Wednesday, March 21, 2012

March 22, 2012

"Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." Matthew 16:24

Isn't love amazing? No One captures it or communicates it better than Christ.

In this one verse He shows the inclusive nature of love when He says, "Whoever" but then He also demonstrates the exclusive aspect of love when He used the word "must".

To me, this is an incredible insight about the love of God. It is a key to experiencing His CRAZY LOVE.

God's love is unconditional love because it flows out of His nature. He gives it freely to everyone. You are loved fully and completely regardless of who you are or what you have done. Tomorrow as you drive to work, everyone you pass or everyone who passes is loved unconditionally by God. As the children's song goes, "Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white they are precious in His sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world".

So, love is given to all 7 billion souls on planet Earth! Love is given to whoever draws a breath everywhere all the time! His love is all-inclusive!

But having said that, there are conditions to receiving His love and to growing in that love. In this verse Jesus clearly articulates those conditions. They are:

Decision - "Whoever wants to be my disciple"

Anyone can receive His love but must decide to receive it and enter into a personal faith relationship with Him. That is an exclusive decision.

Denial - ".....must deny themselves...."

To receive His CRAZY LOVE you must deny your selfish self-centered love. You must surrender any competing loves to allow His love to be supreme in your heart. It is that exclusive.

Dying - ".....take up their cross...."
For Jesus to make it possible to receive God's love, He had to die on the cross. The exclusive nature of receiving His love requires you to die to desires that compete with His love.

Devotion - ".....and follow me!"

Once again, if you are to enjoy the fullness of His CRAZY LOVE you must follow Him exclusively. Since love is received in relationship with Jesus, being a follower of Jesus is absolutely required. And unless you are devoted to Him you are not a follower you are just a fan.

Love is given unconditionally but there are conditions to receiving it.

Have you received it?

March 21, 2012

"Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” Matthew 13:1-9

Almost everyone loves a good story so it is not a surprise that Jesus, knowing how effective stories can be, told parables to illustrate kingdom truths.

One of the best known parables of Jesus was the parable of the sower. In a rural setting with some farmers in the crowd, Jesus launched into a story that they could easily relate to - a sower sowing seed. It was a common scene in those parts during certain times of the year.

First the farmer would plow and prepare the soil to receive the seed that would be sown by the farmer. When those seeds landed on the soft, moist, well prepared soil it would take root and grow into a large stalk of corn or wheat. Each of those stalks of grain was ladened with considerable amount of additional seeds.

Of course, not all seed would land in the well prepared soil. Depending on the accuracy of the sower and the direction or velocity of the wind, some seed would land on the hard-packed path, some would land on the rocky ground, and others would land among the thorns. The four various soil conditions resulted in four quite different results. Only one would bring the harvest they depended upon to secure their future as a family.

A bountiful harvest would provide the food they needed for the year, plus it would allow them to set aside the seed for the next crop and then sell what was above that to provide money for their needs. There was a lot riding on the harvest and they knew they had sown good seed so it all depended on the condition of the soil.

The sower of course, represents God and the seed represent the truth and grace that He sows into your life and mine. It is good seed capable of producing a bountiful harvest in His kingdom. For purposes of our current CRAZY LOVE study, this parable illustrates how you are to receive the love of God into your life. Your responsibility is to make sure you are good soil so your life will produce fruit for His kingdom.

In this parable, Jesus identifies three common obstacles you will have to overcome to produce good soil. One is hardness. One is shallowness. One is stress. Those three realities of daily life in the 21st century will rob you of the joy of experiencing God's love unless you are detemined to produce good soil in your life.

Hardness typically comes from disobedience. When you hear the truth and become aware of what God desires from you but you willfully refuse to obey, that hardens your heart. God's love cannot take root in a disobedient spirit. Do you have an area of disobedience in your life this morning?

Shallowness represents a lack of discipline in your spiritual life. When you don't apply yourself to regular study and prayer you will not develop any spiritual depth. When you deprive yourself of fellowship with other believers you will have trouble developing spiritual depth. If you are not regularly involved in serving God you will stay shallow in your spiritual development. When you limit your spiritual experience to feelings and emotions, you will struggle with shallowness. What are you doing to develop spiritual depth today? Are you giving God's love a fair chance to take root in your heart?

Life has always involved stress but in 2012 America it is getting increasingly more difficult to make ends meet. Financial worries and job security issues and demands of balancing work schedules with time for family or faith and fun can generate stress. Stress drains energy and focus and diverts you from concentrating on God's love. God's Word calls you to pull Him into the center of your stress reminding you to "cast your cares upon Him for He cares about you". Will you do that today? Will you decide that you will share your stress with God and turn your worries into a place of worship?

Receiving God's CRAZY LOVE is the result of being good soil. His seeds are good and can produce and abundant harvest of love and grace within your heart! Will you cultivate good soil today?