Thursday, September 29, 2011

Broken Trust

1 John 4:16-21

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Perfect love casts out all fear (1John 4:18a)

The van roared to life and lurched backwards. Just a toddler, my folks had left me in the front of our concession van while they served customers from the rear. Why I decided to turn the ignition key is a lost memory. Regardless, panic resulted. Customers scattered and my parents flew to the front of the van. Clearly, I was in big trouble!

Dad’s gentle love often protected me from mom’s harshness, so I scuttled across the seats to him. His swift, harsh spanking devastated my little heart. I felt publicly shamed. My trust in his love to protect and defend me--even from my own actions--was crushed. Dad’s fear had overshadowed his love.

Human love is like that--powerful to shelter but also to damage and always susceptible to distortion. The love of God is never like that: nothing ever clouds His love, His purposes or His understanding. Even when we were enemies of God, His love sought us out. Running to Him is always safe and wise!

PRAYER: Father, heal our broken hearts and teach us what love really looks like. Help us love like you love and bring healing to others. In Jesus’ name, Amen

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Character of Christ - Servanthood

Philippians 2:7

Who, being in very nature god, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

Humility and servant hood are unquestionably linked; in fact, Christ’s servant heart preceded the humility that led Him to the cross. Servant-hood is not for the faint of heart. However, it has a counterfeit in natural man, which sometimes makes us think this is an easier character trait to obtain. As Christians, we must never mistake volunteerism for servant hood. Needs abounded then and now. While Jesus met needs (and meets them), He was neither needs-driven nor needs-focused. The incredible beauty of Christ’s attitude of service rests upon the truth that He acted purely out of obedience to the will of God. True servant hood exemplifies such focus. The servant heart finds the answer to all of its needs in Christ and simply serves as a conduit to the world for the great Need-Meeter!

The desire to do good for others is not necessarily Christ-like. Alleviating suffering is Christ-like, and we are created in Christ to do good works. However, the Spirit of servant hood exhibited by Christ is far more challenging than simply doing good. Self seeks the spotlight in our lives; sometimes serving allows us to be noticed. Examining Christ’s life shows us that such service is not the servant hood He displayed.

Satan tempted Jesus to serve Himself…to use His power to meet His needs, to reveal His power and claim His inheritance. Jesus refused to rush the Father’s plan and gave glory to God in His refusal to lift up Himself. The disciples encouraged Jesus to pity Himself…to insist on His Kingship and demand the honor and glory He deserved. Jesus rebuked their suggestions and pressed on toward the Father’s will. Those who personally knew Jesus questioned His identity and said ‘show yourself.’ Christ refused the temptation to defend Himself and stayed firmly focused upon the will of God.

Each of those victories strengthened Jesus for His blood-wrenching night of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is that night of prayer that reveals the heart of servant hood: ‘Not my will but thine.’ Those words are the heart-cry of pure service. As Christ’s earthly life neared its end on the cross, the crowds mocked Him with the words ‘Save Yourself.’ They, like many today, failed to understand that the focus on self never brings deliverance. Self steps aside in the heart of the servant to allow the purposes and plans of God to enter.

The King of Kings forfeited the blessings of heaven to wash the dirty feet of His most beloved creation: humankind. He endured betrayal, deceit, anger, disrespect, humiliation, torture, cruelty, injustice and death at the hands of those He came to serve. Not only did He endure it, Christ absorbed it and all of its consequences to accomplish the purpose--the will--of the Father. The heart of the servant is willing to do the same. Servant hood is not volunteering. It is life-giving sacrifice that costs all of self.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Spirit of Humility – Revealed in Humanity

The most recent stop on our tour of Christ’s character allowed us to gaze on the beauty of humility He exhibits. Glimpsing humility in humanity is rare. Pride rears its head in subtle, diverse ways. We are often unaware of pride's presence in our hearts until we fall flat on our face. Anytime we trust in ourselves--our strength, our knowledge, our experience, our efforts--instead of God, lethal pride is lurking. Humble awareness of the need for divine intervention ushers in victory. Prideful perseverance in the face of need guarantees a fall.

