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Love One Another (Guest Post)

Photo credit: Pixabay

Love One Another

by Steph Beth Nickel

A simple walk through Walmart. That’s when it hit her. I don’t think I can do this mask thing for the long haul.

Deep breath. You’ll be okay.

Thankfully, with God’s help, she talked herself off the ledge. But it was scary. It was the first time she could, in a small way, empathize with those who deal with full-fledged panic attacks.

This isn’t a post about the benefits and drawbacks of wearing masks. It’s about something far more important. It’s about love and respect.

Years ago, our former pastor said we can’t know for sure what motivates a person to speak and act the way they do. We may have our suspicions, but two people can do exactly the same thing for entirely different reasons.

It breaks my heart to read how people are attacking one another on social media. Like many people, I find conflict upsetting—even when I’m not directly involved.

While some conflict is inevitable, much is avoidable—especially when it stems from the assumption that we know why people are choosing to respond to COVID-19 in the way they are.

This situation isn’t going away anytime soon—barring divine intervention. How can we love one another well?

Here are nine ideas:

  1. Draw close to the Lord. We can only love others well if His love becomes a wellspring in us, bubbling up and overflowing to those around us.
  2. Be kind to yourself. It’s especially important these days to take care of ourselves. It’s not selfish; it’s vital.
  3. Admit it when you’re struggling in one way or another. We all need at least one confidante in our life who will actively listen as we pour out our heart, someone who won’t simply spout platitudes and expect us to “get over it.”
  4. Become a good listener. Stephen Covey said, “Listen with the intent to understand, not the intent to reply.” I prefer the simpler version: listen to learn, not to respond.
  5. Begin a Gratitude Journal. While the situation can be overwhelming, when we deliberately examine our life for things to be grateful for, it changes our attitude—and that splashes over onto the people around us.
  6. Plan fun activities. Instead of grieving what we can’t do—at least for prolonged periods—it’s important to make the best of the situation. We are created for community. It’s important to enjoy time with family and friends, whether in person or online.
  7. Look for an opportunity to reach out to someone who is lonely. Even pre-COVID it was easy to neglect those who are isolated and on their own. It’s even harder for them these days. While we can’t necessarily go for a visit, we can write them a letter or give them a call. A simple act can brighten someone’s day more than we realize.
  8. Fellowship with other believers. The Lord used the analogy of a body for good reason. We truly need one another. Whether we get together in person or learn to use Zoom, it’s crucial to our spiritual wellbeing to spend time with other Christians. While watching a church service online can be beneficial, it isn’t the same as interacting with one another.
  9. Pray for one another. We see throughout the Scriptures that prayer is a command and an invitation. One of the most incredible things someone can do for us is pray. Why not let someone know today that you are praying for them—and don’t forget to do just that.

This list could be much longer, but these ideas provide a good jumping off point.

I’d love to hear how you are loving others in the midst of these challenging times.

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Steph Beth Nickel
Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel is eclectically interested and eclectically involved. She is an author, blogger, a regular contributor to the HopeStreamRadio online radio station, a freelance editor, and birth doula. Steph brings her interests together under the Nurture and Inspire umbrella. Ladies, you’re invited to join her Facebook group by the same name: Nurture and Inspire

Highly Valued

So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock – his church, purchased with his own blood – over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders.
Acts 20:28, NLT*

Let’s face it, church is a collection of sinners saved by Jesus’ blood, plus those still fumbling toward saving faith. Some are easy to love, but most of us have sharp edges, abrasive surfaces, or other sources of irritation.

We’re in the process of spiritual growth, and what God sees in us is not always visible to those looking through human eyes. But He’s building us into the Body of Christ, and into His Temple.

He sees value in us. Enough that Jesus died to redeem us.

He commands us to love one another. (John 13:34-35) He’s not asking us to do anything He hasn’t done first, and He offers the Holy Spirit within us to produce that love for one another. We just need to choose to obey, even when it’s hard.

