Loving Your Enemies

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43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.                                    Matthew 5:43-48

One of the most difficult commands God gives us in Scripture is to love your enemies. How do we love people who not only get on our nerves but who have seriously wronged us? God says that there is no reward in loving those who love you. What reward do we have in loving our enemies and how does God expect us to accomplish this impossible feat?

Lately, I’ve realized that I’ve been going about loving my enemies all wrong. It feels easier to love the people I get along with and that love me in return. I often look to these relationships to help me learn to love my enemies. When I look at the way I love my friends and family I see affection, generosity, patience, and understanding and try to apply these to my relationships with enemies. At best, this strategy makes me look like a better person. Someone who is nice in the face of adversity. But I don’t love them. I wouldn’t lay my life down for them.

Loving people who love you back does not teach us about the biblical way we are called to love. Loving people who hate us and who have wronged us reveals that love is not based on condition nor emotion.

Jesus showed us what true love was by laying his life down for us ( John 15:13-15). Yes, he considered his followers friends but we forget that he died for us when we were enemies of God (Romans 5:10). In one single act Christ taught us how to love our friends and our enemies. What did his love look like? Agony, sacrifice, and death on our behalf. True love is not easy, it is painful.

When we are called to love our enemies we must not be mistaken to think that because God commanded it, it will be easy. It seems like an impossible thing to do because it is impossible. He gives us the command with an expectation to rely on him to do it, just as Jesus did.

Jesus loved his friends and enemies (us) in the same way. In the garden of Gethsemane he asked God to take the task from him but God still called him to it. He agonized in the garden in prayer and ultimately relied on the Spirit to bring himself to accomplish his task. Our proof of his love is in the cross and the power for us to receive that love is in his resurrection.

That power is for us today. And we must remember that love is always hard. God does not give us the command to love our enemies lightly and he doesn’t give us the command to love our brothers lightly either. But loving our enemies show us that truly loving someone means that you will suffer. It requires you to die to yourself. To die to your pride, your selfishness, your fear. It means offering all of these to Christ as he leads you to humble yourself before those who hate you and who have hurt you. Just as he did for us.

 

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Facing Failure

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Why are we afraid of failure? The fear of it can keep us from trying new or intimidating things. It can make us do whatever it takes (ethical or not) to make sure we succeed. Whatever way we try to avoid it, failure is something we fear to face.

Why we fear failure

Failure is a reflection of our sin. When we fail at something, we’re being reminded of our inherited sin. From Adam, all of mankind has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God but not all have faced that fact. Our individual failures are echoing reminders that we have failed on an eternal level. This can make us hide away, avoiding our failure as Adam and Eve did in the Garden after eating the forbidden fruit. It can also make us go to extreme means to “defeat” our failures as Cain did when he murdered his brother for bringing the better offering to God. The truth is, we can neither hide from nor fight failure. At some point, we all must face it and facing our failures reminds us that at some point, we must also face our sin.

How God sees our failure

God can see every imperfection in us. He knows our hearts, our actions, and our thoughts. When Christ was sacrificed on the cross he did it so that every one of our sins was placed upon him. When God sees our failure, he sees it upon Christ the sacrificial lamb who was offered up for our sins and bears our burdens.

How to face failure

Is it okay for a Christian to fail? Yes and it is inevitable. We have all fallen short but that it is not the end of it. We must not let the fear of failure hinder us from the things God has called us to nor motivate us to take our lives into our own hands. Let failure come and let it echo reminders of our sin. But let it also echo a reminder that Christ has taken the burden of our sin. Being a sinner who is not covered by Christ is the most terrifying thing you could ever face. But in Christ we no longer need to fear the consequences of failure because the ultimate deserved wrath was taken by Jesus.

“21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”   –  Romans 3: 21-26

We have been justified through our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us put our hope in him and his victory. Let us draw near to him in humility and with confidence to face our failures.

 

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The Promises of God

 

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The Promises of God

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In times of discouragement, fear, and doubt we must be able to cling to the promises God has for us.  It is comforting to know that God has promises for his people but that comfort can quickly wane unless we understand in anchoring depth, by the enlightening truth of the Bible, the kind of eternal promises God has for us through Jesus Christ. Romans 8 is one of the most comforting chapters in the Bible because it provides a slew of promises for all believers.

No Condemnation  Romans 8:1-8

The first seven chapters of Romans detail Paul’s argument that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ Whether Jew or Gentile everyone is a sinner deserving God’s just wrath. In Romans 8 he assures his readers that because of this, God had provided an atonement for our sin, Jesus Christ, that through faith we have salvation from God’s wrath on our sin. In Christ, we are justified and made righteous before God.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

Life in the Spirit  Romans 8:9-13; 8:26-27

If in Christ, we no longer live according to the flesh (our old selves) but according to the Spirit (God). Jesus fulfilled and set us free from the law of sin and death. Through the Spirit we are granted life, peace, and the ability to live out our righteous calling as followers of God. In previous chapters in Romans, Paul stresses the war that believers wage with sin. God sent his Holy Spirit to help us in our struggle with the power of sin.

