Brotherly love

Love is such a strange word. It has so many meanings, and English tends to use the same word for all of its many meanings. Because there’s a big difference between saying you love somebody and saying you love the taste of coffee.  

I would be fascinated to know how the word love is translated in other languages. Because I’m sure that other languages have a generic word for love. I know Greek has many different words for many different kinds of love, but I don’t know about other languages. I know there’s a linguistic difference between family love and romantic love in Japanese, but I can’t tell you the different words.

The verse of the day made me think about the different kinds of love this morning.

Romans 12:10

10 Love each other with genuine affection,[a] and take delight in honoring each other.

I’m always curious when the Bible expands on how to love someone. Not just love them. But love them “with genuine affection” which in this case means “with brotherly love” according to BibleGateway.

It’s super easy to tell somebody that you love them. At it’s very basest definition, love is a word. And words are easy to use. What is difficult is meaning what you say. And when you mean that you love somebody, you have to back it up with action.  You have to spend time with them. You have to talk to them. You have to remember their birthdays. Etc. But then again, a lot of your action depends on what kind of love you have for that person. If it’s romantic love, you’d better be sending flowers and talking on the phone at all hours of the night. But what does it mean to love someone with brotherly love?

The same verse in the Amplified Bible uses the phrase “as members of one family.” That’s how we are supposed to love each other. I think that’s probably a very good idea, since technically we are members of one family. God’s family. But that begs the question, how do members of a family love each other?

It’s interesting to me that no matter how evil our culture becomes, families still seem to realize that there is a bond among them that nobody else shares. You still grow up together. You still live together, at least at the beginning of your life. And no matter where you go in life, you still have whatever your family instilled in you.

I have been extraordinarily blessed to have an amazing family. My mom, dad and brother are some of my closest friends. So it’s very interesting to me that the Bible says I am to love fellow Christians with the same love I have for my blood family. It’s that love that says, “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or where you’ve been, you are family and I love you and I always will. ” At least, that’s how brotherly love works in my family.

It also means we aren’t afraid to call each other on our crap, no matter if it’s a younger sibling doing the calling or not (again, this is also the way it usually works in my family). But always with love.

I don’t even really know what I’m saying this morning. And I’m not sure if I’m making sense or not. I rarely even make sense to myself.

I guess I was just needing a reminder that when the Bible tells us to love someone, we need to do it; not only say it but back it up with action. And when the Bible says that we need to love fellow Christians like they are family, we need to do that too. Because if we can’t love each other and get along down here, we’re in trouble. Because we’re going to spend eternity with each other. So we’d better work out our differences down here while we have the chance, right? =)

I’ve heard of “Drink Responsibly” but “Help Responsibly” is a new one on me

I am an enabler. I am never happier than when I can be in the background, helping someone accomplish something great from the sidelines. I think that may be one of the reasons I love stage managing so much.

Stage managing is my favorite part of theater. Directing is too much pressure. Acting is too visible. Stage managing, for me, is the happy medium where you can support both director and actors, making sure they all have what they need to do their job the best they possibly can.

I love to help people. And I know a lot of other people like that too. There’s something cathartic, I think, in serving other people. It gets your focus off yourself and reminds you how blessed you are. And, besides that, it’s just fun. And it’s even more fun if you can help people in a group. But there’s one thing that those of us who like to help people need to remember. And the Bible verse for today made me think of it.

Romans 15:2

2 We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord.

 We need to make sure that we’re helping other people to do what is right.

For example, say someone asks me to help them write a research paper for a class. I love to do things like that. I love helping people tweak their papers, and most of the time I try to explain why I edit things the way I do so they will know how to edit better in the future. But when it comes time for me to help this person with their paper, they actually want me to write the whole paper for them. Well . . . I love to write . . . . and I love to help people . . . . and I’m pretty positive I could still right a rockin’ awesome research paper even though I’ve been out of high school for ten years now (yikes! really? wow!). But if I wrote the paper for this person, would that be the right thing?

No. It wouldn’t. Part of being in school is learning how to complete assignments on your own. If I wrote the entire paper for this person, they would never learn that lesson.

Here’s where the trouble comes for me.

