Once again, more time has passed than I intended since I last wrote. I don't know if it is the fact that I am in my thirties, that I have three children, that I have a husband who works a ton in the summer, or the fact that I apparently have writer's ADD that makes it impossible for me to be a consistent writer. Maybe it is all of the above. The one thing that I cannot blame it on is that it is definitely NOT due to the fact that God has not been speaking to me or refining me. He has been at work SO much lately, and I cannot blame Him for there is MUCH work to do!
That said, it was He who first led me to this idea of sharing, through a series of blog posts, how this transformation began to take place in our lives. Over the course of a few months, God began to really shape our hearts through His word, and He used a series of verses to do it. The first is this...
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."
Now, if you are wondering, if I had actually read these verses before. It wasn't new to me. And, I actually had them memorized. But, they had honestly never penetrated my heart or my life. That's the truth. And, when I did an honest evaluation, I found that I truly LOVED Jesus. (Or, I thought I did.) But, what I found is that I was NOWHERE close to loving people as much as I loved myself. Now, hear me out. I loved my friends, I loved my family, I loved my church family, I loved the people in my life group, but h-o-n-e-s-t-l-y that is about where it stopped. I loved people that were convenient for me to love. I loved people who were like me. I loved people who believed and acted like me. I loved people who were middle class Americans. If you had asked me, prior to this, if I loved others (as in the ones not in these categories), I would probably have said yes. But it would have been a lie. Because so many other verses in the Bible started to really speak to me as well...
Mark 10:21 - "Jesus looked at him and loved him. 'One thing you lack,' he said. 'Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then, come follow me.'"
John 14:21 - "He who has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me."
I Corinthians 13:13 - "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."
Galatians 5:14 - "The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'
But, it honestly never occurred to me that I was to actively, physically, emotionally pour myself out for those who didn't fall into those categories.
Then, we (Neal and I) started to take an honest evaluation of where we were (and were not) pouring ourselves out - our time, money, and resources - and, we found out that they we were living mostly for we, us and ourselves. We tithed, and we gave offerings when we felt moved to do so, but that was about where it ended. So, we started really examining the way we were living our lives and asked God what He would have us do differently. By the way, don't pray that prayer and ask Him that question unless you want Him to answer you. Because He will, and He did. I will not bore you with all the details of our selfish life or all the changes that we began to make, but I will tell you the one obvious thing that came out of us praying that prayer was a very clear call to adoption. It would be several months before we were sure that was where He was leading and would start the process, but He begin laying it on our hearts very soon after praying that prayer. But, that's another post for another day. :)
But, more than adoption, God showed us that we truly were not really living a life of love. And, we really started asking some hard questions. Like "What does it mean to love my neighbor as myself?" Does that mean that we are literally to spend as much time, energy, and money on others as we do ourselves - as in a 50/50 split? And, before you say "no, that's impossible" remember that God doesn't often call us to do things that are possible. In fact, quite the opposite. He calls us to do things that will allow His glory to be seen. So...What if He meant for us to take that verse literally? What if we are meant to give away half of our money, time and resources? These are the questions that began to invade our normal, middle-class, American thoughts. And, as we started taking stock of our lives, we realized we were failing miserably. So, we decided to make some changes. One thing at a time. One choice at a time. But, we decided, most of all, we would pray and ask Him if He would show us how to love. And, this is where it all started to change.
Honestly, this is an area where I still fail. Every. Single. Day. When the Pharisees tried to trip Jesus up in that moment and make him choose a commandment that was the most important, I think they were stunned by his response. I think, it was because they were rule-followers. They were legalists. They were strict followers of the law, but they were short on love. And, honestly, I think they were a lot like me at times. Like us. Give us a list of rules to follow, and we are golden. Tell us what not to do, who to boycott, how we can do more for ourselves, give more to those who already have too much, serve without going into scary areas or getting our hands too dirty, and we are happy. As David Platt says in his bestseller, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream, "When we gather at the building, we learn to be good. Being good is defined by what we avoid in the world. We are holy because of what we don't participate in (and at this point we may be the only organization in the world defining success by what we don't do)."
But, start talking about pouring our lives and savings accounts out for those who openly sin, taking a stand for those who can't, giving to those who are so poor they can never repay us, sacrifice our time or our family's time, or alter the "plan" we had for our life, and suddenly, we start getting uncomfortable. We start spitting out words like "radical" and "Jesus freak" and accusing people of taking the words of Jesus "too literally." Because, then, when we are truly loving it ceases to be about us. In our self-obsessed culture, it is often hard to even do these things and not have ourselves get in the way. We only want to give, if we can be sure the money will be spent well. We only want to share our time, if we can be sure it will be worth it. We can't even go on a mission trip unless we know what is in it for us. It's sad. It's a VERY difficult mindset to change. But, Jesus knew all that. You see, He was speaking to the religious elite. The church crowd. Those who knew the Scriptures. They probably had perfect attendance. Because, remember, they liked to follow the rules. And, he was telling them what was most important was what they had not yet gotten. Loving people is messy, it can be dangerous, it can be heart-wrenching, it can be disappointing, it can cause us physical and emotional pain, and it is just plain HARD. But, Jesus said loving God and loving people were the most important things.
But, you know what? Even though making changes to what used to be "normal" for us was difficult in the beginning, we have tried our best to be obedient to the things that God has asked from us. As I told a friend a while back, we just started looking for opportunities to say "yes" to God. And, they just keep coming. It is still a struggle some days. We live in a culture that says we should serve ourselves first and give our leftovers away. But, s-l-o-w-l-y, we have started to loose our grip on the things of this world and started to grasp on to the things of God. And you know what? It has gotten much, much easier. And, it has been the most freeing thing. And, we have started to comprehend what Jesus meant when he said this...
John 15:11-13 - "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."
He told us, so that our JOY may be COMPLETE. How much do you love that?
Love God. Love people. That's it, folks. It was meant to be a very simple life, really.
"Do you know that nothing you do in this life will matter, unless it is about loving God and loving the people he has made?" - Francis Chan, Crazy Love