I don’t like self-denial!

” . . . the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.” – Psalm 84:11b

I don’t like self-denial. It may relate to how I use time, spend money, or express opinions, but most of the time I want to have what I want, when I want it.

So when I read Jesus’ words, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23), I cringed inside. I wanted to follow Him, but daily self-denial just sounded hard.

Then I read John Piper’s teaching in his book Desiring God, and my view about self-denial began to change dramatically.  According to Piper, the biblical concept of self-denial is letting go of the lesser good so we can grab onto the greater good. When I started to look at it that way, I realized Jesus’ demand for self-denial was for my benefit, not His! I understood that I deny myself, not to make Him happy with me, but to allow Him to do greater things with me. Greater than I can do if I follow my natural instincts.

It makes sense in other areas of life: I choose to workout, denying myself an hour on the couch, because I value health more than rest. I deny myself a frivolous expense because I am saving for something really special later. Spiritually, it makes sense, too. We deny ourselves what we want humanly so we can receive what God wants for us supernaturally – things that are better for us than whatever we give up. Maybe it’s not self-denial at all!

 “To become like Christ is the only thing in the world worth caring for, the thing before which every ambition is folly, and all lower achievements vain.” – Henry Drummond

 

 

Is it true?

“I have chosen the way of truth;” – Psalm 119:30

I read a Facebook post predicting record snowfalls for the entire Midwest this year, with snow beginning as early as September. The impressive weather map showed that we’d have five to ten times the amount of snow we had last year. Just as I was thinking of stocking the pantry, I started reading the comments and realized the article was a hoax. I was feeling anxiety over something that wasn’t even true!

Are you as tired as I am of listening to things we know are lies or exaggerations? I want to know truth – about my health, the world, family, food, finances, and everything else. Not knowing is worse than knowing, even if the truth is hard to hear.

When we take it into the spiritual realm, the stakes are even higher. My spiritual well-being is of eternal importance. I don’t want to risk getting it wrong and I don’t think you do, either! There are three areas I see in which we can discover spiritual truth:

Truth as knowledge: We pursue this truth when we learn, understand, take in new thoughts, and weigh them against what we already know, being willing to adjust our thinking as we learn more.

Truth as experience: This is when we test truth in the laboratory of life. Does it work? Does it last? Does it transform?

Truth as relationship: Whether we realize it or not, our ultimate longing is to know Jesus, the Truth. Every other truth pursuit fits into and finds culmination in our relationship with Him.

Let’s find what is true and trustworthy and discard what is false and misleading. Truth matters!

“Truth is not everything, but without it, nothing goes right.” – Dallas Willard

 

Second Coming?

“The Lord confides in those who fear Him.” Psalm 25:14

When Jesus left earth, He told His disciples He was going to prepare a place for them and someday would come again to pick them up and take them to be with Him. That promise goes for all of us who follow Him. He does have a plan the includes returning to earth and ruling to show us how it ought to be done. No matter how good an earthly ruler is, Jesus will be lots better!

But do we spend so much time thinking about his “second coming” that we miss all the less-intense “comings” in the in-between times? The reality is that He is coming to us every day in many ways. Here are few I’ve experienced and, I am sure, you may recognize Him here as well:

• Speaking in an internal voice or nudge
• Giving insight in dreams
• Applying a truth from the Bible
• Giving comfort
• Showing me someone in need
• Providing for me
• Enabling me to do His will

Have you recognized Jesus visits in your life? He is constantly moving toward us, wanting us to see Him and respond. As Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem, He said “ . . . you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:44). He came. They didn’t realize who He was. Let’s pay attention to His unique ways of coming to us as we walk through the minutes and hours of  our days! We don’t want to miss Him!

“He converses and delights Himself with me incessantly, in a thousand and a thousand ways, and treats me in all respects as His favorite.” – Brother Lawrence

The Most Important Thing

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

Anyone who’s been in significant relationships knows that loving can take effort. Think marriage, business partnerships, friendships, raising children. Long-term. Sometimes hard, but worth it.

The most extraordinary relationship we have as humans is with God. Loving Him takes attentive effort mostly because He asks for nothing less than total, life-altering love. Specifically, He tells us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. How can we do that? Let’s look.

“With all your heart” means our love for God will be emotional. We’re to develop positive feelings toward Him and an intense desire for Him. We can’t manufacture those feelings, but we can help them grow in our soul and mind. Here’s how:

The soul is the place where we make decisions. We can choose to love God. After time, loving Him will become part of our very being, but we have to will it first.

