We all struggle to love somebody

Last Saturday was Valentine’s Day, otherwise known as Single’s Awareness Day. Facebook filled with funny cards and photographs. The grocery stores had aisles that practically glowed red with all the candy and flowers and stuffed animals.

I’m not a big fan of Valentine’s Day. I mean, it’s all right. I’m sure it’s very sweet and romantic if you’re in a relationship, and it’s certainly fun to find cheap chocolate everywhere (unless you’re really not supposed to be eating it anyway). But I’m not sure my feelings about it would change even if I were in a relationship.

In our culture, Valentine’s Day has become known as a holiday of love, where everybody makes it a point to do something special for that special someone in his or her life. And, again, that’s perfectly fine and dandy. It just seems to me that loving each other shouldn’t be a once-a-year thing. Shouldn’t it be an everyday thing? No, maybe buying each other hearts full of chocolate shouldn’t happen every day (though that would be lovely), but spending special time with someone on a regular basis should be a part of a long-term relationship. That’s my opinion, for what it’s worth.

Valentine’s Day is like Thanksgiving or Christmas. It isn’t something we should celebrate just once a year. It should happen all the time–and even more often if you are a follower of Christ.

valentineToday’s verse is John 13:34

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.

This is Jesus talking to the Disciples at the end of the Last Supper. He is preparing to go to the cross in mere hours, and this is one of the final things He says to His followers.

Jesus isn’t being vague here, is He? Love each other. There’s no option there. It’s not, Love each other if you feel like it. Or, Love each other as long as you treat each other the way you want to be treated. All Jesus says is, Love each other. Period.

No frills. No wiggle room. No other options. Love each other. But He doesn’t stop there. He tells us to love each other the way He loves us. So that begs the question, how did Jesus love us? Well, He died for us, didn’t He? He loved us so much He was willing to sacrifice His title, His throne, His home, His comfort, and His glory to die a humiliating and excruciating public death.

I don’t think I’ve ever loved anyone that much. Not even myself.

Jesus doesn’t say it would be nice if we could love each other that much. He doesn’t say it would be in our best interests if we could love each other that much–or even that it would please Him if we loved each other that much. He just says do it. He commands it.

Loving each other isn’t convenient. Whether it’s romantic love or the kind of love Jesus is talking about, love takes hard work. It’s not always an easy decision, and it’s rarely without cost. And, frankly, it has very little to do with how you feel. At least, that’s been my experience.

I have to choose to love people. I’m not a recluse or a hermit, but I have those tendencies. Love and mercy are not my gifts. I’ve mentioned before that some people say I’m uncompassionate, and I am. Love doesn’t come easily for me, but I choose to love people because Jesus commanded me to do it.

Granted, some people are easier to love than others. But then, some people make it almost impossible to love them. But somehow I’ve got to figure out how. That doesn’t mean I have to be their best friend. That doesn’t mean I have to go out of my way to spend all my time with them. But it does mean that I need to be kind to them, regardless of whether they are kind in return or not.

So who’s the person in your life that you are trying to love today? Everybody has someone. Don’t be ashamed. We all struggle to love somebody. Just remember that you don’t have to do it alone.

God provides what He requires. He always has. If He requires us to love each other, He will give us the strength and the opportunity to show His love to the people around us. Just be open to it, and live your life the way Jesus would. If you’re following in Jesus’ footsteps, living a life of love will just happen.

Grasshopper on a windowscreen at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

What kind of life do you want to live?

I’d like to think I’m a fairly patient person, but the people who know me best know that I’m not really. I can be patient if I try really really hard, but most of the time it takes so much effort that I’d rather just run around like an idiot until something happens that I can exert some kind of control over. Even though I accomplish absolutely nothing, running around like a madwoman at least makes me feel like I can change things that are beyond me. Anyone else ever feel like that?

Well, you’re not alone. And neither am I. I’m willing to bet everyone has been there and done that at some point in their lives, but that’s not the way we’re commanded to live. We aren’t supposed to plow through life, running over anything and anyone who gets in our way.

Grasshopper on a windowscreen at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Grasshopper on a windowscreen at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Ephesians 4:2.

Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.

Ouch. Anyone else hear my toes crunching as that verse hops all over them?

I think it’s really interesting that we’re commanded to be humble and gentle all the time, followed by being patient with each other. Haven’t you noticed that impatient people usually aren’t very humble or gentle? And the opposite is true too. The proud and cruel aren’t very patient. I think these are three character qualities that go hand in hand (or hand in hand in hand).

