I can still remember the frustration I felt when the Lord started telling me that whenever I had a problem with someone, it was really I who had the problem. It meant that every stinkin’ time someone made me miserable, through no fault of my own (seriously), I WAS THE PROBLEM! Is there no justice I wondered?
Since that initial realization there have been many “challenges with names” and the Lord keeps increasing my understanding. When I need more understanding another challenge with a name shows up. Can’t seem to avoid them but I do try hard…
Christianity is not a difficult concept to grasp. It is simply loving others as Christ loved me. But easier said than done. In fact, quite impossible. Without God I am a self-serving creature with no idea of what it means to love. Even as a believer the thing seems to elude me so much of the time.
There is a very good picture of what love is in the sacrifice of Jesus for me. I see how He was treated and how He reacted and what became of Him and it scares me. I instinctively know that it WILL cost me my life. I am not eager for this.
I am faced with a dilemma because I want to love but am not willing to be sacrificed. I can solve this dilemma quite creatively through a variety of Christian beliefs and activity that serve to prove to others and myself that I am okay with God. I think it’s called carnal Christianity (Christianity without love). Isn’t that what Paul was addressing when he wrote:
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”
So what do I do? Well since God IS love it might be an idea to seek to know Him. But don’t I know Him? Well John wrote: “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
There does not seem to be any wiggle room in all this. So I ask God “to cause” me to love others. Doesn’t happen. How about loving others through me…while I attend to other things. Doesn’t happen. What does keep happening are those “challenging names”! Where do they come from?
They come from God to the end that I might know Him and they will keep coming until HIS love is perfected in me. Again from John: “No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.”
This ability to love others is really the litmus test of my spirituality. It doesn’t matter how much I “know” or how long I have been a believer. “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.”
In fact, loving others should be the natural outflow of my life in Christ. Not loving just some others but all others especially the challenging ones! The only thing I know in my life that will block this loving is carnality. That is, those attitudes in my mind which are not yet renewed. Paul calls them strongholds or fortresses:
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ…”
Carnality is my insistence on living among these fortresses. I have an enemy that prefers that I live among them because they are the only places where he can overwhelm me. He continually tries to lure me there because as long as I’m there I cannot experience God and His love for me and for others. So this is a serious business with the enemy and I need to be aware of his schemes.
What makes this even more challenging is that for a long, long time I called theses fortresses home. And there’s no place like home! It is where I feel most comfortable. To ask me to move out of them for the unknown, no matter how glorious, is akin to my death. We’re talking about my mind here and with out it I am dead!!! Indeed it is here that “I” exist and am the centre of my universe.
I have realized that I am not alone in this struggle to leave these fortresses behind as there seem to be many forms of Christianity that have been crafted with the intent of allowing believers to remain among them. Even exchanged life union life teachings are robbed of their effectiveness when I make the choice to remain among the fortresses.
Fortunately it is not hard for me to recognize when I am experiencing God’s love for another. Paul writes that I will be patient with them, that I will be kind to them, that I won’t brag or be arrogant with them, that I won’t be indecent with them, that I won’t put my own interests first, that I won’t be provoked by them and that I won’t keep a record of the wrongs they do against me.
But none of this will occur when I insist on living among the fortresses. Instead I will live as the centre of my world and measure all things as they relate to me. Were my feelings hurt? Was I taken advantage of? Was I slighted? Was I ignored? Were my rights violated? Was my self-righteousness condemned or approved of? Do I now feel better about myself? Or worse? And all the while we are trying to answer these questions our friendly adversary sympathizes with me and gives me many more reasons to justify how I am feeling. Yech!
I realized that when I dwell on the land of carnality, refusing to deny myself, refusing to take up my cross and move on that although I can teach grace, I couldn’t know it! Although I can speak of the wonders of union life, I can’t experience it. And worst of all…I am not knowing God.
Carnality is a world unto itself and I must choose where I am going to live, whether there or in God’s love. Choosing God’s love means that I no longer have the option to wander among the fortresses if I expect to grow up in the faith.
Paul writes: “do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God”
And a little further on “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Yesterday I needed to make a purchase in a store that can be intimidating to me. Well guess who served me. That’s right, a challenging name (no-name in this case). I made my purchase and left mumbling to myself about this guy. I get home and have second thoughts about my purchase and decided I might have to exchange it. Of course, I hoped “that guy” wouldn’t be in! Anyway I fretted about this somewhat until this morning until I realized that I was moving about fortresses again. I started to pray, giving that fortress of “needing others approval” up to God. I asked not because I wanted to feel at ease but because I wanted this guy, if the opportunity arose, to know the love of God. Just like that the Lord lifted me out from the fortresses into His love that casts out all fear (intimidation). I was free again.
What a liberating thought to know that people are not my problem and that I am free to speak the truth to them in love and to do all things out of love.