Love With Forgiveness

pureloveblogAnd Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he replied, “Say it, Teacher.” “A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” (Luke 7:40-42)

Forgiveness is not easy. It may be easier in some circumstances than others, but it’s definitely not a simple process. It’s not the same in every situation. There will be times when someone says “I’m sorry,” and you can easily say, “No problem!” Other times you might hold onto the hurt for years. Someone might not actually say he or she is sorry. You might wait, expecting an apology and expecting to be able to forgive once the apology is given, but if you can’t forgive without the apology, you likely can’t forgive with the apology. Your forgiveness isn’t reliant on someone’s guilt and offering of forgiveness. We want justice and can’t imagine getting it without something tangible.

God’s forgiveness doesn’t require justice. If it did, none of us would be forgiven. God’s way of forgiving is undeserved. Even when we know someone doesn’t deserve our forgiveness, we have to extend it when we’re trying to live by God’s will. We forgive because of who God is. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you don’t learn lessons from what has happened in the past. It doesn’t mean you never think about it again. It doesn’t mean whatever is forgiven has no impact on your life. There are still consequences. Forgiveness simply places the situation into God’s hands. It’s the act of saying to God, “I yield this to You and trust You in guiding me how to deal with it. Use it to draw me close to You.” Forgiveness is more about your relationship with God than the worldly justice you crave.

Forgiveness is based in God’s love. In fact, it is so entwined with it, the two can’t be separated. God loves with forgiveness. He forgives with love. And we can do the same as we rely on His love and forgiveness and not our own. The extent to which we forgive, we love. The extent to which we love, we forgive.

These verses emphasize that those who experience greater forgiveness respond with greater love. The reverse is true as well. Love and forgiveness build upon one another, just as so many other characteristics of God do. They don’t exist in isolation, and they seem to exponentially multiply as they are lived out loud in daily life.

That’s how God’s math works. It doesn’t quite add up every time, but it always benefits those who give and receive Him: His love, forgiveness, grace, mercy, redemption, patience, and kindness. He is generous with Himself.

 

Dear God, please help me to love with forgiveness. You know my struggles. You know how I try to take control of and hold onto things. Let me trust You completely so that I can fully yield in Your love and forgive with Your strength. I seek You with humility.

Cold Love

pureloveblogMany false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. (Matthew 24:11-12)

Just because we know God and experience and share His love doesn’t assume we always will. Love can grow cold. If we’re not in a thriving, growing relationship with God, if we don’t make it a priority, we’ll slowly but certainly slip away, letting the world influence us and convince us that its way is better than God’s way, that His way isn’t really truth, that His priorities are irrelevant. You name it, the world whispers and shouts it to distract your focus of faith.

I’ve seen it happen over and over again. It can happen when young adults move to college where they don’t find a community of believers who challenge their thoughts as they change. Change isn’t bad in and of itself, and questions certainly aren’t bad. God welcomes them. But young adults seeking independence soon find themselves in groups of friends upon which they’re dependent. Oh, they rarely see it as such. They just think they’re experiencing freedoms they have a  right to experience. And they get confirmation from their peers because they’ve chosen to hang out with people who are moving in a direction that excites or intrigues them. Together, they help each other push the limits of what they’ve experienced and try new things that had been frowned upon in the past.

It’s not just young adults. Ignoring the importance of a vibrant love relationship with God happens at every age, including older adults. And it doesn’t just happen to those who reject the church. Many stay in the church and go through the motions, but they stop maturing as Christians. Their love equally grows cold.

These older adults are often called Senior Saints. Some have earned that title. Some have not, but because of their age and experience, they claim it. I’ve watched some people I respected behave in ways I would never have predicted. Because of the respect they had at one time, people continue to follow them, assuming everything they say and do is still biblical, yet it only takes a short step back to see a spiritual cancer consuming them and the immediate circle of friends and community they impact. Times of conflict and change often reveal these shifts in spiritual maturity the most. I’ve seen people I respected behave in ways that are painful to watch. I know they’re hurting, and I want to help, but because of the influence they have established through the years, they often hurt a lot more people before realizing the blind spots in their lives.

