Some of the most incredible lessons God has ever taught me have taken place in the last 40 days aa He used events in Cleveland to show me things fresh and new, like never before. Some very private, but some that are supposed to be shared...
In the days when Jesus walked with us as a Man, He was in a culture that surrounded Him with brutal soldiers, sexually perverse people, worshipers of other gods, betrayers of His nationality, people who scoffed at anything spiritual or involving the afterlife. But in all of these bad and ungodly things that we often shy away from or fight in our lives today, Jesus very clearly stood in opposition to one particular group of people time and again, in anger and frustration: the Pharisees. Today we always think of the Pharisees as evil, uppity, two-faced, fake, hateful people who murdered Christ. In reality, in Jesus' day, that was not the case at all. The Pharisees were seen as the best of the best—against the politics and secular ways of the day—for the common man, not the powerful men of the day. They knew the Word of God like no other and kept it beautifully. They were disciplined, hardworking, righteous, Scripture loving men. So, why were they so disliked by Jesus? Because they had comfort and security in their knowledge and good lives. Yet that knowledge gave them no passionate love for the people around them, or even the God they served, because they cared more about what people thought of them, and how they looked to one another, than they did the precious people they led. They used God's Word to trap, accuse, and hurt sinners, rather than to heal and help. They never genuinely reached out to help anyone that wasn't part of their righteous lifestyle. The Pharisees were farther away from God due to their knowledge and works because they trusted self.
They were less worshipful and thankful than the sinners around them because they felt less need or gratefulness to God. They were farther from repentance over their evil hearts because they felt holy, even though they were completely self-absorbed. Jesus Himself told the Scribes and Pharisees: Mark 2:17. Did Jesus mean the Pharisees were righteous, and not in need of healing? Romans 3:23: Jesus simply meant, He came to save those who realized they were sick and in need of healing—who realized they had no righteousness in self. This is why the Pharisees angered Christ so. Their actions and knowledge made them feel safe and healed, yet they had completely self-absorbed thoughts, and no passionate love for those around them. And being examples of God to the world, with all of the knowledge God could give them, they horribly represented God's love to those who needed it, causing far more damage to the worth and belief of unbelievers, than the worst sinner. And it doesn't have to be fake, self-righteous bigots who get this mindset. Listen to the words of encouragement that Paul gave to the church in Ephesus in his Letter to them: Ephesians 1:15-16. Sound like they are loving and living right? And now, listen to how John describes this same church in Revelation, years later: Revelation 2:1-3. Sounds like they have kept the Word and sacrificed for their faith through the trials of time as well but listen to what John says next: Revelation 2:4-5. There seems to be nothing the church at Ephesus was doing wrong, yet they had completely failed in God's eyes. Knowledge and works are wonderful, if that knowledge leads you to love and those works are outward signs of that love. But knowledge and works alone, will actually destroy you quicker than open sin because you are blind about your dark heart. This legalism creeps in slowly and takes the place of passion because it’s appealing, it’s measurable, it gives control, it gives a feeling of self-satisfaction and accomplishment—yet it is a complete 180° degree opposite of everything we are meant to be in Christ.
I won't try to argue or convince you as to whether you have passionate love, or the legalism of a Pharisee, but answer these questions: 1) How many here have been at your job for more than 5 years? 1 year? 1 month? 2) How long did it take you before you learned the expectations of your job? 3) How about before you began to show up for work regularly? 4) How long before you were able to perform tasks adequately according to the job requirements? 5) How many have followed or played a sport? 6) How long did it take you to learn the rules and begin to advance in skills and performance? 7) How long to learn the players, teams, and culture of the game?...Now—how long has it been since you became a Christian? Do you know the Playbook yet, or do you have to ask someone after every play? Are you faithfully attending? Adequately performing? Why not? Hebrews 5:12. If we had a real love and passion for God and people, would we have to be told time and again to forgive? To control our lusts? To invite people to church, or worry over their soul? Or would it be a natural joy and desire? Drop all notions of how much you do for Christ, even of how much sin you have in your life—everything about your life in Christ comes down to understanding who Jesus Christ truly Is, what He's done for you, how He sees you, and then loving Him for how crazy Awesome He truly is—and seeing the worth of God's people and being overwhelmed with the desire to love, serve and save them. Anything else, and you have a religion—a dangerous religion—and that makes us Pharisees.
