Unconditional Love?


God wants those who love him, his own dear children through Christ, to love like he loves. We are to forgive as he for Christ’s sake forgave us. We are even held to the lofty standard of loving our enemies and praying for them.

The list of qualities that mark Christians (fruits of the Spirit), listed in Galatians 5 begins with “love“. The most complete chapter in the Bible about love is 1 Corinthians 13. It is most often used in weddings. But God had in mind something far more than a sentimental reading for two people about to be married, he wanted it to be descriptive of the lives of his children. The numerous problems with the immature and sinful church members in Corinth could be completely solved by loving like this.

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. Love never ends.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. ( 1 Corinthians 13:1-8a, 13 )

When I read these words and compare myself to this grid of Christ-likeness I find myself far short of where I would like to be. And, I am likely not alone.

The recent wave of damaging weather events has caused me once again to reflect on my own life and to examine how I love others. The recent weeks have also given opportunity to think about how other Christians love those who have lost so much. These are some of the conclusions I have realized.

We tend to love those who are most like us.

In response to a tornado, flood, or hurricane churches usually respond first to those of their denomination, in the hard hit area. My church is no different. I think this truth is largely because we are more comfortable interacting with people with whom we have more in common. And of course, in our case, almost every cent of each dollar is donated by Church of Christ people and those donors want to help their brothers and sisters. The good thing is that relief funds are managed by local church leaders in communities they know well and the result is that dollars go far and there is little waste. It is the most natural thing in the world to want to help family first, that is the way we are made I suppose. If there is a severe weather event north of Ft. Worth my first call is going to be to check on my grand daughters and their parents. It would be unnatural to do other wise! But, …aren’t we called to be unnatural?

One thing that is clear about the life of Jesus and his benevolence is that he was indiscriminate. His feeding of crowds, giving sight to the blind, healing, raising the dead, and choosing disciples, cut across any cultural or family or religious lines.

I’m only speculating, but what if we gave money to help people in a town that had flooded with these stipulations. “Help the poorest, most needy people in town first, without regard to their church affiliation or lack of it. After we have done what we can for the weakest we will then try to help others.” I think of the devastation in Tuscaloosa and a friend who prayed for direction when he drove into town wanting to help. His request brought him to a small trailer park off the beaten path were no one had been there to offer help. I know this good man didn’t poll them to find out what church they attended before he started to help them. Isn’t his a good plan? It seems to me it is.

Here is the objection and the Scriptural proof I’m wrong. “Brother Royce the Bible teaches we are to help Christians first.” And then this passage will be referenced or quoted.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
( Galatians 6:9-10 )

Well, it does say “especially to those who are of the household of faith” and that would be Christians. And, I agree. But what is the text really addressing? I think it’s worth looking at the context. The immediate context is not concerned primarily with charitable giving but is stated in verse 6.

One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches. ( Galatians 6:6 )

Paul is making the case that those who are teachers deserve to be supported. This passage in no way that I can see is about who we should help after a damaging storm. He stresses his point by saying “…Do good to everyone, and especially those who are of the household of faith“. If we should be doing good to everyone how dare you not help one who has taught you the Word of God! What kind of Christian would you be if you helped everyone except your teachers?

We tend to love those we think we can make like us.

I fear that far to often when we as churches reach out to the unchurched we do so with a view of making them like us. And our desire bleeds over to not only religious identity but cultural as well. I have heard many reports of people visiting church plants in Africa or some other foreign country where the preacher is dressed in suit and tie while the members are dressed in the colorful garb of their culture. How foolish for us to try to “Americanize” indigenous preachers!

I remember well a Southern Baptist missionary who was for many years supported by a church in Asheville, N C. This good man traveled to many small villages walking and by bicycle. The church decided to purchase a motorcycle for him to make his travel easier. After a short time an apologetic letter was read to the church saying that he could not live better than his people. Not one of them had a motorcycle so it had been sold and the money given to the poor. I thank God for the tender heart of this African missionary and the lesson he taught me long ago.

I wonder, if we were to go to a town of very poor people, steeped in sin, to help them. How much would we help if we knew up front that none of them would convert to our brand of Christianity? I think the answer is obvious.

We tend to love those we can get credit for loving.

First, I say “we” and that includes me. I really, really, like a pat on the back. An acknowledgement from a church leader, or a comment from a fellow church member really inflates my ego. This is a confession, not anything more or less.

Just as I, in my prideful self, want credit for good things I do, so do most others. If the Southern Baptists are handing out food and water at a storm event there is always a large banner to announce it. And of course the same is true of Churches of Christ and every other brand I can think of. I don’t think this is a terrible dark sin but is for a fact emblematic of the fact that we want credit. I honestly doubt that Jesus gladly approves.

