Give God the Glory: The Mars Hill Controversy

Dear World, and to my Christian brothers and sisters found within it,

My name is Lael Barwood, and almost all of you have no idea who I am.  I am a member of Mars Hill Church in Seattle.  I attend the Downtown location, and have been a regular attender for over two years.  This letter is about the maelstrom involving my Church.  I have heard it called an attack, justice, a comeuppance, hateful, loving, brutal, slanderous, and the list could go on and on.  I will assume you get the picture.  In all of this I have found a different word: gift.  The entire mess on all sides has been a series of unexpected blessings and divine intimacy.  “Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom He has redeemed from trouble” (Psalm 107:2)

In the Bible Paul starts out several of his books with a sort of list of ‘credentials’.  So let me follow his lead and do that here.  I am not some casual attendee of Mars Hill Church.  Pastor Phil Smidt conducted my pre-marital counseling. Both he and his wife taught me invaluable lessons during the Preparing for Marriage classes.  They shared their lives with us, even the not so pretty parts, so that I could have a more holy and Christ honoring marriage.  Pastor Tim Gaydos married me.  I sat beneath his teaching for nearly two years.  From him I have been enormously blessed to witness what it means to be on fire for Jesus.  I was a part of Pastor Bill Clem’s flock when he served at Ballard.  From him I learned the kind compassion of the Father’s heart.  My husband and I have received counsel from Pastor Joel Brown on many difficult issues involving my husband’s daughter.  The Holy Spirit has used his calm strength to point to the balm of the cross.  My soul has found solace beneath the worshipful songs sung by Pastor Cam Huxford.  Ghost Ship has a way of stirring the Holy Spirit in my heart to lift my hands even as tears roll down my cheeks.  I have struggled through a Redemption Group led by Pastor Mike Wilkerson.  He taught me that there is neither shame nor condemnation now that I am in Christ Jesus.  A lesson I often have to remind myself of.  I have learned to be both bold and courageous for Christ through Pastor Sutton Turner as he goes on mission trips across oceans.  When I have spoken with him personally I am always reminded to stand firm for the cause of the Word.  Through my conversations with Pastor Dave Bruskas, and listening to his sermons, I am coming to understand the strength and love of the Father.  That my will and my words and my works mean nothing because only the will, words, and works of the LORD last forever.  Pastor Mark Driscoll is a man I have spoken to a handful of times and only for minutes at most.  Through him I have learned what humility, repentance, and endurance looks like.  My husband is a Community Group leader.  I Co-lead a Women’s Mid-Week Study.  I have served on the Connect Desk at the Downtown Church for almost as long as I have been attending it.

I say all of this to show that I am not unaffected by everything that is going on.  I am in the midst of it.  This is not just my Church, this is my Family.  These are not just men who teach the Word, they are my Pastors.  I am not blindly consuming each service, but I am there to serve the needs of the sheep as best as I can.  I am not immune.  My ears are not deaf.  The above paragraph is not to discount your grievances, but merely to show you that I am involved in my Church.  I actually do not want to discount, deny, nor discredit you at all …on either side of this argument.  What I want to do is thank you all.

You see I am currently suffering from an intense round of PTSD.  For those of you who have been hurt and betrayed in this I can understand where you are coming from.  A little over ten years ago I was engaged to a man who is no longer a part of my life.  I was in a car accident and I had to rely on this man to take me to the doctors, to help me bathe, to get my meds, to help me clean my house, to help me cook, and to drive me to my Physical Therapists.  I loved this man and wanted to spend the rest of my life with him.  What no one knew is that for six months after the car accident that man raped me daily, repeatedly, and involved me in other humiliating sexual acts.  I lived in torment for over a year with him, being sexually assaulted for another year after the six months of rape.  So I know what it is like to be betrayed.  I know what it is like to be hurt.  And I know what it is like to be damaged for years because of those things.  Like I said, I do not want to discount, discredit, nor deny any of the pain or suffering you have endured.   Trust me, I know how crappy that feels.

I want to thank you.  All of you.  Every last person who has been involved, or who has involved themselves in this mess with Mars Hill and its Pastors.  I have learned so much over these last few months.

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20)

The ‘you’ in this is not a person.  The ‘you’ in this is not a group of people.  The ‘you’ in this is not a website or a Facebook group.  The ‘you’ in this is not even the man who tormented me all those years ago.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)

The enemy of God meant to crush me, to destroy me over a decade ago.  The enemy of God is still working today to crush and destroy the children of God.  As chaos as erupted outside of Mars Hill Church and within Mars Hill Church God has been faithful to save my life through it.  The Lord has been faithful to bless me as He carries me through this valley of suffering with PTSD.  And I want to share that with you.

Through this I have learned how not to be bitter against the man who abused me.  I always thought I had forgiven him, but in watching this maelstrom around Pastor Mark I realized that my forgiveness was not complete.  I blamed the man who abused me for many things in my life.  Everything about me changed.  I now deal with people much differently.  I have put on weight to keep myself unattractive and to give me license to continue thinking myself disgusting.  I held on to all the ways he wronged me so tightly sometimes that I am surprised my fingers did not break.  I have such good, right, and justified reasons to hate this man.  I have every good, right, and justified reason to see this man suffer consequences.  He wronged me in ways I can’t describe.  I am right to be angry.  I have a right to demand justice against him!  But God …stepped in.

But God.  Those are two of my favorite words.  But God would not leave me here like this.  He used this entire mess to reach out to me, to speak to me.  But God had me listen to a sermon by Pastor Matt Chandler.  It is an amazing sermon.  Here is a section of what he said that has replayed over and over in my head these last few months.

“First, their versions of the conflict will almost always be different, and no one really wants to own anything. Everyone thinks the other person is at fault. If you start asking questions, it gets almost cartoonish. Not to make light of this scenario at all, but if the other person is 90 percent to blame and my 10 percent was how I responded to what they did, there is a common belief that I don’t have to own my 10 percent because they’re 90 percent to blame.

