How does love get smarter?

I love Philippians. It’s such a happy book. I read it as often as I read the Psalms on days that are hard. Today’s verses are Philippians 1:9-10.

 9 I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. 10 For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return.

I love the fact that Paul states he prays that their love will overflow more and more. To me, that says they already love people. Similarly, the fact that he states that he prays that their knowledge and understanding will keep growing insinuates that they already had it. And that is encouraging, especially when so many of the epistles aren’t exactly congratulating churches on a job well done.

But the part of this passage that really caught my eye this morning was that Paul wanted the people of the church of Philippi to understand what really matters so that they could live a pure life. To me, in English, that sounds kind of vague. I mean, obviously, Paul wanted them to grow in love and understanding and wisdom, but are those the things that really matter? Is that what that means?

So, the best I can do (since I don’t speak Greek) is to read the Amplified Version. Usually there isn’t a whole lot of difference between verses, but in this case, there’s a lot more written to explain the concepts of what Paul is saying:

Philippians 1:9-10 (AMP)

9And this I pray: that your love may abound yet more and more and extend to its fullest development in knowledge and all keen insight [that your love may display itself in greater depth of acquaintance and more comprehensive discernment],

    10So that you may surely learn to sense what is vital, and approve and prize what is excellent and of real value [recognizing the highest and the best, and distinguishing the moral differences], and that you may be untainted and pure and unerring and blameless [so that with hearts sincere and certain and unsullied, you may approach] the day of Christ [not stumbling nor causing others to stumble].

Read like this, it’s more of a process. You have to grow in love before you can understand what really matters. Paul is praying for the church of Philippi that their love will grow but not just grow stronger but that as a result of their love, their knowledge and wisdom will deepen.  He wants them to have that because he wants them to learn what really matters.

The way the Amplified Bible defines what really matters is what is “vital” and “excellent and of real value.” It further expands on that by saying “recognizing the highest and best and distinguishing the moral differences.”

Wow.

Okay. What I get from this passage this morning is that to truly comprehend the things that really matter in life, first your love needs to grow in knowledge and wisdom.

Okay. So how does love get smarter? I mean, I’ve always known that love can be wise. Wise love looks past the outside and focuses on the heart. Wise love is humble. Wise love is steady, unerring and unshakable. . . . But smart love? Knowledgeable love? What is that? What does that look like?

Wisdom and understanding are two of those concepts that sound like they would be the same, but they’re completely different. To me, wisdom has always been more like the mature, biblical application of knowledge. That may not be right, but that’s the best way I know how to describe it.

I guess, what I’m seeing this morning is that while we are commanded to love everyone, we aren’t commanded to love everyone the same way. That sounds bad. Let me try to explain. I was up late doing laundry last night, and my coffee isn’t kicking in.

There are different kinds of love, and the same kind of love isn’t good for everyone. It’s not good to love a complete stranger with the same love you love your best friend with. It’s not good to love your best friend with the same love you love a stranger with. Does that make sense? And even between best friends, there are different kinds of love.

Love is the same in that it should always be unconditional, sacrificing, and unselfish. But it manifests in different ways depending on the person you’re talking about. Some people need flowers. Some people need hugs. Some people need to talk. Some people need to be left alone. And even between best friends or lovers or spouses, love has to look different even though the motivation behind it is the same.

To me, that’s smart love. That’s learning how to love people the way they need to be loved. That’s learning how to love God. That’s learning how to love your family and your friends and your spouse and your significant others the way that is most beneficial for them.

Because the more you learn about other people, the less you focus on yourself. And then you can realize that life isn’t about you; it’s about loving God and loving people. But until you get to that point where your love grows in wisdom and knowledge, that’s not going to make sense. But I believe that is what really matters.

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Hiding in the dark is easier than living in the light

Darkness makes things difficult to find because it’s easy to hide. And it’s amazing to me what a difference a single candle can make in a dark room. You only need a little light to chase away a whole roomful of darkness.

