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On Love 2

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” I Corinthians 13:4-7

So, guess what!? If there’s any doubt about how I am acting or what I am receiving from others, I have a basic checklist right here. If I’m not sure about someone’s “love language” or I’m not sure if the other person has been damaged emotionally, I can start here. No excuses.

If I could just grasp fully the first two! If I could just be patient and kind toward everyone… including my family… and that includes my teenagers! If I can’t get passed patient and kind, how am I going to tackle the more difficult attributes of love like trust, protection, hope & perseverance?

Funny. And then how am I ever going to avoid this great list of what love is “not?” I don’t know. I really don’t know. I am so grateful that there is a God who is showing patience and kindness towards me and not just rolling his eyes!

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On Love 1

So, we’ve arrived at the 8th and last of the “steps” that Peter laid out in II Peter 1:3-11 to build or sustain a person’s faith over time.

I have always appreciated Pastor Craig’s definition of love as “doing what’s best for another person.” This is his definition of how we truly walk out agape love and that is a love whose source is the deepest place of the heart and comes about as a result of a conscious choice to love, not from a feeling.

I also like a book title I remember from my college days, “Love is a Verb.” Very simply, this phrase says it all: love carries actions with it. The hard part is accepting that loving others, acting in someone else’s best interests, and reaching out to them may not always be reciprocated. Love has to be rooted in our love for Christ or we will often feel like we are coming up short.

Pastor Craig says we are here on earth to love. And although I’m sure he is correct, I don’t believe we, as humans, are doing this very well. We certainly want to “be loved” and to “feel love” but we are not so quick to do the loving ourselves. There is too much chance for pain.

This is really the same point of view I shared On Brotherly Affection 3. If agape love is from the deepest place of the heart but we have walled off our heart for fear of being hurt or disappointed, our love is pretty puny. We keep our love “safe.” We don’t take risks. We don’t forgive.

Pastor Craig laid out a few helps to learning how to love… and the first one and most important is knowing and trusting that we are in the hands of God. This understanding is key to all of the steps we have discussed these past 50 days with Christ. Each element, whether it is faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, or love, must be rooted in our security that God is sovereign and God is loving (doing what is best for me) me and God is forgiving.

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So let’s talk about families and relationships. What is the expectation? While we are still children , we certainly expect our parents to be safe. We expect our parents to know what is best. We expect them to love us and take care of us. If this expectation is broken, for whatever reason, we are already at a disadvantage as we move into adulthood. If we have lost our ability to trust, we have lost one of the key elements to love.

Love requires an exposure of the heart and the ability to tolerate a bit of heart stomping. But there are limits to what a heart can bear.

Children are extremely resilient. They can forgive “absent,” “bad,” “neglectful,” and even “brutal” parents for a long time, but eventually there is a toll that is extracted from the heart. So often, these broken experiences with a parent are stumbling blocks on the path toward hearlthy adult relationships not to mention a relationship with Christ.

But perhaps the parents are not cruel, but simply broken themselves. The cycle often goes from one generation to another. They may have never experienced unconditional love, trust, encouragement, praise, boundaries, instruction, or anything else that is part of the growing up process. They cannot “miraculously” pass these elements down to their own children. They must learn them themselves first.

There are ways to repair the damage to the heart and to learn new behaviors and attitudes. In the secular world, it is usually through counseling or, if the person is lucky, through an extremely well-grounded, patient, and healthy mate who can model love (but this opportunity is rare since most broken adults are rarely attracted to healthy adults… but gravitate to the familiar).

In the Church, this healing should come through our interactions with Christ and the family of Christ. First of all, we have Christ’s sacrifice [symbolized by the cross] whose blood insures we have access to God Himself … we have access to the holy of holies where there is healing for all. And so, we should be able to appropriate this power, to place the cross between ourselves and others, and to connect heart to heart, soul to soul, spirit to spirit. The past should no longer have such a great influence over us.

Instead, we forget what is available to us. We shield the heart from further hurts. We create our own version of the “holy of holies” and only allow others into the “outer court.”

I’m thinking it’s time to take down the veil between my personal “holy of holies” and the outer court. It’s time to stop requiring all kinds of sacrificial proofs from people I encounter… prove to me that you won’t hurt me, take these litmus tests to prove your worthiness or compatibility quotient to be my friend, be sure you are “like” me before you enter or you’ll be cast aside.

Earlier I said that the heart must be able to tolerate a little stomping. I know this to be true because Jesus himself alluded to it… the forgiving of others seventy times seven for starters.

When I came to the Lord, it was through a young man who initially hid his Christianity from others because he was afraid that people wouldn’t like him. Instead, they didn’t like him anyway because they believed he was “faking” and hiding something. They even thought he was “gay” and encouraged to “come out.” In the end, he did come out… he came out as a Christian. Did it turn things around? Did he suddenly have great numbers of friends? No, not really. But he felt better about himself. And, in the end, because he came out for Jesus, his testimony brought me to the Lord. That was almost 30 years ago.

Friendship, marriages, families, churches … all relationships must be based on truth. There are no guarantees in relationships. When the heart is injured by another, it is only Christ within who can heal, protect and renew. But we should not ask Him to insulate us from pain. The butterfuly that does not struggle to emerge from the cocoon is not strong enough to survive. Life has pain. Relationships have pain. Love has pain. We grow stronger through experience if we choose it.

