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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Love as He Loves (chapter 4) by Julia Rogers

Love as He Loves by Julia Rogers


         You can find the word plastered throughout the walls in my home.  I guess I thought that incorporating those four letters into my décor and having a visual reminder of it everywhere would help me actually be better at doing it. But is it possible to accomplish something if I do not truly understand what it means?
            I honestly think that the word love is one of the most over-used, misapplied, and misunderstood words in our language.  I declare that I love everything from coffee to a pair of shoes, cheesecake to a Land Rover, Disney World to my kids, my spouse to mint chocolate chip ice cream.  The subjects of my love are so broad but there is a similarity with each one:  I often look at love through the eyes of what it will offer me. 
            I extend my cupped-hands to my husband, children, friends and ministry and ask, “Will you fill the holes in my heart?  Will you validate who I am? Will you make me feel special?  Will you give me purpose? Significance?”
            Right now we are in the middle of the “month of love” and being bombarded with everything from diamonds and chocolates to pearls and roses.  Our frail hearts look forward to the day that our significant other strives (hopefully) to express his undying love for us. Many of us will be disappointed.  Likewise, many of us have felt the sting of lack of effort on this day at some point in our lifetime.  And for those of you whose love language is receiving gifts, I know you have. 
            If we are honest, this disappointment we feel about love, whether it’s Valentine’s Day or not, we often bring upon ourselves all because we have the wrong idea of what love is.  Loving and being loved is essential to who we are.  But if we have the wrong definition of this life essential word that makes up both a noun and a verb, we are going to find ourselves living a life less than full.  Love is a requisite to living a life full.  It’s the first fruit of the spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22. God created us with the ability to give and receive love.  How can we do either and live a life full if we get the key ingredient wrong?

            1 John 4:7-8 chills me to the bone:
                        Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

            God is love”.  If we get love wrong, then we get God wrong.  That is not something that I’m okay with.  And you shouldn’t be either. 
            As Christians, we are called to model and manifest Christ’s love.  But what is Christ’s love like?  By examining the life and ministry of Jesus, we are given the true meaning of the word love and by His example, we can clearly see how to put true love into practice. 

Characteristics of God’s Love Expressed in Jesus

1. Sacrificial Love- 
            1 John 3:16-17 reads: By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.  But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?
            Love isn’t about what the world has to offer me. Love is what I have the opportunity to give.  If, as Paul said in Ephesians 5:1-2, we are to “be imitators of God and walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God,” what does that look life in my life?
            When I truly love someone as Jesus loves, I will give up my own glory, my own life to serve that person.  I will lay aside my own desires simply because I love that person.  In my own life, I don’t think I understood sacrificial love in its fullest until I had kids.  In eight years time, I have sacrificed everything from my body, a career, sleep, “me time”, and more for the sake of my children.  I think I have even sacrificed my sanity at times.  Being a mom full of Christ’s love means daily offering myself on the alter of motherhood.  It’s putting my children’s needs above my own.  And if it came down to it, I would give my own life for my children as Jesus did for me. 
            Now, the question is, would I be willing to do the same for someone other than my kids, husband, friends or family?  Do I sacrifice my time and resources, with nothing to gain, for other people? Would I sacrifice my very life? 
            God’s word says that if I do that, His love abides in me. 

2. Unconditional Love-
            This aspect of God’s love is perhaps the most difficult to grasp. It is so because it is contrary to the very core of man’s selfish nature. So often we love because it serves us to do so.     There is a “profit motive” behind much of what we call love. Couples marry because they feel they can’t live apart. They profess that they need one another, that each fills and fulfills the other’s needs. What is often overlooked is that, despite the romantic rhetoric, the love shared is essentially selfish and self-serving. It is founded not on commitment, but on performance. It’s a love of convenience and ego. That is, "I will love you as long as you add value to my life and please me. When that ceases, so does my love for you."
            However, God's love is not like the love expressed by many in our culture today. God’s love stands in stark contrast. God took the initiative to love us first (1 John 4:19) before there was anything in us worth loving. “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). In fact, as sinners we are described as “alienated [from God] and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds (Colossians 1:21).
            If we are to love as Christ loves, we have to accept each other (Romans 15:7), forgive each other (Colossians 3:13), and keep on forgiving each other (Matthew 18:22).  This is unconditional love.
3. Love Seeks the Higher Good of Others-
            Love must meet the emotional, physical, and spiritual needs of those loved. It is costly, brings vulnerability, and seeks the person's highest good (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).  One thing that strengthened my own marriage was reading The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.  This book taught me not only the importance of meeting my husband’s emotional, physical and spiritual needs, but it also revealed to me the love language that my husband speaks.  When we know how best our spouses receive love, we will better know how to seek their higher good.  This not only applies to our spouses, but to everyone we come in contact with.  The question is, how often do we take the time to get to know people well enough to understand how best to love them?  Do we love them enough to seek their higher good? Even before our own good? 