Is there someone in your church who’s impossible to love? Pray for him or her. Regularly. If you ask God to grow His love in you – and persistently choose to cooperate with Him – He’ll surprise you.

Most times it’s not that extreme, but may we remember to ask what He sees, instead of focusing on what we see. May we remember the high value He sets on us – as individuals and as His flock.

God our Shepherd and our Saviour, we dare not dismiss any soul You love. Please help us see what You see, and grow Your love in our hearts for each member of Your Body. Show us what You see in us, as well, and help us surrender fully to Your cleansing and growth.

Matt Maher’s song, “Instrument,” made a powerful difference in my life during a very difficult time in my own church life.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Choosing to Love

You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart.
1 Peter 1:22, NLT*

Sincere love. Deep, whole-hearted love. This isn’t surface-friendly love. Nor it is always warm and fuzzy.

This is love as a choice. An act of the will, a decision of the mind. If the heart is slow to catch up, it can’t be allowed to affect the acting out of the love.

Let’s be honest. The whole reason onlookers were surprised to see how the early church loved one another is that we’re not a lovable bunch. We’re real people, like everyone else, with hurts, hang-ups, and habits.

Our love for the God who loves us – that’s the glue that binds us together. He loves us, and He says to love one another, so we do it for Him.

An important way to start is by asking God what He sees when He looks at each one. Not what dirt does He still see to clean up, but what potential? What did He design this person to become? What gifts has He given that He’d like to see developed and used? And, I suppose, what hurt does He see that He’d like to use you or me to help heal? What need, to help meet?

Then we need to pray for one another. Individually, by name, for God’s best in the person’s life. Sincere prayer grows love.

We’ll likely also need to pray for ourselves. “Lord, change me” is a prayer God loves to answer. After all, we can’t change others. As we let Him change us, though, that may inspire change around us.

Lord, change me… and thank You for Your patience and mercy in the changing. Grow Your church and help us to love one another as You love us, for the glory of Your Name. May others see enough of You in us to draw them to know You.

If you’re having trouble loving some of the people in your church, here’s the song that’s now my prayer: Matt Maher‘s “Instrument.”

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Because You Belong to the Lord

Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement.
Philippians 4:2, NLT*

Because you belong to the Lord.

We forget this perspective, forget that belonging to the Lord is supposed to make a difference in our behaviours and our motivations. Not so we can earn more love (or more salvation) – we can’t —  but because we love this God who loved us first.

We want to please Him. And we want the people around us to see the difference He makes in our lives. In cases like this, to see that we value loving Him more than we cherish our very real hurts and disagreements.

Euodia and Syntyche have had a serious falling out. They’ve worked as a team before, likely been close, so this is more painful than if they’d never been friends. Or perhaps they never really got along but were able to overcome it until now.

The friction is hurting the local body of believers. It’s also giving ammunition to the scoffers who think all this love-and-unity stuff is too good to be true.

And it does the same today. In every group of believers, there will be differences of opinion. Even conflicts. And our enemy loves to get us focused on anything that can divide us. The good news is, God wants to use these opportunities as ways to demonstrate His kingdom living. If we’ll rely on Him.

Because you belong to the Lord.

It’s not about us. It’s about God – the news of what He’s done for us and His power to save us from ourselves. We don’t have the luxury of indulging in hurt feelings and splits. Even if Euodia and Syntyche can’t work together anymore, like Paul and Barnabas, they need to reconcile in the common ground of Christ.

If we can make reconciliation more important than restitution or revenge, the world will recognize something – Someone – holy at work.

Our God, You ask us to do what’s impossible, but all things are possible with You if we’ll choose to believe. Conflict is part of living. Please help us to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel. Give us willingness and power to forgive, and remind us that forgiving doesn’t mean the “other side” is right. Help us to love those who have hurt us, and to pray for their good. Intervene in disputes among Your children. Help each to understand the other, and to see where confession, change and courage are needed. We ask this for the sake of Your Kingdom and Your reputation in this world.

