Believe. Love.

Many years ago, in my first church job, I had the privilege of working in the front office. Which meant I was the ‘face’ of the office, handling all the various requests of both members and those who walked in off the street. Brenda, the mentally-absent and sweet homeless woman whom we often let sleep in the women’s lounge, was one of the most colorful ‘characters’ in the mix. Oh, but we all have our character traits that lend to the stories of our churches–and our lives.

Another woman, a leader in her area of volunteer responsibility, was particularly ornery. I don’t know why, perhaps she couldn’t articulate it herself. She came to my office regularly to bark complaints at me. It was always my fault, even when it wasn’t, and she had no time for explanations. I cringed when I saw her coming.

After months of regular, painful, interactions, I put her at Jesus’ feet in prayer. I asked God to help me love her. Of course it would be great if God decided to change her, but meanwhile I would ask God to change me.

I took action. I smiled every time I saw her. I listened with all the patience I could muster. I did everything I could to soothe her frustration and help her in whatever ways she needed. I even committed to greeting her with a huge smile and a hug every Sunday morning during worship. After all, she sat on the aisle only a few pews back from my regular aisle seat.

At first she seemed skeptical. She yelled at me all the time; why would I hug her? I persisted with a big puppy dog-faithful grin. It wasn’t fake–I hate fake! Rather it was a courageous act of obedience to our loving God. Even when we don’t feel loving, we can choose to act lovingly. And sometimes, thank God!, our actions will work into us the feelings.

Over time she melted like an ice cube. She stopped grumping at me. She smiled back. Eventually, she even smiled first. She opened up to share her joys (with the occasional frustration thrown in). When the time came for her to move away to be closer to her grown children in her older age, we shared a genuine, tearful goodbye.

God did change her, but He changed me first. I decided to believe in Jesus, and to live in the truth that Jesus loved her as much as He loved me. Sheesh, Jesus loves me even when I’m the biggest grump in the world! Of course He can strengthen me to share His love with others. Even when it’s hard. Even when they’re hard. Especially then.

1 John 3:23–“And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us”–sounds a lot like the Great Commandment–

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

Believe in Jesus. Love one another.
Love God. Love others as you love yourself.

When we believe, we have the courage to act. When we love, God changes us.

Walk in Love
Week 8: Belong to the Truth
1 John 3:19-24

Connect
To which organizations or clubs do you belong, and what are some of the rules of membership?

Study
Read aloud 1 John 3:19-24.
What might cause someone’s heart to condemn them (v20)?
How can Jesus’ followers set their hearts at rest (vv19-24)? In other words, from this passage, what evidence would indicate that someone “belongs to the truth”?
Notice the balance between what we know and what we feel. Why are both important?
How would you explain vv21-22 to someone who says they prayed but God didn’t answer as they hoped?
How does this passage explain our role and God’s role in our relationship with Him?

Live
Have you ever doubted your relationship with God? What helped you through that time? Alternately, what reassurance have you offered to someone who doubted?
What comfort does it give you that God knows everything?
How might conflict between people who claim to follow God affect one’s faith? Explain the emphasis on the command to love one another.
What does it look like in your daily life to fulfill the commands to believe in Jesus and love one another?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Pray that God will help you believe in Jesus and love others.

 

 

Word of Life – 1 John 1:1-4

What do you believe?

I just started reading a nonfiction book about how to live an authentic life in a world that no longer runs on the (outdated) standard life approaches passed down through generations. It challenges readers to identify the stories we’ve been told and continue to tell ourselves which may or may not be true.

We live out what we believe. In other words, our beliefs—conscious or not—determine our actions.

If we believe human beings are selfish, then we won’t find ourselves inclined to serve others. Why should I give my time (because I’m selfish) to help others who won’t help themselves (because they’re selfish)? We definitely won’t give $5 to the homeless guy on the street corner.

If I believe I’m lazy (perhaps something I heard and internalized from a parent, teacher or coach), then it’s unlikely I will bring to completion even an exciting new project. How can I? I’m lazy.

But people aren’t always selfish, and I don’t have to be lazy. Those things might be true sometimes but they aren’t consistently true. I can reverse the stories and choose to interact differently with the world.

Some things, however, are consistently true.

Jesus is God, from everlasting to everlasting.
And Jesus took on flesh to show humans the way to the Father.

If I truly believe that Jesus is the eternal God, and if I trust both the witness of those who saw and heard and touched Him in the flesh and my own experience of fellowship with Him, then that will necessarily affect my decisions. John calls Jesus “the Word of life.” Because I believe in Him, I trust this Word to lead me to a fuller, more satisfying life. A life lived in love with the One who gave everything for love of me, and a life lived shoulder-to-shoulder with His beloved people.

It may not be an easier life (it could be much harder!), but I believe it will be a true life.

