How to become Real

How to become Real

The LORD appeared to him from afar, saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness to myself.” (Jeremiah 31:3)

Zephaniah 3:17 For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.

The Velveteen Rabbit is a British children’s book written by Margery Williams in 1922. A stuffed rabbit sewn from velveteen is given as a Christmas present to a small boy. He is given several other presents that are modern and mechanical. The boy plays with his other new presents and forgets all about the Velveteen Rabbit.

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by and by, their mainsprings break, and they pass away. He knew they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “But when you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

“I suppose you are Real?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.

“The boy’s uncle made me Real,” he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

The rabbit is awed by this idea; however, he thought that his chances of achieving his wish were slight. One night, the boy’s nana gives the rabbit to the boy to sleep with, in place of a lost toy. The rabbit becomes the boy’s favorite toy, enjoying picnics with him in the spring; and the boy regards the rabbit as Real. Time passes, and the rabbit becomes shabbier but happy. He became Real because of love.

In this story, do you see yourself? Are you the little boy, the uncle, the Skin Horse or the Rabbit?

In truth, I think we can identify with all four of them a bit. I am envious of the Skin Horse. But more than likely, I am most like the Rabbit who wants to become real.

The Father is more like the uncle. He is “older” and wiser and has been really, really loving His children for a very long time.

REFLECT & PRAY

“God rejoices over you, though He knows you are in the process of becoming all that He has planned for you to become . . . God is patiently molding and shaping you into the image of His Son” (Stanley).

Father thank You for loving me with Your everlasting love and drawing me to Yourself. Thank You for taking special delight in me. You literally shout for joy as You embrace me in Your loving arms.

INSIGHT

Jeremiah 31:3 The LORD appeared to him from afar, saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness to myself.”

Because of His abounding love, the Father draws us to Himself. That makes us His children, but it doesn’t make us real. In order to become real, we have to experience His love for a very long time. Like the mechanical toys, many of us seem to break easily, have sharp edges, or an seem to require a lot of special handling. So in fact, He has been “handling” some of us for a long, long time. Some of the rough edges have been the knocked off. We have received a few dings, but have not been shattered. Eventually we began to enjoy His loving touch and embrace.

But there’s more.

The Father desires to make Himself known to us in a very special way. Wherever we are, He wants to be right there in the midst of it all. In fact, He is.

Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”

But there’s even more.

Zephaniah 3:17 For the LORD your God is living among you . . . He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.

This verse expresses the Father’s sentiments regarding His children. He takes “delight” in us. This is could be translated “He will be very happy with you” (UBS). “The great God not only loves his saints, but he loves to love them” (Matthew Henry). “God takes great delight in loving us because we are His very own” (Jerry Bridges). Are you losing any fur yet?

The phrase, “You will rejoice over us with loud singing,” could be translated, “He will sing and be joyful over you” or “You will make his heart full of joy, and he will sing loudly” (UBS). He is so delighted that He shouts for joy! Much like when our favorite team wins a game. We shout and cheer and literally jump for joy.

Think about when you are at an airport and see close friends or family, or a husband and wife that have been apart for a long time. When they catch sight of each other, they run towards each other with exuberant joy. They hug, they dance around a bit, and perhaps a tear or two roles down their cheeks.

That’s the word picture of how the Father makes us Real.

Growing pains

Growing pains

You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. – Genesis 50:20

Hebrews 12:10-11

 10 For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness.

 11 No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening– it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.

“When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going” is a 1985 song recorded by English singer Billy Ocean in 1985. The song was used as the theme song for the Michael Douglas film, The Jewel of the Nile. The song became a major international hit reaching number one on the UK Singles Chart in February 1986, and number two on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.

But 15 years before Billy Ocean sang it, John Wooden, said it. John Wooden was the amazing and innovative head coach of basketball at the University of California, Los Angeles. He changed her the entire nature of the game of college basketball and was nicknamed the “Wizard of Westwood.” He won ten NCAA national championships in a 12-year period. He won an all-time record of seven in a row.

Wooden formulated what he called the “Pyramid of Success.” At the heart of his pyramid is competitive greatness: “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going. Be at your best when your best is needed. Real love of a hard battle.” No doubt it worked! His pyramid had 24 traits that made for success.

Among the 24 attributes of success are: Faith through prayer, Patience good things take time, fight, effort, and hustle, Reliability others depend on you, Resourcefulness proper judgment, Poise just being yourself, being at ease in any situation, never fighting yourself, Confidence respect without fear, may come from faith in yourself in knowing that you are prepared, Adaptability to any situation condition and Integrity.

The pages of history are replete with people who have experienced injustice and suffering. It seems that almost no one is exempt from mistreatment, criticism, and outright conflict. The Father uses these things to make us more like Christ.

