever seen, and that's God love. My prayer right now, knowing the fear of the Lord, is to persuade others to grow in the faith by exemplifying a more passionate and Christ-honoring walk of faith. My cry is the apostle Paul's cry for courageous action and urgency in carrying out the message of salvation to the world, understanding that we have the opportunity to be reconciled back to God and that we must let the penetrating love of God compel us and flow through us as we strive to be sanctified in Christ. As we bring the truth of love and hope to a world in need, I pray we are devoted to God's vision above our own, alive in Christ's strength and not our own, and determined to see the truth of God prevail above anything we want for ourselves.

It doesn't matter what this world thinks of us. It doesn't matter what we don't understand or what doesn't make sense to us. What matters is God has given us everything we'll ever need in Christ. The hope of nations, the King of Kings, the Lord of everything we are is never far away. The opportunity for salvation is always there. The opportunity to repent, for those who are saved, or for those who may be considering the Christian faith and might be struggling with something, is always there as well. God, in His mercy and grace, looked on a world covered in sin and loved us through His son's sacrifice. He never gave up on me, and He won't give up on you either. We are supplied with extraordinary talents and gifts to witness and to share the Gospel to people. God is at work in us even when we don't feel like He's there. Join me as I take up my cross and follow Christ, lean not on my own understanding, and trust in the faithfulness of God to always know what step I should take, where I should go, and what I should do for His wonderful Kingdom. God bless you all.

2 Corinthians 6: 4-10 "But as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, though slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true, as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything".

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Magnifying The Value Of Christ In Our Suffering

Living a life that desires to magnify Christ in it, and to show His infinite worth, will cost a person everything. It will be the single hardest thing you ever do, should you choose to go that far for Christ. To paraphrase a wonderful quote from one of my favorite Christian authors John Piper: In our own lives, Christ is made most glorified to the world, when we are completely satisfied in Him, and in what He calls each one of us to do. Jesus understood that the best way for this world to see the full magnitude of what He was supposed to mean to it was to suffer on the Cross. He knew better than anyone what it was going to cost to pay the penalty for our sins. Without a shadow of a doubt, Christ understood what it meant to suffer for God's Glory. And He satisfied that wrath with His sacrifice on the Cross.

Whatever we discover in this world, whether it's a gift we figure out that we have, or something we find out that we have the opportunity to do that allows us to give God glory, we should run after those things. There is no greater joy on this earth than in experiencing the greatness of God. And if that means that in order to see that happen we have to undergo intense periods of painful suffering sometimes in our lives, then we should count that as the most beautiful blessing we could ever receive. I mean because, to be quite honest, knowing Christ and gaining Christ is all that matters. Everything else in this world is utter rubbish in comparison. The apostle Paul described for us in 1 Corinthians 2:2 his one, all-consuming and passionate desire in this world when it came to how he knew the world should know Christ and view Him; and it was "to know nothing but Christ, and Him crucified". He also exclaimed a little later on in the New Testament, in Philippians 3: 7-8 that everything in this world, and anything he could ever gain or achieve was counted "as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord". You see, Paul understood that boasting in the glory of what Jesus did for mankind on the cross, that brutal and bloody death He had to die, will always be the biggest example we can look to in times of incredibly painful suffering that will inevitably occur throughout our lives. The way Paul saw it: not one single person that has ever lived or will ever live will ever know what it truly means to suffer, compared to everything Christ suffered through on the Cross for us. Because Christ, and the horribly bloody death He died, is the single most intense, highest-level of suffering that a person can ever experience. But what was even more amazing than the fact that Christ underwent that for us, was His willingness to obediently do it. Knowing what it would cost, and how terrible it really was going to be, and staring Sin straight in the face and knowing He was going to conquer it's dominion over our lives and our disgusting slavery to it. When Paul mentions time and again the cross of Christ, we come to understand that he could see that obedience in suffering for God's glory, to be willing to go that far for our holy God, was and always will be the best way to show the world who Christ really is, and what His significant importance as the bedrock and cornerstone of the Christian faith is supposed to mean to us. Because honestly guys, it's not necessarily always about how faithfully you share the Gospel or how you live out a Christ-like lifestyle; it's more-so about how true you stay to your faith in Christ, and how much you still want to show Him to the world when you're suffering; when you feel like your life is crashing and falling apart in front of your eyes. If you can stick that out, maintain your faith and stand the test of trial and tribulation, then you can truly understand what it means to give God glory. And you will experience the happiness of knowing how, when the going got tough, your faith and trust in God got stronger and more beautiful than ever before.

