You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.

Luke 6:36

Recently I explored the truth that as children of God, we are all being transformed into the likeness of Jesus. Our heavenly Father wants us to think, act, respond like Jesus. Compassion is one more way we should look like Jesus.

Jesus spoke these words to the crowds gathered to hear him in a message known best as the Sermon on the Mount. In Luke’s record of this message, these words conclude a pericope on loving our enemies. This is one of the most difficult teachings of Jesus – at least for me. And it directly ties to the theme of “asking” I explored earlier this week.

Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back.

Luke 6:30

As I read this again, I found myself pondering, “How does this make me look like Jesus?”

This is the essence of Jesus. He gives to anyone who asks, regardless if they are deserving. He gives even to those who do not ask. In Paul’s letter to Rome, he says that while we were still far away from God, before we deserved even a sideways glance, Jesus gave…he gave his life. (Romans 5:8) It is while I was an enemy of God that he showed me his deepest love.

Loving my enemies is difficult. But it is what I am to do if I want to look like Jesus. I can’t do this by myself. My reliance is on Jesus, who demonstrated it best and now gives me the ability to do supernatural things – like loving my enemies – because he lives in me. Never was I intended to do this on my own.

Perhaps that is one goal of Jesus’ teaching. He sets the bar so high to clearly show it can’t be done with human effort. I need the Holy Spirit to empower me. I need to ask for help.

And he will freely provide all I need. As Jesus told the disciples, “Give as freely as you have received!” (Matthew 10:8)

As followers of Jesus, we are invited to freely ask him for all things. Asking without doubt and with pure motives are prerequisites for receiving, but from that place of abundance, we can freely give to others. More than our money or our things, people need our love, compassion and acceptance. Jesus didn’t have material possessions to share with others, so he shared something more valuable: his life.

Who can you share your life with today?

Questions – they are kind of a big deal. Willingness to ask is a precursor to receiving. Jesus said it this way…

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

Matthew 7:7-8

Yesterday we read that James invites us to ask for wisdom if we are lacking in that area. The only caveat is we need unwavering faith that we will receive it. There is another section of his letter that highlights the need to ask.

You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.

James 4:2-3

How many times have I needed or wanted something, but didn’t want to ask for it? Even something as simple as “please pass the salt” can be difficult to say at times.

When I ask, I admit need. I was taught to be self-sufficient, resourceful, independent. Admitting a need is contrary to these deeply ingrained habits. So, instead of asking, I scheme other ways to get what I want/need without help. This bit of scripture says I have it all wrong.

God delights to give his children good gifts. He delights in supplying my needs. He stands ready to assist. But I don’t ask. And when I get around to asking, my motives are wrong.

Reflecting on this, it seems to me asking for wisdom comes first. Fully confident that I will receive wisdom, I use it to check my motives when a desire for something presents itself. Am I jealous of someone else? Is this desire for my own pleasure? Is it to impress my neighbors and friends?

And then I need to ask, presenting my request to Jesus who delights in giving me good things for my enjoyment. In another New Testament letter, Paul writes this to Timothy:

… {our} trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment…use…money to do good… be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life.

1 Timothy 6:17-19

The message to me is START ASKING! And when I do, I need to believe with unwavering confidence that my asking will result in receiving if my motives are pure.

What is it that you are lacking right now? Is it wisdom? Ask! Is it faith? Ask! Is it resources? Ask! We do not have because we don’t ask. So, ask!

wise old owl sat in an oak,

The more he heard, the less he spoke;

The less he spoke, the more he heard;

Why aren’t we all like that wise old bird?

According to this old saying, wisdom is gained through silence and observation. Did the wisdom initiate the silent observation or did the silent observation give birth to the wisdom? A conundrumf for sure!

The letter of Jesus’ brother, James, gives a different method for gaining wisdom.

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.

James 1:5

Simple as that! If you need it, ask for it and it’s yours. There is only one caveat. If you ask, you have to believe it is yours without wavering. Otherwise, James says, you display divided loyalty. Who do you really trust: God or the world?

But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.

James 1:6-8

The wisdom that God gives has very specific qualities about it. The world values wisdom that is shrewd, cunning and edgy. God’s values are very different!

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. 

James 3:17

Today, I invite you to do a wisdom inventory. It seems like I am always in need of an extra measure of wisdom; these unusual times are certainly no exception. So, how is your wisdom tank? Full? Half full? Empty? Just ask, and a full tank is yours. Then check to see that your wisdom matches the criteria given above. If not, it might be a bad bunch and not from the Father above!

