January 10, 2016

Does Hell Know You?

“Does Hell know you?” a stranger asked me this week.  What an interesting question. 
Leo’s path and mine crossed as he was assigned to draw nine vials of blood from me. Yes, nine.  It was a tall order for him.  But he didn’t know who he was interacting with when his assignment came down.  He knew me better than most before we parted ways.
Leo received his orders from the computer screen and moved slowly through the material prep.  I thought he was delaying the inevitable in fear that I wasn’t up to the task, preparing himself for my screaming or fainting.  Perhaps he was taking a long time in hopes that another technician would relieve him before he had to be the bad guy.  I knew that he had nothing to fear, but he didn’t. 
Eventually he confronted his assignment and began the blood draw.  I leisurely and pleasantly proceeded with small talk to convey I wasn’t going to create any problems for him.  It was probably his easiest assignment of the day.  When he finished I thanked him for doing such a good job and let him know that I was an avid blood donor so blood draws were no big deal to me. 

“You’re a good Samaritan, aren’t you - in ways outside of donating blood, aren’t you?” He asked slowly and suspiciously.
“Sort of,” I smiled.
“Do you know the Good Shepherd?” He asked.
“Oh yes, very well. I strive to live for Him every day,” I said.
With a concentrated, narrowing of the eyes he continued, “But does Hell know you?”
Ah, I know where you are coming from,” I said and recounted the following scripture for him.
Acts 19:13-16 tells us,
“Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. One day the evil spirit answered them, Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you? Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.

“I think Hell knows me.” I said to Leo. “Would you like me to tell you how I know? It is because of a conversation I had with the devil last summer.”
His ears perked up.
“Last summer when I was outside mowing the grass - I usually talk to God while I am outside doing my yard - I guess I was probably praying or thinking about something existential when I heard,
                 ‘What are you still saving yourself for? You are practically too old to have children, so meriting a godly father for your children is no longer an issue.  And anyone who would marry you now would forgive a 40-year old for waiting that long and then committing an indiscretion.’
                His question stabbed at my heart.  I paused to consider it.  He had a point.  I had never thought about it that way.  I could not dispute him but I knew I had a reason.  So I dug deep within myself to find the truth where it was buried.
                ‘Well, I suppose you are right.’ I responded, ‘But now I am saving myself for God’s will.  My motive is to live every day to glorify Him and being disobedient to Him now is not going to help me accomplish that,’.”

I explained my experience to Leo as follows.  When you are young and walking in obedience, by default you build up a sense of entitlement.  Plus there are so many scriptures you can read what you want to into them, like Psalm 37:4 and Jeremiah 29:11.  Although the Lord keeps His word in ways we cannot comprehend, He is not obligated to fulfill our expectations.  He doesn’t owe us anything.  He has already blessed us way more than we deserve. When you walk according to His commands in pursuit of blessings, you cannot know the limit of your loyalty. 

It is only when your hope of blessing is off the table that you can see that God IS the blessing. 
Walking with Him and knowing Him is the ultimate reward no matter what it costs.

I don’t know at what point in time I switched from being faithful to Him for the rewards He could give me to being faithful to Him because He is faithful to me.  I do know that it only came at the tail end of a lot of suffering, self-loathing, disappointment, and depression.  I cannot tell you if it could have been accomplished any other way.
When I was younger I read about the “mortification of the flesh” in scripture and I attempted every way I could conceive to surrender things I thought God might desire from me including career possibilities, relationships, certain behaviors and habits, and large sums of money.  I voluntarily relinquished them all.  But that was me striving to mortify my own flesh.  I knew that death to Self was a quality of a true disciple and I wanted to be one.  However, nothing in me died through these attempts. My will was very much alive.  As I made these voluntary sacrifices in my own effort according to my best logic, my sense of entitlement for God to reward me grew larger and larger.  Not until God distanced Himself from me and withheld what I wanted most in life, did He accomplish the work of mortifying my flesh.  The Self put up a long, hard fight. 
I would advise Believers to be aware of the types of things God requires of His people.  Study how Abraham was ordered to leave his homeland and venture into unknown territory never to return and how Moses’ was charged to confront Pharaoh and spend 40 years supervising a godless people in the wilderness.  Don’t forget how God allowed Job to be made destitute as an example for us.  Take heed that God would not remove Paul’s thorn from his flesh or let the cup of suffering pass from Jesus.  Realize that some like John the Baptist and Jim Elliot will be required to forfeit their lives in faithfulness to Christ.  Gird yourselves with an awareness of these possibilities and grasp the greater goodness of God overshadowing man’s suffering. 
Seek to understand the depths of God’s love, His inconceivable will, and the boundless options at His disposal.  Pray for aid to remain faithful to the terms He ordains for your life.  And then, cling to Him.  Always and only Him.  Considering no other alternatives.  Last but not least, despise sin.   Sin is where the devil makes his will for you personal.
For all true disciples, God will require of you that which is hardest for you to relinquish.  The pattern is evident throughout scripture and the history which follows it.  He will accomplish the mortification of your flesh in you, for you, through hard terms.  As a result, this world will grow pale, Heaven will emerge crisp and clear, and Hell will know you.