I hate being interrupted, especially when I’m in “the zone” at work or at my home office. But that’s part of my everyday life. So I have to get used to it, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. And I honestly do fight the urge to snap at people when they interrupt me because I don’t think they understand exactly how difficult it is to get to a point where I’m being productive only to have them drag me out of it to answer their question.

But since when is my work about me? My work is about my company and doing the best job I can for them. Even my personal writing exists to glorify God. But that’s what that attitude says. “You shouldn’t interrupt me because what I’m doing is more important than what you need.” Yeah? How humble is that?

And once I’m all stirred up, it’s just a short hop and a jump away before I get snappy and mean. And then I turn into a very un-gentle person. But I can’t tell you if this stems from my impatience or if my impatience comes about because of my lack of humility and gentleness. What I do know for sure is that all three of those characteristics—impatience, pride, and meanness—don’t represent the kind of life I want to live. And they sure don’t represent the life a Christian should be living, no matter who you are or what kind of situation you’re in.

The best thing we can do for ourselves and for the people around us is learning to recognize those traits and doing something to stop them. Maybe you don’t mean to feel one or all of them once, but that doesn’t mean you have to keep feeling them. And you certainly don’t have to base your life around them.

Always be humble. Think about what you do before you do it. Don’t automatically assume that people owe you something just by virtue of who you are. And even if they do, think twice before demanding they give it to you.

Always be gentle. There’s never a call for cruelty. There’s never a reason to be mean. There’s never a purpose for tearing people down with your words or your actions. This is one I have to watch because I have a sarcastic streak a mile wide, and sometimes my sarcasm gets the better of me. It’s one thing to tease; it’s something else to hurt. Think about what you say before you say it. You might save yourself and someone else a lot of pain.

And be patient. Just because you know something is true or right doesn’t mean other people have had the same opportunities to learn that you have. Just because your life experiences have taught you valuable wisdom doesn’t mean that other people are stupid because they don’t know the same thing. And just because someone is getting on your nerves doesn’t mean they’re doing it on purpose. Maybe they’re trying to help you. They might be trying to help you into a nervous breakdown, but at least their intentions are good. Chill out. Back off. Calm down. Take a minute or two to refocus and try again.

Maybe we don’t know what causes pride, meanness, or impatience (other than our own sin nature), but there’s plenty of explanation about what encourages patience, humility, and gentleness.

Love.

Seems to be a running theme in the Bible, doesn’t it?

Be humble. Be gentle. Be patient. Why? Because we love each other. And we love each other because Jesus loved us first.

It’s not easy. Oh boy, it’s not easy. But I guarantee life is so much better if you listen.

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Instructions for facing the end of the world

If the world were going to end today, what would your life look like? If you knew that this was your last day on earth, how would your life change from what it is now? Would you rush out and spend all the money you could? Would you quit your job and spend your last 24 hours in relative relaxation? Would you do that one thing you’ve always been too scared to try?

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news (or good news, depending on how you look at it), but the world is going to end a lot sooner than anybody thinks. And knowing that, shouldn’t that affect the way we live? Shouldn’t that affect our priorities?

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are 1 Peter 4:7-8.

The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.

The Bible is full of examples talking about the end times and what they will look like, and I’m of the school of thought that says we’re living in the end times. I’m sure there are many who would dispute it, and I’m certain those who would dispute have evidence to point to. But whether we’re actually living in the end times or not, there are enough verses throughout scripture that warn of the end coming soon it’s something to pay attention to.

The end of the world has always been a topic of discussion in books and movies. For a while, Hollywood went through this phase where every other movie that came out dealt with the end of the world in some way, shape, or form. Like 2012 or The Day After Tomorrow or other movies of that genre. Of course, then there’s the zombie movie genre, like 28 Days Later and Resident Evil, or the postapocalyptic movies like I Am Legend and other movies like that, which don’t really use nature as the enemy but a disease. But the concept is still there. The concept of the world ending has always fascinated people because it’s something we can’t stop. Unless you’re a fan of superhero movies (guilty), and then the fate of the world rests on the hero’s shoulders. But people like stories, and story is conflict. And there’s no great conflict than the catastrophe we can’t stop. That’s what makes those movies so interesting. People can’t stop their impending doom. All they can do is the best they can to survive, to keep living, to retain whatever they can of what used to be.