Joseph received more unfair treatment and betrayal than most of us could even imagine. His brothers sold him into slavery. He was thrown into prison because Potiphar’s wife slandered him. In prison, for all practical purposes, he was left to rot. But something marvelous was happening deep in the dungeon. The Father was at work developing his character. Joseph came to understand the Father’s ways and he was being trained for what was to happen in the future. He discovered joy in the midst of sorrow, purpose in the midst of hopelessness. All that happened to him was nothing more than growing pains. When he was fully formed and the process was completed, he was not only freed from prison, but he was put in charge over all the land of Egypt. Only the Pharaoh ranked higher. He went from being rejected and forgotten, to recognized and famous. His elevation to prominence took only a day, but his preparation took 30 years.

REFLECT & PRAY

“God’s will does not come to us in the whole, but in fragments, and generally in small fragments” (F. W. Faber).

Father allow me to see my adversity as nothing more than growing pains. Let me ask, “what would you have me learn from this experience”. I am your handiwork. You are the Potter and I am the clay. May the image of the Lord Jesus Christ grow and burst forth through me.

INSIGHT

Proverbs 16:9 We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps

The Father has an intriguing and marvelous way of weaving together the plans and intentions of people and His divine purpose and goals. All Joseph knew was betrayal after betrayal, and disappointment after disappointment. But the Father was at work in all of the details. At the right time the Father’s purpose became clear.

The evil intentions and selfishness of those that meant Joseph harm, instead achieved the deliverance of the nation of Egypt and many others from death through famine. The man that Joseph became while seemingly forgotten in Egyptian prison cell was the Father’s doing. Joseph is a prime example of His handiwork.

Proverbs 19:21 You can make many plans, but the LORD’s purpose will prevail.

Joseph became a mature, godly, man of faith. And his gracious, forgiving attitude reunited his family. That was part of the Father’s plan. 70 members of Joseph’s family joined him in Egypt to survive and prosper (Genesis 46:27). After the administration changed, and Joseph was no longer in control, his people became slaves and remained in slavery for 400 years. But that was also part of the Father’s plan.

Genesis 50:20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.

When you see things through the eyes of the Father, everything changes. What a magnificent paradigm shift.

We always have a choice. We can focus on the wrongs done to us and the pain we have suffered. Or we can ask the Father what He wants us to learn from our experiences. He will reveal His ways and purposes and provide guidance. But the road to godliness and growth begins by taking baby steps in developing the right attitude towards the Father and His work in our lives. 

Hebrews 12:12-14  

 12 So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees.

 13 Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak, and lame will not fall but become strong.

 14 Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life . . .

The Father often uses suffering to develop and bring forth the life of Christ in us. The Father’s endgame is to create an ever increasing “family resemblance” among all His children. Genesis ends with Joseph’s Christ-likeness in full bloom!

Genesis 50:19-24 

 19 But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you?

 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.

 21 No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.” So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them.

 22 So Joseph and his brothers and their families continued to live in Egypt. Joseph lived to the age of 110.

 24 “God will surely come to help you and lead you out of this land of Egypt. He will bring you back to the land he solemnly promised to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”

Prosocial behavior

Prosocial behavior

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. – Luke 6:35

Philippians 2:3-4

 3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.

 4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

On January 31, 2020, The Week magazine published an article titled, “The parrots to look out for their pals.”

Researchers in Germany have observed parrots carrying out seemingly “selfless” acts of kindness – behavior that has previously only been seen in humans and a few other primates. Désirée Brucks, a biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, trained several African grey parrots to pass her small metal tokens when she held out her hand, in exchange for a walnut treat.

She then placed two of the birds in adjacent clear-walled compartments with a small opening between them; one compartment also had a hole at the front. Brucks gave the tokens to one parrot, but only the other bird could reach her hand. Immediately, the parrot with the tokens started passing them through the opening to its neighbor, who could then exchange them for food. The first parrot carried on helping its feathered friend even though it received nothing in return.

This “prosocial” behavior isn’t apparent in all birds; when the experiment was repeated with blue-headed macaws, the birds only acted selfishly.

It is natural for fallen people to look after their own interests first. As part of our fallen DNA, we tend to look out for “numero uno.” At the same time, fallen man can be generous. The standard that the Father has set for believers is far higher. We are to be like our Father. He is kind to those who are ungrateful, malicious and wicked.

Luke 6:31-35

 31 Do to others as you would like them to do to you.

 32 “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them!

 33 And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much!

 34 And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return.

 35 “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.

