I have a beautiful cross that I never take off. It is my constant reminder of everything Jesus has done in my life.
It is also a slap in the devil’s face.
Think about it. The cross was the most ghastly, abhorrent, abominable thing imaginable. If you were hung on a cross, you were a despicable human being worthy of the greatest contempt.
Cross = BAD
Now we see the cross as a beautiful thing. Even many who don’t believe in the saving work of Jesus Christ often wear it as decoration because it is beautiful. Imagine what a headache that constant reminder must give the devil.
But this is exactly what Jesus does. While He lived, He specialized in making bad things beautiful. Whether He was healing lepers, delivering a woman from being stoned, returning dead children to their parents…
And He does the same today. It makes no difference to Him that you’ve been bad. He doesn’t care what you’ve done. He cares about you letting Him do what only He can do – turning your life from bad to beautiful.
Have you ever really thought about Jesus, specifically about His emotional state, in Matthew 14:13-21?
He’d just learned that John the Baptist, His relative, the first one to recognize Jesus (in his mother’s womb), the one who prepared the way for Him, the one who baptized Him and announced to the people that He was The One they’d been waiting for, had been murdered, beheaded. Jesus was divine, but He was also human, and His human heart had to be torn.
So He set out to go to the desert to be alone. To mourn, perhaps? To talk to His heavenly Father about it? Who knows? But the very fact that He went shows that He had a need. However…
The people followed Him, and He chose their needs over His own. Honestly, He had every right to take some time off, to receive comfort for a while. But that’s not what happened.
If you’re not familiar with Gary Chapman’s book, The 5 Love Languages, I encourage you to pick it up. It explains the five primary ways in which we show love to others (and, consequently, expect/need them to show love to us). It is a powerful tool in helping us learn to relate to and even minister to others.
A project at work (I’m a church secretary) has had me looking at the love languages again. I’ve known what my love language is for years, but have just had a revelation about it that rocked my world.
In my relationships with others, all others, I can look at my instinctive interactions with them in respect to my love language and get a very clear picture of how much I love them.
It sounds simple, doesn’t it? But it’s been humbling. In less than 24 hours I’ve faced some pretty hard truths as I’ve realized there are certain groups of people around whom my love language shows up regularly, and a few others (with whom I’m very close) around whom I exhibit more selfishness than love.
So the revelation is this: My love language can act as a love thermometer. As I walk in love with others, I instinctively offer love in my own language. If I know their love language, I may intentionally offer love in theirs too, but mine will still be evident. If I don’t offer that love, I don’t love enough.
And THAT shows me where I have work to do in my own heart.
At church tonight, several people shared their favorite Christmas memories. Of course such things make me think, and I had an epiphany.
My two favorite memories are about getting “nothing.”
I don’t mean that literally, but close. The first was the Christmas after my mother left an abusive marriage. We had so little money that we had no Christmas decorations. On Christmas Eve, after my sister and I went to bed, Mother went to the tree lot and bought a little white-painted stick for next to nothing. Then she laid out our two small gifts each as if they’d come from Santa.
My dismay when I saw the “tree” on Christmas morning probably hurt Mother’s feelings, but the love I felt… We may not have gotten much, but we were grateful for what we got and were even more thankful for the fact that we were safe, secure, and together in our own home.
The other memory… I think I mentioned it here at some point. My favorite place to be, Christmas or not, was my grandparents’ home. They weren’t rich, but they made each of us feel like we were their favorite and always chose gifts they felt we would appreciate. That year my gifts were a pair of socks and a plastic dime store nativity scene snow globe. It spoke love to me, and still does today even though it was destroyed years ago.
As parents, we so often feel the need to produce for our children. Maybe, instead, we should take time to look at the memories that mean the most to us. I honestly remember very few gifts from my 58 Christmases, but I remember a skirt, a piece of candy, and a plastic snow globe – because they spoke of love.
I love succulents! They are amazing in so many ways; one of my favorites is their ability to suck up water when it rains and store it for use during dry seasons.
I want to be like that! I want to stay full of the Holy Spirit, full of the Word of God, and full of love so that dry seasons, times of trials and troubles, don’t catch me unprepared. Yes, I may take a beating and look less than my best in the midst of the battle, but when it’s over I’ll still be standing!
A friend asked me to tell her, in one sentence, what God has been saying to me recently. The question caught me off guard because He’s been saying so much on so many different topics that, for a moment, I had to think. How to put it in one sentence?
Then I saw it. Other than the times He’s come to encourage me and help me through something, or to answer one of my myriad random questions, everything He’s said has ultimately been about me getting ready – ready to be used.
I’m not talking about being used as a speaker or writer, both of which I’ve done before and loved. I’m talking about being used every single day of my life.
I’m to stick close to Him, constantly listening for the Spirit’s whispered, “There. He needs help,” or, “Stop. She’s crying out for someone to listen.”