I hate telling people no. I hate disappointing people. I hate letting people down. And, inevitably, that’s what happens when people ask me to do things like this for them. But as much as I want to help people, I have to remember that even though my intentions are the best, human nature still plays a part in this drama called life.

People are lazy. It’s just a fact of life. And everyone suffers from it. And if you get a person like me who likes to help other people, I will willingly sacrifice time and effort to help a lazy person succeed without ever having to struggle. Sometimes helping people do the right thing is telling them that I won’t help them do what they’ve asked me to do.

This is definitely something I need to work on because it’s something I truly struggle with. I have such a weakness for people who need help. And many times I think I have helped people get out of situations God was using to teach them something. And when I do that, I have put myself direction between that person who is being chastised and God, and that is not a place I want to be. Because at that point, I have taken it on myself to tell God He is being unfair. Wow. That is such a bad idea . . . . such a bad place to be . . .

So. How do you know when to help someone and when not to? Well . . . if someone is broken down on the side of road and needs help changing a tire in 110-degree weather . . . . stop and help them. But if someone needs help buying a book for school because they’ve spent all their money on clothes . . . don’t. Or if you know you’ve helped this person with the same thing previously and haven’t seen them accept responsibility for it, don’t help them.

Do you see the difference?

Helping people who want to help themselves is right. Helping people who want you to do all the work for them is a very bad idea.

Helping people is good. It’s not only good; it’s a commandment. And it’s fun. But we have to make sure we’re helping people do the right thing. Because if we are consciously enabling people to do wrong, to live a life that isn’t pleasing to God, we will be the ones responsible. Yes, the person who is actually making the choices will be responsible for his or her own actions. But aren’t we responsible for our choices too? And if we know we’re helping people do the wrong thing, don’t we bear some of the burden too?

Unity

If you want a good time, you should put an Independant Baptist and a Southern Baptist in the same room and ask them what they think of each other. Hours of endless entertainment. And you don’t have to use Baptists. You can use any denominational group that thinks they’re better than everybody else. Frankly, just pick two people who claim to be followers of Christ, lock them in a room together, and see what happens. I’m pretty sure there will be fireworks within the hour.

Why?

Because Christians are the hardest people in the world to get along with. And most of the time we don’t even get along with each other.

I don’t know if it’s just Satan picking at us, convincing us that we’re better than each other, creating disharmony like he’s so talented at doing. I don’t know. That would fit his M.O. All I know is that usually the people I get the most frustrated with are believers. And I’m pretty positive I irritate the dickens out of people too.

I don’t think most Christians intentionally mean to create conflict with each other. I do think Satan plays a hand in some of it. But I also think we expect too much of each other, and I also think we expect too little of each other . . . if that makes any sense.

In any case, Christians shouldn’t fight. We should be united. It doesn’t matter what our denomination is. It doesn’t matter how differently we dress from each other. It doesn’t matter how differently we worship from each other. It doesn’t matter if one church does AWANA and another church doesn’t. It doesn’t matter if one church only sings hymns and another church only sings contemporary songs.

The only thing that matters is what you do with Jesus Christ. Those who follow Him are family, and family needs to get along.

I think it’s funny that Christians have always struggled with getting along, as is evidenced by today’s verse.

Romans 15:5-6

 5 May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. 6 Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Even the Christians in early Rome must have had trouble, it sounds like. This verse just points out the reason why we all need to work together.

We’re all here for a reason. God left us here for a purpose. He’s got something for us to do, otherwise we wouldn’t still be here. So instead of picking on each other, instead of only seeing each others’ faults and failures, instead of focusing on why we don’t like each other, let’s live in harmony together. Those of us who follow Christ should love each other, forgive each other, make allowances for each others’ faults . . . because Lord knows we have enough faults of our own.

And when we can do that, we will be able to worship God together. United. With one voice. One focus. One purpose.

If we can all get along, who knows what God can do through us? Two thousand years ago, 12 men who loved Jesus and were willing to work together turned the world upside down. I’m pretty sure there are more than 12 believers in the world today. So what would happen if all the Christians on Earth decided to stop focusing on our petty differences and put all of our attention on God? What would happen if together in one voice we asked God to do something incredible? What would happen if together we all did what God is calling us to do? What if we supported each other instead of tearing each other apart?