Walk in Love
Week 1: Word of Life
1 John 1:1-4

Connect
Who’s the most famous person you’ve ever met or seen up close? Describe your experience of them.

Study
Read 1 John 1:1-4 slowly several times through.
How does John describe Jesus (vv1-2)? What strikes you about this description?
Why does it matter that John has seen, heard and touched Jesus (vv1-2)?
What reason does John give for writing this letter (vv3-4)?
What’s the connection between John’s proclamation and the community’s fellowship and joy (vv3-4)?

Live
What difference does it make to you personally that Jesus was “from the beginning”? That real people experienced Him in the flesh? That He is “the Word of life”?
Is it possible to have true fellowship (Greek: koinonia) with people who don’t have a relationship with the Father through His Son, Jesus? Why or why not?
How do you experience Jesus in your daily life?
How do you describe Jesus to people who haven’t experienced Him?
How does shared fellowship with God and others increase your joy?

Pray
Thank God for the Word of life!

 

Shameless Audacity

One year ago our family was caught up in a season of prayer and preparation for Guy’s pastoral sabbatical. For two years we had thought we’d go to Peru to work with Kids Alive International in the Andes. Guy has been several times and his heart has broken for the needs of the people there; the rest of us bided time until Tween was old enough to make the strenuous trip (early morning flights/drastic elevation changes).

God shut that door.

So we pursued the possibility of spending the summer in Costa Rica. Teen had been on a school trip and fallen in love with the beauty of God’s creation in the rain forest. It could be great (and it was) to spend the summer seeking God where we already knew His creation would astound us.

But living on 1.5 church salaries, how could we afford it?

One week I stood up during our women’s group of 100+ gals and asked them to pray with me that God, who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20), would do a miracle and provide a way for us to live the summer in a Spanish-speaking country (we all have some Spanish skills), whether it be Costa Rica or elsewhere.

A week later God showed up as only God can to provide a house-sitting gig for us that was way, way, WAY more than we could ask or imagine. It made possible our summer abroad and became a safe haven for our often travel-weary bones. You can read more about our Costa Rican adventures and what we called our “God Treasure Hunt” here.

This week it has occurred to me that I prayed with shameless audacity for God to provide for Guy’s sabbatical. I believed God had good gifts to give him, and by extension, his family, during that time of well-earned rest. I believed, and so I prayed, even though I didn’t know exactly what I was praying for.

I don’t always pray that way. Why not?

I definitely get in prayer ruts. I don’t set aside enough time to pray, so I pray on the go – in the car, as I walk, in between the here-and-there of my too-busy life. That’s fine, of course, but it’s like infrequent snacking instead of sitting down to a satisfying meal. And it’s not a very good way to listen for God’s quiet whisper.

In church this morning I had a sudden inspiration, a nudge to the ribs from the Spirit: I would pray in color before writing my next blog post.

Praying in Color is a fun, creative, get-me-out-of-my-head (and my rut) form of prayer. It slows you down to meditate on each word and phrase as you color/write/doodle. You can pray for people, countries, events, whatevers, and you can pray the words of Scripture, no artistic ability required. I prayed the Lord’s Prayer from Luke 11, today’s Bible passage.

prayer

Part of the beauty of praying in color is that there is no right or wrong way to do it. This is my example, but yours would look entirely different. The point is to actively pray, to spend time with our loving Father. And at the end, you have a visual reminder of your prayer.

I just noticed that the Praying in Color site contains templates for praying in color during Lent. Although we’re almost half-way through the season, I might download a template and use it as a tool to pray from here to Easter.

However you pray, let’s pray with shameless audacity that the Spirit will show up in surprising and dramatic ways!

Connect
To whom do you turn when you feel like you need to talk? Explain.
Reflect on an example from your life of persistence paying off.

Study
Read aloud Luke 11:1-13.
Put this version of the Lord’s Prayer into your own words (vv. 2-4). What strikes you about the content of this prayer? [For comparison, see Matthew 6:9-13].
What is Jesus’ main point with His example in vv. 5-7?
What do vv. 9-13 say to someone who feels like their prayers aren’t being answered? [See also James 4:3].

Live
Author Anne Lamott suggests that all prayers boil down to three essential words: “Help,” “Thanks,” and “Wow.” Examine the Lord’s Prayer and see if you agree.
How do you balance your CHATs with the Lord: confess, honor, ask and thanks? Do you tend toward one over the others? Explain.
How would your prayers change if you brought shameless audacity to your prayers? If you expected the Holy Spirit?
How do you incorporate prayer into your everyday life?
What obstacles stand in the way of effective prayer time, and how can you level them?
Which Faith Training Exercises have you tried recently? Reflect on joys and struggles.
Which exercises might God call you to this week, and why?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that Jesus will teach you to pray and fill you with His Holy Spirit.