What trail do I leave?

What is the trail we leave behind? Is it of love, zeal or complacency? In our pursuit of Jesus we fall into traps.

After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?

Galatians 3:3

I run ahead of Jesus. I presume that by following spiritual exercises we developed together, I will be with him. Likewise, I put myself under the obligations that seemingly are godliness. When I run ahead of Jesus these become idols characterised by zeal or complacency.

“Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.”

Galatians3:6

Remember Abraham. He had none of our spiritualities or obligations. He trusted his Lord and lived out what was shown. Though he stumbled God met him and led him into what was important though faith.

when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love.

Galatians 5:6

When Jesus is the centre, he leads us into love. When we are living with him and not running ahead there will be a trail of love. This trail is characterised by joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness …

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Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash

Disturbing Reality

When we are full of bitter anger how do we respond to grace and peace?

As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Acts 9:3-4

Saul is on his way to vent his anger. There he meets Jesus who speaks tenderly to him, “Saul, Saul” the tender call to a child who has lost his way.

Saul has met Love. In his self righteousness he cannot tie together the call of love with the accusation of persecution. Jesus has to spell it out.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,”

Acts 9:5

Now Saul’s world has been turned upside down. He had thought of himself as the star doing God’s work. Now he realises has been opposing the Messiah.

“Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”… when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

Acts 9:6-9

Saul was not told to fast, yet he did not eat or drink for three days. Maybe a response to discovering that his whole life had been a violent lie?

Do we have the courage to hear disturbing truths from Jesus?

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Photo by Randy Jacob on Unsplash

Impact of loving God

Those who love God become like him and influence their world.

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.  Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep. [Psalm 36:5-6]

As we meditate on his character- love, faithfulness, righteousness and justice we aspire to become like him.

You, Lord, preserve both people and animals. [Psalm 36:6]

We notice that the Lord loves and preserves all his creatures, both people and animals. They are valued as his creation. We join him, showing that same value.

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. [Psalm 36:7]

As we aspire, and in some small way live out this love, people find safety with us.  In effect, they take refuge beneath God’s wings.

They feast in the abundance of your house; [Psalm 36:8]

As we generously share what God has provided, we demonstrate his abundant care.

you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; [Psalm 36:9]

Not being the source, we have no idea what will feed or give life. We merely pass on what he has given us. Then to our surprise, this is spiritual life to those who receive it.

 in your light we see light. [Psalm 36:9]

When we look at Jesus, the light of the world, we see the light of life. Though our situations are dark, he fills us with light from within.

What is prosperity?

Many are drawn to a prosperity of money, sex, power and fame, gaining influence over others to get what they want. Yet if we get, someone else must lose. We leave a trail of hurting people. So, the prosperous-

… wear pride like a jeweled necklace and clothe themselves with cruelty. These fat cats have everything their hearts could ever wish for! They scoff and speak only evil; in their pride they seek to crush others. [Psalm 73:5-8NLT]

Those who have surrendered their souls for this prosperity are-

… like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind. They will be condemned at the time of judgment. Sinners will have no place among the godly. [Psalm 1:4-5NLT]

God desires-

… this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, … [Galatians 5:22NLT]

Instead of a trail of hurting people, those who choose God’s prosperity leave behind a trail of love, joy and peace. Love will be tested by the offer of ‘prosperity’ so I need God’s love to stay true-

Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked … But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees … bearing fruit each season. [Psalm 1:1-3NLT]

When I invest in God, he blesses with a prosperity that brings joy, not mere appearances attempting to suppress a churning heart. So, do I choose to aim for the prosperity that offers what ‘I want’ or that which leaves behind love and good fruit?

Live Free

How do we move from a trained righteousness to truly live …

… a life worthy of the calling you have received. [Ephesians 4:1NIV]

Paul points to attitudes, actions and a spiritual dimension …

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. [Ephesians 4:2-3NIV]

When that behaviour is merely the product of training it looks good, but the outcome is not the unity of the Spirit nor the attitude love, yet when I break free I find I am immature …

…  tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. [Ephesians 4:14NIV]

Being tossed between enforced ‘love’ and a freedom subject to selfishness indicates an area of immaturity where Jesus has been excluded. Thinking I knew how to behave, I never listened to Jesus to learn from him.

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. [Ephesians 4:15NIV]

Paul points to the love of Christ.  Training will always drive, no matter the cost to those we love or ourselves while Jesus understanding the whole draws us to love…

From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. [Ephesians 4:16NIV]

God’s power

Crises ask, ‘Do I believe God for his goodness and power?’ Feeling powerless challenges my attitudes both to God and to what I want from him.

