Thursday, June 30, 2011

Why do we love?

Why do we love?  We love because He first loved us. (1John 4:19) 

Why do we love those who don’t love us?  We love them because we are commanded to do so by Jesus himself when he answer this question,  
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

Why do we love those who don’t want our love?  Because that is the new covenant that Jesus established when he said, “44 but I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”… “46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

We are, therefore, commanded to do the seemingly impossible task of loving those who hate us, those who reject us, those who have hurt us.  But what is love?  By now we can guess that Biblical love, the love we are to have for our brothers, is not an emotion.  Love is the first fruit of the Spirit, and it is what differentiates us from the world.  It is what makes us children of God.  Love involves commitment and sacrifice:  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)  God so loved us, that He became flesh in the person of Jesus the Christ, to die on the cross for us, His beloved, His undeserving chosen ones.  He didn’t die for us because we love Him.  He died for us because He loves us. (1John 4:10) 

He did His part.  He did what He was commanded to do according to the divine plan of salvation put together by our Triune God, in its perfect fellowship with one another, Father, Son and Holy Spirit in their eternal state.  Jesus, therefore, did His part, even though we didn’t even know Him.  He did His part even though the world rejected Him.  He did His part even though we yelled “crucify Him.”  Now, it is up to us.  We who profess our faith in Christ the Savior are commanded to do our part and love, even if the one our love is intended to does not want it.  Regardless of what he does or does not do, we are commanded to not shut him out of our hearts, but keep him there, and love him even to the point of death.

They may hate us, but then we remember that they hated Him first. (John 15:18)  We must then consider it all gain if we are hated for His namesake. (James 1:2)  This truth, however, doesn’t make it that much easier for us.  It is still a humanly impossible task.  Loving those who reject us is not an action that comes naturally.  That is because Biblical love is supernatural.  It only comes from Him who is love Himself.  Alone we cannot even begin to understand how to love.  By ourselves we can’t even think of how to act in love toward those who don’t love us.  By our own power and strength, our spirit shivers and shudders in fear at the thought of acting in love toward those whom we know will spit on our face the vile of their hate in return.  But the good news is that we are not alone.  We have the All Powerful within us.  The Holy Spirit is the One who gives us that love that is action and moves us to our acts of love, for we need to realize that love is action, not just good intentions. (1John 3: 11-24)  Love cannot be passive.  To obey and do our part we must DO what we must, even if we feel overcome by fear.  “There is no fear in love,” (1John 4:18).  His Holy Spirit dwells in us and love is a product of that truth.  There are no excuses for passive love.  Love is something we do, not something we feel.  Therefore, whatever it is that the Lord calls us to do as actions of love toward whoever He has placed in our lives as our “brother,” we must do by the empowerment of Him who calls us.  

What is He callings us to do today?  What actions of love is He urging us to do now?  No matter how much we may want to deny it, we know that He is speaking to us all the time.  That we may choose to ignore His voice is a different matter.  We know that He is always speaking.  There is always someone in our lives whom we need to love with Biblical love, with love in action.  Who is it today?  We must figure that out first.  Then, we must pray for discernment so the Holy Spirit can show us how to love that person.  What actions of love are we supposed to do in order to truly love him or her.  It could be something as simple as a smile or a kind word in an e-mail.  Maybe, it could be a phone call, or an old fashion letter.  Maybe it is something that requires putting ourselves out there, bear our heart, and in humility, walk up to that person’s door, and be willing to stand outside, perhaps in the rainy and cold night, with our guard down, facing a shut door that won’t open no matter how many times we knock.  Maybe it requires waiting in pain with our hearts in pieces.  Maybe it requires us to expose our vulnerabilities, dying a little, no matter how undeserving the other person may seem.  

