THE BRAVEST ACT

Bravery is a desirable trait.  Most of us find it so.  The Encarta Dictionary defines bravery as: courage in the face of danger, difficulty, or pain.  Throughout the annals of history there have been innumerable acts of bravery.  Usually when being brave, a person puts aside self-concern and moves onward.  They have the hope of a good outcome, but they are willing to face the possibility of a bad one.

Matthew records in chapter 26 of his gospel the story of Jesus’ final hours before he was arrested.  Jesus knew he was facing a brutal death.  There was no chance of a different outcome because what he was facing had been planned from the beginning of time.  In the garden of Gethsemane he said to Peter, James, and John, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”  Then he went a little ways away to pray.   He prayed three times, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Jesus also said to his disciples, as Peter raised a sword to defend him, “Do you think that I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”  Jesus had the power to remove himself from this terrible situation at any time.  Instead, he bravely faced a certain horrible death.  He was compelled by obedience to his Father ‘s will and a deep love for you and me.  This is surely the bravest act.

 

Two thoughts on the Lord’s Prayer: 

Pray it every day; because, it is a daily prayer.

When you pray alone, you should personalize it.  In the garden, Jesus prayed, “My Father.”

LOVE = RESTRAINT

Last week I wrote about restraint.  Continuing to contemplate this topic I have found an interesting connection.  Restraint is a companion to love.  If I love my neighbor as myself it stands to reason that I will restrain myself and defer to my neighbor’s wants and needs.  If I do not love then why restrain myself.  I will simply pursue whatever I want without regard for others.  Therefore love provides a motivation for restraint.

When love motivates us to restrain ourselves we find those virtues rising up in us like the ones Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7,

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love produces restraint.  In love I restrain myself and become a better person, more God like.  I feel better about myself when I am patient and kind.  I feel bad when I trample over others because I’m in a hurry.  The people I push past and disregard don’t feel very well either.  Wouldn’t it be great if I restrained myself because I love others as myself?  Help me Lord!

God loves us.  He restrains himself from judging us because he loves us.  As I pointed out a couple of weeks ago God loves us all (see Another Perspective).  Every human is God’s creation and he desires the best for us.  The all-powerful God of the universe restrains himself because he loves.

Jesus could have called down a legion of angels to protect him from the humiliation, the brutal beating, and the horrible death of the cross?  He restrained himself because he loves us.  He carried through the Father’s plan for our salvation because he loves.

WE ARE ALL WINNERS

The idea of winners and losers comes about because we humans operate in pride and self-preservation.  Pride and self-preservation put us at odds with each other.  Whether it’s a friendly game or an all-out war, we oppose our fellows.  The end result is a selection of winners and losers.  There is only one force that moves us beyond the pride and self-preservation mode.  That force produces all winners.

Now ask yourself, what would motivate me to lay down my pride and self-preservation?  What would get me to the place where I didn’t care about what I had to do or about what others thought?  What would cause me to give my life away?  Wouldn’t you agree that the answer is love?  I would throw myself in front of a bus to save my wife, or my children, or my grandchildren.  I believe I would even do the same for my students.  Why, because I love them.

Guess where we find the greatest demonstration of giving up your pride and laying down your life for others.  Yes, Jesus on the cross is the answer. When the one through whom all things were created humbled himself and gave up his life, everybody became winners.  Everyone is offered eternal life.  He saved us all because he loves us.

The challenge of the cross is before us.  Will we surrender our pride and lay down our lives for others?  Will we choose to love?  Will we help others to know the good news that they are winners?

A TRANSFORMED MIND

One of the difficulties followers of Jesus face in our current society is avoiding the consumer mentality.  “Let’s go shopping” is the call.  We get to buy things and spend money.  There is never an end to what we can buy, but unfortunately there is an end to the money we have to spend.  Running out of money is a definite downer.  We are then driven to figure out how we can get more money.  Living the consumer life never brings us satisfaction.

I have been reading through Matthew chapters 5-7, and as I read it occurred to me that Jesus is redirecting his disciples’ way of thinking.  Jesus taught his disciples to think differently.  He wanted them to put aside self-concerns and focus on the Kingdom of God.  Paul restates Jesus’ teaching in Romans 12:1-2,

            So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going to work, and walking around life – and place it before God as an offering.  Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.  Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.  Instead, fix your attention on God.  You’ll be changed from the inside out.  Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.  Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you (The Message).