June 14, 2015

Being True to Yourself

I have the luxury of frequent, honest conversations with God about my struggles, motives, and agendas.   I know that God has a greater understanding of my psyche than I do and I need to tap into what He knows about me.  So I climb up on His examining table often and request, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:  And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting"  (Psalm 139:23-24). Upon request, He hasn’t stopped uncovering the muck buried deeper beneath the previously unearthed terrain.

I have discovered one philosophy which I feel causes many Christians to stumble.  It is the misconception that being true to yourself is a virtue.  The motive behind it is in praise of honesty but it does believers more harm than good because our natures gravitate toward sin. We are not naturally inclined toward goodness, peace, or selflessness.  Our sinful sides delight in falling prey to temptation because temptation ushers in excitement, thrills, and the rush of living life on a high.  Anything which draws your attention away from that which you would prefer to attend to is working against you, be it as innocent as a daily Starbucks fix or as dark as the secret beckoning of a pornography addiction.  I am not saying that every single craving we have is a sin but I am trying to convey how easily the urges which are sinful and damaging camouflage themselves as natural and therefore declare immunity from reprimand.  Without inviting God to scrutinize all our inclinations for latent harms, we will never develop a sense of discernment and foster self-discipline where it really matters.     

I feel strongly that living authentically, honestly, and consistently is the only way to keep your feet surely planted on the path of God’s will.  I would never compromise the importance of those prominent character traits.  But it takes so much more than being true to yourself to be your best self.  Limiting our personal initiatives to “being true to yourself” cuts us off miles short of where God wants to take us.

Jesus didn’t die so that I could live out my life being true to myself.  He died for me so that His death would serve as my death, not only figuratively but tangibly as I in turn become His hands and feet on Earth.  So where does that leave my true self? 
It leaves my true self, dead.
"So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh.  They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want." ~ Galatians 5:16-17.
Where does it say that the desires of the flesh die when you become a Christian?  On the contrary, it introduces a rift between your true self (your flesh) and that which is contrary to your true self, the Spirit.  Do you see that the Spirit is written in capital letters here?  That is because the person of God enters the premises of your heart to confront your true self.  He objects to what your true self asks you to perform and He aids you in carrying out actions contrary to those which come naturally.  

This conflict of conscience is essential evidence of spiritual health.  It reveals that the Holy Spirit is alive within you working to prevail over your true self which has previously operated undeterred.  This legitimate conflict doesn’t go away as long as our souls reside inside bodies of flesh.  Jesus’ body could be battered, but His spirit, His love, and goodwill would not break.  Walking after the Spirit will feel like punishment to your flesh too. The more you cooperate with the Holy Spirit battling against your true self, the more victories you will experience, spiritual fruits will bloom, and your legacy will grow.

Watchman Nee wrote in his book, The Spiritual Man, “The flesh is most defiled (2 Peter 2:10:22); God accordingly does not attempt to change it.  There is no method of deliverance other than to put it to death.  Even the precious blood of Jesus cannot cleanse the flesh.  We find in the Bible how His blood washes our sin but never washes our flesh.  It must be crucified (Gal 5:24).  The Holy Spirit cannot reform the flesh . . . His abiding in the believer is not for the purpose of improving, but for warring against the flesh (Gal 5:17) . . . Indeed, we should never attempt to repair the flesh in order to make it cooperate with the Spirit of God.  The flesh is ordained to death.  Only by consigning the flesh to the cross may we be liberated from being enslaved permanently by it.”