"So what does this mean for my life?" you might ask. It means this: in every area of your life, in every single thing God calls you to do for His Kingdom and for His glory, you run as far as you can, and you suffer as much as is laid upon you. Because in doing so, I can promise you that you're giving God true and faithful glory that He deserves. If the only thing we ever desire from Christ is to give us gifts, and to make our lives the way we want them to be, and we don't ever really truly want Him as our most-satisfying treasure, then the way we will always view Jesus is as a means to an end. This will mean that the magnificent glory of the cross that Jesus died on for us will become reduced to nothing more than a self-glorifying, self-seeking pedestal to climb up upon when there arises a selfish need within us that we need to reach up for to get for ourselves. The true essence of our faith, the most intimate desires of our heart, should be in trusting Him to give us what we want and need the most: and that's the presence of Himself in our lives, everyday. This means that, above everything else we receive in our lives, above everything else we suffer through or find ourselves struggling in a rough patch through, we are to treasure the value of knowing Christ and possessing Him as our Savior; and knowing that He's with us always. That we possess Him in our very hearts, no matter how bad we screw things up all the time. That He has never and will never leave us. And that suffering for His names' sake is a wonderful opportunity to give God glory and point other people to salvation in Christ, not a hindrance to our lives and a burden that prevents us from doing what we want. When our desires for our life match God's desires for our life then that will be the point at which we can begin to understand the supreme value of Christ and what the crucial importance of following Him daily really means in the life of a believer.

The brilliant philosopher-theologian St. Augustine, who's writings were extremely influential in the development of Western Christianity, said it best when he concluded "For he did not delay, but ran through the world, crying out by words, deeds, death, life, descent, ascension-crying aloud to us to return to him. And he departed from our sight so that we might return to our hearts and find him there. For he left us and behold, he is here".

My prayer is that, when you experience painful and brutal moments of suffering in your life, that you understand who it is you're pushing through it for. Faithfully being willing to suffer for Christ, in the same way that He obediently suffered on behalf of the Father's Will, is the best way to honor God and give Him glory. And in the life of a Christian, it will always be the most powerful way to demonstrate the infinite value of Christ.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Learning To Be Responsible For Each Other

More and more, as I walk throughout my life, I find myself wondering “Am I really giving everything I can be giving to God and His purposes for my life?” I’ll admit, sometimes I really don’t like the answer I get back. It’s during these times of reflection that I sit back and think about every area of my life that I feel needs to be given up to God. Unfortunately, I've realized that I tend to contemplate what’s weighing me down at the moment. I concern myself with all these “negative-nancy tendencies” as I call them, in which I allow all the things “going wrong right now” or all the things “causing me to constantly worry” dominate my attitude for the day and completely control how I dictate the way I live my life from day to day. Guys I’m here today to tell you that I’ve truly been convicted of that lately, and it’s not the mindset to have when pursuing God’s purposes for my life. It’s not the mentality we should have when desiring to follow Jesus and do whatever it is He asks of us. And above all, it’s never the place to be at if you’re wanting to serve others and to witness to others in sharing the Gospel. Take a minute and think about what God has blessed you with in your life. Look at your mental capacity. Your physical gifts. Your spiritual disciplines. Your emotions. Are these areas of your life being poured out and exercised every single day of your life in ways that demonstrate God’s Kingdom at work in your life? Are these areas of your life allowing you to stay true to God’s purposes for your life and honoring a Christ-like walk of faith that displays to the world a genuine, true Christian lifestyle?

What I’m getting at today is, in everything we do and say, in how we carry ourselves out there in the world, and in the many different ways we interact with the surrounding culture, we must never forget that we are not our own. Romans 13: 7-8 tells us “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lords”. In everything we do and in everything we are and could ever be: we belong to God. This means that we must constantly be pursuing God’s righteousness, always asking God for more opportunities to serve and witness to people and for His presence in our lives daily. As long we profess a faith in God, and we believe in what Christ did for us on the Cross, there will never be a day that goes by that we won’t forever belong to God; purchased by the blood of His Son. This realization Must change the way we live our lives.

