Monday, July 24, 2017

How to Love Your Neighbor - Part 3

One of the questions I have often found myself asking is:

How do people who love God and know the Bible fail so much in loving other people?

Then I look at myself. I love God. I pray. I read the Bible regularly. Even study it and commit it to memory. Yet I regularly fail in loving others.

Because I'm human. Selfish. Faulty.

This morning, another answer came to me. Could it be, at least in part, that the church has been at time (including the recent past) such as checklist culture?

It doesn't happen overtly anymore (at least on the scale it once did), but it seems to me the church adopted culture's organized, business-like tendency to keep records. I didn't grow up going to church, except when I spent the summers with my grandparents, but I remember the board at the front that kept track of the number of people present and the offering for the day. There were other categories that I don't recall. I've also heard of people talking about having checklists in Sunday school asking things about bringing their Bible, a friend, reading their Bible during the week, praying, etc. A checklist. "Did you do everything that shows you're a good Christian?"

None of these things are bad, and I believe the heart behing this kind of accountability was probably in the right place, but it was the wrong method. It checked behavior, not the heart.

Church checklists had/have good intentions, but they check behavior, not the heart. Click to tweet

Jesus cares about our behavior, but He's after our hearts. When our hearts change, our behavior will too. Not the other way around.

As I mulled over these thoughts in relation to learning to love better, I thought, "That's the problem. There's no checklist for love."

Then, I thought, "Maybe there is!"

Is there a checklist for love? Click to tweet

1 Corinthians 13 is like a love checklist. Certainly, it's not as objective as "Did you read your Bible? Did you bring a friend? Did you bring an offering?" However, according to what I read in scripture, it's a much more important checklist.

We can mark off all these "good Christian" behaviors every day of our lives and never be changed by the Holy Spirit or love others better - or in other words, live out the greatest commandments given by the Lord.

The first few verses of 1 Corinthians tell us this: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

None of our actions mean anything eternal without love. Not even the best we can put forth. Click to tweet

The checklist for what love looks like comes immediately after the verses above. These are what we're going to focus on for the next few weeks. Because they show us how to love - our neighbors, our family, our coworkers, our world.

In my last post, I promised to get to the first of these love characteristics today, but alas, once again my plan has gotten derailed. That's okay, though. God's plan is even greater!

The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. Proverbs 16:9

Next time, next post, we'll talk about how to love patiently (God-willing, by His grace and for His glory).

Friday, July 21, 2017

How to Love Your Neighbor - Part 2


It's a word we hear often. It gets floated around constantly.

We love food, outfits, family, TV shows, friends, ideas, places.... The list could go on and on. In some languages there are different words to reveal different meanings of love, but in good ole' English, we just have one. Therefore, our love of fictional characters, apple pie, a sports team, our husband, children, and God get the same word. This seems wrong to me. Even though I've used the word love in each of these cases, plus many more. (Maybe we should start using those different words again, or make up our own.)

The word love also gets misused regularly. People use this word to lie and get what they want. To get ahead. To misuse someone. As an excuse to enable someone in sin. Or put blanket approval on things that are abhorant to a holy God.

"God is love and He loves everyone," is a prominent saying. While this is true, God's love is a perfect and holy love that's always for our good, even if that means disciplining us. I think, perhaps, we don't read enough of the Old Testament, of the Prophets, or maybe just not enough of Romans, to understand the full definition of God's love.

God's love is a perfect and holy love that is always for our good, even if that means disciplining us. Click to tweet

Only through continual abiding in God's Word and presence can we understand what He means when He commands us to love.

I feel like I've been going down a rabbit trail before actually getting to today's focus, but before we can talk about how to love our neighbor, it's important to understand who God says is our neighbor and what God means by love.

In the verse where God commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves (which is also found in the Old Testament), the word used is "agapao." Agapao is a social or moral love. A love not prompted by gooey feelings or mutual benefit, but a love of another person created in God's image simply because God created that person in His image. Just like He did me. Just like He did you.

God calls us to love others because He loves each one of us the same and we each have the same value to Him. Click to tweet

So how do we love others?

Our spouse...our children...our parents...our siblings...our in-laws...our church family...our geographical neighbors...our friends...strangers...homeless children on the other side of the world...homeless alcoholics in our cities...the difficult co-worker...

How do we love others - no matter whether they're in our lives for 5 minutes or 50 years - no matter whether they're easy to love or difficult?

1 Corinthians 13 is known as the love chapter, and I think has more answers on how to love than we realize. Okay, maybe it's just me. Or maybe not. As I look around me, observation tells me many others have just as many problems putting biblical love into action as I do. Thus, this series.