This kind of love only comes, however, after we have surrendered our all to The Most High God.  It is only in our surrendering where our eyes are open to forgiveness, the kind of forgiveness that accepts that He has forgiven us our debts as we are to forgive our debtors.  This kind of love doesn’t turn us into wimpy door mats.  On the contrary, this kind of love instills in us the courage that allows us to overcome our pride and our fears.  This kind of love brings light into the darkness of this world and demonstrates our sonship.  This kind of love shows that we belong to Him and that we don’t have a condemning heart.  This kind of love makes us a little bit more like Christ.  For we love because He first loved us.  For He loved us so much that He died on the cross for us so we could live forever.  There is no fear in love.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Our Testimony

In Daniel 4:1-3, King Nebuchadnezzar shares his words of acclamation to the Most High God with all “the peoples, nations and men of every language, who live in all the world.”  This acclamation precedes the king’s testimony of what happened to him and God’s deliverance, which becomes, as we study in our, day-one, lesson, a model for giving our very own testimonies.  

Presenting our testimony is not something that appeals to many Christians.  It represents a terrifying task for many and a seemingly impossible task for some.  However, as Christians, we are to be ready to give our testimony at a moment’s notice, and give it with pleasure, for the glory of God.  Like Isaiah 26:8 says, “Your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.”  Therefore, what a better way to bring fame and “renown” to the Most High God than by sharing what He has/is doing in our lives with those around us, in “our own sphere of influence.”  However, once again, we learn that our testimony has to be intentionally sculpted to be most effective.  Once again, it needs to be something we had thought about in advance; during our moments of clarity, so what comes out, when we share it, is that all the glory belongs to God, not to us.  Pride can take hold of our testimony in a way that when we are done presenting it, the person listening to it is so mesmerized and astonished about OUR accomplishments and our story, that he/she forgets who made those accomplishments possible.  If we don’t deliberately ask the Holy Spirit for the precise words we want to convey when giving our testimony, we might end up making it all about ourselves, leaving God in the background, behind a few trait phrases and clichés.  

Our swollen egos might show up as we describe either what we do or don’t do.  Like Beth Moore says:  “Most of us are tempted either by our performance, or by our abstinence,” meaning, that pride rears its ugly head in our “godly acts” when we begin to boast about all the good deeds and service we do; as well as in our acts of abstinence, when we boast about how good we are for not doing the disgusting things that other people do.  It is a fine line we must walk.  The line becomes wider, however, when we only boast in the Lord, as we are commanded, 1 Corinthians 1:31 “Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”  If we start, like King Nebuchadnezzar started, by giving a great acclamation to the Maker of the heavens and the earth; and constantly, throughout we continue to boast in the Lord, and in Him alone, our testimony will bring fame and renown to the One and Only. 

What greatest testimony than the one presented by a child of God who recognizes his/her own inability to save himself/herself and acknowledges that there is a need for a Savior and that there is only one who saves, one who gives life… “This is the testimony:  God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”  1John 5:11-12

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Who do you say He is?

Mark 8:29 And he asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Christ."

Our study of the book of Daniel has brought me into a crucial point today. 
We explore the concept of loyalty.  In our workbook we see that loyalty, in the context of our relationship with God and our brothers, means “that when a sudden temptation poses a character question, if we have true conviction in that area, we do not have to consider how we’ll answer it.  Loyalty means the question has already been answered.  We simply act upon it.”  So when our friends from the book of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king in chapter 3:16-18:  “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king, But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we WILL NOT serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up,” they demonstrated a level of loyalty that had been perfected as they lived lives of integrity and conviction that The Most High God is the One and Only God; the only one who deserves our worship; the only one worthy of our complete devotion and love.  He is the only one worth dying for.

Of course this doesn’t mean that we are expected to be “Super Christians,”  not afraid of anything and ready to die on the spot.  It is not by our power, remember?  I believe the Holy Spirit is telling me here that we must experience a healthy dose of conviction which will move us to action and to be prepared at all times.  After all, we are to "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." (1 Peter 3:15)  I believe that a crucial part of such preparation is to have determined some foundational answers to the most critical questions regarding our faith, so, when the moment comes, we don’t hesitate.  However, what questions are the crucial ones?  Where do we begin to figure that out?  In my opinion, Jesus himself tells us.  He tells us as He told his disciples when He walked on this earth.  Back then, when his beloved followers were telling Him how some where saying that He was “John the Baptist; others Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life;"  (Luke 9:19) Jesus posed backed to them what I consider the most crucial question of all: “But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" (Luke 9:20) 

Who do you say He is?  Who do you say Jesus is?  If we answer this question with conviction, stick to it and remain loyal to this answer, we’ll be prepared.  Let’s not waste another minute and spend time right now answering this question.  Who do you say Jesus is?  Meditate on it.  Ponder it.  Wrestle with it.  Examine the evidence.  Do what you have to do, and come out being able to reply, just like Peter said:  “You are the Christ.” Examine His pierced body.   Like Thomas, see His wounds, put your fingers in the holes on His wrists, and stick your hand in His side, wonder and finally marvel at His sight and say, like Thomas:  “My Lord and My God.” 