I don’t think the world has ever seen that. I know I never have.

The possibilities are as limitless as God Himself is. And He’s just waiting for us to take the first step.

Can you get sweet water out of a bitter well?

If we need advice from someone, we usually go looking for the most qualified person in that field to find the answers we need. If we need legal counsel, we look for a successful lawyer. If we need car advice, we look for a successful mechanic. If we need advice on how to get somwhere, we ask someone who’s been there or someone who at least knows the area.

Don’t we? When we seek wisdom, we usually look for someone who has more of it than we do. Or am I wrong? Is the search for wisdom some existential quest where you can learn the secret of the universe by learning from someone who knows absolutely nothing? Or someone who only knows answers that are wrong?

From a practical standponit, I don’t think anybody who wants legal counsel is going to look for a lawyer who’s never won a case. And no one will take their car to a mechanic who’s never worked on a car before. And taking directions from someone who doesn’t know where they are and doesn’t know where you’re wanting to go will get you nowhere but lost.

So when we need advice on how to live our lives, why do we look to the world?

Yes, we live in the world. But the world is broken. And so is any of the wisdom that the world offers.

The world says that love is a feeling and that if you don’t feel in love with your spouse anymore, it’s better to divorce and it won’t hurt your kids or your family at all. It’ll actually be better.

The world says success is all about finances and social status.

The world says parents don’t know anything about their kids’ lives and kids shouldn’t ask. Instead, parents need to rely on the school system to teach their children everything they need to know. Parents are only around to provide moral support and friendship. It’s everyone else’s job to raise their children.

The world says everything we see is all that matters. If you can touch it and feel it then it’s real.

The world says when you die, it’s over. Or, if it’s not over, everyone will be in a better place.

This is wisdom that comes from the world. It’s selfish. Temporary. Shallow. False. It’s broken. Just like the world. It’s the kind of wisdom that people come up with because they don’t want to face a higher, better truth.

But let’s get real here, folks. If you want advice on how to live your life, do you ask a counselor whose life sucks? If you want advice on how to live your life and you ask the world, realize the wisdom you’re getting is flawed. The world is broken. And any wisdom that comes out of the world will lead you down a path that will wreck your marriage, your family, your friendships, your career, your everything.

So instead of seeking the world’s wisdom, isn’t it better to seek wisdom that is tried and true? Isn’t it a better idea to seek wisdom from a source that has been renewing and revitalizing lives since the beginning of time?

The Bible verse for today is James 3:17-18 and it descibes the kind of wisdom we need to seek in our lives.

17 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. 18 And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.

“Wisdom from above” is God’s wisdom. Biblical wisdom. It’s the wisdom you can find if you read the Bible and do what God tells you to do.

Why is God’s wisdom so different than the world’s wisdom?

Like I said a few times already, the world is broken. And God isn’t. Even by their own natures, the two different kinds of wisdom are diametrically opposed. So of course God’s wisdom is going to be contrary to what the world says.

And when it comes right down to it, we need to decide who we’re going to listen to.

If you want to follow the world, go for it. I know many people who have, and they’re very happy. At least for now. But that’s usually how following the world’s wisdom starts. You’re happy for a little while, you have everything you want for a little while. You have all the money, all the sex, all the pleasure you want until it runs out. And when it runs out, because you’ve lived a selfish life, there’s nobody to break your fall. And then you lose everything you thought made you happy. You lose everything the world told you made you successful. And you’ll be left alone and empty because everything you invested yourself in is temporary.

Following God’s wisdom is a little different. When you start out, you actually don’t have anything the world tells you that you should have. You actually give up everything you own, since none of it belongs to you anyway. You actually have to give up your family too. Your friends. Anyone you love. You have to release them into God’s keeping and trust that anything that happens to you or them is part of His plan. When you start following God, you’re not always happy. And that’s just the beginning. It gets harder. It gets harder and harder and harder to follow God. But the longer you follow Him, the more He makes His faithfulness known to you. Maybe you don’t have everything you want, but I guarantee you won’t lack anything you need. And pretty soon the day will come when you realize that you have nothing but that you have everything. And you’ll have something better than mere happiness; you’ll have joy that endures through every trial and test and hardship.

