As if We Were Family

Safe to Disclose

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I make an assumption that there are an awful lot of folks within the Family of God that remain unable, unwilling or at a minimum reluctant to reveal their true selves to the rest of The Family. There could be many reasons for this, but what about the person who stays “shut down” for fear of rejection or being judged? I make this assumption because generally speaking, Jesus followers (I’m one of them) have a reputation (deserved or not) for lacking compassion and patience.

Beloved, let us love one another,
for love is from God,
and whoever loves
has been born of God
and knows God.
~ 1 John 4:7 ~

The presence of the love of God invites a person to disclose their true selves. It welcomes them to do so, promising that whatever the discovery, love will not in any way be withheld. It also makes a commitment to point that person toward truth. That’s what genuine love does… always. You can’t love someone rightly and withhold truth. They stand side by side.

I believe, perhaps naively, that most people are willing to stretch and grow, to learn and modify behavior for the sake of experiencing a life that’s meaningful and purposeful. But that willingness wanes if that individual feels there’s a threat of being ostracized or marginalized for their confessions. It would be a rare person who would choose to remain unknown within a family where they were genuinely loved, even if they knew they might be challenged in areas of conduct and belief.

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Whoever loves his brother
abides in the light,
and in him there is
no cause for stumbling.
~ 1 John 2:10 ~

As a follower of Jesus, I am commanded to love, and to speak truth in love. I am also strongly cautioned, that I must NEVER attempt to enlighten another person without being acutely aware of my own shortcomings, so that the attitude of my heart communicates that it is by grace, and grace alone that I live and have my being. People that speak truth in love are humble people. They never forget what’s been extended to them by way of forgiveness and grace.

I love because I’ve been loved. I offer truth because God in His immeasurable grace illuminates me, and keeps illuminating me. I come with my heart in my hand because I have been forgiven much. I come displaying tenderness because I truly desire wholeness and healing and fullness of life for others; the very things I am constantly offered by Jesus.

So, what would a person do, who is used to being marginalized, if fellow Jesus followers demonstrated a commitment to walk along side them for the long haul? Likely they would be looking for rejection but longing for acceptance. I believe most would eventually risk and share those things that lay deep within them.

Maybe some of those folks would assume that acceptance meant they would never be called out about behavior contrary to God’s ways. Maybe some would be looking for a nest to nestle down in and a mamma bird to come feed them for the rest of their days. But I’d wager that the greater percentage would be longing to grow. I believe they’d understand that part of being truly loved means you have to hear and wrestle with hard things when they surface for the sake of forward motion. We are meant to disciple each other, to make sure we are maturing in our faith.

May the Family of God demonstrate a willingness to create safety for people within our borders. May we create a climate where it’s safe to disclose, and in that context of safety, help each other grow. May we be willing to tell each other the truth, humbly and lovingly, not being content to allow one other to “coast” when we know God is calling us “farther up and farther in.” 

Some within our borders will resist personal growth. It costs and it’s often very hard work. Others will run toward the prize full tilt. Let’s be known for our tenderness and compassion, understanding that growth is often painful, and that it happens uniquely for each individual. May the hallmark of our Family be the presence of an indiscriminate, Christ centered LOVE, to any who would embrace it.

Little children,
let us not love in word or talk
but in deed and in truth.
~ 1 John 3:18 ~

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Influenced or Influencing

HorseBeforeCart

Do not be conformed to this world,
but be transformed
by the renewal of your mind,
that by testing you may discern
what is the will of God,
what is good and acceptable and perfect.
~ Romans 12:2 ~

And Jesus answered them,
“See that no one leads you astray.”
~ Matthew 24:4 ~

In Biblical times, Jesus influenced and radically transformed the way His followers conducted their lives. He created the climate and set the temperature. He dictated parameters and priorities. He instigated a revolutionary way of thinking and being. Nothing was the same after He showed up. He was counter-culture, counter-religion… He flipped so many things right-side-up; things nobody realized needed flipping.