Let Steven Curtis Chapman‘s “For the Sake of the Call” remind us of our greater purpose.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Faith, Patience, Love and Endurance

But you, Timothy, certainly know what I teach, and how I live, and what my purpose in life is. You know my faith, my patience, my love, and my endurance.
2 Timothy 3:10, NLT*

I don’t know about you, but when I think of the Apostle Paul, patience and love aren’t top of my list of descriptions. I mean no disrespect to this ambassador for Christ—he’s a hero of the faith. But he sounds like he was a hard fellow to live and work with.

Faith? His was more than intellectual belief. He lived it, and died for it.

Endurance? He suffered frequent persecution and abuse for his faith. One of my favourite Paul stories is when he and Silas were in prison in Philippi, singing praises to God in the middle of the night. [Acts 16:16-40]

Paul definitely knew “the secret of living [and being content] in every situation.

Perhaps this is where his patience appeared: in endurance and in persisting in relying on God. And his love wasn’t the soft, huggy kind, but his letters reveal a passionate commitment to the well-being and growth of Christians everywhere. He thanks God for them, he prays for them, and he fights for them.

Sovereign God, You were with Paul and You are with us today. Let us learn from Paul’s example. Help us to remember and rely on Your presence and power. Lord, we believe. Help our unbelief in those times when we don’t anchor to You. Help us choose to praise You no matter what, and to keep our eyes on You instead of on the problems.

Let Matt Redman‘s “Blessed Be Your Name” remind us how to live.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Spiritual Check-up

But women will be saved through childbearing, assuming they continue to live in faith, love, holiness, and modesty.
1 Timothy 2:15, NLT* (emphasis mine)

I hesitated to use this verse, so let’s get the obstacle out of the way first. The “childbearing” part has been misused and has caused great pain to single or infertile women. Footnotes for this verse in the NLT say it can also mean “will be saved by accepting their role as mothers, or will be saved by the birth of the Child.” Me, I like the latter one.

That’s not what I wanted to share today, but I didn’t want to lose anyone because of it.

“Saved … assuming they continue to live in faith, love, holiness and modesty.”

That’s what I want to talk about.

Not that the way women (and men) live will earn our salvation, but that this is what the working out of our salvation will look like.

Remember the way it’s said “I am saved, I am being saved, I will be saved”? How it’s all reflecting a different aspect of the same process?

Spiritual check-up time:

  • Faith: how often do I forget faith and live by sight, in anxiety and stress?
  • Love: how much of God’s love grows in me for those outside my family and friendships?
  • Holiness: is it the “rules” type, or the inner glow of the Holy Spirit?
  • Modesty: not just do I dress in non-provocative clothing, but do I draw attention to myself instead of to God?

These are attributes that resonate with me, that I’d like to develop as I find my identity as a child of God. They describe the women of faith in my life, the ones I want to “be like when I grow up.”

God our Saviour and our Shepherd, thank You for the grace to grow in our salvation. Thank You for those in the faith who have been our examples and our role models, and for Jesus Christ who demonstrated a life fully pleasing to You. Please help us to live in faith, love, holiness and modesty – to live in You.

Here’s a song I loved from years ago: “Growing Up to be a Child” by Sheila Walsh. May God grow this trusting heart in us.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

 

 

Celebration

Exodus 23:14-19 lists the three times a year that God tells the Israelites “you are to celebrate a festival to Me.”

They are:

  • Feast of Unleavened Bread: the anniversary of their deliverance from Egypt.
  • Feast of Harvest: the first-fruits of their crops.
  • Feast of Ingathering: when all their crops are brought in.

The Feast of Harvest is when they begin to see results from their crops—not when they actually receive the full harvest. It’s another example of praising God ahead of time.