Loving God with our minds involves intentionality: We can think about Him, read His Word, learn about Him, and try to understand His view of the world. The more we know about God, the more we will love Him. Love is a spontaneous response to knowing who He is.

And He wants us to do this with all our might – to make loving God the central thing in our lives, doing so  with energy, persistence, and determination.

Summing up, how do we love God as He desires?

  • Will it.
  • Think it.
  • Feel it.
  • Do it with all our might.

According to Jesus, this is the most important thing. Nothing else comes close!

“The first act of love is always the giving of attention.” – Dallas Willard

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being Human

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” – John 1:14

We hear people talk about “out-of-body” experiences, but have you ever thought about Jesus’  unique in-body experience? For all eternity, Jesus was a spiritual being without a fleshly body. Then, one night, more than two millennia ago, He was born in Bethlehem and, with arms, legs, head, and heart, began to feel things He never felt before.

Think about that for a minute! I can almost hear Jesus describing His earthly experience this way: “I loved being on earth – being human, having skin so I could feel the sun on my back, having teeth and taste buds so I could enjoy biting into a juicy grape and sharing meals with my friends. I think I especially liked feeling the clean when I washed my feet after a long day of walking.

“I understand, too, how My perspective changed when My body was tired or hungry. And I had to make an effort to stay in touch with my Father, getting off by Myself whenever I could. I know, now, how hard that can be in the middle of earthly demands, desires, and relationships.

“One of my favorite things was seeing Myself in the Passover we celebrated every year, recognizing what My body would provide for humans I loved, causing everything to  change for them.

“There were hard things about taking on flesh and coming to earth, but I am so glad I did. You, my friends, will always know that I understand your complaints, frustrations, stresses. I really do. Now, let Me help.”

“Christ has put on our feelings along with our flesh.” – John Calvin

 

 

He still shows up.

“Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you.” – Revelation 3:20 (The Message)

God seems to love being part of our ordinary lives. Here’s how we know: After Jesus died and was raised from the tomb, He kept showing up. And it seems these visits were most often in the places where everyday life was happening: on the road, at a meal, or at work.

Remember the story when Jesus walked with two sad disciples on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24)? He listened to their story of the death of the one they thought was going to be their Messiah.  As they walked, He explained to them all the prophecies fulfilled in His life, but they still didn’t realize who He was.

When they stopped for supper, Jesus acted as if He was going to keep traveling, but His two companions asked Him to stay with them. And He did. As a result of that meal, their hearts were warmed, and their minds were opened to understand that God Himself was at their table. He didn’t let them see who He really was until they invited Him to dinner.

Jesus still shows up, but He is a gentleman. He doesn’t push into our lives. He waits for us to acknowledge His presence, to talk to Him, to include Him even in our routine activities. He is with us – at work, on the road, at meals, at play, and at rest. Let’s not ignore Him. Ordinary turns to extraordinary when Jesus is there!

“We need never shout across the spaces to an absent God. He is nearer than our own soul, closer than our most secret thoughts” – A. W. Tozer

Don’t Hurt Me

“Do not quench the Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19) “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God . . .” (Ephesians 4:30)

Have someone ever hurt your deeply? Has a person you trusted turned against you? Remembering those things still brings pain, doesn’t it? Often we choose to protect ourselves by avoiding such persons and being very careful in choosing those to whom we make ourselves vulnerable. It hurts too much to take big risks!

God is not like us. He risked and received great pain by becoming human. Jesus never forced anyone to follow Him. He invited and then accepted their decision. But how it must have hurt when those He invited turned away. He went on to suffer rejection, shame and even death at the hands of human beings.

God goes ever further. Now, He actually lives inside those who follow Jesus. He knows our thoughts, sees our actions, and, I’m sure, cringes at some of the things we do and say. We can’t possibly understand the the risk to which God exposes Himself by being intimately personal with us. As author Philip Yancey puts it, “Words fail to capture the enormity of descent when a sovereign God takes up residence in a person and says in effect ‘Don’t hurt me. Don’t push me away.'”

Don’t reject Him. Trust Him. Listen to Him. When we do, we find that He, who risks being hurt by us, will never hurt us back.

The sovereign God gives a choice. We can turn away, or we can turn toward Him, honoring His presence in our lives by making Him our first priority.  Then, our hearts will be overwhelmed by the constant attention of our great Lover, who simply asks that we don’t hurt Him.

“My precious Lord, I want to be often and long alone with You.” – Gary Thomas