LOVE BELIEVES THE BEST

There is a sizable gap between what the Word of God says about love and how I actually live out that love for others.

 

The battle rages on.  The struggle between the prideful ruler and the humble servant.  The rub between what feels good and right and what is righteous.  It is not a wrestling of two individuals but of one; an internal struggle of being my own god or bowing to the only Wise God.

I want to tell you I struggle with  believing the best of others.  I want to believe the best of others but I assume to know heart and motive.  I want to say that it’s because I am observant, discerning and often right in my assessments; therefore when I see questionable behaviors I know what people are thinking, how they are feeling and what motivates them.  I like the idea of promoting my strengths.  It’s a curse to be so darned discerning!  I’m pretty sure that’s  not the path toward anything good and while sometimes I may be right, being right is not the issue.  The real struggle – my real issue – is love.

1 Corinthians 12:1-7, 13, 14:1a    If I speak in tongues of men and angels but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have  not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it his not arrogant or rude.  It doe not insist on its own way:  it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.  14a Pursue love,

It’s love.  Without love we are a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal; lots of talk but nothing more.  He says we are nothing and we gain nothing.

I look at this beautiful, poetic description of love and I wonder, “How do I get there?”  This love is not my nature!  This love is outside of my skill set:  This love goes beyond my own ideas of love and calls me to a higher love that does not rely on my own senses and sensibility.  It is counter-intuitive.  I think things.  I know things.  I sometimes believe what I think without really knowing fully as God fully knows.  My mirror is dimly lit.

There is a sizable gap between what the Word of God says about love and how I actually live out that love for others.  Knowing that I will never love perfectly does not disqualify me from the race nor should it discourage me from entering it.

1 Corinthians 9:22-27   Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?  Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.  They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

No runner can endure or gain speed without practice.  I need practice.  I need to practice love with the purpose of learning to love others the way God loves me.  I need to practice to make it my nature.  It takes consistent discipline to not only believe the best of others, but to love them in all the ways God has called me to love them.

The practice happens in the battle.  Love cannot be rehearsed outside of being in relationships and situations that require love.  It is a battle to catch those thoughts (2 Cor. 10:5) and remind myself that only God knows heart and motive.  It is a battle to replace those thoughts (Phil. 4:8) with loving, beneficial thoughts.  It is a battle worth fighting.  Thinking fuels my heart; if I think wrong, I believe wrong, therefore I feel wrong.  Believing the best of others inspires right feelings about them and toward them.  It inspires love.

And love believes the best of others.

Seasons

Last year at Word of Life in upstate New York, Richard Blackaby, author of Seasons of God,  taught four sessions on the subject of seasons.   It gave me great perspective on the seasons of my own life both looking back on the past as well as to what lies ahead.

Seasons are a fact of life.   We can count on there being four seasons every year but those seasons don’t always look the same.  Sometimes spring is cold and seems to come late.  Sometimes summer is hot, dry, and without much rain.  Sometimes warm fall weather lasts into November and sometimes winter has brought us feet of snow .  Every year brings with it its own brand of seasons.

As does life!

I love how Solomon says it Ecclessiates 3:1-8  

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

For EVERYTHING.

Everything has a beginning, a time preparation, a time of furrowing and planting and waiting for things to happen and grow.  There is a time of hard work, weeding and toiling under the sun.  There are signs of life but not much fruit.  There is a time when the evidence of your investment and work proves to be fruitful and there is a return on your labor;  harvest season. Then there is a resting season, a time when everything good has been harvested and the ground needs a rest, the people need a rest.  It’s a time when some things die and other things only look like they’ve died but they are simply in a time of complete rest.