The Bible is many things, but among its vast repertoire of possible blurbs for back cover copy, it’s an instruction manual on how to live. And I find it very interesting that the two instructions it gives for facing the end of the world are prayer and love. Prayer and love? Is that really all you need to face the end? Don’t you need a generator? Don’t you need a chemical toilet? Don’t you need to invest all your finances in gold or in unperishables? Well, according to the Bible, what you need is to pray and to love each other. And it says that even between those two, love is more important.

And we’re not talking just passive love. If you check out verse 8 in the Amplified Version, this is what it says:

Above all things have intense and unfailing love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins [forgives and disregards the offenses of others].

So what does this mean for us today? Well, I don’t know about you, but I struggle with loving people on good days. I have a hard time extending grace to people who don’t live up to my expectations. And that’s not love. I need to have an intense and unfailing love for my brothers and sisters in Christ because we are rapidly approaching the end and we’re all struggling. And the thing about this kind of love is that it’s not something that just happens. It’s something you have to choose.

The common thread in most of those movies where the world is ending is that the characters who make it out alive are the ones who focus on what matters. Those people who get caught up in the minor details and the unimportant things are the ones who get eaten or smashed or whatever. And as strange as this sounds, I think that’s where we need to be. Yes, the details are important. Yes, the differences are important too. But above all else, brothers and sisters, we need to love each other. If we have Christ in common, we’re family.

Stay focused on what matters. God will help us sort out our differences if we cling to Him. Pray and love and let the end of the world come.

Mulberries rippening on the tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Loving those who don’t deserve it

I usually learn best by example. If someone can give me an example or tell me a story about a concept, I can usually grasp it. That’s why I love Jesus’ method of teaching because He was (and is) a storyteller. That’s one of the reasons why I’m wild about stories, because they do more than just entertain. Stories teach. And it’s the best way for me to learn something.

So this month, I’m studying the Fruit of the Spirit, as explained in Galatians 5:22-23, “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” For the moment I’m studying love. But not just any love–agape (αγαπη) love. It’s the kind of love that we can only have when we are following Christ. It’s 1 Corinthians 13 love.

But it’s one thing to tell me what this kind of love is. It’s something else to show me.

Mulberries rippening on the tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Mulberries rippening on the tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Luke 10:30-37.

Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’

“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the best known stories that Jesus’ told, but you really have to understand the historical context for the truth of the story to sink in. The nutshell version is that the Samaritan people weren’t well-liked at all among the Jews. They weren’t Jewish. They were a mixed race people, and the Jews just despised them. Something else we need to understand is who Jesus was telling this story to.

If you look a bit farther back in the chapter, you’ll see Jesus used this story as an answer to a question an expert in religious law asked. The expert had asked a question, trying to trap Jesus, wanting to know what the greatest commandment was. Jesus, of course, had the perfect answer (Love God, Love People), but the expert wanted to justify himself and wanted to know which people he could love and which people he didn’t have to love. This was Jesus’ answer.

I can’t wait to get to heaven so I can talk to people who were there for this moment. One of the joys of my life is sharing movies I love with people who haven’t seen them. I love the huge plot twists that make people gasp, and I love being able to share great stories with people just because I love watching their reactions. And that’s what I imagine happened when Jesus told this story. Because it wasn’t uncommon for a Jewish man to travel between Jerusalem and Jericho. It wasn’t uncommon for someone traveling alone to be attacked by bandits, especially along that particular road. The priest and the temple assistant might have been expected to stop and help, but none of them expected the Samaritan to help.

Samaritans were bad. They were hated. So I’m sure when listeners heard Jesus say a Samaritan was coming, they thought he would finish the poor victim off. But he didn’t. Not only did he stop and take care of the man, he carried him to where he could heal and paid for him to rest, all the while knowing that if their situation had been reversed, the Jewish man would have let him die.

That is agape. That is love.

So how do we demonstrate that in our own lives? Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t often run across men who’ve been beaten and stripped laying by the side of the road. But I do encounter people who are hurting. So maybe it’s not the physical symptoms we need to be looking for but the emotional ones.

Too often we are caught up in our own problems and we don’t notice how much people around us are hurting. I get so focused on what I’m doing that I forget why I’m here–to bring glory to God. And it’s not that I can’t bring glory to God by dealing with my own issues. I absolutely can. But if I reach the end of my life and the only person who I’ve improved is myself, what’s the point?

