Posts Tagged ‘love’

“Be perfect as I am perfect.”

Our Sunday school teacher said we need to be perfect as Jesus was perfect. But is that true? What does it mean to be perfect? Surely Jesus does not expect us to be as perfect as God? If so, then we have all been set up for failure. What did Jesus mean?

First of all, the teacher quoted scripture blending two passages:

Matthew 5:48 “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Leviticus 19:2  “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.”

Secondly, the context of the passage in Matthew is a comparison of the righteous versus the unrighteous (Mt. 5:45), but it is not limited to behavior. He is correcting traditional pharisaical teachings throughout chapter 5. Verse 48 is the summarizing statement of Jesus’ discourse. To gain an accurate interpretation, we need to consider not only the context of Matthew, but also the context of the Leviticus passage. When a New Testament writer quotes from another source, he is not just invoking the semantic text, he is invoking the context of the passage as well. When we consider the context of Lev. 19 we see that the Lord is expressing His wholehearted covenantal devotion to His people. He loves us completely, never wavering, always steadfast. It is to this covenantal devotion that Jesus is calling his disciples to as they gathered around him listening to his teaching.

Finally, to love the Lord completely means that we must love our enemies, just as Christ loved those who spat on him, those who cursed him, and those who drove the nails into his hands. We must remember that we were once enemies of God, worthy of His wrath. It is easy to love those who love us back, but what of those who want to destroy us, those who hate us, and those who wish that we would just shut up and die? I don’t know about you, but the closer I draw to the Lord the more the world hates me. Members of my own family detest when I speak about God, what He is doing in my life, His Word, or pray for them accusing me of “advertising” my faith. What a compliment from someone who wishes I would just shut up!

Dorothy Day once wrote, “I really only love God as much as the person I love the least.” Who do you love the least? Commit today to love completely as Christ with wholehearted devotion, perfectly. I am so in awe that God loves such an imperfect mess such as me. I am so grateful He is not willing to leave me this way. For as long as God allows me to breathe, I pray I have the courage to advertise my faith in this broken vessel.

I am sometimes jealous of my Messianic Jewish friends. Many have been trained in the age’s old traditions of the Torah, Mishnah and Gemara which grants them eyes to see the gospel in a light I can only gain through hours of study. Jesus referenced these traditions in many illustrations and by gaining an understanding of the biblical history we can glean deeper insight to his message. One of the oft used traditions used in scripture is that of marriage.

Our Messiah describes the kingdom of heaven as a wedding feast (Mt. 22), the disciples referred to the church as the bride of Christ (Rev. 19:7), and the prophet Jeremiah compared Israel to a faithful bride (Jer. 2:2). The Israelites were a covenant people and, as such, their relationships were governed by legal contracts. One of those critical contracts was a marital contract called the Ketubah (meaning “her writing”).

The ketubah was much more than the marriage license we acquire today to authorize our legal unions. This contract was initiated by the groom obligating him to his bride. The legal document detailed the groom’s responsibilities to his wife including his promise to serve, support and sustain his bride and denying himself for her good. In a culture that predominately viewed women as property, the document accompanied a monetary obligation in the case of a divorce as well. The ketubah elevated the woman to a valued companion in life emphasizing the protection of the wife and her welfare in the Jewish community.

Today the contracts are still written in Aramaic and elaborately decorated on high quality parchment. The ketubah is signed by the groom and two witnesses and preserved by the bride. Tradition held that the bride remained in her father’s house for one year until the wedding, but they were considered man and wife at the signing of the contract. The bride had no conditions or obligations in the contract, but received and held her husband’s commitment as a gift. She only need remain pure until the designated marriage feast at which time the groom would arrive to gather his bride to himself.

There are many parallels we can draw from the ketubah to the gospel message. God’s salvation is granted to believers through no action of the receiver. It is a free gift of grace through faith for those who believe and are betrothed to the bridegroom. Our purity is evidence of our love for Christ. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Rom. 12:1) Believers are sealed with the Holy Spirit until the Day of the Lord when Christ gathers the church to himself as He promised. As one who is betrothed to Christ, the church is set apart for the bridegroom to work together to fulfill the law of Christ, the law of love.

The covenant of marriage is a beautiful model of God’s redemption for a depraved and lost world. Holy matrimony to this day sets apart a man and a woman to fulfill their purpose on earth together as one.  And now, we await eagerly for the return of the Bridegroom. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Luke 13:34-35)

 I have been alone with my thoughts more than I care to be. This reminds me of a scene in The Mirror Has Two Faces where Lauren Bacall (playing Barbara Streisand’s mother) after a sleepless night comments to her middle aged daughter, “It’s awful to leave a woman my age alone with her thoughts.” The inference to age aside, I am realizing that when left alone I seem to default to fault-finding introspection.