In the Bible, light is often used synonymously with truth. That’s because truth works the same way that light does. You only need a tiny morsel of truth to disprove an entire mountain of lies. And just like lies are used to conceal things, truth is the great revealer, shining light on every topic so the whole surface is exposed and everyone can see it for what it is.

But just like light, truth makes people uncomfortable.

Today’s verses are John 3:20-21.

20 All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. 21 But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.”

People who do wrong (and know they’ve done wrong) don’t like to be around people who do the right thing because they feel guilty. Granted, some people (Christians, mostly) are really good about putting guilt trips on other people purposefully, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Putting someone on a guilt trip is completely different from making someone uncomfortable without realizing it. This is something that happens even in Christian circles.

I’ve been in situations with other Christians when I have made them uncomfortable because I always did the right thing — even when doing the wrong thing was more popular and easier. And even though we were all believers, I was still treated harshly because my doing the right thing made them feel guilty — because they knew better.

It’s really hard to see in the dark. And the dark easy because you don’t have to do anything to help it along. Darkness has been around a lot longer than light. Light was created; Darkness was just here. Light has to have a source. It has to come from somewhere. And if you don’t have the strength of character or conviction to create light, bumping along in the dark is a lot easier and a lot less painful than burning your fingers with a match.

But believers aren’t called to live in darkness. We are children of light. Why are we given truth if all we’re going to do is hide it? Why do we know what’s right if all we’re going to do is wrong?

That’s where the second verse comes in. People who do the right thing love light and they love truth, not because it gives them an opportunity to show off but because it allows them to explain why they do what they do. Another translation restates the end of verse 21 to be that others “can see God at work at what He’s doing.”

Those of you who live in the light, don’t be surprised when people who know better speak ill of you or mistreat you. You make them uncomfortable. Even if you don’t mean to, you do. Because the light of Christ in your life, shines so brightly that people will fear to have the things they’ve done wrong brought out into the open. That is why, as a Christian, we have to be real. We have to love people and we have to be genuine. People who don’t believe have to know that we’re not perfect and that the light in us isn’t us–it’s God. People need to know that we have just as much darkness in us as they do. The only difference is that God’s light is stronger than any darkness.

And just like a single candle can light up an entire house, a single believer in a workplace full of people who don’t believe can shine. The thing about darkness is that even though it’s everywhere, it doesn’t take much to force it back. And it tends to bring out the light in people who have it. After all, the darker it gets, the more stars you can see.

 

Best friends have to speak the same language

How important is it in a relationship to be able to speak the same language? What would happen in a relationship if you had a person from Japan trying to be best friends with a person from France. Nothing against either country. I’m just trying to find two completely different language roots and cultures to compare.

Now, if the person from France spoke Japanese, that would be one thing. And if the person from Japan, spoke French it would be the same. But what if neither of them spoke each other’s language and neither had any interest in learning? Would they even be friends at all, let alone best friends? I don’t think so.

Closeness in a relationship comes from being able to communicate with each other. And if you can’t communicate with each other, how do you expect to be friends?

This is the principle that came to mind when I read today’s verse, 1 Corinthians 2:14.

14 But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means.

Has someone who wasn’t a follower of Christ ever made fun of you? Have you ever been called foolish or ridiculous for believing in Christ? Have people ever looked at you strange when you share your faith and expressed that you aren’t making sense? If so, then you understand this verse.

A nonbeliever and a believer trying to understand each other is impossible. They can get along superficially. They can make friendship work on a basic level. But they are driven by two different motivations and part of being close friends is sharing what drives you.

Someone who follows Christ has the Holy Spirit. When someone believes in Christ, God sends the Holy Spirit as a guide and a comforter and as a link between Himself and us. Since Adam and Eve’s fall in the Garden, our own spirits stopped working. They are stillborn in us as we are born and live our lives without Christ. But when the Holy Spirit comes into us, our relationship with God is restored.