As much as I hoped to get to the first "way" of loving a neighbor today, I think we've covered enough. I pray that you will pray for me and with me, as I will for you, as we dive into God's Word and truly open ourselves to what He has to say about love. And surrendering our flesh and it's desires to put those words into action.

So join me again on Monday, for the next post on the first "way" God calls us to love.

(Hint: "Love is patient...")

How do we love others - no matter whether they're in our lives for 5 minutes or 50 years? Click to tweet

How do we love others - no matter whether they're easy to love or difficult? Click to tweet

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

How to Love Your Neighbor - Part 1

Who's my neighbor?

Welcome to this new series on my blog! I'm so glad you're here and hope you'll take a  moment to say
"hi." This new series is simply inspired by God and some questions I believe He prompted me to ask myself. My brain is always going, and this time I'm actually getting some of these thoughts down on paper (er, computer). I hope they are a blessing to you and draw you closer to the Lord.

Who is my neighbor? And how do I love them? Click to tweet

This question - who is my neighbor - was asked by a lawyer to Jesus. He was trying to justify himself to the Lord. (Notice how this never worked? Wait. Don't we do the same? Gulp. Okay, moving on.)

The man wanted to know who he was supposed to love. He was looking to earn his way into heaven and seemed okay with the greatest commandments of loving God and loving his neighbor. But I'm guessing he felt his neighbor didn't include EVERYONE.

I've always wondered about Jesus' answer to this quesion - who is my neighbor. He tells a story about a man beaten and robbed, who ignored the injured man, and who helped him. Then Jesus asks, "Who do you think proved to be a neighbor?" (paraphrased) It seems like Jesus would have focused on the man that needed help in being the neighbor to love, but instead, he shifts the focus to the Samaritan (who would have been abhored by a Jewish person) - the person doing the loving action.

While the lawyer was trying to find out who he needed to love, Jesus pointed him to the fact that when we love, we become a neighbor. However, another thought struck me as I mulled over this lesson. The neighbor in need of love (the man beaten and robbed) was a stranger. The Samaritan "just happened" to cross paths with him. And chose to take notice of him. Chose to help him. To love him as he loved himself. To love him radically.

To love our neighbor as ourself means to love them radically. But who is our neighbor? Click to tweet

Does that mean we are to love everyone who crosses our paths? Yes.

That means we are to love our spouse - radically.

Love our children - radically.

Love our in-laws - radically.

Love our extended family - radically.

Love our actual neighbors - radically.

Love the grocery store clerk - radically.

Love our pastors - radically.

Love our coworkers - radically.

Love those we go to church with - radically.

Get the picture? I am getting it, and if I'm completely honest, it scares me. Because I know how very far short I fall of this.

I do love the people in my life, but usually in easy ways that don't really cost me anything. I'm not really good at stopping my progress, pausing my agenda, noticing the needy person on the ground and loving them radically. Loving them in a way that costs me. Costs me my comfort. Costs me my schedule. Costs me emotional investment.

I don't do this well. But the goal of this journey, of digging into this question of how to love my neighbor, is to do it better. To get my flesh under submission and surrender to God. To not only think about doing radically loving things, but to actually do them.

Now that we know that everyone who crosses our path in this life is our neighbor, next we will examine what it means to love them radically.

I hope you'll join me on this journey! I look forward to hearing what God reveals to you and works in your life as you pursue Him and living His way.

What does it look like to pursue God and live His way? Click to tweet

Thursday, July 6, 2017

God brings us to His Safety

But the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.
Acts 27:43-44

I've been reading through Acts the last several months, slowly, taking only a chapter or section at a time. It's been truly amazing! What God reveals of Himself in the faithful telling of the early Jesus followers. The miracles He performed. The power He gave. The love, justice, and callings. It's been such a blessing!

I may go back and look over my notes (I've been reading with some friends and we share our thoughts and lessons God's teaching us) and share some from previous chapters, but as I sat down today to write, the last couple of verses from chapter 27 came forward.

In chapter 27, Paul is being transported to Italy as a prisoner. He's spent somewhere between 2-3 years in prison already, and now he's making a treacherous trip via ship. We can only imagine the discomforts of traveling on a cargo ship with almost 300 people 2000 years ago. For weeks. In a storm for days.

I'm sure the passengers and crew were weary. Tired. Scared. And ready to give up.

We don't have to experience those exact conditions to feel the same way. There are a variety of life circumstances that bring us to the end of our rope. During these times, it's hard to remember that God is still sovereign and He is still with us.

Like Paul did.

During the whole retelling of this journey by Luke (which seems to be a firsthand account, since much of it is written using "we") it never seems that Paul loses his cool. He doesn't seem frightened at all. Actually, he seems full of confidence. There is only one place this kind of confidence comes from - from a most intimate relationship with the Lord.

