Monday, September 29, 2014

Surrender Together

MONDAY: READ // Philippians 2:1-13
If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.

What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.

TUESDAY: THOUGHTS // Surrender Together
We are in community every single day. When we go to work. When we go to the grocery store. When we are driving down the street. When we are walking, running, shopping, exploring. When we are breathing, we are in community. We are first in community with Christ—nothing we do is done apart from him. We are second in community with everyone else—everyone around us, everyone God created. Thus, everything we do impacts someone. We are not isolated in this world, no matter how hard we try, how much we might think, or how strongly we might want. We are not static creatures, but fluid and dynamic, flowing through life with a give and take that acknowledges everyone else around us. Everything else around us.

As such, we must bear in mind that our actions and thoughts and decisions are consequential—they matter. Even the most obscure notion trapped in the deepest recess of our mind is significant. It alters who we are and all of our relationships, with ourselves at the least and Christ at the most. Every thought we have presses a little deeper into our souls, refining us and hardening us as human beings, until we become entrenched in one way of thinking, in one blended thought.

If we surrender to the belief that we are more or less important than another, we have not only lied to ourselves but have made Christ in us to be a liar. Christ surrendered not to pride nor self-condemnation, but to service. We have a responsibility to represent Christ, ourselves and our neighbors to everyone we meet. We are the preeminent reflections of our lives—we speak and act and tell stories about who we are, our creator and our experiences. We are canvas telling a story—and we choose every moment to how to tell that story. Our very lives and everything and everyone contained therein are penned every moment. And our constant state of community is thoroughly changed and adjusted and reformed every time we speak or act or think. Because regardless of whether we’ve actually changed something, or whether someone knows what we have thought about them, we have changed ourselves. And we know. And that knowledge becomes a catalyst or inhibitor of future growth: ours alone and as a community.

WEDNESDAY: CHALLENGE // Regarding Our Thoughts
We must pay attention to our actions and words—we must be ever-conscious to not give someone reason to resent the Gospel; to resent the love of Christ because we tainted it with our own brokenness. But we also must be vigilant to guard our hearts and minds, because our thoughts have immense power. Our thoughts can change our perceptions. Our thoughts can teach us that someone is this way or that. Or isn’t this way or that. Our thoughts become judgments, become fear, become anger, become loss. Such is the nature of self-focus.

But we are not bound to such practice. We are instructed to take a better way—a more noble way. Paul writes to the Church in Philippi that we must “think of ourselves the way Christ thought of himself.” Christ neither puffed himself nor tore himself down. He recognized who he was and what he wanted—to love others. He recognized his purpose in life and he began walking toward it. He didn’t walk over others. He didn’t push them out of the way. He didn’t abandon others. Instead, Jesus invited everyone who would listen to join him in the journey. He surrendered his position and prestige to become something we can grasp. We ought not waste that opportunity.

Are we conscious of our actions and their effects on those around us?

Do we consider what our thoughts do to us?

Do we consider how those thoughts influence our opinions of others?

What is your greatest struggle toward others?

How do you overcome that struggle?

How do you keep your
heart and mind focused on Christ?



THURSDAY: REFLECT




FRIDAY: THINK
There are times when we do know what God’s purpose is; whether we will let the vision be turned into actual character depends on us, not on God. If we prefer to relax on the mountaintop and live in the memory of the vision, then we will be of no real use in the ordinary things of which human life is made. We have to learn to live in reliance upon what we saw in the vision, not simply live in ecstatic delight and conscious reflection upon God. This means living the realities of our lives in the light of the vision until the truth of the vision is actually realized in us. Every bit of our training is in that direction. Learn to thank God for making His demands known.

Oswald Chambers
My Utmost for his Highest
October 4

PRAY
Lord, teach us to control our hearts and minds as we interact with the world around us. Teach us to see you in everything and everyone around us, and to see the value of the world you created. We want to learn to take ownership over our thoughts and opinions, to create life and not death with those ideas. Lord, we want to find you amongst the busyness of life and not destroy the value of others within ourselves. We love you, Lord.

amen

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Dreaming Generosity

MONDAY: READ
Philippians 1:21-30
And I’m going to keep that celebration going because I know how it’s going to turn out. Through your faithful prayers and the generous response of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, everything he wants to do in and through me will be done. I can hardly wait to continue on my course. I don’t expect to be embarrassed in the least. On the contrary, everything happening to me in this jail only serves to make Christ more accurately known, regardless of whether I live or die. They didn’t shut me up; they gave me a pulpit! Alive, I’m Christ’s messenger; dead, I’m his bounty. Life versus even more life! I can’t lose.

