This morning, we continue yesterday's post about prioritizing for 2015.
To begin a recap of yesterday, let me present to you a word from Jesus, recorded in Matthew 22 - - -
The first commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your being. When we dissect that, it is easy to find daily prayer and bible study, elaborated on yesterday, contained in that command.
Now, the third priority for healthy Christian living should be to gather with others regularly to do those two things. In other words, not only should they be daily practices, they should also be weekly practices. God promised that, whenever His beloved gather together for prayer, praise, worship, study - - - He is right there in the middle of them. (See Matthew 18:20.) The writer of Hebrews recognized the synergy that comes from believers worshipping together, demonstrating the love they have for their Savior, when he admonished us in Hebrews 10:24-25...
24and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
This 3rd priority combines both of the two greatest commandments Jesus mentioned (loving God, loving our Christian brothers), because we gather together to worship God and study His word. BUT, we also gather together to "provoke one another to righteousness" and to encourage one another.
Some of you just exclaimed, "Check!", and mentally you checked off this priority, because you attend worship once a week. I would say, "Bravo! What a great beginning!" However, and especially if you attend a large church, you also need the fellowship of a small group of believers, so that you can actively care for one another. A large church cannot do that effectively.
When the Hubster and I moved to our present hometown, we began looking for a church home. he had never been a part of a Sunday School class, although we had hosted a small group in our home while in our previous church. (I'm going to focus on SS classes, but if your church uses the small group model, fine.) Being terribly shy, he was not eager to visit classes or attach us to one. But, we found the most marvelous, welcoming, happy class of people with whom to live out this Christian life! And, we are still friends with them, even though circumstances pulled most of them in another direction. There was genuine love in that class, and there still is, among those of us who continue to worship together each week. We also care for each other when sick, pray for one another, rejoice with one another...This is being the Body of Christ.
On another front, though, we need to look at exercising this command of Christ in a different direction. When Jesus used the term "neighbor", he was not only talking about the Body of Christ. He was talking about anyone in your "circle of influence" (to borrow from Stephen Covey). This includes both Christian and non-Christian family members. Beware the person who seems to love God but disdains or neglects his or her family. Such a person is a fraud. Look at 1 John 4:20.
Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.
James similarly exhorts us:
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
So, when we look at obeying Christ's command to care for others, we need to be sure we don't neglect our own families. That is where our service should begin.
Then, are there other ways we can care for the poor, the lonely, the forgotten?
The fourth priority is to use our gifts in service. Don't you dare say that you don't have spiritual gifts, Christian. That is calling God a liar. He gave you at least two spiritual gifts (eternal salvation, the Holy Spirit) the moment you invited Jesus Christ to be your Savior and Lord. The Bible says you have others as well. (1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 4) Find out what they are and get busy using those gifts in service to the Lord.
It has occurred to me that these two posts sound a lot like a burdensome "to-do" list. Keep in mind, though, that here on the cusp of a new year, we think about "starting over". Remember what the apostle Paul said to believers, in Philippians 3:13-15 - - -
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, 14with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15Therefore let those of us who are “perfect” embrace this point of view. If you think otherwise, God will reveal to you the error of your ways. 16Nevertheless, let us live up to the standard that we have already attained.
What a great passage for a new year! Paul is saying, "There is no perfection in this life! I've not attained it, and neither have you, even those of you who think you have." I love that! He exhorts us all to put the past behind us, because it IS the past. We take the lessons we learned from the past with us into the future; but, otherwise, we do not allow the past to shackle us. We.press.onward.
"The upward call" is Christ Jesus's desire for us to walk with Him, resplendent! C.S. Lewis must have been thinking about this verse when he used the phrase in The Last Battle, "farther up and farther in". Think about how that will continue on into eternity for us, Beloved! After we leave this life, we will continue to move farther up and farther into our relationship with Jesus Christ.
Ordering our priorities is all about love - - - love for our Triune God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) and for others. "His banner over me is love." (Song of Solomon 2:4) When we "put first things first", the other areas of our lives that seem out of place fall more beautifully into order.
Happy New Year!
Dear Father, I thank you that every new year is a fresh page. In fact, the truth is that You stand ready to receive and/or to restore us at any and all times. But, at the new year, we can examine our walk to see how resplendent it truly is, and I thank you for that opportunity. Thank you for the blessings and the lessons of the past. Thank you that we don't walk resplendent when we attempt to walk alone, but that we walk resplendent when we are following Your leading. Thank you for your great, incomprehensible love, that covers us. I pray that we will walk more deeply and authentically in Your love today and going forward into 2015. In Jesus' name, amen.