By truly living in a way in which every single detail of your life is surrendered to the Lord, as I believe Paul did.

We can too. Because living surrendered means we trust that God will bring us safely to shore. That He'll sustain us through the storm. That our life is really His, not ours.

Paul had this calmness even though he faced possible death once he reached his destination. This is because he knew He belonged to God and owed God his very life. God provided temporary safety for the boat passengers and crew after the ship ran aground, and He will do the same for us.

But the most important safety God brings us to is eternal safety. If we can keep our eyes fixed on that, we will experience the same peace Paul did despite any storm that comes our way.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Religion or Relationship?

Jesus never called us to be good people. When we attempt to live a life good enough to be worthy of the calling of Jesus (or, more detrimental, when we attempt to be good enough to earn our salvation) we are like the rich young man who was so close, but missed eternal life because he thought it depended on his actions.

We are also telling Jesus that He is not enough. His living a perfect life is not enough. His sacrificial death on the cross taking the full punishment for our sins is not enough. His resurrection revealing the power and glory of God is not enough. His free offering of grace, mercy, and forgiveness is not enough. His fulfilled promise of indwelling us with the very Spirit of the Lord, Creator, and Sustainer of the universe is not enough.

It sounds good to say that we are good. That we follow the rules. However, this causes some major problems (other than the main problem of essentially slapping Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in the face).

One of those problems is rebellion. Remember, some people embrace rules. Others fight them with every ounce of energy they have. They rebel, run, and live reckless lives because rules are not enough. The church trying to be perceived as good and reigning down judgment on those perceived as bad have kept many, many people away from the kingdom.

Another problem that’s created is an atmosphere of “how much can I get away with.” When rules are clear and people believe they just have to follow the rules, there are going to be many who want to know how far they can go and still stay within the technicalities of the rule. They will push boundaries and limits just far enough to still be “good.” This mentality is dangerous because if something isn’t found on the list of rules, it must be okay. Or it’ll be okay until someone decides otherwise and I’ll still be “good” because I didn’t break a “rule.”

I’m reminded of when a certain artificial sweetener was released. This is the mentality I had. It was a great replacement for those other artificial sweeteners that studies had shown could have adverse effects. I’d use it until they found something wrong with it. And they eventually did. I’ll never know how much damage I did to my body by ingesting that substance for a period of years in ignorance.

A rules oriented way of thinking lead to the same problem. We will still be looking out for our own interests and changing our actions only, not our hearts.

So, if God’s desire isn’t for us to be good, as we’ve seen in scripture and other examples, then what does He want from us?

The answer is much, much more difficult than a black and white list of do’s and don’t.

What God wants is for us to be totally and completely surrender our very life and every aspect of it.


Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Lord is Trustworthy - A Prayer

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
Proverbs 3:5-7

Thank You for being trustworthy. I praise You and lift up Your holy name to be honored and glorified throughout the earth. Thank You for being a loving guide. Your love, wisdom, grace, and mercy go beyond my comprehension. Your faithfulness abounds. Your shelter and protection never fail. Let me never forget who You are. Continue to teach me more about You. Forgive me when I allow other things to pull my gaze off of You and distract me from the details of Your plan for my life. Help me to not trust in or act based on my own understanding. Forgive me when I don't acknowledge You. You alone are worthy of all praise! Give me the strength to turn away from all evil. Let it not get as much as a toe-hold in my life. Let me not compromise or be complacent. Help me to be committed to the things You've called me to do and love well those You place in my life. Let every day of my life be filled with service and love.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Closer Walk

Do you ever feel like there's something holding you back from a closer walk with the Lord? I think everyone I know on the journey of faith has felt a barrier at some point. I most certainly have.

As I've moved along my journey, I've seen a variety of things inhibit digging deeper in my faith, growing more mature, and becoming more intimate with Jesus. One of those things is our very own sin. Another can be life challenges. Ignorance of Biblical truth is yet another. And one that I've noticed more and more is deceptions:

* About what the Bible actually says
* About who God really is
* About our standing without faith
* About what faith adds to our lives
* About how our relationship with God is to impact our lives

When we're talking about eternity, these things are essential. Yet, even those of us who have entered into a relationship with God through faith in Jesus can also be deceived and robbed of an authentic, vibrant, abundant life here on earth. We can also miss the great blessing of sharing the gospel with and seeing others come to faith.

This particular adventure and endeavor is to tackle many of the myths that Christians have integrated into our thinking. These myths negatively affect our faith walk and by busting them, we will also bust down barriers to drawing deeper in our relationship with the Lord.

A bit scary, but better than the best roller coaster or vacation in the world, it will lead to peace, joy, and transformation that will outshine the sun.