Thursday, October 4, 2012

Speak the Truth in Love

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.  
-- Ephesians 4:15

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
-- John 8:31-32

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
-- Romans 13:8-9

Did you ever say something and then realize oops, that didn't come out right?  You may have been right about everything but either the way you said it or how it was taken just made it all wrong.  It's hard to take that back sometimes, hard to explain that you didn't mean it that way.  And the damage is done; the message is lost not because of the message but because of the delivery.  God knows this about us and gave us the way to get around this.  In order to speak the truth, we must know it.  And as we see in John 8:31-32, the truth is in Jesus teachings as we find in God's word.  Read it, study it, embrace it and learn from it.  Only in that way can you speak of what you find there.

If we then are to speak these truths in love, does that mean we do so with all these warm fuzzy feelings or does it mean something more?  It is not the same love as we have for football or pizza or whatever which makes us feel good when we experience it.  That is too shallow a love.  The love we are to have for our neighbor is based on the love we have for God and what He has done for us. It is a deep soul changing love that guides our daily walk and lasts forever.  We can try to speak the truth to others with gentleness or only pleasing words so as not to offend them but that can lead to a shallow understanding on their part that never takes root.  We can speak the truth no matter how harsh saying it is out of love for them but then they reject that harshness and thus the message.  We need to remember that oftentimes people are not as afraid of God's eternal judgement as they are of our judgement here and now.  What is really needed is to be scripturally sound and humanly compassionate.  On many occasions, Jesus would simply tell people the truth of their sin and then the message of hope and forgiveness and leave it to them to decide.  The need for following Christ has to be the desire of that person's heart and soul and neither we nor our God can give that to them. All we can do is reaffirm to her that we love them and want for them what God has given to us.  If we remember God's hope in us, faith in us, and best of all love for us, and we know the truth from knowing and believeing in His word and embracing His son Jesus, we can speak what we know in love and let them decide.

Dearly Loved Children

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God
-- Ephesians 5:1-2

Parents love their children.  Even when their children make it hard to love them, we love them nevertheless. It's part of our design as human version 1.0; we parents just can't help it.  And so it is with God since we are designed in His image.  The message that God loves us, His children, is so often repeated in the New Testament that you would have to go out of your way to ignore it.  And as our children imitate our behaviors and traits, Paul asks us to imitate God in the same way.  We need to imitate Him in our love for one another, in our goodness towards all, in our forgiveness for when others wrong us, and in our patience with those who do not follow in His way.  God does this for us and so we in turn should learn from that example and walk in the same loving way He does as best we can.

As parents, we understand that our children not only look like us to a great degree, but follow our example in what they say and do.  When we do good things, they follow that.  When we do bad things, they follow that too.  When we say good things, our children repeat them.  When we say bad things, our children can repeat them too, much to our embarrassment.  Children have no greater example to follow than their parents.  They learn to interact with the world through watching how we do it and imitating that example.  As children, we look to our parents for how to do things. We don't know anything else for a very long time.  We know that is why they are there and we love them because they love us and help us.  We can learn the hard way that doing or saying the wrong things just because our parents did is not always acceptable.  And so we learn to imitate the good examples and ignore the bad ones.

God gave us all the example we will ever need in Christ Jesus.  Jesus is the ultimate example of the most free and generous love that ever was. We can all take great comfort in knowing that He loved us all so much that he gave himself as a sacrifice for our sins.  It is all the proof we will need of His love.  So let us all walk together in love for God, for Christ, and for each other and imitate the example God has placed before us in Jesus as best we can. 

The Rainy Day

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
James 1:2-3

In his poem "The Rainy Day", Longfellow concludes "Into each life some rain must fall, Some days must be dark and dreary".  While the poem starts our gloomy, it ends with the realization that everyone has to deal with dark things at times in their lives but at the end of every one of them, there is hope and sunshine.  It seems to me that it is easy to fall into a funk but so difficult to get out of it.  I think we can allow ourselves to dwell on the gloomy and dark things a bit too much and we miss the fact that God is there waiting and wanting to help us.  We can sometimes get lost in our sadness and can no longer see a way out and then fall easy prey to temptations.

God promises to us that there is always a way out as we read in 1 Corinthians 10:13, "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.".  Notice that it doesn't say He will do this for you sometimes but that there are some things He just won't help you with.  He will not abandon you.  He has a plan for you.  He loves you more that you can really understand. Like the sun behind the clouds in Longfellow's poem, He is there.  If He is there when we fail Him, how much more will He be there when we are hurting?  Some trials are really hard to bear.  Regardless of what we know and how hard we try to maintain our faith, some hard times are just going to hurt.  And then we can get easily confused and angry and ask God what He thinks He is doing.  But as James points out, these trials are designed to build our trust in God.  Rather than go it alone, believe in your faith, trust in it, and seek God all the more.

If we remember Romans 8:28, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose", we can make it through anything.  There is some purpose in our dark days, ones we may not understand just yet. But God is love and is always there for each and every one of us. Seek Him out even more so in the dark times and He will show you the way.