Thursday, December 12, 2013

You Serve The Lord Christ

Until this moment, it had all seemed like a dream come true. Jana had longed for the day when she would finally see her beloved Savior face-to-face. Now, that day had come. Jesus! Here! He was more glorious than she could ever have imagined. Even the angels around him were eclipsed. It was the most thrilling day of Jana’s life, but now He was speaking to her. She could understand every word, but... it didn’t make sense. He was saying, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” His voice was rich, deep, and clear, like a mighty river. “For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.”
A jolt of panic raced through Jana’s heart. This wasn’t right. She hadn’t done any of those things. This was the first time she had even seen Jesus, and she had definitely never given Him food or drink, or done any of the rest. When had He ever been sick, or in prison anyway? To contradict the King of Kings was unthinkable, but she had to understand. “When, Lord?” she asked. “When did I see you hungry, and feed you…?” He seemed to be expecting the question. There was a twinkle in His eye as He answered, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to Me.

     Colossians 3:23-24 says, “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.” You and I, in our natural state without Christ, serve only one person: ourselves. A newborn baby, although adorable and precious, is thoroughly selfish. That baby will cry when she’s hungry, with no thought at all as to whether it is inconvenient to the people around her. Of course babies grow up, but the selfishness persists. It is the easiest thing in the world to focus on my needs, my wants, and whatever floats my boat. Even when we do things that are good and benefit others, it is still often with a selfish motive, such as to avoid punishment, or gain social approval. Jesus turns this on its head. Galatians 5:24 says, “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”  Two thousand years ago, when Christ died, we -- if you are in Christ -- died with Him. That “old man”, who sinned against God by living for self, is dead, nailed to the cross, alive no more. Romans 6 says it all. Now, to live is Christ. Christ’s pattern is the complete opposite. He came to serve, and to give His life as a ransom. He gave freely of all that He had, despite the cost to His time, comfort, and reputation. He humbly did everything His Father asked of Him, even dying. When we “put off the old man” and “put on the new man which was created according to God” (Ephesians 4:24), that is our new pattern. We start caring for others, and valuing their needs above our own. That is the core of kindness. It’s recognizing that we are all the same “kind”, and doing to others as you would have them do to you. But more than that, it’s realizing that if Jesus loves this person, then I will too, from the heart. I’m able to do that because I'm a new creation in Christ, with a new Spirit in me.

     Practically, that means that if we see a need, or an opportunity to bless, then we take it. There are millions of hungry people in the world, including some in your own home, I’m sure. Just think, when you pour your sister a glass of water, it’s like you’re doing it for Jesus himself! Would you like some ice with that? Kindness goes far beyond the basic physical needs. It might mean honoring your mom by cheerfully helping her with chores. Or by being a more generous giver -- you belong to God after all, and so does your money. Or by extending graciousness when someone inconveniences or offends you. Luke 6:27-38 is a good tutorial. For Corrie ten Boom, it meant hiding Jews in her house during World War II, at great danger to herself. For you, what will it mean today? Taking in strangers and visiting the imprisoned might be out of your comfort zone; I’ll confess it’s out of mine. But let’s not tell God what we will and won’t do. It’s not a question of “How little can I get away with?”, but rather, “How much can I do for God to demonstrate my love?” So, would you like some ice with that? 

Written for Pathways To Serenity, Vol. 1, Issue 7: "Kindness

Monday, December 9, 2013

Love Suffers Long...


     Rachel. Rachel. Rachel. Jacob could think of nothing else, no one else. Had any man been more in love than he? Rachel, the most beautiful woman on earth, his beloved, his soon-to-be bride. He had loved her from the beginning, from the first day he saw her at the well. She had been a young girl then, innocent and bright-eyed. Now, seven years later - seven years! - she was well past the common age to wed, but the years had only added to her beauty. To him she was the most womanly, the most desirable, the most perfect wife a man could ever want. There was no cost too great for such a treasure. No amount of gold or rubies could ever compare to her worth. Even - Jacob shuddered at the thought - even seven more years would be worth it. Everything leading up to this day: the lonely nights, the homesickness, the thankless years of sheep tending, the treachery of his Uncle Laban, the whole mix-up with poor Leah... all of that was worth it, for Rachel.

     Did you know that there is another Biblical character who suffered much to gain his bride... even more than Jacob? He too was far from home. He worked long hours, and went without food and sleep at times. It wasn’t a smooth road. He was mocked and ridiculed, misunderstood, slandered, and betrayed. Like a shepherd, he gently cared for creatures who were terribly needy, yet hardly thankful. Many opposed him with fierce hatred. By their hand he was beaten, whipped, stripped and humiliated, falsely accused, and crucified. Yes, this man was Jesus, and He endured all this for His bride, the Church. Seven years doesn’t seem long at all when you consider the thousands of years He has been waiting. “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” (Jer. 31:3b)  In the beginning, in the garden, Adam and Eve walked with God in sweet fellowship. We were created to love Him! But we were unfaithful. We rebelled. Do you think that broke God’s heart? His people, His beloved, forsaking Him? Yes, and He was angry, too. But He didn’t instantly destroy us when we sinned. He could have, but He didn’t. “The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy.” (Num. 14:18a) 

     Longsuffering. Not a word used very often nowadays, but the meaning is simple. Suffering + long. Undergoing pain for an extended period of time. For a holy, perfectly pure God to allow sin to remain in the world, was longsuffering. Justice must be served, but with God, mercy always precedes judgement. “The Lord... is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9) He offers forgiveness! He didn’t just delay our punishment, He took it upon Himself at the cross! “Consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation.” (2 Pet. 3:15a) Can anyone deny that God is love?

     1 John 4:19 says, “We love Him because He first loved us.” Because I love Him, I yearn for the day that He returns. Maybe that is today, maybe in seven years, maybe - I shudder at the thought - maybe not for another thousand years. We know neither the day nor the hour. Neither did the apostles. But what did they do? They loved Him, so they lived for Him. They underwent immense suffering because of it. However, they were “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name”. (Acts 5:41b) Do we have that attitude? You are not likely to be facing prison or flogging, but we all have opportunities to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2) Living for Jesus means loving those around you; putting their interests above your own. That’s not easy. Forgiving someone again is not easy. Being kind to someone who has just mistreated you is not easy. Being bold enough to obey God’s leading is not easy. But it’s all worth it... for Jesus.

Written for Pathways To Serenity, Vol. 1, Issue 6: "Patience"