Perfecting Love

If I could speak all the languages of the earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbol.  If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrified my body.  I could boast about it, but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.  1 Corinthians 13:1-3

We all know what the golden rule is, right?  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This passage is referenced in Matthew 7:12.  Another passage of scripture which references a similiar truth can be found in Galatians 5:14 which says. . . that the law can be summed up in just one point, and that is to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Sounds so simple right?  Wrong. What does it mean to love others as I love myself?  Ephesians 5:29 says . . . After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it,  just as Christ does the church, for we are members of his body.  Just as we all feed ourselves, and take care of our own needs, God in turn is calling us to do the same for others. In everyday circumstances, this is not always the easiest thing to do or live out.  Learning to love as Jesus loves should be a continious work within us.

I see time and time again so many believers get hung up on this.  They get stuck in a trap of unforgiveness, which it turn, binds them and does not leave them free to love.  I myself still get frustrated from time to time and need to ask for God’s continual insight and understanding on how to show God’s kind of love to others.

And what about those people that are rather difficult to love.  Or those ones that have hurt or offended us?  What do we do with that?  Do we justify ourselves by saying things like . . .They are simply just to annoying?  Or how can God expect me to love them?  See how mean and hurtful they act?  Or you can’t expect me to love them, do you know what they did to me?  To ever fully begin to love like Christ does, we must first understand God’s magnificant love for us.

If I were to lay out a laundry list of my life for the world to see, I would most certainly be ashamed.  My life has been anything but perfect.  None of us have completely got it together.  I haven’t met a single person yet that has the absolutely perfect life, we are all sinners and we all fall short and fail God. When you really start to get to know people, we all have a story to tell.  Quite honestly life is usually pretty messy and can sometimes be downright ugly.  All of the messiness and ugliness happened when sin entered the world.  We are all born with this sin and thus our lives can sometimes become a muttled mess because of it.

Thankfully God sent Jesus to take care of the punishment we so deserve.  In him we are given forgiveness of our sins and are made right with him.  When we accept God’s free gift of salvation, only then we are free to love and serve God, because of what he has done for us.  And because of the great love that God has demonstrated for us by sending his very own son to die for us, we in turn are to love with the same kind of love that Jesus showed for us.  And to forgive with the same forgiveness that was freely given to us.  We are so undeserving and yet God sees us as deserving.  We must take on the very attitude of God himself to be able to love with his pure and selfless kind of love and to forgive because of much have we been forgiven.

I’ve found that a good place to begin to show Christ’s love to others is to put it into practice within the family environment God has placed you in.  I know your thinking right, it’s easy to love those that love me, and this is true. But daily living out virtues in our homes is something we all have to learn and put into practice. Usually our home is the place we are most comfortable and the place where we “let our hair down”  and “let it all hang out.”  How often do our families get the brunt of the emotions we are feeling or the difficult circumstances we are facing.  Let us start by practicing the love of Christ within our own families.

Lets take a further look at what 1 Corinthians 13 has to say about love.  In verse 4 it says this . . .Love is patient, love is kind.  Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.  Hmm, are we getting the idea here?  Taking a look within our family setting, how are we measuring up to these standards?  Are we patient when were being asked the same question by our children over and over again?  Are we kind in our responses to annoying requests?  Do our actions show that we truly care and honor those God has placed closest to us?

Verse 5 it goes on to say . . . It (love) does not demand its own way.  It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.  Ooh, ouch, I hate when things I’m writing have the power to convict me.  How often do we have an, its my way or the highway attitude?  How often do we get easily agitated with those around us? Or in the midst of a disagreement, throw past hurts in the face of those we love?  How quick are we to offer forgivness to those who hurt us?