The rails to trails is a great use of unused tracks and an excellent resource for communities. Today we walked a portion of our local trail and it was busy with both bike and walking traffic.

Not everyone is a fan of the trails. For some, it means a public trail through the middle of their property. Sometimes houses were built close to the tracks before the home owner knew of the rail to trail initiative. These families aren’t excited about public access so close to their personal residence. I totally get that.

Most of the time, the trails run behind houses, on the edge of properties. This gives every passerby a birds eye view into the secret places of these private properties. The backyard is where people generally put things they don’t want to share with the public. Swimming pools, children’s play yards, gardens, patios and picnic tables are the types of things we tuck away behind our houses. The front yard is reserved for those things that say “welcome,” it is here we put our best foot forward, so to speak.

As I walk the trails, I am mindful that I have visual access to the private spaces of others. It reminds me of an account in scripture.

After the flood, Noah began to cultivate the ground, and he planted a vineyard. One day he drank some wine he had made, and he became drunk and lay naked inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw that his father was naked and went outside and told his brothers. Then Shem and Japheth took a robe, held it over their shoulders, and backed into the tent to cover their father. As they did this, they looked the other way so they would not see him naked.

Genesis 9:20-23

Noah unknowingly found himself in a vulnerable position. Ham, who encountered Noah first, went out and told his brothers. The other two, in an effort to protect their father, backed in and covered Noah with a robe. They protected his nakedness. Ham exposed him. Shem and Japheth protected him.

When I am on the trails, I want to protect the nakedness of the land owners who allow the public to use the trail. It means I don’t litter, I don’t go onto their property, I respect the boundaries.

It’s important to do the same with people I meet. There are times I inadvertently learn something about a person – their nakedness is there before me. What will I do? Expose it or protect it? I know what kind of person I want to be, but it isn’t always an easy choice to make.

How about you? Are you careful with what you know about others? Do you protect their vulnerabilities? Or are you quick to share that with someone else, further exposing the individual?

You get to choose. Choose wisely! Just a thought for this Tuesday morning!

Sunday was a beautiful day in northern Indiana; the first really nice day this spring. So, we went for a bike ride. Just as in many other places, our community has turned old railroad tracks into trails so a person can ride for miles on paved trails through woodland, farmland and open meadows.

The roads are intended for bikers, walkers, runners – anyone except motor vehicles and HORSES. It isn’t only restricting horses with single riders, but also buggies pulled by horses.

The sign forbidding horses caught my attention. Quite frankly, I admit if I had a horse I might consider using the trail. After all, it makes getting cross country so much easier. You know, being able to go “as the crow flies” rather than on the county roads. As I rode, I pondered what the tell-tale signs would be if I took a horse on the trail.

First, there would be the horse piles. You know, manure. I figured that could be avoided by attaching a bag to the horse’s tail to catch the poop before it hit the ground. Most obvious problem solved!

Secondly, horseshoes really mess up a paved road. This is evident on most roads in our county due to Amish buggy traffic. This caused me to pause. I couldn’t avoid this certainty. The first time or two down the trail would go unnoticed, unless someone saw me with their eyes. Every time I successfully used the trail without being detected, my courage would grow.

Eventually, I would be forget the cautions. I would forget about the sign that forbid horses on the trail. I would fail to notice the marks the horseshoes made on the paved trail, even when a groove began to form. The presence of the worn path would be all the evidence needed to confirm that I had been on the trail.

As I pondered all this, I realized I sometimes do that in life. Something catches my attention, something that I ought to avoid, but I know I won’t get caught the first time, or maybe even the second time. So, I take the path I should avoid. And every trip down the trail makes marks and my continued behavior creates pathways, easily distinguishable by others. Maybe not right away, but eventually.

My question for today is this: what warning signs or markers have you ignored? You know what you need to avoid so you proceed carefully, avoiding detection. But eventually a trail forms. And that trail exposes your transgression.

It is not too late to turn around, to take a different way, an honorable path. The same principle works in reverse. Every time you make the right choice, it creates another path, a better path. One that you can be proud of and never need to fear exposure.

Show me the right path, O Lord; point out the road for me to follow. Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you. Remember, O Lord, your compassion and unfailing love, which you have shown from long ages past. Do not remember the rebellious sins of my youth. Remember me in the light of your unfailing love, for you are merciful, O Lord.

Psalm 25:4-7

Songs sometimes summarize in the best way what I am feeling or wanting to say in the moment. In this moment, I want you to know that you are fully accepted, deeply loved and eternally chosen to be a child of the King. From this place of knowing, you can be everything you were meant to be. This song says it so well! Have a listen and enjoy your Sunday!