No, you’ve still sinned. You’ve sinned against God and against them. “Well, that sin was only a response to their sin.” It’s still sin. It’s not like God is going, “You know what? I totally get that. In fact, what I would have done…” No. In fact, God has already given us the example of what he would have done, which is initiate and forgive, engage and reconcile. Those of us who have been forgiven, how consistently do we walk in gratitude for the grace we’ve been shown by the King of glory? Not as often as we should, I can tell you that. We’re quick to forget, quick to presume upon the Lord for his grace and forgiveness, God help us.” – Pastor Matt Chandler

I am not to blame for any of the sin committed against me by that man.  But I have sinned in response to that hurt, that betrayal, and that soul shattering moment.  Whether or not that man is a Christian or will ever be a Christian is not a matter for me to consider.  God is very clear about how I am to respond.  God holds me accountable for my reactions, for He gave me His example of His perfect reaction to my own hurt, betrayal, and rebellion.

“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;  and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  All this is from God,  who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-21)

 

This doesn’t just go for that man, or Pastor Mark, or Pastor Dave, or your next door neighbor, or your spouse, or your best friend, or your parent.  It goes for everyone. How am I supposed to implore anyone on behalf of Christ if I do not rely upon His perfect justice?  How can I praise Him through His cleansing blood if I hold the sins of others so closely to my heart?  They are not my sins.  Jesus bought every sin ever committed on the Cross.  They all belong to Him.  As my wonderful friend Lee Brown told me a few Sunday’s ago….when I cling to the sins committed against me I am actually stealing them from Jesus.  He purchased them with His blood.  Or do I not believe that?  And if I don’t believe that …why am I worshiping Him?  I have to believe it.  Belief in His cleansing blood is the only reason for joy!

Next, I am the ‘cut and run’ sort of person.  If you had hurt me or betrayed me, or someone I care about, I simply cut you out of my life.  I had no time for it.  But God (see aren’t those beautiful words?) made me a new creation:

“I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3:9-10)

“By which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” ( 2 Peter 1:4)

“But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years!” (Galatians 4:9-10)

If it had not been for Jesus I would not be at Mars Hill Church right now.  The moment drama hit the fan I would have left because it is more convenient for me.  I would have given up on friendships and saved my heart the trouble of caring. But in Christ I am new!  In CHRIST I can forgive the man who tormented me.  I can pray for him.  I do pray for him.  I no longer wish him ill.  I do not dwell on him and what he has done to me.  Instead I painfully walk through the wreckage with Jesus and watch HIM heal and make new!!  You all, every last one of you, have helped me learn this.  I have watched you respond and I have seen all those responses to my own situation.  And God has shown Himself to me through it and in it.  Mars Hill is not Pastor Mark Discoll.  Mars Hill is not the Executive Elders.  Mars Hill is a body of believers.  Mars Hill is a church who loves Jesus.  Mars Hill is Jesus’ bride.

“For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:2)

Every Christian is a part of that bride.  It does not matter what church you attend, if Jesus knows you …you are part of my family.  The man who abused me could be a part of that bride.  And after all the Jesus has done for me …Jesus has done for all of you.  Who am I to shame you?  Who am I to discount your feelings?  Jesus knows them better than I do.  And I trust His judgment and His justice.  It came at the Cross and we will all fall to one side of that Cross.

“and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:17)

So I will not turn my back on Mars Hill.  I will not turn my back on Pastor Mark.  I will not turn my back on any of you.  I pray for you daily.  My heart is heavy for hurts I know all too well.  I do not dismiss them.  I lay them at the nail scarred feet of my Savior.  For you are my family.  God does not quit on His family, and so neither will I.  Pastor James MacDonald has an awesome sermon that spoke to me about all of this.  It is Part 1 in his How to Have Peace of Mind sermon series. In the sermon he asks a few questions that have stuck with me these last few months.  Is this dispute, this argument, this sin I am wrestling with something I will need to talk to Jesus about in heaven?  In heaven will it still matter?  When I am face to face with my Lord and Savior …do I need to point out someone and say that we need to have a sit down?  If not then I need to forgive and let it go.  You are my family, and how we are supposed to treat our family has gotten so messed up, but Jesus made it abundantly clear.  In eternity there are only two sides.

There are only two sides in any situation I will ever get into.  There is no “Mars Hill side”.  There is no “anti-Mars Hill” side.  There is no them against us.  There is no him against him.  There is no me against you.  Whatever situation you can imagine there is still only two sides.  You are either on the side for Christ, or you are on the side against Christ.  And if you are on Team Jesus  then you have only one purpose in life: to give the glory to God.  That is the only question I should ask myself.  Is my reaction to my abuser giving glory to God?  Is my reaction to my abuser pointing people to Jesus?  Is my reaction to this maelstrom around my Church giving glory to God?  Are your actions and words giving glory to God?  If I am not glorifying God and pointing people to Jesus …it doesn’t matter what sin has been committed against me …it doesn’t excuse my sin in return.  Sin is sin.  Either I am on Team Jesus or I am not.  And this entire situation has been a huge blessing in showing me how to be on Team Jesus!

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

“for you were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:20)

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,” (Colossians 3:23)

“’All thinks are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up.” (1 Corinthians 10:23)

Lastly, my Pastor—Mark Driscoll—gave a wonderful sermon just a few weeks back about conflict.  Whatever conflict I find myself in at the end is Jesus made much of?  Or is the devil dancing?  Thank you world for bringing me this intimacy and look into how God wants me to live and treat others.  God does use all things for His good.  And I want to give you my gratitude for this blessing.

Sincerely and with a grateful heart,

Christ’s beloved servant,

Lael Barwood

Christians still killing Jesus

I read an article today that has been gnawing at my brain stem for most of the day.  I found myself filled with an anger I didn’t know how to categorize.  Was it righteous?  What exactly am I angry at?  So I have been gnawing on it with the Holy Spirit, talking to the Lord about what exactly has me so riled in spirit.  I am not used to my spirit being so riled.  My feelings, my pride, or my want to be right is often the source of my riling.  This felt new and different.  And it has taken me most of the day to figure out what has upset me.  As I talked it out with H.G. (aka the Holy Ghost) I came to realize that I am upset because we—meaning us Christians—are still killing Jesus.

I know I have probably just offended you if you are Christian reading this.  I offended myself when I realized I was complicit in the continued murder of my Savior.  But H.G. walked me through this offense and I hope some of you will walk along with me.