We know through the letters the Apostles wrote to the early Church that there were significant challenges to “doing life.” Not surprising considering the radical nature of Jesus’ philosophy of living. They were setting precedent the whole way along, allowing God to define for them something that had never existed before. They stumbled along, getting things very right at times and not so right at other times. They were living contrary to every cultural and religious system in place. We in the West cannot imagine it, not even a little.

The early Church didn’t have the luxury of cutting ties and opening up a new church down the street when they ran into disputes within their ranks. With few exceptions, they kept doing life together. They kept loving one another. They sought council from trusted teachers who could help them sort through discrepancies.

Converted Jews had a ton of tradition that continued to be part of life, but imagine: Gentiles started showing up, and sects started melding, and social classes started mixing… imagine the kinds of interpersonal issues that naturally rose up. These people had NEVER done life together and suddenly, they were brothers and sisters, bound in Jesus. They were now family, pooling every talent and possession, and doling it out so that none of them had need of anything. The reallocation of resources was comprehensive and all-encompassing. They crossed every kind of boundary there was in this new “family.”

Further, they were dealing with life and death matters constantly as they helped the sick and needy in their communities, and as they faced the very real threat of persecution. There was no option but to press in to the hard things. That’s what it meant to be Family. They could not afford to divide. They had to remain bound by their common resolve to live their lives for Jesus, because they would not survive otherwise, nor would they be able to go into all the world, preaching the Gospel and making disciples.”

In modern times, Western Christians opt to segregate for more reasons than we can count. We “celebrate diversity” until it infringes on our ability to practice our beliefs as we want to. We know little of what it’s like to have to press in to hard places and work through delicate matters of dispute. Generally speaking, we are comfortable drawing away from one another and finding a congregation that does not challenge our peripheral beliefs, those things we might categorize as preferences. This mind-set is entirely opposite of the mind-set of the early church. More than reflecting the revolutionary nature of Jesus, we look like a derivative of modern culture. Our priorities and systems of operation reveal as much.

Imagine then, with our “house” in such disarray, our challenge to engage in meaningful discussions with those outside our borders, whose beliefs are counter to those we hold, not to mention those within our borders who espouse varying beliefs about sensitive topics.

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How would you describe today’s Western Church? What and/or who influences us? Whose set of values do we reflect in our church life? How would you assess our willingness and/or ability to problem solve within our borders? How would you describe our ability to engage in “hot topic” issues within our American culture that are counter to God’s design for living?

I guess I’m curious as to what you have to say about whether or not we are functioning as a healthy Family, reflective of the early Church, who was so clearly and thoroughly influenced by Jesus. Thoughts?

~

~For Reflection~
I Corinthians 6:1-3
Ephesians 4:1-7
1 Peter 1:13-22
1 Peter 2:9-10

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The Quality of Love

Quality

The earth, O Lord,
is full of your steadfast love;
teach me your statutes!
~Psalm 119:64~

I’ve been mulling over Truth in Love that posted a few week ago, about what it means to hold love in one hand and truth in the other. The love of God leads, and truth follows as the Spirit leads. I’ve been letting that thought percolate.

Context:
Several time every day, I encounter a person or find myself in a situation where one of a handful of VERY volatile topics surface. It’s the presidential election, or Wall Street, or PPH/abortion, or marriage and how it’s defined. It’s the LGBT conversation or border-control or racial tensions or ISIS or Monsanto and GMO’s.

I see the redefining of things I assumed or hoped might never even be questioned, not only being questioned and reframed, but written in to law. I see our nation becoming less and less relevant on the global scene, standing for so little under the banner of inclusiveness.

Those daily conversations are what caused me to wonder how I’m doing offering the love of Jesus and being willing, as the Spirit would direct, to tell the truth within the context of His love. What’s surfacing has to do with the quality of the love of God, because God is commanding that I offer love, not born of this world or of my own flesh.

