What is love?

Hi Friends,

I missed posting last week due to an exciting development I want to share.  I’m pressing forward with going back to school for a master’s degree in school counseling.  I had to take the GRE with very short notice and took all the time I could to prepare for it.  The test has been taken with some measure of success.  It’s another part of moving forward while I’m waiting.  It won’t be an easy or quick undertaking, but at least now I’m putting the dream to action.  It’s kind of funny.  I was spurred to talk to my husband more seriously about it by a number of events; one of my former co-teachers encouraged me in that direction, a late night phone call, and  . . . the music and theme in my exercise class, Body and Soul.  The theme being, “What’s Next.”  Really.  My husband provided the final push to set it in motion.

One more thing, in my last post, I invited you to join me with doing the Entrusted Bible study by Beth Moore.  It’s a 6 week study on 2 Timothy.  Because I live where the big snowstorm came through, we didn’t get to start it.  Our first session will be this coming week.  I would love to know if you are participating with me by leaving a quick comment.  Even if you can’t do the Bible study with a group, you can still read the scripture, contribute to the discussions, and benefit from sharing in the experience.  Depending on your response, I may do a separate post for 2 Timothy on Wednesday’s or Thursday’s for the duration.

In the meantime, I want to continue with the purpose and theme of this blog:  inspiring others to grow in faith and love.  Or in other words, help each of us become healthier Christians.  I’ve been thinking about what makes a healthy church and  a strong Christian for a while.  One of the challenges we face is learning how to love properly.  We may say the words, we may love to a certain degree, but do we understand what it means to truly love?  I sincerely believe growing in faith, having healthy relationships, and getting closer to God, is learning how to love well.

The first commandment is, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Deuteronomy 6:5 (NIV)  We are also instructed to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Then of course, there is 1 Corinthians 13: 4 – 8.  (ESV)

eLove is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  8 Love never ends. 

I know I can’t love like that with all my prejudices and self-centeredness.  I can’t love others, much less God, in my own strength.  More importantly, do we believe God really loves us like that?  If not, therein lies some of the trouble.  If I don’t trust that God really loves me in the way love is described in 1 Corinthians 13, how can I love Him with my whole heart, soul, and strength?  Not to mention loving other people.

We are told God is love, “The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8 (HCSB)  Also, throughout Psalm 136, the constant refrain is, “His love endures forever.”  Of course, there is also John 3:16, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (HCSB)

English is sadly inept in describing all the different values and degrees of what we call love.  The kind of love here is agapaó; from Greek.  There is a book called, “The Four Loves,” written by C. S. Lewis, in which you can read more about the different kinds of love.  If you are someone inclined to want to know more, I recommend reading this book.  I think you will find it enlightening.

Spend some time this week thinking about who,what, and how you love.  My prayer for you is that not only will you be inspired to love better, but you will also be reminded, personally, of the extent of God’s love for you.  May each of us abide in the love of Christ!

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Next week, I plan on focusing more on what happens when we accept God’s love for us.

Judgmental Christians

 

The other day, a friend of mine shared this message on Facebook :

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As a preacher’s daughter who did lose her faith and developed real trust issues, especially with those in church, this kind of judgmental sounding statement promotes a strong reaction. This “inspiring” message brings up a whole host of complicated thoughts and emotions. I’m using this blog post to address the truth and the pain inherent in the tone of this statement.

First, let’s address what “church” means. We know the church is supposed to be a collection of believers who have a relationship with God, who have accepted Jesus Christ as savior, and therefore, represent God to the world and each other. However, the church is made up of people who are flawed, haven’t obtained perfection, and still need grace. Some people involved in church don’t have pure intentions. Their purposes for being involved in church are about manipulation and meeting selfish desires. These people are wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing and do the most damage.

Unhealthy experiences within church relationships left a strong feeling of cynicism at odds with the love God showed me and lasted for years. Self-righteousness, grudges, greediness, and just plain old pride have all played a role in creating unhealthy congregations. Additionally, I have seen real evil perpetrated by people who were in positions of church leadership who used the trust given to them to satisfy their sexual desires. But, I have also seen real love, generosity, forgiveness, and the beauty of sincere service and goodness displayed in church as well. I don’t want to be at odds with Jesus. The Church is described as His bride and includes everyone who calls Him Savior. Do I want to be at war with myself and with Jesus? I want to share some of what God has revealed to me that may encourage you if this is a similar struggle for you.

