Monday, September 29, 2008

Loving your Neighbor

We have all heard the verse where Christ says we should love our neighbor as ourselves. This weekend, that really struck me. I started to think, who would qualify as my neighbor? The people next door? Yes. The people living in our town? Yes. The people living in our state? Yes. How about people in the U.S.? Yes. And all over the world? Yes. Ok, so some tougher questions - what about the person at work that gets on your nerves? Yes. And how about that family member that is just so hard to love? Yes!

So we have defined who my neighbor is - everyone but me! But what exactly does loving them like myself mean? When I have a disagreement with someone I care about, am I loving them as myself? What about if we really disagree on major issues? Does it mean I have to let their side "win" so to speak? No, I don't think that would be true. Does it mean that no matter how many times I am hurt by someone, that I should continue to strive to build that relationship? Probably. But how do you do this, knowing that they will probably hurt you down the road again by saying something behind your back, manipulating those around you, or turning their back on you? I don't really have the answers. But now that I think of it, I haven't been a very good "neighbor" myself. I am probably not that easy to love when I think I am right (which now that I think about it, is most of the time). I am probably not easy to show compassion towards when I am focused on the challenges of my life, and don't take time to listen to others. In fact, others may put me on their list of difficult people to love. OUCH!

If I faced the judgment that the Bible talks about at the end of the age, when God separates the wheat from the chaff, how much of my life would "burn" with the chaff? I am starting to think it will be more than I think. My compassion for others should be obvious. It should be overflowing. That means it spills into others lives.

I wouldn't use those descriptions to talk about my life right now. I think this is an area God must be telling me I need to work on. No, I struggle to love some people, and get frustrated when they don't respond the way I want them to. I avoid others that I find difficult to love - people whose lives are so different from my own, that it makes me uncomfortable just trying to come up with something to say. So if the very nature of God calls us to love one another, then whose nature is it that calls us to be an adversary? I hesitate to answer Satan, but let's call him who he really is. And that would be someone I want nothing to do with. So Lord, give me eyes to see others they way that you see them. To find value in everyone because they are your creation, and to give each person I encounter a glimpse of your glorified light through me.

What a daunting task, accomplished only by resting in God's grace, which is exactly what I struggle with most of the time. Rest. Resting in God's grace. It sounds so easy, so why do I struggle with this? Why do I continue to try to work towards "achieving" those virtues the Bible speaks of, instead of resting in Christ and letting the Holy Spirit do the work? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, humility, - the fruit of the Spirit is within me, not a target to be reached! It can only be revealed when the fruit of humanity is laid aside - strife, ambition, pain, animosity, mistrust, slander, selfishness, etc. Lord, as I learn to lay these down, fill these empty spaces with the fruit of your everlasting spirit. Help them to abound in me so that they overflow into others lives. Help me to love my neighbor as myself. Teach me to know what this means, and to be the person you have called me and other believers to be.

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” ~ John 13:34

“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." ~ John 13:35

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” ~ Romans 12:10

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.” ~ Romans 13:8

“You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” ~ Galatians 5:13

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” ~ Ephesians 4:2

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” ~ Hebrews 10:24

“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.” ~ 1 Peter 1:22

"Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and be humble" ~ 1 Peter 3:8

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Returning to the same old thing

The book of John describes the scenes occurring after Jesus had died on the cross and was appearing to the disciples. We find the disciples back at the Sea of Tiberius. I can imagine what was going through their heads - "I thought this was the Messiah." ; "Could we have been wrong?". Jesus had already appeared to the disciples and showed him his scars, proving his resurrection. I imaging they were confused by what they saw, after all, it had to be nearly unbelievable. More than that, they probably wondered, "OK, so now what?" "What do we do now that Jesus is not with us in physical form? How do our lives change and what message do we preach when our leader isn't around?" One member of the group, Simon Peter, stands up and boldly announces, "I am going out to fish." (John 21:3). In their uncertainty, the other disciples say, "We'll go with you".

So here we are, looking in on the scene as the disciples decided what to do next. The confusion, the frustration, the resentment, the sorrow, the disappointment, all boiling down to the loss of both their teacher, their chosen "redeemer" and friend. How much their hearts must have ached! Their lives had been changed, everything they thought was going to happen, would no longer be true. The plans they might have made, the assumptions they had that they would serve with Christ when he saves his people, all of those plans and wonderings now a fleeting thought, as they adjusted to the fact that everything was different now. I imagine they were as captured in the moment as I would have been. Lost in despair and self-doubt, they turn to the one thing they knew - fishing. Consistency. They at least know how to fish. They can go back to that. It is something they do have control over, it is something they understand.

