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


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.