I should be just as happy if people get the emergency goods and services they need if those things come in a truck from Catholics, Methodists, Mennonites, or any other church or civic group. Shouldn’t I? And further, if as a result many people come into a saving relationship with Jesus shouldn’t that alone give me joy and rejoicing without regard for who the messenger was or where they worship?

Love is the greatest. Love never fails, or ends. Faith will run it’s course and hope will be swallowed up by the true reality but love, yes love is eternal, it is God’s essence. The love God calls us to show to our fellows on this earth is sacrificial, generous, gracious, unselfish, and unconditional. You see, God didn’t find anything in you and me to make him want to love us. What he saw in us was the reverse. He saw sinful rebellion, pride, selfishness, and all the manifold lusts of the human mind and body, and he loved us anyway!

My prayer is that I can do a better job of loving others. I think loving the truth may be a prerequisite.

For love like His,
Royce Ogle

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By Royce Posted in love

Thespians or Christians?


The earliest actors would portray different people by switching masks. Since Thespis in the 6th century B.C. people have donned masks or a persona, and pretended to be someone they are really not. Thus, actors today are called thespians, a reference to the man, and later the city named for him.

It appears to me that what many, if not most, of our churches do is make “/Thespians” instead of “Christians”. People are allowed to enter the church community by whatever rite or ritual particular to that group and then at once they are told to do this and don’t do that and in general how to act like a Christian. Some are very quick learners and catch on quickly. Others are not so successful and require more work to get their parts right and too often when the performance isn’t up to par they are simply ignored until they just go away.

For most, once a week, and for others two or three times a week they come with the others to play their parts and then go back home to the reality of destructive behaviors like prescription drugs, too much drinking, etc., etc., trying desperately to fill the void that should contain a jest for life, love, joy, and peace.

Why do we do it? Well, because we have been told that is how it is done. Daddy and momma and grandpa and grandma did it this way so that is the way it should be done. Really?

Jesus encountered the same situation. The most religious folks in town, by community standards, were only actors, they were impostors. They used their masks well saying long public prayers with flowery words meant to be heard and appreciated only by them and the human listeners. They were quick to remind their neighbors of how religious they were, how pious, how carefully they complied with every church rule. Jesus described these religious actors as white washed tombs. They appeared good on the outside but inside they were corrupt and full of decay.

Christ and his followers came offering a better way. Love God and love your neighbor. And, Jesus for 3 1/2 years showed people how to live, and how to love. It was Jesus on his knees washing the feet of his followers, including the one who would soon betray him into the hands of those who would execute him. Why would he wash Judas’ feet you ask? Because that is the way you love people, by serving them, doing what is best for them.

But you say, “I can’t love people like that”. I understand. God does too. I can’t help you to love like that. He can, and He will.

God’s greatest expression of love was Jesus dying on a Roman cross, outside the city, on the wrong side of the tracks, as a common criminal who deserved the death penalty. What crime had he committed? None. He died for your crimes, and mine, and for those of every man. He took upon him all of our moral and ethical failures, all of our assignments for good left undone, our harsh words and evil thoughts….(All of this is called sin and it is against God)

Jesus hung there abandoned by his friends and even by his heavenly Father for a time, in your place, paying the penalty due for your sins and for mine. He was taken down from the cross and laid to rest in a borrowed tomb. Three days later, just as he had predicted, he rose from the dead and after 40 days with his friends he ascended back to heaven and to the Father.

Here is the good news. You are no longer condemned! You are no longer facing the penalty for the bad things you have done! Jesus paid your debt to God off in full! What should your response be? Just take Him at His word. Believe that Jesus died for you, that he was buried and was raised from the dead and love him back.

He promises not only a new start for those who choose to believe on him but a new heart. He will supernaturally give you the ability to love even the unlovable, even your enemies! He will come in the person of the Holy Spirit to live with you and in you to empower you to say no to things you know you should avoid and to do what you know to be right.

God says to each of us, “Do a U-Turn!”. Give up on your way of living and follow his way. Say it! He wants us to say to others we are now following him. Make it public! In the waters of baptism we reenact Jesus death, burial, and resurrection. Before witness we are saying I am identifying with Jesus and his true followers, I am dying to my old self and way of life and I am rising to follow only Him from this day forward. Start loving and living the new Life!

Love God with everything you are and love your neighbors the best you possibly can. The way you love God or anyone is to do things that you know will please them and stop doing anything that does not please them. Just become a lover!

You might ask “Is is that easy?” It is that easy…but, a word of warning. There will be some people who will not like you very much if you start living a life of love. Unbelievable but true. You might even have close friends or even family who will say you have gone nuts and they will avoid you. And, I promise you this too. Those actors at the church in town might not like you either. If you refuse to play the games, or put on the mask, and just love God and love people you might not be liked by the very people you would think should appreciate you.