So my journey started when I read an article about how multi-site churches are from Satan.  I am a member of Mars Hill Church, a multi-site church, and so I was offended that someone said I basically am a member of satanic gathering.  I have also been a member of a small church of maybe 150 people.  Both Pastor Dan and Pastor Mark Driscoll love Jesus, preach Jesus, and have taught me a great deal.  I am not biased one way or another.  I think both styles of churches are needed to suit the countless styles of God’s children.  I belong to a non-denominational Church, and I have belonged to a Baptist church.  Again, I am not biased on denominations as long as they teach the Bible and preach the good news of Jesus Christ.  This isn’t about what type of church is best, or what style of church you prefer, or the personality of the Pastor you learn the Bible the best from.  That is between you and H.G.

What bothered me is that this article was written by a Christian and was posted for a Christian blog/magazine/website thing.  I don’t know how to categorize it anymore, but I am sure you get the point.   Now I would understand the point of this article if it said that these multi-site Pastors were not teaching the Bible, were not proclaiming the saving grace of Jesus Christ, and that the Holy Spirit was not involved in the church at all.  Then yes I would understand the article.  But that’s not what the article said.  Instead it went on about how these Pastors are guilty of the sins of pride and idolatry.  But guess what …every single person is guilty of the sins of pride and idolatry.  It doesn’t matter if you Pastor a large flock or a small flock.  I am guilty of the sins of pride and idolatry.  So if a church is ‘from Satan’ because the Pastors sinners, then all churches must be from Satan.

10 I appeal to you, brothers,[a] by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)

The Bible teaches against this.  I don’t go to Mars Hill because I believe it will save me, or because I idolize Pastor Mark’s teaching ability.  I go to Mars Hill because I learn the Bible there.  Jesus is who saves me.  Do some people idolize Pastor Mark?  Sure.  But people idolize their small church Pastor’s too.   If I idolized Pastor Mark it wouldn’t be Pastor Mark’s fault.  It would be my fault.  It would be my sin to deal with and my heart issue.  As Christians we need to stop saying ‘my way of doing church is better and more holy than your way of doing church’.  If Jesus is proclaimed and the Bible is taught, PRAISE THE LORD!  Be grateful and thankful that God’s work is being done.  The world and potential-Christians criticizes us enough, we don’t need to give them fuel for their fire.

When I was a pagan this was a major problem I had with Christianity.  Churches and professing believers tore each other apart, slandered one another up and down the internet, and generally acted like middle-school kids.  And that is how I saw you treat people who were a part of the ‘family of God’.  Why would I want to be a part of that family?  Why would I voluntarily skip into the middle?  When you, as a Christian, come out and call a style of Church satanic…why would any non-believer then go to that Church?  How many people have we just cut off from the saving grace of the gospel because we disagree with how things should be done?  Is it really worth that person’s soul?  Is your opinion of how Church should be done so important that it is worth this cost?  Are you really that prideful?

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

The article talks about how sinful multi-site church Pastors are.  So I am going to let you in on a not-so-secret secret about Pastor Mark Driscoll.  He is not perfect.  He is a sinner.  He gets things wrong.  He says things wrong.  He gets angry.  He needs Jesus’ grace.  He needs forgiveness.  He is just like me.  Imagine that.  Pastor Mark Driscoll isn’t Jesus.  He says that often.  Want to know something else about Pastor Mark Driscoll that so many people tend to overlook?  He repents.  He repents publicly, in front of cameras, to thousands of people.  He apologizes to thousands of people.  He talks about his failures and his sins in front of thousands of people.  Unlike me.  I sometimes have a hard time talking about my failures with just my community group.  I don’t have to eat humble pie every Sunday in front of everyone.  I do it privately with my husband and H.G.

So yay, my Pastor isn’t perfect, but neither am I.  He shows me what repentance looks like.  He leads me in how to be humble, how to swallow my pride, and how to talk frankly about my sin.  And guess what …your Pastor should do this too.  I find it completely comforting to know that my Pastor gets it, and is willing to be humbled before the world so that I learn how to be more like Jesus.  The only perfect Pastor is Jesus Christ who happens to be in heaven right now.  All Pastors have sinned and all Pastors fall short of the glory of God.  We, as Christians, need to let this sink in and we need to stop crucifying them for being as imperfect as we are.

“And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7)

Stop throwing stones at my Pastor.  Stop throwing stones at Pastors who teach the Bible and preach the saving grace of God.  Just.  Stop.

“One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.” (Proverbs 29:23)

The article then goes on to say that as a member of a multi-site church I cannot hold Pastor Mark Driscoll accountable.  As if I should be able to be the accountability partner in my teaching Pastor’s life.  That right there is a huge ego and pride check.  Pastor Mark teaches me the Bible, and preaches the saving grace of God.  Pastor Mark is not my accountability partner.  Pastor Mark is not my friend.  If I had a pressing issue in my life I wouldn’t run to Pastor Mark for the answers.  And guess what ….when I belonged to a small church it was the same way.  Why?  Because they aren’t my personal and close friends.  I don’t hang out with them.  I don’t have them over for dinner.  I am not against becoming friends, but I don’t demand that be a requirement for me to sit beneath their teaching.  The same way I wouldn’t demand a college professor to be my friend before I take his class.

Pastor Mark Driscoll has an amazing gift for teaching the Bible, as do other multi-site church Pastors.  I learn so much from Pastor Matt Chandler, Pastor James MacDonald, Pastor Rick Warren, and many others.  I don’t know any of them.  And I hardly think I need to nitpick my way through their lives and demand they explain everything to me.  If you need that close relationship to your Pastor, then by all means go to a small church where that is possible.  I don’t begrudge you that need, but please don’t call me a Satanist because I don’t share that need.

Pastor Mark Driscoll is my teaching Pastor at my church.  He isn’t my personal Pastor.  Pastor Dave Bruskus is a fatherly Pastor for me.  He is a Pastor I would reach out to for big questions as I have seen his wisdom and love for God’s children.  Pastor Sutton Turner is a warrior Pastor for me.  I see him on the front lines for God’s glory, working to spread the good news of Jesus Christ far and wide.  These two men are accountability partners for Pastor Mark Driscoll …and I completely trust them to do that job.  I don’t feel the need to do it myself.  Now my personal Pastor is actually at my Church at Mars Hill Downtown Seattle.  For a while it was Pastor Joel Brown, who is completely amazing at speaking the truth in God’s love.  He was the Pastor I went to when I needed a Pastor.  God has called him away to Mars Hill Tacoma.  So now my personal Pastor is Pastor Matthias.  I am still getting to know him, but I trust him already with knowing he is a man of God’s heart and would give wise counsel.

