If / Then

Do you remember anything from geometry class?  Do you remember the phrase if / then statements?   The basic idea in an if / then statement is that when the information following the “if” statement is true, what follows the “then” statement should also be true.  For example, “If a=b, then b=a.”

Relate this to living life in Christ.  My if / then statement is “If God’s Word is working in me, then my life will be changed to reflect Christ.”  This became reality to me recently when I saw the result of God’s Word working change in me – not the result of all my working to change.  It took place, little by little, as I continued dwelling in what the Bible reveals of His amazing love.  At some point, without my notice, His love overtook my limited human love, and began flowing more freely through me.  It was simply God’s Word of love working in me, and it changed my life to reflect Christ more.

I have not come close to completing this course, so I continue to fill up on Christ and His love.  I find, however, that I think about others differently now.  Because of His Word working in me, when the old thoughts about people show up, I realign my thinking with my Father’s thoughts towards them.  Thinking His thoughts changes my words about them.  With His thoughts and words, my actions are also changed, and I’m likely to go out of my way for someone I’d have ignored before.  Isn’t this what Jesus did when He walked on this earth?  It was because He dwelled in the Spirit of God, which allowed the Spirit to work in and through Him as a man.

1 John 2:6 AMP  Whoever says he abides in Him ought [as a personal debt] to walk and conduct himself in the same way in which He walked and conducted Himself.

It all comes back to that if / then statement.  If we truly abide in God’s love (for us and others), then Christ will be seen in our lives.  The opposite is also true.  If there is no difference in our lives (in our thoughts, words, or actions), then we must not be abiding in the agape love of God.  If we remain self-centered, judgmental, critical, etc., we do not really know (do not abide in) the reality of God’s love.  God’s love is a life-changer.  Living in God’s love equals a life radically changed.  No radical life change equals not living in and grasping God’s love.

Ephesians 3:17-19 AMP 17 May Christ through your faith [actually] dwell (settle down, abide, make His permanent home) in your hearts! May you be rooted deep in love and founded securely on love, 18 that you may have the power and be strong to apprehend and grasp with all the saints [God’s devoted people, the experience of that love] what is the breadth and length and height and depth [of it]; 19 [that you may really come] to know [practically, through experience for yourselves] the love of Christ, which far surpasses mere knowledge [without experience]; that you may be filled [through all your being] unto all the fullness of God [may have the richest measure of the divine Presence, and become a body wholly filled and flooded with God Himself]!

We can never change ourselves to look like Jesus, no matter how hard we try, but God’s Word will change us as we simply dwell in Him.  Likewise, we can never love with His perfect love by our efforts.  Since, however, His love was already poured into our hearts when we were born again (Rom. 5:5), when we dwell in Christ’s love, then the love of Christ will be reflected in us.

Trained or Transformed?

The whole idea for this post is not Kay’s original insight, but came from a message I heard on TV by Creflo Dollar.  I hope the simplicity of the word picture is as powerful for you as it was for me.

Becoming a follower of Jesus isn’t to be a behavior modification program – another set of rules and rituals to follow – though a great majority of the church operates in that mode.  We might work really hard to change a behavior or an attitude that we see is wrong in God’s Word.  Without a heart change to go with it, a situation will occur some day that causes us to fall back to our old ways.  After all, it’s what has been put inside, by others and by our own doing, so it is just a natural thing for us to do.  Let’s call it instinct.

Our well-behaved dog still has instincts that can take us by surprise.  He is trained to sit, heel, fetch, stay, etc.  He follows our commands (rules, laws) every time we utter them.  He may even be so well-trained that he doesn’t require constant reminders to behave appropriately – so it appears the old instincts are gone.  But let a squirrel run past when we haven’t seen it in advance, and his hidden instincts take over.  It’s natural, for he hasn’t been transformed by the words we’ve spoken to him, merely trained to respond a certain way.

(I know it's a tiger, not a lion. Same effect!)

Another illustration would be a circus lion.  He may have been “tamed,” conditioned to respond in certain ways to the actions and commands of the lion “tamer,” but he is still a wild animal.  For this reason, we wouldn’t own one as a pet.  There could come that time when his instincts could kick in, and we would end up being his dinner!  He wasn’t transformed – merely trained.

Romans 12:2 NIV  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.

The pattern of this world is rules and laws to follow.  When Jesus calls us to follow Him, He doesn’t want us to be trained in following a new set of rules, but be transformed by growing in relationship with Him.  He is the Word of God made flesh. (John 1:1, 14)  When we spend time with Him, in His Word, the Word (by His Spirit) transforms our minds, which is reflected in our actions and attitudes. This is done by His grace, not by our efforts to be transformed.  We are simply asked to be in ever-growing relationship with Him, getting to know Him through His Word and by His Spirit.  It’s only in this that we can be transformed, not merely trained.  It’s only in being transformed that we can truly know Christ and make Him known.

What I Learned from a Garbage Bin

Romans 15:2, 3 2 Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.  3 For even Christ did not please himself . . .

Romans 15:17 Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God.