When you asked Jesus to come into your heart, did you experience being crucified with Him?  Take a moment to think on it now.  You can see Jesus strung up on the cross in pain, but can you see yourself up there with Him?  Have you ever died to your true self?  

Further explanation may aid your consideration:

"The acts of the flesh are obvious:  sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.  I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God."  ~ Galatians 5:19-21

“To ascertain whether one is of the flesh, he need but inquire of himself if he is doing any of these works of the flesh.  It is of course unnecessary for him to commit all in the list in order to be carnal.  Were he to do merely one of them he would establish himself beyond doubt as being fleshly. . . All nonetheless are fruits from the same tree . . .  for how could he do any one of them if the flesh had relinquished its rule already?” Watchman Nee, The Spiritual Man.

Honesty is a virtue without question, but does being true to yourself ever manifest in any of the above listed behaviors?   If so, then being true to yourself is not honorable or God-glorifying.  Have you considered that such a self does not deserve your loyalty?  Perhaps greater blessing would spring forth from defying your true self! 

There is one truth that our fallen, human experience understands well and defends as truth.  Alternatively, there is the person of Jesus who is The Truth (John 14:6) who patiently allows us to construct realities of our own choosing.  He knows that our personal truths will disappear in a breath.  We would be wise to conform our personal realities to what reality will look like then. 

September 4, 2014

Greatness Walks Among Us

I stepped up to the counter at Starbucks and placed my standard order, a medium mocha made with nonfat milk, no whipped cream. After handing over my credit card, I noticed the barista’s eyes shift away from mine high above my head to the customer behind me. I followed her eyes to see who had captured her attention. Immediately I recognized the 6’5”, perfectly built, dark-skinned man with a gleaming white smile. His dress was understated, a plain black tank top, shiny black gym shorts, a backwards baseball cap, and flip flops. I couldn’t help disclosing that I recognized him,

“You are ______,” I said aloud to him, momentarily star struck but maintaining my composure. 

“Yes”, he replied, broadening his super white smile just for me.

“It’s nice to see you,” I said, returning the smile. 

“It’s nice to see you too,” he followed politely.  

I turned back toward the counter to retrieve my credit card then slid down the bar to wait for my coffee. 

After he placed his order he propped himself on a barstool to wait. He directed his focus to the cell phone in his hands. I noticed two teenage girls at a nearby table eyeballing him, whispering, and jostling their cell phones. He had apparently attracted their attention as well. His order was completed before mine. The girls motioned for him to come by their table, he complied, they exchanged words, he flashed his pearly whites and followed with a nod. Then the girls jumped from their chairs and eagerly followed him out the door. This struck me as unusual so I asked a nearby customer who had overheard their conversation what the girls had asked him.

“They asked him if he had gotten out of that macked out BMW in the parking lot,” the customer said.  

I shook my head. The girls following him outside made sense. With phones in hand and an exceptional interest in his car, I assumed that they wanted close-up, possibly even interior photos of the car to post to their social media newsfeeds.

"What foolish kids,” I thought. “How could their admiration be so misdirected? If they only knew who they were talking to, they would forget all about that car.”

I grabbed my coffee and exited the coffee shop as the two giddy girls returned from the far corner of the parking lot celebrating the photos they could now publicize.

“Don’t you know who that was?” I asked them, eager to expose their oversight.

“No?” they questioned. Their faces went blank and eyes grew large.

“That was Cullen Jones, an Olympic gold-medal swimmer.”

The girls let out a squeal and turned toward each other with both hands on the sides of their faces and mouths agape. They spun around abruptly to run back and capture the significance of the moment but the opportunity had passed. The striking black BMW pulled out of the parking lot.

As I drove away I replayed the sequence of events in my mind. I was dismayed, stunned, and insulted. How had the girls missed seeing what was so clear to me? How did Cullen feel knowing he had gone unrecognized while his car had received the attention he deserved?

A sermon illustration presented itself to me. How often am I caught in a spiritual stalemate because some “thing” stands between me and God? When I pray, I rattle off a laundry list of requests all the while disregarding the fact that I have God’s undivided attention. I allow unresolved hurts and unanswered questions to weigh me down as God lingers nearby desiring for me to fix my eyes on Him instead of my problems.

