Tuesday, August 22, 2017

How to Love Your Neighbor - Part 8

First, I want to say I'm sorry it's taken me so long to post since part 7. My intentions were to keep on schedule and post 3 times a week. However, as you've probably experienced yourself, life took over. At this particular time, it's building a house and getting to a point where there's lots I can do (digging a trench around and waterproofing our basement.) My muscles are aching, but God has been working in me as I've been working on our house, and I wouldn't have it any other way!

During part of that time working, I reflected on this series of loving others and what my next post should focus on. Was there more to be said about loving kindly, or was it time to move on to loving without envy?

The answer is another post emphasizing kindness in love.

Very closely related to patience, kindness is much easier to talk about than to practice. I want to be kind, but I am not always.

One recent discovery for me goes back to how our minds, bodies, and spirits are related. While I've known about this relationship in how God created us for a long time, I've been experiencing it in fascinating ways recently. Due to a variety of circumstances (and honestly, just plain being at the end of my rope with how I felt), I made some major life changes in my eating habits. I've eaten "healthy" for a long time, but also ate the "fun" stuff and sometimes too much. On my pursuit of feeling better, I found out that even some considered healthy foods weren't cooperating with my body. So, I got really overwhelmed and then I determined to make some changes.

My weight still isn't consistently going in the direction I want it to (I'm giving that time), but over the last month of making major eating changes, I feel so much better!

What I'm finding as I feel better is that I'm a better person. I'm more able to put into practice the character traits of following and loving Jesus my heart desires to exibit.

So, this thought came to me: Are we able to love better, more kindly, more Christ-like when we take better care of our bodies? Click to Tweet

I believe the answer is yes. I also believe scripture shows us the importance of taking care of our bodies for this and other reasons.

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit 
within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 
for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Our bodies are the vessels from which we bring God glory. Isn't that what loving others is ultimately meant to do? Bring glory to God? Shine His goodness and His love? Share His Gospel Truth with others?

Jesus said the world would know we're His disciples if we love one another. (John 13:35) We want people to know we're His disciples so we can point them to Him and the salvation that comes only through repentance and faith in Him.

We want to love other's kindly so that God will be glorified. Click to Tweet

We want to take care of our bodies so that we can love more kindly, so that God will be glorified. Click to Tweet

Do you see the connection?

When we are run down, tired, sluggish, and exhausted, we are less likely to love kindly. This is not always connected to how we physically take care of our bodies, but God has been showing me that quite often it is (especially in our culture where very little of what we eat is actually food provided by Him).

Sometimes we dig into scripture, pray more about being kind, muster up every ounce of energy we can, and then still snap. At our children. At our spouse. At the person on the other end of the line (although maybe not directly to them). At that other driver. At the grocery store cashier that isn't moving fast enough. We fail miserably at loving kindly. Not because we don't want to. Not because we aren't working on it. Not because we haven't determined in our minds and sought the Lord to empower our spirits, but because we've neglected our bodies - the temple of the Spirit of the Living God.

Now, granted, even when we renew our mind with the Word, surrender to the Spirit, and treat our temples with the greatest care, we will still fail at loving kindly all the time. This is simply because we remain in the flesh as long as we're here.

However, we will make great progress in loving more kindly, more godly, when we implant God's Word in our mind. We will also make great progress when we pray for God's Spirit to empower us. Failing to take care of our bodies will not negate our hearts desire to be more like Christ, but we won't ever be as effective at loving well without addressing all three areas.

To care for our minds, spirits, and bodies is the trifecta of surrendering to Christ and becoming more like Him - including loving more like Him: with kindness.

Taking care of our mind, spirit, and body is the trifecta of loving kindly. Click to Tweet

I hope this isn't discouraging to you, but encouraging! No matter where we are, there is always room to grow. And when we rely on God in every area of our lives, He will continally transform us to be more like Him. Loving. Kind. And so much more.


Friday, August 11, 2017

How to Love your Neighbor - Part 7

Love is kind...

As I began to reflect on this 2nd characteristic, or checklist item, on how we are to love those God puts in our path, the memories of two ladies came to mind. Both of whom seemed to emanate kindness and love. These ladies both loved the Lord and also exibited the other aspects of loving in a godly way, but one of the most descriptive words I'd use for them is kind.