I have more time on my hands recently since I am between Seminary courses right now. I love my classes, although I no longer enjoy the camaraderie of my peers now that we moved half-way across the country from my school…again. Southern Evangelical Seminary is my third college to attend because we have moved so much due to my husband’s career. I have 110 hours toward a business degree and am about 11 courses short of completing my Biblical Studies degree. Studying as an external student is isolating, almost as much, I remember, as being a stay-at-home mother of four preschoolers.

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I LOVE learning! I have over 600 books on my computer (many are reference books), but I could read a book every day for 200 years and still never satisfy my insatiable appetite for knowledge. Makes me sound smart and perhaps in some circles I am, but the more I learn, the more pitifully inadequate I become.

I say all this to culminate with this confession; I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. Sounds juvenile and pathetic, I know. And I am quite embarrassed at the acknowledgment of said fact; however, this undeniable observation is the elephant in the warehouse of my thoughts. I have been a stay-at-home mom for 15 years now, and, by God’s grace, I do not have to work. This I recognize as a beautiful blessing, as I am unhindered to fully invest in my family. But still, a small part of me wants to do more—to be more. And that small part is getting louder with every day that passes.

Is this the equivalent of my husband’s mid-life crises? I hope not, because we don’t have enough room for all of Jim’s accumulated toys in the garage for me to add to the stash. I do sense an emerging desire to DO something rather than HAVE something. Everywhere we have lived, God has placed successful Christian writers and speakers in my life and many have encouraged me to pursue the same occupation. I have considered this many times, but (and here is the darkest thought that keeps occupying my mind)… I am NOBODY. I fully believe that I have nothing of value that would be of any help to anyone.

But maybe that is not an ominous thought after all…

Maybe it is essential for a simple clay pot to realize it is a simple clay pot. Apart from Christ I am nobody and can do nothing of eternal value, and perhaps that is the most proficient knowledge of all. To be content as a clay pot is liberating, to be satisfied as a clay pot is condemning. So I shall feast my mind’s eye on this: Let every breath glorify my Savior even if my service never seems to reach beyond the four walls of our home.

I foolishly believed that enduring a plethora of humiliations at Walmart at the less than stellar behavior of my children, that I have emerged a humble woman. But, no, I could still be accused of secretly desiring glory for myself. While there may be some substance to that accusation, I really just want the approval of my Father. I just want to please Him and I think we all make the mistake of confusing the praises of the world as the praises of the Father.

God can be glorified whether I am scrubbing toilets, teaching a precept to my son at the dinner table, reigning on the Best Seller list, or speaking before an audience of thousands. Loving the Lord faithfully should consume my thoughts and my actions even when no one is watching. I may never enjoy the praises of the world, and I can be content with that. I would much prefer the praises of my Father.  My purpose is not to draw attention to myself, but to draw the attention of others to Christ. Perhaps one day something eternally exquisite will arise from the confines of this simple earthen vessel. When that day comes, to God be the glory!

OK, I’m ready to admit I have a problem–a lack of consistency in my life. I do a lot more thinking on God’s Word than I do reading it. The only thing I have been consistent about reading the Bible is consistently forgetting to do it or doing it “later.” I have been resting on Ps. 37 for a while. I think there is much the Lord wants to show me here.

Ps. 37:3 “Trust in the Lord and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.”

Cultivate faithfulness. What does it mean to cultivate faithfulness. How do I do that? What does that even look like? Hmm, it is probably the opposite of inconsistency.

Deut. 30:20 … “by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and holding fast to Him;”

How do I cultivate faithfulness? By loving God, obeying His voice, and trusting Him.

Psalm 37 says to delight in the Lord, commit your way to Him and trust Him. So cultivating faithfulness does not begin with a checklist. It begins with a heart attitude of trust. Perhaps thinking on Gods’ Word is not the end of my faithfulness, but the beginning. A mind and heart focused on the Lord is a heart that is prepared to have faith and to cultivate that faith in otheres. I need to put away the shame that the enemy tries to make me wear becuase I failed my “to-do” list. I may have failed mine, while at the same time accomplished the Lord’s purposes.

 

If God knows everything and He is going to do what he wants anyway, why pray?

