I love you with the love of the Lord

As Christians we are told to love our neighbours as ourselves (Mark 12:31). We are told that God is love (1 John 4:16) and that as his followers we should love and show love to all around us. We are told to be compassionate like the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), non-judgmental as Jesus told those who condemned the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) and to show sacrificial love to our brothers and sisters like Jesus did on the cross (Mark 10:45).

However, too often this is far from reality.

I am not a Christian by birth right and by this, I mean that my parents did not attend Church when I was a child. I also did not become a Christian through an act of great salvation following the realisation that I had ‘made a mess of my life’. I have always believed in God but turned to the Church because of a desperate need for unconditional love and acceptance. Unfortunately, I found neither in the church.

My overwhelming experience, in my days attending different denominations, was of a group of people more prepared to accept a murderer than a person who did not conform to a set of rules, all different depending on the denomination, and loosely based on the bible under the caveat of ‘I say this in love’ that seem to excuse all manners of sins. I was judged in the Evangelical Church because it took me a long time to publicly ‘give my life to Christ’, even though, in my mind, I had done so long before as a child. I was judged in the Catholic Church for having been baptised in an Evangelical Church. I was judged above all for choosing to marry a non-Christian.

I am not alone in this experience and have met countless souls put off by the lack of compassion and hypocrisy shown by a group of people who claim to represent the God of love. It is time that as the united Church of Christ, we reclaim the love that Jesus showed us not just in words but also in the way we act towards our fellow humans whoever they may be.

Love is not a feeling that we do or do not experience

Love is something we CHOOSE to show to those around us. It must be unconditional and accompanied by acts of compassion and loving kindness that better represent what a feeling or a simple word ever could. Love is not easy, it is sacrificial, it is forgiving, it is self-denying, it is often not returned and it is only when it becomes this hard that we truly experience and demonstrate the love of Jesus.

see also ‘Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you

When God cries

“As a parent you can only ever be as happy as your unhappiest child”

I remember going to church as a small child and reciting the Catholic creed. It starts with: “I believe in God the Father”.

one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:6)

As our Heavenly Father just imagine how unhappy He must be looking at the state of the world we live in filled with so many of His unhappy children.

  • Imagine Him crying for the children killed in bombing in Syria
  • Or the starving children of Yemen
  • Or the young girl being used for sex in the streets of Manilla
  • Or the little boy washed up on the beaches of Turkey when the boat that was supposed to carry him to safety from the war in his country of birth sank
  • Or the man shot dead in the streets of Georgia because of the colour of his skin
  • Or the young gay man who kills himself because he was rejected by his family and his Church
  • Or the children who watched their father killed by a ‘pro-life supporter’ because he was a doctor working in a clinic that provided abortion
  • Or simply the person who we caused pain through our unkind words

Imagine Him cry and then imagine the shame we should be feeling for uttering those unkind words, for staying silent in the face of injustice, for valuing our own comfort over the lives of those poorer than us. None of us like to feel shame though and we are usually very quick to remind ourselves that God forgives all our sins, which is true, but still doesn’t make our actions acceptable nor inconsequential.

1 Samuel 13:14 says about king David, “ But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.”

David’s heart was far from perfect. He committed adultery and murdered his mistress’s husband to hide his sin. And although God forgave him, his actions had serious consequences. A man died and David’s son born from his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba also died. But David was repentant and eager to please God. He was willing to recognise his fault and listen to God’s heart.