And the most amazing thing happens. When the Holy Spirit comes into our lives, our lives start to make sense. Granted, there are still things that happen that we don’t understand, but the Holy Spirit whispers that God is working everything out for our good. So even when the world is turning upside down, we can still believe that God will figure things out.

Beyond that, when you have the Holy Spirit, the Bible also makes sense. Did anyone ever try to read the Bible before they were a Christian? Did it make sense to you? Yes, there are portions of Scripture that make sense historically and logically (even though some people disagree), but the really deep truths of Scripture sound like foolish sentiments to people who don’t have the Holy Spirit. Because part of what the Holy Spirit does is to act as interpreter between God and us.

I was a hearing impaired interpreter in a second grade classroom for a semester. Talk about hard work! And the girl I interpreted for was only in second grade! It was my job to make sure that little girl understood everything the teacher said. Without me interpreting, she wouldn’t have grasped any of the concepts in the classroom because she couldn’t understand them.

Without the Holy Spirit interpreting the wisdom and the truth from the Scripture, we wouldn’t understand it either.

So where do we get the idea that a Christian and a non-Christian can be best friends? Now, am I saying that they can’t be friends? No. I have many friends who I love and respect and enjoy spending time with who have chosen not to follow Christ. That’s their choice, and I respect it. But are we going to be best friends? No. I live my life a different way than they do, and just as it’s their choice to live how they think is best, it’s my choice too. And they are my friends because they respect my choice, just like I respect theirs. But I can’t express the things I believe to them because they don’t understand.

My best, closest friends are Christians, either Christians who are my same age maturity wise or older. My best, closest friends are people who have walked with Christ for years and have faithful, deep, one-on-one conversations with God through the Holy Spirit on an hourly basis. And if in the unlikely course of events I am supposed to marry, my husband is going to have to be the same way . . . because that’s the language I speak.

It’s not about being smart enough. It’s not about being friends for long enough. It’s not about even giving Christianity a try or accepting that someone else is a Christian when you aren’t. It’s about speaking the same language.

And just like that person from France and that person from Japan, if they don’t speak the same language, there will be misunderstandings and they will eventually walk away from each other hurt because they tried to cultivate a deep friendship where there was neither common ground nor communication.

Simple needs make life really complicated

Today’s verse is Matthew 6:33.

 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

Seems pretty simple, doesn’t it? Well, it’s probably supposed to be simple, but we make it complicated. I know when I look at my life, there’s a part of me that thinks there’s really just too much that God has to provide for me and I shouldn’t be asking for that much. So I think I need to do it for myself.

I need money to pay my bills. I need clothes to wear to work so I can make money to pay for my bills. I need food to eat, specifically good, healthy food so I will be able to continue wearing the clothes I bought. I need gasoline for my car. Ha. And in 5,000 more miles I’m going to need a new set of brakes and four new tires too. I need allergy meds so I don’t get sick, which means I need insurance. My daily needs are no different from anyone else’s, so just like I sometimes feel like I can’t provide all these things for myself, I’m sure other people must feel the same way.

So why don’t we think that God can provide all these things for us? I know why I hesitate. I’m stubborn. I want to do things myself, provide for myself, not have to rely on anyone ever — even God.

And I guess the real question is whether or not I actually need the things I think I need. Obviously, some of the needs I listed up there are definite, but when you get right down to it, what’s more important — eating a salad or seeking God? Having gasoline to go somewhere or knowing God? Wearing a brand new shirt or having a conversation with God?

And see, I’m foolish enough somedays to think there’s a choice between those things. And there doesn’t have to be. Because I can seek God while I eat a salad and I can know God while I’m driving somewhere and I can wear a brand new shirt while I have a conversation with God. But the point is, those things shouldn’t be what I’m seeking first.

God needs to be the priority in my life. Not things. Not stuff. Not food. Not position or rank or authority.

I need God. Nothing else.