Can you see the difference? I don’t know about you, but the world’s wisdom sounds like a raw deal to me. All I know is that if you try to get clean, sweet water out of a well that’s bitter and contaminated, you’re crazy. If the well you’re drawing from is bitter, you’re going to get bitter water. Period.

Long memory

Human memory is amazing. People can remember the strangest things about their pasts, things that you’d think don’t matter at all. But even if it’s something random or (honestly) useless, people can still sometimes recall details about their life as a child. What’s even more amazing is that sometimes a smell can trigger a memory. This happened to me last week.

I walked into one of the elevators in the building I work in. I guess someone had purchased breakfast at the cafe on the first floor and carried it up to their office because the elevator smelled like bacon and eggs. But either someone else had gotten on with ridiculously strong cologne (a lot of the men in this building wear cologne strong enough to make your hair stand on end) or someone had sprayed room freshner in the elevator (that’s possible too as the cleaning ladies are totally OCD).

But the combination of breakfast smells mixed with that smell that was either room freshner or men’s cologne made me think–immediately–of the Four Winds Dining Center at Pensacola Christian College, where I went to school my first year of college. I hadn’t smelled that combination of scents since I left PCC. And just like that I was 18 years old, walking into the Four Winds in my collared shirt and my skirt, swiping my ID card at the door, and making a beeline for the Mexican food station for a taco salad.

I’d always heard that scents can bring on memories, but I’d never experienced it until then. It was startling.

The human mind tucks all sorts of interesting tidbits away, some even without our knowledge, I think. Because I swear I learn things without meaning to sometimes. But then those things stick with me for years. I can remember things from when I was 4. And I’m fairly certain I don’t have the most impressive mind out there. It’s random and it makes strange associations sometimes, but I get the feeling it’s pretty normal for the most part.

So . . . here’s my thought. If human memory is so incredible, can you imagine what God’s memory is like? Imagine being able to remember everything about every instant in perfect, flawless detail. And not just remembering what things look like on the inside–but being able to pierce flesh and see straight down into someone’s soul and remember even what somebody was thinking. Talk about sensory overload. I know I couldn’t keep it all straight. I’m glad He can.

So Hebrews 6:10 was a big encouragement to me this morning.

10 For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other believers,[a] as you still do.

God has a long memory. He can remember everything about everyone, the good and the bad. His memory is perfect.  (That gives new significance to Him saying He will forget all ours sins, doesn’t it?) And He remembers the good we do for each other.

Do you ever feel like you’re out there doing the right thing all the time and nobody notices? Do you ever feel like you sacrifice constantly to do the right thing and you never see the reward for it? I feel like that a lot. There are so many times when I could do what I want to do and nobody would know the difference except God and me — but knowing that God sees everything I do is enough for me to do what I need to do instead of what I want to do. But it’s still frustrating. Because doing what’s right and good is so much harder than just doing what feels right and good (which is usually the opposite of right and good).

It’s frustrating. And it’s lonely. Because you feel completely alone when you do the right thing. Because most of the time doing the right thing puts you in the background where no one will notice you. And you can’t step up and claim ownership over the good things you’ve done — most of the time that will cause more trouble. A good example is if you forgive someone who doesn’t realize they hurt you (for whatever reason). You forgive them, but they don’t even realize the “sacrifice” you’ve made in not feeling bitter against them. But for them to know how difficult it was for you to forgive them, you’d have to tell them that they hurt you. And then they’ll get hurt and then you’ll both start fighting . . . You see what I mean?

Sometimes doing the right thing means you have to keep your mouth shut. It means you have to stay in the background. It means you have to act in the shadows where no one can see you and where you get zero recognition.

But even if people forget about you, know that God never does. God sees everything. He sees your heart. He understands your motivation. And He doesn’t forget. He doesn’t forget the good things that you’ve done for other people. He doesn’t forget the sacrifices that you’ve made to help others. He doesn’t forget anything you’ve done for Him or for other believers or for people who don’t believe.

So if you’re feeling depressed or discouraged or alone this morning, think about this verse. And don’t stop doing the right thing even if it’s hard. Doing the right thing is always harder than doing what’s easy. But in the end it’s worth it. And even if no one else notices, God sees. And He’s the one who matters anyway.