“Let it fill your lives”

What’s on your schedule this week? Do you have appointments, tasks, and objectives written on your calendar or stored in that little black box you carry? My spiral-bound planner lies open on my countertop, so that, with a glance, I see all my commitments and plans for the month. Last spring, the daily boxes were crammed so full of reminders that I was forced to also make notes in the margins of the page. (If you follow this blog, you probably noticed a gap of weeks without posts … )

No matter what form of calendar you keep, look at it now. You’ll see days and weeks and months filled with … what?

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. (Colossians 3:16)

Isn’t that a lovely picture? This verse evoked an immediate image; I saw my life as a cup or bowl, with great and satisfying richness being poured into it until it overflowed.

But after I savored the lovely picture, I had to ask some questions.

.

What fills my life now?

What fills the little white squares on my calendar? What consumes my minutes and hours, days and weeks? What is it that fills the cup of my life?

Just off the top of my head, I listed some of the things that might dominate our days, fill our lives:

Worry
Discontent
Trying to live up to certain standards, maybe your spouse’s, your peers’, God’s, your own
Thankfulness
Praise and expectation
Television (oops. Does that date me?  Would it be Facebook now?)
A search for possessions, security, health, position, the “right person”
Being the best parent, wife, grandmother, friend, employee
Working to pay bills and support a family
Working to building a secure future

This is just a beginning, and I’m not evaluating the rightness or wrongness of any of these things. I’m just trying to take an honest look at our days and ask… What are the things that rule our lives, our thoughts, our hopes and dreams?  

.

So what, then, is the richness of the message about Christ?

How would you answer that question? What richness does the message of Christ pour into your life? Again, this list is just meant to prime your (and my) thought process:

No matter what is going on around me, Christ says He overcomes the world.
Christ’s Spirit works in me, empowers me, changes me, gives me a new life.
Christ gave me a clean slate before God.
The message about Christ is that He came because of God’s great love for this world.
God’s love is unfailing; He cares about the details of my life.
Christ makes available to me the power that raised Him from the dead.
The Lord is my Shepherd. I will have everything I need.
By His divine power, God has given us everything we need to live a godly life.
My life is in Christ, belonging to a kingdom beyond this world, going on eternally…

How might my week change if it is focused on these messages rather than on the first list above?

I am not advocating running off to our own little sanctuary and spending our days pondering Scripture rather than fulfilling the roles we’ve chosen in life. As long as we’re on this earth, we’ll need to tend to the business of living.

But I am asking … on what are we building our lives? To what do we give our thoughts, our energy, and our emotions? Are the hours of my day controlled by some of those things in the first list, or is everything in my life—responsibilities, happy times, sad times, troubles and triumphs—met and lived in the light of the messages that Christ brought to the world? Do Christ and His message saturate and sustain our every breath?

Even the most noble of human aspirations and efforts fall short; there are always disappointments, failings, and, eventually, everything in that first list will be gone. Even our thankfulness and praise is limited in our humanity. The second list is eternal. Is our focus—the light that leads us along the path and directs our choices and dictates what and how we think—is it the first list or the second?

We all know the story Jesus told about the wise man and the foolish man, one building upon a rock, the other on sand. Anyone who does not live according to His words, Jesus said, was like someone building a house on sand; and when storms come, the house will quickly be washed away.

Storms can quickly wash away all those things that fill up our calendar, even the best of the list. But building our houses firmly on the message of Christ is like building on bedrock; the house will never collapse, no matter what beats against it. (Matthew 7:24-27)

 . 

And how do I fill my life with the richness of His message?

I want the richness poured into my life. I want to live on solid rock. I want security that will not disappear or be taken away. HOW does that happen?

Did you notice that Paul says, Let the message about Christ …”?  We have to open the door, open ourselves to Christ’s message, invite the Spirit to start filling…

There are more Scriptures that point the way, but I find it interesting that Paul immediately gives us two concrete things we can do: Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom He gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. (v.16)

I’d like to focus on his first statement.

Isn’t it interesting that the very first thing Paul advises is to teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom God gives? I repeat my plea from a previous post: Whatever gift God has given you for encouraging brothers and sisters – use it! The Spirit works through all of us in different ways, at different times, and in relationship to different people.

We all have some part in filling each other’s lives with the richness of Christ and His message!

The gift, the counsel, and the wisdom God has given you will help complete that lovely picture of Christ’s richness pouring into my life as I seek to build my house on the Rock.

Putting on the armor and finding the right stone

In his early years of Little League baseball, my grandson sometimes played the position of catcher. Catchers must be strapped into equipment that protects head, body, and legs; but the miniature baseball players had not yet learned to put on all that gear in the few seconds between innings. So after that third out, two of the coaches worked quickly and efficiently to position, strap, hook, and tie the catcher’s protective armor before he moved out onto the field to take up his position.

Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.
(Ephesians 6:11)

For a few weeks, I had been turning to Ephesians 6. In an ongoing battle, I knew I needed the armor of God; I labored over the passage, time and again, struggling to find fresh energy, insight, and strength from those verses. I wanted to put on the armor–but the battle was not going well, and discouragement nibbled away at my faith. 

Then came a series of meditations on a blog I follow — lessons from Ephesians 6! The writer who shared through the internet his understanding of that chapter had no idea I needed help in donning God’s armor. The Spirit did, though, and He gave me the help I needed. On those pages I found the new inspiration I sought, and the Spirit used another disciple of Christ to refresh me in the battle.

Right here, I want to stop and say thank you to every one who encourages others in the family of faith, whether by writing, music, prayer, leadership, teaching, counsel, quiet words of encouragement, hospitality, or simply sharing words of positive faith. You may never know who you have helped or what your actions or words have meant to someone else at just a certain time.

Paul writes to the church, So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing. (1 Thess. 5:11)

Like those little Little Leaguers, we can help each other suit up for battle. Many times, we need our brothers and sisters to help us into protective armor. Some days, we cannot quite fit the belt of truth around us; or in a long battle, we give in to weariness and lower our shield of faith; or perhaps we need the help of others in sharpening our sword of the Spirit, the word of God. 

To Philemon, Paul wrote:

Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people. (Philemon 1:7)

How wonderful that we can refresh the hearts of others on this journey as we use the gifts God has given us! We might think it is a simple thing, just a word here or a song there or an act of service that takes only a few minutes. Or we might think what we offer is ineffective or insufficient. But when we live by the Spirit, our encouragement of each other can produce great harvests.

Recently I spotted a sign in front of a church that said

             For every Goliath, there is a stone.

True. But sometimes we need a brother or sister to hand us the exact stone at just the right time.

A few more words on forgiveness and grace

Just a few hours after I published the previous post on turning the other cheek, I picked up a novel that I’d started to read months ago but had never finished. Getting into the story, I realized it was on exactly this subject, grace and forgiveness. A man has lost everything–wife, home, business–and he has much to forgive. Unfortunately, he doesn’t even feel the need to forgive until he meets several people who teach him.

Here are a few well-written thoughts from The Road to Grace by Richard Paul Evans:

The Holocaust survivor says,

“We chain ourselves to what we will not forgive…should a Holocaust survivor chain himself forever to Hitler and his crimes? Or should he forgive and be free?”

On grace, the author notes:

And, if we travel well, we will become as grace and learn the lesson meant from the journey, not to dismiss error, but to eagerly forgive the err-er, to generously share the balm of mercy and love for, before the eyes of Heaven, we all walk as fools.  And the more we exercise our portion of faith, the better we receive it.

Generously sharing the balm of mercy and love, may we, as His beloved children, imitate our Father in all we do!

Turning the Other Cheek

A man and a woman lived in paradise. No conflict marred their relationship and everything they needed was supplied. They even had a special friendship with the King, living in a perfect place He had provided, sharing intimate times of friendship with Him.

Until one day. That day, someone asked, “Did God really mean what He said?”

All of us now live with the consequences of their debate and reaction to that question. And the question still comes today, whispered into our minds by the same enemy — Does God really mean this?

***

One of the things so wholly foreign to us humans, so utterly Christ-like that we cannot believe God really expects us to live it out is this command from Jesus:

But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. (Matt. 5:39)

Surely God does not expect us to be so weak. Surely God does not intend that we let evil actions go unchallenged and unpunished. Surely God wants us to stand for what is right. Surely Jesus did not mean that when someone strikes us, harms  us, demeans us, takes advantage of us, then we are to give them another opportunity to do the same thing again!

Surely God does not mean what He said.

***

A man dies in wracking pain, executed for wrongs he did not commit. But with the last breaths in his battered, bloody body, he utters this request: “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.”

Just a few years later, a lynch mob drags another man out of the city. As he falls under their blows, he prays, “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them.”

A man shoots ten young Amish girls. Five of the girls die. Amish and non-Amish alike, families of the children and families of the murderer, the entire community—all are ripped open by the killer’s brutal actions. The Amish say, “We will forgive.”

God says, “Do not repay evil for evil. Love those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who work against you. Offer the other cheek also.”

***

While I am asking God to show me how to live this, a friend tells me her story. She owns a summer home relatively secluded from neighbors. While she was away, someone broke into her home and stole from her. She knew who had done it, yet she did not accuse; the young man already had a record, but she did not file a report with authorities. She saw the young man as Jesus saw him, loved him as Jesus loved him. The end of the story? Like Zaccheus, he returned some of her possessions and paid her for those he had already sold and could not retrieve. And she turned the other cheek—now, she asks that same young man to watch over her home while she is away.

“Turning the other cheek,” she says, “is seeing others as God sees them.”

***

Off the other cheek also. At one time, I thought this simply meant we were not to return injury for injury. We’re not to seek revenge. But let us be honest. If all Jesus is commanding us to do is refrain from striking back, then we still have a big problem—the anger within, the bitterness, a sense of injustice, perhaps self-righteousness, the need for punishment and revenge.

