I belong with God and I belong with you.
These are words that every Christian should be able to say in the presence of any other Christian. We all have a need to belong and this is because of a core truth about what it is to be a human being. Before sin entered our world, we were created with a NEED to love one another and to love God. The creation of woman, the second human being was based entirely on this need. When Jesus summed up the law as loving God and loving others, He was not just pointing out the shortest way to describe all that God wants from us. He was describing the only way we can be truly fulfilled as human beings. Sin did not take away that need in us. It just covered it up like a handful of fig leaves.
If we need to belong that means we have to find new ways of relating to one another. Constant competition, trying to prove who is better or worse, erodes away at that sense of belonging, both for those judging and those receiving that judgment. When we compare one another we are not being with them, we are objectifying them and separating ourselves from relationship with them. The man who constantly compares his wife with every other woman that passes by is not really married or soon won't be. He is not loving and he is not finding his sense of belonging with his wife.
Jesus tells us that this judgmental attitude that tears down our relationships begins with our eyes. It is a question of perception, or rather of misperceptions. Our imperfections cloud our vision and cause us to see imperfections in others, which may or may not actually be there the their eyes as well. Our points of view are broken and instead of seeking healing for ourselves, we try to fix everyone around us. We work so hard to fix everyone else because we cannot fix ourselves, investing our best treasures into that work in the name of Jesus, and like a herd of ungrateful swine, or wild dogs, they come back demanding for more after they have trampled our work into the dust. We leave empty handed, discouraged, frustrated, hurt, still every bit as broken ourselves as when we started, and feeling like we still don't belong.
Jesus says we need to ask for help ourselves instead of fixing others. Imagine Adam and Eve first meeting each other. In forming that ideal relationship, do you think Adam tried to buy her friendship, her love…? What would he have given her for a lifetime of devotion (which according to Genesis was a lot longer than we live today)? Or do you think he was wise enough, gentle enough, humble enough, to know that he did nothing, had nothing, and could do nothing to deserve her? His only real option to come to a place of belonging with her was simply to ask her if she would be with him.
We build bridges by asking and we tear them down by trying to fix one another and it is in belonging together that our imperfect eyes are able to compensate for one another allowing us to see truth and allowing us to see God at work all around us. You may not realize it but it is easier to see God at work when you have a whole community you belong with looking for Him than if you are trying to do it alone.
Who do you belong with?
Where in your life do you most struggle belonging?
What do we do about those who come and try to fix us though? How do we know if we are not sure whether someone is actually belonging with us or just trying to use us? There are deceivers - wolves in sheep clothing. They are ones who ask in order to take rather than to share. They do not want to belong with us, they want to possess us. How can we tell who they are?
Jesus tells us to watch their fruit. Do they belong with God? Do you see evidence that they belong with God. Some people just radiate God's presence and goodness. Others seem to flicker with His presence more often. Some of these people shine with God's light in just a few parts of their lives and may not even know it themselves, but we can see God at work in them. Do they belong with God or do they only want to belong with us?
How do you recognize those who are with God?
How do keep others from just fixing or using you?
At some point our relationship needs to grow from acquaintance to friend and from friend to family. This happens between Jesus and us. The disciples started out belonging with Jesus, but after 3 years, a lot of challenges, a lot of miracles, and trust built, they no longer belonged with Jesus, they belonged to Jesus. They were His and He was theirs and nothing in this world could separate them. The two had become one. They no longer did things in order to earn the favor of God. They knew they already had it because they had given themselves to Him. They served because God asked them to serve. Even in that most intimate relationship between God and ourselves, God still asks of us and we still ask of Him and when we meet Him in person someday, He will already know us because we belong to Him.
Those disciples also learned to belong to each other. They may have scattered when Jesus was arrested, but most of them were gathered together to witness His resurrection and those that were not were named as doubting, not being faithful. We belong to those we trust and we will suffer with them. Either we will belong to Jesus and suffer with Him, or we will belong to this world and suffer with it. There is no escape from suffering, just a choice of what kind of suffering we will face and when. The storm is coming, the rain will pour and the wind will blow and our house - our life belongs to whatever ground we have built it upon.
I belong to God and I belong to you.
Who do you trust most in your life?
Who would you be willing to suffer for?
(Taken from Matthew 7)
You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
How do you change the flavor of the earth and shine God's light in the world?
Give. Fast. Pray.
Bank with God, not with the world… and don't spend your days worrying about all the details.
It's not complicated. Everything we do comes back to the questions…
Do you truly trust God?
How does that affect the way you live on a daily basis?
Let's break this down a little bit more. Jesus calls us to give as we love. We give to our neighbors as we are called to love them. We become neighbors to those we find in need and give, not because it is our quick and easy response, but because giving is a part of loving. If our loved ones were in need, we would give to help them. We would not stop an analyze our giving. We would not begin a tally of what we might be owed back. We give because we are called to love.
We give to God as well though. What can we give the one who already has everything? We give ourselves. We take away from the things we want and waste it lavishly on Him, not because He needs it, but because we want to show Him love. We give our time, energy, strength… We turn off the television and we hand the remote to God. We find ways to stop doing our own business and focus in entirely upon Him. We give like this because we love God. This is fasting.
What is easy and what is difficult for you to give to show love to others?
What is easy and what is difficult for you to give to show your love to God?
