Reflections on John 13:34

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34, NASB.

Bible2This verse from the Gospel of John is one that has been resonating in my brain over the last few days. It’s not necessarily hard to understand, but it seems most of us are unwilling to put it into practice. Jesus issues this command to His disciples, “Love one another like I loved you!” It’s a practice that is supposed to go hand in hand with following Christ, in fact, it’s so necessary that Jesus goes on to say others will know we belong to Him because we do it (verse 35).

Yet so often we don’t do it. Rather, we pretend to do it. We love our fellow believers as long they don’t ruffle our feathers, hurt our feelings, disagree with us, or let us down in some way … but the first time we see their flaws, we cut bait and run. Most conflict between believers is caused because they fail to love one another as Christ first loved them, or worse, they stubbornly refused to.

When I think of how Christ loved me there’s no escaping the image of the cross. Christ loved me so much that He when to the cross in my place. Scripture teaches that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Christ died for us “while we were yet sinners”. He didn’t demand that we clean ourselves up before He went to the cross. He died for us in spite of all our flaws and imperfections. And He commands us to love one another in the same way!

Ever wonder how to respond when a fellow believer hurts your feelings or lets you down in some way? Christ tells us to respond in love … and He role-modeled that love for us on the cross. When you love your Christian brothers and sisters and remain devoted to them through thick and thin, the rest of the world will know Who it is you belong to.

John 13:34 isn’t a suggestion … it’s a command.

 

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Take Responsibility for Your Spiritual Growth: A Devotional

gfgm2hcq92s-aaron-burden“… but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18, NASB)

In 2 Peter 3:17, Peter warns believers not to “… lose [their] footing and get swept off [their] feet by these lawless and loose-talking teachers” (2 Peter 3:17, Message). Not only are believers prone to stumble on their journey with Christ, there are those who would intentionally trip us up if given the chance. There are false teachers who would lead us astray in our walk … this is why it’s crucial we stay faithful to the gospel as it has been passed down to us (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Because of all the pitfalls that confront us in our walk, it is important that we take a proactive stance when it comes to our spiritual growth.

Too often, we treat spiritual growth as something that just “happens” to us. We go to church, hang out with other Christians, and listen to Christian music in the hope that we will grow through some sort of ‘spiritual osmosis’ – and we will, to an extent. However, we will grow the most when we actively contribute to the growth process. When Peter admonishes believers to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior,” we must understand he is encouraging us to actively participate in the process.

Do you want to know the secret to avoiding pitfalls in your spiritual walk? Take responsibility for your own spiritual growth. In the power of the Holy Spirit, commit yourself to growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. When your feet hit the floor in the morning make it your daily goal to study God’s Word and put it into practice in your life. Don’t wait for Sunday morning to soak up some spirituality, rather, make spiritual growth a priority in your life every day of the week! Peter has warned us there are people who will lead us astray … we can avoid their traps if we know what we know what we know! Scripture equates this process with a baby who gets off of milk and begins to eat solid food (Hebrews 5:12, 1 Cor 3:2).

Take command of your spiritual life and take responsibility for it. Never be satisfied with just milk. It is time we all begin eating solid food!

Food is a Cheap Replacement for God

g6g93jtu1ve-aaron-burden“Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’ (John 6:35, NIV).

Certainly, Jesus is speaking about spiritual matters when He calls Himself “the Bread of Life.” Jesus is declaring that those who believe in Him will never hunger or thirst spiritually. However, I don’t think it’s a coincidence He speaks in terms of food.

Too often, we look at food and drink to find satisfaction. In this way, a glutton is much like a drunkard. We have a deep longing for something, and we are looking for it in the foods we consume and the beverages we drink.

There is a quote that is often attributed to Pascal that says we all have a God-shaped void or vacuum in our hearts. I believe this is true. When we face adversity, loss, anger, suffering, and trials we become even more aware of that void in our spirit. It’s at this precise moment we should seek God.

Too often, however, we try to fill that God-shaped void in our hearts with food.

Food shouldn’t replace God. We shouldn’t look to food for comfort. When we do, we are in essence making food our God. Why is it so easy to make that mistake? Perhaps it’s because we do find temporary comfort and solace in the foods we eat. For a moment, we do feel better. But that temporary satisfaction is always followed by regret, weight gain, and remorse. The temporary satisfaction we find in food is a cheap replacement for the eternal satisfaction that can only be found in Jesus Christ.

Jesus said whoever comes to Him will never go hungry again. We need to let our food be food and our God be God!

