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.