Many of us perform acts of kindness often. Acts of kindness in of themselves are excellent things to do. But what is our motivation? Do we do it to impress others? Do we do it to feel good about ourselves? Are we trying to make up for past wrongs?

REFLECT & PRAY

It is natural to put own interests first. It is supernatural to put the interests of others first.

Father what a high and lofty standard you have set. Only through your supernatural enablement will I ever begin to even try live up to it. Encourage me, empower me to do just.

INSIGHT

Doing good and helping others, is always a good thing to do. But having the right motivation for your actions is more important than the actions themselves. We are to be motivated by the same love and concern that the Father has for us. We are commanded to have the same prosocial attitude that Christ Jesus had (Philippians 2:5).

Philippians 2:3-4

 3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.

 4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

We are to be humble. “The humble person is not one who thinks mainly of himself; he simply does not think of himself at all” (Andrew Murray). We are to know ourselves as we are according to the grace that the Father has bestowed upon us. We should not think ourselves either better or worse than we really are. “The truly humble person knows himself and accepts himself (Romans 12:3). He yields himself to Christ to be a servant, to use what he is and has for the glory of God and the good of others” (Wiersbe).

Putting our own interests first is natural and normal. Having the same regard for the welfare of others is rare and extraordinary. We are to be genuinely concerned about the well-being of others, “The key is to take that same level of concern and apply it also to the interests of others. Such radical love is rare” (ESV notes). This is the standard that the Father has set for all of His children, pure, unadulterated agape love.

Agape love “is that unconquered goodwill which never knows bitterness and never seeks anything but the good of others. It is not a mere reaction of the heart, as human love is; it is a victory of the will, achieved by the help of Jesus Christ. It does not mean loving only those who love us, or those whom we like, or those who are lovable. It means an unconquerable goodwill even to those who hate us, to those whom we do not like, to those who are unlovely” (Barclay).

But there is more. Generous, unselfish giving always provides a generous return.

Luke 6:38 Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full – pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”

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Spiritual germination

Spiritual germination

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels – a plentiful harvest of new lives. – John 12:24

John 12:24-26

 24 I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels – a plentiful harvest of new lives.

 25 Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.

 26 Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me.

Germination is an amazing paradox that is not yet fully comprehended by modern science. Plant seeds are like miniature survival packages. Each one contains enough food, nutrients, and instructions to burst into life and begin growing roots and a small plant. It then will break through the soil and sprout. This entire process is referred to as germination. To continue growth, it requires light, water, and nutrients found in growing location.

Before the seed is planted it is dormant, and for all appearances seemingly dead. By itself, the seed serves no function and it is practically speaking, useless. When it is planted everything changes. It truly dies and then becomes truly alive.

Spiritual germination is also a miracle. It is likewise an amazing paradox. Spiritual life and growth only comes by death. In order to bring redemption to the world, the Lord Jesus Christ had to die. But his death was not the end of the story. By the mighty power of the Father, Jesus was raised from the dead to live again. He offers salvation and eternal life to anyone who will take it. Life comes from death.

“Jesus used the image of a seed to illustrate the great spiritual truth that there can be no glory without suffering, no fruitful life without death, no victory without surrender” (Wiersbe). All of the Father’s children are His seeds. Each of us come with life within, the Father’s eternal life, and an instruction manual of sorts. New pages are added continually to the manual as we walk with Him.

REFLECT & PRAY

It is only when we die to our personal ambitions and goals, that we truly began to live for the Father.

Father how I long to fulfill Your dreams for my life. Encourage me to continually surrender my personal ambitions and goals in exchange for yours.

INSIGHT

As children of the King, to truly live and fulfill His dreams and ambitions for our lives we have to make an exchange. Dying to self is difficult and each of us struggle with it. This personal challenge is presented to each of the Father’s children.

“If a seed could talk, it would no doubt complain about being put into the cold, dark earth. But the only way it can achieve its goal is by being planted” (Wiersbe).

We have the option of choosing to remain alone, isolated, seemingly protected, and comfortable. But as such we are not producing the spiritual life that the Father intended for us. It is a decision that we have to choose for ourselves. Once we make the choice to die to ourselves, we must continue making it throughout our lives.

John 12:25 Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.

We are the Father’s seeds; He is the one who does the planting. Consider a story involving a very remote mission station. A group of outsiders went to visit to speak with the missionaries there. The conversation went like this:

“You certainly have buried yourself out here!” one of the visitors exclaimed.

“We haven’t buried ourselves,” the missionary replied. “We were planted!” (Wiersbe)

But there’s more. It is only when we make the choice to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, that we become servants of the Father and disciples.

John 12:26 Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me.

While the statement “I serve at the pleasure of the President” has been used since the 1700s. The phrase “I serve at the pleasure of” was commonly used by people who served kings and other royal leaders. To serve the King was a great privilege.