A new commandment I give to you,
that you love one another:
just as I have loved you,
you also are to love one another.
~ John 13:34 ~

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The Quality of God’s Love:


The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end.
~Lamentations 3:22~

The love of God is a fixed thing. It comes to a person in its fullest expression so that it’s impossible for it to grow. It is already at maximum capacity. Neither does is diminish for any reason whatsoever. Its quality is such that it cannot be anything other than what it is.

It comes to a person for this reason alone: God loves humanity. It is not asked for, earned, or merited in any way. It comes because it pleases God for it to come. Neither can a person, by his or her actions, diminish or in any way influence the quality of His love. Even if the anger of the Lord were to “burn against” a person, it would not burn at the expense of His love. You can be angry with a person you love.

~

Relevance:
Here is the bottom line for me at this moment. I find that I can be tempted to “use” love as a means to an end. If for instance, I reach out to someone within the LGBT community, and my primary objective is to enlighten them as to God’s design for sexual expression; and if I find that I must lead with “love” to gain a hearing, I might be very tempted to use “love” to that end. It  might become something I use to leverage my agenda. Is that a big deal? I think it might be monumental. I also think it will stink to high heaven to an already wounded, wary and perhaps even hostile person.

I’m fairly certain God asks me to love because He loves. That His love would influence a person is a given. That they would be open to hearing truth because of the radical experience of being truly loved, is a worthy hope and a reasonable expectation. But I love people with ONE sole objective… to LOVE. Nothing added or hidden, with no ulterior motive, with no hope to leverage it. That is what Jesus did and does.

I don’t think most people wonder what Christians think about some of the “hot buttons” listed above. I don’t think most Christians have trouble stating fairly clearly what God says about basic theological issues. We are however, far less known as people who truly provide sanctuary for others, regardless of the content of their beliefs. We are generally NOT known as being particularly loving. Perhaps we have forgotten how we are loved by God. Perhaps we have not stopped long enough to ponder the wonder that we should have ever, even for a moment, received His love.

What is the quality of my love? How does is translate to the people it comes to? Maybe I would be brave enough to ask someone what it’s like to be on the receiving end of my love. Maybe I would be brave enough to ask God the same question, and be braver still, to listen for His response.

Let them thank the Lord
for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works
to the children of man!
~Psalm 107~

By day the Lord commands
his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
~Psalm 42:8~

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‘Day One’ Archives – Lenses and Judgements

In a season when I’m daily offered multiple invitations to pass judgement about all manner of things and upon all manner of people, these words from the archives are a good reminder that I be a woman quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.

pie chart

The Lord does not see
as man sees…
~I Samuel 16:7~

A few years back, I drove past a terrible car accident, arriving just after it happened. My husband and I prayed through those moments, shaken by the violent nature of what we saw. In the days that followed I got to thinking about the ability those many victims would have to fully understand what had happened to them. Of the 100% of information that would tell the whole story, their recollection could be no more than a sliver of that whole. One vantage point, one lens, one angle… Even if they had all the facts perfectly in tow (which never happens), there is no way they could draw any substantive conclusions about the whole of what transpired. The best they could hope for would be a piece, even a good piece of the entire pie.

The reason this is important to me is because I’m constantly drawing conclusions about things, making assessments, and sometimes passing judgment based on my perceptions or recollections.

Omniscient God knows 100% of the entirety of every moment. Even if I could pull that off, I would not be able to contextualize the moment, let alone assess motivation or intent. But God can. Why on earth would I pass judgment based on my own perceptions? I do it all the time, even though it makes no good sense.

Interesting that God does not invite me to seek His council in a courtroom or judges chambers, but rather in a grace laden throne room; one that I enter because of the immeasurable grace extended to me. Talk about context! God is the only righteous Judge and He assures us He will judge all, in His time.

In the meantime, He is about things far loftier that my desire to draw conclusions or to see justice prevail in the moment. I give some of my best energy to matters that I’m pretty sure aren’t even ON God’s radar. I think He’d prefer those energies spend themselves in the light of His council.

