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Cristina Rutkowski Ford

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The combination of “Bible” and “command” usually has some solemn, and sometimes grim, connotations. And understandably so. Especially in the Old Testament, there is an unavoidable connection with God’s commands with his consequences — some of which appear uncomfortably harsh. Especially for our modern sensibilities.

So if someone asked after the most common command in the Bible, your mind would probably immediately jump to some serious “do nots”, “shall nots”, reprimands, and rules.

But what if someone told you God’s most repeated command in the Bible was to be happy?

Before launching into an elaborate theological counter-argument, let’s take a closer look at this point. In his article on Desiring God, Jon Bloom highlights the following as the most repeated Biblical commands:

“Praise the Lord”
“Do not be afraid”
“Rejoice”
“Give thanks”

As Bloom points out, all of these are commands, in essence, to be happy.

If we begin seeing the Word of God as a whole, maybe that isn't so hard to believe. We start piecing together the image not of a wrathful God, but of a loving, gentle Father. We begin to see that just like a loving parent forced to discipline an unruly child, God had a heart behind his actions. That includes every reprimand, warning, and command. Both in the New Testament and now.

Bloom writes:

"There is a direct connection between loving God supremely, loving others as ourselves, and our being authentically happy. We don’t sacrifice one for the other. When God commands us to love him with all we are, or to love others with the same care and concern and grace and compassion and patience with which we love ourselves, he is not commanding us to sacrifice real, lasting, true, satisfying happiness. He’s commanding us to pursue our real, lasting, true, satisfying happiness.”

Bloom goes on to talk about how "faith-filled obedience leads us to joy":

"God only commands his people what will bring them ultimate happiness. That’s why, for those who discover the secret, “his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).”

As Bloom points out, the discovery of this secret was enough to make David break out into song — literally a whole love song written about God’s commands! (See Psalms 19:7-11 for this incredible Scripture)

And maybe Bloom is making a bigger point here, challenging many of our perhaps skewed perceptions of God. God is by no means a genie in a bottle, a relentless prayer-wish granter… but He is also not a harsh, strict, rule-obsessed justice-enforcer either. God doesn’t call us to live exclusively for happiness in this life, but He wants to give us a taste of it, as best as this fallen world (and our fallen nature) will allow for it. And that's always been the point of all His commands. Even the often controversial Old-Testament commands were never intended to hard us, belittle us, or make our lives joyless or difficult. They were given out of love. And to bring us closer to Him — in joy.

Besides, look at how the story ends: no tears, no pain. Just happiness, fulfillment, love, and a huge celebration. And that says something about our God.

Maybe a better perception of our Father — through the lens of His most repeated commands — will give us a greater appreciation for His Word as a whole.

Maybe even enough to make us burst out into song.

Cristina Rutkowski Ford is a Richmond-based artist, writer, and creative communicator. Along writing, creating, and finding God in the details, Cristina channels her passions into her work as editor of Crosswalk.com.

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When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. – 1 Corinthians 13:11

After seven years of volunteering in Sunday school, I’ve witnessed firsthand how a young Christian can develop spiritually. It’s a little fascinating to be honest. Kids will start out learning about Jesus or King David, and the next thing you know they’re asking questions about the Trinity and predestination. Yet, I’ve also discovered that an individual can be spiritually sound but emotionally immature. Many older teens have all the right Christian answers memorized, but they don’t understand them, or how to apply them in everyday faith.

Regretfully, this problem isn’t limited to younger Christians. In a recent column for Relevant Magazine, Frank Powell noted how countless believers have failed to develop an emotionally healthy faith. It goes without saying that this can have dire consequences in our personal relationship with God. As a means of warning and correction, Powell has listed several facets of an emotionally immature Christian, to which I’ve added three of my own:

Emotionally Immature Christians Hate Change

“Change is a constant. You can’t avoid it. Emotionally immature Christians are anxious about this reality, resisting it at all costs. Underneath this resistance, you typically find two drivers: fear and control. And the more unpredictable the outside world becomes, the more they clamp down on controlling, usually the things and people closest to them.”

Emotionally Immature Christians Lack Self-awareness

It’s often said the hardest person to know is yourself. A large part of maturing both as a Christian and as an adult is learning how to take a hard look at yourself and accept what you see. Self-awareness allows us to recognize our strengths and weaknesses, while endeavoring to break from destructive behaviors. Unlike practical theology, this isn’t something which can be taught from a book. Christians can only learn self-awareness through prayer, contemplation, and by maintaining healthy friendships.

Emotionally Immature Christians See the World as “Black and White”

“They need the world to make sense, so they paint it with black and white. You will often hear them speak in absolutes—never, always, etc. Absolutes help immature Christians compress the world to a manageable size, one that’s both safe and void of unknown. They equate mystery with divination and soothsaying. It’s evil, in other words. They could never believe God exists in the unknown or that He’s not on their team.”