If we allow him, Jesus will change our way of thinking.  He will transform our minds.  Let me recap what Paul is saying.  We should take everything about our lives and place it before God as an offering.  Then we should humbly accept what he has done for us.   Our way of thinking is not about what we can do for him, but what he has done for us.  So with a heart of gratitude, we fix our attention on him, and receive the new way of thinking that he works  into us.  This allows us to do what he sets before us without distraction.  The result, “God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”

WWJD

The WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) movement was to encourage Christian to look to Jesus in our decision making.  I always felt that since Jesus is God, I was going to fall very short of what he would do.   In Matthew chapter 6, Jesus gives his disciples clear directions as to what they should do.  It is quite a challenge for us mere mortals.

Let’s take a look at verse 25, “If you decide for God, living a life of God worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether clothes in your closet are in fashion.  There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body (The Message).”  I find this quite challenging.  Living in materialistic America, these words cut to the quick.   The quick being where life happens.  But this is not a concern just for Americans.  Evidently, those in ancient Israel needed to hear these words.

In this whole section, from verse 19-24, Jesus is giving his disciples a new view of their life.  He wants them to refocus.  As followers of Jesus, we need to look at life differently; step outside of the social norms, and focus on what God is doing.  Jesus doesn’t want us to worry about the things of this world; he wants us to trust our Father in Heaven with them.  Jesus came to set us free.  This refocusing is a part of that freedom.

This sounds great doesn’t it?  So how are you doing with this?  I’m struggling.  My struggle is within and against my sinful nature.  That’s why WWJD bothered me.  I knew I couldn’t do what Jesus would do.  The Apostle Paul gives quite a dissertation on this struggle in Romans 7:14-25.

I am battling to refocus my life, but I am always relying on God’s grace and mercy.  Grace is not an excuse for sin, but it is God’s answer to our failings.  Jesus is in the battle with us every day.  He is our strength in times of weakness.  We are not alone in our struggles.

RECEIVING HIS LOVE

Last week in my blog “The Greatest Force” I quoted this scripture from Matthew 22:37-39, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Can anybody do this?  I’m going to take the liberty of answering for all of us and say “no” because in verse 40 of this passage Jesus continues, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  The scriptures make it very clear that none of us have been able to keep the whole Law.

Houston, we have a problem!

Unfortunately, neither Houston nor I have the solution, but God does.  For God so loved …, that he sent Jesus (see John 3:16).  I believe that our ability to love God and others is rooted in our ability to receive God’s love.  Truly believing that we are loved changes us.  There is a peace that comes over us that counters our need to perform.  It takes away our need to earn love.  Living in the peace of God’s love supports us and opens the way for us to give love.

To genuinely receive God’s love is difficult.  We have to lay down our self-sufficiency.  “I can do it myself.”  Self-sufficiency is a part of our sinful nature.  Have you ever observed a toddler saying “I do it?”  It’s inherent.  God’s love given freely puts us in a humble place.  We don’t have to do anything to earn it.  God did it all.  It’s simply a matter of surrendering the pride of self-sufficiency.

Pride separates us from God, and allows us to do all kinds of unloving things.  Think of bigotry and abuse.  Aren’t these sourced in pride?  The pride that says I’m better than or more important than another.  Can a humble heart, that is truly receiving love from God, commit these acts against their neighbor?

I fall short in loving God and my neighbor every day.  Therefore, every day I have the potential to be ungodly.    I need to do something about this.  No, I need to humbly receive God’s love for me.  Loving God and others will flow from that.

THE GREATEST FORCE

Love is the greatest force in the universe.  The Bible tells us that God, the creator, is love (1 John 4:16).   The world and all that is in it was created in love.  It was love demonstrated by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross that brought us salvation.  The redemption of mankind was accomplished by His great act of love.  In love then there is sacrifice.  As Jesus exhibited, love requires the laying down of personal wants and desires for others, or maybe just redirecting our personal wants and desires to others.  Jesus told us in Matthew 22:37-39, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

We obviously have the right to use love, and we are commanded to use it.  First we are to love our God, and second to love our neighbor.  Our neighbor being anyone we encounter.

We have access to the greatest power in the universe!  How amazing is that?  Why aren’t we using this great power?  Oh, it requires sacrificing our own wants and desires.  Bingo!  The whole world could be changed by this great force that we have access to, but it requires sacrifice.

Taking a broader look, I find that there is little use of this greatest force in our world.   I’m not seeing a wide use of love.  Knowing that God is love, we can say there’s a lot of ungodliness being exhibited.  For those who like to blame this on God, perhaps a look in the mirror might clear their perspective.  I’m looking in the mirror, and I find much room for improvement.