Should I seek to draw conclusions about things that present in my life? Yes, but not without them being informed by the only One who would know how to accurately draw them.

You are great in counsel
and mighty in work,
for Your eyes are open
to all the ways of the sons of men….
~Jeremiah 32:19~

 

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Truth In Love

TruthInLove

I sometimes find myself on one or the other end of the “truth in love” scale. Jesus never did. It didn’t matter if He was talking to an outcast, a politician, a cheat, a prostitute or one of many kinds of marginalized people of His day, He connected with the person at a heart level, a mile below the surface of their outward “stuff.” Did He end up speaking into their stuff? Yes, but it never came at the expense of diminishing their inherent worth. He NEVER de-valued the person. Jesus lead with love, not to coerce or manipulate, but because He truly loved. That happens to be THE most powerful (not to mention successful) forum for delivering truth.

I find most people are eager, even desperate to “grow;” to learn; to find answers for the troubling bits of their lives. They struggle to know who to listen to. They are slow to hang their coat anywhere they feel they might be betrayed. Trust is the thing they find lacking but most hope to discover; to be able to trust someone or something. When they do, they will often dive headlong in, soaking up all that is offered…. for better or for worst.

I’m commanded to love like Jesus did. And I want to. AND I find that in the face of a changing culture, progressively (even radically) shifting in its thinking and values, I struggle to know how to lead with love and tell the truth without tipping the scale to one side or the other. I’ve never felt my need for guidance from the Spirit of God as I do now.

Just as I have loved you,
you also are to love one another.
By this all people will know you are my disciples.

If I understand all mysteries and all knowledge,
but have not love, I am nothing.

Love reveals the heart of the giver, moves past the exterior of the recipient to reach the soul. Genuine love is, by nature unconditional, so anything it would learn on its way to the soul would in no way diminish its potency. It is steadfast. It is NOT informed by the details of a person. Rather it is LOVE that informs as the person is exposed to it. There is no more powerful, influential, life altering gift than LOVE

Truth comes to reveal darkness and bring light. It is a life-giving resource that every person must have to experience God and others as they were intended. It corrects, enlightens, enhances, grows, reveals, protects… It is the thing that SAVES the dying soul. It is truth that FREES us. It is truth that informs, conforms, reforms and transforms.

Ends of the Spectrum

Love Without Truth
Sometimes I want to avoid truth for the sake of “love.” Sometimes I want very much to soften truth so that I or someone I care about might not have to live with difficulty or pain or some irreconcilable situation. My compassionate heart can be significantly tempted to turn a blind eye to truth.

For this temptation to morph into action, I have to alter something inwardly, either by not seeking truth or by subduing it. That’s dangerous. The other glaring discrepancy, is that when I withhold truth for the sake of “love,” I actually cease to love. Love rejoices in the truth and believes all things (1 Corinthians 13). It is not possible to extend genuine love and withhold truth. The timing and manner of how truth gets revealed is another matter. It’s worth noting that sometimes the dispensing of truth is an action and not words.

Truth Without Love
Sometimes I want to deliver facts for the sake of justice, or I want to deliver truth concisely for the sake of expediency. What I communicate by handing out truth without the love component might support this argument: What’s critical is that they learn and correct. There’s something more important at stake than focusing on their heart. The burden to receive, lies with the person needing enlightenment. This is what help looks like.

The error here is that if I do not “love” my brother, the love of God is not in me. The book of 1 John says I have no part in Him. All indications are that bringing my hard-line, non-loving self to a person will ensure I will never be heard by them.

I’m pretty sure that whether I’m apathetic or overly sympathetic, God will have something to say about my gross misrepresentation of His nature. Truth be known, whichever side I err on, I’m likely serving a personal agenda rather than the well-being of the one I’m “trying to help.”

Love without truth ends up not being genuine love. Truth without love ends up being undeliverable and more. Both damage. Both nullify the potential to bring the other. It’s a sure fail.