“Who do you say I am?”  You are the Christ!  You are the Great I AM.  Lord of all and Lord of my life.  You are my Lord and my God, without a doubt.  He cannot be anything short of this.  All the other answers are not of the Holy Spirit.  He is not a great teacher.  He is not a great man that lived 2000 years ago.  He is not a great healer.  He is not a loving man who did some great things.  He is not one more in the collection of the gods of this world. 

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only; who came from the Father, full of grace and truth”  (John:1 1,14)

“Who do you say I am?”

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

This is to my Father's Glory

Where to begin?  That's the dilemma when pondering all the issues that Beth Moore deals with in Day Two of our Week Three study.  I don't know about you, but I never considered that "thinking little" of myself was another side of self-absorption.  The phrase:  "Constantly thinking little of ourselves is still thinking constantly of ourselves," really hit home with me.  Of course we recognize self-absorption on those who are constantly trying to build images of themselves, trying to look better than anybody else, trying to be superior...however, we, or at least I, never really thought that thinking you are not worthy could also lead to a life where the focus is on ME. 

The "Babylonian motto is still legible under an inferior light:  I am, and there is none besides me," can show up in our thoughts as:
"I am ugly, and there is none as ugly as me."
"I am stupid, and there is none as stupid as me."
"I am untalented, and there is none as untalented as me."
"I am unlucky, and there is none as unlucky as me."
"I am pitiful, and there is none as pitiful as me."
"I have the messiest house, and nobody has a house as messy as mine."
"I have the worst behaved kids, and nobody else's kids are as bad as mine."
"I am a sinner, and nobody is as big a sinner as I."
"I have the worst temper, and nobody has as bad a temper as me."
"I am impatient, and nobody is as impatient as me."
etc, etc, etc...the list could be least in my case.

Needless to say, thinking about this has deeply convicted me.  Even though I don't consider myself a person who battles with insecurities, I do battle a sense of unworthiness.  I struggle with a sense of identity that focuses on the things I do wrong and how little I can do to do them better.  I am consumed by the thought of how very little fruits of the Spirit I am producing.  My heart sinks every time I fail at demonstrating patience, self control, kindness, gentleness.  I want to hide under the pew every time the sermon deals with the need to live a life that is an example of Godliness and Christian womanhood...I can't do it...I have tried, but I have failed again and again.  And every time I fail I try to inspect myself and search my soul for what went wrong and to see how I can fix it for the next time...and the next time happens soon thereafter, and there I am again, looking at myself and how bad I am, and the cycle continues without a possibility of breaking it...until now...when I realize the problem is NOT that I failed...the problem is that every time I fail, my eyes shift from Christ to myself.  My focus and concentration moves from My Lord to ME...and I become the image that needs worshiped, since I am who is standing with none beside me...since I am the one responsible and I am the one who is going to fix myself...the eye goes to I, rather than staying on the Great I AM.

There is NO WAY I can produce the Fruits of the Spirit:  "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." Gal is not MY is THE SPIRIT's Fruit...It is only the Holy Spirit who can produce these fruits in job is not to produce them, my job is to let the Holy Spirit work in me, like a loving gardener whom, with divine portions of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and LOTS of faithfulness, gentleness and self control works tirelessly in me, weeding, plowing, planting, watering, under a watchful eye until finally, the fruits begin to appear.  The key is in the fact that I have to get out of the way...and let the Holy Spirit do His job.  I trust that when I begin to disappear from the foreground and move to the background, the Spirit will take control of my life and do His thing in me for HIS glory, not mine.  After all, like John says in his Gospel, Chapter 15:8,16: 
8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.  It is all for His glory...we did not choose Him, He chose us.  What a humbling truth.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Building our own Image