We need to be men and women after God’s heart. We need to not be afraid to recognise our faults, repent and speak out to prevent others from falling in the same trap. We need to hear and feel God’s heart and act on Its conviction with our voices, our prayers and our deeds.

see also

Whoever wants to become great must be your servant

Jesus, knowing their thoughts, called them to his side and said, “Kings and those with great authority in this world rule oppressively over their subjects, like tyrants. But this is not your calling. You will lead by a completely different model. The greatest one among you will live as the one who is called to serve others, because the greatest honour and authority is reserved for the one with the heart of a servant. For even the Son of Man did not come expecting to be served by everyone, but to serve everyone, and to give his life in exchange for the salvation of many. Matthew 20:25-28 (TPT)

I have been thinking a lot lately about what makes Christians different to followers of other religions. Most religions have values based on love, care and compassion for others, so what makes Christians different. I came to the conclusion that, putting aside all the doctrinal differences between different religions, what makes Christianity stand out is of course Jesus, his identity, his life, what he stood for whilst he walked this earth and by association, our identity, as his followers, in him.

And arguably his most significant act whilst on this earth was his death on the cross for the redemption of the sins of ALL mankind. An ultimate act of sacrifice that has no match in any other human being or God.

That act of sacrifice was an act of obedience to His Father and of love and service to us. It is an act that we, as Christians, are all called to replicate, even today.

  • Now we may not be called to die on a cross, although some Christians still do in some parts of the world, but we are called to sacrifice our own comfort and our own freedom for others.
  • We are called to serve one another which too often we translate as serving our brothers and sisters in Christ, forgetting to extend this act of service to those who do not yet know Him, those who attack us, who ridicule us and who despise us.
  • We are called to forgive, even the unforgivable and to offer grace and mercy to those who hurt us.
  • We are called to include ALL in our prayers and act of love and compassion, even those who are different to us in what they look like, what they believe and what they do.

Nelson Mandela famously wrote whilst in prison: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” 

As Christians, we have a responsibility to ensure that the freedom we have been given by Jesus when he died for us, is made available to all, whether they know Christ or not.

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

See also

A church united in its mission

1 Corinthians 1:10 “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.”

Our problem as Christians is that too often we promote what we are against instead of what we stand for. We fight about doctrine and what separates us rather than focussing on our mission and what unites us. This not only impacts our own walk with Christ but hinders our ability to attract people to Christ and his Church.

Mahatma Gandhi famously said “I’d be a Christian if it were not for the Christians.” And there is a good reason why he did. Intrigued by the teachings of the bible and the sermon of the mount in particular, Gandhi decided one Sunday morning to visit a Christian church in Calcutta but was stopped at the door by the ushers who told him that, as this was a church for high caste Indians and whites only, he would not be allowed in. This rejection caused Gandhi’s total rejection of Christianity. Now imagine what could have happened in Hindu India and elsewhere in the world if a man like Mahatma Gandhi had become a Christian?

We MUST remember what our mission is as is so clearly defined in the Bible:

  • Our mission as Christians is to be inclusive not exclusive: 1 Corinthians 12:12:-14 “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.”
  • Our mission is to love our neighbours like ourselves not to despise someone for who they are, what they do or what they believe. Mark 12:31 “Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (see more)
  • Our mission is to spread the gospel around the world, Matthew 28:19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”
  • Our mission is to protect the poor, the weak, the disenfranchised, all those who are different and need help. Proverbs 31:8-9 “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (see more)

We only have one enemy and that’s the devil. If you want to fight, then fight him. Let’s unite in our battle against our common enemy, who revels in and stokes our infighting and jealousy. Let’s stop playing his game and stand for who we ALL are in Christ, sons and daughters of the one true King and joint heirs with Jesus Christ.

Look after orphans and widows in their distress

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Nine years ago, when my family and I first moved to France we went through a very traumatic time. I can honestly say that it felt like just about everything was going wrong. We hit one disaster after another which affected our family life, our living conditions, our finances and health very deeply. I must admit that I struggled with my faith in those days and in believing that God was good and loved me. But on one of my daily lament to God, I heard this very clear voice in my head telling me: “I have given you everything you wanted, you asked for a husband, I gave you a husband, you wanted a family, I gave you children, you wanted to move to France, you now live in France, now it is my turn”.

I have spent most of my life since that day trying to work out what “my turn” meant, but I still struggle almost everyday to remember that my salvation was not just about me, it was about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the Church, the lost, the disenfranchised, the needy, the sick, the weak and the defenceless.