Their love has become cold.

For all of us, times of conflict and change are opportunities  for us to deepen our commitment to and love for God or to lose focus and let our love grow cold. With every opportunity, we can stagnate or grow. I want to choose to grow closer to God. I want to discern who God created me to be and how He wants me to respond—with grace, mercy, and compassion—because I do not want my love to grow cold.

 

Dear God, I am so sorry for the times in my life when I haven’t focused on You, and I’ve failed to grow as I know You desire me to grow. I want to recommit to You, placing my full trust in You. I’m going to have some questions along the way. I’ll grow weary, because I know You will work on me—in both the big things and the little things. I commit to You through the transformation process. I yield to You. Please bring people into my life who will encourage me in Your ways, not just the ways that will be affirming. I want people in my life who honor You, including holding me accountable to do the same.

Love Position

pureloveblogBut they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. (Matthew 23:5-7)

People loving position isn’t a new concept. Location, location, location. We want to be respected, and location—whether it’s a physical location or a position of recognition—seems to bring respect alongside it.

Sometimes we seek a location because we think we deserve it, or we’ve occupied it for so long that we think we have a right to it. (Not to step on anyone’s toes here, but what about those “saved” seats at church that have no visible names on them, but we all know who sits in them?) Some positions and locations we intentionally seek out and others we just keep a tight grasp on once we have them. In fact, we’re a little surprised that we’re as attached to them as we are. Since we didn’t really try to get there, who knew we’d actually want to stay there once we arrived.

Losing position seems to equal losing respect. But that’s only when we put the respect of others above respect from God. God respects us with His lavish love when we are just where He intends for us to be. And because He wants us to constantly grow, we’re not going to be in the exact location or position for long. He changes us even when our surroundings don’t seem to change. God doesn’t need real estate; he uses people to change the world. We are His people. We are His vessels. But we have to be willing to be used and changed.

The men Jesus was admonishing in these verses loved the place of honor. They loved receiving respectful greetings, being called by titles with authority. But God is pleased with our service. He values humility. He works through us as we submit to His will. If we’re more focused on where we are, what others think of us, and what names of respect they call us, we are turning God’s priorities around. We cannot seek the positions of the world and find contentment and purpose in where God has us. We cannot seek the respect and authority among people and expect that God’s respect and authority will follow.

The position we need to love the best is the position in which God places us—right now. It will change, but it doesn’t change because we want it to change. It changes because God changes us and moves us in the process.

God’s position for us isn’t just about where we are but it’s who we are in relationship with Him. He is our Creator. We are the created. He is God. We are not. He is Father. We are His children. He is Master. We serve Him.

When we try to usurp position, we will always end up losing. Just because it looks like we got what and where we want, we don’t necessarily win. We lose when we’re not in God’s will. We lose out on what He wants to give us. We miss out on the abundance of His love.

But it’s never too late to start where you are and go with God to the next place or season of Your life. It’s never too late to yield to Him and follow His will, stepping into the footprints He’s laid out for us. Following God isn’t easy or convenient, but it’s worth it. If you want to love position, love the position God places you in. He knows what He’s doing.

 

Dear God, I want to be just where you know is best for me for this moment and season of my life. It might not be where I most want to be in my flesh, but above all, I want my desires to be consumed with Your desires. I want to fully submit to You. Use me where You have me. Help me not to crave a position or location that isn’t intended to be mine. I trust You, and I yield to You.

Love Your Neighbor

pureloveblogYou shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 19:19b)

You’ll find the instruction to love your neighbor repeatedly throughout Scripture. It’s obviously important to God. But it’s not easy. Maybe you have a generous, friendly neighbor. Perhaps you have a cranky, difficult neighbor. The people who live beside you are neighbors, but so are those who you come in contact with on regular and irregular bases. You know some neighbors well and some hardly at all. Some might even be considered strangers, but they’re still your neighbors. As your neighbors, you are instructed to love them. And remember: love is active.