Continuing in verses 6 and 7 it says . . .It (love) does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.  Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Wow, I know you may be thinking, there is just no way we can ever measure up to this kind of love.  No your right, our ability to demonstrate God’s love will never be perfect in this lifetime.  Jesus Christ was the only perfect and sinless man.  But with the help of the Holy Spirit we can be continually increasing in love and when we allow the love of Christ to rule and reign in us, at least then we will be going in the right direction.

Once we begin to put these things into practice within our own families, you will begin to see that it becomes easier and easier to extend Gods kind of love and forgivness to others outside our family and to even those that are not particularally easy to love.  Like learning to play an instrument or perfecting a craft.  We must continually work at “being loving” until eventually it becomes second nature to us and by doing so we are letting God’s nature flow in and through us.

We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19

Hebrews 12:1  Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

Well this past weekend I ran my first 5K.  It was quite a thrilling experience, even more so than I would have originally imagined.   I began running over the past summer and I really didn’t have a strong desire to run in races.  I had begun running for an entirely different reason to begin with, but I will get to more on that later on.  So, when a friend had asked me about an opportunity to run in a local race, which went through the redwoods and alongside the gorgeous Smith River, something began to stir inside me.  I knew I had been running long enough and was prepared.  So I decided it might be a fun challenge, and I enlisted one of my best friends to do the run with me.  It was a first for both of us, so I knew it would be fun and memorable experience.

There was great comradery amongst all of the participants.  When the time neared for the race to begin, all the runners started out in a pack.  Then a countdown began and everyone took off running.  Within minutes the pack of runners began to thin out as all the runners dispersed, striving at their own pace to complete the race.  My friend and I had decided to stick together and run at a pace which was good for both of us.  It was fun to have a running partner to spur each other on and to encourage one another to keep going and to do our best.  My friend and I completed the race in 33 minutes.  For our first race, we were rather thrilled with our time and our ability to endure without stopping.  It was an overall great experience and I must say that I’m sure there will be other races for me in my future.

Just as you can’t pick up and run a race without some sort of training.  It is the same in our spiritual life.  We are to exercise our faith as if running a race.  I started running last summer mainly as a physical discipline, which in turn helped me to get better at my spiritual disciplines.  Spiritual disciplines are essential if we are to be in a vibrant and healthy relationship with our Savior.  We are to become students of the word and enjoy daily communion with God.

We all know that keeping a consistent and vibrant walk with God is not always easy.  Many oppositions come against us that try to rob us of our joy, steal our peace and make us lethargic and sleepy in our faith.  To me running has become my outward exercise of the inward battle we all face as believers.  Running is a physically demanding sport.  It is pushing myself to do something that is not always easy or pleasurable.

It is the same in our walk with the Lord.  Sometimes it gets difficult, the terrain can be rough and bumpy, but we must diligently strive to follow Christ wholeheartedly.  We are in a battle.  The enemy is looking to seek, kill and destroy (John 10:10).  He wants us to become discouraged, disillusioned and to give up.  To stay strong and fit for this race of life, we are to diligently exercise our faith as if running in a race.

We train with purpose in mind.  What is our purpose?  To be seeking first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33) and to be seeking out others God has placed on our path who are still lost and wandering.  In running it also helps to keep your focus.  What should our focus be on?  Our focus should always be on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2).  There so many distractions to take our eyes off God and focus on our circumstances, but if we diligently make an effort, we are able to train ourselves to continually bring our focus back to God.  We run our spiritual race with the end goal in mind.  What is that goal?  It is to glorify our Savior and spend eternity with Him.

And this is our spiritual exercise.  We are told 1 Peter 1:5-8 . . . to add to our faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.  If you possess these qualities in increasing measure, the will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. ~ Father God help us to persevere in our daily race of faith.  Help us to train with diligence and to keep our focus on you.  Thank you that you can help us to reach the goal and to win the prize which is our heavenly call in Christ Jesus!  To you be all the glory, forever and ever. AMEN

1 Corinthians 9:24-27  Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

1 Timothy 4:8  For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

Running the Race!