Why am I telling you this?  Because I am a member of a multi-site church, and I want people to know that I do have a Shepherd (Pastor) and I’m not just some consumer/groupie who stares at Pastor Mark on a screen.  I go to watch Pastor Mark on a screen because he teaches the Bible in a way I understand.  I do the same with the other Pastor’s above whom I mentioned.  But if that’s not for you, I get it.  We are all called to understand Scripture in different ways; just as all Pastors are called by the Holy Spirit to serve the spreading of Scripture in different ways.

31 “So I tell you, every sin and blasphemy can be forgiven—except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which will never be forgiven. 32 Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man can be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, either in this world or in the world to come.” (Matthew 12:31-32)

The last point that really rankled me in this article was the critique against the pastors who served these Multi-site churches.  A man needs to be called by the Holy Spirit to become a Pastor.  The Holy Spirit then usually calls a Pastor to a certain church for a certain ministry.  That calling is between that Pastor and the Holy Spirit.  This is the work of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus warns us very poignantly against calling the works of the Holy Spirit as something evil or from Satan.  We are really not supposed to blaspheme the Holy Spirit.  Which is what we are doing if we are saying what the Holy Spirit has called these men to do is from Satan.  Who am I, and who are you, to judge what exactly the calling of the Holy Spirit is on anyone else?  The will of the Holy Spirit cannot be held in check by anyone’s will, design, or church style.  If the Holy Spirit calls a Pastor to a small church, yay Jesus!  If the Holy Spirit calls a Pastor to a mega church, yay Jesus!  If the Holy Spirit calls a Pastor to a multi-site church, yay Jesus!  We should be rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit to still stir up the affections of men’s heart to serve the LORD rather than trying to dictate how that service should look like.  We, as Christians, really need to stop trying to shame one another into worshipping God as we see fit.  Otherwise we are exactly like the Pharisees.

Jesus did not teach like the Rabbis of the Pharisees.  Jesus did not follow their traditions or man-made rules and laws of what worshipping God should look like.  The gospels are full of this battle of wills, of these demands the Pharisees made that Jesus conform to how they thought synagogue should look, sound like, and be lived out.  They were so outraged by Jesus’ nonconformity that they failed to see people drawing closer to God, repenting, and living a new life.  They murdered Jesus for this.  And we are still doing it today.

Church is about Jesus.  As Christians we need to be about Jesus.  And when we lobby accusations and insults at other Christians who are worshiping Jesus in a different way ….we become a Pharisee.  We put our preferences, our traditions, and our own opinions about how serving the LORD should look before the fact that this is really supposed to be all about Jesus.  When we do this we kill Jesus for the non-believer.  When we do this we kill Jesus to the skeptic watching on.  The world around us is killing Jesus enough on its own ….the children of God shouldn’t be helping them.  Stop throwing stones.  Stop giving the LORD a bad reputation by our own preferences.  Enough already.

Is the Pastor teaching the Bible?  Is the Church preaching the saving grace of Jesus Christ?  Is the Holy Spirit moving the people toward God?  If the answer is yes …then shut up about how you think things should be done.  Go to a church that suits your needs and worship and praise the LORD for providing us with so many ways to glorify Him!  Put your stones down.

If you don’t like a Pastor, then don’t like that Pastor.  Don’t help the world tear a servant of the LORD down by adding fuel.  Don’t go on various social media’s and spread contempt for the servants of the LORD.  You aren’t serving Jesus by doing this.  You aren’t glorifying God by doing this.  We need to put our feelings and opinions (our pride) aside and seek after the glory of the LORD first ….not the glory of ourselves and our opinions.  As Christians, we need to stop killing Jesus before the world who is definitely watching us crucifying our own.

“In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise.” (Proverbs 10:19)

 

“He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction.” (Proverbs 13:3)

 

“Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles.” (Proverbs 21:23)

“The heart of the righteous studies how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours forth evil.” (Proverbs 15:28)

“A fool's mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul. “ (Proverbs 18:7)

“The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression.” (Proverbs 19:11)

“A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back.” (Proverbs 29:11)

Love

”Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become a sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.   And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. 

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.”  (1 Corinthians 13:1-8)

Love.  Oh how we, how I, have shamed the word so many times, and in so many ways.  Love is one of the most misused, misunderstood, abused, scorned, and hungered for state of being ever known to man.  Too often humans mislabel love.  The most common mislabel is lust, it is still a four letter L word, but lust is strictly of the flesh.  Love is something more.   Love goes beyond the heart, beyond the mind, and beyond the soul.  Love must consume all three.  Your mind has to be saturated with love for love to put its stamp on your heart.  Your heart has to be drenched in love for it to flood your soul.  And your soul has to be filled with love to keep a consistent rain saturating your mind.  There is no other way to love; at least not according to the Lord.

Now I know there are different kinds of love; and so many people (I used to be one of them) claim there are different levels of love.  The brutal truth is I was wrong.  I wanted to comfort and consol myself to my own shortcomings when faced with the unfathomable depths of love.  I wanted to put my own limits and borders and definitions on love, calling it nothing more than an emotion which comes and goes.  If I could successfully diminish love I could then escape the responsibilities that come with love, and abuse the word as freely as I wanted to.  That isn’t love.  I called it love, I tried to convince myself it was love—at times I was successful—and I did my best to prove it was love to those I claimed to love.

So what is love then?  I will give you my best explanation of love as I know it; but please understand that in the endless sea that is Love, I am not that far from the shore.  There are different ‘kinds’ of love; such as I do not love my mom with the kind of love that I love my soul mate, and I do not love my soul mate with the kind of love that I love my best friend.  However, and this is a HUGE however, I do love all of them with the same intensity, the same depth, and from my heart, mind, body, and soul.  I have to.  It is the only way to truly, honestly, and purely love someone.

(I am going to give two versions of each verse as the words used might reach each person differently.  The message is always the same.)