As God showed me that I treat Him like the teens had treated Cullen, He consoled me that I am not the only person guilty of this. He reminded me of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. 

John 4:10 tells us, “Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.” 

“If you knew.” That is the biggest IF I have ever heard.

Jesus knew of the woman’s deep need for salvation. He traveled from Judea to reach her in Samaria yet her priorities were so singularly focused that she could only attend to the water she could drink, see, and feel. If she only knew that the Messiah had come to meet her, then she would have forgotten all about that water.

If she only knew that the gift of God is eternal life, then she would have forsaken the pattern of sin she had been perpetuating.

If those teenage girls only knew that they were speaking to an Olympian, then they would have asked to be photographed with the man instead of his car. 

There is a reality occurring among us more real and more profound than our faculties comprehend.

Ezekiel 12:1-2 says, “The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, you are living among a rebellious people. They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious people."

The Spirit of God is ever present. Are we seeing Him or are we mesmerized by things? Are we hearing Him or are empty messages pumping through our headphones? God intends to overhaul our natures, consume our thoughts, and empower our actions. He is available. Are we engaging Him?

I don’t want to go through the motions ignoring the most important part of my day, my relationship with the V.I.P.    I want to acknowledge Him, experience Him, and be led by Him. In order for this to happen I must turn my life off of auto-pilot and grant the Lord my undivided attention. He deserves it and will not let me overlook the significance of any moment.

February 16, 2013

What Tool Divides, Breaks, and Burns?

Would you like a few minutes to consider the riddle: What tool divides, breaks, and burns?

When I think about it, one tool accomplishing all three jobs seems somewhat implausible. What I need to divide, I usually don’t intend to burn after I divide it, and what I need to break I typically won’t burn. So, what tool would divide, break, AND burn?

Those are three serious jobs and when you need any one of them done, nothing else will suffice. Some things are soft and can be divided with a simple tool like a knife. You can cut the fat away from your steak. Some things are harder and you need to break them off like a dentist chips tartar from your teeth. And some things, well there’s just no good left in some things and they are better off being burned up completely, like clearing the land of a dilapidated house so you can rebuild on fresh soil. In those cases, you must light a fire and burn away the refuse.

Our conversion from sinners into saints is a process which requires different strategies, sometimes dividing, sometimes breaking, sometimes burning. God has provided the one tool which accomplishes all three.

Are there things in your life that need a little reshaping, like a potter taking a scalpel to a mound of clay?

Are there other things in your life where there is a sharp line between the harmful and the helpful which should be completely broken off?

Or is your life a pile of rubble, where a clean slate is the only solution, a total renovation?

Turn to the tool which divides, breaks, and burns.

“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12

God’s Word, the Bible, is living and powerful. It has an agenda of its own. Just pick it up, read, and follow. You will find its instruction serves to help you divide out the thoughts and motives which are harmful to you. Which ones should stay and which ones should go? Could a new concept you have never considered be the breath of fresh air you are missing? How else will you discover where personal progress is needed unless wisdom shines its spotlight into your heart and mind? The Word of God divides like a sword.

"Is not my word like a fire?” says the Lord, “And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” – Jeremiah 23:29

As you practice what you learn in the Bible, it will help you break free from strongholds which have had a hold on you. You may have never recognized these strongholds before, but the Word of God will bring them to light. If dividing thoughts and emotions doesn’t satisfy what is needed, God’s Word is equipped to empower a clean break.

Breaking can be painful but it is only a transition phase, so persevere. Freedom like you have never experienced is just beyond the breaking. God must free you from the old self and the old life. Your new skin will feel sensitive at first, but it will grow strong. Cling to the Truth of the Word of God. It breaks like a hammer.

And should you find your back against a wall, where the breaking phase has not accomplished a full revolutionary work in you, then deepen your commitment. Lift higher the Word of God, honor it with your whole heart, and God’s holiness will burn away any unrighteousness remaining in you. The Refiner’s fire has laser focus on purification. Hold fast to the Word. It burns like a fire.

The Word of God was not provided to point out aspirations which cannot be achieved. God made His Word living and powerful, able to wage and win wars within you. Let the Word do its job of dividing, breaking, and burning. You will immerge as pure as gold. The Word of God has a power and purpose of its own. It never comes back void.