4. Love Those Who Persecute You-
            John 15:18-21 says, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of this world but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you:  A servant is not greater than his master.  If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.  If they kept my word, that will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know Him who sent me.”
            This verse became my mantra during a particularly tough ministry position my husband and I were in.  Persecution is a hard cup to swallow even in American culture.  And you would think that a church would be the last place to receive persecution from.  But God warns us of false prophets in the Bible, and we had found ourselves in the lair of a false prophet whose converts were as wicked as he. 
            However,  John 15:8-21 constantly reminded me that Jesus was persecuted by His very own and that we were in good company.  “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”   This is when “loving the unlovable” is put to the test.  It is our love and turning the other cheek that model the love of Jesus and point our enemies toward Him. 
            In conclusion,  “true love” looks drastically different from the love our culture defines it as.  Yes, it is harder to love sacrificially and unconditionally, but it is also far more rewarding to love as Jesus loved.  The reward may not always be here on Earth, but rest assured knowing that if we model the love of Christ, we will be rewarded in Heaven. 

Small Group Discussion Guide
1.     Reflect on this statement about sacrificial love:  Love isn’t about what the world has to offer me. Love is what I have the opportunity to give.”  I challenge each of you to think about one relationship in your own life, in which, you have been looking at love the wrong way.  Instead of looking at the relationship as an opportunity to give, maybe you have been more focused on what the relationship will give you.  Once you have that person in mind, I want you to start praying and thinking about ways that you can better serve that person sacrificially.  If you feel comfortable, share with the group.  Yes, it might make you feel vulnerable, but to know that your sisters in Christ are praying for you is worth total transparency! 
2.     Is there something in your past keeping you from loving someone unconditionally? Has someone wronged you and you haven’t been able to love them despite it?  Or is there someone in your life who may not have wronged you, but you despise them for other reasons?  We are called to forgive and love these people because that is what Christ does for us!  Share with the group (as you feel comfortable), your own experience with “loving the unlovable”.  Or maybe how someone loved you when you were the unlovable one. 
3.     How often do we take the time to get to know people well enough to understand how best to love them?  Do we love them enough to seek their higher good? Even before our own good?  Share with the group how you find time to get to know people (outside of family) on a deeper level despite your busy schedule.  In what ways do you “seek their higher good”?
4.     Read 1 John 15:8-21 again.  Share with the group a time in your life when you managed to love someone despite the persecution they were dishing out on you.  What was the outcome? 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Faith of Patience {chapter 3} by Julia Rogers