“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles.” (Matt. 5:39-41)

We’re not only to refrain from striking back, we’re to do good things for those who harm us! Jesus calls us to a new way of living, but we cannot live that way if anger and bitterness or a desire for revenge or insistence on justice soaks our soul. We can only live in this way if the Spirit gives us new hearts and new minds. We can only live in this way if we can see others with Jesus’ love and compassion.

I am far from understanding the depth of this command and far from being able to live it out consistently in my life. Every day, even in the little, day-to-day irritations and conflicts and misunderstandings, I must make a choice. I do know there are things in me that must die if I want to love others as Jesus loved me.

But I also know this–

Turning the other cheek means loving another as God loves us. Do we deserve His mercy and forgiveness? Do we deserve His patience with us? I’m ashamed that at times I still slap Him in the face; I do not always live a life worthy of the calling I’ve received (Eph. 4:1). Yet He sees me as a beloved child of His, with a new heart and spirit given by Him. He sees me as He intends to make me. How often has He turned the other cheek to me? Seventy times seventy times seventy times seventy?

How do I “see” those who strike me? Can I see them as God does? Can I see the plans He may have for them? Will I live by the Spirit of Christ and love and forgive them, rather than letting my natural human tendencies govern how I deal with them both now and in the future? They might very well slap me again; can I forgive 489 more times? Will  I forgive 489 more times?

Turning the other cheek brings God’s grace into both lives. Whether it be enemy who harms me or friend who disappoints me, if I turn the other cheek I extend love, mercy, and forgiveness to the other person instead of anger and judgment. This is the calling given to the children of God; we are called to the ministry of reconciliation; we are called to continue Christ’s mission in this world, showing the world the mercy and forgiveness of God.

And I believe Jesus asks me to turn the other cheek because it’s part of God’s plan to change me, to transform me into the image of Christ, who has turned the other cheek to me and shown me His mercy and forgiveness so many, many times.

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are His dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. (Eph. 5:1-2)

*

All Scripture from the New Living Translation

Chosen to do the impossible

From a rocky farm at the tip of the Point o’ Maine, ocean and sky look endless, especially to a Midwesterner who grew up knowing only creeks and ponds. As I stood and tried to imagine the dimensions of the sea, words of the old song about the love of God hummed in my head: “If we could ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made,” we could not even then have enough ink or space to write the depth of God’s love for us.

What does God’s love mean to you? How does God’s love change your life?

Here’s what God’s love means to me:

  • He forgives and forgives and forgives. He doesn’t keep a record of how often I’ve failed Him. He gave up His life for me before I knew Him. While I was still His enemy, He loved me and came to my rescue.
  • He loves me even though I don’t deserve it. What is it in me that makes me beloved by the Lord of the universe? Absolutely nothing. My human nature has proven that, time and again. He loves me only because He has chosen me to be His child and has chosen to love me.
  • He takes action in my life. He works for my good in everything. He leads me along right paths. He sees me through His eyes of mercy and love; He sees me as He intends to make me—full of the glory and image of Christ.

I know no other love like that. Do you? Amazing love. Contemplating the love God shows us fills us with joy, does it not?

Then other words come to mind, too, words from the one I call Lord. These are Jesus’ words:

“This is my commandment: love each other in the same way I have loved you” (John 15:12 NLT).

But here we stumble and balk. Yes, we even make excuses for not obeying this command of the one we say we’ve given our lives to. He asks us to love like God does? How does He expect me, in my selfish humanity, to do that? Father, you know how limited, how human I am; how could I ever love others the way You have loved me?

Yet Christ asks me—no, He commands me—to love like that. He has chosen us, He says, to do this. Chosen by Jesus Christ to do the impossible!

He takes it a step further… He doesn’t just want us to show love to others, He wants us to do it fully, abundantly, in a big, stupendous, astounding way – like a branch so productive that it hangs low with full, luscious, giant fruit.

But we are dried up, puny twigs with nary a green sprout. Without Him, we are nothing. Without Him, we will never be able to keep this one commandment that is so important to Him. Without Him, we cannot even begin to love as He has loved us.

No, we cannot love others as God loves us. And yet Jesus commands us to; and He promises His Spirit will produce that love, if we live in step with Him. His life will be lived out in us. We have been chosen for that!

“I am the vine,” Jesus says. “Remain in me, and you will bear fruit, so much fruit that God will be given much glory.” If we give ourselves to the life of the Spirit, we will see the fruit the Spirit brings. We will do the impossible, and only God will deserve the glory.

Will we believe what His Word promises? Will we live it?

I want to believe-live, Father. So I think again about how You love me, and ask You, Spirit, to teach me how to love others in the same way. I know I can’t do it on my own; only You can produce that kind of love in me.

I want the full, overflowing joy that comes to a life lived as You have commanded; I want my actions to reflect my love and thanks to You.

So don’t give up on me, Lord. (And I know You won’t!)