The Mark of Love

Human Maturity

Human maturity involves independence and self care. It involves taking responsibility for commitments. It also means refusing to make excuses and to instead always strive for our best.

As a parent, one of my goals has always been to teach my boys to become independent. I want them to know how to take care of themselves and to be responsible in a well-rounded way. This is the essence of human maturity.

Recently, my husband had to remind me of this goal when I expressed discouragement over my boys needing me less and less every day. My sadness about their pulling away from me became quite heavy one day, and he said…

“Remember, that’s always been our goal.”

Like independence is important in our development as humans, learning dependence on Jesus and His Holy Spirit is even more so in our spiritual maturity.

Spiritual Maturity

Unfortunately, I don’t think I taught my boys the idea of spiritual maturity very well, probably because I’m still learning it myself. And largely because dependence goes against the human part of me that desires to be in control.

“Spiritual maturity is counter to human maturity.” (December 20th, Live Dead Joy by Dick Brogden)

Spiritual maturity involves dependence on God and allowing him to actively care for us. It involves waiting patiently for him to unfold his will and then moving fully into it. Spiritual maturity also means continually acknowledging our weaknesses and realizing we can only be our best under His grace and mercy.

“Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God.” (Hebrews 6:1)

Moving forward in spiritual maturity brings growth that obviously lies beyond any we could obtain on our own.

The Mark of Love

Spiritual growth becomes obvious to ourselves and others through one indelible mark.

“Jesus replied: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” (Matthew 22:37-40)

If we only mature in a human sense, we become increasingly self-serving and defiantly independent. But, if we also mature spiritually, we live in humble obedience seen through the mark of love on our lives.

Defeating Discouragement

Promise of Deliverance

After about 400 years of being in Egypt, God sends Moses to deliver the Israelites. The Egyptians respond to Moses’ announcement by increasing the work the Israelite slaves had to do each day.

After this, God tells Moses to remind the Israelites that He promised to deliver them. He tells Moses to remind them about His covenant with them (Exodus 6:2-4). Unfortunately, the Israelites do not respond positively to this reminder.

“So Moses told the people what the Lord had said, but they wouldn’t listen anymore. They had become too discouraged by the increasing burden of their slavery.” (Exodus 6:9)

Their present circumstances so discouraged them, they could no longer hear God.

Defeated by Discouragement

We too can become so discouraged (beaten down in spirit) because of what we see as impossible burdens that we cannot hear from God anymore.

An unsaved loved one. A rebellious child. Bad luck. Lack of progress. Physical illness. Mental illness.

The circumstances of life can wear us down and often lead to us no longer hearing God. As the discouragement increases, we sometimes become convinced it will never end.

Or, we might still hear God speaking, but we let those who are discouraged impact our response to His voice.

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go back to Pharaoh, and tell him to let the people of Israel leave Egypt.’

‘But Lord!’ Moses objected. ‘My own people won’t listen to me anymore. How can I expect  Pharaoh to listen? I’m no orator!’ (Exodus 6:10-12)

To many, staying enslaved seems easier than going through the process leading to freedom. Getting out from under discouragement is hard work, and the unknown often feels more uncomfortable than the known even if the known is not good.

Defeating Discouragement

When we get too easily taken up by our troubles that we no longer believe God’s promises, discouragement has the upper hand. But Scripture offers several steps for getting out from under the blinding burden of discouragement.

  1. Admit dependence. Realize you can do nothing without God. (John 15:5 & Psalm 62:5)
  2. Focus on facts over feelings. Feelings are often blind guides. Refuse to indulge them and always remember that focus determines reality. (2 Corinthians 1:20 & 4:17-18)
  3. Receive comfort. Don’t deprive yourself of the comfort God makes available through His Word and His divine care and direction. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5 & John 14:26)

The fact is that discouragement often grows before it dissipates. That’s life. It’s also why we cannot depend on ourselves or our feelings to relieve our discouragement.

“In the process of deliverance, things often get worse before they get better. ‘Anguish of spirit and cruel bondage’ (Exodus 5:9) often restricts us from hearing and receiving what would help us live.” (Dick Brogden, Live Dead Joy, January 19th)

Refuse to let circumstances steal your focus. Refuse to let feelings dictate activity. Choose to live based on the secure and enduring promises of God.

Stop the Spread of What is Wrong!

liquid-hand-soap-1504007-1280x960During flu season, the best way to stop its spread is to stay home if you’re sick and to wash your hands often. This way, you’re less likely to make anyone else sick and to contribute to an epidemic. If every person did this, flu season would probably be significantly shorter and less devastating.

In much the same way, you can help stop the spread of gossip, prejudice and offense. When they come your way, symbolically wash your hands of them and refuse to participate in their growth. If necessary, take time to rest and heal, but refuse to let these sicknesses multiply.

“God grants us the right and power to put an end to what is wrong if we are willing to pay the cost of absorbing it with and for Him.” (Dick Brogden, Live Dead Joy)

Confront or Forgive & Forget?

Following Brogden’s advice requires we learn “when to confront and when to quietly forgive and forget.”

Whenever possible, let an offense go and refuse to become offended. Realize a hurt usually comes from a place within the other person, that it involves their own struggles and probably has little to nothing to do with you. If necessary though, confront the offender with gentleness, kindness and patience.

Letting go and confronting both require forgiveness. Both involve humility. Both need saturated with love.

“Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:23-26)

When we refuse to spread gossip, prejudice and offence, we choose to “have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies.” Instead, we make sure we’re not hindering anyone from seeing truth.