The first two pages of day one of our week three study touches on critical issues that affect many women in today's world -the issues concerning image.  Like Beth Moore says, our culture's fascination with the physical is out of control.  Looks are prioritized to the extreme that it is not rare to encounter, otherwise perfectly beautiful young girls, obsessed with their image, suffering from such illness as anorexia, bulimia, depression, anxiety, stress, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc, etc, etc...diseases that where unheard of years ago, let alone observed in teenage girls, all as a result of the excessive preoccupation with their self-image and insecurities.  Peer pressure, parental demands and societal expectations at large create such a level of unrealistic vision of what a person should look, dress, act, speak, behave like, that the brain can't take it anymore and the body explodes with biological manifestations of the condition of the mind. 

This is not to say that we are to disregard our image; not at all.  On the contrary, we are to cultivate the image that we were given, the image of the Most High God, given unto us as He, Himself created us. (Genesis 1:27)   And the way we cultivate such divinely created image is by trying to "look" as much as possible like the visible representation of our God, that is like Jesus the Christ.  That is how we are to build our own image.  By attempting to "look" more like Christ.  The challenge is in discovering what in the world "looking" like Christ even looks like?  As I pondered this question of the ages, I decided to really think about it.  "What does Jesus look like to me"?  What do I really think about His image?  Can I put it into words so the idea becomes more concrete in my head?  Can I come up with a few adjectives to describe my Lord to myself?  Shortly after, a string of thoughts appeared in my mind:  Jesus the Christ, My Lord and Savior is, to my eyes, strong but merciful; almighty, but without pride; bold and outspoken, but humble; firm, but compassionate; forgiving, but just; unafraid and willing to stand for the truth, as He is truth himself, even if it cost Him His precious life, loving to the point of sacrificing His life for His beloved.  This is the image that I need to mirror.  A mighty task, indeed.  An impossible task if I were to do it on my the song by Matthew West says:  "I'm not strong enough"...but again, He knows that; therefore He becomes our strength if we let Him...We can do all things, in Christ who gives us strength...and knowing this IS the secret of being content.(Phil: 4:12-13)

"Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever.  Wisdom and power are His.  He changes time and seasons.  He sets up kings and deposes them..." (Daniel 2:19)  A Mighty God is our God; lets let Him be God while we are still and take refuge in His tower of strength.

Monday, June 13, 2011

About stepping up and walking in the fire

After our study tonight, I couldn't help but having all these thoughts pressing in my mind; so before I burst, I decided to share a few in this blog.

First of all...what a session, huh?  The Lord has chosen to reveal to us, through His servant, Beth Moore, some eternal truth taken right out of His Holy Word in the book of Daniel.  We saw the example of these three men, whom, because of their conscious decision to stay in Him at all cost, were able to see and experience the power, presence and reality of the Almighty in all his glory.  The delivering power of our God is evident in this passage and it is as true today as it was way back then in the time of Daniel and his three friends.  Our God is good all the time; and He has given us a manual on how to live a life that would honor Him and the ability to understand it by giving us the Holy Spirit to help us decipher it.  As I think of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego; I wonder if when the time comes for me to make a stand, I would have the courage to do it.  The picture of the three silhouettes standing in the planes of Dura is burnt in my mind.  As a sea of people bowed down to a false god, these three men plain sight, for all to witness, and without having their leader there to tell them what to do.  It was their moment to step up.  I belive our moment will come too.  Perhaps it has already come and we have taken up the challenge...maybe it is going to come again, and again, and again...every time more and more demanding and with more at stake.  The good news is that He who puts us in the situation, stands with us.  We are not to be surprised that the world hates us, for the world hated Him first; but we are to keep our eyes on the prize and stand on Him, our solid rock, even if as a result of our standing, we end up thrown in the fire.  There too, our Deliverer will stand with us.  Like we read in Isaiah 43:1-3, He walks with us in the fire...not his angels, He himself! 