While the response of the disciples intrigues me, knowing that I would probably respond the same way, it is another fact that I am pondering over today. You see, here were the people chosen by Jesus himself to follow Him. Here were the men who saw the miracles with their own eyes. Who witnessed Jesus' Truth firsthand. These were the guys who tied his sandals, who ate dinner with him, who gave up everything to follow Him because they knew without a doubt, that He was the "one". And yet, days after Jesus' death, are they still proclaiming his truth? Are they fighting those authorities who unjustly crucified their savior? No. They are hanging their heads, they go on home. They go fishing. They immediately return to the life they lived before Jesus. Where are their changed lives?

Do we do the same thing as believers that the disciples did? Do we begin to question our salvation and the the one we entrusted it to, when it feels like He isn't around? Do we end up doing the same old things we did before we got saved, not realizing that our lives should have been different after our experience with our Lord? Do we return to the things we are comfortable with, the things that are easy? Do we recognize our shift back to the culture, back to our old way of life? Do we follow Peter, like the disciples did? Do we let others influence the way we walk in the Lord?

While I think the answers to the above questions are "yes", they don't have to be the end. We can continue returning to Christ, we are renewed, refreshed, and reminded about our Savior's grace and the salvation he has given us. Would it be easier on our lives if we would do it the right way, turning to him for everything after our conversion, and viewing all of the world through the eyes of Truth provided by Christ? IT CERTAINLY WOULD! But we make it difficult, we fight with our flesh to overcome worldy desires and value, losing battles here and there, struggling with the same old burdens we had before.

When the disciples go out to fish, they catch nothing. Isn't that how it truly is? We return to what we think will make us happy, and fall back into old routines we think will bring comfort, only to find them empty and full of disappointment as well!

So let's remember what happens next in the story of our dear disciples. After they "fall away" from the truth and grace they found through their relationship with Christ, and begin to give-in to the uncertainty and self-doubt, someone arrives on the scene - CHRIST! He doesn't announce his presence and demand an answer for their faithlessness and lack of understanding. He shouts out, "Friends, haven't you caught any fish?" I feel like this is a rhetorical question. He seems to be telling them, "brothers, you cannot get fulfillment out of the old way of life, don't you understand this yet?" He tells them to throw their nets on the other side of the boat, and of course, they catch so many fish, they are unable to bring them into the boat. They drag them back to shore, the nets still in the water. When they get to shore, there is a small fire where Christ has prepared a small meal of bread and fish. He invites them to share in the meal with him. You see, in the midst of our confusion, or our rebellion, or even our lack of direction, He calls to us. And when we listen and move towards Him, he invites us into fellowship with Him. It is his gracious mercy that redeems us. What a blessing it is to hear Him call me his friend, to invite me to satisfy my soul's desires at His table! Lord, help me to continue faithfully, dwelling only on your grace, mercy and will for my life. Give me the courage and the strength to continue a steadfast journey until I dwell with you. Help me to cast off the self-doubt, the disappointments, the inconsistency and the weakness of falling back into the same old way of dealing with life's problems. Help me to look only to you.

Matthew 17:8 "When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus"

Friday, September 12, 2008


Then King David went in and sat before the LORD, and he said: "Who am I, O LORD God, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, O God, you have spoken about the future of the house of your servant. You have looked on me as though I were the most exalted of men, O LORD God. What more can David say to you for honoring your servant? For you know your servant, O LORD. For the sake of your servant and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made known all these great promises. There is no one like you, O LORD, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears." ~ 1 Chronicles 17:16-20

I was listening to 1 Chronicles on my way to work this morning. King David was such an interesting person. I wish I had the opportunity to know him. David's own house (palace) was built with the finest things, while the ark of the covenant was sitting under a tent. So David desires in his heart to build the Lord a temple. However, the Lord tells him that he will not have David build him a temple, but instead David's son Solomon will carry out that task. Rather than getting frustrated over the reason why he could not build the temple, or dissapointed that he would not see the Lord's temple, David offers up the verses at the top of this post, and humbles himself before God. His response of humility challenges me to respond the same when situations do not work out the way I would have wanted, even though I feel that they are the way God would want them.

Humility is a funny thing, a balance of trust and faith, a struggle with confidence during times of powerlessness. It asks us to look outside ourselves, to let go of the "I did it" mentality, and move towards the mindset that says, "I am only a servant, and the Lord enables me to do all things". Humility includes acceptance of the fact that you can not accomplish things on your own, and that those things that we do accomplish only have value in the sight of God. Without His divine value, all things shall pass away, even our greatest successes.