Loving with God’s love is inconvenient at times and, often times, uncomfortable. We end up serving people that don’t appreciate it and are even antagonistic. We go into houses and neighborhoods that aren’t like ours. They might be dirty and smelly. They might take more money and time than we want to give. They might have issues that we don’t know how to work through with them.

Despite all these challenges, we’re still called to love our neighbors. Thankfully, like anything else we do for God, we don’t do it on our own. We don’t need to rely on our own strength and provision. This is God’s love we’re sharing with neighbors. He owns it; we deliver it.

I love the servant culture that is rising up, especially among the younger generation. There seems to be a passion for reaching out to and serving others as a responsibility of faith. It’s not just about a project but a lifestyle. And while it’s encouraging, I have to say I continue to be frustrated by what I hear so often when working with women in ministries around the country.

“Why should we help when we don’t know if they’re really going to appreciate it?”

“We have people in need in our own church family. Shouldn’t we take care of them first?”

“We can’t do it all. I really like the idea of helping more, but I have so many of my own responsibilities. Maybe when I have more time, more money, my kids are grown, my health is better…”

If you don’t know if someone is going to appreciate something or not…so what? We don’t control others’ reactions. We’re not responsible for their reactions. We’re responsible for sacrificially loving our neighbors as God says.

If you have people in need in your own church family, of course, you should meet their needs. But every time I hear this excuse, the situation is not so dire that people have to choice between two people or groups to serve. The needs just aren’t that great. But what often happens is the needs get weighted. Someone in the church who has a “would be nice” need gets more attention than the person outside the church who has a pressing need, because the existing relationship and obligation adds weight. And that’s not a true reflection of providing for others through God’s abundant love.

And the idea that you can’t do it all? You’re absolutely right, but loving your neighbor in a way that inconveniences you isn’t the same as a demand to do it all. You shouldn’t just do what you can, because it gives too much weight to what you think you can do. It’s about what God says you can do. And whatever He says will work. It might not always be comfortable (in fact, I can pretty much guarantee it will often be uncomfortable), but that’s okay. If you wait until everything has aligned to what you establish as perfect conditions, you’ll likely never get there. And you’ll certainly miss a lot of opportunities to love your neighbors and serve God along the way.

 

Dear God, I don’t want to make any excuses about loving my neighbors. I don’t want to rationalize how uncomfortable it makes me or how that person isn’t going to respond in a loving way. You know what I need to do, and You know what someone else needs to receive. I will be Your vessel and share Your love with others however You guide.

Love On Stage

pureloveblogWhen you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. (Matthew 6:5)

If you’re doing something just to get noticed, it has no value for God. Now, it’s easy to jump up and say, “Well, I don’t pray for others to see me. In fact, I’m really uncomfortable praying in front of people at all. I don’t step up and seek attention in any way. I’d rather fade into the background. I just don’t really want anyone looking at me.”

It’s possible you’re telling the truth if that’s something you would claim, but let’s dig a little deeper. We can be just as proud and hypocritical about our (false) humility than those who stand up and get noticed. Boasting in our humility isn’t humility. And hiding from all possibilities can stunt our growth, not to mention rob God of opportunities to work through us. Let’s not twist this verse into something it’s not.

Yet we need to be convicted in the truth of it. This instruction is difficult to reconcile with the world’s advice, which tells us we need to speak up on our behalf. We need to self-promote and get the word out about what we can provide for others. Case in point: Christian ministry. How many “experts” recommend bloggers use their own names for their web addresses for name recognition? There’s advice for just about anything you want: when to post and tweet, which social networks are essential for building “relationships,” what colors to use, how to code key words, and the list goes on and on. The current term is “building your platform.”