What are you doing to stop the spread of that which causes broken relationships?

Limitations and Strengths

2 corinthians 9

“It is not until we are comfortable with and thankful for our limitations that God empowers us to be used in our strengths.” (Dick Brogden, Live Dead)

Fairly often, I’m comfortable with my limitations. Well, at last accepting of their existence. However, I probably spend an equal amount of time being frustrated by them. Mostly that means comparing myself to others, which only leads to increased dissatisfaction with my limitations as I desire to be someone I’m not and fail to appreciate the person God made.

Until just a few years ago, actually being thankful for my limitations never fell on my radar. Tolerance, a mix of apathy and acceptance, sure. But not thankfulness. Increasing frustration for certain when I thought about them too much.

The last few years have brought increasing comfort with my limitations as well as some measure of thankfulness much of the time. This came as I realized I’m not only protected by my limitations, but I’m directed by them too. You see, without my limitations, I’d more often that not head down the wrong path. I’d miss God’s will.

Take exercise for example. My goal now exists as general fitness and as good of health as possible. It used to be to project to others the image of an athlete, someone who could physically excel and be stronger, thinner and healthier than others. It was all about status and comparisons. My limitations? My body simply would not cooperate with the life of an athlete. I eventually saw those limitations as protection against a wrong focus, something that could easily have become an obsession.

So, I’m learning to be consistently both comfortable with and thankful for my limitations. I see their benefits more fully almost daily, and I realize the way God uses them to direct my focus toward His desires.

Paul talks about a thorn in his flesh in 2 Corinthians 12, and he talks about how it was there to keep him from exalting himself. Before reaching what seems like a place of comfort and thankfulness with this thorn, Paul asked God three times to remove it. I can relate. I asked God way more than three times to remove my food allergies and sensitivities, another major area of limitation in my life.

Eventually, Paul reached the point of boasting in His weakness, realizing that it was in his limitations that the power of Christ dwelt in Him. His conclusion on the matter finally being…

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’… For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

The truth of grace’s sufficiency becomes evident through our limitations — our weaknesses — as we realize our utter helplessness for meaningful success in our own efforts. Even what we’re good at, we eventually realize, exists with limitations in place for our good.

When we reach a point of comfort with and acceptance of our limitations, we become more focused on being used in our strengths, our gifts and abilities, placed within us by our Creator. Placed there for divine reasons, our limitations direct us to and help keep us focused on to His glory.

Sunday Reflections – Live Dead

When missionary Curt Wolfe talks about his call to plant churches in unreached areas around the world, he begins by talking about removing distractions and purging them from his life. For Wolfe, this means selling most of his material possessions and moving his family halfway around the globe to minister to the Arab world.

Wolfe challenges the rest of us, both by his words and actions, to “live dead” in order to present the gospel to the 2.8 billion people worldwide who have not yet heard it. These people are following the only path they know. They don’t know there’s another choice.

So what does the phrase “live dead” mean?

Conditional Obedience

Genesis 12 tells about Abram leaving his home without knowing where he was going. He was “obedient by faith” (Hebrews 11:8). All Abram knew was the next step. He also had the promise of God’s blessings (Genesis 12:2-3).

As we think about life in America today, so often we live in obedience only when the conditions are right. If we have time, if there’s enough money, if it upgrades our lives… If just the right conditions exist, we will walk in obedience.

Do you need to have the conditions perfect before moving out of your comfort zone? Does a change have to be an improvement or upgrade before you’ll make it? Do you need to understand everything perfectly and know every step to take before moving forward?

Two Types of Christians

Genesis 13 tells of Abram reaching a point where the land simply could not support all the people and livestock. So, Abram told his nephew Lot to choose where he wanted to live, and Abram would live in what was left. Lot chose the best land.

Following the story of Lot through, we find devastation and corruption, while Abram’s story is one of the fulfillment of God’s blessing. How is this possible?

There exist two types of Christians, and the lives of Lot and Abram poignantly reflect these. Lot Christians go looking for their blessings. And many times, as with Lot, they never find them and end up being corrupted by the surrounding culture. Abram Christians know they are already blessed, and they allow God’s blessing to fully come to fruition in their lives through walking in obedience.

Are you a Lot Christian or an Abram Christian?

Catch & Release Christianity

A catch & release Christian is one who realizes that blessings come in order to allow others to be blessed. Blessed to be a blessing.

Consider a body of water with no outlet. The water and surrounding area become murky and stinky and avoided. In order to be vibrant and fresh and living water, there needs to be an outlet. The water must flow in and then back out again.

Why are you blessed? Do your blessings sit in your house or garage waiting for you to have time for them? Or do your blessings flow into the lives of others as you reach out into a hurting world?

So back to the original question. What does the phrase “live dead” mean?

To “live dead” means to let go of excuses that keep us from obedience. It means realizing that while conditions may not appear to be right for us to move, they are right for God to move.

Dying to self means giving God everything and letting Him give back to you what you need to do His will. It means holding nothing back from God, regardless of the conditions surrounding you.

Living in the blessings that God has promised and choosing to be a blessing to others are also a part of choosing to “live dead.”

God may not call you to become a missionary and movie to Egypt, but he does call you to move. Allowing His call to become alive and active in your life, to let the condition of your heart be one that is obedient by faith, is what it means to “live dead.” What must you do in your life to “live dead”?

Want to know more about Missionary Curt Wolfe & his family? Check out their personal blog as well as their plan for developing church planting teams in 33 gateway cities in the Middle East.

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