Humility matters so much to God, that all of life functions as a classroom for pride and humility lessons. As you read, ask the Spirit to reveal areas in your life where pride is lurking and threatening a fall.

• Relationships are a priority to God that offer university-level instruction on humility. Without Christ, meeting our own needs and securing our ‘rights’ drives every relationship. Unity demands humility; without it, marriages disintegrate, parents and children fight, churches split and friendships end. Humility trusts God to meet our needs and direct our interactions.

• The workplace, too, teaches humility. As employees become sacrifices on the altar of greed, profit-driven administrations shred pride in preparation and performance. Humility trusts that God orchestrates both the present and the future. Humility gives victory over unpleasant working conditions and even unemployment.

• Working for the Lord is especially fraught with pitfalls of pride. God calls us only to the work of faith. The service we do is simply scaffolding on which to observe the work of God. Pride confuses our efforts with His work and interferes with eternal fruit. Humility rejoices at God’s handiwork and the immense privilege of working for the King of Kings!

• Trust in our physical bodies begins in childhood but wanes in aging. The human body is a marvelous machine; yet its design includes wearing out! Even those who exercise and eat right experience illness, disease and ultimately death. Humble acceptance of the aging process exhibits trust in God to work within our limits; prideful resistance hampers His work and dampens our spirit.

• Personal tragedies and natural disasters provide brutal lessons in humility. Mistakes, carelessness, the unavoidable presence of evil in the world and even accidents devastate our prideful assumption of control. Humility frees us from the need to be perfect. It acknowledges that God is greater than our mistakes and greater than the evil that is in the world. God trusts God can and will bring good from the most horrid events. Humility accepts a loss of control to receive total security from Christ.

Recognizing need is the key that opens the door to humility and its faithful companions: joy and contentment. When needs confront us, let us reject our natural, prideful responses of whining demands or childish independence and humbly, jubilantly praise God for His powerful promises of provision!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sweet Fruit

We'll revisit the humility theme next week...this is an account of a walk Riesa and I took a couple weeks ago.  It has been accepted for publication for an internet ministry...but won't appear till next spring.  If I remember, I'll share the weblink in April 2012.  Blessings, my friends.  bj

(Song of Solomon 2:3) As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.

Some tasty observations on a short morning walk and a simple grade school science fact have me rethinking a lifelong practice of early-morning berry picking. Better yet, my newly found berry fact reminds me of a God-truth. Time in the presence of the Son is sweet, and it sweetens the fruit of the Spirit dwelling in me!

The sun's warmth persistently penetrated the morning fog as I walked along the wooded path toward town. The thorns of the blackberry bushes at trailside tugged on my jeans, and my delight in fresh berries tempted me to munch. Yielding to the lure, I popped a berry in my mouth. It was cool and juicy, but the sweetness that had enticed me was absent. I snacked my way to town never finding a sweet berry. A couple hours later, errands complete, I made my way back up the now sun-drenched path. In the mid-day heat, the glistening berries tempted me with a promise of juiciness. Surprisingly, this time the berries were delightfully sweet.

At the end of the trail, our neighbor--the caretaker of the bushes--happened to be working outside. He chuckled as I shared my puzzling observation, and said, “Of course. The sunlight draws the sugars up into the plant. Berries in the sunshine are always sweeter.” Photosynthesis, of course, I should have known!

Out of that simple, natural-world truth, the Spirit reminded me of a more important truth: it is the warmth of the Son that draws wandering souls! There is sweetness in the Son’s powerful, persistent love that exists nowhere else. When I walk in the Son’s Light, my thoughts, words and actions fill with the sweetness of the indwelling Spirit! Just as the berries grow sweeter in the sun, I grow sweeter in the Son too!

Are you getting enough time in the Son? Are you walking within His light? He loves to share His sweetness. Soak in the Son and let His sweet Spirit ooze out of you.