Treasure Seeking

Geocaching has become quite the craze over the past few years.   My family has dabbled in it a bit, we’ve done most of our local caches, but we’re not the super serious “cachers” that some are.  Geocaching can provide some excellent family fun time along with providing some great exercise too.  If you’re not familiar with geocaching, it’s an outdoor sporting activity in which you use a handheld GPS (global positioning satellite) unit and load in coordinates via the internet to find a hidden treasure.

Here is how it works.  After you’ve loaded in your coordinates from home, you go to a specified location.  Once there, using your GPS unit, which works as a compass, you seek out a hidden treasure.  The GPS machine points you in a direction and gives you distance in which to find the hidden treasure.  The treasures are typically hidden in a water tight container or ammunition box which contains a log book (to record your find), along with miscellaneous other trinkets.  Once you’ve found the container, you sign your name in the log book along and the date you found the cache.  You also can write any other information you’d like, for example how the experience was.  Also in the treasure box, are a bunch of trinkets which can be anything from key chains, to coins, to small toys . . . etc.  Most of the time the trinkets are of no significant value but rather to provide a fun aspect to the hunt.  As a rule, if you take a trinket from the container, you must replace it with something else.  Our kids always love the trinket exchange aspect of geocashing.

Geocashing can be so much fun.  It’s a modern-day, new technology treasure hunt.  Sometimes the caches are pretty easy to find, whereas other times, much seeking has to be done because the treasures have been cleverly hidden.  When you find a cache there is always great excitement amongst the participants.  My kids will jump up and down and hoot and holler.  After you’ve explored your treasure, when your done with the cashe, you put everything back in the container and re-hide the treasure in the exact same spot you found it for the next “seeker.”

Now in geocaching, the treasure is pretty much worthless, the excitement is in the hunt.  But I’m wondering, “What are your true treasures in this life?”  We all hold certain things dear to us.  Is it your own life, your family, your occupation, things you’re collecting, or the accumulating of stuff?  Do these treasures bring true fulfillment?  In Matthew 6:21 the bible says . . . where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  God wants us to be first and foremost, “seekers” of Him.  In Matthew 6:33 it says . . .Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.  It also says . . .You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13).  Searching with “ALL” our hearts, wow, that’s can be pretty convicting stuff right there.  How much time in our busy schedules do we actually set aside time for the things of God, like first and foremost the seeking of Him and His treasures?

The way I see it, geocaching is kind of like our walk with God.  Once we know God, he is like the GPS unit which gives us guidance and direction to help us to find the “true” treasures in this life, the things that will truly matter in the end.  He points us the right direction and it is our job to then do the seeking in his word to find these eternal treasures.  The bible says in Matthew 6:19 . . . Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust will destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But rather store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  What people naturally tend to hold as treasures and what God says are treasures are usually entirely different.  Everything on this earth will soon pass away, but eternal treasures will not.  Eternal treasures are the things we invest ourselves in for the kingdom of God, the true and lasting treasures, basically put, WE are God’s treasures.  Do we use our time wisely to seek after the things of God and invest ourselves in the things that will truly last?

There is quite a nugget found in Colossians 2:2-3 and it says . . . My purpose is that they be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.  Wow, that’s some great stuff right there.  The things of God are hidden but are there for the seeking for all who earnestly search.  It says in Proverbs 2:1 . . . My son, if you accept my words and store my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.  I get so excited, what priceless treasures are found in the word of God.

There is another passage in Matthew 13:44 which is a real gem.  Jesus is using a parable to explain the kingdom of heaven, it says . . . The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure a man discovered hidden in a field, in his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field.  This is basically explaining about our salvation, it is like a treasure in a field.  When you find a treasure it’s free, that is explaining about our salvation, God paid for your salvation, he died on the cross to pay for our sin and salvation is now his free gift to us and heaven is our reward.  Then this passage goes on to say . . .that he sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field, meaning once we have God’s free gift of salvation we need to lay down our own lives to become a true follower of Christ.  We must give up in order to gain, we must seek in order to find and we must buy in order to own.   Here’s one final thought and the truth provoking question.  Are you willing to lay down your life in order to find true treasure, the glorious and lasting riches found in a life lived fully for Christ?