 

Junk Food is the Porn of Our Diet

fgyekt1e6hc-brandon-morganMy last post explored the spiritual side of food addiction, diet, and weight loss. In my case, my relationship with food and gluttony had reached a point where it was sinful. I suspect I’m not the only one in this boat. What we often mistake as a simple struggle with health and exercise is often a spiritual battle. God’s Word says:

12For Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12, NIV).

We often make the mistake of thinking weight loss, health, and fitness are merely physical battles when they are actually spiritual. When I was sick with diabetes and high blood pressure, I was often depressed which inflicted spiritual damage on me that went beyond the physical. I believe the enemy knows this. If Satan can attack us through food addiction, gluttony, weight gain, and lethargy, he knows it will eventually impact us spiritually and damage our relationship with God.

Satan is known as the deceiver (Revelation 12:9). His modus operandi is to take the good gifts of God and twist them into something sinful. He does it with sex all the time. What was meant to be a gift from God to a man and his wife has been twisted into pornography, adultery, rape, promiscuity, and deviance — the same is true with food. Food was meant to be a good gift from God and consumed with thanksgiving to the One Who Provides. In my life, however, it became twisted. I became addicted to fast food and junk food. I became a glutton. My physical being began to suffer, which led to my mental being suffering, and ultimately my spiritual relationship with God was damaged. Point for Satan.

Junk Food is to Food what pornography is to sex. When we settle for an unhealthy relationship with our food and choose fast food and junk food over the healthy and nutritious foods God has provided us, we are buying into Satan’s lies.

We have to recognize this fact. We have to see the spiritual side of the issue if we hope to overcome it. If we attack our struggle with weight loss and food addiction in a way that is purely physical, we may enjoy temporary success. It may even look like we’re winning the battle but, if I’m being honest, I’ve seen many people beat obesity and food addiction only to form a sinful and unhealthy relationship with fitness and health. Both issues are flip sides of the same coin and can damage us spiritually.

Once we recognize our battle is a spiritual one, we must fight it spiritually. That passage from Ephesians continues:

13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:13-17, NIV).

If weight gain, food addiction, gluttony, and obesity is a spiritual attack, we better fight it spiritually. If not, we have no chance to truly beat it.


Note: I am currently reading through a devotional plan called Food is Not The Enemy: Overcoming Food Struggles using the YouVersion Bible app on my phone. The Scripture referenced in this post coincides with the devotional. I highly recommend it.

Food and Diet as a Spiritual Issue

1rm9glhv0ua-brooke-larkGenesis 9:3 “Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.”

1 Timothy 4:1-5 “… deceiving spirits …. Order [people] to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.”

Anyone who knows me knows that I have had a long and complicated relationship with food. My weight has fluctuated greatly throughout my adult life ranging from as high as 390+ pounds to as low as 178. I do not have a healthy relationship with the food I eat.

In 2015, I was diagnosed with a very bad case of Type II Diabetes to go along with the high blood pressure I was already being treated for. I weighed in at 368 pounds and, at 45 years old, things looked a little bleak. My health issues were exacerbated by mental and spiritual issues. I knew my diet and weight had become sinful. And I was deeply depressed as a result. So I confessed to some close Christian friends that my gluttony was a spiritual issue and I prayed for God to help me make a change.

Throughout 2015 and 2016 I began dieting and exercising more. Cycling and running became staple exercises for me and my body responded well. I’ve lost weight (more on this later) and was taken off all my blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol medications. But I must confess that as I write this in January of 2017, I still don’t have a healthy relationship with food. I have tried nearly every diet out there. I did Weight Watchers. I have abstained from carbs, eaten an all-clean and natural diet, and even drank buttered-coffee while fasting from all foods in an attempt to get control over my gluttony.

Nothing has really worked.

I still struggle mightily. This morning I weighed in at 282 pounds. My lowest weight in 2016 was 249 pounds so I’ve gained some weight back over the winter … and I am frustrated. I feel like I’m standing at the crossroads. Either I’ll get a handle on this now or I’ll gain all my weight back … and I refuse to gain my weight back.

I am keenly aware that, for me, my weight is a spiritual issue. I cannot regain control of my food addiction without leaning on God Almighty. I am turning to Him in prayer and asking Him to speak to me through His Word. Today’s passages from Scripture suggest that a healthy relationship with food is one that partakes of “everything that lives and moves” and “all the food that God created” provided it is eaten with thanksgiving to the One Who Provides.

These passages leave me with some things to ponder and pray about. What types of food can be considered “provided by God”? Certainly, these passages suggest a person should eat from all food groups both plants and animals; but what about pizza or rich, decadent desserts? Did God provide these types of junk food or are they too tarnished by the hands of man?

