On Loving Jesus Above All

“If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine.” Matthew 10: 37

This is one of those verses that make me say, “I must be missing something.” Until I give it some thought. It makes stark the reality that we are supposed to love Jesus above all. 

One day, we will be separated from family and friends— whether we wish it or not— but we will never be separated from Christ.

Watkins, James (2016-01-12). The Imitation of Christ: Classic Devotions in Today’s Language (Kindle Locations 436-437). Worthy Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Face it. We can’t trust anyone like we can Jesus. Everyone else will turn on us, will disappoint us, will put something above us. We need to realize what this verse says and what it doesn’t say. It says we are to put Jesus first. It doesn’t say we are not to love others. In fact, the way we are identified as followers of Jesus is the way we love others. 

In fact, putting Jesus first is a matter of putting ourselves last. It means putting others ahead of ourselves. It means allocating our time to Jesus and the things that he commands of us. It means being missional. 

By putting Jesus first, we are enabled to love others, like our mother and father or our son or daughter, in a way we could never love them without Jesus.

When you put this verse in perspective, it no longer seems strange. It seems perfectly reasonable.

Personal Savior

15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. John 15:15

The idea that the Lord of the Universe would send His son to die for mankind is an overwhelming thought. It is very difficult for us to get our minds around that idea. Somehow, we do.

More difficult is the concept of a personal savior. We have a love/hate relationship with intimacy. We deeply wish for someone to know us completely and yet to love us. Yet we are far too familiar with the darkness inside. We know what rests in the dark corners of our souls. We can’t believe that someone would completely know us and still love us. It’s the greatest insecurity that we carry through life. 

We play games in our relationships. We put forward an “us” that is not a true or complete picture. We show only part of us. I have known my wife for forty-eight years. We know each other pretty well and are still in love. Even after all that, we are reluctant to share every thought, our deepest and darkest secrets. We still harbor the fear that complete knowledge would kill love.

That’s not possible with Jesus. He knows us completely,  more than anyone else ever could, yet He loves us enough to die for us. He is still willing to call us “friend” and to share with us everything the Father has shared with Him. Just try to get your mind around that. The complete and freeing intimacy that we all crave is possible. Only with Jesus. 

Unforgiveness Cleanse

In order to be spiritually healthy the love of God has to flow freely within us. Sometimes that flow gets blocked by our propensity for unforgiveness.  Sometimes we just need an unforgiveness cleanse.

Every once in awhile, I like to sit down with a pad of paper and record my unforgiveness status. First, I consider what patterns of sin I have fallen into and what I need to bring to the Father in confession. That’s why I need a pad of paper. The list is usually pretty long.

Then I turn to those whom I need to forgive. Sometimes at this point I need a whole new fresh pad. In this rough and tumble world it’s pretty easy to get bruised and hurt. Those kinds of bruises don’t just fade away with time. It seems they have to be specifically addressed.

I then turn to those who probably have reason to hold me in unforgiveness and who probably need some move toward reconciliation from me. This is the toughest list. It requires a humbling admission that I have been causing some bruises to others as I bump and grind through life. The tough part of this is to decide whether I need to just recognize what I have done or am doing and just stop, or whether I need to make contact and apologize and/or make correction.

We need to be careful here. There is a tendency to say “I need to apologize to this person.” When we really mean they need to apologize to me and I need to just give them the opportunity to see that I am hurt.  This kind of plan never goes well. Trust me. 

Once we get the plaque like unforgiveness out of our system, the love of God can restart the flow through  us and, just maybe, we can become recognizable again as children of God.

 

Dying for the Ungodly

The United States launched an attack on Syria, principally because of our outrage at the horrible death of young innocents. We were willing to risk public condemnation and even death of our own because of the injustice we saw.

We were not so innocent when the Lord of the Universe allowed his only son to die for us. He didn’t wait until we cleaned up or even took one step toward purity and holiness. That’s a kind of love that’s foreign to our understanding.

We marry for life or until our partner no longer meets our needs. We love others as long as they look like us, talk like us, and are unoffensive to us. Our love is completely conditional. Our God loved without condition and before we had any hint of loveableness in us. 

We are so pathetic when, even after coming to Christ, we strive to love on our own. The agape love of Jesus is possible only through the accomplished work of Jesus through the ongoing work of His Holy Spirit. We are incapable of it on our own. 

I am proud that our country struck back in outrage at the death of innocents splashed before us on television screens. I just wish we had the morality to act similarly at the decades of death and torture that have been taking place off screen in the much less in our face scenarios in Africa. 

O Lord my God, very God and very man, what a wonderful thing, worthy of faith, and surpassing all the understanding of humankind, that you give yourself to us. Your bread and wine is inexhaustible food. You, O Lord of all, who have need of nothing, have desired to dwell in us.

Watkins, James (2016-01-12). The Imitation of Christ: Classic Devotions in Today’s Language (Kindle Locations 390-392). Worthy Publishing. Kindle Edition.

I love and will strive to serve a God who loved me when I was even more unloveable than I am now. 

 

Rooted in Love

17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ Ephesians 3

When we become “in Christ” we become branches in a vine that is rooted in love. That wide, long, high and deep love of Christ is the source of our life and power. It energizes our mission. It replaces our pathetic attempts to live and love without Jesus. 

Back in August, our yard was flooded for days. The flood waters killed the roots of dozens of bushes and trees. Some of the plants seemed alive for a while, but not for long. As spring arrived and the time for fruit production arrived, the truth of their death became clear. 