Walking in Obedience

Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone one who says to me, “Master, Master,” will enter the Kingdom of the Heavens, but only those who are obedient to my Father who is in Heaven.

We’ve all witnessed a kid in a store acting up and driving their parents absolutely crazy.  It’s one thing to see disobedience in children and it’s quite another to see it in a teenager or even worse yet, an adult.  If we fail to teach our children obedience in early childhood they soon grow up and think that the world revolves around them, and that’s not a pretty sight.  Teaching our children to obey is one of the best possible gifts we can give them.  Obedience softens the heart for the things of God.  We cannot come to Christ without obedience, and without obedience we are unable to please God. Obedience is the direct result of applied faith.  We believe by faith and then we act in obedience.

Obedience is a learned behavior.  Jesus had to be obedient when he came to earth to do the will of his father who sent him.  I think of the account in Luke 2 verses 44-51.   Jesus had travelled with his parents to Jerusalem for the Passover festival.  He was twelve years old at the time, and when the celebration was over, they started home to Nazareth.  When his parents returned home and realized Jesus was not with the travelers, they started looking for him among their family and friends.  When they couldn’t find him, they went back to Jerusalem and found him sitting in the temple listening to the teachers.  His mother questioned him and said, “Why have you done this to us?”  Jesus replied by asking, Didn’t you know that I must be in my father’s house?”  Then he returned to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them.  And his mother stored all these things in her heart.

 Jesus shows us the perfect example of obedience.  He didn’t question his parents or say, now wait a minute, I’m God’s son, I can do what I please.  No, it says that he (Jesus), was obedient to them, and by obeying his earthly parents he was in turn obeying his Father in heaven.  In Philippians 2:8 it says . . and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross.  Yes, even Jesus had to humble himself to become obedient to do the will of his father, knowing full well that his obedience would eventually lead to his own death.  Following Jesus’ example, we too must do the same.  Obedience takes humility.

We come out of the birth canal, kicking screaming and wanting.  It is our sin nature that we are born with.  It’s that desire within us to want to do own thing, to have our own way and to be our own person.  But we like Christ, must put to death that sin nature so we can walk in obedience to Christ.  In humility we must choose to obey because that is what God expects of us as his children.  Throughout our lives God continually teaches and disciplines us.  The bible says that he disciplines those he loves (Hebrews 12:6).  Are we receptive to Gods discipline in our lives or do we choose disobedience and rebellion?  God demonstrated obedience in his life here on earth, and we are to follow in his footsteps and do the same.

Teaching obedience to our children takes a lot of work and follow through, and it’s not always going to be easy.  Just as our heavenly father knows what’s best for us, we begin teaching obedience to our children because we want what’s best for them.  We want them to be safe and protected and that’s what obedience does for us, also it is a direct command from God.  We are instructed in Proverbs 22:6 . . .Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not turn from it.  By training our children to obey us, we are in turn helping them to obey God.  God has given us authority over them and we are their teachers.  Let us be the best possible example for them by letting them see our deep love for God and our own obedience to to him.  And when we blow it (like I so often times do), show them in humility through confession how to makes things right again.

In this life, even as adults, we are all going struggle with obedience from time to time.  It is our sin nature waging war with our spirit.  Thankfully we can call on the power of our ever-present helper, the Holy Spirit who gives us the purpose and the power to do God’s will.  We want to obey and please God out  of a heart of love for all he has done for us.  He died for us, let it be our heart desire to live for him and to train our children to do the same.  May we humbly submit ourselves to the will of our father and as obedient children, to become more and more equipped to walk in obedience and fulfill all that God has planned for us.