BASIS OF LOVE FOR NEIGHBOUR

A superficial look at the idea of loving oneself gives the impression of self-centredness or some humanistic teaching that is contrary to the bible. Is it really so?

A careful look at the bible, however,  reveals that we were all created in the image of  God for the purpose of loving and worshipping Him (Genesis1:27). We are not worthless creatures to wallow in self-pity. When we recognise this fact we start being thankful and appreciating the person who God made in us. It is not being egocentric or highminded.

A misunderstanding of loving oneself is likely to result into self rejection. This will manifest itself through unhappiness with the person God made us to be. Whenever we are unhappy from within, we can hardly be gentle or even kind when dealing with others. Our relationship with them will most likely be distorted and so we will have no basis for loving them.

Unforgiveness too will be evident in our lives when we fail to understand the need to love ourselves. We will hold on to embarrassing things that we have repented of, contrary to the biblical advice to pursue peace with everyone around us and refuse to give in to bitterness that is likely to spoil our relationships ( Hebrews 12:15). The bible does teach total depravity of mankind before God but this doesn’t mean we should consider ourselves failures. If we do then we will continue pushing to reach irrational goals in order to feel good about ourselves.

We should recognise that in spite our fallen state we are still fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) and learn from King David to appreciate and thank God for what He gave us – the ability to worship Him.

POSSESSIVE GOD?

In the next forty days of Lent, I want you to reflect with me on God’s character of Jealousy. God is supreme and sovereign over all. He is also merciful and loving as can be seen through His daily provisions, forgiveness and the wonderful salvation we experience in Christ.  His great love demands that we live in total obedience, submission and devotion to Him.

God’s jealous is not egocentric like mine. It is actually the natural and necessary by product of His complete sovereignty and infinite holiness. The kind of jealous I express is often guided by selfishness. I tend to be resentful when others around me seem to enjoy the fruits of their hard work such as living in a nice house which they have built and dress in brand new clothes. This attitude spoils my relationship with my neighbours and makes me sad and lonely. I am constantly praying that God helps me to overcome it.

When I came to faith in Christ, I recognized the great work He had done in my life and was deeply devoted to prayer, reading the word of God whenever I was free and serving in church. Gradually I drifted to sports and my interest in the things of God waned. I found the word of God boring and serving in church a waste of time. My testimony for Christ was watered down and I began engaging in unnecessary jokes which offended many. My prayer life became weak and I found no strength to share the word of God with most of my friends. Some of them went to the extent of poking fun at me and saying, “You were once saved. What has happened to you that makes you loose your temper so fast and retort at others who are simply joking?”

That question was like a nudge on my rib and made me discover that I was loosing touch with God. I had offended Him in failing to recognize who He is and was now beginning to adore sports. He consequently proved to me that I could not go down that path and be safe. I had to get on my knees and plead with Him for mercy. I confessed idolatry and started taking my Quiet Time seriously. During my devotions, I realized that our God is truly set apart and wants me to worship and serve Him alone. My waywardness can only bring trouble and there is none I can turn to for comfort and security.

KNOWING JESUS

A lot of people have different views about who Jesus Christ is. Hindus believe He is one of the many gods they believe in. Muslims hold that he is a mere prophet and perhaps not great than Mohammed. Moralists believe he is a great teacher and philosopher and atheists think he is an imaginary figure who probably never existed. All these views can be quite confusing and I too dabbled in them in my childhood. However I had a unique curiosity about the Bible.

My doubts about who Jesus Christ is were removed when I realized that I was a sinner and all the effort I had made to lead a decent life was in vain. I desired to be upright and kind but was still troubled by anxiety, jealousy and resentment towards others. I recited all the prayers I had been taught in Sunday school but still lacked inner peace. I stayed in that state for some time then I heard one of our church members testifying that he had been delivered from greed, lust and envy through trusting in Jesus Christ. At first, I thought he was only joking but later, I realized that he had been totally transformed. He had become gentle and kind. He was also generous and gave to the needs of others.

Through his testimony, I realized that Jesus is real. He can change people’s lives completely and make them useful in and out of the church. His power is beyond our understanding and we cannot stop him from doing what He wants. As I continued reading the Bible I discovered that Jesus Christ is eternal God because all things were made by Him. Everything that exists was brought into being by Him through His spoken word.

I too became convinced that He can change my life and give me the peace that I so desperately needed. I pleaded with Him for mercy and recognized that He is able to sustain me and make my life more meaningful. I now know that Jesus Christ is the only Saviour who can forgive all our sins and strengthen us to live morally acceptable lives that reflect His mercy and goodness. True peace and security are found through trusting in Him alone as Lord and Saviour.

JUVENILE DISORDER

I have witnessed unruly behaviour among teenagers that has left me wondering about their sanity. I am concerned that we may not, in future, have adults with a strong character and who can be trusted to lead either church or society in general. There are times when I get a feeling that even the church may be taken over by undisciplined young people who cannot guide others in godliness.