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I’ve been putting off writing again. I know it’s because of the topic. Pastor Craig’s posts are all about “learning how to love one another” in the Church … and I assume he means church with a capital “C” … not just our little version of church at Mt. Zion.

And I really cannot fault him for anything he is saying. I even agree. But I am nagged by a different perspective. I am nagged by a stumbling block I see in this loving process that is undoubtedly of my own making. Bottom line? I think so much of our “loving” is superficial.

I’m not saying there isn’t caring… there is. People are kind and thoughtful and concerned. And there is even “love” for the needy or those who come to the church in emotional turmoil or illness or personal chaos.

But I’m not so sure the “church” as I experience it would love me if they knew the “real” me. There is a lot of lip service to acceptance, but I don’t really believe it. I still edit myself as soon as I discern the crowd or individual with whom I’m interacting.

One of the most blatant areas of disconnect is when politics crosses over into the body of believers. There still remains a pervasive idea that a “real” Christian (i.e. conservative) would have to be a republican or some such nonsense. Or, should I mention other hot potatoes like abortion, sexuality, or “worldly” entertainments. There are some people who would be appalled if they knew what books are sitting on my night stand. They would no longer trust my faith but more likely, consider me “off the path.” They would discredit me to others. And so, to keep the peace, I don’t discuss what I read. I don’t discuss the movies I go to see, I don’t talk politics, I don’t talk about my past or some of the people I count as friends who may not fit the “norm.”

And so I ask, if I can’t talk about anything or everything that I am interested in … if I can’t really be “me” … what kind of “marriage” is this? What kind of family is this? Just a macrocosm version of all the other dysfunctional families we have in this country.

So, I am full of sorrow this week. I pray the Lord will give me a “contentment” ….

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Pastor Craig taught that the Greek word used in II Peter 1:7 for brotherly affection or brotherly kindness is “philadelphia,” which describes a type of “love” that exists between good friends and family. He then went on to say how important this familial relationship is in a church to support our walk in Christ and how critical an element it is to add to the many qualities we have studied so far in II Peter 1.

So why am I so sad? This should be an easy one. But no, I must confess, I don’t always feel it. There have been times in my Christian walk where I have felt very connected to the body of believers with whom I worship. Back in my early days when Mike and I attended our church in Atlanta… those people held place in my heart for years and years despite time and distance when we moved to Maryland. And there have been seasons where individuals within this church have been significant, perhaps moreso when we were dynamically involved in a cell or small group. And then, there was Emmaus and Tres Dias and Cursillo. I would have to say I experienced “philadelphia” in that setting the most and when those relationships carried into the church, there was love.

But what about today? Where has the love gone? It is true that we are no longer active in Emmaus. Is that the only way to nurture brotherly affection? What was it about Emmaus that brought out these feelings and commitment to one another? What other ways are there to nurture philadelphia in a church? It’s more than just a decision… there must be focus.

Help me Lord to discover the root of my discontent. I have a suspicion I’ll pursue tomorrow.

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Hebrews 10:20-22 says “…by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain [that is the separation between us and the Most Holy Place of God], that is, his body [the curtain], and since we have a great priest [Christ Jesus] over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.”

We have access to God. We are no longer separated by a “curtain” – the symbol of the previous covenant and law. By Jesus’s sacrifice, by the blood of the ultimate lamb, we have been covered and we can “get in.” The work on His side has been done. We must enter!

And it is as we enter that we can truly “know God.” If you want to become like a person, you’ve got to get to know them. If you want to become more “Godly” then you’ve got to know Him…. intimately… and that kind of knowing happens in the Holy of Holies.

We have all heard the old story of how you really don’t know a person until you’re married to him. How true. All those dates and talks and experiences were wonderful during the engagement, but the real “knowing” happens in the bedroom, the bathroom, the living room, and the kitchen (maybe I should include the garage in this list too). You have to live with a person day to day to really begin to know them, and even then, there are secret corners. That’s how we humans are.

But God, through Christ, has invited us into his deepest places. He has invited us to know Him. He has promised to reveal Himself to us. But we must enter.

P.S. As we begin to truly know Him, others can begin to know us…. and as they begin to know us… they meet Him.

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From the pastor’s blog today, we are encouraged to beware of false prophets. This is quite the challenge in today’s world. These televangelists with their jets and fancy homes… how can we really know? We are told to “know them by their fruits” … but in a modern world, the fruits can be manufactured to look righteous. It’s frightening really.

I am reminded of another scripture, Mark 9:33-39, when the disciples were concerned about a man “driving out demons” in Jesus’ name. They had commanded the man to stop since he was not one of them. But, in the end, Jesus tolerated this abuse of his name and his power for the good it was doing. Another scripture, Matthew 13:24-29, the parable of the weeds seems appropriate here, for the weeds grew with the wheat and were not pulled out while still growing. Instead, the master said to wait until the harvest and then they would be collected and burned separately.

I used to worry and struggle a great deal with differentiating who is righteous and who is not… who is “godly” and who is not. In some cases, I thought their fruits were also good, so who could tell?

In the end, I had to give the ultimate discernment back to the Lord. All I can do is prayerfully place this person and my relationship to him or her on the altar of the Lord. If I am duped by a false prophet, then I trust God will redeem the loss. If God reveals the duplicity ahead of time, then I pray for His power to simply walk away. Sometimes, I have seen my interest in a particular teaching or person or style of worship simply falls away and as I look back on these times, I know it was the Lord protecting me from false teachings and people. Thanks be to God.

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