“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.”   Romans 8:9

Heirs with Christ  Romans 8:14-17

All who are led by the Spirit and are made righteous through faith in Christ can be called sons and daughters of God. This means that we are heirs with Christ, receiving everything the Father bestows upon the Son and especially the relationship shared between the two. To stress this, Paul tells us that we have received the spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ echoing the words that Jesus prayed to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane.

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Romans 8:14

Future Glory  Romans 8:18-30

The Kingdom of God is already here but at the same time has not yet arrived. Christ has ushered his Kingdom on earth in that we have life through him and live lives that are ruled by him. But though we are outwardly wasting away we are being renewed inwardly day by day. We (along with all of creation) still long and yearn for the day that God’s kingdom will be fully reconciled here on earth. The hope of future glory shadows the current sufferings we may face.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18

Everlasting Love  Romans 8:31-39

The promises of God do not end with our Justification in and salvation through the blood of Christ but extend to an empowering life in the Spirit, fulfilling and rich relationship with the father, hope for eternal glory, and finally an unbreakable vow of love in Christ Jesus. In him, we can never be separated from God’s love. His powerful, everlasting, love that was displayed for us in Jesus, is for us and can not be taken away. Nothing can separate us from God and he will not leave nor forsake us.

 “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

It is important to remember that God does not promise that he will protect us from every difficult circumstance. In fact, Jesus warns that the life of the Christian faces persecution and hatred. But in the midst of our hardships and sorrow, he promises that everything we need is found in Jesus. In every situation, we can rejoice in the riches of our salvation and the hope of glory that is to be revealed to us. Whatever you are facing, cling to each promise and allow Christ to carry you through. 

 

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Going Through The Motions

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What does the phrase “going through the motions” mean? It is commonly used in Christian circles to mean a negative thing. We “go through the motions” when we do all of the things that we’re supposed to do without drive or ambition; when we read scripture, pray or attend church without an ounce of passion. I can see that when some people use this phrase, they mean to say that they are participating in spiritual disciplines without understanding the purpose of them. But I think that most people use this phrase to admit that they have been living as Christians dispassionately.

While displays of emotion and passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ can be natural reactions to its revelation, there might be danger in thinking that performing spiritual disciplines, i.e. “going through the motions”, without drive, ambition or passion is something we should be ashamed of.  Accomplishing these disciplines despite how we feel is a show of great maturity and will benefit us greatly as we grow in Christ.

The Mundane Moments of Spirituality

All throughout the Bible, we read stories of God working greatly in peoples lives. There are numerous miracles that are performed in the Old and New Testaments.  When we compare our lives with these amazing stories found in Scripture, it can be quite discouraging. How often do I make the sun stand still, heal lepers, or walk on water?

What we’re forgetting to remember is that between the climactic moments we read, there were mundane periods of time that served as preparation for the events we see displayed in the Bible. Moses leads the Israelites through the desert for 40 years. Jonah spent 40 days inside of a fish before he made his way to Ninevah. Jesus himself spent 40 days being tempted in the desert and before then we are not given much insight on the ongoings of his life from his childhood to adulthood. There are significant spans of years and even generations of moments that are not recorded in Scripture. Not every one of those moments spent by key biblical characters was filled with drive and passion. In some glimpses, we see that there were moments of frustration, fear, and reluctance. There were many other moments that were sure to be mundane as well.

When you feel like you have no desire to read the Bible or pray when you don’t feel like being surrounded by other believers, or making sacrifices by serving or giving, know that you are no less a Christian because you don’t feel like doing it. Most of the time you won’t. That’s why they’re called disciplines;  there should be an expected amount of “going through the motions.” But as we go through the motions, the Holy Spirit is there to meet us and reveals to us the passion that Jesus has for us. Where we lack in our devotion he never fails to pour out how much he zealously loves us, even to the point of death. In the times when we do not hunger for the things of God, we must know that we still need them to grow in our faith and to live out our callings.

 “But he answered, ‘It is written,‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”   Matthew 4:4

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How to Make a Change

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For some time I have been frustrated with the concept of change. I have never been the type of person who likes change.  But lately, I’ve noticed that a lot of things in my life that I want to and that I know need to change, haven’t. I don’t mean circumstantial change, I mean deep change. I want to be better, to move forward, to grow but somehow I feel stuck no matter how hard I try to do things that I think will help me change for the better.

It’s frustrating when you try your best to make good changes and you don’t see any results.

When I was in high school I played Tennis. Like with any sport, I had a coach that taught me how to play and helped me to train. When you first start playing a sport you have to be taught and in order for you to get better someone has to be there to help you do it. No successful athlete has looked back and realized that they did it all on their own. As a Chrisitan, I’ve come to realize that making changes in my life and growing in my faith has little to do with my sole effort. It takes someone else to help me through it.

It’s not about me making changes to grow and become a better Christian, it’s about being changed.