As long as I’m alive in this body, there is good work for me to do. If I had to choose right now, I hardly know which I’d choose. Hard choice! The desire to break camp here and be with Christ is powerful. Some days I can think of nothing better. But most days, because of what you are going through, I am sure that it’s better for me to stick it out here. So I plan to be around awhile, companion to you as your growth and joy in this life of trusting God continues. You can start looking forward to a great reunion when I come visit you again. We’ll be praising Christ, enjoying each other.

Meanwhile, live in such a way that you are a credit to the Message of Christ. Let nothing in your conduct hang on whether I come or not. Your conduct must be the same whether I show up to see things for myself or hear of it from a distance. Stand united, singular in vision, contending for people’s trust in the Message, the good news, not flinching or dodging in the slightest before the opposition. Your courage and unity will show them what they’re up against: defeat for them, victory for you—and both because of God. There’s far more to this life than trusting in Christ. There’s also suffering for him. And the suffering is as much a gift as the trusting. You’re involved in the same kind of struggle you saw me go through, on which you are now getting an updated report in this letter.

TUESDAY: THOUGHTS
Dreaming Generosity
Life is an eclectic blend of choices and dreams. The former come both hard and easy, the latter always pressing the former. Our dreams are simply an idea pressing on our choices, compelling those choices this direction or that. There are no good or bad dreamers, only those who will or will not allow their dreams to pressure their choices. And our dreams are the fruit of what God’s Spirit is rooting in us—our dreams are an extension of who we are, often becoming an outward expression of inward creativity; the formulation of thoughts and ideas in a beautiful mix of desire and growth. Sometimes complete with means and opportunity; typically not. It is these dreams that God places within us that define who and what and why we are.

Some of us don’t know these dreams. Perhaps we’ve not searched inward. Perhaps we cannot understand them. Some of us cannot believe these dreams. We refuse to broaden our thinking. Some of us don’t want our dreams. We’re afraid, confused.

Yet it is in these dreams we find a little piece of God’s ambition carefully placed within us. It is in our dreams we see God’s generosity. His thinking is so much bigger than our own—his quiet, still voice gentle enough to foster that dream yet strong enough to hold it up. If we listen, that still voice will grow us, challenge us, refine us and pressure us. It is that pressure that then drives our choices. We ought to be pressured, weary, broken, confused, frustrated, challenged, angered, tested. It is the struggles of our soul that provide a birthplace for dreams. And it is through those dreams we become changed.

WEDNESDAY: CHALLENGE
There is little benefit in discussing how to hear that still, quiet voice. It is elusive, dangerous and unique. It is not of value to spend time chasing it; we are better served to stop and wait. God is never in a hurry. Nor does he speak loudly. And the obvious question is: how does all this talk of dreams and choices and whispers relate to the generosity of Christ? That is a question worthy of pursuit. It is the generosity of Christ that plants those dreams within us. It is those dreams that pressure our choices. Thus, to be attentive to Christ and the whispers he is filling us with is to challenge our choices. There are no rules whether we go this way or that, whether we spend out time or money or energy on one thing or another. There are no rules in the Jesus-led life governing our choices save two: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind; love your neighbor as yourself. Frame your choices in the context of those guiding principles and they suddenly become much clearer. And much more difficult. To be attentive to what Christ is whispering to us is to pressure our choices, and in doing so we not only foster our dreams but direct our steps.

What are your dreams?

How do those dreams affect your choices in life? In work? In play? In relationships?

Where do those dreams come from?

Can you see the generosity of Christ in those dreams?

Can you see the opportunity to use those dreams to be generous to others?

THURSDAY: REFLECT



FRIDAY: THINK
The main idea in the region of religion is – Your eyes upon God, not on men. Do not have as your motive the desire to be known as a praying man. Get an inner chamber in which to pray where no one knows you are praying, shut the door and talk to God in secret. Have no other motive than to know your Father in heaven. It is impossible to conduct your life as a disciple without definite times of secret prayer.

But when ye pray use not vain repetitions . . . (v.7). God does not hear us because we are in earnest, but only on the ground of Redemption. God is never impressed by our earnestness. Prayer is not simply getting things from God, that is a most initial form of prayer; prayer is getting into perfect communion with God. If the Son of God is formed in us by regeneration, He will press forward in front of our common sense and change our attitude to the things about which we pray.

- Oswald Chamber, My Utmost for His Highest (September 16)


PRAY

Lord, help us learn to listen for your voice amid the chaos of our lives and the world around us. Teach us to filter your voice out of the masses. Help us better understand how your voice is related to our dreams and how those dreams affect our choices. Help us to grow in you and to allow those dreams to pressure our choices, ultimately driving our choices, thoughts and actions in such a way as to fulfill those dreams. Your word says, “Whatever you set your hand to, do it with all your might.” We want to recognize our dreams that you’ve planted in us and do those things with all our might. In doing so, help us better understand your generosity and how to pass that on to those around us.  

