Today I was pondering Jesus’ words when he said, “Bless those who curse you”. I have often thought of the sentiment behind the verse as meaning that we should pray for those who do hurtful things to us and speak hurtful things about us.
But today it struck me a different way.
Jesus’ instructions are always taking us the extra mile. They are always getting us past that “comfortable religious ritual” into the uncomfortable “death to self, but alive in Christ” heart attitude. It’s not the hardest thing ever to pray for someone who has hurt you. Yes, it can take some overcoming, but we can slide into it without too much depth of struggle or thought.
“Lord, please bless _______”, we might mumble. “Please rescue them from their [*insert sin here*].” There. We did it.
But today I realized, Jesus is presenting us with two overt expressions of feeling here.
When someone curses you, they don’t just sit on their beds at home, mumbling under their breath. Well, maybe they do…but that’s not usually the full measure of it.
No, no, no.
They’ll yell in your face. They’ll barrage you with text, emails, letters, phone calls (sometimes even face-to-face….though this is super rare, because it takes courage) full of their hate. They’ll find people to tell about how awful you are. It doesn’t matter if these people have any idea what is going on or not…or if they even know you – but they WILL know about what a terrible person you are.
So, in the same way, God calls us to actively BLESS those same people. “They will know we are Christians by our love.”
We aren’t called to sit mumbling on our bed. We are called to be up, actively looking for ways to speak well of these people to those around us. We are called to think the best of them and their intentions, and look for ways to pour care and real love upon them. This is the way of God’s world. This is the way of Jesus Himself.
As I stopped again to think about this, as the morning went on, I realized this very thing is what Jesus Himself has done. He doesn’t ask us to do the impossible. He has shown us that the impossible IS POSSIBLE, as we walk in the Spirit.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
In the midst of the cruelest hate and unfair accusations, Jesus speaks well of those surrounding Him like dogs to devour Him. He doesn’t ask for fire from heaven to consume them for their sins. He doesn’t ask for God to discipline them. No…as He hangs on the cross – the most tortuous and embarrassing death you can imagine – He pleads with the Father for their forgiveness.
And likewise, He was there on that very cross for millions to come after who, like those standing there in the flesh, mocked Him, spoke ill of Him, and who would break His good laws day after day after day without remorse or care.
So He could heap blessing upon us! He suffered and died so that He could look for ways to bless us, so that He could intercede before the Father on our behalf – to speak well of us before the Throne of God, even when we fail. Jesus died, and rose in power and glory so that He could call us Sons and Daughters, and lead our wandering, sinful hearts out of the mire and into newness, and cleanness and beauty and joy and LIFE!
When we fail, and break His heart, He comes before the Father and says, “That is my child. Have mercy, Father.”
I was thinking about love languages and, well, showing love to people in general. I think at least in part love languages probably fall in with our overeager tendency to dissect and label every aspect of the human being, but this is a little different from previousposts.
The problem is, showing love is often packaged as a luxury. “This person likes gifts, so I will give him a card.” “This person likes quality time, so I will take her on a date.” They all end up being somewhat based on an event, a single crescendo of affection. These things are not trivial, but crescendos are nothing without the context of rhythm in an ongoing melody. What is quality time without quantity time? What are cards and gifts without provision for needs? What are words of affirmation without words? What is physical affection without physical presence? What are acts of service without long term commitment? Essentially, showing love is usually marketed like interior decorating rather than building. Curtains are not without their purpose and significance, but they’re nothing without a foundation to your house. I think this is mainly because love is treated as synonymous with gratification and romance. If loving someone means gratifying them, it will always be optional: a luxury investment in the emotional economy, so to speak. Love is not the act of gratification. Hopefully it does tug out at least a few smiles, but love is meeting needs.
Love is patient – This is not a gift that can be given in a brief moment. This is a commitment to the whole of situation, perhaps decades. Love is kind – And not randomly. This takes active training. Does not envy – You aren’t weighing whether you are gratified against someone else’s life, and you aren’t charging it to your loved ones’ accounts. Is not boastful – Throw away bragging rights at love’s door. There will be no room for the poison of self-glorification here. Does not behave unseemly – No qualifiers here. There are some actions, words, and facial expressions that must simply be swallowed and eliminated from our hearts. Seeks not her own – This doesn’t sound like a single “event” does it? There is never a “one time I was selfless.” Love is also not about what we get out of it. Thinks no evil – Seriously swallow those thoughts. Take every thought captive, put to death every thought that is a traitor (yes, death is one of the biggest love words). Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth – Yes, meeting needs means being the bad guy if evil is seeking to be gratified. If love were gratification, you would be a cheerleader for every pet sin that grieves the heart of God. This could well become the death of the one you love. Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things – Who ever heard of endurance as a love language? “All things” is based on needs, struggles, challenges, pains, deaths, betrayal, not only on compliments or occasionally taking out the trash. Love never fails. – Gratification always will. Don’t found your love on wallpaper and a nice pair of drapes. Build your house on the corner stone, walk in step with the Spirit, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow daily. Love never fails.