What exactly does God require to be a disciple of Jesus? Everything. Yes, everything. God loved you enough to die for you now love him back with everything you have.

You might protest, “But I thought there were those long lists of does and don’ts, or can’s and can’ts. What about those?” Love takes care of all that. If you will choose to love God with your whole person, inside and out, those things will just become as natural as breathing.

Don’t become an actor, hiding behind a mask. Say YES to Jesus’ offer and follow Him. I pray that you will.

Oh, if you are one of the pretenders, drop the role and follow Jesus. Stop pretending and start living the abundant life of Jesus.

for Jesus,

Royce

 

Are you a good lover?


The most well-known New Testament verse in the Bible begins with the words “God so loved the world…” It does not say simply that God loved, it says He “so loved“. That is He loved in such a way that the expression of His love is the apex of time and eternity. He “so loved” less than lovable people so that He would come to earth leaving the splendor of the heavenlies, meeting all of His own just demands, living up to His own standard for righteousness, taking upon Himself the short comings of every person, then becoming an accursed one dying outside the city as a common criminal.

God “so loved”…. What about you? What about me?

The great love chapter, a favorite reading at weddings, begins as it ends, with the superiority of being a lover. In the first part of the chapter (1 Corinthians 13) the great Apostle says if he becomes the best orator ever, without being a lover he is only making irritating noise. And, he said if he knew everything, past, present, and future and yet was not a good lover he would be zero, nothing. Then before he explains the God/love he says that if he had enough faith to move a mountain, gave everything he had to the poor, and became a martyr burned at the stake he would have gained nothing.

Wow, doesn’t this pretty much wipe out much of what modern religion is? I mean, isn’t the things he mentions what we strive for to a large degree?

We better start Loving!

Jesus, when asked “What is the greatest commandment?” answered this.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
(Matthew 22:37-40)

Do you love theology? I do. Have you spent many years learning the Bible, exploring the richness of its treasures? I have. It’s a waste of time without being a good lover. The Law and the Prophets have no meaning without love.

Paul ends the great chapter on love with these words.

“Love never ends”

“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:8a, 13)

You and I have a lot of loving to do don’t we? Where is the next object of your love? Someone at work, a neighbor, a relative, a friend?

Remember God “so loved“. Unless love is a verb it is nothing more than a sham, some warm emotion that is fleeting and will never make any sacrifice for another, including God. We too, you and I, must “so love” that others can tell it. And when we do we will have in that act loved God.

Be a somebody, go love someone!

Because God so loved,

Royce


Conditional Love?


A reoccurring thought keeps coming to my consciousness, do we love people the way Christ taught? Do we love people like God does? I fear we don’t.

If we look objectively at our local church out reach and our global mission out reach I believe we will find the following to be true.

We tend to love only those we think we can add to our particular brand of Christianity, and get credit for doing so.

Quite an indictment huh? Is it fair? I believe so. Please notice I said “we”, I must include myself to my shame.

What do we do as a Christian community to feed the hungry, with no strings attached? In the context of the churches of Christ, why is it true that our benevolence is mostly received by other church of Christ people? (The same is true of other church groups)

Even some of our evangelistic efforts are done under the guise of wanting to “help” the people. The truth is we wouldn’t give them a second look if we knew we had no chance of eventually baptising them.

I think what Jesus had in mind, even the radical idea of loving our enemies, was to put our love in shoe leather with no hidden agenda. 

I recently got an object lesson in how to love from a group of Catholic high school boys from Manhattan, NY. The Xavier school, of Jesuit Catholics, were on their third trip to Bayou La Batre to help a small group of church of Christ people reach out to their community. There were about twenty boys with three teachers and an administrator. Each had raised his own support for the trip and they each paid $30 per day to the Hemley Rd church for food and lodging, such as it is. (No heat or air conditioning). And, they provided the money for building materials and brought a contractor with them on loan from Habitat for Humanity. They worked very hard for a week repairing homes.

Some of these boys have been back on their own, at their own expense three or four times. Their only motive is to help the hurting, to love people like Jesus taught.

While I don’t agree with their theology, I fully agree with the way they love in Jesus stead as they understand his teachings.

There have been several other groups who are not church of Christ people, who have come and given themselves to the people of the Bayou in remarkable ways whose only apparent motive was to serve others.

Let’s see….when was the last time I volunteered my time to help a Catholic relief effort or even less threatening, when did I volunteer at a local soup kitchen or work on a house with Habitat for Humanity?

Perhaps I still have some “Crazy Love” paragraphs bouncing around in my brain after reading Francis Chan’s challenging book. Whatever the reason I am not too happy with the way I love others or the way my people do.

Conditional love? I don’t think so…

Royce