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1 NKJ)

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1 NIV)

I could be the most well spoken human being on earth.  If my words could paint such beautiful poetry that God would be proud; if my tongue could express myself in such a pure way that would sit me comfortably among angels …. It wouldn’t be enough.  All of that would be noise, white noise, to be interpreted by the ears of men.  Gongs and cymbals make music; and music speaks to people in different ways to mean different things.  Love is not like that.  Love does not depend on different view or various interpretations.  Love is not meant to be seen one way by one person and another way by another person.  Love is absolute.  Love is truth.

Love is more than pretty words spoken—or written—in the correct order.  My lips can pen the words of love, but unless my love goes beyond my lips and deeper than my skin, it is just noise.  It is just lip service.  It is meaningless.  I do not want my love filled words to be up for interpretation or debate.  I want my words of love to come with a powerful force, a tangible sensation, so there is no doubt to my meaning.  My words of love shouldn’t leave you doubting, or uncertain.  If my words of love do this, then I have failed to love you properly. 

I have failed to love people properly so many times.  Countless times my words are harsh, they sting and wound, or I speak them from a place that does not know love.  It doesn’t matter how ‘true’ my words are or if I am ‘right’ in speaking them.  Those words don’t come from a place of love.  If you love someone you want to be brutally honest with them; but if you truly love someone honesty never needs to be brutally.  There is always another concise way to say something.

“And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2 NKJ)

“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2 NIV)

Imagine if a person could know everything, understand everything, and be able to tell the future—all the promises offered to Adam and Eve with that forbidden fruit—and then we add in the faith of a mustard seed that Jesus Christ spoke of to move mountains, why that person would be powerful.  That person would be rich, famous, and likely known throughout the world.  Heck, people with heaps less than any one of these things are known throughout the world.  You would think this person would be great.  But, again a HUGE but, if this person did not have love they would be nothing.  Ouch.

Just knowing something isn’t enough.  I could spend my whole life getting to know my parents, my siblings, my family, my friends, and my soul mate.  I could devote myself to this task so much that I know them better than they know themselves.  I can have faith in them that they will never hurt me, or do bad things to me, or knowingly do me harm.  This doesn’t mean I love that person.  My case files, encyclopedias, and mass market research on who a person is does not equal love.  All the time I spent gathering all of this does not equal love.  I don’t love someone because I know them.  I know someone because I love them. 

This is a part of love I have often messed up.  I thought if I knew someone enough, or I put in enough time with them, it would prove I loved them.  My motivation was wrong.  This sort of thinking is done to search for love and to comfort myself that even if I don’t have love I will have performed actions to show love.  When the truth is without the love being there initially my actions mean nothing.  If I knew a person inside and out, but felt no love for them, my relationship with them holds no meaning.  It is just useless facts.

Now love can develop in the learning process; and I promise you that you will know the instant it does.  The moment you begin to love someone in learning about them the learning becomes second place.  The person you love is less of a research project and more a life companion.  When I began to learn about the people I love from a place of love, my process of learning changed drastically.  I talked less and listened more.  My questions were less about action and background, and more about heart and soul.  When you seek knowledge, faith, and understanding in another person from a place of love you no longer want to know the answer to the mysteries.  The mysteries and the future hold less of an appeal because you would rather discover them together so that every day is like Christmas morning.   The person becomes more important than the knowledge. 

I have put aside my charts, maps, and research papers.  I have begun to make myself present, truly there with all my being, when I am with someone I love.  I don’t need to take notes or jot down important dates because those facts hold less importance.  The individual, the soul, the whole person is so much more than any data I can gather.  All that is icing on the cake.  And I am very glad I have stopped mistaking the icing for the cake … because I have missed out on the delicious center of so many beautiful people.

“And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3 NKJ)

“If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3 NIV)

Ah so many times I thought my good deeds, my selfless works, and my sacrifices meant I loved someone.  Why, after all, would I be doing any of this if I did not love the person?  The answer is not a pretty one.  I did it for myself, for my own conscious, and to give me the ‘out’ I need for actually putting energy, work, and time into loving someone.  Usually these deeds, these selfless works, and these sacrifices are a lot smaller.  They are all the pretty baubles and flashy lights to distract you from all the ways I haven’t loved you at all.

It is easy to see the beggar on the corner and give him a $20.  I would do this and tell myself, “See, self, I have loved another human being.”  This is far from the truth.  If I were to honestly love that person I would have bought him a meal, given him something to keep him warm, given him money, and asked if he had a place to stay.  I know you are probably wondering why anyone would do that for a stranger these days; there are too many crazy, evil, dangerous people out there.  This is true.  My fear, my self-preservation, has kept me from loving others.  And no matter how much I want, no matter how much I try, I cannot call that offering of money love.  It’s not.  The truth is I gave that money to make myself feel better.

And what does that get me?  Nothing.  It makes me feel less guilty on my drive home, but it does nothing for the beggar and it does nothing for my heart.  Throughout my life I have always done the bare minimum when it comes to love.  Sadly this thinking is the worst kind of virus spreading through our world.  We do just enough to make ourselves feel better so that we can point out our deeds, or sacrifices, and say “See!!  Look I love you I did this for you!!”  When in truth we did it for ourselves.

Love has no place in this sort of action or thought.  Love cannot be bought with works or sacrifices.  This is really hard to fully, completely grasp in a world where everything is for sale.  It has only been in these last handfuls of years that I have begun to understand that love comes without a price.  It is given without a receipt.  Love is not exchanges of you scratch my back and I scratch yours.  I no longer do things because I love someone.  I no longer offer things because I love someone.  I no longer sacrifice things, or myself, because I love someone.  Love isn’t about me.

It is about the person you love.  Love prompts me to do something nice, say something nice, give something sweet, or yield up pieces of myself.  It may seem like a subtle distinction, but there is nothing subtle about it.  There is nothing subtle about the difference in the treatment of the beggar mentioned above.   There was nothing subtle, for me, in acting out of love.  When I act from a place of myself I often seek recognition for what I have done.  I want to be thanked.  I want my actions to be noted.  Whether the payment is a smile, a “thank you”, a hug, or something else …it is still a payment.  When I began to give out of a place of love it didn’t matter if my action was noticed or not.  I no longer cared about the “thank you” or the hug.  Those things weren’t the reason I did what I did. 

