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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How to Live Out Your Faith (part 2)

And He [Jesus] said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment." Matthew 22:37

I know, we've all heard this a million times if we grew up in the church, but do we understand how to truly love God?

In my previous post, I outlined some of the ways in which we atrophy from our faith. Essentially, the enemy and the flesh act like horses on harnesses trying to entice us away from the truth of the Gospel. If we cannot be enticed, it will try and throw everything at us to weigh us down as we try to go through life on our own strength as we acknowledge that God can save us, but choose not to put our full faith in Him. We become tired, weary, discouraged, and defeated as it starts to appear that the promises of God don't seem to apply to us personally. However, once we recognize some of the patterns in which the enemy, the world, and our flesh work against us, we can move to both repentance and faith - fully turning towards Jesus as our salvation and our hope even in the midst of our greatest failures toward Him.

In this post, I want to go into how we keep our faith fueled. If there are principalities and powers we are combating against as we navigate through life in this world, we must also understand that there are principles that can help us in the midst of the most exhausting trials. We put our hopes in the things we value and the things we value determine the decisions we make. My argument is that we must guard what we wrap our hearts around as the primary value in our lives. If we value success over relationships, we will always choose our careers over those we love. If we value comfort over truth, we will rarely seek out truth because laziness will settle in. If we value our emotional happiness over responsibility, we will neglect responsibility for the sake of our emotional satisfaction. As our values determine decisions, principles will define the outcomes. We must hold onto the principled truths that have been laid out to us.

When we first take a look at Matthew 22:37, we don't see a principle, but a command. After all, Jesus says that it is THE great and first command. However, if we look further into Jesus' teaching, rarely does He tell us to do something unless if it helps us get something better - that something better ALWAYS being Him. Everything in the life of Jesus pointed to His compassion, mercy, love, grace, and sufficiency. If you look through the 7 healing events laid out in the book of Luke, in every instance of healing, the answer to restoration was Jesus. Jesus was speaking to a lawyer among the Pharisees [experts in the law] who wanted rules and laws to be defined with precision. As the Pharisees tried to back Jesus into a corner by asking Him, "Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus knew not only what to communicate, but how to communicate it. He wanted to let everyone know that the Law - which was an impossible standard to achieve - was about to be fulfilled through Him. He was telling the Pharisees that they have been going about it all wrong, that as they were trying to get closer to God by observing all of the rules, they were actually distancing themselves from Him. Jesus was also saying that through Him, there was hope. By telling us to love God with our hearts, soul, and mind, he was putting into command a principle that could be digested by those who we're willing to hear. Jesus, the great communicator, was giving the Pharisees a key to ultimate joy and final salvation, which was Himself. All they needed to do was open their ears to hear.

So, how do we live out Matthew 22:37?

We skirt around too many issues these days and have a hard time drawing hardline conclusions. With some things, you can't because they are non-static issues that seem to be constantly changing. However, with other things, I think we look at the daunting task ahead of us and we quit before we even try. The reason principles are guiding instead of conquering are that they were intended to keep us on the right path as we journey through life. Sure, we can fall off the path, but principles exist to help us get back on and stay on. In Matthew 22:37 is the principle of getting to the point.

A point can be seen as many things, a threshold, the pinnacle, the apex, a crossroads. Matthew 22:37 is all of them. Most importantly, the point we get to is the convergence of three things. The point of loving God with all our hearts, souls and mind. They are to be elevated concurrently. We are not to just love God with our minds, which leads to self-righteousness, our hearts, which leads to rootless flailing, and with our souls which leads to grudging bitterness. We are to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind simultaneously.


Getting to Delight: the point of loving God with all of our heart

George Mueller was a 19th century minister and theologian in England. As he walked with God, he realized that his duty was to get to the point of delight in God daily. Once he got to that point, he felt like it was a day well spent and would continue his work of ministry from that place. Mueller said, "The point is this: I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished."

John Piper's mission in life is bring God's kingdom to earth by helping people recognize that God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him. There is something about finding satisfaction in God through the redemptive workings of Christ that apparently elevates God to the correct place in our lives. If we were created to pursue fulfillment through joy, then logically, it doesn't make sense for us to jump from sinking ship to sinking ship in order to experience it. We should find the ship that never sinks and remain there to discover the great oceans without being destroyed by them. Salvation and joy seem to be synonymous through the scriptures. The source of our salvation is also the source of our joy.

Getting to delight daily is a movement of the heart. The heart when we wake up is often anxious and overwhelmed with the pressures of life. We immediately want to tackle on the days obligations or hide under our covers. What we must come to grasp is the finality of the works of Christ and what it means to us - that we do not have to strive to be loved or find self worth. It means that we come to a place where we experience that we are loved beyond what we can fathom and valued beyond our wildest dreams. The cost was clear, God smote Jesus, so he can dote on us. This is why worship is so significant - listening to, participating in, and spending time in worship is the key to getting to delight.


Getting to Acceptance: the point of loving God with all of our mind

There are two stages to acceptance. The first is knowing what we should accept and second actually accepting it.

In A Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer said "what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us." It defines everything about us. Consequently, that also means that how we think about the Gospel and what we understand about it will also shape us in every way. After all, God is the Gospel.