Emotionally Immature Christians Can Become “Spiritual Narcissists”

As I’ve written before, emotionally immature Christians have the potential to become spiritual narcissists. Their faith becomes tribalistic and inwardly focused, ultimately creating divisions between themselves and other believers (Psalm 36:1-4). To avoid this, Christians must be slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to become angry (James 1:19). The emotionally healthy Christian does not flaunt their achievements or invade conversations. Rather, they demonstrate love through their actions.

Emotionally Immature Christians Are Highly Sensitive and Easily Offended

“Immature Christians need something to be against because they draw energy from winning battles, proving others wrong and the like. Because of this, they’re highly sensitive to opposing views, quick to throw up walls and often live a reactionary existence.”

“I once heard a pastor say the Spirit is unoffendable. You don’t ever see Jesus with His tunic in a wad, do you? I don’t. He’s not reactionary. People questioned and doubted Him at every turn. But Jesus never threw His hands up or pouted or sought revenge. He just continued to love people, never losing His focus, remaining steadfast on His mission. Jesus is our model. As we mold our life around Him, we become less concerned with being right or being liked.”

Emotionally Immature Christians Need Empathy

I once heard a story of a man trapped inside a deep hole. He tried to get out, but only succeeded in digging himself even deeper. Occasionally, people would walk past and offer suggestions, but none of them stayed for very long. Then one day a dusty traveler came by, and when he saw the trapped man, he jumped head-first into the hole.

“Why did you do that?” wailed the man, “Now we’re both trapped.”

“It’s alright. Be calm.” The Traveler responded, “I have been here before, and I know the way to get out.”

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another’s shoes, and it is one of God’s greatest tools. Christ has shown us fathomless grace (John 3:16), and we are called to do the same. This can only be accomplished through love, understanding, and selflessness. When these virtues are gathered together, empathy is born. It can be a difficult process, but the rewards are well-worth the journey.

*Ryan Duncan is an Editor for Crosswalk.com

(Image Credit:Thinkstock/StudioGrandOust)

**Published 11/20/2017

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In 1995, Gary Chapman released his book "The 5 Love Languages" and it took the Christian world by storm.

It’s sat comfortably on the New York Times bestseller list since 2009, since then finding an audience with believers and nonbelievers alike. You may have even read one of the spin-offs: "The 5 Love Languages of Children", "The 5 Love Languages for Singles", "The 5 Love Languages of Apology", or "The 5 Love Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace".

“The 5 Love Languages” (geared toward couples) has, by far, had the most success, however. Since its release it’s been utilized by marriage counselors, praised by pastors, and helped countless married couples find depth and intimacy in their relationships.

Sound too good to be true?

Maybe partly.

The book operates on the theory that there are five primary love languages: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch. We each have one or two dominant ones, and it’s important to understand them, how they rank, and how they need to play into our relationships. But unlike most personality profiles, it equips you to “read” not just yourself, but the person right in front of you—allowing you both to love (and be loved) in the way you really need.

As with anything that comes from the human mind, there are some subtle flaws lurking beneath what looks like a foolproof approach. And according to pastor and author Tim Challies, understanding these flaws won’t discredit The 5 Love Languages...it will allow you to use them better. Here’s what Challies shares in his vlog, “The Problem with Love Languages”:

1. Love languages can mask selfishness.

“It’s possible that I am actually using a love language that you appreciate, in order to manipulate you, so you give me love,” Challies shares. “In other words, I will speak your language so that you speak mine, or I will speak your language to the degree or the extent that you speak mine.”

According to Challies, this can enable a “back and forth” pattern where we (perhaps even subconsciously) tap into another’s love language in order to “primarily...feed our own desire to be loved.” Instead of studying the languages to learn to give to one another, we focus on receiving love from one another.

2.  Our love “languages” are actually love desires.

And as Challies points out, our desires can’t always be trusted.

“These languages simply show how I desire to be loved. As we look at the Bible, we know I can’t trust my desires. I’m a sinful person. My desires are deeply flawed, because I myself am deeply flawed. My desires may simply point to my idols; those things I’m convinced that unless I have this, I cannot be happy, I cannot be joyful.”

Challies does provide some insight into ways we can redeem these flaws, using the love languages in a way that’s God-honoring and constructive:

  • Use them to help you understand the variety of ways there are to love and be loved.
  • Pay attention to how our loved ones actually want to be loved. And realize (and appreciate) that this is usually the way their love toward you will manifest.

"The 5 Love Languages" was never meant to replace the gospel. But does this mean we should dismiss it as a resource? Not at all. I would actually encourage you to pick it up, read it, and take it in. Don’t let skepticism keep you from embracing the life-changing impact of a book like this. Just be aware that it’s not foolproof, and we need Jesus in every step of the process.

I think we can all appreciate Challies’ closing thoughts:

“Now, how do I know that love languages are flawed but can be redeemed? Because Jesus Christ did not speak the language I wanted, He spoke the language I needed. That is the heart of the gospel. He spoke in the language I needed most, that proves to me I cannot trust what I want. Instead, I always, always need to look to Him and to His word.”

Amen.

Article Date: November 16, 2017

Cristina Ford is editor of Crosswalk.com

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