Today I am facing a winter season.  As season of letting something go; ceasing to breathe life into something that clearly needs to die.  There is a bit of grief stirring within me.  Saying goodbye to this season is necessary in order to move on the the next thing.  I am reminded of what Paul writes in Philippians:

Philippians 3:13-14

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own.  But one thing I do:  forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

I must let go of one thing in order to grab hold of another.  Just like the playground horizontal ladder.  I cannot move ahead without first letting go of the hand behind me to swing forward to the next wrung.   If I don’t let go, I do not move ahead and neither can those behind me.  Those following me cannot move ahead until I move. Horizontal Playground Ladder

So what’s behind the hesitation to let go?  Why the ambivalence?    It’s easier to hold on to the thing you know, than to let go, trust God and grab hold of the unknown thing that lies ahead.   Living out a faithful life in Christ to the glory of God requires me to let go and trust that God will uphold me with his righteous right hand.   It’s a walk of faith.

Life is reflected in the image of seasons.   I can rest in this season of winter and let go; no need to strive to make things happen.  It is foolish to attempt to harvest when the fruit is gone.   I must see that there is no more to be gained and let go.  No worries about what will happen if something has to end.   God has more for me until He calls me home.  It may be winter now but spring is coming!

And so I rest.

 

 

 

Growing Together

God doesn’t need us to do His work for Him but He invites us to share in His good work.

I used to think of mentoring as an end of life endeavor: after I’d lived, seen and heard it all, I would pour it out on a younger woman. I even prayed to God, “Grow me up to be a woman of wisdom.” I hadn’t yet come to the truth that God’s word is living and active. I wasn’t supposed to wait until I was ready but I was to be made mature.

To whatever degree, mentoring is about my mentoree AND me. As God is refining me, He has put me in a relationship with another woman so that I can continue in my humility and vulnerability and thereby point to the beauty of Christ, embracing His transformational love and grace. Being a mentor keeps me at His feet listening for His voice, reading His word, and conforming myself to His will.

And I have discovered a wonderful aspect of mentoring: this younger woman is sometimes my Ebenezer in the sense that she reminds me of what God has done in my life as I walk with her through hers. I recognize that God alone is able to shepherd, protect, teach, rebuke, encourage and grow my younger sister in Christ into a mighty warrior for His kingdom. We are spurring one another on to love and good works.

So, what’s my point? There is no magical age, no arriving at a perfect moment in time to mentor another brother or sister in Christ. In all honesty, God doesn’t need us to do His work for Him but He invites us to share in His good work. “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” so that not only can you bless another with your service but so that you can be blessed with: greater knowledge and intimacy with Jesus, seeing the transformational power of God in another’s life, and witnessing God’s faithfulness to His children down through the years.

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is names, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:14-21

Imitate Me…

1 Corinthians 11:1 Be imitators of me as I am of Christ.

1 Corinthians 11:1   Be imitators of me as I am of Christ.

Imitate, mimic, copy, watch me and do as I do, be as I am. I am following Christ.  You follow me; I follow Christ, therefore, you follow Christ by following my example.  Paul is so confident in his walk with Jesus that he is willing to say, follow me.

1 Corinthians 4:15-16   For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers.  For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.  I urge you then, be imitators of me.

Paul clearly draws a line between guide and father.  A guide can lead you through something and point you in the right direction but a father is personally invested.  You are his, he is yours. A father’s care is beyond guide.  It is also, protector, guardian, authority, parent, caregiver and caretaker  – all motivated by love.

Philippians 4:9   Whatever you have learned, received, heard or seen in me – practice these things and the God of peace will be with you.

Paul is saying here, not only observe and learn but put it into practice. Make it your habit to do these things.   And what’s the payoff?  Peace!

So what about you?  As a mentor are you comfortable saying to your students, “Follow me as I follow Jesus?”   Are you living a life worthy of the gospel?  Phil. 1:27-30    If not, then what? Do you dumb down your mentoring to make yourself the standard by saying, “If I am not doing it then I cannot require someone else to do it.” or  are you willing to follow Jesus in a way that you are confident brings honor and glory to God and you would be fully confident saying, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.”

L.E.N.T.