The greatest enemy of my personal success is self-talk. That’s what I say to myself that no one else hears but everyone can see because it impacts how I live. I read isolated phrases from scripture, like Philippians 2:3:

…thinking of others as better than yourselves.

Philippians 2:3

and use it to justify putting myself down. My battle begins in the mind.

Paul said in his letter to the church in Corinth that it is necessary to take thoughts captive. Too often, I let them run wild through my mind, set up camp, influence what I believe about myself.

As you begin the holiday weekend, there will be lots of opportunity to interact with family, friends and neighbors – maintaining social distance, of course! 🙂 I encourage you to make your thoughts check in at the gate. Set a sentry there and make the thought defend it’s right to be in your mind. And if any of them make you feel less than a child of the King of the Universe – send them packing!

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:5

Learning to care for myself has been a difficult task. I want to avoid self-centered habits. After all, the universe does not revolve around my belly button, no matter how much I might believe the opposite. It seems there is a fine line between boundaries and self-care and self-obsessed living. How do I make the distinction?

Honestly…it’s a tough one. But it’s not for lack of a good example. Again, Jesus is a great role model. How did he care for himself and set good boundaries?

First, he took time away from his disciples and people who really needed him to be refreshed. He knew that his success depended upon staying connected to the Father.

After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray.

Matthew 14:23

He taught his disciples to do the same. Not only did he take them away from the crowds to teach them, he took them away so they could be refreshed.

Leaving that region, they traveled through Galilee. Jesus didn’t want anyone to know he was there, for he wanted to spend more time with his disciples and teach them.

Mark 9:30-31

Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat. So they left by boat for a quiet place, where they could be alone.

Mark 6:31-32

Jesus also knew when to engage in conversation and when to step away. He wasn’t afraid to set boundaries or walk away from situations that would not bear fruit, even if the questions came from powerful people in his culture.

One day as Jesus was teaching the people and preaching the Good News in the Temple, the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders came up to him. They demanded, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right?”“Let me ask you a question first,” he replied. “Did John’s authority to baptize come from heaven, or was it merely human?” They talked it over among themselves. “If we say it was from heaven, he will ask why we didn’t believe John. But if we say it was merely human, the people will stone us because they are convinced John was a prophet.” So they finally replied that they didn’t know. And Jesus responded, “Then I won’t tell you by what authority I do these things.”

Luke 20:1-8

There are many more illustrations of Jesus refusing to be drawn into useless conversations that served no purpose. He also didn’t need to have others recognize his worth and value because his validation came from His Father.

But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew all about people.  No one needed to tell him about human nature, for he knew what was in each person’s heart.

John 2:24-25

Self-care is about knowing when to engage and when to refrain; it’s knowing when to sleep and when to rise; it’s knowing who I am and embracing that person, not waiting for someone else to do it for me.

I am at my best when I take care of myself. It includes the food I eat, how much sleep I get, how I spend free time, the self-talk I allow in my mind, resting in knowing my value and worth is not dependent upon what I accomplish, awards I win, accolades or affirmations from those around me. Is any of this easy? No way. But the fruit it yields in my life is worth the effort.

Entire books have been written on this topic so the point of today is this: take care of yourself. You will be a better mother, father, sister, brother, friend, worker, PERSON! Taking care of me makes it possible to take better care of you. And that’s true for everyone!

Years ago, I found myself involved in a boundary-centered religious setting. The premise of this type of group is boundaries keep us “in” and the bad “out.” It is possible to know who is “in” by observing external behaviors. I am the perfect candidate for this setting because I am also a recovering approval addict. I want to do whatever it takes to make you happy and keep myself in good standing.

I adopted some private mantras that helped to convince me this association was for my best. One of them was this:

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” 

Luke 9:23

In my twisted thinking, I read it like this: “If you want to be pleasing to me, you will give up who you are, take up hard rules, and be my follower.”

From this vantage point, I know that isn’t what Jesus meant. If you read my post yesterday on self-preservation, you might recognize this passage. Jesus goes on to say:

If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed? If anyone is ashamed of me and my message, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in his glory and in the glory of the Father and the holy angels. 

Luke 9:24-26

When I try to gain right standing with God by following specific rules designed to control sinful behavior, I nullify the work of Jesus on the cross. He came and inhabited a human body, taking on a shameful and humiliating death to restore me into relationship with him. If I can do that by good behavior, he died for nothing.