And if I can wrap my head around that and actually live like that, He will take care of everything else. He’ll provide me with money. He’ll provide me with clothes. He’ll provide me with food and gasoline for my car. He’ll provide me with the things I need to live . . . . and many times He’ll give me too much. And I know He even gives me things I want too and not just the things I need.

I love the Amplified Version’s spin on this verse too.

33But seek (aim at and strive after) first of all His kingdom and His righteousness (His way of doing and being right), and then all these things taken together will be given you besides.

Here’s the thing. This verse is part of a larger sermon Christ delivered in the Book of Matthew. This verse comes along right after Christ was telling people not to worry.

Those of us who follow Christ don’t need to be controlled by thoughts of the material possessions we need. In this same set of verses, Christ tells people to look at the birds and the flowers. Birds have enough to eat, and flowers are beautiful in their design without having to work to clothe themselves. And in the same way, God will provide for us. Because if God takes care of creations so insignificant as birds and flowers, He’ll definitely take care of us — creations designed just like Him.

God is all I need. And the only thing my life needs is to reflect His goodness, a life that both knows and does the right thing all the time. And everything extraneous will be given to me.

And I know all that. The hard part is living it.

The hard part is looking at the stack of bills on my table, wondering how I’m going to budget for it. The hard part is shopping at a grocery store where all the food prices have gone through the roof. The hard part is trying to make ends meet when I’ve done all I can and the ends still aren’t meeting. The hard part is taking God at His Word and not working myself to death to provide things for myself and others that He would have given us anyway if I had just asked.

Need God.

Do the right thing.

God’s got us covered.

Revenge!

I am a super overly protective friend. I also tend to be an overprotective sister and daughter. I just don’t do well at handling people who either hurt the people I love or say things about them that are hurtful. And many times, in seeking to protect the people I love, I have caused more problems than I have solved, generally because I go about it the wrong way.

Revenge is one of the most romanticized concepts in our culture. Taking vengeance for someone you love. Payback against the unfeeling machine of commercialism or the corporate world. It’s in almost every movie, exalted high on a pedastal that it should be the ultimate goal in any relationship, to hurt the ones who hurt you or to hurt the people who have hurt people you love.

It’s my first instinct to jump up and defend my loved ones immediately, regardless of what they have done or said that might have been hurtful. And when someone hurts someone I love, it’s my first response to jump in and hurt that person back. I mean, after all, there are a lot of ways to take revenge on people in today’s world. You don’t actually have to hurt anyone physically. There’s a marvelous little thing called Facebook with which you can verbally tear down someone’s reputation, especially if you have a gift with words.

But every time I am tempted to go after someone for hurting somebody I love, I usually get this nagging feeling in the back of my brain. Because it’s not my place.

And this is the verse God always uses to cool my overprotective temper off: 

Hebrews 10:30-31

30For we know the one who said, “I will take revenge. I will pay them back.” He also said, “The Lord will judge his own people.” 31 It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Okay.

I’m sorry, but this is a terrifying verse.

It’s one thing to fear retribution from another person. But to be on the receiving end of retribution directly from God? Think about that.

What could I do to a person who has hurt me or someone I love? I could say mean things about them. I could lead a campaign to convince others to believe lies about them. I could hurt them physically. I could end his or her life. (I’m totally speaking metaphorically, you realize. The thought of me doing anything harmful to some other person is kind of laughable actually, no matter what they’ve done, seeing that I can’t even point fingers at people who deserve it most of the time.)

 But what could God do to someone? Gosh. I don’t even want to think about it.

Now I know someone would say that God is a God of love and He would never take revenge on anyone. Well, that’s true. God is absolute love. But the thing about Someone Who is absolute is that we who are not absolute can’t understand Someone Who is. God is also absolute wrath.

And, honestly, I don’t think that God has taken revenge yet. He will. We just won’t be here to see it.

But there’s a specific part of this verse I want to focus on.

“The Lord will judge His own people.”

Again. Terrifying. This isn’t talking to people who don’t believe. His people is us, those of us who believe in Christ and follow Him. Now is this verse saying that God will judge us and punish us and send us to hell?