As I pondered over what the difference was in these ladies, and what kind love looks like, the concept of going out of one's way for others came to mind.

Kindness is going beyond what is expected to pour good into someone else's life. Click to Tweet

Kindness is choosing to sacrifice willingly and joyfully. Click to Tweet

Kindness is giving of yourself for another's benefit without begrudging the cost. Click to Tweet

Kindness is meeting someone where they are and valuing them for who they are. Click to Tweet

Kindness is loving someone as they are with no expectation of receiving anything in return. Click to Tweet

Kindness is calm.

Kindness is gentle.

Kindness is an overflow of knowing God intimately and receiving His lovingkindness through His abundant grace and mercy.

I think of one of these kind ladies confronting me about something she disagreed with. It was in such a gentle and respectful manner that it didn't even hint at harming our relationship.

I think of the other of these kind ladies, who made calls every week to anyone who missed a Sunday at church. Everyone in our small group class felt loved.

They embodied all of the definitions of kindness listed above.

How do we become more kind? Click to Tweet

I know for me, my level of kindness to others depends on several variables. Am I spending time in the Word? Am I feeding my brain with media (TV, radio, reading, etc.) that feeds my brain with unkindness and snarkiness, or the Truth and gentleness?

Am I taking care of my body? Am I getting enough sleep? Am I eating healthy so I feel better and have more to give? Am I exercising, moving my body as God created it to move?

Am I spending time in prayer? Am I fixing my eyes on Jesus? Am I intentionally keeping an eternal mindset? Am I praising the Lord?

These are a lot of questions to ask. To look at them all at once can certainly be overwhelming. However, we don't love more kindly by trying harder. Sure, we can have some success by grinning and bearing it or talking ourselves into being kinder. But true kindness, lovingkindness, is an overflow of a healthy relationship with the One who created us.

We will never consistently love more kindly simply by trying harder. Click to Tweet

Notice anything about the questions above? They naturally separate into 3 categories - mind, body and spirit. I would certainly say that they're not in order of importance. If there's a best place to start in seeking how to love others better, whether it be in the area of kindness or another quality of biblical love, seeking God and His kingdom is always a great place to begin.

However, if we neglect any one of these areas, we won't be as kind as we could be. God created us humans as a sort of trinity. We are fearfully and wonderfully made so that there is an intrisic connection between our mind, body, and spirit. Each one affects the others and works in cohesion with the others.

So, if you looked at the list and thought these characteristics of kind love are out of your realm, you're right. In and of ourselves, it is impossible to love other people - especially difficult people - with complete kindness. But don't stop with that thought!

With God, nothing is impossible. 

He has poured out His perfect, everlasting, never-failing love on us. Because of His lovingkindness, we can love kindly. By seeking Him, seeking His strength, His joy, and His kindness. He will provide both the will and the ability for us to love with kindness.

Monday, August 7, 2017

How to Love your Neighbor - Part 6

I thought after my last post, I was done talking about loving patiently. But as happens (with
seemingly more frequency these days), God led me differently. One more post, He said.

In all transparency, I thought it'd be two. I planned on writing the new posts all last week, but because of school planning (we've officially started our new school year today) and other ups and downs of life, it didn't happen. Then, as I was praying through, I realized there weren't two more posts needed, but one.

This is the verse that prompted one more post:

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way.
Numbers 21:4

I've heard the story of the Israelites dozens of times. Of their grumbling and complaining. Of their lack of staying faithful to praising the Lord for His deliverance. I'm not sure, however, this verse about their impatience has stood out before. This time, it did.

The people became impatient on their way. They wanted to reach their destination. They were ready to arrive. Even millenia before our fast food, information in an instant culture, people grew impatient with the journey.

I've been learning a lot about staying patient in the journey over the last two and a half years of building a house. (You can read a little more about that here.) I want to get to the destination. I'm ready to move into my house. But my house is not ready. And God has me on a journey. He desires to work in me on this journey. For my heart to be open to His work along the way, I must be patient.