            There I sat staring at the same old tree while rocking in the same old rocking chair on the same old porch.  We were visiting my parents during the holidays when deja vu hit.  How many times had I found myself sitting on the porch from my childhood contemplating life, God, and my future?  There were too many to count.  I remember sitting there as a child, my innocent self so naïve to this world hoping, dreaming, and waiting for what was to come: the first boyfriend, first car, first job, high school graduation, college, marriage, babies, and everything in between.  I have done a lot of waiting from that porch.  I’ve also held a lot of pity parties with my impatience hosting the shindig.  I knew what I wanted and I wanted it then.  And more often than not, when my impatience got the better of me, I took things into my own hands and tried to manipulate the situation, doing anything to make my desires come to life sooner.  This often led to pain and more heartache. 
            So there I found myself again, a little bit older, contemplating what was next.  The things that I had once hoped for from that same seat I now found myself observing in real-time: my husband, my three children, a nice home, stability.  And those things fill me with so much joy.  But as I sat there, I couldn’t ignore this deep ache for something else….something unknown.  This time my impatience wasn’t manifested in trying to make things happen, but in waiting for God to reveal to me what it was that He wanted me to do. 
            That was about 2 weeks ago and I still do not know what God is preparing me for.  I am finding that waiting for the unknown is in some ways harder than waiting for the known.  This desire within me is like an ember waiting to be fanned to flame. In the mean time, I am determined to “wait better” this time around.  I will serve God, my family, and my church to the best of my ability while I am waiting.  Joy can be found while waiting.  I want to be proof of that. 
            I have no idea why God hasn’t revealed, “what’s next”, but I’m putting my faith in Him knowing that He is sovereign over all things including perfect timing.  Too many times I have lived life less than full because I didn’t know how to wait patiently.   And too many times, I have acted sinfully in my impatience and I’ve suffered the consequences.  Essentially, I can trace most of my impatience back to one thing: a lack of faith in God’s sovereignty over my life.  I know that I am not alone in this.
            In Genesis 12:1-2, the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” 
            Later on in Chapter 15 of Genesis, Abram asks, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless?” It was then that God made this covenant with Abram: “Look toward heaven and number the stars, if you are able to number them.”  Then He said, “So shall your offspring be.”
            In Chapter 16 we see that Sarai, Abram’s wife, was barren. In her frustration and impatience, she offered up her servant Hagar to Abram so as to obtain children through her.  Hagar did indeed become pregnant and gave birth to Ishmael.
            In Chapter 17, Abraham and Sarah, become pregnant and give birth to Isaac. Thus God’s promise that “kings of peoples shall come from her” is set in motion. After Isaac’s birth, Sarah sent Hagar and Ishmael away, but God promised to make a great nation of Ishmael as well as Isaac, because he too was an offspring of Abraham. 
            So where am I going with all of this?  Well, to this very day, the consequence of Abraham and Sarah’s impatience can be felt as the Islamic nation that was born from Ishmael wars against Israel for territory that the Jewish people regard as their historical homeland. 
            The story of Abraham and Sarah is a great reminder to me, and hopefully to you as well that our sinful impatience will always take us further than we are willing to go and the consequences can be far greater than we ever imagined.  Through this story, we also see that the root of patience is faith in God.  Had Abraham and Sarah’s faith in God’s promises been stronger, they would have had patience to wait on Him to fulfill His promises, no matter how long it took. 

What can You do While You are Waiting
            Most of the time, when people are wondering about the will of God for their life, they are really wondering about the will of God as it relates to their future unfolding.  However, the truth is while we may not know the will of God in terms of what He will have us doing in the future, the Bible does tell us the revealed will of God for our lives. 
1.     God’s will for our lives is that we obey His commands. Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”  That implies that you are first learning the commandments of God through the study of His Word. And secondly, you are striving to live out these commands in the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Apostle Paul reiterated this command in Romans 12:2 as he wrote, “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.”
2.     It is God’s will that we always be striving to grow in commitment and holiness to God just as the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:1, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. In 1 Thessalonians 4, the Apostle Paul wrote very plainly these words, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification….”
3.     The revealed will of God is to always live out Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight. “

            What is it that you are waiting on right now?  Will you commit with me to wait patiently on God for the unknown and to be faithful to the known? The prayer below is one that I have been praying for myself the last few weeks:
            Lord, I pray that you would teach me to wait well.  I pray that I will serve you while I’m waiting. I pray that you would increase my faith because I know that faith is the root of patience. Lord, I know that you are preparing me for something.  May I submit to your work within me so that I am fully ready to do your will when you reveal it to me.  Amen.

Discussion Guide:
1.     As a group, share with each other, as you feel comfortable, something that you are waiting for.
2.     What are you doing while you wait? 
3.     Some wise things that you can do while waiting patiently on the Lord are as follows:        
a.Be faithful to the things that God has entrusted you with/the things that you should for sure be going.   
(What are some things that you KNOW without a doubt that you should be                                          
b.Search your heart.  Is their sin in your life that is clouding your vision and preventing you from discerning the will of  God? (If someone is comfortable, please share with the group                                 
how a particular sin in your past kept you from hearing from God.)                                                                                                          
c.Serve God by serving others in the name of Jesus.   (Why do you think that serving others helps you during a season of  waiting? Hint: Proverbs 11:25)            
d.Maintain your spiritual strength through prayer and reading God’s Word. Peace will fill your circumstances when you push through your feelings to stay close to God and allow His Word to                                
navigate you through your season of waiting.  (What are some key verses that have helped you while you were waiting on God?”)