However, every time I turn to the word of God, I am assured that Christ is in control. Even though matters may seem worse, I need not allow worry to control me. God has promised that He will never leave me alone. He will bring about stability at His own time and in His own way. He may allow trouble among young people to show that we cannot appropriately manage our lives by trusting our own wisdom and resources. We just have to depend on Him at all times.

Scripture reminds me that instead of worrying about the ugly events, I need to continue praying and witnessing for Jesus. He is able to change the situation and restrain unbecoming behaviour among teenagers that causes them to engage in rape and vandalism and subject others to suffering. The wisdom from the Lord calms my heart over the consequences of the youth’s strange actions.

Whenever a school is burnt, for instance, the damage is huge and parents are penalized for it. It is only scripture that enables me to handle such weird cases wisely. I get the impression that even though some schools have been destroyed, not all will be burnt. Some teenagers may be difficult to handle but not all will turn destructive. I am assured that there will always be humble and obedient ones among them. All I have to do is to keep praying for them and trusting that God will grant me the ability to cope with the troubles.

The Lord has always been faithful and given me a reason to rejoice even amid disturbing circumstances. My worries have proved baseless as long as I have trusted in Him and I have realized that surrendering to Him means ineffable peace in this world and certainty of eternal life. It makes me steady in the face of trouble and encourages me to remain faithful under all circumstances.

ARE YOU FAITHFUL?

According to Numbers 25, the nation of Israel sinned against God by worshipping a foreign deity called Baal and having sexual relations with foreign women. God’s wrath was kindled and He allowed all those who participated in the orgies to be destroyed. A man who was caught during intercourse was also stabbed to death. This was not because God was interested in killing His people but as a proof that sinful acts have their own dire consequences.

God wanted Israel and us today to learn that we are accountable to Him for the gifts and privileges we have. Our accountability to God is seen in the way we use our gifts. Every good thing we have comes from God and if we are not using it to God’s glory then we are sinning. Ordinarily, the greater the gifts, the greater the sin and the greater the judgement when we do not use them for God’s glory. The Lord Jesus said, “But he that knew not and commit things worthy of the stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:48).

We are normally deceived into thinking that we can get way with our sinful tendencies. However, we must recognize that the evil one uses this deception to seduce and confuse us. The deception is accomplished by inflaming and magnifying our immediate desires, while minimizing and hiding reality of the horrendous costs of our actions. Again, the deception is that we can get away with it and that we will not be caught. The truth of the matter, however, is that God cannot be mocked.

God’s will for us is to overcome temptation and walk in purity, but we must humble ourselves by submitting to the wisdom that God gives to us. One significant way we can overcome temptation is by pushing aside our selfish feelings and giving serious consideration to how our behaviour would hinder our walk with the Lord, damage the cause of Christ, and destroy our families and the lives of others.

ALL THINGS POSSIBLE

Mary was told by the angel Gabriel that she was to conceive and have a child and call Him Jesus, even though she was a virgin. She was also told her relative, Elizabeth, who had passed the child bearing age, would bear a child and call him John. The angel told her that “with God nothing shall be impossible.”

With God, nothing is too hard: “Ah Lord God! Behold thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee …” (Jeremiah 32:17). If God can create the entire universe, creating everything out of nothing, then how can He not do the impossible? God loves to show Himself strong and to be glorified by doing what the world considers impossible. In fact, the more impossible it seems the more God is glorified through it.

We should learn from Mary to ask God to help us see things from His point of view. Our problems, circumstances or situations may be a gift from God. He is intimately involved with the details of our lives. God owes us nothing; we owe Him everything. He is a God of grace. He makes Himself available to us and will provide all our needs as we serve His eternal purposes. When God steps into our lives we should rejoice and trust that He will do as He has promised. When He calls, He always provides. When we follow His leading, He will always supply what is lacking.

HOW HOSPITABLE ARE YOU?

The Lord Jesus has called us to be welcoming to people. We are His ambassadors and so He uses us to be His welcoming arms to draw people from the outside into His presence. He is the seeker, we are the ones He seeks and sometimes we are the ones He uses to seek others. The central message of the gospel is to love one another. Whenever we see people in need, we are to have compassion on them, bind their wounds, and use our own resources to care for them.

The Lord Jesus didn’t run projects, establish ministries, create programs or put on events. He simply ate meals. We are well aware that people are saved through the gospel message, but meals will create natural opportunities to share that message in a context that resonates powerfully with what we are saying.

Meals bring mission into the ordinary and there we find most people that we need to reach. We tend to think of mission as extraordinary. Perhaps that is because we find it awkward to talk about Jesus outside church gathering. Perhaps it is because we think God moves through the spectacular rather than the witness of people like us.

People often complain that they lack time for mission. But we all have to eat – three meals a day, seven days a week. That is twenty one opportunities for mission and community without adding anything to one’s schedule. We can invite our neighbour over for a meal and use the opportunity to share the gospel with them.  We can also invite someone who lives alone and share our family meal and follow it with board games. This will give our children a chance to serve others.