What about building God’s platform? (After all, He has a pretty well established platform already, and since He has an “in” on who to reach when, He takes the place of every expert, consultant, and marketing executive you need. Or, He’ll lead you to those people in His timing.) And that brings up another side of the argument: if we’re in ministry to glorify God, we can only have impact for Him if we put forth effort and build the ministry. We say we’re not doing it for ourselves; we’re doing it for Him. I’m not saying that’s not a possibility, but I think we rationalize what we’re doing a lot more often than is actually true.

Perhaps you’re not involved in a personal ministry. Consider other things that call attention to yourself: the way you dress, the car you drive, where you live, where you shop, the gifts and donations you give, the awards you win, the letters behind your name, the relationships you have. Maybe your intent is not to call attention to yourself, but if that’s the end result, you may need to put yourself in check.

What happens when someone recognizes you for something you’ve done—how you lead a group, teach a lesson, serve people in need, write a blog, design graphics, paint pictures? Who gets the attention? It’s certainly not always a smooth transition to verbally glorify God with every accolade that comes your way, but our first thought needs to always be how we can point to God.

First, we need to ask for God’s guidance about whether or not we’re supposed to be on the stage in the first place. Don’t assume you know. And just because He guides you on or off it once doesn’t mean the next time will yield the same direction. After following His guidance along the way, you’ll need to be obedient once again as you honor God not only through the process but through any recognition you receive. The intent of the hypocrites was to be seen. That’s not always your intent. God knows, and He will work in your life every step of the way.

But you have to yield to Him…every step of the way.

 

Dear God, convict me of the times I do anything in front of others for personal attention. I want to glorify You in everything I do, so guide me in my humility. Give me the boldness to step up for You but to step back for myself.

Easy Love

pureloveblogFor if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same (Matthew 5:46-47)

Tax collectors were not the group of people anyone longed to be compared to in Jesus’ days. They were usually more committed to the Roman government than Jews in their own communities. They often collected more tax than was required because they wanted commendation from government officials. Money was and still is a powerful temptation!

Needless to say, tax collectors weren’t seen as the most loving group of people, so if even they would love people who loved them, holding ourselves to only that standard as a minimum certainly was frowned upon. To love with the love of God went above and beyond. Loving those who love us is easy. Loving enemies isn’t.

How often do you take the easy route, loving the people who are easiest to love, or loving the way and extent that is easiest? We can get into the habit of looking for the people who appreciate the love we give them. We can repeatedly pour into the people who respect us. We all like to hear “thanks,” and we like to receive love in return for the love we’re giving, so we’ll usually pursue those relationships that are reciprocal.

But loving the easy people to love isn’t God’s way. He loves each and every person He has created. It’s hard to fathom. Some people have done some horrible things, but the thing is… God knows how to separate out who someone is and can become from what he or she does and currently is. He doesn’t love the mess of people’s lives, but He loves the people themselves. He knows the power of His redemption. He knows the extent of His grace and mercy. He knows how far His love reaches.

We don’t. We have limited view, and we have limited love when we rely on our own love. When we try to do it on our own, we’re like the tax collectors. We take the easy route. But we don’t need to love with our own love. We shouldn’t love with our own love. It’s not necessary, and it’s not God’s plan. He gives us His love, and He intends for us to live it out in daily life in the same way He expresses it. He is bold with His love. He is consistent with His love. He is generous with His love.

God doesn’t intend for us to live in a bubble of protection. He is our protection. When we’re in His will, we have His protection. But let’s not distort His protection any more than we would distort His love, compassion, mercy, grace, redemption, etc. He doesn’t protect us from everything that we see as harmful. He protects us from what is outside His will.

So if you share God’s love with those who don’t love you and those who don’t associate with you because you’re just too different from them, it’s not guaranteed to go well by your own standards. Everyone is not going to openly accept God’s love from you. Everyone isn’t going to be grateful. Some will be antagonistic and just plain mean. Some will attack, retaliate, judge, and persecute you. Don’t be surprised. God tells us it’s going to happen.