The events of the last few weeks in the United States of America, the senseless murder of Georges Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and many others before them has forced me once again to face my failings in putting God and others before my own concerns and comfort.

I have had to examine my own heart and my own prejudices. I had to speak to my children to make sure that the next generation does better than we have. I have read countless comments on social media condemning the protesters for trying to make white people feel guilty for their privilege. I have heard many Christians declaring that we shouldn’t talk about race in Church and criticising their pastors if they did raise their voices against racism and prejudice during their sermons.

And it got me thinking: so much of what we hear in Church is about us as individuals. It’s about making us feel and live better lives. It’s about overcoming our own pain, discomfort, guilt and shortcomings. I am not belittling the importance of that message, however, if we never go beyond simply focussing on ourselves, we cannot grow as Christians.

A grownup Christian looks after widows and orphans, as James 1:27 tells us:

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

As Christians we must be at the forefront of the battle against prejudice and injustice. We must be seen and heard crying for our brothers and sisters who are persecuted for their gender, the colour of their skin, their nationality, their religion or denomination, their disability, their socio-economic background, or sexual orientation. We have been commissioned by God to do so and we must make this a Church priority. This is how we will be spreading the message of God’s love to the world (see also this blog post).

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31:8-9 

You cannot love and discriminate at the same time. We must show love to all. Why is it so much more prevalent in church to forgive a murderer than to accept a gay man for who he is?

In Galatians 3:28, it is written: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” We are all created equal, image bearers of God and it is about time this becomes a reality in all Christian churches.

We cannot continue to stay within the comfort of our little group of Christian friends, talking about comfortable issues that make us feel better about ourselves. We must examine our own guilt in fostering and maintaining prejudice and injustice in the world, repent and recognise the equal rights of ALL the children of God without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.

Beware of false Prophets

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves”, “A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit”. Matthew 7:15, 18

I don’t know if you have watched the series The Chosen online. If you haven’t, I strongly recommend it, it is very enjoyable, enlightening and biblically based I have found. https://studios.vidangel.com/the-chosen

In series 1, episode 8, Shmuel, a Pharisee Rabi from Judea, informs Nicodemus that he has found a matter of law that he is deeply passionate about: False prophecy. He continues telling him that when he heard Jesus telling the paralytic man that his sins were forgiven, he thought to himself that only God can forgive sins. At that moment Jesus turned to face him and recited his thoughts exactly “as if reading them from a scroll”. At first, he considered the possibility that Jesus could be using divination but then realised that of course as a pharisee this would be his first thought and this should be obvious to anyone. He accuses Nicodemus of saying nothing when Jesus called himself “the son of Man as if from the prophet Daniel”. He asks Nicodemus if he will oppose his request to study False prophesy possibly in Jerusalem and when Nicodemus questions his motive as being political and self-interested, Shmuel answers that on the contrary “It is about the law and the law is God”.

Throughout the Gospels we see recounts of leaders who were so concerned about False Teaching and False Prophets that they did everything in their power to stop Jesus’ Ministry to the point of killing him. In John 11:47-50, the high priests describe Jesus as a dangerous man who would encourage “everyone to believe in him and then the Romans would take away both their temple and their nation”. The high priest Caiaphas declared that “it is better that one man die for the people than the whole nation perishes”.

Their intentions were good at first glance, they did what they were taught to do, what they thought was right: to obey the Law and protect God’s people, the Israelites. But because they could not see who Jesus was in the eyes of the Lord, they saw only someone who was a danger to the Law and needed to be stopped at all costs.

What strikes me in all these encounters with leaders of the ancient world, whether real or fictional like Shmuel, is not only that they were blind to the identity of Christ, but that their actions were not guided by Love. In fact, they were so preoccupied with doing what was right in the eyes of the Law that they forgot to consider the person of Jesus altogether, dismissing him as a dangerous man who could and should be written off.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end in the ancient world and I see much of the same language about false teaching and false prophesy leading to legalistic actions in the church today.