We have to be honest and willing to deal with the pain.

As a college student, I attended a young church with the intention to watch how they handled relationships and/or conflicts. The pastor’s family and congregation were so joyful and inclusive, I timidly began to get involved by joining a mixed age small group and did a Bible study with them – “Experiencing God” by Henry & Richard Blackaby and Claude V. King. I was challenged by the study’s directness regarding my willingness to trust God’s love for me, my love for Him, and obeying Him. I wasn’t ready to reveal to these wonderful people the ugliness of what was in my heart. Eventually, I was asked to teach a second grade Sunday school class where I was desperately needed. I declined to serve, and I hurt some people whom I dearly loved because of it. Because I wasn’t ready to be open and honest about my struggles, I pulled away and ran away from church again.

We are in a spiritual fight, and pride can make us vulnerable.

Years later, being a young, stay at home mom in a new place, I was hungry for fellowship and decided to join a mom’s Bible study group. The study was, “When Godly People Do Ungodly Things” by Beth Moore. This was my first encounter with a Beth Moore Bible study, and it was perfect for confronting the pain I had been avoiding. I started thinking more about how much the experiences of my youth had contributed to the bitterness that kept me from fully trusting God and His plan for me. Through this study, I realized I was just as susceptible to doing ungodly things as anyone else in church as long as I harbored unforgiveness and pride. I prayed God wouldn’t allow me to be involved in ministry until I could do so without harming the church body. I know what the scriptures mean when it speaks of love growing cold. I never want to be one of those that cause others to feel betrayed, hurt, or turned off to Christ because of my cynicism.

There’s a difference between self-righteous judgment and loving accountability.

I’ve been the “judgmental churchy” person, even while despising others for it. I have hurt others by saying thoughtless things, and by having or by being perceived as having a “better than you” attitude. When I learned this perception was part of some major relationship issues, I worked hard to get at the heart of it. I want God’s love to overflow in and through me. I have had times when a friend needed to hear the truth about a situation that could have caused her to fall into a trap. I’ve also been on the receiving end of loving accountability and was blessed by a friend loving me too much to let me go on with a wrong action. Loving accountability only works when there is mutual love and respect in the relationship.

In my soul searching, I learned a few truths. The scripture passage that describes love (1Corinthians 13), is really hard to put into practice. You have to love God with your whole heart first. Only then can you love others the right way. Without a right relationship with Him, it’s impossible to love God’s way. We need His help to connect with others, to offer accountability, to extend grace, and to forgive as God has forgiven us. Understanding this helps us allow others the room they need to hear what God is telling them. It’s God’s job to judge, not ours. We all need to support each other.

Healing is not a painless process.

Many of us, dare I say most of us, have been hurt by someone who is supposed to be a “real” Christian. When God first restored my relationship with Him, the scars and distrust of church people stayed raw for a long time. I used the pain and anger to stay apart from people thinking it would keep me from getting hurt again, but it also kept me apart from God. I couldn’t experience full healing and restoration without dealing with the damage. The ironic thing of it, I was one of the church people! Talk about being pulled in different directions. I can’t tell you how much it hurt to realize the walls I put up for protection were keeping me from growing closer to God. Slowly allowing God to break the walls has been scary and painful.

If you find your faith faltering and avoid going to church because of “church people”, I understand. All of us who believe in Jesus Christ are part of the church – the body of Christ. Pain and division in church is like cancer. And like fighting cancer, treatment is often painful. We have to allow God to heal us, to help us forgive, and then learn how to become healthy Christians. As healthy Christians, we can then help the body become healthier. Do we nurse the hurt and anger, or open ourselves up to the Great Physician even when the healing is painful?

I know God wants you to have a close relationship with Him. He can help you forgive and rise above those betrayals. I’ve got scars. I remember the pain. Some of it still remains. But now, it’s a good pain because I recognize it for what it means – A place God needs to heal and make stronger. Are you willing to give God access to the hurt places?