Michael’ Jackson’s song “Man in the Mirror” always seemed so inspirational to me. We have to start with ourselves to make changes. We have to change what inadequacies we see in the mirror before we can tell someone else to change. It’s all very “take the plank out of your own eye” but in reality, we don’t have the ability or power to change ourselves, only Christ does.

I don’t have the power or strength to make changes in my life, to get better, to move forward. I can’t grow on my own. It’s not about me making changes but about Christ changing me.

” Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”  1 Peter 2:2-3

1 Peter says that we are like newborn infants that need to be fed in order to grow. We are seeds that need to be watered, stones that need to be built up. We need Jesus and must rely on him to change us daily. True change begins with Christ. We can try to clean ourselves up and work harder but it will all be in vain. Many of us get stuck on the fact that God show’s us what we need to change in our lives and what a changed life is supposed to look like. But we forget that Jesus not only came to show us what to change, but he also came to do the changing for us.

Only the Gospel can turn our hearts to God. Only Jesus can guide us forward into the lives we are meant to live. He can heal our brokenness, fill our emptiness, and turn our weaknesses into his power. All we have to do is turn to him to do it.

And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6:11

The Fruit of the Spirit

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“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Galatians 22-23

The Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Many times these attributes have been seen as a check-list for Christian character. We often compartmentalize them as separate attributes that must be attained. I often hear people say things like, “I know God wants me to be more patient… have more joy… be more loving… etc.” But is that the message that Paul is trying to give in Galatians 5? Is he saying that in order to be good Christians we must be good, faithful, and kind?

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”  Galatians 5:1

The heart of Paul’s words is not to encourage good moral character. In context, the point he is really trying to get at is freedom. In verse one he states that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free, then goes on throughout the rest of the chapter talking about the flesh and the spirit. Paul is writing to the Galatians in order to remind them of what it means to be in Christ. The fruit of the Spirit is not a list of requirements for acceptance, it is a list of incentives for an invitation.

Paul reminds us that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free.

He sets us free from our sin and all the consequences of it without any condition. He does it so that we can be free in him to receive all that comes with being a child of God. If we have been set free by Jesus Christ we are made new in him and have access to bear the fruit that only comes from God. Verses 22-23 are assurances that when we belong to Christ our lives and our character reflect his own. The fruit of the Spirit is a description of God’s character and only when we are in Christ can we reflect his nature.

Too often we strive to achieve upstanding moral character thinking it will get us right with God. We are called to be more like Jesus, to follow him, but it is an impossible task without him. God does not place this impossible burden on us. He wants to set us free from the one we already have placed on ourselves, hindering us from living a life of true freedom. He wants to set us free from our self-righteousness and the shame of our human failure.

Let us humble ourselves before him, allowing the desires of our flesh to be crucified with Christ and let us be raised in freedom in newness of spirit with him.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”   Galatians 5:16-18

The Way to Self-Discovery

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We are obsessed with identity. We crave to understand ourselves and know what place we have in this world. Because of this, we go on journeys of self-discovery and even work to create new identities. But identity is not something that is far lost or yet to be built. It doesn’t even depend on our own abilities or decisions. The truth of our identities is plainly laid out in the Bible. We either find ourselves in Christ or we don’t. If it really is that simple then why do we try to find our identities within ourselves or in the world? Our dissatisfaction with our identity in Jesus Christ lies in our denial of what that reveals to us about ourselves. If we have to admit who we are in him, we also have to admit who we are without him.

Outside of the life of Christ and the love of God we are sinners. We are shameful, broken, selfish, prideful to our core. So, instead, we work to search for or create better identities. No one enjoys spotlighting our most shameful selves. So we run and hide and pretend. But deep down we hopelessly desire to be accepted for those true selves, our darkest selves. The question is can God receive and accept us for who we are? The answer: No. But this is why Christ’s atonement is so crucial. He takes our true selves, every sin, all of our shame, and covers it in his redemptive blood, making us acceptable and holy.

So, how do we embrace our true identities?

Let’s not shy from the truth of who we are as human beings; fragile, fleshly, depraved. Remember that the truth shall set us free. When we embrace that truth we are able to see who we are in Christ. Our identities are made known in who God declares himself to be. So then the solution is not to go searching for our identities but looking to Jesus’.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes seven “I am” statements that are metaphors declaring the truth of his identity. Every statement he lays out about himself is followed by a statement of what that means for those who are in him. When we focus on who God says he is, the truth of who we are in him satisfies our souls and long desire to know and understand our identity.

I Am the Bread of Life

“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” John 6:35

I Am the Light of the World

“Again Jesus spoke to them saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

I Am the Door of the Sheep

“So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, Truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:7-10

I Am the Good Shepherd

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10:11

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” John 10:14-15

I Am the Resurrection and the Life

“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die…” 

John 11:25-26

I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

I Am the True Vine

“I am the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser.”  John 15:1

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

We search for ourselves when we should seek the one whom our true identities reside. When we find God he enlightens and sheds truth on who we are, in our state without him and who he redeems us to be.