But when you do it God’s way, it’s the right way. It might not be the easy way, but He will honor your obedience and your efforts. You will glorify Him in your submissive trust and reliance on Him.

 

Dear God, give me Your boldness. Let me not shrink back in timidity into the easy love. Help me to reach beyond the easy love into the challenge of loving those who oppose me or are unlike me. Help me to notice who You have placed within my circles of influence but far enough from me that I have not seen them. Get me out of my comfort zone and challenge me to love the unlovable. I will not try to do it in my own strength but will trust You for all provision.

Twisted Love Teaching

pureloveblogYou have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:43-44)

The instruction “love your neighbor” is found in Leviticus 19:18, but “hate your enemy” is found nowhere in the Old Testament. Obviously someone was teaching it, because Jesus knew that people would have heard it taught. Perhaps someone assumed that if “love your neighbor” was a necessity, the opposite statement was true as well. And that’s how twisted teaching begins.

It’s easy to twist truth. Anytime we don’t remain attentive, we can make assumptions that aren’t truth. We’re surrounded by clashing messages, and those that have a little truth mixed with a lot of falsehoods are particularly dangerous. In order to cultivate truth growing in our lives, it must be firmly planted. We can get lazy among the busyness and not take the time and effort to dig deep. God’s Word is deep, and He longs for you to fully experience Him. Only knowing God’s truth helps you recognize what doesn’t fit in. It can sound good and look good—just good enough to fit in, but if God doesn’t fit it in, it doesn’t fit well and could be a distortion that leads to false teaching.

The truth of God’s Word is essential to ridding our lives of lies. God’s Word will not lie to us. We can twist it to make it sound like something it’s not, and we can ignore the truths we don’t want to hear or apply to our lives, but we can’t change truth. God reveals His absolute truth to us as we become familiar with Him. We live within the boundaries of God’s truth, even when we’re rebellious. God’s truth exists no matter what we do. In order to live by it, we must engage with God’s Word to intentionally seek familiarity, answers, and guidance. We have to be still enough to hear, patient enough to discern, and bold enough to obey. God will speak His truth into you. Are you listening?

God desires for you to listen, because He wants you to know Him. He wants you to purposefully walk through life. He wants you to reflect Him to others. He wants your life—your words, responses, and actions—to point others to Him. When you listen to God’s truths, you glorify God. As you fully accept God’s Word, you have the full assurance of God. You can’t help but to listen and obey, because the ever-deepening relationship you have with Him requires nothing less.

But you have to be familiar with His Word. That means reading, studying, and praying. There will always be more to learn. No matter how much time you spend in God’s Word, you will have moments of “When did God put that in here? How did I miss that?” God speaks to us through the Holy Spirit, serving as a highlighter for the teachings we need for each moment and season of our lives. We might not even recognize or understand why a particular verse stands out to us. We might not know what the application is, but God can still use it.

The only way not to know God’s Word is to not come in contact with it. You’re going to have some misunderstandings. You’ll sit under some twisted teachings, and you’ll pass some along. Be willing to continually yield. Ask questions. No one has all the answers (except God) so even when someone seems to know a lot more than you do, trust that God meets us each right where we are and takes us on a personalized journey. Just because your pastor studies and preaches God’s Word like a polished expert each week doesn’t mean God speaks to him and not you. Just because your small group leader studied Hebrew and Greek doesn’t mean he has the corner market on God’s revelation. God pours into each of us. Our understanding is limited, but His teaching ability isn’t.

 

Dear God, take away all the false teachings in my life. Highlight truth, not twisted truth, half-truths, or distorted truths. Convict me when I am about to pass along a twisted or misunderstood teaching. I don’t want to dishonor You by taking a small bit of truth and building onto it what you never intended to be added. I want Your truth and nothing but Your truth.