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Business of Others

MONDAY: READ // ROMANS 13:8-14
Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.

For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume he should only be a vegetarian and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ’s table, wouldn’t it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn’t eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God’s welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.

Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.

What’s important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God’s sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. That’s why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.

So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister? I’d say it leaves you looking pretty silly—or worse. Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren’t going to improve your position there one bit. Read it for yourself in Scripture:

“As I live and breathe,” God says,
    “every knee will bow before me;
Every tongue will tell the honest truth
    that I and only I am God.”
So tend to your knitting. You’ve got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God.


TUESDAY: THOUGHTS // THE BUSINESS OF OTHERS
We have no business concerning ourselves with the conscience of others. We are neither in a place to choose another’s convictions nor suffer the ramifications, thus, why do we spend so much time judging, critiquing and attempting to control the decisions of our peers? We so often assume we know the intent of our neighbor by the manner of his or her actions. As finite creatures, however, we can never know the true intent or the history that led to those decisions. It is this arrogance and pride that robs us of our peace in Christ and, ultimately, hinders our ability to be generous in him. We cannot be generous and of pure heart when we secretly condemn our neighbors for their choices.

On the one hand, it is natural to disagree with our friends from time to time. But when those times occur, we must recognize and differentiate those decisions and convictions which are ours to make from those which are not. If we venture too far into policing the values and morals and choices of others, we lose sight of the generous love of Christ. These are not our responsibility, and thinking too long on them steals away our energy for personal growth in our lives. We may regret the choices of our friends, and we can certainly tell them if we disagree, but, when that conversation is finished we must let it rest. We can be generous in love if judge our friends to be inferior—our hearts become tinged with pride and a little less open for the changing work of Jesus Christ. We can change no one. We can “save” no one. We can only love with a generous and powerful love of Christ that chooses to listen and acknowledge that others are in different places than we are. If we can be this malleable for God, we can see a bit more about what is driving our neighbor’s convictions and, in the process, about what drives ours. This is the refining fire of God in our minds and God’s invitation to be generous in love and acceptance toward our neighbors. This is how we grow together, thought by thought, learning to love as Christ loved.

WEDNESDAY: CHALLENGE // RELATIONSHIPS
We throw around the concept of “speaking the truth in love”—we have diluted this practice from what God intended and wrapped it in our personal agendas and incessant desire to be right. In love, we can have a conversation with our brothers and sisters and we can express our own values and convictions, but we cannot, “in love,” change others’ opinions. The very nature of attempting to do so is rooted in pride, in the belief that our way of thinking is more right than theirs. It may have more wisdom, it may be more logical, it may be obvious to us that something in our brothers’ and sisters’ thinking is terribly wrong. If we enter into the conversation, however, with the intent to change them, we have diluted the love of God and tainted it with pride and ignorance. Furthermore, when our agenda is to change the convictions of our friends, we can no longer listen—not to what they are saying, nor to what we may learn.

Only Christ has the power to say, “Go and sin no more,” and actually influence a life to do so. Our task is to show our friends that we will stand beside them, whether we agree with them or not. And that is the most difficult thing about relationships, because it is a unique story we must figure out for each and every person. That is a generous love barred of strings attached and personal agendas.

How often do you enter a conversation for the purpose of changing someone else’s beliefs, convictions or opinions?

Is it more effective to point out all the reasons someone else is wrong or the reasons we are right?
Can either be effective, or are we better served to have the conversation then let the relationship refine the answer out of us all?

Think back to a time you tried to change someone’s opinion about a belief or conviction—what happened?

Can we change others’ beliefs?

What is our role in our relationships? What does God want of us?

How do you respond when someone close to you makes a choice you disagree with? How does that change depending on the choice or the person?

THURSDAY: REFLECT



FRIDAY: THINK
Simplicity is the secret of seeing things clearly. A saint does not think clearly for a long while, but a saint ought to see clearly without any difficulty. You cannot think a spiritual muddle clear, you have to obey it clear. In intellectual matters you can think things out, but in spiritual matters you will think yourself into cotton wool. If there is something upon which God has put His pressure, obey in that matter, bring your imagination into captivity to the obedience of Christ with regard to it and everything will become as clear as daylight. The reasoning capacity comes afterwards, but we never see along that line, we see like children; when we try to be wise we see nothing (Matthew 11:25).