Short answer: We pray because God says so. 

1 Thess. 5:16-18 16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Long answer:

What do you think is the greatest hindrance to Christianity? Some say that AIDS, abortion, war, poverty, sin, atheists, or liberal politicians are. Billy Graham said “No! The greatest hindrance to Christianity today is Christians do not know how to practice the presence of God.”

1) How do I know God hears me?

a. We are called a royal priesthood. 1 Pet 2:5, 9 (While it may appear that God honors our prayers because we simply bear the name “Christian”, it is less about who we are and more about the character of God – the source of love and grace – that He honors our prayers.)

b. As part of a royal priesthood prophesied in the Old Testament Ex 19:5-6 (conditional upon obedience) and fulfilled in Christ Rev. 1:5-6 (firstborn of the dead, sitting at the right had of the father in his resurrected body, interceding upon our behalf), I have access to the throne of grace. Heb 4:16 (looking back to vs 15, Christ fully identifies with us, God put on human clothing to offer himself a sacrifice for us, resurrected in the body and prays continually for us. Through the Holy Spirit he enacts His will by praying through us–His priesthood. We are invited to, among other things, participate in miracles and share in His work on Earth establishing His kingdom while sharing God’s grace and His message of redemption.)

c. Christ has blessed us with every spiritual blessingin the heavenly realm. How does God see you? Replace the pronouns in Eph. 1:2-14 with I and me.

Are you living a life worthy of the name you bear?

2) Does intercessory prayer work?

a. Num 16:46-48 The incense from Aaron’s censor is a picture of the intercessory prayers of a righteous man. James 5:16 God sent judgment upon the rebellious Israelites. In obedience and according to God’s will, Aaron took his stand between those who had already shown symptoms of the plague and those who had not. He swung the censor creating a dividing line between the two groups standing in the gap and interceding for the suffering people.

b. Heb 7:24-25 Our participation in Christ’s high priestly ministry of intercession is literally our inheritance and a rare and precious privilege. If we do not practice God’s presence, who will?

If the Holy Spirit were removed to day, would you notice? How much of your life would be unaffected?

c. Example of intercessory prayer. Gen 18:17-33 (Abraham and Lot)

  1. Abraham identified himself with the sufferings and weaknesses of others. Read Jeremiah or Lamentations
  2. He plead the attributesof God for His creation. Ps.89
  3. He reminds God of his past mercies. Ps. 136

As we partake in communion with God all day, continually, we begin to identify with God’s character. We call this becoming Christ-like. We draw near to the source of our next breath and we share His heart. God’s desires become our desires, His will becomes our will. We can pray according to His will because He reveals His will to those who love Him. As a result, we see more prayers answered in accordance with our desires because we now pray His desires.

“This is that which unlocks the treasury of heaven. Many keys fit many locks, but the master key is the blood and the name of Him that died and rose again, and even lives in Heaven to save the uttermost.” Charles Spurgeon

3) How can my prayers be more effective?

a. How do we release power through prayer? Jam 5:13-16 We pray in affliction, praise in gladness, intercede for the suffering, restore the sick and grant remission of sins. Why is forgiveness necessary for efficasious prayer?

b. How can we experience the peace of God? Phil 4:4-7 Why is thanksgiving key?  What will it take for you to live a worry free life?

c. Sometimes God asks us to surrender parts of our life that we don’t want to give up.He might ask you to give up alcohol, an extra hour of sleep, your pride–things that might not be a sin to someone else. These things may not be a sin to someone else, but it may be creating  noise in your life by drowning out God’s voice.  His desire is for you is to have perfect communion with Him. He wants to see more of your prayers answered, too. What is the noise in your life?

What part of your life do you need to sacrifice upon the alter before God to eliminate any hindrances in your communion with Him?

So why pray? Look at the lead question at the beginning of the article again. The second premise implies an impersonal God.  This is the God of the agnostic or deist. A deist says, “we can’t deny God created, but after that He just stepped back and now watches everything like spectator viewing a great cosmic motion picture.” This view of God contrasts with the Christian God. God may be sitting on His throne in heaven now, but 2000 years ago He left the glory of heaven and put on humanity to suffer and die for you. You may veiw yourself as one insignificant detail on a great tapestry stretching across the heavens. But to God, that insignificant detail was worth suffering on a cross. Is this the activity of an impersonal being? Unique to the Christian faith, God desires a relationship, He desires communion and He has provided the way.

I close echoing this prayer found in Colossians 1:9-14 for you, dear friend.

 9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.