God has us on a journey and desires to work on us as we're on our way to our desired destination. Click to Tweet

This is great! But how does it relate to loving our neighbor, you might ask. I'm glad you did!

Not only do we get impatient along the way of our journey, we get impatient with others on their journey. We want them to know what we know. Have the revelation we've had. Grow up. Become self-sufficient. Be self-motivated. (I hope you want these things! These are important goals, especially for us to have for our children. Our job is to love them and teach them to love the Lord as we help guide them on their journey to becoming adults.)

While many of these goals are on target, we often get impatient on the way. We get frustrated and yell (I can't be the only one, although I'm learning a great tool to defeat this negative habit. I will definitely share in a future post.) We take over and don't let them finish a task because we can do it quicker, and right. We don't show compassion and love as they struggle to learn, grow, and become the person God created them to be.

Being patient in the journey is essential to loving our neighbor well - whether our children, another family member, coworker, or geographical neighbor. To recognize that they, like we, are on a journey and they, like we, have not arrived at our final destination. That God is working in their lives (and maybe we need to pray that they'll be open to God's work!). That the journey, and the lessons learned on the way are important.

Being patient in the journey is essential to loving our neighbor. Click to Tweet

This will help us to love our neighbor well, with patience, right where they are. Just like God loves us - right where we are, on our journey to becoming more like Him.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

How to Love Your Neighbor - Part 5

With my voice I cry out to the Lord;
with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lordpour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him.
Psalm 142:1-2

Remember I mentioned in the last post we might touch on how to love patiently again? At that time I had no idea what the next post on loving our neighbors (i.e. everyone who crosses our path) would entail. I thought I knew, but then God worked a new message in my life. Well, not really a new message. More like He reminded me of an old one.

You may have read the verses above and wondered if I included the wrong scripture. Or scratched your head at what crying out to God and pouring our complaints before Him has to do with loving better. More patiently.

However, what God has revealed to me in the last couple of days is that these two concepts are closely linked together!

What He has shown me is that when I don't cry out to Him with my complaints and troubles, I end up spilling my complaints and frustration out on those around me. In other words, I'm short-tempered and not patient with others.

It's not that I haven't been praying about situations and for patience. It's that I haven't been spilling my guts to the Lord. For some reason, I felt this would be disrespectful or complaining or whiny.

Yet, when we peruse scripture, especially the Psalms, we see God's people lamenting to Him constantly. Granted, sometimes they are simply being whiny, but that doesn't diminish that God wants all of us, all of our hearts - even the parts that are ugly.

God wants all of us, all of our hearts - even the parts that are ugly. Click to tweet

It's not like He doesn't know our every thought and feeling anyway. He already knows it all, so why not pour it all out to Him.

This is part of surrendering all of who we are to the Creator and Sovereign Lord of the universe. Handing over our doubts, frustrations, lack of understanding, questions, desires, brokenness. Laying it at His feet, lifting it up to Him in prayer, letting it go for God to do as He wills.

This crying out, lamenting, pouring out of our complaints frees us. It frees us of holding onto and carrying the burden. It frees us from axiety and worry. It frees us from continued pain and anguish. It frees us to draw closer to the Lord.

Crying out, lamenting, pouring out our complaints to God frees us to draw closer to Him and love others better. Click to tweet

It frees us to love others better. More patiently.

We no longer feel the need to cry out, lament, badger, or complain to our loved ones. This doesn't mean we don't share our thoughts, feelings, or opinions. But it allows us to do so from a place of knowing we've surrendered these things to the Lord and He is working in them.

So, as in doing anything more like Jesus, we must live more like Jesus. He constantly went to the Father in prayer. I doubt he held anything back. Neither should we.

...the Lord hears the needy... Psalm 69:33 Click to tweet

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

How to Love Your Neighbor - Part 4

Love is patient...

Finally! The first element of godly love. How we're to love our neighbor.

This is what I thought as I began this post. My next thought was, "Oh, no! Patience!!"

I feel so inadequate to write on patient love because I fall far short of this characteristic quite often. I was once told I was the most patient person someone knew. While I appreciated the compliment and do often exhibit patience in difficult situations, there are plenty of time I get to the end of my rope - quickly.