You might ask “Well what does this all mean for me, then?” It means that we are responsible for each other. We have a duty and an obligation to disciple those around us. We can't life this life focusing and honing in on our own desires and our individual spiritual walk. We have to take care of and look out for each other. One of the most beautiful rewards of the Christian faith in action is having the opportunity to serve your fellow brother or sister in a time of need; to know that God has given you a chance to walk alongside a believer and encourage them as they, just like you, chase after Christ. If you re-read my beginning paragraph of this blog post you’ll see that I described for you the types of things that have held me back from faithfully living out God’s purpose for my life and appropriately serving others who I have known have needed help. The theme of my struggles was centered on my pathetic effort in trusting God with the issue, learning how to stop being a slave to it and just let it all go, and how problems like that affect the way I interact and talk with people every day. What I want you to take away from this is that things such as laziness, turning away from God, being consumed by personal problems, and even a lack of spirituality can and will affect the way we serve and witness to people. When we reach that point where our biggest desire is to serve God's Kingdom, it will also be the point in which God will require us to let go of the most "stuff". This is a time-less truth I've have to re-discover over and over again in my life. And it’s not easy just so you know. It’s not supposed to be. But Jesus addresses this problem we have with worldly cares, feverish anxieties, and keeping things stored up inside. He tells us in Luke 12: 25-26 “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?” The message behind these verses is that some things we just have to simply let God release us from. When we witness to others, and when we’re serving others, we can’t be holding on to fears and worries and things we’re choosing to keep hidden inside. We can't give off the impression that we're losing our minds and that the problems of the world are drowning us in a sea of misery. When you're serving someone you are put in a position where You're helping provide the comfort and peace to their specific situation. When God uses each one of us to serve and to witness to each other, both believers and non-believers alike, He's not envisioning a human race of wild chickens running around in crazy pandemonium with their heads cut off. He has each one of us in a servant role so that we can all grow together on the same playing field and suffer together on the same playing field. That means that there has to be those few who dare to stand out amidst the firey chaos and lead. And even those that make a stand are on the same level as those that are in need of help. We are not greater than each other. All of us, no matter how rich or how poor, how strong or how weak, how much of a leader or how much of a follower, will always be lowly humble servants to God.

Let's take a look at anxiety for a minute. We can’t be anxious about what’s going on in our lives. Now, we can be concerned about certain things. I mean I’m all for that. In fact, I’m a firm believer in the fact that there are specific things in life that require our constant attentive care and focus. But these things should never be elevated to the extent that they consume us completely; that they control and dictate how we interact, how we view the way God is working in our lives, how we pursue God’s call for us, and even how we view each other. As I said earlier, we are responsible for each other. And when we exercise to the fullest potential all of our mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional strength in living for God and for His purposes in our lives, we must also realize that we are called to do the same for each other. We are each other’s keeper. We must always be on the lookout for the well-being and safety of each other. When one of us grows and thrives in God’s grace and power, we all do. When one of us is suffering and going through a difficult time of darkness, we all are suffering through it together. The apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12: 12-13 that “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body…” With this in mind my prayer is that we all can grow in the righteousness of Christ together. That we all can let go of burdensome things plaguing our hearts and minds, humbly serve one another in everything we do, and follow Christ together. That we can interact with one another, believers and unbelievers alike, in a manner that glorifies God and exercises the full potential of our faith. Anything God calls us to do or has planned for us to do will probably never be easy. But none of us, as brothers and sisters in Christ, are ever alone out there in this world. Out of everything we’re called to be as a Christian, out of all the many things God will ask of us in this life, we will always be called to serve one another. It might not always look beautiful to serve this dirty, sinful, rebellious world. But it's what we're supposed to do. Because in the end it will not be the service of each other that was the main focus, it will have been our willingness to devote ourselves as servants of God’s glory that will have made all the difference. We all have this obligation. We all have this duty. We are responsible for each other. God bless you all.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Reflecting A Broken Image

"Man, made more like God than any creature, has become less like God than any creature". A.W. Tozer.

Why is it that we, as Christians, have developed this present-day tendency of just turning away from our Creator and finding other things to believe in and worship? Some would say that the refusal to believe in the Christian faith in and of itself is a terrible tragedy. But I would argue that the fact that we as believers simply don't reflect God's glory anymore with our lives is just as tragic. Our original purpose for creation by God was to glorify Him and worship Him. That meant with our thoughts, our actions, and every single thing we ever ended up doing: all was supposed to reflect His beautiful glory so that we too would be glorified with Him.