Our Redeemer lives, He lives indeed; and He will deliver us, either from the fire, through the fire or, eventually, by the fire...but no matter what, we can rest assured that deliverance will come.  May our circumstances become a servant of the Gospel.  As we walk through the fire, may we praise Him.  And remember, walking through the fire of this "new Babylon" we live in, is in itself a challenge that will turn us into heavy weitht champs! 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning

As we work on memorizing the prayer of praise that Daniel gave out to the Lord in the middle of the night, as soon as he received the answer to the ceaseless prayers and pleas, I can't help but think how surprising this two verses are:  "He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning."  I wonder, why would He give more wisdom to those who already are wise? or more knowledge to those who are already blessed by a discerning spirit?  And I believe that the answer rests on the fact that our God is a generous God.  His mercy, compassion, love and riches are infinite and He rejoices in giving them to us, His priced possession, and He gives them to us to the fullest.  As we read in John 10:10:  "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."  All good things come from the Lord and He wants to give us more of it each day.  He "reveals the deep and hidden things; He knows what lies in darkness" and He allows us to know it also.  His riches are there for the asking.  What an extraordinary thought.  If we ask Him to reveal Himself to us, He does!  And who would ask for that?  The wise and the discerning.  Like King Solomon; we should remember to ask for the Lord to bless us with His wisdom; which we already have if we are wise enough to ask for more of it.

"Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!"  Romans 11:33

Monday, June 6, 2011

Finding a Prayer Partner

For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."  Mathew 18:20

Day Two of Week Two emphasized the need for tact and prayer.  Toward the end, the focus was more specifically on the group prayer of Daniel and his compatriots, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.  They lifted their fervent and ceaseless prayer to the Most High; and He heard them.  Beth Moore's comments on the importance of having prayer partners made me think of the times when I have been blessed by the joint prayers of my sisters and brothers in Christ.  I will always remember and be thankful for the comfort that my online prayer group brought to my soul while Dan was going through his most intense health trials a few years ago.  God placed this particular group of sisters in Christ in my path right at the moment of my most deep need; and He delivered me through their prayers. 

I thank the Lord for my prayer buddies of yesterday and of today; and I pray that He will continue to bless me with them for all times.  If we feel that we don't have prayer partners, it is time to ask the Lord to pair us up with a prayer warrior that will gather with us anytime, in person, by phone, in writing or online, in His name to plead in times of urgent and constant need.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

What do you know?

I know that my Redeemer lives! and that in the end He will stand upon the earth.  Job19:25

If I know nothing else; I pray I know this. 

As we study the Book of Daniel; I would like to post my thoughts and meditations about the weekly homework in order to have yet another outlet to express what The Lord reveals to us as we toil in His Word.  Sometimes we are struck by something in a very particular way as we study, but by the time we get to our meeting, the moment has passed or we simply forget.  I pray that this will become a venue for us to share those instances of enlightenment as they occur. 

On day one of week two, I was particularly moved by the call to pray for "supernatural wisdom and understanding."  What a fabulous prayer!  I think sometimes I tend to limit God in my prayers.  Maybe it is just me, but I don't think I am in the habit of praying for something "supernatural" to be accomplished.  But now I say, why not?  Our God is the God of wonders!  He is the Creator of the heavens and earth!  His Word is action...He speaks His will into being.  He knows no limits.  Why should I be afraid of asking for His power to be shown in all His glory!?  I want to be an "intentional pupil".  I want to learn the "secret things of God".  I am consumed by the desire to know Him; and to "know Him is to want to know Him more."  So why not ask Him to allow me to have supernatural wisdom and discernment.  In this "new Babylon" we live in, we better be asking God for supernatural wisdom.  We must be able to read the times and the signs of our culture so we are not sucked into it and become Babylonians.  We must remain in the light and be the light, and the only way we could do that is if we receive the empowerment from the Holy Spirit to stay in the light, know the truth and listen to His voice. 

This commitment to pray for supernatural wisdom and knowledge inspires me to pray for it not only as I study the book of Daniel, but as I make any decision every day of my life, as I speak to those who I run into every day, as I deal with my family and work, as I take every step in my walk with Christ.  May we be tuned into the constant whispers of the Holy Spirit so we may remain in the light.  May we be provided supernatural wisdom and discernment to know the truth.  May we be emboldened and injected with courage in order to walk in the light and stand on the Solid Rock "until He returns or calls us home".