No. If you believe in Christ, there is nothing you can do that will cause God to turn His back on you. But even God’s children do things that are wrong and need to be punished. And it’s up to God to judge for Himself.

The Amplified Version says, “The Lord will judge and determine and solve and settle the cause and the cases of His people.”

For those of us who are believers, God is watching us. God is paying attention to how we live our lives and how we treat others, and if we step out of line, you can know that He will judge how you are living and set you straight. Not in an eternal damnation sort of way, of course. We are already saved from that. But He may let you go through some things in your life to help you get your head on straight.

And for anyone who has been mistreated by a fellow Christian, you can believe that the God who is just is watching and won’t let His children get away with behavior that is unsuitable.

In either case, though, it isn’t our job to set things right. It’s not my job to jump in between God and one of His children to try to settle a problem in my own meager way. It’s not my job to jump between God and someone who needs to be chastized for their behavior. That’s neither my responsibility nor my right. How can I correct someone else when I’m just as guilty as they are?

In most circumstances, when someone hurts me or hurts someone I love, it is my job to sit back and pray and forgive that person and let God take care of it.

The habit of hope

What is it about people that we want a 12-step process to accomplish things? Or 7-step? Or 3-step? People just seem to want a step-by-step procedure for accomplishing a task or recovering from a disaster or to lose weight. What is it about step-by-step processes that is so alluring?

I know even I want a step-by-step explanation of things sometimes. I think it has something to do with breaking a subject down into smaller pieces so they’re easier to wrap our heads around. Maybe that’s just me. But that’s why I like step-by-step proceedures. . . . although, I don’t buy those 12-step program type books. As those are only just someone’s opinions of the 12-steps you need to accomplish something. And maybe taking someone else’s opinion is good sometimes, but I prefer to find my own way around certain circumstances.

The verses this morning made me think of a step-by-step process. I love the process verses in the Bible because they make so much sense and they don’t read like an instruction manual.

Today’s passage is Romans 5:3-4.

 3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.

We can rejoice today, no matter what situation we’re in. Why?

Because we know that problems and trials help us develop endurance.

What is endurance? It’s perseverance. It’s dedication. It’s loyalty. It’s sticktoitiveness (I love that word). It means when life knocks you down, you get back up again. The Amplified Version uses the term fortitude. It’s being unshakable.

Problems and trials in our lives make us stronger. I don’t make a habit of quoting Nietzsche, but he is the one who said, “What does not destroy me, makes me stronger.” And it’s true. When you live through something tough or difficult, you learn how to survive. And then when life gets back to “normal,” you’ll find that the small bumps in the road are less distracting and less upsetting because you already made it through something worse.

Endurance.

But it doesn’t stop there. Because these verses say that endurance develops strength of character.

Absolutely! Because you have to have a very strong character to endure any sort of difficulty.

I’ve heard it said that character is who you are when no one else is looking. When  you aren’t in the spotlight and when no one else is paying attention and when no one will give you a reward for doing the right thing, do you still do the right thing? If you do the right thing because it’s the right thing, that’s character.

If you remain loyal to a friend who hurts you because it’s the right thing to do, that’s character. If you fall down when you’re trying to help someone and get back up again because it’s the right thing to do, that’s character. If you persevere in doing the right thing even though you won’t receive any accolades for doing it, that’s character.

Actually, that’s character borne of endurance. And the more you learn to endure, the more character you will develop.

But it doesn’t stop there either. Because according to these verses, character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.

The Amplified Version states this verse as follows:

4And endurance (fortitude) develops maturity of character (approved faith and tried integrity). And character [of this sort] produces [the habit of] joyful and confident hope of eternal salvation.

It says, “the habit of joyful and confident hope of eternal salvation.”

The habit of hope.

Whoa.

According to this, hope isn’t just a fleeting feeling you experience as a child or during a starry night or while watching a romantic movie or something ridiculous like that. Hope is something you need to develop as a habit.