Oswald Chambers
My Utmost for his Highest
September 14

PRAY
Father, teach us to value the lives, thoughts and convictions of our friends. Teach us to be generous in life toward our neighbors, even those we may vehemently disagree with. It is through listening to what others have to say that we find what you want us to learn. Help us to find purpose in our disagreements with others and to see these differences not as opportunities to change someone else but as opportunities to refine who we are, to grow in who you made us to be. Lord, work in our hearts to see the good in our neighbors, despite their choices. Move in us a desire to support and stand beside our peers even if we disagree with their choices; teach us to recognize they are in a very different place on this journey and their beliefs are simply a product of where you have them, from where they have come and to where they are going. Likewise, help us to understand our beliefs are the same and to seek out your wisdom to refine our thoughts. Jesus, the root of all of this is acceptance and value. We want to prioritize these things.

amen


Monday, September 8, 2014

Love in Value

MONDAY
READ // ROMANS 13:8-14
Don’t run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other. When you love others, you complete what the law has been after all along. The law code—don’t sleep with another person’s spouse, don’t take someone’s life, don’t take what isn’t yours, don’t always be wanting what you don’t have, and any other “don’t” you can think of—finally adds up to this: Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can’t go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love.


But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing! God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work he began when we first believed. We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!

TUESDAY
THOUGHTS // LOVE IN VALUE
Everything in the Law culminates in love. Paul’s message to the Church in Rome is rather straightforward: if you value the lives of others, if you truly love them, you will be fulfilling the Law. It is this love Jesus was speaking of when he spoke of the two greatest commandments: Love God. And love others. There is no differentiation between this neighbor and that. Jesus never gave us a caveat or condition. It was one command: love others.

And this love is unlike any other. It is neither ignorant nor na├»ve; it is neither romantic nor emotional. This love Jesus directs is more simple, yet it painfully and persistently reaches into the depths of who we are when we choose to follow him. It is a love built upon value and acceptance of our neighbors when and where they are. This is a love that chooses to see the positive and good—the light in our neighbors as it floods through the dark. This love does not ignore the harmful and hurtful actions; it does not masquerade as foolishness. It is neither feel-good nor whimsical.

Instead, it is difficult and dangerous, intentional and generous. Rather than ignoring hurt, it learns from its experiences but choose to value good. It is the willful laying down of our pride and judgment to find the value in those around us. It is the choice to see through someone’s shortcomings at their intent, at their heart, at their goal. To see into someone and find the child God created, choosing to know that person, rather the weak and scarred shell our culture has formed. 

WEDNESDAY
Challenge // DISCOMFORT & LOVE
This love is a generous love. It constitutes the giving of ourselves, giving over of our pride, and giving into God’s desire for wholeness. It is our action-point as followers of Jesus: we must do nothing to earn God’s love, as it is given through grace and mercy. It is, however, what we must do to make that love complete in our lives and the lives of others—to take it for all it is worth. Generosity, then, is as much a part of us as it is those around us. The Great Generosity of Jesus is noted in his sacrifice—it is not that he came to offer grace, but that he took on the consequences of our sins and suffered that we might freely accept his gift. No strings attached. Our generosity, likewise, is most meaningful when we give not out of abundance, but out of need; it is most pointed when we sacrifice something, whether from our hands or from our hearts. It is in our discomfort that our hearts are most accessible to God’s leading.

When was the last time you gave when it was uncomfortable?

What were the circumstances?
Why was it hard?

What is most uncomfortable to give—time? Money? Attention? Belongings?

How do you decide what to give, how much to give?

Are your decisions rooted in an intentional and generous love—value—or is it out of expectation or tradition?

THURSDAY
REFLECT





FRIDAY
THINK & PRAY
We are to be centres through which Jesus can flow as rivers of living water in blessing to every one. Some of us are like the Dead Sea, always taking in but never giving out, because we are not rightly related to the Lord Jesus. As surely as we receive from Him, He will pour out through us, and in the measure He is not pouring out, there is a defect in our relationship to Him. Is there anything between you and Jesus Christ? Is there anything that hinders your belief in Him? If not, Jesus says, out of you will flow rivers of living water. It is not a blessing passed on, not an experience stated, but a river continually flowing. Keep at the Source, guard well your belief in Jesus Christ and your relationship to Him, and there will be a steady flow for other lives, no dryness and no deadness.

Oswald Chambers
My Utmost for his Highest
September 7

PRAY
Father, we thank you for your grace and generous love, poured out through Jesus into us, that we might know you better. You have shown us sacrificial love at great cost; we want to show that love to others. Refine in us a desire and love for our neighbors—teach us to value each and every person we meet. Teach us to care for them, to see you in them. Teach us to see the child you created them to be, past the brokenness. We want to give of ourselves and those belongings you have entrusted us to steward, to bring your Kingdom to our community.

amen