“So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” – Isaiah 55:11

February 1, 2013

God Defines Life by the Day

17 “I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.
18 So I say, “My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”

Sometimes Death works extra hard to make its presence known. Four fathers, three brothers, one husband, and one child of people I know have left this world in the last eight weeks, most without warning. So many precious people are left behind to rebuild their worlds in the absence of a loved one they never imagined having to exist without. I have been where they are, forced to redefine my universe after tragedy. Oh, the unstable footing! The confusion. The oppressive fog of despair! It is a most bitter sentence. My heart is heavy.

19 “I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.”

I am 37 years old, five months, and four days. Why do my days keep climbing when some are called home at six years old, some 16, some 30? How long will my days keep counting or the days of my parents, my siblings and friends, the support I cannot imagine living without?

When will the roster cycle through again and I return to bat to swing blindly at redefining my universe after loss?   How can I prepare?   How can I reach out to steady the arm of my neighbor currently under fire of the merciless pitcher, Death?

21 “Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for His compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.” ~ Lamentations 3:17-23

When you are deprived of peace (v.17), when all remembrance of prosperity has fled, (v.17), when splendor has vanished (v.18) and hope has shriveled and died (v. 18) – this one shining sliver can be called to mind (v.21), “because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed.” (v. 22)

You are not consumed! You are not! You may feel utterly crushed. It may look as if your life is in shambles. The voice in your head may tell you that all is lost. But you are not consumed. You are still breathing.

Maybe you are not doing much more than breathing, but that is okay. You have permission to do nothing but breathe. Sleep. Wake. Continue breathing. Do it again tomorrow. When rational thought returns to you, take your first swing at living armed with this encouragement,

“ . . . His compassions never fail.
They are new  every  morning. . .”
Lamentations 3:22-23

Motivated by compassion, God redefines your life daily as if He were starting creation from scratch just for you. God does not define life by what is not, but by what is.

“He is not the God of the dead,
but of the living,
for to Him all are alive.”
Luke 20:38 

Those who no longer live among us on earth, live alongside the Lord in Heaven (or stand apart from Him in Hell). Death has been overpowered by life. Our present benefit is limited only by our belief in that triumph. God’s compassion will swallow the stench of death which hovers over the earth if we allow it into our lives through faith.  

Redefining a personal universe after loss is a shapeless pursuit because we can’t create structure around an absence no matter how hard we try. We want to preserve a hole in our new world shaped like the departed loved one but God says,

         “No. I am not the God of the dead. Your loved one lives, I have simply relocated him. My compassions do not accommodate death. Today’s definition of life for you is new. Then when you lay your head down tonight, let that definition go. I will wake you to new compassions and introduce you to a different life tomorrow.”

God selectively redefines your life each day. The changes are often subtle, but not so subtle that you cannot discover them. Desire to see. What is today’s new compassion? How has God defined your life differently today from yesterday? These are not difficult questions.

Here is my attempt.

This morning, life is defined as sunny but cold outside. There are no clouds in the sky. I am the grateful owner of two dogs and one fish. God created them and entrusted their little lives to my care. In a few more weeks, the now naked trees in my yard will start sprouting leaves and flowering buds. Life at my house will look much different then.

I am employed and navigate the same sea of faces most days. Yet, one with a 40-year tenure at the company retired yesterday. Another is leaving at the end of next month. The definition of life even in the workplace recycles if you pause to notice.

Outside of work I interface with a small circle of people I frequently have the opportunity to bless and be blessed by. Today I will serve two of them and schedule a visit with a third. I have no children, nieces, or nephews, but God’s compassions are new every morning. Check with me next week, I may have one dog less (hope not!) or one bird more (hope so!). Check with me next month, I may have a nephew. Check with me next year, I may have a husband.

God does not distribute His compassions in universes for us to clutch, but in days for us to spend. He doesn’t allow us to construct our own universes either; no wonder that effort is so futile and fleeting. Life is not defined by what is not, but by what is the substance of today’s mercies. Tomorrow with the sunrise, His compassions will be new, and therefore, the definition of your life will also be new.

Dwell on your fresh dose of life as God has prescribed you for today. Then wake up to a new life tomorrow. It is a challenging mindset to embrace, but the secret to coping, surviving and thriving as an eager recipient of God’s compassion.