I’m to be prepared and able. For those two nudges, anyone could respond, but He’s calling me to more. I’m to truly grasp who and what He is in me and who and what I am in Him, to understand the authority I have as a believer when it comes to dealing with demonic activity.
I am to have His Word firmly planted in my heart, ready to be brought out and used as the Sword of the Spirit that it is. There are two important things about a sword. You cannot use it if you don’t have it (I’m talking memorization, not just carrying a Bible) and you can’t use it if you don’t know how to use it.
I’m to stay on the offensive. This is something that’s been churning in me for a while, that as a Christian I’ve been living my spiritual warfare life on the defensive. No military leader wants to fight battles defensively. He knows the best chance of winning any battle is to stay on the offensive.
I am to live thankfully trusting, because this is where peace lies, and peace – His peace – is one of the most vital elements of all.
I am to love with compassion. I am to love like never before, being intentional about expressing the love of God to the people He puts in my path – whoever they are.
So, almost everything He’s been saying recently falls into one of these categories. Really, there’s nothing new here. But that’s the point, isn’t it? We never know what’s coming, but He does, and He wants us ready to face it head on.
5 For this very reason, adding your diligence [to the divine promises],
employ every effort in exercising your faith to develop virtue (excellence, resolution, Christian energy), and in [exercising] virtue [develop] knowledge (intelligence),
6 And in [exercising] knowledge [develop] self-control, and in [exercising] self-control [develop] steadfastness (patience, endurance), and in [exercising] steadfastness [develop] godliness (piety),
7 And in [exercising] godliness [develop] brotherly affection, and in [exercising] brotherly affection [develop] Christian love.
8 For as these qualities are yours and increasingly abound in you, they will keep [you] from being idle or unfruitful unto the [full personal] knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One).
9 For whoever lacks these qualities is blind, [spiritually] shortsighted, seeing only what is near to him, and has become oblivious [to the fact] that he was cleansed from his old sins.
For this very reason
Verse 4 of this chapter discusses that God has given us precious and exceedingly great promises so that we can “escape from the moral decay of the world” and “become sharers of the divine nature.” It is for this reason that we do all that the following verses call for us to do.
adding your diligence [to the divine promises], employ every effort
Yes, we have the divine promises and they were given to us for a reason, but they are like tools—to accomplish what they were made to do, they require our efforts. And God isn’t just calling for a little effort here, but for us to employ “every effort.” The King James Version says, “giving all diligence.”
Half-hearted participants need not apply!
in exercising your faith to develop virtue (excellence, resolution, Christian energy)
So we employ every effort in exercising our faith. Ministers often compare faith to a muscle and it seems God surely uses it in this way here. Faith is something that we must exercise continually if it is to become stronger. Most think of exercising their faith for things—cars, jobs, etc.—but God says clearly that there is one thing so important that we are to put forth every effort to exercise our faith to develop it…and that is virtue—excellence, resolution, Christian energy. One might ask why it takes faith to develop such virtue, but most probably wouldn’t question once they’d really thought about it. It does take a definite effort in exercising my faith for me to develop this virtue, this excellence, this resolution, this Christian energy, this (according to the New Living Translation) moral excellence. In my head, it see it as a simple decision, but in practice, when faced with certain choices, it takes an active effort of faith to take the step in the right direction instead of the wrong one.
and in [exercising] virtue [develop] knowledge (intelligence),
So virtue is like a muscle too, in that to develop properly it must be exercised, and as we exercise it we develop knowledge.
Since this selection is specifically leading us into avoiding the moral decay of the world and becoming sharers of the divine nature, we can be pretty sure the knowledge referred to here has nothing to do with worldly knowledge, but rather with spiritual knowledge. In fact, the New Living Translation says, “A life of moral excellence leads to knowing God better.”
So as we exercise virtue, living lives of moral excellence, we come to know God better. Now there is a motivator!
And in [exercising] knowledge [develop] self-control,
So one of the natural results of growing in the knowledge of God or, perhaps more accurately, one of the first things we see we must develop as we come to know God better, is self-control.
Self-control is a big issue among Christians today. We all seem to be continually working on self-control in one area or another, be it eating too much, cursing, losing our temper, judging others…whatever. Many who have little self-control despise their own weakness, but do not know how to combat it. Here God gives the answer.
Exercise your faith to develop moral excellence (virtue), exercise this moral excellence and get to know God better, and develop/exercise this knowledge of God.
Consider how a man, though he seems to have little control of his tongue, actively tries to limit his cursing when in the presence of a dear friend who is offended by his bad habit. The more time he spends with this friend, exercising his knowledge of the friend, the less he curses. So do we also, as we actively seek to grow in the knowledge of God, spending time with Him (an absolute necessity if we are to know Him), find it easier to control ourselves. As the New Living Translation puts it, “Knowing God leads to self-control.”