My motivation came from love, and seeing that love at work in the lives of those I love was enough.  The happiness, joy, ease, or help playing out in the lives of those I love was my profit.  It was my joy.  Seeing the person I loved happy, surprised, or what-have-you was enough.  I no longer needed anything in return.  I no longer was a player in the action.  In taking myself out of these scenarios I was freed of the chains of selfishness and allowed to waltz in love. 

“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;” (1 Corinthians 13:4 NKJ)

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” (1 Corinthians 13:4 NIV)

Now come the more specific things that love is, and is not.  Love is patient; seems easy enough.  But when was the last time you lost your patience with your friend, your parent, your spouse, or your child?  This is probably one of the hardest aspects of love.  It will only get harder the more our world teaches, promotes, and makes readily available instant gratification.  We want what we want and we want it now!  The word ‘now’ doesn’t really have a place in the sea of love.  If you have time limits, or expiration dates, in your relationships you don’t love that person.  I don’t say this out of personal perfection; I speak from Christ’s example. 

If Jesus is true, and Jesus is love, then it stands to reason that in loving someone else I should have the same patience for them that Christ has for me.  And I can’t tell you the depths of my gratitude that Jesus does not love as I love.  If He did, I would burn in hell for all eternity.  The number of times I have broken the heart of my Lord is countless.  I have made God wait on me more times than there are stars in the heavens.  He has never turned His back on me because He loves me.  There is no end to patience in love.  It is always there.  It is long suffering.  It is a struggle for me to throw out my time tables every day; but every day I strive to do so.

Kindness is another kicker.  Love, by its very nature, requires that I be vulnerable and exposed to the people that I love.  In loving another person I will always, always, end up hurt in one fashion or another.  Why?  Because I am a sinner, fallible, and imperfect; just like every one of you.  And when I am hurt it is only natural to want to retaliate, lash out, or to pay back my dues.  When I do these things I do not love a person.  When someone I love has hurt me, to repay that pain with pain is not love.  Love, rather, requires you to be kind to your offender.  To take the pain, or the hurt, and still love the person.  I am not asking you to be a doormat, or to suck it up, or to even hide your pain.  There are ways to express pain, hurt, and displeasure in a kind way.  These ways can only be found if you look for them with love and through love. 

And sadly sometimes the only kindness love can afford you is to walk away from a poisonous person.  Jesus did not let the Pharisees walk all over him.  He did not go knocking on their door seeking to shower them with love and opening himself up to their abuse.  He loved them, offered them His love, and when it was abused and rejected He stepped away.  His heart was always open to those who changed their minds and came back to Christ.  Kindness does not require you to stay in an abusive house, but it does require you to leave the door open should your abuser come back with an honest repentance, and need of forgiveness. 

To not envy someone you love seems easy enough.  This is because most people assume that envy simply means not wanting what the person you love has.  The not coveting is only half of envy, the other half is not feeling any sort of discontent about it.  The not feeling discontent is the harder aspect of envy.  Envy leads to bitterness, and inequality.  In envying someone you are putting them above you.  It is impossible to love someone who is not your equal.  Love doesn’t work like that.  Love requires, demands, that each person be one side of the same coin.   When I start to divvy up who has the better this, or the more of that, I have turned my relationship into a set of scales that weighs coin.

Envy goes beyond possessions to popularity, and it reaches into success.  How many times have you heard “I make the money so I make the rules”?  That sort of thinking, of being the ‘bread winner’ sets up, decorates, and inhabits a house of envy.  Love has no place in envying the people you love, but it also has no place in creating situations for others to envy you. 

Which leads into the next point, boasting.  When I do something good, or get recognized for something I’ve done, I naturally want to share it with those I love.  Love, however, draws a very distinct line between sharing and boasting.  I am guilty of stepping over that line and at times even tap dancing across it.  It is easy to boast because I want to show people how good I am, or that I am worthy of their love and praise.  Boasting is all about me me me.  It is an easy one to slip up on because if no one else toots my horn, don’t I have to?

Love, again, is not about me.  The point of me loving you isn’t to earn your love in return.  The point of me loving you isn’t to make me seem like the best thing since sliced bread.  The point of me loving you isn’t to put me up on this pedestal.  If I am to love you I have to be the opposite side to your coin; not your weight and measurer, and certainly not my own weight and measurer. 

With weight, size, scales, and measurements comes the last thing love is not in this verse: pride.  My own pride has slaughtered so many relationships.  My pride has shattered the hearts of so many wonderful people in my life.  My pride is my love’s worst enemy.  There is no place for pride in love.  No place.  And it is hard.  When I love my soul mate without any pride the world tries to make me feel ashamed for it.

I love Jeremy whether or not he loves me back.  I love Jeremy whether or not he sleeps with another woman.  I love Jeremy whether or not he chooses to be with me.  Jeremy never has to apologize to me.  Jeremy will never know a ‘last chance’ with me.  I will always take Jeremy back into my life should he ever decide to leave it.  Jeremy could crush my heart, stomp on the shattered pieces, and laugh while dancing a jig on the fine dust left behind.  And with complete humility my heart will still be his.  Why?  Because I love him.  Because my pride has nothing to do with how I feel about him. 

This sounds ridiculous and incredible, unbelievable, maybe even foolish.  But thank you Jesus for loving me without pride.  Because I know I have done this, and so much worse to Your heart, and You always ALWAYS take me back.

“does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;” (1 Corinthians 13:5 NKJ)

“It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” (1 Corinthians 13:5 NIV)

It is very easy for me to look at my over all relationship with someone I love and say I have not been rude to them.  It is easy for me to look at my over all actions during a single day and to say I have not been rude to the people I love.  But, as I have learned, love is not easy.  When I tell my mother I will call her back, and I don’t, that is rude.  When I tell my friend I will meet them at 6 pm, and I get there at 6:15 pm, that is rude.  When I interrupt what my soul mate is saying, that is rude.  When I disagree, argue, or point out how the person I love is wrong … in a public setting … I am being rude.  Love demands that I treat those I love with respect.  This isn’t always an easy thing to do.  Too often I fall prey to the want and need to be ‘right’ or to ‘have the last word’.  These ideas, thoughts, needs, and wants have no place in a love filled relationship.  With how prevalent and popular rudeness is in our culture right now it is especially hard to escape it.  Rudeness is highly praised a lot of the time.  So I struggle with going against the flow in the name of love.