Let's think about this for a second. Where have all our desires gone? What are the areas in our lives we tend to want to gravitate towards in order to fulfill that deep, inner longing for satisfaction and contentment that for some reason we just can't seem to ever find? Where do we feel our true identity is best found? I will never have enough time in the world to list them all and attempt to accurately define and explain them, but I'm going to suggest that the two biggest ones are: 1) Identity through Education and 2) Identity Through Pleasure

Identity Through Education Really try and think about this in your own life. All of us will go throughout our entire lives being taught all the important things of life that we "need to know to make it" or that we "need to know to understand what life really is". I think sometimes we really do forget that one day we're going to die. And all of the amazing bits and pieces of intelligence that we combine in to the education we will receive throughout our lives: it will all be buried with us in the grave. Yet many people will argue that the most supreme purpose of life is to simply gain an education, learn a bunch of stuff, and that self-satisfaction will finally be complete. Let me ask you this: What does that do for you? Is accumulating a bunch of wisdom and reading a ton of books and being the most brilliant scientist really the most comforting and satisfying feeling in the world? I can't tell you how many times I've talked to people who can teach you anything you could ever want to know on any subject, but yet for some reason they're sad and frustrated with their life. Something is missing. So they fill that empty hole with studying and the continuing of education. Here's the truth though: our education we gain will never last forever, but living for God's purposes will. Going to school for years and years and getting a bunch of degrees will not provide you with the type of knowledge that explains your purpose for being here. We must understand that, while having an advanced education is not a bad thing, the greater purpose is cultivating that education and rooting it in the individual plan God has mapped out for you so as to better reflect His glory with your life.

Identity Through Pleasure The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus taught that the chief end of man and the ultimate purpose of man was pleasure; to simply have fun and go after what brought you joy and helped you to have this happy and peaceful life. This philosophy, Epicureanism, runs blind and screaming all throughout our modern-day culture today. We see all these people around us who only want to go out in the world and have a lot of fun; while attempting to find pleasure in everything they come across. What you see is a culture of people that never really make it to that point where they care about why they're here. They don't bother to think about what God's purpose for their life is: they just want to play and have fun. Here's what I'm not saying: it is a terrible thing to want to enjoy life and be happy with the life that you have. But what I am saying is that joys and pleasures eventually pass away, and the fleeting contentment we think they give us can only satisfy us for a period of time. What we're left with is the realization that they still don't define our ultimate purpose for why we're here. And if you think you know what it means to be sad and alone, then imagine making it to the end of your life feeling like you've wasted your life, you never really understood what your purpose was, and now you don't even know why you're here. That is a terrifying realization to live through. In fact I would argue that that would be a true "Hell on Earth" type of feeling for that individual. This is why making strides towards looking to God to help us define our central purpose for existence is so crucial to our lives.

So what am I getting at you might ask? "How do I find out what God's purpose for us is"? The answer is in Scripture, and it's such a beautiful truth:

"Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created". Revelation 4:11

“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil”. Ecclesiastes 12: 13-14

These passages teach us that God created everything for His own pleasure. God created man to worship Him, so that His creation could reflect His own glory. The purpose of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We glorify God by fearing and obeying Him, keeping our eyes on our future home in heaven, and knowing Him intimately. We enjoy God by following His purpose for our lives, which enables us to experience true and lasting joy— the abundant life that He desires for us. God desired to enjoy His creation; to have us want to delight in Him. And you know what? We're not too far from being this same way. Consider this: everything we ourselves create is a reflection of our personality. We want things to look like us, and if they don't we go out into the world and we make them. When a father has a newborn baby, he eagerly examines the baby to make sure it looks like him. We paint pictures, we write stories and poems, we make beautiful music, and we do all these things because we want to create. God is the very same way. He wanted to create mankind to worship Him, to reflect His perfect image and awesome glory, and He wants to spend the rest of eternity enjoying that creation. Guys I know how you feel. Everyone wants to know that they matter. When we're little kids we want approval and praise so that we know we're cared for and loved and that we mean something to someone. As we grow older we search for direction and purpose because we want to have the sense of knowing where we're going in life. We want to know that we're not just a walking body of flesh that drifts silently through life. I'm here to tell you that that longing for something more has been placed into you by God. And at the end of that desire you really will find God Himself. Seek out the nearest Christian you know. Ask them about this desire, about this longing for purpose and meaningfulness. I promise you that they will immediately begin to share with you who God is and what His purpose for all of us is. I don't want to see people running in the dark always being lost everywhere they go. I'm tired of hearing about even people I know crying themselves to sleep at night because they feel like they have everything, and yet they have nothing and can't figure out why they're torn apart inside. So today, as I look out over a human race that is becoming less and less like God with every passing day, I challenge you the reader with this: When you find yourself busy trying to find things to fill that emptiness within you, look to God for the answers. Spend time reading the Bible and actually trying to find out who you're supposed to be. We can’t squelch that primal longing for something more- something “outside the toy box” that calls to us. Do you struggle with feelings of discontent? Do you wonder if life offers more than what you’re experiencing? Listen to that primal urge deep within you. It’s there by design and can only be filled with God. The next time you want to reach out for answers, reach up; after all He's waiting for you to. :)