Monday, November 23, 2015

Love Like Jesus?

I was standing in church on Sunday during our worship time singing God's praises.  And, as I looked around at all the people engaged in worshiping God, I asked myself "Do we believe what we are singing?", "Can we take the passion and love that we are experiencing right now & take it outside these doors?", "Or, are we just interested in soaking up all the goodness that God has for us personally without the willingness to share that with others?"

My heart been heavy this last week or so.  After the attacks in Paris, the whole war on terror & Syrian refugee crisis seemed to come to a head.  We are faced with the fact that terrorists can strike anywhere at any time.  And, we are afraid.  And we have spilled that fear over into how we respond to the Syrian refugees.

So many many Christians have said "No.  We don't want them.  We aren't taking that chance."  And, those folks have good reasons, rational reasons for saying that.  "Terrorists could sneak in posing as refugees.  We need to protect our families, our country.  We have so many in need in our own country - we need to take care of them first."

I get it.  I do.  All those reasons resonate with my own thoughts & fears.

But, do they resonate with what Jesus taught us?  Do they?

Jesus - who told the story of the Good Samaritan, an outcast to the Jewish people, who stopped to help a wounded Jewish man.  The Jewish people would not have associated with Samaritans.  They hated them.  They considered them dogs.  Yet, the Samaritan helped a man who he knew in any other circumstance would have spit on him & hated him.

Jesus - who said the greatest commands are 'To love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, & all your strength.  And, to love your neighbor as yourself.'  And, when he was questioned on who our neighbor is he shared the story of the Good Samaritan.  Our neighbor isn't just the people who will appreciate us & return our kindness.  Our neighbor is also those who spit on us and hate us.

Jesus - who also said (because he knows we're stubborn of heart & need further clarification) "You have heard it said - Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.  But, I tell you LOVE your enemies & pray for those who persecute you.

Jesus - who didn't just love the unlovable from a distance, but who welcomed them into his embrace.  The tax collector, the adulteress, the Samaritan woman, uneducated & loudmouthed fisherman - they all encountered Jesus personally & came away transformed.

Jesus - who was willing to go to a bloody, torturous death for us - while we were still sinners, still enemies of God.  He went to that death knowing that not all would accept him, that many would reject him & even mock him.

Friends, I don't want to live a comfortable Christianity.  I'm 45.  I'm middle-aged...most likely even past the midpoint of my life.  Why am I here???  Am I here to go through life as happy as I can?  Or am I here to be the hands and feet of God?  To see His kingdom advance?  To sacrifice my own life & my own desires for His glory?

Sacrifice.  We don't like that word.  We don't like denying ourselves or making ourselves uncomfortable.  We feel blessed when we're warm & well fed & we can afford that summer vacation.  We feel blessed when we have good jobs that pay well & nice homes & family surrounding us.  We feel blessed when we have health and security.  We feel blessed when things are going our way.

And, don't get me wrong.  I'm thankful for all those things.  But, what does Jesus say about blessing?
Blessed are the poor in spirit
Blessed are those who mourn
Blessed are the meek
Blessed are those who hunger & thirst for righteousness
Blessed are the merciful
Blessed are the pure in heart
Blessed are the peacemakers
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness.

I don't know about you....but some of those don't line up with my American idea of blessing.  Some of those sound...hard & uncomfortable & undesirable.

But we are called to a counter cultural kind of life.  We are called to something beyond what we see as the American dream.

"And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."  Luke 9:23
Take up my cross?  Lord, that's hard.  I don't like denying myself & my wants & my ideas of how my life is supposed to go.

"Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few." Matthew 7:13,14
Oh Lord.  I'd rather stay on this easy path.  Don't ask me to take the difficult path.

"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."  Romans 12:1-2
There's that word sacrifice again!  Do you really mean sacrifice sacrifice?  Like something that is hard & difficult & painful at times?  Or is it ok that I gave up tv & caffeine for Lent?  Those were sacrifices.  Those were still hard.  I could barely do those.  Please don't ask more of me Lord.

I've felt convicted lately that the American church is missing the mark.  We are missing what being The Church means.  We are missing our calling.  If The Church mobilized & truly started reaching out into this dark, hurting, messy world I believe we would see miraculous transformations in hearts & minds & souls.  We would see the most wicked of the wicked overwhelmed by the Power of a Mighty God's love.

Do we believe it?  Do we believe that love is more powerful than evil?  Do we believe that perfect love casts out fear?  Or, is it just a nice sentiment to tell ourselves when we're feeling a little blue or discouraged.

Christians, if we BELIEVE it - really believe it - we need to LIVE it.  And, it's going to hurt & it's going to cost us....and some of us might even have to sacrifice our lives literally.  Paul said 'For me to live is Christ & to die is gain.'   If we really believe everything that we sing about, teach about, read & pray, then we need to grasp this.  Our lives are to reflect Christ.  And, if we die because of it - we still win!

This is not our final destination.  We are passing through this life.  We are ALL passing through this life.  We get to keep nothing that we value in this life.  "For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."
I want to share one more thing.  I had begun a time of prayer & fasting a few weeks ago.  As it turns out there was conference at our church that happened about a week after I'd started this fast.  What I didn't know is that the speaker who was there has a ministry that specifically focuses on prayer & fasting.  The conference was called 'Open Wells' & it focused on God's spirit springing up like an open well...that there is an abundance of spiritual water for those who thirst.

That first night of the conference I went home & went to sleep but woke up around 3 in the morning.  There were words resounding in my head.  I woke up & thought those are pretty powerful.  I should remember them.  I felt compelled to get up & write them down.  I did.  And as I lay back down, more words started coming.  I got up again, wrote them down & went back to bed.  But, when I still felt like there were more words coming for the third time, I got up & went downstairs so I wouldn't disturb John & I could write down everything I felt God was saying.

It's not easy for me to share things like this.  But, I feel God is calling us into something deeper than a comfortable Christianity.  And, these are the words he laid on my heart.  I don't think they're just for me....

"You cry out, "More Lord!"  And, I say "It is enough."
What I have given is sufficient for the plans & purposes I have set before you.  It is time to stop just taking in & start giving out.

I won't pour myself into vessels that only sit and receive ...with my precious living water running out uselessly on the ground.  They must be willing to pour themselves out and share my water with those dying of thirst.  Then revival will come.
Yes, fast!  Yes, pray!  Yes, praise me!  Yes, ready my word!
But do not just be hearers of the word but doers of the word.  

And I say, "Go forth!"
You are a mighty army that has assembled & prepared itself.  And, now it is time to advance.  Even the strongest & mightiest army is useless if it does not engage the enemy.
So I say, it is time to move out & fight!

And this battle will be fought with unusual weapons -
with love
with mercy
with justice
with a holy passion
with forgivenes

And I will go before you.  And the enemy will have to flee.  He will leave behind his wounded & you will pick them up.  You will care for them, tend their wounds, & bring them into your camp.  
And so your army will grow & will continue to advance the kingdom of God.  
It is time to advance!"

One other thing..... we know that God's heart is for ALL the nations.  This link has a really good list of the many, many Bible verses that speak of this...

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