If what comes to mind about God and the Gospel is important, then we must first think rightly about God. We must not confuse the God we perceive merely through the lens of our observations. We see how Christians are portrayed in the media, how they behave at churches, and how they have seen people misuse and abuse the name of God in their personal lives and it often times colors our understanding of God. We look at a foggy mirror and think we see a clear reflection of who God is. A.W. Tozer continues in Tozer on the Almighty God, “The Church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshiping men. This she has not done deliberately, but little by little and without her knowledge; and her very unawareness only makes her situation all the more tragic.” In other words, many of us do not see God for who He really is. Fortunately, we can spend all of eternity seeing more of God's greatness.

The beauty of the Gospel is this. It can be awed by someone who has encountered it throughout their entire life, but understood and accepted by a five year old at the same time. The story of redemption, love, and grace is something that we were all wired to connect with - this is why I love movies (even the cheesy ones). We love the story of a hero who comes to save a helpless person and that is the Gospel with eternal stakes!

Hearing the Gospel is one thing, accepting it is another. One of the most common phrases you hear in Christianity is "I know it in my head, but I don't feel it in my heart." For many people they stay passive in this state of too far forward to return back, but not there yet for too long. There seems to be this belief that they should just sit and wait for things to come to them. The truth is, God came 100% of the way to you and keeps nudging at you. If there is any desire or a desire to desire Him, then what is required is a response. Often times, the response begins with a pursuit of Truth.

The Bible is not just a tool to be used as a manual for living, but the bread of life. We must eat from it the food that nourishes our soul. As we consider what we intake into our bodies, we must also consider what we intake into our minds and consequently, our souls. It requires more than just passively swallowing, but actively seeking out what nutrients we need and organizing our spiritual diet according to what we need so we stay healthy. It takes time to chew and digest and often times, meals are best when actually shared with others. But the fact remains, what we grasp in our minds, we live out in our lives. John Piper calls it a stupendous reality to be in Jesus Christ and lists out 13 applicable meanings of what it means to be in Christ.

Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones would always exhort people to get into the practice of preaching to themselves the Gospel of Jesus Christ: the fact that even while we were sinners, Christ came to die for us, so that we could be viewed as acceptable to God and enter into the Kingdom of Heaven to spend eternity with Him. When we preach the gospel into our lives daily and in every circumstance, two things happen: 1. we gain a proper, eternal perspective of all things and 2. we don't sweat the small stuff.

A friend of mine told me his brainiac philosophy professor would wake up every morning and review all the reasons for God's existence, then go through the veracity of the life of Jesus, His Crucifixion, and then His resurrection. This He would do to keep his mind sharp for decades, to keep the main thing the main thing, and to remember what it is that is truly important in this life. In other words, he preached the Gospel to himself daily.


Getting to Surrender: the point of loving God with all of our soul

The problem with a living sacrifice is that it is living and always trying to squirm off the alter. The bigger problem is that the living sacrifice doesn't recognize the alter is a fortress and by running off, only runs off into dangerous territory. The greatest challenge of our lives is getting to the point of surrender and then remaining there. It is not a static state of being, but depending on the external demands of our world and the internal desires of our hearts, our ability to surrender fluctuates rapidly with the times. Getting to the point of surrender then is not only the recognition that we have far less control than we think we do, but also a desire to be led by someone who will never leave us or forsake us.

Surrender's cost is humility and obedience. Our flesh will fight it, our logic will fight it, and our hearts will fight it. We live for self-preservation because we have been hurt enough times in life to know that being vulnerable (I mean fully exposed) will hurt with, but the slightest nudge. We exchange the streams of living waters for jars we can hold in our hands and control without recognizing that these jars have cracks and holes in them. They are broken, but we hold onto them as our source of life, clenching tightly, as the water drains through the cracks. We substitute the real thing for counterfeits that at best, can only satisfy for but a moment. This was sent to me as a response to one of my posts by my friend A.H. Written by C.S. Lewis, this captures the essence of our desire not to surrender.

"Are you not thirsty?" said the Lion.
"I am dying of thirst," said Jill.
"Then drink," said the Lion.
"May I — could I — would you mind going away while I do?" said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.
The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
"Will you promise not to — do anything to me, if I do come?" said Jill.
"I make no promise," said the Lion.
Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.
"Do you eat girls?" she said.
"I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms," said the Lion. It didn't say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

"I daren't come and drink," said Jill.
"Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion.
"Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. "I suppose I must go and look for another stream then."
"There is no other stream," said the Lion.

Surrender comes at the point we recognize that there is no other stream. Once we come to this point, we recognize that there is no other way, while simultaneously realizing that the only way is the best way. We trust because God is trustworthy, not because we don't have a choice. The outcome is that we arrange our lives to fit the current of the stream instead of trying to alter the course that it is taking us on through resistance. It is a change in posture. The beauty of God's grace is this, that He surrendered Himself in perfect humility, to be destroyed by the very people he surrendered to, so that He could give eternal life to those who surrendered to Him.

To love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind, simply means to accept the reality that God loves us and came 100% of the way to us, so that He could carry us back. In this we can find rest, in this we can put our trust, and in this we can put our hope.

[How to Live Out Your Faith is a 3 part series on some of the foundational elements of our faith. It is a brief exploration of how our faith looks and the process we go through as we experience the tensions and pulls of living in this world, but not being defined by it. Part 1 discusses the patterns that hinder us in our faith. Part 2 discusses the principle of getting to the point of loving God. Part 3 discusses how faith is lived out in relationships and community.]

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