Patience is something I've learned a great deal about in the last couple of years. For the last 28 months, my family of 6 has been living with my in-laws. In a 3 bedroom house. That's right. You got the math right: 8 people:3 bedrooms.

It has by no means been a bad situation. My in-laws love us and my children greatly. However, there are certainly challenges. A major one being that nothing has gone according to schedule with the house we're building.

It took 7 months to get the plans finished. 8 months of wrangling with the county permit office to get our building permit. Framing, which was supposed to take 6 weeks, took 4 months. Fixing some issues while doing the plumbing and electrical ourselves has taken 6 months. This has been a LONG process.

And I have learned so much! Not the least of which is God's timing is not my timing. And, it's not about what I want when I want it.

God's timing is not our timing. Will we trust Him in the waiting? Click to Tweet

This is also true in learning to love patiently. It's not about us.

Selfishness and self-seeking pleasure is rampant in our culture. It's not unique to our culture, however, or our time in history. We wouldn't read so much about dying to self and commands to love others if selfishness hadn't always ben a human problem.

To love others well, biblically, the way that Jesus loved others, we must also follow His command to die to ourselves. To our schedules. To our comfort. And often to our own (fleshly) desires.

One example in  my life I think of quickly is my desire to spend time by myself. I am one of those odd I/E people. On every personality test I've ever taken, I've come out smack dab in the middle of being introverted and extroverted. While I love people and being around them, I love equally being alone. I need it to recharge and rejuvenate.

Imagine how much alone time I get in a house of 8 people (not to mention the interactions required for every day life, building a house, and homeschooling). It doesn't happen often. Which means when I hide away in my room, I'd like at least an hour by myself uninterrupted. Which happens even less.

I've noticed recently that when my children interrupt my alone time, I don't love them patiently.

This is not the only area I fail in patient love.

When my husband doesn't do what I'd like him to be doing, I don't love him patiently

When someone makes a negative comment about something I'm doing or not doing, I don't love them patiently.

When people do or say things that are hurtful (even minor offenses), I don't love them patiently.

God has given us so many opportunities to love others! While I embrace and by His grace love others regularly, I also fall short too often.

God gives us many opportunities to love others. How can we love them patiently? Click to Tweet

The failing on my part is not keeping my focus God and priority on spending time getting full on Him. When I soak in His presence and love, I'm enabled to love like He does.

To me that's great news! I don't have to muster up patience, bite my tongue more (although, that's usually not a bad thing), or try harder to be patient. Instead, to love patiently, I simply need to seek God and His Kingdom on a daily (often hourly) basis. I also need to trust that God is always working.

This is easy to say: God is always working. However, it's much more difficult to live this way. It means we're not in charge of changing people, fixing situations, making things happen in our own timing and our own way. Again - counter to what our culture tells us.

So how do we love patiently?

We trust that God is working in others lives so we don't feel the need to fix them or nag them into doing the right things.

We let go of how things are "supposed to be" and meet people right where they are.

We recognize the importance of being present with those in front of us (or on the other end of the line, or computer).

We listen.

We pray for them.

We take a deep breath when we need to.

We let them be who God created them to be.

This list feels incomplete (there may be more on patient love coming!), but is accurate. (Think: includes, but isn't limited to.) Love is always taking action that's in the best interest of the other person. In many cases, that means taking the time to talk, listen, and do. To get out of ourselves and our comfort zones and do something that expresses love.

Love always takes action that's in the best interest of the other person. Click to Tweet

However, loving others patiently can also means not doing for them. Letting them fail. Watching them make mistakes.

It keeps coming back to not trying to fix them. That doesn't mean we don't speak life and truth to those we love. To withhold those wouldn't be loving to them at all! But what we are not to do, is try to be the Holy Spirit for them. We do not have the power to control, change, or coerce the people we love to live godly lives.

BUT! We do know the Holy Spirit. And He is the secret to loving patiently.

He is the One who is working in those we love.

He is the One who works in us to love patiently.

He is the One who fills us with everything we need: to live this life and to love our neighbor - no matter who that is - patiently.

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

Love.

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