BEFORE YOU SPEAK CONSIDER L E N T
It is a privilege to be a biblical mentor. Although we aren’t Spiderman the advice his Uncle Ben gave him applies to us as well: “with great power comes great responsibility.” When we have the authority to speak into another’s life it is important to watch our words. As Christians we recognize Lent as a time of remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice and redemption. So the acronym LENT can be useful to check that your words lead the way towards christlikeness in ourselves and our mentoree.
So before you speak check your words and ask:
L : Is it Loving?
Does what I am about to say pass the “1 Corinthians 13 test”?
1 Cor 13:4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
– Is what you are about to say exhibiting patience with the person, situation, God?
– Is it kind?
– What is your motive?  Does this stem from comparing yourself or your mentoree   others, or to bragging about yourself?
– How are you saying this? In humility and with respect?
– Does it consider the other before yourself, do you need to be right about this?
– Are you being overly sensitive or are you annoyed?
– Does the motivation behind it honor God and point to Him?
E: It is Encouraging?
To encourage is to bring courage in. Encouragement is not empty platitudes but inspires by directing us to God’s character and promises. It may even hurt but never harms and is often hard but always good. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend”   Proverbs 27:6
N: is it Necessary?
Do you need to say this?   Are you putting yourself where you do not belong? Are you in the way of a person getting to God? Are you an obstacle or a bridge to God in this circumstance?
T: Is it True?
Does what you are about to say match up with God’s word?  “For everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Hebrews 5:13, 14

Not Perfect? It’s Okay!

Psalm 126:5-6 Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.

This is the verse that describes my mentoring experience over the last few years. I walked into mentoring others with a great deal of apprehension and feelings of inadequacy. I came to realize that God’s faithfulness to me and to them didn’t depend on me. There were tearful prayers for students and for myself. Each week of investing time, planting seeds of Truth, weeding out lies and challenging faulty thinking, unhealthy relationships, idols, sin and anything else that set itself up against the Word, led to an unspeakable harvest.

God did what God always does. He was faithful. He opened eyes, increased understanding and bound unlikely hearts together in love. Students began taking steps of faith that led to bigger steps of faith. They began to see themselves as poetic masterpieces, perfect and complete. They recognized that what they saw as flaws and imperfections were actually perfect for the good works that God had prepared in advance for them.

I have had several conversations over the past few weeks with mentors who are feeling less than adequate to meet the needs of their students. We have students asking to be challenged, mentors who are feeling overwhelmed and completely “challenged” by their students and a couple of students who have not responded well to being challenged.

There are a couple of things to remember as we grow with our students. The first is just that, we are growing together with our students.  We are being stretched beyond our comfort zones into a place that is unfamiliar. God wants us blind.  He calls us to walk that path by light of His Word.  God is faithful.  God is perfect.  God is adequate. God is able.    You are not perfect and will not be perfect in this.  It’s okay.  God knew this when He called you.  He works all things together for good for those who are called according to His purpose.  He brings the harvest; He controls the outcome.

 Be encouraged, my friends!  It’s not always easy but it’s always good!

 

 

Who And What Do I Have To Be To Be A Discipler?

Matthew 28:19-21        Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Have you ever wondered if you have what it takes to be a discipler?  Do you have your Bible memorized?  Do you have to have a sinless walk?  Do you have to have the gift of wisdom or discernment?  Do you have to have some level of education?  The answer is an astounding NO!

There might be many qualities that will help you be a discipler but the thing you need first and foremost is to be, yourself, a disciple of Jesus.  Do you spend time with Jesus so that you know Him more deeply?  Do you talk with Him?  Do you allow Him to transform you; your thoughts, your attitudes, your actions into the likeness of Himself?  A disciple of Jesus is the only disciple for Jesus.

You don’t have to know all the answers.  You don’t have to have all the good advice.  In fact, it would be better if you didn’t.  By emptying yourself of you, your knowledge, your power, you will be depending on the One He has sent. You will be trusting in the work and power of Jesus Christ.  You will be living the example of keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus and thereby pointing them to Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.

Hebrews 12:1b-2a      And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

Let us be, first and foremost, disciples of Jesus so that we can point the way for others!