So, since one thing leads to another, where does self-control lead?
and in [exercising] self-control [develop] steadfastness (patience, endurance),
According to the Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, the literal meaning of the original word is “cheerful (or hopeful) endurance, constancy.”
It is tremendous to realize that exercising self-control actually leads to developing cheerful or hopeful endurance, to developing constancy. I love that it is not endurance alone, which can be a miserable thing, but is endurance that is cheerful or hopeful – both of which, by the way, are characteristics of God. So as we come to know God better, He rubs off on us, yes?
And constancy! Someone who is constant is the same at all times, unwavering. This reminds me of Jesus, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Constancy is definitely an attribute of God.
and in [exercising] steadfastness [develop] godliness (piety),
Ah…now we are getting truly close to being genuine partakers in the nature of God. Surely knowing that we can reach this place is sufficient motivation to encourage one to exercise faith to develop virtue. It is easy to see that as we grow in this process, this absolutely necessary process, the moral decay of the world becomes less and less appealing. It is easy to escape a trap when you are headed swiftly away from it.
And in [exercising] godliness [develop] brotherly affection,
Brotherly love is love for other Christians and it saddens me to see it so far down on this list. It does not surprise me, however, for the God kind of love cannot really operate where there is no virtue, knowledge of God, self-control, or constancy.
Indeed, the low level of brotherly love found in some churches is a sure sign that at least part of the body of Christ is not working their way through this process of growth. All too many don’t know God as well as they likely think they do. Far too many exhibit the symptoms listed later, in verse 9.
and in [exercising] brotherly affection [develop] Christian love.
And here it is…perhaps the hardest of all. If we are to be sharers of the divine nature of God, who is love, we must love. If we love, truly love, those who surround us—ALL those whom God loves—we must be willing to lay down our selves and share HIM with them.
On the surface, this is obvious. In practice, how often do I do it? I must confess that I don’t do it nearly as often as I should.
Jesus, motivated by love, laid down His life for all of us, from the best to the worst. Who are we to claim the right to do less? If we are afraid to witness we don’t love enough, because perfect love casts out fear. That is a humbling thought.
For as these qualities are yours and increasingly abound in you, they will keep [you] from being idle or unfruitful unto the [full personal] knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One).
I also like the New Living Translation here. “The more you grow like this, the more you will become productive and useful in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I want to be productive and useful. I don’t want God to refer to me as being idle or unfruitful! He paid an unimaginable price for my salvation; even if there were no promise attached, I would owe it to Him to use what He has given me.
For whoever lacks these qualities is blind,
I have known Christians like this, people who could not recognize a spiritual truth if you put it in front of their noses. Obviously, according to this passage, the only cure for this spiritual blindness is to start making every effort to exercise their faith to develop divine virtue.
[spiritually] shortsighted, seeing only what is near to him,
Spiritually speaking, this is exceedingly dangerous. God can show us many things ahead of time if we have the eyes to see them. The shortsighted person does not have this benefit.
and has become oblivious [to the fact] that he was cleansed from his old sins.
And he who is oblivious to the fact that he was cleansed from his old sin is far too likely to return to it. Down that path lies the moral decay of the world and a complete inability to be a sharer in the divine nature. This should never be the condition of one who has been called out as a child of God, but for too many, for those who refuse to make the efforts God calls for us to make, it is inevitable. He says so.
I swiped the idea for this post from one I once posted to a blog I shut down ages ago. That post was prompted by hearing a minister say, at a funeral, “If _____ were here right now, he would say…”
Why, I wondered, should things I would say wait until my funeral to be said? So, if this were my funeral, I would say…
I hope you miss me, because that will mean I’ve touched your life, but you have no need to mourn. Finally, at last, I am where I’ve longed to be for so very long. I love you, and I’ve loved the life we’ve shared, but I love my God so much – so very much – more. Sometimes, especially in recent years, the homesickness for Heaven has been almost painful.
“I knew you before you were in your mother’s womb,” He says. I’ve believed this for years, and believed that I knew Him that early as well, that I was with Him in Heaven before ever being sent to Earth – and I’ve longed to go back. Paul said, “For me to die is gain.” YES! For the longest time, I’ve totally gotten what he meant by those words!
Loss is hard, and I get that too. “Losing” Mother was painful, but it helped when a friend pointed out that in reality she’d only moved away to a place I couldn’t go yet, that though we would be separated for a while I’d see her again when I made the same move. I’ve really been looking forward to seeing her again, and Daddy, and Granny and Grandaddy, and Mema and Pepa, and…
Now I ask you, please prepare to come meet us again too. If you’ve never accepted Jesus as your Savior, don’t know Him as your Lord, accept Him today. I look forward to visiting you in your mansion.
If it were my funeral, I think that’s pretty much what I would say.