Over our 25 years, HEARTLIGHT.org has passed along the creative blessings of many famous authors who graciously shared their writing with our readers. This year as we celebrate "Shining the Light" for a quarter-century, we will repeat some of Phil's previous posts over the years. We hope this focused message on Jesus calls you to deeper discipleship.
A part of us would like to take our worship to God and compartmentalize it — you know, relegate it to a certain time and place. This, of course, turns vibrant faith into stale religion, but it sure makes God's presence in our lives more manageable and less demanding.
Jesus pretty well shattered the illusion of compartmentalized worship — though most of the world still tries to cling to it — with his statement on the greatest commands, or what we're calling The Jesus Vibe. Jesus says we're called to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, and minds just as we're called to love our neighbors just as we love ourselves.
Such comprehensive love doesn't leave room for compartmentalizing my life into manageable parts. It's expansive and all-inclusive. My love for Jesus demands every fiber of my being and every moment of my day! My love for those around me should be as centered and focused on others' needs as it focuses on my own needs and wants.
Just in case we miss this point, Jesus comes along and makes this point of comprehensiveness even clearer when he says:
"Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift"(Matthew 5:23-24).
Put in cornbread English; God isn't going to accept anything we offer him — our hearts, our Sunday worship, our offerings, our praise, our hopes, our private prayers, our dreams — if we knowingly remain at odds with a brother or sister in Christ. The two loves in The Jesus Vibe are intricately connected. Loving God and loving each other are not options or choices or degrees of faithfulness: they are the two sides of the same coin. Without both, there is no coin. We can't love God and withhold our love for others.
We can't be at a hostile impasse with a brother and sister in Christ whom we've seen and claim to love God whom we haven't seen (1 John 4:20). God won't forgive us if we are unforgiving (Matthew 6:14-15). If we are harsh in our judgment of others' hearts and motives, God will use that same standard of harshness to judge us (Matthew 7:1-2). In fact, Jesus tells the powerful story of "the unmerciful servant" to show how God detests those on whom he's lavishly showered forgiveness, but who in return hold on to debts and grudges toward others (Matthew 18:21-35). We can't praise God from a well poisoned by bitterness and cursing toward those made in his image (James 3:9-12).
Our standard of love, grace, and forgiveness is simple: we are to forgive as lavishly, completely, and graciously as we have been forgiven (Ephesians 4:32). We are to be merciful just as our Father, whom we claim to love, is merciful (Luke 6:36). Jesus sums it up with this clear but comprehensive demand we call "The Golden Rule":
"So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12).
As I read back through the two teachings of the Lord, I'm struck by his strong, universal emphasis. They're comprehensive. They're without exception. They cover every area of our lives. There is no room to compartmentalize and separate our lives into work, home, hobby, and church. A JesuShaped life must have the background music of the Lord's character and compassion as we deal with each person and circumstance. We want to be tuned to God's standard and live to the beat to God's rhythm at all times.
In emphasizing Jesus' teaching on forgiveness, I'm also struck by two spiritual realities — one earthbound and the other heavenly.
First, despite my commitment to live a JesuShaped life, I find it hard to be as forgiving and gracious as God is. Forgiveness and compassion are hard work if I allow that forgiveness to move beyond special circumstances and permeate the daily fabric of my life. I realize that the best I can offer God is my intentions to be forgiving, my commitment to make forgiveness real in my daily life, and my confession of failure to him when I find myself lagging in this regard. With profound humility, I have to cry out to him and say, "Father, I can't do this without your help!"
And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us (Romans 5:5).
In these times when forgiveness is harder than I can accomplish on my own efforts, I realize that Paul's beautiful ending to his prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21 is more than a doxology; it is a promise I can rely upon to help me as I journey to be more like Jesus:
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (Ephesians 3:20—21).
Thank God that as I pursue Jesus, the Spirit empowers me to become more completely JesuShaped (2 Corinthians 3:18).