More than once I have already touched on the fact that love is not about me.  When I love someone I cannot have myself at the center.  I have learned, very painfully at times, that to truly love someone it cannot depend on what I get out of it.  If I can only love someone who loves me back, or who gives me something return—whether that is kindness, favors, or physical pleasure—then the truth is I don’t love them.  I love what they can do for me or do to me.  My love is all about me, which isn’t love at all.  Love needs to come without strings, without conditions, without borders, without expectations, and with the no hope or agenda for anything in return.  If you can love someone like that (and I have learned that I can) then you can say in all honesty you love them.  If you can’t then you need to explore why.  Love should never be a reaction.  Love is a decision.  Love is a constant action, a constant thought, and a constant state of mind.

If, for me and you, love is all the above then it simply cannot be easily provoked to anger.  If every word I have written before, and every little dot and iota of Scripture written above is true, then there is no place for a short temper in the world of love.  It simply isn’t possible.  If you have all the patience in the world for someone you love, if you only want to do them kindness, if you feel no envy toward them, and have not boasted or live in a world of pride, and if you lack rudeness and have only sought with all your being to love this person …you will find it is impossible to get angry with them.  Because anger is all about what has been done to you; and love is all about what you can do for another person. 

Now I cannot say I love like this.  The only person who can is Christ.  But just because I can’t meet this standard doesn’t mean I shouldn’t reach for it.  I will admit I do get angry with the people I love, but I need to accept that in those moments of anger I am no longer loving the person I am angry at.  In that moment, in that realization, I need to reevaluate the situation.  Which is more important, my anger and pain, or my love for this person?  For all the times I have chosen my own anger and my own pain are all the times I realize I don’t love as I should.  It is in those moments when I am forced to humbly, and shamefully, admit that maybe I don’t love this person.  When that is the case I have to do some serious self reflection on why I don’t love them, and what about myself is keeping me from loving them. 

A lot of the time I will find what keeps me from loving someone is my own personal score board with that person.  My own check list of things I have done for them, and things I feel they have not done for me.  Or perhaps they have a long list of things they have done to me that are hurtful and mean.  My heart, sadly and shamefully, has a whole host of rooms devoted to the shortcomings and failings of the people who mean the most to me.  Each person has their own room where I hang up my memories of pain, wrongs, and betrayals.  I, shamefully, visit these rooms more often than I should.  My upkeep of these rooms demands a very harsh self-examination of how I love; and if I truly love.

I can honestly tell you I never really loved anyone before a handful of years ago.  Since I became a Christian I have began to examine, study, and scrutinize love and my own ways of love.  I have had to clean out more rooms than I care to mention.  It is humiliating to me.  Sometimes I didn’t want to meet the eyes of the people who had several rooms such as these in my heart.  I was completely ashamed to have claimed such a gift as love for them, when I hadn’t put a single toe in the sea of love as of yet.  This was, and continues to be, a very brutal process for me.  It is hard to let go.  It is hard to forgive.  It is hard to realize what is in those rooms doesn’t really matter.  Not really. 

In cleaning out those rooms, boarding them, and dumping all the trash I had treasured inside of them I have found something far more precious.  I have found the ability to love.  I have found the shallow end of the sea of love.  I have begun to wade into the warm, life-giving, and soothing waters of love.  It is so much easier to love people without those rooms.  It is so much easier to be vulnerable, patient, kind, humble, respectful, and unselfish when I do not have these little hide-a-ways to fall back on.  Because who am I to be landlord over these apartments?  Have I not done as much, or worse, in my own misconstrued, misused, and mislabeled use of love?

“does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;” (1 Corinthians 13:6 NKJ)

“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:6 NIV)

This is a very, very hard practice to love.  This aspect of love means I cannot add more to the rooms I have already built.  This aspect of love means I cannot build new rooms.  This aspect of love means I have to look beyond the faults of the people I love and see the truth of them.  The truth of all of us is found in our hearts and souls.  Sometimes the truth of ourselves comes out in our words and actions, it is written in our deeds and thoughts, but more often than not it isn’t.  I can promise you that few than 10 people, currently, know the truth of me despite all my writings and interactions.  And I can promise you that I know the truth of fewer than 5 people despite everything. 

Most of what I know of the people around me, even the people I love, is their humanness.  Your faults, your failings, your shortcomings, your narrow sightedness, your farsightedness, your conceit, your self-obsession, your silliness, your ignorance ….is what I see, and I promise you that my own is no better and probably a lot worse.  To say otherwise would be a lie.  It is always easier to spot the bad, hold on to the bad, and keep the bad sacred.  Why?  Because then we have all the reason we need to excuse ourselves, all the reason I need to excuse myself, from loving the way love demands we love. 

Love commands me to look past all the sin, all the evil in your heart and soul and my own heart and soul, and beyond everything that is so broken and screwed up with every one of us …to see the truth of you.  You, every last one of you, is beautiful.  Every last of you is a cherished, amazing creation of our God.  My God took time to define you, build you, and give you every last little quirk about you …and those things are beautiful.  Love demands I see this truth in you.  It more than demands it; actually, in loving you I am helpless against hunting down, seeking out, and celebrating all the beauty in the very truth of you.  To look for the obvious flaws and judge you on the obvious flaws, or maybe even on the more intimate and secretive skeletons in the closet, has not a thing to do with love. 

I do not love you despite all these things.  I love you in spite, and because, of all your imperfections.  In loving you I cannot look for anything else but your truth, to do otherwise isn’t about love.  To do otherwise is me trying to find a reason and a way to accept my own lesser standard of love.

“bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:7 NKJ)

“It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:7 NIV)

Love does all these things.  Love enables us to do all these things.  When I find myself unable to do one of these things concerning a person I love I am forced to examine my own love.  It would be easy to put the blame of my own failure to do these things on the person I love.  But as I stated before, Love should not depend upon what another person does for you, to you, or with you.  Loving someone is my choice.  It is my decision to love someone that guides everything else in my life.  Everything else in my life does not guide my decision to love someone. 

