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

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!