We can’t live without roots planted in love. We can exist and portray a form of life, that’s really just dressed up death. Our purpose is not to be the fruits of love but channels of love. It’s like water that must flow to be alive, we must be channels of moving love to be truly alive. 

As that unending flow continues, we gradually learn of the extent of that love. It grows in power and impact as the flow runs unabated. 

Love is power, only when it’s root is real, it’s channel is open, and it really has no end.

 

The Power of the Cross

God sacrificing His son on an instrument of Roman torture is pretty hard for the world to grasp. It seems foolish to a world that hasn’t experienced its power.

That’s the key. It’s a power that has to be experienced. Only someone who has moved from guilt and despair to freedom and hope can testify to the power. The power is in the blood and the blood is on the cross. 

It’s a difficult second step, even for those of us who have experienced the power of the cross of Christ, to appreciate the power of our own crosses.  The foolishness of the power of Christ’s cross is magnified when we consider a cross of our own. There seems no chance of power in self-denial and suffering, yet it’s where all spiritual power resides.  If we shake our heads in doubt at the Cross of Christ, we tremble in fear at the thought of a personal cross.

But do not fear, for the cross leads to heaven. In the cross is health, in the cross is life, in the cross is protection from enemies, in the cross is heavenly delight, in the cross is strength of mind, in the cross is joy of the spirit, in the cross is the height of good deeds, in the cross is holy living. There is no health of the soul nor hope of eternal life except in the cross.

It is not in our nature to bear the cross, to love the cross, to bring our bodies into subjection, to flee from honors, to bear criticism meekly, to discipline ourselves, to bear all adversities and losses, and to desire no prosperity in this world. If we look inside ourselves, we will find none of this. But if we trust the Lord, endurance will be given to us from heaven, and the world and our bodily desires will obey our commands.

Watkins, James (2016-01-12). The Imitation of Christ: Classic Devotions in Today’s Language (Kindle Locations 322-325). Worthy Publishing. Kindle Edition.

The cross isn’t natural, but neither is our new birth. It’s supernatural. It’s power and grace and, yes, joy. The cross isn’t foolishness. It’s all that we desperately need.

Not the Cross

I don’t like this verse. I don’t want to think about taking up a cross.  I’m not the only one. “Christians” are talking about their “best life now” and blessings and success and getting stuff, not giving up stuff and taking up crosses. 

Mardi Gras is very popular. Lent, not so much. 

Jesus has many lovers of his heavenly kingdom but few bearers of his cross. He has many seekers of comfort but few willing to face troubles and trial. He finds many companions at his table but few with him in fasting. Many desire to rejoice with him, but few are willing to undergo adversity for his sake. Many follow Jesus that they may eat of his bread, but few are willing to drink of the cup of his passion. Many are astonished at his miracles, but few follow after the shame of his cross. Many love Jesus so long as no troubles happen to them.

Watkins, James (2016-01-12). The Imitation of Christ: Classic Devotions in Today’s Language (Kindle Locations 266-270). Worthy Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Maybe we need to give up on the term “Christian.” It’s come to be associated with status. We want to be King’s Kids and not followers. We want crowns without crosses. We expect blessings and mountain tops and think suffering and valleys belong to the unfaithful or back slidden. 

But those who love Jesus for Jesus’ sake— and not for the comforts he gives to them— praise him in all suffering and sorrow just as they do in the greatest blessings. And if he should never give them another blessing, they would nevertheless continue to always praise him and give him thanks.

Watkins, James (2016-01-12). The Imitation of Christ: Classic Devotions in Today’s Language (Kindle Locations 272-274). Worthy Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Isn’t it time we follow Jesus not just admire him? Shouldn’t we be loving Him for who he is and not just for all that He’s done? Is it too late to learn that the path to joy goes through selflessness not selfishness? Our cross is our cross, whether we like it or not.

Transformed

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. 

Watkins, James (2016-01-12). The Imitation of Christ: Classic Devotions in Today’s Language (Kindle Locations 237-238). Worthy Publishing. Kindle Edition.

This one sentence, pulled from Romans 12 is packed with truth.  Consider:

Copy cats.  We are pathetically unoriginal.  We copy the behavior and customs of this world. We talk like the folks on TV. We wear what the models wear. We buy what’s in. We love what’s trendy. 

Mirror minded.  Our attention is riveted on us. “It’s all about me.” We say with a smile, but with all seriousness. Our perceptions go no further than our physical reach. We don’t care enough about others to have any idea what they are going through or need.  We are so self-absorbed that we don’t hear what others are saying, instead looking for an opening to turn the conversation to the most important thing, us. 

Sayers not doers. We believe that what we say is more important than what we do. We profess our love but would not submit ourselves to a moment of inconvenience to put a smile on someone else. Suffering for others is way out of the question. We are willing to say “Have a good day” but are unwilling to lift a finger to make anyone’s day an iota better.  We will “pray about” anything but will do nothing. 

Stuck.  We are stuck in this pattern, unable to break out or change. We are suckers for diets, exercise gadgets, life coaches, gym memberships, motivational speakers, sermons, and miracle cures. We move from change agent to change agent, only moving and never-changing. 

Fearful. We don’t like who we are but are fearful of change. We are willing to be saved, but scared of being something new. We are horrified by our thought life, but mesmerized by the drama in our soap opera lives. 

We know the solution is in complete surrender to the King, but we like to drive. We are sometimes bold enough to ask the co-pilot to help, but never trusting enough to hand him the steering wheel.

The way we think has us in a death spiral. We’ve got to be willing to trust Him enough to put us in a life cycle. Unless we can become heavenly minded, we are forever earthly bound.