Give Yourself to Others …

Posts Tagged ‘questions

If you’ve ever wondered, please read this series by Mike Cope, who lost his daughter: PreacherMike

Sometimes, we have to find new words to make the same points, because if we use the same words we’ve always used, we think we’ve heard it before, so we kind of “tune out.”

Most Christian believe they have some understanding of what it means to live a Christ-like life.  Most Christians believe they understand the message of the gospel of Jesus.  But why then, do so many Christians have such a difficult time doing the things that Jesus would do … that is, loving others, the way Jesus loved us (John 13:34).

One way of answering that question is to recognize that being like Jesus is inconvenient.  And here in the US, life is all about convenience.  We shop online because it’s more convenient that going to the store.  We shop in stores because it’s more convenient than shopping online.

Starbucks has been known to have stores across the street from each other, because it’s more convenient for customers not to have to cross the street to buy a fancy (or even a plain) cup of coffee.

But being like Jesus … giving ourselves to others, for their good, expecting nothing in return … is inconvenient.  It requires me to go out of my way to do something for someone else.  It means conforming to another person’s scheduling preferences, rather than my own.

Spending my money on someone else, rather than myself, is inconvenient.

Spending my time with someone else, rather than doing what I want to do, is inconvenient.

Sometimes we have to make reasonable choices, but if we only do what’s convenient for us, then we should also ask who is master of our life — me or Jesus.

This is a touchy subject, in my opinion.  I say that because I hear so many believing people saying things that suggest God has changed circumstances around them for their benefit.  Does this ring a bell with you?

Does God control all circumstances?  (not could he control, but does he actually control).

Does nothing happen in the world without God’s authority and approval?

How do I know if God wants me to do this or that?

Does God want me to take the new job?

Does God want me to buy a new car?

Does God want me to buy a new house?  A new suit?  A new blouse?  A new cell phone?

God, please send me a new roommate?  God, please send me the right person to be my wife?  … my husband?

How do we know what God’s will is for our lives?

In 1978, I was living in Houston, Texas, and I was offered a job in Washington, DC.  It was a good job and I ultimately accepted the new position and moved.  However, when the offer was made, I asked for a couple of weeks to consider it.  I was 28, and the question on my mind was:  Does God want me to take this new job?

I pretty much agonized over the decision.  I spoke with people at the church where I worshipped.  I talked with my wife.  I spoke with people in the industry.  But it was not clear to me if God wanted me to take the job.  I was praying every day.  But I wasn’t getting an answer that was clear to me.  And my two weeks was running out.

I wish I could completely recall exactly how I reached my conclusion/decision.  I don’t.  But I do recall my conclusion.

In general terms, God doesn’t care what job I have.  What he cares about is whether I can be God’s man in my job?  And clearly, there are jobs where it would be harder to be God’s man than in other jobs.  But the job is not the issue.  I am.

In my circumstances, no matter what they are or how they change, am I being the person God wants me to be?

I don’t believe God changes the circumstances to benefit me.  He changes me to cope with the circumstances.

God will not cause someone to do something against their own will in order to suit you or me.  He seeks people who want to conform their will to His.

In John 13, towards the end of the chapter, Jesus is talking to the 12 about his impending death and says, “Where I am going you can’t come, but you will follow later.”  Peter responds, “Why can’t I follow you now?  I would lay down my life for you!”

And Jesus asks, “Peter, would you really lay down your life for me?”

In any and every circumstance, that is the question:  Will you really lay down your life for God?

So, I started looking for the single premise from which everything else comes.  That may not seem like the right question for you, but it seemed right to me — and in fact, still does.

Eventually, I settled — likely to no one’s surprise on the following passage from Matthew 22:34-40 (quoted here from The Message)

The Most Important Command

34-36 When the Pharisees heard how he had bested the Sadducees, they gathered their forces for an assault. One of their religion scholars spoke for them, posing a question they hoped would show him up: “Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?”

37-40 Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”

After all, we’ve got Jesus saying everything in God’s Law comes from these two commands.  It seems pretty clear.

One of my personal guidelines is that the simplest answer is generally the best answer.  Answers cannot always be simple, but those are still the best ones.  And this passage seems to fit that requirement.  Although I confess, I’m continually a little amazed how many believers seem to refute that these are the most important commands.  They both seem to, and often admit to, placing other, more detailed commands ahead of these.  But ultimately, each of us is accountable for what we individually believe — so, to each his, or her, own.

After finally settling on these, I began contemplating what they really mean.  They are such fundamental principles that they may be simple to quote, but they are very difficult to fully apply to life.

My contemplations resulted in two dilemmas, which I could not easily resolve:

  • What does it really mean to love God?

Now, I get it that my love for God should be all consuming — at least that’s how I understand the implications of the heart, soul, strength and mind references.  But what can I really do for God.  Sure, I can worship him, as I should.  But I also have no illusion that God does not need my love in order to be God.  God is not changed by my love for him.  Much more likely is that I am changed by my love for God.  So, I didn’t know exactly the implications of loving God so completely.

  • What does it mean to love my neighbor as myself?

Some folks get preoccupied with the “who is my neighbor? question, but the story of the Samaritan, to me, pretty much clarified that, at the very least, my neighbor is anyone with whom I come into contact, anyone, anytime.

But the other question is what does it mean to love someone the way I love myself?  I mean, I know some people who really treat themselves poorly.  And what would this verse mean about how they treat others.  Surely, it’s not a basis to treat other poorly, just because I have a bad attitude about myself, or whatever.

So, I struggled with what the standard is for loving.

And a related question is the question of what is even means to love.  There are six different Greek words for love, but us English speakers are stuck with just one.  Got to find a better word for love, too.

It’s always a little arrogant to think that writing about one’s own personal experience might be useful to others.  But here I am doing that very thing, for that very reason.  My purpose is only to provide encouragement to those readers who can relate to my story, or those who are willing to think only for themselves, doubting anything said by anyone else.

So, here goes.

1 Peter 3:14-16

14But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” 15But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

For reasons, I’ve never really known, this passage really stuck in my head — going back at least to my teenage years.  Especially, the middle verse where it says be prepared to give answer for the hope you have.

In my gut, I felt like not all the things I was being taught in my Bible classes at church, really met that criteria.  In retrospect, I was being taught very clear rules, but not very clear rationale for those rules.  Many times the scriptures, provided to me as evidence for the rules, did not, to me, say the things my teachers were telling me it said.

Maybe, you would write that off to teenage rebellion — and I would not entirely dispute that.  However, I’ve never let that passage go … ever.

And when I ask for a reason, I want a reason that is simple and obvious to anyone.  The reason should not require a Ph D in hermeneutics or theology.  A simple person, simply reading the Text, should be able to see the rationale.

Is that too much to ask?

I didn’t think so.  And as a result, I became pretty skeptical listening to preachers and bible teachers, ever since.  No different today.

In my experience, there seem to be a lot of believers who are afraid to question what they think.  Raising a question about one’s faith seems to cast doubt on one’s entire faith.  I never bought that.  Questioning what you believe is the only way to know that you really believe it.  That it’s really part of who you are, and not just something with which you’ve been indoctrinated by parents, teachers and other very well meaning folk.

That was step 1.

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