When I was in Cleveland, during and after the surgery, having more time to spend with God than I'd had in years, one of the biggest things that God did to me, and through me was to cultivate a love for Him and for His people, like I have never felt before in my life. Not an emotional response to the drama of the surgery, but a real and deep love, a way of seeing Him and others like I never have before. This love was so different and rich, that I asked God to help me never go back to the way I loved before, and I asked Him to show me what had brought about such a difference in how He loved through me. He showed me that the answer has always been right there, but we are usually too blinded by our complacency to let the Truth sink in—to see and feel the depth of His commands. At the last meal Jesus was to ever eat with His closest friends and disciples, Jesus gave a New Command to them (How important was this moment?): John 13:34-35. Loving one another was nothing He hadn't already taught, so what was so new? "Love one another as I have loved you!" There is the key—as Jesus had shown love. Through the work of the Spirit in us, doing what we cannot; through the renewing of our minds, by the Words of Christ—we can learn to love differently. If we could, it would not be a command. So please listen closely, because these may be some of the most impacting few minutes of your Christian life as we learn to love as Jesus loved. There will be no new, earth-shattering revelations, but, some of the simplest things we are missing completely, just like the religious giants of Jesus’ day.
#1 - How Do I Love Thee? Through Acceptance Of Christ's Love. One of the first things God showed me, was something that would be so easy to miss, but such a major factor in loving as Christ. When I was in Cleveland, on the great adventure, I knew at that moment I was where God wanted me, doing what He wanted of me. So subconsciously, I knew that God was with me, accepting of me at that moment, walking with me, loving through me. This is one of the most epic Truths that we must allow to become a part of who we are in Christ, or we will never love as we should, or be used in real faith. Do you think there was ever a time that Jesus ever doubted His own love and acceptance by the Father? No, they were as one. John 17:24. Jesus, in His perfect confidence that He was loved and Accepted by His Father, was able to confidently and boldly love others the same way. That confidence I felt in God's acceptance and love at Cleveland Clinic is absolutely how God feels about us all of the time. We just won't accept it, because Satan lets us know how we don't deserve it. Have you ever met someone who is angry, resentful, and just all around miserable all the time? Do you think that person is in more or less need of feeling God's love through you? Would God want you to show them unconditional love and acceptance? So why do you think God would love us any different when we are a mess? The reality is, nothing we do, brings worthiness of acceptance or love. Romans 5:8: it is all God, all mercy, absolutely, literally true. To see things as less takes away all He did and shows we don't understand or fully appreciate just how much He loves us. #1 revealed - You have to envelope the fact that God is with you, for you, and wanting to love through you in a very unique and powerful way. To really know that warm acceptance by God, even when we are so undeserving makes it so much easier to accept that He wants to love others through us the same way. (ex. Insecure person who stays alone—hard to show love to others. ex. Ever had to face something difficult, do something you were unsure of? And then someone stepped up and offered to go with you, to help you face it, or figure it out? Fail or succeed together. That is exactly how it feels to realize that God is with you in every attempt to love and serve another.) It is everything. God’s whole desire is growing you into the likeness of Christ and reaching broken people. It is everything to Him, so we must stop thinking He doesn't want to be near us, or that He has walked away every time we are imperfect, or He's not near us because we seem to have less to offer than another. He never walks away, He is always there, not just ready, but anxious to be with us and work through us. He is in us, so accept that fact, and act like it. And if you are not where you should be—if you are not currently in His will—that does not change the fact that He is still there, still loving, still anxious to use you and love through you. It simply means that you aren't a willing participant in His Grace. You just need to surrender to Him in that very moment, and He will immediately be there to fill, love, and guide. 2 Timothy 2:11-13. Don't let your faith in His love and acceptance be based on anything but how Awesome He is, and then dive into it. It will set you free.