Yes in Matthew 7:15, Jesus warns us to “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves”, but in verse 18 he also tells us:

“A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit”.

So let us consider if each person we are quick to condemn as a false teacher bears good fruits or bad fruits. Let us consider who that person’s identity in Christ is, before judging him or her by our standards.

When a church declares it acceptable for a woman to serve as a Deacon, in Sunday School for example or in the Administrative Department but not as the senior Pastor or Elder, they make a statement that they are more concerned about the rule of Law as they see it in the Bible than the identity of the woman as an image bearer of God and equal to a man in the eyes of the Lord (Galatians 3:28).

When a church proclaims that an openly Gay man is welcome to attend a Church but not to serve the Church, they affirm that they are more concerned about the reputation of the Church than the right and duty of every child of God to serve in any way he or she has been called to do.

But Jesus has called us to

“Love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and with all our strength,” And to “Love our neighbour as ourselves.” Mark 12:30-31. (also see this post)

And you cannot love someone and discriminate against them at the same time.

You cannot follow the teachings of Jesus and consider the Law only without considering whether your opinion was made in love and taking into account the other person’s motives, calling and identity.

Give everybody the opportunity to tell their story

“ They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; “ (Rev. 12: 11)

I tend to become frustrated when I watch or listen to testimonies on churches’ websites because the ones being picked are often extreme cases of terrible traumas or terrible crimes and great stories of salvation. This, although powerful examples of God’s grace, have often made me feel a little inadequate or worthless in my walk with Christ. I wonder also if these are representative enough to talk to the vast majority of non-Christians who do not recognise themselves in those stories.

Don’t get me wrong, crimes of the mind are no lesser sins than crimes of the flesh and

“ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23,

but not all of us will be attracted by the glory of God because we feel that we need saving from ourselves, some of us need God to save us from others and some of us need God to simply fill the God shaped hole in our lives. Forgiveness from sins is an added bonus that we may only recognise once we have made the first steps towards God.

I grew up unloved and being reminded of how worthless and unwanted I was on an almost daily basis and this from very early childhood from a number of important people in my life. Guilt and shame were my daily companions not because of anything I had done but because of what other people had done or said to me. The last thing I needed was repeated preaching of how worthless I was as a sinner also. What I needed was unconditional love and it took a long time for me to experience the love of God, in part because I didn’t know what love was, in part also because my fellow Christians kept reminding me of how wretched I was as a sinner.

There isn’t just one story of salvation, each and everyone of us has a different testimony and that testimony is in no way more or less valuable than someone else’s. Your testimony may seem insignificant to you, but it will speak to someone who desperately needs God’s helping hand in the same way that you have experienced it. Your testimony is God’s gift to you, what you do with it is your gift back to God, do not under any circumstances keep it silent because you do not feel that it has any value. Your story needs to be told because it talks of the grace of God and because somebody out there needs to hear it.

The problem is that there isn’t often a vehicle available for communicating those less colourful stories. But it is the job of Christian leaders to ensure that ALL have an opportunity to tell their stories and encourage people from all walks of life to tell their stories in a safe and non-judgemental environment.

If ALL need saving then ALL need the opportunity to talk about how and why they were saved.

Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you

“Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. “ Romans 15:7-9

I became a Christian not because I felt an overwhelming need to have my sins forgiven but because I felt an overwhelming need to be loved unconditionally, to be accepted and to belong. It took me years of personal search, prayers and agony before I experienced this from God, but I am still to experience acceptance and a sense of belonging from my fellow Christians. Perhaps I would have found my way to the love of the Father faster had I been able to experience that sense of belonging in the church first. But having to find my way alone was difficult, painful and above all lonely.

Forget for one minute that the World needs forgiveness, it does, but there are other equally crippling needs out there. Needs that the World tries to cover up with a multitude of distractions but really can only be answered by our Heavenly Father.