In this day and age, our culture purports inclusiveness and tolerance, but is profoundly intolerant of those who would take a firm stance on issues informed by a Biblical world view. Part of why we’re at this place is because The Church (that’s me), has had this truth in love thing critically out of balance.

What if we became known as the “safe” ones; people who led with love and out of that love, weren’t afraid to say hard things…. What if we became known for championing any and every longing soul, desperately wanting people to live to the fullest, enjoying the richest of communion with Jesus and His family. In a phrase: Grace leads – Truth follows – Love covers it all.

Love rejoices in the truth.

Whoever does not love abides in death.

Love one another.

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As If We Were Family

Family

We, The Church, are Family.
We treat each other AS FAMILY.
We reach beyond our borders
and we love others AS IF they were family.
This is the love of Jesus in action,
a love we’re commanded to extend.

~

And the Lord added to their number day by day
those who were being saved.

A teacher I listen to often spends the 1st half of his teaching providing background and context for the point he will eventually make. He encourages his listeners to endure because “relevance is coming.” Bare with me as I bring you along a train of thought that led me to a simple point having to do with The Church as Family. – Anne

CONTEXT ~

I’ve been thinking about Followers of Jesus as described in the book of Acts. That’s the telling of the beginning of The Church, before there was any system or template in place that stated what it meant to “be” The Church.

I’ve also been thinking about the present day Church and how it is we are in community with each other, or if we are truly living in community. What might that mean? What would give evidence that we are truly “communing” as Jesus called us to?

My third thought is this: As I have become increasingly exposed to particular marginalized groups in society, namely foster children and orphans living within a few miles of where I live, I am forced to investigate the discrepancy that there would be children who live as “unknowns” when there are literally thousands of “Christians” (me being one) all around them. Is this even possible, if The Church is truly BEING The Church?

I’m too ignorant to address the reality of these largely invisible children, but I feel compelled to think through and try to find language to express my contribution to their needs remaining unmet. And not just them, but the countless others who I bump into every day, who remain hidden because they have not found The Church (even while they may be part of it) a safe place to disclose their true selves. Again I ask: How is this possible, if The Church is truly BEING The Church?

Here’s the general premise I’m working from:

– The Church is composed of sons and daughters of God, all having come to Him through the saving work of Jesus. The Church is NOT an institution or building or system.
– The Church is depicted as family throughout the New Testament, so that it is right to refer to her as The Family of God. We are not compared to family. We are consistently referenced as family.
– The beginnings and early development of Family life are spelled out in the book of Acts.

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And all who believed were together
and had all things in common.
And they were selling their possessions and belongings
and distributing the proceeds to all,
as any had need.
And day by day, attending the temple together
and breaking bread in their homes,
they received their food with glad and generous hearts,
praising God and having favor with all the people.
And the Lord added to their number day by day
those who were being saved.
~ Acts 2:44-47 ~

RELEVANCE ~

The “early Church” was famous for their care of needy people outside their Family. They helped sick people and widows and orphans. Simply put, they cared for the needy beyond their borders “as if” they were family. Within their borders, their care for one another was so comprehensive, there was NONE in need. There was a pooling of resources and a heart of generosity to share, so that each and every person had whatever it is they needed to get along. This care was holistic, meeting external and internal needs.

With all of that in mind, below are a few questions I believe are worth bringing to the Lord. These are mammoth questions meant to stir, even agitate, so that if they are not currently on our radar, we might allow them to come on the radar, aware that they will make us uncomfortable and even feel pain. They will, by their nature, raise other equally important questions. The hope is that the Spirit of God would stir us to action. That happens one person at a time. It starts with me.

  • If The Church is family, why do so many of us remain unknown within our own house?
  • Do you personally experience The Church as family?
  • What does The Church fight culturally, that might keep us from living AS FAMILY?
  • How would you articulate your contribution to The Church (your family)?
  • How would you articulate The Church’s contribution to the needy beyond our borders?

We, The Church, are Family.
We treat each other AS FAMILY.
We reach beyond our borders
and we love others AS IF they were family.

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