There is a difference between knowing you should love God, believing in loving God and actually loving God. When what you know intellectually and what you believe theologically works in harmony with willing obedient acts of love, you will actually experience loving God and you will be changed. The very nature of your relationship with God is changed as you come to know him more intimately and become more aware of his presence in your life.
God likes you! It may be hard to believe, but it is true. You may ask, “How can you be so sure that God likes me?” Because he is the one who made you. Have you ever heard parents who are struggling with a child say, “I love my child, but right now I don’t like my child?” We have been there as parents and as children. What I am saying is that God not only loves you, he also likes you. God likes your personality, sense of humor and your uniqueness. He wants you to have fun. He wants you to have interests, ideas and desires. Finally, God wants you to have emotions. If he did not want people to have emotions, he would not have given people emotions, so even when you die-to-self you will still have a full range of emotions. To die-to-self and be born again does not mean that you begin again with no personality, humor, uniqueness or emotions. You will not become void of interests, ideas and desires. To die-to-self will not make you an exact replica of everyone else. It means that by your own free will you have chosen to come back to God through Jesus Christ.
We must have the courage to hear and accept God’s word without boundaries or limitations. Then we must look deep within ourselves to see how we are doing according to his word. It is going to take real courage to look this deeply, with total sincerity and honesty. To go into the hidden places in our hearts and the dark corners of our souls can be humbling and painful. Looking at our lives in the light of God’s word without the protection of denial and rationalizations can be scary. It is also the first step out of our comfort zones and into true life in Christ. What we are talking about is repentance.
We must be vigilant and dedicated in our search to discover the narrow gate and hard road that leads to salvation. This would suggest that if we have entered through a big wide gate that was easy to find and there are lots of other people cruising along carefree and self-assured with little challenge, few demands, and producing minimal fruit, we are on the wrong road.
The more we give ourselves to God, the more he reveals to us through his word and the Holy Spirit. So as we go through the cycles of life and revisit the same places, fight the same battles, and confront the same temptations over and over, they will not be the same if we have given ourselves to God and opened our hearts to him. If each time we go through the cycles of life, we are growing and maturing spiritually, God will shed new light upon our lives and reveal more of the majesty of his creation and kingdom. Our lives will not be increasingly out of control but more in control. We will not be constrained, but more free.
If we are to die-to-self and empty ourselves of everything that is not of God, what is left of us? Does dying-to-self mean that we are no longer us? Does dying-to-self mean that we will no longer have any wants or desires of our own? Does it mean that we cannot have fun and joke around, or that we can never again allow ourselves to be frustrated or angry? If we die-to-self and are born again, does that mean that we lose our uniqueness and personality? These are the kinds of questions that we must ask if we are to really understand what it means to be born again. There are no questions that are silly, foolish or dumb. It is as our questions are answered and our insight and understanding grow that we can move from just intellectually knowing about Christ to actually knowing Christ. We can go from knowing about the Holy Spirit to knowing we have received the Holy Spirit. We can go from knowing about salvation to knowing the blessing and forgiveness of God’s grace.
What happened on the road to Caesarea Philippi? (Mark 8:34-35) Peter was listening closely because he greatly desired to do the right thing. It was he who realized that Jesus was the long-expected Messiah. In spite of the fact that Peter had discovered that Jesus was the Messiah, he took it upon himself to tell Jesus that he could not go forth with God’s plan. “And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.” What came next? The pruning knife, as Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan!” Ouch, being pruned hurts. But any time we allow ourselves, our egos, our desires to come between us and Jesus, the vine, our source of life, we must be pruned or we will become fruitless and be cut off and thrown away. Jesus could not give in to Peter’s desires or he himself would not be doing God’s will and bearing good, lasting fruit. Nor could he allow Peter to focus on human things rather than divine things and become fruitless, so out came the pruning knife. Just as Jesus had called those good religious people, who had called him Lord and done much ministry, evildoers, he calls Peter Satan. Jesus repeatedly makes it clear that there is God’s way and there is the wrong way. No matter how good our intentions are, if it is not God’s way, it is the wrong way.
Just like those in Matthew 25:31-43 who had unknowingly encountered the Lord and asked Jesus, “When did we see you Lord?”, we need to be aware that we may well encounter the risen Lord when we have responded to God’s call to develop a gift we did not even know we possessed. When we are uncomfortable and uncertain in the process of discovering a new gift may be the very time God can use us most effectively to do ministry. When we are least self-assured there is room within us for God and the movement of the Holy Spirit.
We will find the critical spiritual balance we seek if we can open ourselves to all of the gifts and resources God has given us. We can use our intellect to delve deeper into the mysteries of faith and over time, combined with prayer and hands-on ministry, we can peel away some of the layers that cloak God’s mysteries. As we mature spiritually we will come to understand more. This is a key to truly becoming a new creation in Christ. Opening all of our senses to God can give us a new depth of experience and energy as we journey.
It is in the act of doing God’s ministry that you encounter the risen Lord and come to know him personally. Christ goes from being a historical figure that you have read about and studied and admired to the savior that you know and love. The difference is dramatic. As you repeatedly encounter Christ in the midst of ministry, your awareness of his presence becomes more and more a part of your everyday life. By virtue of your everyday, real-time relationship with Christ, you will experience a life-changing transformation. Because you know him and have a relationship with him, you will be able to truly love him and receive his love. He will no longer be remote or abstract, he will be real and tangible. You will know his presence and feel his love because you will be abiding in him as he abides in you.
If we are sharing in God-empowered ministry during the week that is changing lives, and us, we are going to approach worship differently. Worship will become a celebration of the community’s ministries - the lives touched, sins forgiven and blessings received.
Copyright: Rev. Bob Callender, 2012
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