We live at a time when we are constantly bombarded with images of perfect people having a perfect life with their perfect friends and family. That world is fake, life is far from perfect, people are hurting all around us. It’s easy to stick with people who make us feel good about ourselves, doing things that make us feel happy, and in the process forgetting those who may make us feel a little more uncomfortable. But these are the people who need us, they are the people that need to feel loved. They are the people who need to feel that they belong. They are the people who need to experience the love of God and who better to show them that love than those who have already experienced it first-hand.

There are people out there who may be very good at covering up their distress and it is our job as Christians, who have been given the spirit of discernment, to see the broken hearts behind the shell. I was one of those people, who from the outside appeared confident, sometime too confident, to the point of unwillingly turning people away from me. It was a cover up to protect me from my deep insecurities. Most people never tried to find their way past the overly confident me.

There are people out there who do not conform to the typical Christian lifestyle, even once they have made the first step towards God. But there was never meant to be a one Christian fits all type. We are all different because we all have a different purpose. In the same way that a non-French speaking person, would not be able to teach the word of God to a French person, we each have been placed where we are, with our gifts, talents AND our word of testimony to reach a specific group of people that God has placed or will place in our path.

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10.

A couple of people answered the call when God placed them in my path, and I owe them my life. They didn’t try to change me, they simply helped me take my first steps towards the Lord primarily by showing me His grace and His love in actions not just words. God did the changing once i had given my life to him.

I pray to be there for those who God places in my path. And I urge you all to be alert when that call is placed upon you. Use your spirit of discernment to see beyond the outward appearance, whether physical or mental and to speak the word that God places in your heart and NOTHING ELSE.

Love your neighbour as yourself

I started writing this because I am concerned that my fellow Christians spend too much time worrying about legal issues (see also this post) and not enough time worrying about the most important commandment Jesus gave us before he left for heaven: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39; And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself.’40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40.

These are the words that we should live by as clearly indicated by Jesus, but too often we find ourselves in a crusade against what we perceive to be an affront to our Christian lifestyle and forget that we don’t live in the World that God has prepared for us quite yet, we live in this broken World.

In an ideal world there would be no rape, no dangerous or even unwanted pregnancies.

In an ideal world a man or a woman would not be rejected by anybody let alone a Christian brother or sister for who they love, their gender or the colour of their skin.

In an ideal world my Gay friend would be the first one to tell you that he would have chosen to fall in love with a person of the opposite sex, rather than suffering years of self-doubt and rejection by his close ones.

But we don’t live in an ideal world, we live in a broken one and as Christians, who have already experienced the amazing grace and love of God, it is not our job to judge, it is our job to LOVE. And regardless of how many times you say the words ‘I say this in love’, if you have to add these five little words to your language, it means that you are talking judgment, not love.

So before you think of forbidding abortion, think about the woman faced with the terrifying decision she has to make when she finds out she is pregnant with an ectopic pregnancy (or any other condition that would kill her if she continues with the pregnancy); think about the 13 year old girl who finds herself pregnant after being raped by her stepfather; think about the 16 year old girl who finds herself homeless after her parents found out she was pregnant.

Before you condemn a man or a woman to a life of loneliness for being attracted to a person of the same sex, think about Genesis 2:18, when the Lord God said: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” That suitability is NOT your call.

I do realise that many of us will never agree on this, but our CALL is not to debate these issues, or make them political, our CALL is to spread the good news that Jesus is alive.

The danger of spending ALL of our time in the company of other Christians, at the centre of Christian communities, doing Christian activities is that we forget what it feels like to live in the World and the needs that we may have when living outside of God’s embrace.

Being a Christian is not supposed to feel comfortable. It is supposed to be a daily struggle. Our ancestors, the first Christians, suffered for their faith; we should do too.

We are supposed to be the ones being hurt and crucified, we are not supposed to be the crucifiers!