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

 

 

Intersections

“Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” – Jeremiah 6:16

A few years ago, Tim Elmore posted a blog about helping today’s students find purpose in life beyond what they see in movies. He cited surveys showing students’ primary goals were becoming famous and/or rich. Elmore questioned such aspirations and suggested we should help young people find something truly worth living for, saying, “Real purpose emerges when our strengths intersect with the world’s great need.”*

Maybe that’s something we should consider, too. As we look around, we realize there are huge needs in our neighborhoods and around the world: hunger, homelessness, war, disease, loneliness, lack of opportunity, mental illness, personal conflicts, and under-education. Which of these problems has God given us strengths, skills, or insights to help solve?

Then, as Christians, we know every person’s greatest need is relationship with God through His Son, Jesus. How much of our lives are consumed with responding to that need? I sense that the more of ourselves we give to introducing people to the One who can meet the deepest longings of their hearts, the more meaningful and satisfying our own lives will be.

We pray “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” What are you and I doing to help accomplish God’s will in our world? Maybe today we could ask Him where our strengths intersect with the great or small needs He is showing us. When we begin to serve others in God’s ways, we find another truth: When our obedience intersects with God’s purpose, joy happens!

“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.”  – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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*Tim Elmore at growingleaders.com, November 6, 2013.

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

One at a Time

“If we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us” – 1 John 4:12b

Everybody wants to be accepted for who they really are, not just for what shows on the surface. So, I really don’t want to judge people by appearance, wealth, religion, nationality, or color. And I don’t want people to judge me that way either.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, we realize Samaritans were not acceptable to Jews. They were seen as people of mixed-pedigree, theologically wrong, and to be avoided.

I have to ask myself who today’s  “Samaritans” are to me? The addicted? The uneducated? The poor? Those of a particular nationality, religion, sexual orientation, or political persuasion?

Then I realize I am a “Samaritan” to some – one who is labelled as “Christian” and understood only by what they think that label means. I don’t want anyone to assume that, because I am a Christian, they know my views on social issues, politics, or science. I am an individual and want to seen as such. I imagine you do, too!

The shock of Jesus’ story was, of all the people passing by, it was the despised Samaritan who stopped to help the wounded Jew. This Samaritan didn’t fit His audience’s preconceived ideas of Samaritans as a group. Some of our present-day “Samaritans” don’t either!

Jesus dealt with people one at a time: The Syro-Phoenician woman, the Jewish leader’s daughter, the rich young ruler, Zaccheus the tax collector, and many others. He listened, touched, and forgave one person at a time, no matter their background. Maybe He expects us to do the same.

“There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread, but there are many more dying for a little love.” – Mother Theresa