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:3-NIV)

The constraint on God’s power is not in God, nor my ability to summon power, but in my knowledge of him. When I am willing to be developed, he provides a crisis where I am confronted with a Jesus I do not know. Am I willing to trust him for situations beyond my experience of him?

We see this in the interactions Jesus had around his miracles. He discusses with the person what they believed about him. It would seem he does not allow the person to be a passive recipient of God’s grace, He challenges them to stretch out and risk their understanding of God’s goodness.

The next verse points out the eternal significance

 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:4 NIV)

Power is not merely to fix our situation. It transforms us as we work out his purposes together. He wants us to know him and trust him so that we can release the corrupting drives that fester within.

All about Jesus?

“It’s all about you Jesus …” It is easy to sing the song, but how real is this for us? Jesus presents the issue in terms of a choice between loving him and loving ourselves.

Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:25NIV)

The focus of this self love shifts as we develop. Early on, Jesus exposes actions. Maybe he points to our disrespecting others. We love our lives when we take because we can. It looks like we hate our lives when we don’t take what we could, yet this is out of love for Jesus.

Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me. John 12:24-26

Later we might realise that we are living this ‘Christian life’ for our own ends. Love for ourselves pops up as we seek our own ends in a Christian way. Hating our own life comes with the surrender of our aims. We ask the question who am I serving really?

Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (John 12:24NIV)

Growth requires we face the death God sets before us. Jesus promises a fruitful outcome. Can we trust him for it? It may come from unexpected directions and take unexpected forms!

The opinion Jesus valued

How do we decide who to take seriously? We live in a culture that measures value by size of following. Jesus looked elsewhere.

“If I were to testify on my own behalf, my testimony would not be valid. But someone else is also testifying about me, and I assure you that everything he says about me is true. (John 5:31-32NIV)

The famous depend upon projecting an image to increase following. Jesus despised such approaches. He looked to only one human testimony – John the Baptist.

 John was like a burning and shining lamp, and you were excited for a while about his message. But I have a greater witness than John—my teachings and my miracles. The Father gave me these works to accomplish, and they prove that he sent me. (John 5:35-36NIV)

Jesus then points to three factors that make up a testimony worth listening to-

  • A shining lamp – a life that shines out with integrity and godliness.
  • Teachings – Jesus’ teachings were different in that they had both a depth of insight and a simplicity about them that pointed to someone who knew God.
  • Miracles – Left in the wake of Jesus’ ministry were many transformed lives. There were people who were transformed through healing from sickness, and people who were transformed from selfishness.

Are we willing to quietly step back and look at the people who influence us with a discerning eye? Are we willing to invite God to work on us so that He could make us such people?

What do we value?

Our culture has only one question to determine value – “Does it work?” Jesus takes a different view. After feeding the 5000 He leaves.  Most would have continued the ministry. When the people find Him, He challenges their motives –

  ‘… you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.  (John 6:26)

What is the difference between eating bread that came as a miracle and seeing signs? The difference is in the focus. If I look for Jesus because I ate, then I am looking for myself and the focus is on me. If I look because I saw miraculous signs my focus is on Christ and I am looking to worship Him.

Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.’ (John 6:27)

This focus is seen in our relationship with God. If the focus of my spirituality is on what works, then it is subject to men’s evaluation which inevitably is temporary and ultimately spoils. The fruit Jesus is looking for is the fruit of lives changed by faith. Faith is proven through trust even when things don’t seem to be working –

‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’ (John 6:29)

Are we able to trust Jesus in how He directs rather than try to use Him to get what we want? This is food that endures to eternal life.

 

A fuller study

Live for eternity

Jesus’ unearths His followers’ motives following the feeding of the 5000 because it is here that the eternal value of what someone does is seen.

‘Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. John 6:26

What is the difference between eating bread that came to people as a miracle and seeing signs? They were the same event! The difference is in the focus. If I am looking for Jesus because I ate the bread and had my fill, then the focus is on me. If the focus is on Jesus, then I am looking for Him in order to worship Him. Jesus’ statement asks questions about my direction and focus in life –

Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.’ John 6:27

In our materialistic age I can be caught up with what is ultimately material, even if it seems spiritual. Paul identified Faith, hope and love as the three that persist. (1 Corinthians 13:13) Jesus asks questions of our motives too. Seeing our lives through the lens of ‘faith, hope and love’ helps us see if we are trying to use Him to get what we want out of life or whether we are working for the food that endures to eternal life.

 

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