When we pray, we don't pray with empty words. We pray to the one who created us, who knows and loves us more than any other. He is our hiding place, no matter where we find ourselves, and there is no place else that we come alive the way we do when we are in God's presence. We do not speak His name in hushed tones. We rejoice in it! All the desires of our heart pale and melt away into the single plea that God would come establish His kingdom here among us. We do not pray for revival. We pray for heaven to come down here, so that when the day comes that we pass from this life into the next, we don't miss a beat. We will do whatever it takes for God to have His way with us here. We know that life comes from God and we are dependent upon Him, so we ask for whatever we need to be strengthened and inspired to serve Him well today. We freely release the debts of those who owe us as we ask forgiveness for our own debts that we have yet to repay to God. We will not let the problem of debt hold any of us back, or anyone around us, from serving God to their full capacity. We ask for guidance, not trusting our own understanding but acknowledging that He is the one who directs our path. We ask that He release us from the snares and pits of the enemy.
Looking at this model of prayer, what kinds of small prayer types would you divide it into?
Which of those types of prayers do you find yourself praying most often/least often?
Our world is on life support and it is fighting to pull the plug on itself. There is nothing in this world that will last. There is nothing in this world that will truly satisfy us. There is nothing in this world that will make us secure. There is nothing in this world that will save us. Every dollar we invest outside of God's will is a dollar lost. Every drop of sweat we spend trying to build something in this world apart from God is a wasted effort. We proclaim that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13) not because He somehow gives us superpowers, but because apart from Him, I can do nothing (John 15:5).
It's not just our actions that demonstrate our faith either. It is our thoughts as well. When we dwell upon things that do not matter or are outside of our control, instead of seeking God and trusting in His provision, we are tossed about like waves, unstable in all we do, and should not expect to receive what we ask because we are full of doubt, instead of full of faith. (James 1:6-8) We either believe that God created us in love, watches over and provides for us with love, and will never forsake us… or we don’t. Oh but we all worry every day you say! Perhaps, but we do many things every day that we do not let linger in our lives. Worry is spiritual uncleanliness that will lead us in spiritual sickness the way a household that is unable to dispose of sewage will soon become filled with disease, not only unlivable itself, but contagious to those around it.
What is one thing you have found helps you stop worrying and trust that God will provide?
- from Matthew 6
"Blessed are the poor in spirit..."
He changed the world by calling the least, the last, and the lost. In a world that only knew how to use the poor, He only gave. They were not any more loyal than the rich and powerful. They came to be fed, healed, delivered from spiritual oppression. Some of them said thank you. Some did not. Many people followed Him. A few actually put His words into practice. In the end, they all either turned on Him or abandoned Him, and He died... perhaps the poorest spirit of them all.
"You are the salt of the earth... the light of the world..."
But they were not. They were nobodies. The man who memorized this message was a hated tax collector and traitor to his own kind when he first heard these words. He rated below Judas the thief. On their best days, they were just people, trying to get by in a world that seemed set against them. Whatever He saw in them, they did not see in themselves or in each other. It is a strange thing to have the one in Whom you hope, put their faith in you.
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets..."
The laws and their interpretations piled up more and more all the time. It seemed impossible to please God. How can you earn a life of peace and comfort? Nothing seemed to work. They wanted to give up and come up with new laws, simpler laws. They wanted to start fresh. He looked at the broken mess of their lives and told them they were not far from God at all. They were just missing one thing.
"You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder'..."
Justice, in its purest form, has always been 'an eye for an eye'. Justice had gone missing though. When the Jews were trampled down by the Romans, where was their justice? When their property was confiscated and their people sold into slavery, where was their justice? Injustice led to anger and desperation, and that led to hate and violence and vengeance. That story ends with rivers of blood poured out across the nations. He does not deny the injustice. He denies the vengeance. He denies the violence. He defies the hate and the desperation, and He even defies the anger experienced in the face of injustice. What are we to do in the face of injustice? Seek reconcilliation above all else, He says.
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery..."
To be poor is to know want and to want what is not yours. He proclaims that it is not merely the act of taking that which is not yours which is wrong, but even the wanting itself. Not only is anger intolerable, so is desire. Anything that causes uncontrolled desire should be cut off. Marriage is a calling from God and it is to be entered into and lived trusting in God's provision, not demanding fulfillment from one another.
"Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not swear falsely...'"
It is a human privilege to be able to speak truth. The powerful ability to speak is part of our connection to the image of God. Lies therefore are a desecration of that image. This desecration becomes even worse when we speak untruth and point to God. There are no need for vows. Every person carries the seal of heaven as one of God's creations, as one of God's children. That is enough, and more than anything else we can call up to vouch for us.
"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye...'"
Injustice is not defeated with punishment. Injustice is defeated by reconciliation. In a complicated world of desperate needs and broken dreams, sin compounds upon itself as one misdeed is countered by one worse. Evil snowballs into atrocity. 'An eye for an eye' was the attempt to cut the cancer out before it spread too far. He is not proposing surgery though. What He speaks to them is a cure for the cancer. He will not cut anyone out and He will not let us cut them out either.
"You have heard that it was said 'You shall love your neighbor...'"
You have set the bar too low, He explains. From the beginning, we were meant to be extraordinary beings. We were made in the image of God. We were taught to be Holy, because He was Holy. When we saw the world fall apart around us, we lost our confidence in God. We failed when we tried to fix the world ourselves. We made it worse. So we lowered the standards for ourselves and repeated this process over and over and over again. Now we have no standards and we still cannot seem to satisfy that overwhelming sense of injustice in us. Depression sinks in as our hope goes out. There is no way out. We are powerless against the waves of death and destruction that come our way.
But His voice rings out from the chaos. It's time to raise the bar. It is time to set your sight back on the God who made you. You will never hit the target if you keep aiming below it. Anyone can just get by... You are a child of God and it is time to start acting like one.
Trying to hear the music in the din of many voices.
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