You aren’t born with habits. You develop them. And it takes time and effort and patience to develop any habit you live with currently, whether it’s a good habit or a bad one.

Once you have endured trials and suffering and have developed the strength of character needed to always do the right thing no matter what the circumstances, you will have developed the habit of hope — joyful and confident hope in your salvation.

Hope that no matter where you go or where you came from or how far you fall, God will always love you.

Hope that no matter how rough life might get or how discouraging your situation might be, God always has a plan.

Hope that God knows what He’s doing even when it feels like your life is falling apart.

But that sort of hope doesn’t come about just because you want it to. And maybe there are some 12-step books out there who will tell you that, but hope on that level — habitual hope — can only come through trials and sufferings that God remains faithful through.

Accepting other Christians when you don’t like them

It’s easy for me to accept the people I have known for many years. I’m an introvert, and I’m actually a very shy person (which no one really believes . . . but it’s true!). But if I have known you for years, I will talk your ear off. Just ask my poor Book Club. I think I talked their ears off last night. =)

I know a lot of people, but I have a handful of deep relationships where the true me comes out.

It’s not so easy for me to accept people I’ve never met. It kind of makes me think of Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, who claimed to be shy which was why he didn’t dance with anyone the first time he appears in the book. In a new setting, I usually hide in a corner and watch people until I can read enough body language to know who is going to be willing to put up with me.

And I don’t necessarily think accept is the right word in that context. It’s not that I struggle with liking people or even loving people. It’s just that I struggle with letting everyone into my inner circle.

So when I read today’s verse, I got to wondering exactly how I needed to apply it to my life.

The verse for today is Romans 15:7.

7 Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.

I was curious about context in this one so I read the whole first part of this chapter. Romans, of course, was written by Paul to the Christians in Rome. And the whole first part of Chapter 15 is talking about how those Christians who are strong in their faith need to live for others, to help others do the right thing, and making sure that our actions don’t cause a weaker Christian to stumble in their own faith.

I also checked this one out in the Amplified Version, and it expands the use of the term accept to include welcome and receive to your hearts. Wow. That sounds kind of intense! Because there’s a big difference in my mind between simply accepting someone and welcoming them into your heart.

Now hold up a second. I just need to reiterate that this is written to the Church in Rome. So what it’s saying is that among fellow Believers, we need to welcome and receive each other into each other’s hearts. Just needed to make that distinction. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from or how long you’ve known Christ, if you are a Believer, you are part of the family. And everyone needs to accept everyone else within the church because we are all brothers and sisters, through Christ.

Which means the opposite is true. It doesn’t mean we need to welcome and receive into our hearts any outside influences that can take our eyes off God. Of course, we need to love those who don’t believe the way we do. But we are not to welcome them into our hearts because people who don’t know Christ will affect the choices we make in following Him.

This verse is so important because I can tell you that the times I have felt most alone and most judged have been in the church. What is it about Christians that we’re always trying to measure each other? We judge each other by what we wear and how we talk and what music we listen to. Why? There shouldn’t be any judging there. God has already judged. If you have accepted Christ, you’re a new creature and it’s not my job to judge you on your clothes or anything. It’s my job to accept you–to welcome and receive you into my heart–because you are my brother or sister.

And it’s also my job to help you, to assist you in building your life with Christ. To help you keep on the path. And it’s my responsibility as someone who has known Christ longer to refrain from any actions (actions or things that are okay between God and me) that might cause you to have trouble following God.

This is serious stuff.

When you get right down to the meat of it, Christians need to accept each other. We need to love each other, regardless of our backgrounds and our choice of clothing and our choice of music. And if you have doubts on whether or not someone is a Christian? Well . . . honestly . . . can you see their hearts?

No.

If someone claims to be a Christian and knows all the answers, all you can do is take them at their word and let the truth of their actions tell the story. But if someone claims to be a Christian and you are a Christian, you need to accept each other and love each other and support each other. Because we’re family.

And, hey, we’re going to spend eternity together.