The trouble with reaching out to people is that we make ourselves vulnerable. People are mean. Let’s just face it. People are selfish. People are frustrating and difficult and stubborn and hurtful, and opening your life to them makes you a target. But it’s worth it.

I love sequels. Even if they aren’t well done sequels, a part of me still enjoys seeing the next step in a character’s growth, and I always have wondered if the Good Samaritan ever met this Jewish man again. That would have been a meeting I would have liked to see, because if the Jewish man was a typical Jewish man of the time, he wouldn’t haven’t given the Samaritan the time of day. And see there’s no indication that the Samaritan wanted the man to know who he was. They could have met on the street, and the Jewish man would have had no idea who he was.

That’s what this kind of love looks like, Christian. It’s the silent servant who catches people when they fall and never asks for recognition.

Don’t hesitate to share this kind of love with people around you. It makes a difference, and it’s something God can use. Look for opportunities to share this kind of love. Be on the lookout for people who are hurting. If you are willing to love people like this, God will change you and He may even change them. You never know what God will accomplish if you simply let Him.

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Some choices are better than others

Are you ever torn between two good options? Do you ever not know how to make a decision, especially when the two choices facing you are both good? That’s one of the troubles of choosing to follow Christ. You have so many good choices you can make, it’s difficult to choose which one. But even in following Christ, there are good choices and there are great choices. It just depends on what your motivation is for making that choice.

Both choices can lead to real happiness as long as both choices are about Christ and not about us. But the truth of the matter is that God isn’t going to bring us home until He’s done with us down here. If we really are following Christ and making a difference for Him in other people’s lives, it’s better for us to keep doing what we’re doing.

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 1:20-26.

For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith. And when I come to you again, you will have even more reason to take pride in Christ Jesus because of what he is doing through me.

Paul wasn’t afraid to die. He was confident that he wasn’t going to, but even if he did die, he wasn’t afraid of it because he knew where he was going. He had confidence in Christ, and that’s what mattered. Actually, that’s what he wanted. He wanted to go home because if he died he would get to go be with Christ. But if he died, he would be gone from here. And there was still work to do. There were still people to help. And Paul recognized that God had put him in place for a reason. God still had a plan for him, and even though dying for his faith would be a good option, living for others was a better one.

Sometimes I think I get so focused on going home that I forget why I’m here in the first place. God doesn’t make mistakes. He puts us where He wants us, and He moves us when He wants us to move, and we can choose to grow where we’re planted (or transplanted) or not. Many people have been killed for their faith in Christ, not in America but all over the world. And there is always a purpose in that. God always uses that. But you don’t have to die for your faith for God to use you.

Do you know other believers in your church? Get to know them. Are you part of a church? Get involved and make a difference. You never know how God can use you until you decide to allow Him to do something with you.

I go through seasons of involvement at my church. I used to be involved in every ministry that was available, but that was back when I was younger. Looking back on that time, I don’t know how I did it. Six years of non-stop craziness, plus school, plus working practically full time. It makes me tired just thinking about it. And I burned out. I ran myself ragged and painted myself into a corner and came crashing down. And that’s not what we’re supposed to do.

If you work yourself to death, maybe that brings glory to God too. I don’t know. But once you’re dead, He can’t use you down here anymore. And burn-out is about the same.

So, yes, I had to step back and recover, but I never stopped investing in people one at a time. And that’s the difference. God puts people in our path for a reason, and if you know Him and you know others who are searching for Him or who need encouragement, why would you refuse to offer it if you have it? You don’t have to be involved in every ministry under the sun. You can just help one person at a time.

And I’m not talking about non-believers right now. Yes, we have a responsibility to reach out to people who don’t believe, but we are also here to build each other up. We’re also here to support each other and hold each other accountable and pray for each other. It’s uncomfortable at times. And it’s usually inconvenient. Satan will make it even more so because the last thing he wants is for believers to show love to each other, because that’s how we show everyone else that we’re different.

It’s one of our purposes for being here. And there’s nothing that brings joy in my life more than when I can fulfill a purpose that was intended for my life. So if you have the opportunity to encourage another believer, if you have the chance to help another believer, do it. Most likely, God brought that person in your path for that specific reason. Maybe the happiness won’t come right away as a result of helping another believer, but it will come.

You want to make a difference for Christ? Yeah. Dying for your faith is a good choice. But living for your brothers and sisters in Christ, showing Jesus’ love to those who believe the same way you do? That’s a better choice.