“No one sews a piece of un-shrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins – and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.” Mark 2:21-22
This morning, I was reading this seemingly enigmatic phrase spoken by Jesus, in the midst of a seemingly unrelated situation. “Why is he suddenly rambling on about fixing clothes and wine?”
I was struck today by the real importance of his words – as massively significant today (if not even more so) as they were 2,000 years ago.
I see so many people go through the same issues that Jesus addresses here….so many end up hurt, confused, bitter, and walk away from the Lord, because they haven’t heard this simple truth before. It isn’t a popular one today, and many churches even have ceased teaching it. But it remains just as pertinent as when Jesus shared it.
It’s also shockingly simple. And, in fact, the way Jesus shares it here is no enigma – it’s actually dumbed-down so that it can make complete sense to any living, breathing human on the planet.
SO….what, then is this shockingly simple, life-changing truth?
Jesus is saying here, that we cannot apply “Christianity” to our old lives. We cannot expect to be filled with new life in Jesus while walking around in our OLD “wineskins”.
Many people will tell youngsters that all they have to do is say a prayer, and then they’ll be saved and will go to Heaven when they die. They then assume that they’re Christians from that point onward, and continue on through their lives, roughly haphazardly, unchanged, struggling….and yet, with the assurance that they’re saved. Cue life. Trials. Horrible situations that arise. Temptations. They wonder why these things have happened to them, and get mad at God for allowing them. They get bitter, disillusioned by their expectations of what Christianity was supposed to do for them. And, ultimately, they walk away from the Lord…because He didn’t perform like He was “supposed” to, according to their preconceived notions of what Christianity was supposed to be. BUT…what they failed to understand (quite often, because no one bothered to mention it to them) was that Jesus isn’t a patch that we can stick on our old lives. We can’t have the joy of His fresh wine of salvation in our old skins.
“But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:20-24
“So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Romans 8:12-13
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” Romans 6:1-13
There are many other scriptures, too, which speak of these things. But I think there are enough examples for now, to illustrate the point Jesus was making.
Jesus tells us to put off our old lives. Becoming a Christian means more than saying a prayer (though that is, in fact, where it must start…and Jesus does come to us, and begins to dwell in us at that moment). It means letting the Holy Spirit search our hearts, and break away from our hearts and lives anything that is of our old, sinful nature. It means gladly letting go of our sinful desires – exchanging them for the new desires that Christ puts within us. It means turning from our old passions and pursuits, and seeking Christ’s direction for our lives. It does NOT mean holding on to our sinful lifestyles while going to church. When Jesus comes in, He comes in to change us. And if we do not allow that radical change of lifestyle and heart, there will be a tearing, and a bursting. Just as in the story of the Ark of the Covenant being brought into the Temple of Dagon (read about it in 1 Samuel 5), Jesus doesn’t play well with other Gods. When He comes in, the other gods in our hearts will be smashed to pieces…and if we aren’t willing for that to happen, and we keep trying to pick them up, and put them back on their thrones, the Lord’s presence is going to have to leave. There’s only one throne in our lives, and only one master of our souls. It can only be Jesus and following His ways (“Christian”, coincidently means “follower of Christ”), or we are following something or someone else. We cannot have both. We cannot put the freshness of Christ into our old, dead wineskins. The repair of our broken hearts cannot be mended by the newness of Jesus, if we are unwilling for the rest of our hearts to be made new as well.
1.) Have you been made completely new by Christ? Or does your life look much the same as the rest of your peers?
2.) Is there something you have been unwilling to give up or surrender to Christ? What is it that you are gaining from it? Is it worth pushing the presence of God out of your life?
3.) Did you once have a vibrant relationship with Jesus…but are now feeling it to be dull and lifeless? Ask God to show you where along the way you may have gotten to a point of being unwilling to surrender something that He asked of you…or where you took back something of your old lifestyle. Chances are good that you will be able to find just such a point, and if you are willing to revisit it, and make that step of surrender, you can be filled again with the new wine of Jesus’ presence again!