If I can’t do one of these things I need to ask myself why.  What is stopping me?  Even now I want to type out the next question of ‘What has this person done to me that I feel this way?’ but I can’t.  I can’t if I am trying to figure out my love for them.  Only I can influence how much, how deeply, and in which ways I love someone.  And I shamefully admit most of those depths and ways aren’t love at all.  The hard question is “What is it about me, what have I done, to keep me from going to that place?”  I am responsible for my own actions, my own limits, and my own emotions.  I am not a passenger in my own soul.  I am the conductor.  I am the vessel.  My path, I have chosen, is the Christian path Christ laid down in love, through love, and for love.  It is that path I fight every day to stay on.  This means I can’t go looking to make everyone around me responsible for my own shortcomings.

“Love never fails.  But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.” (1 Corinthians 13:8 NKJ)

“Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.” (1 Corinthians 13:8 NIV)

My love is imperfect, messy, broken, and downright backwards at times; however, if I truly love someone it will never go away.  One day everything I ever spoke about doing, dreamed about doing, with the ones I loved will be gone.  One day all the words I ever spoke to those I love will no longer be heard.  One day all the bookcases of knowledge I have gathered on the people I love—and they on me—will be gone.  But my love for them will remain.  It will remain in the hearts, minds, and eyes of those who saw it, felt it, and experience it long after I am gone.  It will endure through eternity in heaven with those who stand with me. 

Love has this beautiful way of spread out to unknown reaches.  The ripples of love don’t just touch the original recipients of that love.  When I feel the love of another person it warms me up and brightens my day.  The love of another person encourages me to love others.  It is human nature.  When we experience those moments of love our days are brighter, better, and happier.  We are better people when we love and when we are loved.  The foot prints of your love for me will live on through my life, but they will splash onto the lives of others.  I hope my love can do the same for you.

For any of this to be possible we need to understand love better.  I need to get to know love better.  I need to explore love, seek love, and hunt love down.  Love is truth.  I know this.  I know this because my Bible tells me so.  I also know this because God has written these words, and vastly more intimate words on even the most unbelieving, atheistic, blasphemous of souls.  Therefore for my words to hold any of that truth my mind has to grasp what love is.  My mind has no hope of grasping the truth of love if my heart does not reach for love.  My heart will never know the need or yearning to reach for love if my soul is not stirred by love. 

So how can my lips ever hope to be anything but deceivers if I don’t go beyond just the word?  How can my heart ever burn with the truth if I don’t push it beyond just the emotion?  How can my soul live in love if it is never anything more than a fanciful idea?  It can’t.  Love is something more.  Love is something profound.  Love is something we barely understand.  Love is something I will devote my whole life to seeking.  It is probably the most important quest we all must undertake.  If not, I will only just be paying lip service to you.  More importantly I will only be paying lip service to my Lord, my God, and my Savior.  And that is just unacceptable.

Self Reflections

“(1) Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, (2) all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, (3) all ate the same spiritual food, (4) and all drank the same spiritual drink.  For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. (5) But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

(6) Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. (7) And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.’ (8) Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; (9) nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; (10) nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer.

(11) Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. (12) Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. (13) No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10: 1-13)

The ‘Our Daily Bread’ spoke about how it is now so common for us to see high public officials, famous people, and world leaders behave so immorally, or so horrifically.  We are no longer surprised.  Most of us just shake our heads and move on with our lives.  We all stand strong in our own convictions we would never go down those roads or do the things they have done.  Some say this out of pride, some say it out of disgust, some say it out of a higher self worth, and some say it because they are Christians.  I am guilty on more than one occasion for using each of these descriptors as my reasoning to shake my head and move on.

But God warns us—God warns me—to get away from this sort of thinking.  These people are not different from us.  They were not given some greater, more horrific temptation than we face every day that took them down these roads.  It happens one step at a time.  One of the countless tiny sins of my own that I overlook every day could begin to lead me down one of these paths.  I am not above the sins and darkness places these people find themselves in simply because I am a Christian.  In fact I am rather humbled and ashamed by this glaring truth today of my own pride.  Because I have been in those dark places.  I have freely walked down into the murky depths of others that I now shake my head at.

I was lucky.  God offered me a way out, a means of escape, through the blessings of faithful heavenly servants.  I am lucky again that God reminds me that those temptations that led me to those places back then are still real today.  They can find their way into my heart again.  I shouldn’t go shaking my head at the misfortune of these people, proud of my new found freedom in Christ.  I should weep tears of joy that I have been saved.  I should feel my heart break for them, knowing my steps once mirrored their own.  I should be taking their lives as an example from God that Satan never gives up trying.  I should praise the Lord at His continuous deliverance out of those same traps.

I know, for a fact, it only takes one misstep to fall.  I know, for a fact, it only takes one sin to open the door to the enormity of others.  I can’t let my pride blind me to those traps.  I can’t shake my head at the obvious sins of others while I casually excuse and dismiss my own smaller ones simply because they are smaller.  Those larger, obvious sins happen because of those smaller ones we let slide by.  Self reflection and humility are very hard concepts to practice daily. 

Sin is sin, whether it is great or small.  All of it is repulsive and hated in God’s eyes.  God is as heartbroken and disgusted by my foul language and little white lies, as he is against the sins of the man who murdered those people a few Saturdays ago.  My reluctance to obey God’s wants and commands of me is just as offensive to him.  All of this is blatant disobedience to God’s will.  The difference is that between that man and myself … I know better.  I know God and His will for me.  I know it.  I study it.  And I knowingly do otherwise.  I know better.  God is my Savior and I love Him, so yeah I don’t do those grand obvious sins.  But it hardly makes my smaller sins more excusable. 

Which hurts worse…when someone who doesn’t know you nor love you does something to cause you pain…or when someone who knows you and loves you does something to cause you pain?  I know Christ.  I pray to God daily, sometimes hourly.  I seek more ways for the Holy Spirit to live in my heart.  My intimacy with my Lord can only make my small betrayals more painful to Him.  Time and time again you can find in the New Testament how those who know God more will be expected of them and asked of them.  Because I see with my eyes, because I hear with my ears, and because I understand with my heart even my smaller sins are big.  I know better.

If I should be shaking my head at anyone, it should be myself.  But in all this I find refuge, and strength, and love.  Because I know God has provided me with an escape from my earthly ways.  He has given me the Good Book; He has provided me with a Comforter; and through His only begotten Son everything I have done or will do has been forgiven me.  I am not alone.  I will always have the light to get back out of the swampy steps I take.