January 22, 2013

If You Loved Me You Would


"If you loved me you would," were words I heard frequently growing up from the mouth of that little baby spoken to his big sister.

Usually the statement followed some request for service he wanted her to do; bringing him something when he was already comfortably tucked into bed, one of his blankies, a glass of water, or the pinnacle of all brotherly requests, a 'prepared' toothbrush. Yes, he managed to sweet talk that little girl into bringing him a toothbrush pre-coated with toothpaste and a cup to spit into so he could brush his teeth in bed.  It was downright comical what he could get away with where his sister was concerned.

In high school he got her to agree to trade him her black, V6 Chevrolet Beretta with red-interior for his boring, white V4 Chevrolet Cavalier with sagging roof liner. I wonder if the phrase, "If you loved me you would," was uttered during that negotiation. I suspect so.

He had her wrapped around his finger in a way only a little brother could. She loved to spoil him. She still loves to spoil him and "If you loved me you would," always does the trick.  His plea works like a charm because at the bottom of things, it is an absolutely true statement.  When someone loves you, it is reasonable to expect certain behaviors from them.

Words can be honest or dishonest, misinterpreted or misunderstood, but actions never lie. They reveal true motives and uncover priorities.  It is dreadfully painful to face the truth of another person's feelings for you through what their actions testify.  Talk all you want, apologize, beg, or flatter, but nothing said can carry the weight of a single act of betrayal.  Actions preach.

Try to persuade away revelations like these:

"If you loved me, you would not leave me alone, defenseless.  If I were as valuable as you say, then you would keep close to protect me."

"If you loved us, you would not have chosen a new man over staying home with daddy and us."

"If you loved me, you would reciprocate my expressions of love for you."

"If you loved me, you would honor our marriage commitment."

All true statements!

How can we help but entertain these haunting one-sided conversations in the sanctuary of our inner thoughts?  The most damaging aspect of it all is that these conclusions do not stop at defining the terms of the two-person relationship, but penetrate deeper to define the self-worth of the wounded; "If he/she doesn't love me, then I must not be worth loving." 

And it's all downhill from there. 

I say, "I Love You," frequently because I realize that I may not get another opportunity. I realize that the significance of the moment may be lost if I don't ping the ear of my friend that he or she is a treasure to me.  Because I say it often does not mean I say it flippantly.  It always means one consistent thing which is,

"I will sacrifice for you." 

How can love mean anything else?  This is why the heart-wrenching realization of love denied pelts self-esteem like a hailstorm.  There is suffocating pain in recognizing that someone you love refuses to sacrifice for you.

John 15:13 says, "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends."

Sacrificing your life for another person is the greatest display of love possible, as was accomplished by Jesus our Lord.  But all variations of love, each stage, and gradation is paralleled by a twin degree of sacrifice. 

Do you think you love and yet you withhold sacrifice, putting yourself first?  Does someone tell you they love you but no evidence of sacrifice can be found?  Where there is no love there is no sacrifice and where there is no sacrifice there is no love.  Love and sacrifice can not be separated. I caution you not to misinterpret anything devoid of sacrifice as love.  It is a lie.

Jesus said, "If you love me, keep my commandments." (John 14:15)

  • Keeping Jesus' commandments requires costly sacrifice.  He measures our love for Him by the payments we make.

And to Simon Peter, Jesus said, "He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me? Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”  Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep."  (John 21:17)

  • Having knowledge of Peter's love for Jesus was not enough; He required that sacrifice confirm Peter's profession. 

And to us, His disciples, Jesus departed this world saying, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)
  • Loving one another as Jesus loved us is the epitome of sacrifice.  The requirement to love sacrificially rests on our shoulders.

Can you hear His sweet voice?  The soft, gentle request saying simply,  

"If you loved me you would."

January 10, 2013

Resolving Divisions Within a Christian's Heart

Quotations are from Oswald Chambers’ devotional My Utmost for His Highest by date indicated

This blog began brewing back in April 2012, when the residents of North Carolina, the U.S. state in which I live, were clawing at each other’s eyes over a proposed amendment to the state constitution to exclude homosexual unions or non-married, cohabitating couples from being legally recognized as marriages by the state.

