How Much Do You Love Yourself?

When asked the question, “How much do you love yourself?” What is your answer? Well, I love myself enough to make sure I have food to eat, clothes to wear and a warm place to sleep. I also love myself enough to want to have close relationships with my children and family, to bring happiness to others and to enjoy intimate friendships with other people. I also love myself enough to want to hear encouraging words, compliments and uplifting messages. I love myself enough to want to avoid painful situations, to run away from abusive relationships and to have people help me and forgive me when I fail. I love myself enough to want to survive.

I have been struggling with some deep issues in recent days involving an unforgiving heart, deep disappointment and anger. I know in my head I need to let go and trust God to work situations out but I have this roiling, churning uneasiness in my spirit. In my devotions this morning, I was reading Matthew 22. Jesus was confronted by the religious leaders who were trying to attack his teaching. One Pharisee asked him a ridiculous, simple question any Jew would have known. “According to the Law of God, what is the greatest commandment?” Instead of ignoring the trite attack, Jesus answered promptly, “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” But, he didn’t stop there. He looked at the smug, self-righteous leaders and replied, “And the second greatest commandment, equal to the first, is to love your neighbor as yourself.”

You see, I have been stuck on the first part. I love God on all levels and I strive to know him more personally each day. I don’t consciously do it but I can be like the religious leaders on my high horse sitting high and mighty above the “dregs of society”. I can be judgmental, and have been, and can consider my life better than some people. I pat myself on the back and say I’m not in the mud with the drug addicts, the alcoholics, the child abusers, the failures. Truth is, though, even if I keep the first commandment but don’t keep the second, to love my neighbor as myself, I’m no better than any of them.

Jesus was constantly criticized for fraternizing with prostitutes and tax collectors. He faced down his critics by saying, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17) Those were his neighbors and he was loving them as much as he loved himself. He met not only their physical needs but their emotional and spiritual needs as well. His love for God didn’t end with himself; it extended to the world around him to people entrapped by pain, hopelessness, suffering, addictions, and guilt.

I asked for God’s forgiveness for my unloving attitude, which was eating away at me, and I also asked for his help in seeing people with his eyes. In my own power, it is difficult to see the small grain of hope buried in the desperate, seeking heart of another human being but if I strive to see people as God sees them I can overcome my prejudice and judgment and love my neighbors as I love myself and as God loves me. There have been times in my life when I was no better (on many levels) and yet God’s loving eyes, his forgiveness, changed me.

How would my world change if I asked, when confronted with difficult people, “Do I love this person as much as I love myself?”

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Kalashnikov, Kids and Kindness

Okay, this one is for the Christians out there. The rest of you can read for your entertainment if you like but I’m addressing people of like faith on this one. How big is YOUR God? Is Yahweh more powerful than Allah?

Over the past few days my position on the refugee crisis has wavered between saying, “Absolutely NOT” to “Maybe” to “What are we afraid of?” My gut response, after seeing the horror perpetrated on Paris was–we need to keep these people out of our country. The truth is, however, the terrorists are already here. They are already living among us and they didn’t sneak in behind traumatized women, children and old people. They came in with visas and passports. They live in towns called “Islamaberg”.

Last night I watched a chilling program on the PBS show, “Frontline”. It was called, “ISIS in Afghanistan”. There were scenes of ISIS men indoctrinating young, young children on the ways of jihad. They were showing them videos of torture and be-headings. They were teaching them the proper way to hold a gun. Every day the children in these villages meet to see new videos, hear new teachings and become more poisoned by the hatred and bile of these fighters. The most horrifying sight to me was a young boy, maybe 7 or 8, holding a Kalashnikov rifle which he pretended to shoot and with an innocent smile on his face proclaimed, “God is great!”

I look at the innocent faces of these Afghani children and I look at the faces of my grandchildren and think, “What are we teaching them?” Chances are we are feeding our children just as much hate and suspicion as the jihadists are. They hear us talk about wiping all the Muslims off the planet, destroying them, killing them. We say these things because we are afraid–afraid of the unknown, afraid of our families being attacked, afraid of an evil we can’t see. But I go back to my original question–How big is YOUR God?

As Christians we say the words, we go to church and sing about how great our God is, how he will protect us, how he will provide for us but when we are faced with a truly dire situation that needs a Christian response suddenly our God is not enough to protect us from the forces of Allah. God is not great enough to sift out evil or keep us safe. Our words mean nothing in the face of the barbaric, despicable radical Muslims because we truly have no confidence in our faith.

I’m just as guilty. I watch these shows about the demon-possessed hordes ravaging the Middle East and Europe. I know they want to destroy us and it shakes me to the core. But, I have to believe MY God is bigger than theirs. And if I believe that how do I respond to mothers, babies, little children, old men and old women who are trying to find some peace and release from their fear?

In 2 Chronicles 20, King Jehoshaphat has been informed an immense army of Moabites, Ammonites and Meunites were on their way to Judah to annihilate them. Jehoshaphat knew there was no way they had enough people to defeat the army coming against them. Instead of running in fear, he stood on the steps of the temple and prayed. There was no way, humanly speaking, for a good outcome and he turned to the God he believed would save them. God spoke to Jehoshaphat and everyone there–Go meet the enemy and take your position, stand your ground and watch what God will do! Instead of going to meet the enemy with swords and spears, they marched toward them singing songs of praise for what God had already done for them. When they arrived at the spot where they would meet up, every one of the enemy soldiers lay dead on the valley floor. The battle was God’s and he won.

We’ve got to stop paying lip service to what we believe about God and act on who we know he is. Either we face the enemy and stand our ground or we run. We can’t be in the middle any more because this is a matter of life and death. If we truly believe in God then we need to show the terrorized masses fleeing their homes the love and kindness of the one true God. If we turn them away, we are reinforcing the messages already being indoctrinated into their minds. It is our job as Christians to show them why we call ourselves by that name and to show the stranger and the sojourner peace and a more blessed way of living.

It is our government’s job to protect us, to ferret out the evil, to take down the wicked ones who would destroy us. We need to hold them accountable for our safety. We need to be aware of our surroundings and do what we physically can to protect ourselves and our children. But, our Christian response should reflect the very actions Christ would require of us. To be the good Samaritan cleaning the wounds and feeding the ones left for dead on the side of the road. Anything less makes us no better.

Is God greater than fear?

Is God greater than fear?