Taking up my cross must mean something else. So, what does it mean and how does self-sacrifice fit into following Christ?

Self-sacrifice is the opposite side of the self-preservation coin. Following Jesus means I give up what the world can give me in the way of acceptance and promotion based on accomplishments, leaving that to Father. Rather, I live out of who I am created to BE – a daughter of the King. Knowing I am deeply loved, chosen, and protected through my relationship with Jesus, I sacrifically live for Jesus. It means I abandon my own selfish desires and ways of thinking to become like him. Loving God and others deeply because I know I am deeply loved, I sacrifice myself to him.

Paul writes about this very concept in Romans 12. He says it like this:

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. THEN you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (emphasis mine)

Romans 12:1-2

God is concerned with the way I think! He transforms me by changing the way I think about Him, myself and others. When I value what he values, my behaviors will change. I will be more loving, kind and generous. I will be less angry, judgmental and harsh. I will see others as God sees them, created with value and dignity no matter what they may look like on the outside.

Sacrificing who I am is not what Jesus meant when he said I should die to myself. Taking up his cross daily does not mean following a list of rules made for me by muself or others. That isn’t a living and holy sacrifice. It’s slavery.

Self-sacrifice is a pivotal part of following Jesus. As I am transformed into his likeness, I am less concerned about me and what others might think and more concerned with Him and what he thinks. I spend less time promoting myself and more time promoting Him. In the gospels, Jesus often said that he did what His Father told him to do. He wasn’t concerned with what the religious leaders thought of him or if he offended them. He went out of his way to show “sinful” people the way to life. He touched people no one else touched, he talked to people no one else talked to, he stopped for people others passed by. He lived sacrificially.

Have you bought into the idea that who you are isn’t okay and that you need to die to that person? Is self-sacrifice an act of sacrificing who you are to become what you think others want? Jesus loves who you are and accepts you exactly that way. As you come close to him, he will help change the way you think if it needs to be done. As your thinking changes, his will for you and the way forward will open up like the morning sunrise!

Fear motivates me to all kinds of dysfunctional behaviors. When I feel unsafe, I switch into self-preservation mode. It is a natural instinct to protect oneself from harm or destruction. I even see it in my 4 month old granddaughter. When she perceives she is under attack, her eyes flutter, she pulls her head away from the “danger,” her arms come up to shield her from any incoming trouble and, in some cases, she cries. It is natural to protect oneself.

As I mature, I develope more sophisticated methods of self-preservation. Most of the time, the danger is not physical. Something comes that threatens my security socially, emotionally or professionally. These dangers are often unseen and difficult to identify, but they are there nonetheless. I build walls, develop weapons, hone strategies designed to preserve self. Vulnerability and authenticity do not have a place in my arsenal.

Jesus shows us a better way. Although he was completely God, he made himself vulnerable by coming in human form, with all its limitations. Philippians 2:5-8 say it best:

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Philippians 2:5-8

I assure you, nothing that I cling to is anywhere close to what Jesus gave up when he came to earth. His willingness to let go of his position so that I might be restored to BEING rather than DOING is beyond my ability to comprehend. But he did it. While this way may seem like social and professional suicide, the benefits far outweighed the loss he experienced. Keep reading in Paul’s letter:

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:9-11

That seems like quite a promotion to me. So many times my actions are motivated by fear of loss. Loss of notoriety, approval, acceptance or advancement that I self-preserve by practicing dishonesty, lack of integrity, hiding, defending, demonizing, building arsenals, grudges, revenge. This way of doing prevents me from really loving myself or others well. In the end, I lose it all.

Jesus said this:

If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? 

Matthew 16:25-26

The question I ask myself is this: can I trust God with my life for its impact and effect? Can I leave the preservation of who I am to him, giving myself freely to whatever he brings my way? Jesus is the best example of someone who had every right to protect who he was and use his position and power to impress and overwhelm. But because of his deep love for humanity, he laid it all down in exchange for a humiliating death. As a result, he received the highest reward anyone will ever receive.

It’s so natural to protect ourselves, and in some instances, it is the right thing to do. I want to learn to live in an undefended state so that I might be free to love well and experience the very best of what God has for me.

How about you? Are you living in a continual state of self-preservation? Does receiving the best by living vulnerably seem like an oxymoron to you? I invite you to give it a try. You are not on your own and it isn’t a journey you have to figure out. Just tell Father that is what you want and he will show you the way.

And, oh yeah, don’t listen to the voice that tells you it won’t work. He never could tell the truth!