It was a heated battle. Opinions couldn’t have been stronger. It seemed as if every other lawn hoisted a yard sign stating ‘VOTE FOR’ or ‘VOTE AGAINST’ Amendment One. I wondered why money was wasted on advertising; the subject was much too personal for anyone to be indifferent. I doubt that any laminated poster ever swayed a voter on the issue.

Facebook status updates scrolled opinion after conflicting opinion. Defenses and fiery retorts cluttered my newsfeed like a thousand points of light. It made me uncomfortable reading the heated emotion behind the posts. I knew that each person had only one vote to cast. Fanaticism from either position was not swaying votes; it was only raising blood pressures and arousing offense. The cyber fumes were obnoxious even from behind the shield of a computer screen. 

I knew that there was no way to debate enough for everyone to reach a civil compromise. I knew this because the indecision was not only a public divide but a personal one. My logic conceded with one side and my conviction with the other. Advocates of both platforms felt justified and I agreed with both of them. And yet I knew when I stepped up to the ballot box, that I would make the hard vote the same way I make hard decisions when my wants and my will are at odds. I didn’t expect most voters to share my tactical approach to making the decision and so I kept my deliberations mostly to myself. Now that the vote is long past, I thought it might be timely to discuss resolving the internal divide.

The most convincing argument to vote against Amendment One was that the matter was a “human rights issue not a religious issue”. Human rights, per the Declaration of Independence, specify the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Every person has a different interpretation of his pursuit of happiness. If one’s lifestyle is condemned by the government then their liberty and happiness is infringed upon as well. I do not condone government having the authority to impose limitations on a citizen’s pursuit of happiness as long as that pursuit is not harmful to anyone else.

This is the voice of my logic, but I am a child of the fall. I have a wayward instincts and I know it.

Independent of a divine authority, human rights ARE preeminent in our society. But if there is a God, then the freedom to negotiate human rights is gone. As a child of the cross, I have lost my rights to human rights. The day that I encountered a holy God and asked Him to cover my sins with His blood, the pardon was granted in exchange for my absolute surrender. My body, time, talents, money, and decisions are no longer my own. I cannot expend anything according to my natural instincts and remain obedient to the divine authority whose pardon determines my eternal destination.

“Any fool can insist on his rights, and any devil will see that he gets them; but the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew chapters 5-7] means that the only right the saint will insist on is the right to give up his rights.” ~ May 24

My rights are gone because I surrendered them, willingly.

Yes, that was a choice I made. You may not have made that choice. I understand if your logic requires that human rights still reign supreme. You are not unwise, you are just unsaved. I was once too and the shadow of that self is not so long gone that I cannot easily remember her.

My rights remain gone because I surrender them, continually.

“Jesus never insists on having authority; He never says - Thou shalt. He leaves us perfectly free – so free that we can spit in His face, as men did; so free that we can put Him to death, as men did; and He will never say a word [Matthew 27:13-14]. But when His life has been created in me by His Redemption, I instantly recognize His right to absolute authority over me. It is a moral domination.” ~ July 19

I am morally dominated. Do I enjoy it? Not always. Would it be more gratifying to shirk discipline, dismiss conviction, and indulge in every human right the American way promotes?   Of course it would; I am still woefully human and easily tempted. The catcalls of pleasure never remain silent for long. But to renounce Jesus’ authority would cost me so much more than a lifetime of forsaken pleasures.

“According to the Bible, sin in its final analysis is not a defect but defiance, a defiance that means death to the life of God in us. Sin is seen not only in selfishness, but in what men call unselfishness. It is possible to have such sympathy with our fellow-men as to be guilty of red-handed rebellion against God.” ~ May 22

Promoting homosexuality because I am sympathetic toward their pursuit of happiness would be red-handed rebellion against God. Consoling a lover with sex when we are not married because love should be generous would be red-handed rebellion against God.   Stealing from the rich to give to the poor because I am sympathetic to their unmet needs would be red-handed rebellion against God. I am not at liberty to exercise certain forms of sympathy, although I am gravely sympathetic!  Do not think I deem myself incapable of such red-handed rebellion. The internal divide exists.  The choice of allegiance is made daily.

Do not be deceived, you too practice a hierarchy of allegiance. The liberties you exercise or don’t exercise reveal which authorities you honor.

“Lord, I know that people’s lives are not their own;
it is not for them to direct their steps.”
 ~ Jeremiah 10:23

Previously written blogs about Christian allegiance can be found at: