Love thy neighbor

July 21, 2016

Jesus said, “love your neighbor,” Mark 12:31, and yet so many of us pick and choose who gets our respect, who we honor, who we love.

Too often, we choose the rich, the popular, the favorite pop-culture-icon, the seemingly successful. These people get our attention. They get our listening ears. They get our respect. They influence our lives. They may get our wallets. And we even do this in church. We pick and choose and we get it wrong. Very wrong.

We are not meant to pick and choose at all. God does not show favor to the rich over the poor, Job 34:19. God does not show favoritism (or) God is no respecter of persons Acts 10:34 (NIV/ASV). God is not partial, Galatians 2:6. And James 2:9 says, if we show favoritism, we sin… 

A glaring truth about our own spiritual maturity: 

How and to whom we show respect, honor, and love is a measure of our spiritual maturity.

If we pick and choose, show respect to some but not others, we show we are not that spiritual. Instead, we are following after the world system that looks at all the externals.

The externals are the huge bank account, the beautiful, the trendy, the position, the title, the achievements. Externals are also spiritual gifts, to prophesy, abilities given to communicate, perform miracles. All these can be done while we are dishonoring, disrespecting, and even withholding love from people. Believe it or not, but, God’s gives gifts to people and doesn’t take them back, Romans 11:29. So a person can exercise all manner of spiritual gifts, but not really love people. This is a scary truth, and one reason we are so easily misled when looking at externals.

If we pick and choose who gets our respect, honor, and love based upon personal choice or external measures, we turn people away from the Gospel and give people a view of relationships in church that is broken and dysfunctional; in this case they are.

But when we show respect, honor, and love to people, when they haven’t done anything–in our estimation–to deserve it, it opens people up to the Gospel and healthy relationship. Why? Because it is so rare. Love like this is so rare. But this is the way God loves us, and the way He wants His love to be demonstrated through us, God is love, 1John 4:8.

We are all the work of God’s hands. God places immeasurable worth on every person. There is not one person who escapes His all-seeing and loving eyes. There is not one person more deserving of His love. Nor is there any person less deserving. God has dignified every one of us. God is the One who places great value upon us and calls us His precious-beloved child. God shows extreme honor to us by making our heart His home–something none of us deserve, but God does this because of His extreme love for us. 

If we think God is a harsh judge, requiring service and duty and rule keeping, a wrathful fear-inducing punisher, relationally cold or distant, these traits will show up in the way we relate to people. If we are critical of people, always suspicious, judging and measuring behavior, we ourselves don’t know God because these are the traits of a tyrannical ruler, not God.

God is our loving Father. He is joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, and gentle. God is lavishly generous, compassionate, willingly self-sacrificial, forgiving, and unceasingly graceful. God welcomes everyone, and shows extreme honor to us by making our heart His home–the God of heaven honors us by making our heart His home. He desperately desires relationship with us. If we are people walking in ever-growing intimacy with Him, we will be growing more like Him. Intimacy with God produces in us more of His nature and character, and this will be seen daily in the way we relate to people–all people, everywhere…

What’s in my heart will be my prevailing conversation. I might talk about other things, but I will keep coming back to the theme of my heart.

We can’t help it. The thing we love the most will leak out of us. We cannot stop it. We start to talk about other things, but we will come back, again and again, to the thing that holds our greatest affection. Jesus said, the mouth speaks what the heart is full of, Luke 6:45.

Some people leak Jesus, beautifully. They leak the presence and power of the Holy Spirit and it affects great change in the lives of people all around them. It seems as if they leak the very fresh air of heaven. This is God’s intention for our lives: that we would leak His love, His presence and power, and that heaven would be felt through our lives. This is what Jesus meant when He said, the kingdom of God is within you, in your hearts and among you, surrounding you, Luke 17:21AMP.

But if our hearts are full of the self, money, the things money can buy, or whatever other idol has our heart, these will be our prevailing conversations. Occasionally we may talk about Jesus and his kingdom, but inevitably we will again start talking about whatever has our heart. We cannot help it. We were created this way, the mouth speaks what the heart is full of, Luke 6:45.

God’s intention however, is that we would be filled with Him. We were created to be carriers of His presence and power, and He wants to flow out of our lives like a river of living water, John 7:38.

We are to leak Jesus all over people. Jesus wants to be our prevailing conversation. He wants to be what our heart is full of. 

Funny title: How are we supposed to pray? As if there’s a right/wrong way…

God’s heart is for us to be engaged in the honest pursuit of relationship with Him for Who He is, not what He does. This is the goal of all true prayer.

Jesus instructed us to keep it simple, honest, humble, natural, and ask for nothing less than heaven to come to earth!

God is not impressed by vanity prayers or spiritual-pride-filled theatrics. He is not impressed by people’s puffed-up notions of spiritual maturity. None of these impress Him. In the history of the human race it has not impressed Him. It never will.

…because unlike people, God sees through everything. He knows everything. Our secret thoughts are not secret to Him. The attitudes and meditations of our heart are on full display before Him. He knows what we are thinking before we say a word. He hears our every conversation. He sees who we are behind closed doors. He knows and sees absolutely everything and He still loves us with an irrepressible, unstoppable love.

When we come before God we can place all the pieces of our life before Him, Psalm 5:3MSG, and confidently know that He does not stand accusing us, He stands waiting longing to embrace us. He wants us to come before Him giving thanks and being open and ready for whatever He wants to do.

Jesus’ instructions on prayer: 

Remember, the world is not our stage…
Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it, It might be good theater, (it might impress a whole lot of people) but the God who made you won’t be applauding… Don’t call attention to yourself… When you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat? Matthew 6:1,2,5MSG.

Pray with Simplicity. Get alone with God… (put aside the iPhone)
Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense His grace, Matthew 6:6MSG.

Enjoy God for Who He is, not what He does, then relationship with Him will flow naturally…
The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and He knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply… Matthew 6:7,8MSG.

Affectionately call Him Father, and give Him all glory and honor, for He alone is great and worthy…
Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name (Your name be kept holy) Matthew 6:9NIV.

Exchange our will for His. This is essentially what true prayer does: exchange our will for His. Our lives will come into complete conformity to His will, very naturally and easily…
Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, Matthew 6:10NIV. This is no small prayer. This is asking that heaven’s realities become ours, here on the earth. God’s will is to extend heaven into the earth through us. I pray this daily.

Like any good father, God is our Perfect Father, we can ask Him to meet every need, He provides generously…
Give us our daily bread, Matthew 6:11.

We can love all people, not holding anything against anyone, but allowing God’s love to flow through us…
Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (fully letting go of resentments, peoples insults or offenses) Matthew 6:12NIV… When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves, Matthew 5:44MSG.

Trust God to keep us on a firm foundation…
Lead us not into temptation, deliver us from the evil one,Matthew 6:13NIV, and keep us safe from ourselves, Matthew 6:13MSG.

A Modern Parable

June 17, 2016

A party was organized for a graduating class from a university. Hundreds of students, their families, and friends were invited. It was to be a huge celebration.

On the night of the party, as people started to fill the banquet hall, you could feel the excitement in the air. People came dressed in their very best clothes. The atmosphere had been carefully planned with excellent lighting and decor, and a popular band provided the music. People enjoyed great food as they met with friends and family and caught up on the latest news. Every detail of the party from beginning to end was presided over with great care.

There was one guest who knew every person at the party, Livy. Livy was the dependable friend they called when they needed something, anything. She would turn up ready to help anyone, at any time. Livy had been instrumental in organizing the party. She generously gave her time and attention to the party like it was her very own baby.

As the hours passed, everyone was having a great time, many people said it was the best party they had ever attended. The party’s organizer’s were especially pleased with their ability to pull off such a successful party. With their chests puffed out, they proudly walked around the party soaking up every minute. Except Livy…

Strangely, Livy was largely ignored. When she looked for somewhere to sit she was repeatedly told, “These seats are saved.” No one welcomed her to their table to eat. No one invited Livy into their conversations as they stood around in their cliquey huddles. When the dance floor filled up, no one asked Livy to dance. But Livy loved to dance, so she started to dance without a partner –very carefree. Livy noticed some disapproving looks from people who thought it unacceptable to dance alone. They didn’t like the way Livy danced. Livy quietly made her way off the dance floor to a table in a corner of the vast room, and there she stayed, alone. She felt unwelcome and unloved at her own party.

As Livy faded further into the background, seemingly unknown and unseen, there was a growing assumption among the party organizer’s, “Maybe Livy was an unnecessary guest.” After all, “We really didn’t need her help organizing the party.”

Livy overheard the comment. It hurt deeply. Livy had helped that person pass exams, move in and out of campus apartments, and so many other things over the years. Livy left the party and went home. No one noticed her absence. They just kept partying into the early hours of the morning. The party organizers were sure this party would go down in the record books as one of the greatest. They were so proud of what they had accomplished.

Some readers may have guessed the meaning of the parable: Livy is the Holy Spirit, and the party is the Church.