As I ponder and pray over these questions, one thing is for certain. Whatever I eat, will be eaten in thanksgiving to God. I will stop and acknowledge Him before I put any food in my mouth. I will praise Him for supplying my needs and ask for His strength to help me moderate my food intake.

One thing is for certain … food and diet is a spiritual issue.

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Note: I am currently reading through a devotional plan called Food is Not The Enemy: Overcoming Food Struggles using the YouVersion Bible app on my phone. The Scripture referenced in this post coincides with the devotional. I highly recommend it.

Obedience is Not Optional

“To God’s elect … who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with His blood…” (1 Peter 1:1-2 NIV emphasis mine).

mo9vkbg5csg-ben-whiteThe above passage is rich with theological implications. It contains trigger words that light the Bible student’s heart on fire such as ‘elect’ and ‘foreknowledge’. It also mentions each member of the Trinity; Father, Son, and Spirit. However, when I read it this morning three other words grabbed my attention …

“… to be obedient …”

Why were God’s elect chosen according to the foreknowledge of God? To be obedient. Too often, Christians see obedience to God’s Word as optional. We tend to pick and choose the passages we’ll respond to. I’m not talking about the things we rule out after careful study and exegesis. It’s a truth of Scripture that not all commands within its pages apply to Christians today (hint: think shellfish!). What I’m talking about are the no-brainers — commands to worship God with all our heart, soul, and strength; to love others, worship together, and to be holy in all our conduct. We tend to pay attention to commands such as this when it’s convenient to do so, but the moment things get rough or difficult we abandon them.

When reading 1 Peter this morning I wrote the following words in the margins of my Bible:

Obedience is not optional. 

That phrase — obedience is not optional, is my new mantra. I will repeat it when things get rough. I will repeat it on the days I don’t feel God’s presence in my life. I will repeat it on those days I’m not feeling particularly Godly. Obedience is not optional!

It’s hard to justify disobedience when God’s Word says we were chosen to be obedient!

 

 

My Goals and Prayers for 2017

ef1h5yttmz8-annie-sprattNew Year’s Eve provides a wonderful opportunity to review the past year spiritually. Where has God taken you? Where have you grown? Are you more like Christ now than you were at the beginning of the year? These are the questions I asked myself as I compiled my list of goals for 2017:

 

  • I want to love people more. Not only the people God has put in my life but everyone. Strangers. Sinners. People that God loves and Christ died for. Yeah, those people. When asked what was the greatest of the commandments, Jesus replied, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:36-40). You simply can’t love God with all your strength if you aren’t loving the people He loves. I want to get better at this.
  • I want to tend to my holiness. God’s Word says, “15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16). I don’t use the word holy in a holier than thou sense … I simply want to be more holy than I am now … because God is holy.
  • I want to write more. I want to get better at writing. Sometimes I read the things others have written and it feels like they are communicating at a whole different level. I want to write more devotionals, more blog posts, finish a fiction project, and finish a non-fiction project. Why? God chose to communicate through the written Word … and I feel like I can honor Him through my writing if I apply myself.
  • In 2016, I managed to lose a great deal of weight. Over one-hundred pounds actually. I did this after I was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes. I started walking then running and tending to my diet. I managed to get off all my medications (diabetes and high blood pressure). At the time of this writing, I’ve gained a little back but am still doing fairly well. In 2017 I want to build on my progress. I’m praying God will give me strength and endurance as I address this goal. There’s a lot of “I’s” in this goal, however, I am well-aware this cannot be accomplished apart from God.
  • I want to continue to serve. God has provided me with a wonderful avenue to serve Him. I am the Director of Education in my local church, a Sunday School teacher, and a fill-in musician on the Praise Team. I am grateful for these opportunities to serve and I pray that God will continue to bless me in my service.
  • I pray God will temper my frustration. ’nuff said.
  • I pray for my church and the Church. In 2017, I will be praying for both my local church and the global Church. I am praying for the people in my church to grow in faith, love, knowledge, and service. I pray they will allow God to use them. I am also praying for the global Church. I pray the Church’s influence for Christ will increase. I pray for the Church in the United States to stand strong in the face of adversity. I pray for the Church to reflect the love of Christ.
  • Finally, I pray for the world and our Country. I pray for the United States. I pray for the spirituality of our country. I pray that as a people we will come to love and honor God. I pray for the divide in our country to diminish and for us to unite in purpose and prayer. I pray for our President-Elect and the incoming government. May they honor God with their leadership and decisions. I pray for the United States to honor God in its foreign relations and I am specifically praying for the country of Israel.

There are other goals and hopes I have for 2017; probably too many to list, however, I have grown comfortable allowing God to work them out. What are your goals and prayers for 2017?