MAKING A POSITIVE IMPACT

I strongly believe that as Christians we need to uphold our testimony wherever we are. Our faith in Christ should be reflected through our work by insisting on fair price, good products and just treatment of customers and employees. When we notice a neighbour who is struggling with loss, tragedy or illness, for instance, we could share a meal or plate of cookies with them. When engaging in acts of mercy such as mowing the lawn, buying groceries or cleaning the house for some one else, we need to share why we are motivated to do all those things. When people tell us about their troubles (financial crisis, death, illness, divorce, abuse or confusion over an issue they may be experiencing)  we should respond helpfully by listening to them and then sharing how God has carried us in moments of personal struggle.

Whenever we meet new comers in our neighbourhood, we should warmly introduce ourselves and ask if they will be looking for a church to attend. We could then invite them to ours. In the home setting, we could model our faith by taking time for daily devotions and Bible study. We can also model hospitality and stewardship by giving money or food to people in need.

During holidays, it is proper to invite our friends, neighbours or co – workers to worship or to any other special event that we may hold. At such occasions as Christmas and Easter, we get an opportunity to share why the days are important to us and our families. Holidays also enable us to help others reflect on their blessings and give thanks to God for His goodness.

We should remember to regularly pray for boldness and confidence as Christ has taught us. Prayer is the foundation of all witness. It is essential for a Christian who desires to be bold in faith sharing. We can also write our own faith story in a manner that it will evoke conversation rather than debate. It simply needs to come out clearly from our story that God is real and the Bible is our ultimate authority in all moral and spiritual matters; that the resurrection of Christ is the only thing that gives us certainty of forgiveness and hope of eternal life.

SERVE FROM WHERE YOU ARE

How about learning a few lessons from Deacon Stephen in Acts 6?

Stephen was well versed in God’s word and argued its truth excellently because he was endowed with wisdom from above. He did not even shy away from those who disagreed with the truth of God’s word. He also received the strength he needed through faith to stand firm under the most extreme persecution one could suffer as a Christian.

As a Christian, Stephen was prepared to go an extra mile for the Lord. He was truly committed and went further for the cause of Christ. He must have understood that the people who just do the bare minimum never accomplish anything great for God. He wasn’t waiting to be a pastor to do something great. He wasn’t saying it was someone else’s responsibility and he certainly didn’t let someone else take his opportunity to serve the Lord.

As it is always the case with good works, after Stephen demonstrated great faith and accomplished great things, there arose certain men who wanted to fight with him because of his living for God. Persecution will certainly come to all who live godly in Christ Jesus (1 Timothy3:12) and so Stephen was now confronted with followers of Moses and the Law who did everything within their ability to discredit him.

Stephen was well composed all along because he had an intimate relationship with God and knew that God’s grace was sufficient for him. Because of time spent at the Saviour’s feet, he was able to speak with wisdom when necessary and also keep his peace when necessary.

It is significant to note that Stephen wasn’t a pastor; he wasn’t a travelling evangelist nor was he an apostle. He wasn’t a king or warrior; he was a humble, spirit filled servant of God who was used to do great things because he yielded himself to the will of his Saviour.

GOD LOVES JUSTICE

In Exodus 12, we learn of extreme hardship placed on the entire nation of Israel. Pharaoh had turned the Israelites into slave labourers and ordered midwives to kill every male infant at birth. In response, God called upon Moses to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. At first, Moses was reluctant to take up the new responsibility but God assured him of His presence. He then gathered courage and went on to confront Pharaoh demanding freedom for His people. Moses brought God’s power to bear on Pharaoh and finally worn justice for the Hebrews.

Today, we hear cries for justice from all around the world. We want justice for the poor, enslaved, marginalized, and the persecuted. This cry reflects the heart of God, yet sometimes we still forget that justice is God’s idea first. While our demand is often punitive, i.e., wanting those who are wrong to get what they deserve, God’s version is redemptive. God is committed to what is right and best for His children.

In spite of the many organizations and advocates being committed to causes for justice, injustice seems to have adamantly refused to go away. This is mainly because we live in an imperfect world and our understanding of justice is equally imperfect.

True justice will only be seen in the lives of those who fear God because biblical justice begins with holiness: “Justice and judgement are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face” – Psalm 89:14. When a person is seen as righteous, it is not so much that he is virtuous, but rather that he has the approval of his king. In Hosea 10: 12, when God urges the people to sow for themselves righteousness, He is urging them to maintain standards and to live the life that would meet his approval.

In God’s justice, we can find a comfort for all the wrongs perpetuated against us and against mankind. We know that our cruel boss who cheated us for so many years will receive divine justice. The politician who did wrong to gain power will also be treated according to his deeds. The thought of God’s justice for everyone might sound scary to unbelievers but Christians rest their faith in Christ, with full knowledge that they are judged in Christ and their safety is guaranteed.