Every now and then, I hear a testimony of sacrificial salvation. That individual lists all of the things they had to leave behind to become a Christian. His or her pursuit of Christ almost sounds heroic. Such individuals, sometimes, come out looking better than Jesus.
I trust such stories to be accurate and true. I have no reason to think otherwise. But, I feel sad that salvation ends up looking shabby and tattered, like left-overs.
The truth is salvation is majestic and miraculous. It's full of treasure, fulfillment, and hope. It's beyond a dream, because it's real and tangible. Salvation introduces elements of life totally unaccessible for those without it. It creates a relationship with God totally absent apart from it.
Jesus said that people can do nothing of spiritual significance apart from Him, nothing. The Bible reveals that, along with salvation, we receive everything pertaining to life and godliness. Those receiving salvation become adopted by God into His family. Christians are outsiders who became insiders. They are individuals without access to God who have become temples for His Holy Spirit. They are real people who were condemened to hell, but grace has given them the hope of heaven instead.
I have a story of leaving something behind, too. I read it in my quiet time. It wasn't the central focus of the passage. Instead, it was only a phrase. God drew my attention there. He showed me how rich I am, today, as His child. Here it is. "...You know that you were redeemed from your empty way of life..." (1 Peter 1:18).
My earthly ancestors could only leave me an earthly inheritance. I, luckily, came from a Christian home and relatives. But, they could only talk about, speak of, and encourage salvation. They couldn't give it.
God took away my empty life. That's what I lost - all of it. I had to leave it behind to follow Jesus. In its place, He has given me treasure in heaven. In its place, He promises a dwelling place in heaven, with Him, for all eternity.
What I have on earth will perish. It is all fleeting. That's why Peter also says to fix my hope completely, not partially, no the hope that Jesus will bring me when He returns. Nothing here matters like that. So, yes, I left it all behind.
Note: I wrote this post as an editorial for the Baptist New Mexican News Journal.
Christians agree that they should love one another and love the world. Critics are hard pressed to find anyone in the faith community opposed the idea. Yet, a sizeable gulf lies between holding a view and practicing the Christian life.
In church and convention meetings, certain topics start heads bobbing in agreement and stir clapping and muted calls, “Amen,” and “That’s right.” In fact, the right preacher calling for communities of love can really work up a crowd. Years ago, a preacher at the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference energetically called churches to renew New Testament fellowship from house to house. His rousing delivery stimulated visible participation in His sermon. Everyone seemed “into” his message. Afterward, when the session recessed for dinner, hundreds of people flooded through doors headed for the exhibit hall and the parking lot. The only sound was rustling feet. No one conversed. Few appeared to be gathering groups for biblical fellowship over the mealtime. It resembled an evacuation. The aura of Christian connection faded. Seemingly, the balloon of enthusiasm for New Testament fellowship deflated as we covered the quarter of a mile from our seats to our vehicles. That is the gap. Sometimes, it is harder determining how to do what we believe than it is to believe it.
So far, I have discovered five components that form the love to which the New Testament calls us. They depict how we do love. They aren’t conceptual, but rather are behavioral. Love takes action. It isn’t invisible. In fact, the Bible clarifies, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Not only God can see our love. The whole world sees it, or does not!
I made a bookmark listing the five components. I pray over them and ask God to help me do them. First, I ask for genuine desire. Those who love others genuinely desire to be with others. They arrange opportunities to meet. Genuine desire frees me from avoidance and anxiety. It makes others comfortable around me. They can sense whether I want to stay with them or escape. They need me to stay.
Second, I ask God to give me real affection for others. Real affection is the feeling of personal delight I experience when I interact with others. All of the components of love interact. It is easier to desire another’s company when I delight to be with them. So, I ask for that delight.
Third, I ask God to make me unshakably loyal to others. Granted, there are times when I have to take issue with other people’s ideas or practices. But, in the other times, they should know that they can count on me. Faithfulness is a virtue. It is also part of loving people.
Fourth, I ask God to create in me a rousing concern for others. If He can create a new heart in me, this is in His power, too. Rousing concern describes both feeling concern and acting upon it when I encounter others burdens and needs. Rousing concern creates involvement and intertwines our lives. When I love people, I take meaningful action to help them.
Finally, fifth, I ask God to give me lavish generosity. I am asking Him to help me joyfully devote my attention, time, energy, and resources to other people… willingly! There is no way to be forced into joy. It takes transformation.
While I pray for these five components, I place myself in situations that demand love. God calls me to love Him, to love my fellow Christians, to love my wife and children, to love my parents and to love the whole world – even my enemies. It’s all the same love.
I know all about the gap between belief and practice. I believe I should love people. With these five prayers, God is closing my gap. What are you asking for?
Crossing the Lines
The ideas behind this blog emerged from my study and preaching of a message I titled "A Single Step." It was an unexpected message out of Philippians 2:12-18. I'm the one who was surprised. I had a whole different idea of where the sermon would go. Then, I got into the text and followed it. That led, eventually, to the response by individuals after the message. God worked in me and in our congregation. He's still at work.
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