While each celebration focuses on an event, past (Exodus), present (first-fruits) or future (harvest), they are celebrations to God.

I love how the Bible encourages us to celebrate, and the feasts sound like they’re whole-hearted events.

We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, milestones… but as I look at my own celebrations, I think they stop at recognizing the event rather than celebrating to the Lord who gave it.

Celebrating to the Lord…. Doesn’t that imply exuberant, abandoned praise? Like David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant?

It’s not just looking at the material and temporal, fine as they are, but looking to the Giver of the gift. Responding to Him in gratitude, love and worship.

Are we missing the fullest dimension of our celebrations?

I think gratitude is step one. How else can we celebrate to God without over-spiritualizing or turning everything into teaching moments?

Loving God

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
Mark 12:30, NIV 2010*

Jesus said this is the most important commandment. Love isn’t just a feeling. It’s an act of will, a choice. And it’s what God wants most from us: love in action.

We know that outward-only love, the going-through-the-motions action without any heart behind it, isn’t what God wants. Nor is it what our family and friends want. It’s legalism, hypocrisy. Fake.

Gratitude, appreciation, respect, honour, obedience… these can be earned. Even required, by people and by God.

True love is a response to who God is, not to what He does. We can’t give it without knowing Him. But we need to throw our whole selves into it: heart, soul, mind and strength.

Father God, please draw our hearts to love You for who You are, to worship You with all that’s in us. Don’t let us settle for anything less than a growing relationship with You. We love because You loved us first. Teach us to reflect it back to You in abundance, with all our hearts, souls, minds and strengths, knowing it all comes from You.

Because this love needs to be active, here’s Phil Wickham’s “After Your Heart”.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Love One Another

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
John 13:34-34, NIV*

Last week at Whatever He Says, Belinda posted on the importance of relationships, including the quote, “Relationship—with God and with people—nothing else matters”. It’s a powerful post, and worth reading (scroll up from where the link takes you). The novel I finished on the weekend, Just Between You and Me, made me think about it too. And the book I’m currently reading, Majesty in Motion, focuses on…you guessed it: relationships.

I didn’t plan any of this.

Did I mention our Bible study group at church is using the Experiencing God Workbook? We’re at the “relationships” section now.

God can be subtle with some people, but He knows I take a bit of prodding.

Loving one another doesn’t have a lot to do with warm, fuzzy feelings. Singer/songwriter Don Francisco called it an act of the will.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails [stops/ends]. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, NIV*

It’s intentional, deliberate, a choice we make. A choice we can only follow through on by relying on God’s love in us.

Father, I’m so thankful that You meet us where we are, but You love us too much to leave us there. You promised to grow us to be more like Your Son. Jesus saw people through Your eyes—with Your heart. Help me learn to do that too, and to be useful to You in encouraging and loving them.

Our song this week is Matt Maher’s “Hold Us Together”.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

We Can’t Do It On Our Own

We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 1;2-3, NIV*

This is faith making a difference, and it’s something each Christian needs to have in his or her own life. As Paul goes on to say, it’s not something we do in our own strength: we need to receive the gospel “with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.” (1 Thess. 1:5a, NIV)

It’s God in us who makes the difference.

Although individuals need to have a personal and vibrant relationship with God, Paul is speaking here to a group of believers operating as a whole—functioning as the body of Christ.

Could Paul write these words to churches today? Certainly to some, but not to all. Praise God for those congregations where His power and love are on display. And rather than judging or criticizing those where not much activity is visible to our eyes (which aren’t all-seeing!) let’s pray for growth and empowerment.

Father, I pray for Your global church and its individual congregations, that Your gospel would truly come with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. Revive us where needed, forgive where needed, and teach us how to live in unity. Grant us faith in You to produce work, love for You and for others to prompt our labour, and hope in Jesus to inspire our endurance.

Canadian singer-songwriter Brian Doerksen articulates our need in his song, “Hear Us Call”.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.