How great is it to be a servant of the King of Kings?

How do we achieve the most in this life? The Lord Jesus Christ teaches very clearly that it is done by living sacrificially and dying to ourselves, rather than living for ourselves. Putting it either terms, a self-centered life is a life wasted. Whatever we gain is temporal and fleeting. But if we live a Father-centered life, we gain eternal value and worth. The Father will honor anyone who serves me (John 12:26). “People whose priorities are right have such an attitude of love for the things of God that all interest in the affairs of this life appear by comparison as hatred” (Constable).

Toxic Masculinity

Toxic Masculinity

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her. – Ephesians 5:25

Colossians 3:19 Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly.

1 Peter 3:7 In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. Treat her as you should so your prayers will not be hindered.

The Babylon Bee – a Christian satire website asks:

Are you Suffering from Toxic Masculinity?

More than 40% of men today suffer from it – and their loved ones pay the price.

Toxic masculinity is the latest disease to plague the nation. More than 40% of men today suffer from its detrimental effects. Toxic masculinity is social science term which identifies traditional, cultural norms for manliness such as self-reliance, stoicism, strength, virility, and dominance. Puzzlingly absent from the symptoms are courtesy, kindness, servant leadership, loyalty, self-sacrifice, love for country and family, and commitment to defend and protect those loved and cared for. It is incumbent upon every male to know the warning signs of this virulent disease plaguing the nation.

What are some of the early warning signs of toxic masculinity?

– A belief that men and women are at least a little bit different. If you’re a woman who believes this, then you suffer from an even worse disease called internalized misogyny.

– Eating meat on occasion.

– Holding the door open for a woman once in a while.

– Yelling stuff about freedom and charging into battle wearing blue face paint.

– Being a man who doesn’t hate himself. This is the most telling sign.

Of course this is nothing new. This social malady first began with of the Father’s instructions to Adam and Eve in the garden. The idea caught on and was expanded through New Testament teachings. The New Testament standards set the bar much higher. Men were required to treat women with respect as equal partners. In particular, husbands were exhorted to love their wives, be faithful to them, and be willing to die for them.

Is this toxic or admirable? Well, according to the viewpoint of fallen people in a fallen world it is a very toxic. But then they have no respect or regard for the Lord God omnipotent who reigns from heaven. He is the one who set the standard. It goes without question that if you don’t respect or admire the Father that feel only disdain for Him, you will reject His thoughts and absolutes.

REFLECT & PRAY

At the center of our values is our personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. As our relationship with Him becomes more and more a part of who we are, what we do will become closer to the standards that He has set for us.

Father thank You that You have set forth righteous standards for how we are to live. Thank You for forgiving us when we fail. Encourage and strengthen us to strive to do what is right.

INSIGHT

Much of the criticism of biblical masculinity focuses on modern times and unfair practices that are everyday occurrences. But the ancient world was an entirely different situation.

The ancient world in many ways was cruel, brutish, and ugly. Societies were male dominated. Men had the rights and authority; women had the responsibilities and obligations. There was no balance when it came to authority and relationships.

The Lord Jesus Christ and the New Testament writers started a cultural and social revolution. They introduced values and standards of mutual obligation. Duties and responsibilities existed for both males and females.

“The Christian ethic is one of mutual obligation, in which the rights and the obligations rest with every individual. It is an ethic of mutual responsibility; and, therefore, it becomes an ethic where the thought of privilege and rights falls into the background and where the thought of duty and obligation takes priority. The whole direction of the Christian ethic is not to ask: ‘What do others owe to me?’ but ‘What do I owe to others?’ (Barclay)”

Rather than toxic masculinity, according to the Father the symptoms, stipulated above, are indicators of godly masculinity. It is indeed contagious and seems to spread wherever the truth word of God is taught, comprehended, and put into practice. Wherever New Testament truth has spread, husbands attempt to understand their wives and treat them with kindness and love. Women are no longer considered property, slaves, or objects.

Men attempting to follow biblical principles are still fallen men living in a fallen world. Sadly, injustice, cruelty, oppression, and degradation remain. The bar set for godly masculinity is high. Sadly, too few men achieve the standards required. “One of the unfortunate truths about Christianity . . . [is that] over the centuries, many Christ-followers have fallen far short of the standard Jesus set in showing the worth and dignity of women (Dorothy Sayers). But the standard still exists. A good number of men are working really hard to measure up.

A short summary of the Father’s instructions for husbands is: Husbands, love your wives, never treat them harshly, honor them. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together. She is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. Treat her as you should so your prayers will not be hindered.

There is only one cure for godly masculinity and that is not to strive for it.

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