The great thing is, that while having our greatest successes "pass away" may seem like a loss, our biggest failures are also a part of what will pass away. You see, trusting in the Lord does not mean relinquishing your personality and becoming a "Christian clone" who murmurs recited prayers and practices verbal humility while feeling desperate inside to be "real". No, trusting in the Lord gives you great freedom! This means freedom from guilt, despair, remorse, failure, and yes, even the internal need to perform, or find value in what you accomplish! Our freedom in Christ allows us to cast away the crutches of insecurity and humbly acknowledge that your life is not your own. It allows us to be honest with ourselves and others. And let's face it, true honesty has to come with some humility!!

So I will take my slice of "humble pie" today, and eat it slowly, savoring the freedom that it brings in Christ. Would you like that "a la mode"? ~Karen

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Memories of 9/11

This morning on the way to work I was listening to Focus on the Family and they had a guest speaker who was in the 2nd tower of the World Trade Center. A wing of the plane actually stuck into his exit door. As he recounted his miraculous escape to freedom, and how God had delivered him by using another man to help him, I couldn't help but think of all the others who may have prayed the same prayer for deliverance from the situation, but met their death instead. We will never know their stories or the peace that filled their hearts as they faced a certain death, the joy of knowing that today would be the day they met their Savior, or the gracious way many gave up their lives for their friend, showing what Christian brotherhood is all about. We also won't know about those who begged to understand why God was not answering their prayer for deliverance, those who did not find peace in that moment, and those who were in fear until the end. I would guess that even Christians fell into both of those categories. So what separated those who fell into the first group from those in the second? Was it their reliance and trust in our Father? Is it fair to say that those who fell into the second group had less faith? Was their faith overshadowed by the burdens of the moment, so much that the Grace of God could not be revealed to them?

This makes me think of my own life. When I am faced with trials, can I hear the Father calling me? Do I rest in the peace of His perfect will, or do I frantically try to find a solution on my own, which leads only to despair. I hate to admit that too often I fall into the latter group, why is that? I have faith, and I believe, but sometimes it is so hard to let go. Sometimes it is hard to understand that our Father has a love for me that surpasses understanding. In this love, he protects me from harm. That doesn't mean He "shelters" me, helping me to avoid any sort of trials in my life. It doesn't mean that the more I trust in Him, the easier life is, and the less troubles I will face. No, that type of understanding only leads to dissapointment, for it puts my fate back into my own hands......if I only tried harder, if I only spent more time in devotions or prayer. No, He is not a shelter to avoid the storm. But "GOD IS OUR REFUGE". In the midst of the storm, He provides a place of peace, a place of rest. Many times, we have to travel through the storm to get to the refuge, and after we are rested and filled, He encourages us to step back out into the storm. My God does not cause me to escape trials. Instead, He holds me through them, teaching me that if I can completely surrender, it is in His arms alone that I will find rest.

"Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in Him, for He shields him all day long. And the one the Lord loves rests between His shoulders." ~ Deuteronomy 33:12

Beloved, may we rest in the grace and peace of God today. Amen

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Psalm 62

Traveling back from small group last night, I decided to start this blog which I have titled "A Heart Renewed". I will be tracking my reflections over my devotionals, bible readings, verse meditations, and fellowship with our Father here. There will also be heartfelt moments of "naked honesty" about my life, and the struggles and triumphs we all might face.

There is something enticing about a blog - the feeling that someone out there is listening, and cares about what you have to say. It is freeing to pour your heart out and feel like there is someone on the recieving end. Then it struck me, "Isn't that what prayer is all about?". We pour out our hearts to God, like Habbakuk, questioning why things have to be the way they are, asking for different answers, and praising his ultimate plan and will over our lives. We lay it all on the line, exposing the deepest parts of our innermost beings, without shame or remorse, but with the hope of restoration and peace. Prayer works so well, because the Father that we serve does not use this information about us to load us with guilt or to burden us with failure, but he lifts us up, wipes our tears, cleans our wounds, and helps us on our way. All the while, he calls us into a deeper relationship with Him, exposing the truth of Christ to us ever so slowly, revealing his grace ever so gently, and filling us with a hope that abounds. Isn't it wonderful to call Jesus our Lord, to know the sacrifice he went through for our relationship, and to know that we can turn to him with complete trust in prayer? Lord, help me to remember that this week.

"Trust in Him at all times, O People. Pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge." Psalm 62:8