In our community, everyone has the same large, green garbage bins – the kind the trucks can pick up and dump without a human leaving the truck.  In addition, we have recycling bins that are emptied the same day as the garbage.  Most people dutifully remove both their bins from the street within a day of their emptying.  There are a few, however, who aren’t so prompt in the pick-up, and, frankly, it irritates me.

There was one neighbor who began leaving his bins streetside throughout the week, though it hadn’t always been this way.  At first, I was irritated week after week, seeing the green “decoration” every time I passed that way.  Then I remembered how much of a struggle this man has now with his own physical limitations and his wife in a wheelchair; so, I began to lug those bins down the driveway to their keeping places when I walked the dog.  (Please, don’t start thinking how thoughtful I am, for I’ll quickly prove you wrong. :))

I honestly don’t think I would have done anything about it if it didn’t bother me.  My motivation was not, as Christ’s, completely for the benefit of my neighbor.  While it wasn’t to make me feel good about myself for helping someone who could use the help, it was for personal benefit in a different way – to make me feel better by not having to look at the big green garbage cans.

Add to my wrong motive the fact that there is a grown granddaughter living in this home who is fully capable of helping with things such as the garbage, and any good attitude was gone.  I didn’t grouse (in my mind) while doing this “act of kindness” because of the elderly couple.  My grousing was about the granddaughter who should take on the responsibility, or on other nearby neighbors who could pitch in.  While entertaining all these thoughts, I did try to tell myself it must only bother me, so just find personal satisfaction in doing it.  I praise God that He wasn’t willing to leave me in this messy state!

In my regular Bible reading, the verses of Romans 15 began to minister to me about my garbage can attitude.  I know this is not what Paul had in mind with these verses, but the Lord used them that way for me.  It was time to get rid of the stinking attitude for good, not to stop being a helpful neighbor.  While I understood immediately, I wondered how to break out of this attitude until I came to the phrase, “in my service to God.”  There it was, plain and simple.  The reason for doing whatever I do is to serve my Lord and glorify Him.  It’s not up to me to determine other people’s motivations, or lack thereof.  It’s only my place to do what He gives me to do, serving Him while I serve others – regardless of who else might be able to do it.

There is a possibility that the Lord has crafted me in such a way as to be bothered by things like garbage cans still by the street long after pickup, knowing it will attract my attention to help a neighbor, ultimately serving and glorifying Him in the process.  I needed these verses to expose the ugly motives (for I had definitely seen them), but to root them out and return my focus to Him.  Oh, the glorious transforming power of His Word!  I’ll bet the next time I do whatever the Lord shows me, I will find much greater joy because it will be another opportunity to serve Him – all because of His Word.

Love Never Fails

As I listened to a human message about agape love, that unconditional and perfect love of God, the Lord added His message to my heart.  The preacher encouraged us to love with agape love those people who are not yet saved, are not in right relationship with the Lord, or are even out of relationship with us.  If we live this love, we were promised, they will have to come around sometime, even if it’s in the distant future, because love never fails1.

I moved from there with Holy Spirit while He took me down a different path from the one on which I had just traveled.  Love never fails is the Word of God, so it is Truth2.  Not only is the Greek word for love in this reference agape, but in another reference, God is love3, the Greek word used is also agape.  God, Himself, is the agape love that never fails.  He doesn’t just have it, and He doesn’t just love with it.  He is this very love!

I then thought of many people who have never turned their lives around, as far as we know, nor have they been restored to family, despite friends and family members praying faithfully and loving them as best they could.  Did love fail?  Agape love never fails.  How, then, do we reconcile our experiences that appear contrary to the Truth of the Bible?

Since God is this agape love, He loves every person perfectly, regardless of their deeds or words.  He never messes up by saying or doing the wrong thing that moves them farther away, nor is He impatient with slow, or seemingly non-existent, progress.  Yet, even in His perfect love, people all over the world are not restored to family and friends, or end up in hell by refusing to repent and receive His love.  Has agape failed?  Has God failed?  Absolutely not!  Love will never fail!  What have failed are our man-made, man-determined, expectations.  If God loving perfectly (and patiently) doesn’t always bring about His desired change in others, our imperfect (and often impatient) efforts at living agape love for others certainly won’t.  How can we make sense of it all?

We need to understand the expectations we have had in these socalled failed cases.  We expected if we showed God’s love, we would get our will for someone else because we know it’s God’s will, too.  What we have failed to grasp is that, in His unlimited wisdom, plan, and perfect agape love, God created each of us with a free will, and He does not override those wills – ever –  even when those wills end up leading to eternal death in hell, forever separated from Him and His love.  Even in that outcome, love hasn’t failed.  Agape made the way for that person (and every other) to be reconciled to God’s love for all eternity, through Jesus Christ.  With His blood, Jesus paid the price so we could know this amazing love, even for those who would never accept it.  No, that love never fails.  It never has and it never will.

Where does this leave us, with regards to the wandering ones?  Since God so loves them, even as He so loves us, we continue allowing His love to grow in us and show through us so that all around us are exposed to His wonderful, perfect love.  The difference now is that we have removed our limiting human expectations about the outcome, for love never fails!

1 1 Corinthians 13:8

2 John 17:17

3 1 John 4:8 & 16