Thursday, December 26, 2013

Keep Yourself

by Andrew Cromwell

Life is full of ups and downs. No one is immune to challenges and problems. Even the people who we consider to be the most fortunate have to face the reality of a broken and sin-filled world. But how do we deal with this contradiction of the good and the bad in all of our lives? 

Some people become jaded and bitter. Some do their best to ignore and minimize the problems and live in a kind of denial. Some spend their lives and resources trying to organize their world in a way that minimizes the possibility of being hurt. 

But none of these options is the right one. All of them fall short of the way that God intended us to respond to the challenges we face in life. 

There is a tiny book — a letter really — towards the end of the Bible called Jude. It’s no more than a single page, but it is rich with content. Found tucked towards the end of its twenty-five verses are a few lines about enduring in a difficult world.

But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

There is much to glean from these two short verses, but the centerpiece is the phrase “keep yourselves in God’s love”. 

At first glance, it might seem that this is a contradiction to the main teaching of Scripture. For Jesus made it clear that God’s love for us was full and complete and that there was nothing we could do to change the way He felt about us. Christ came and gave His life for all human beings, even those who have not accepted Him! That’s the kind of love that Father God has for us.

So why would we need to “keep ourselves in His love”? Well, it is certainly not about earning God’s love (for we could never do that). Instead it is about experiencing God’s love. And that is a challenge sometimes!

There is something about this world that is corrosive to our very souls. When we are banged up by life, we often tend to lash out against God or withdraw from Him. Before we know it we have lost our way. Jude knew that. And that is why he encouraged his readers to keep themselves in God’s love. 

Keeping yourself in God’s love is a constant activity. It is something we are engaged in. Far too often, when the bad stuff in life happens, we throw a pity party when we should be throwing our arms out to God. The very moment when we are deciding that God has forgotten us and we start walking in the other direction, is the exact moment when we need to be walking towards Him! 

Imagine yourself like a ship in the ocean. The ocean is God’s love. You are always in it. But there is a section of the ocean where the sun is shining through the clouds and there in that place you actually experience — you feel — God’s love. When you are sailing in the sunshine, you sense His nearness and you feel connected to God. But when the storms of life blow you out of the sunshine, you start to feel disconnected and distant from the Father. He still loves you, He still has you surrounded in love, but you don’t feel it.

And this is where the “keeping” comes in. When you are blown off course, you have to pull out the sails and work the tackle and sometimes even stick the oars in the water and fight to get back into the sunshine. This is work. When the wind is blowing it takes ten times the effort to stay in the sunshine. Where a small course correction would have kept you on course when the weather was fair, now it seems nearly impossible.

How do we keep ourselves in God’s love? Well, Jude says that too. We “build ourselves up in our faith” and we “pray in the Holy Spirit.”  More on that next time!

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