#2 - How Do I Love Thee? By Completely Forgetting About Self. Here is the second most important thing that I feel we must Biblically do in order to love as Jesus Commands. Listen to a journal entry that God impressed upon my heart at one of my lowest points in the hospital: "At that moment when all is taken away... No strength, no plans, no desires... Just pure observance at the raw level of the Spirit's leading... You see people in their worth to God. Life at its sweetest, most precious reality. And there is a strange peace and joy you'll be hard pressed to find in everyday life.
I need to try!" This is by far, one of the most awesome lessons God taught me through this entire walk. There are a couple of very big Scriptural principles here that we are far from in our daily life. When I was completely powerless to even go to the bathroom without help and I had no strength to even care at that moment about [anything], my life, my plans, and my accomplishments were completely out of the game, and all I could do was watch, listen, and observe others in their lives around me; suddenly, I became acutely aware of other people's struggles, strengths, fears. I could easily, instantly hear God's Voice so clearly, about how to minister to those around me. And when my own life was not top priority in every thought running through my head, it was easy and natural to pour myself into the prayer, encouragement, empathy, joy, pain, and concern for others. It was so, so easy to just let the Spirit's Presence fill me and take the moment to worship God, feel His Presence, see His Hand like never before. Had anything about God's Presence, How He works, or other people's needs changed? Absolutely not. What had changed? My constant unconscious focus on self. #2 revealed - We will never learn to worship purely, we will never let God show us anything clearly, we will never see people as God sees them, until we are emptied of thoughts over self. (Due to self- Galatians 2:20 “I am crucified w/ Christ…”) Until we can have the love and faith to lay aside our thoughts about our needs, plans, acceptance by others, and even desires, and let God guide our thoughts and our heart completely uninhibited, moment by moment, with the most basic desire being only to hear Him and see as He sees. When the prostitute with the alabaster box, who's life had to be in complete selfish shambles became the only one in a room full of Pharisees and even disciples, to truly get what Jesus was doing; to truly see why He was even there; and then worship Him like no one had up to that point, in complete pureness and humility, what changed in her heart? She came to Him with an absolute, complete disregard for self. Listen again to why Jesus Himself, was so honored and glorified by the Father—the One worthy to be our Savior: Philippians 2:3-7, 9. Jesus Himself, gave not one thought to His power, position, or worthiness, but instead, put all of His focus on the Father's will, and the needs of His brothers and sisters. Even when in bad times, when it wasn't convenient, when He wasn't in the mood, when He was tired, stressed, overwhelmed—again, think about when Jesus was at the last Supper. He was in the most terrifying and testing moment of His Human life, and probably His eternal existence, and He stopped to wash the feet of His disciples—to love on them, think of them, serve them—to the very end. Even when His world wasn’t going well [Think on that a moment]: John 13:1. If you want to feel real worship, hear God's Voice, and rest in His Presence, It must start with not caring one more second about your plans, your popularity, your credentials, your failures. All focus must be on him and others. John 5:30; John 6:38. We must learn, that the sweetest place you will ever find on this earth is the place of real, and absolute surrender of self. When we wholeheartedly search for His ways and see others first.
This is just two of four incredible things that God has shown to me about how to love as Christ loves. But the rest will do no good until we have learned to make these things a real part of our walk. They are a foundational key that we all seem to lose in worldly influence and selfishness. Nothing else in your Christian walk will matter, if these two things are not a part of who you are in Christ. Everything else is equals to the legalism of a Pharisee!
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