Category Archives: Loving and serving one another

A Stretch Goal — Loving as Jesus Loved

In business, athletics and other endeavors of life, we often set goals for ourselves that exceed anything we have done before.  Whether they include increased sales or production, running faster or longer, or improving our winning percentage over the length of a season, we refer to them as stretch goals.

Jesus set a stretch goal for the disciples and us when he said, This is my commandment: Love one another as I love you. (John 15:12) 

How did Jesus love the disciples?  He called and selected them.  He taught them with his words, stories (parables) and example.  He empowered them in sending them out to serve the needs of others by healing, casting out demons and proclaiming that the kingdom of God had arrived. He reframed the response to being offended, from revenge to forgiveness.  And in a crowning illustration of love, he freely laid down his life in obedience to the Father and out of love for all of humanity, to overcome sin, death and Satan’s hold on creation.

As further illustration, he simplified all of the commandments to the love of God and neighbor, and said our neighbor is anyone we encounter, even a stranger as in the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Instead of commandments with judgment and penalties, he promised blessings and happiness if we are humble in heart, mourn over sin, hunger for righteousness, show mercy, and seek to be pure in heart and peacemakers.  He even said we would be blessed if we are persecuted for righteousness.

How do we love as Jesus loves?  The opportunities are endless.  The key principle in most situations is to think of others over ourselves.  When our oldest daughter was three or four, as I walked in the door after a long day at work, she would say, Come on, Daddy.  Let’s play.  I got so tired of playing a particular board game, “Flintstones,” but I knew that I needed to love my daughter and our other children by spending time with them.

Jesus said, Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)  While that may involve giving up our actual life for someone else, more often it is laying down our will, comfort or desires for the needs of someone else.  We may need to let go of our career ambitions for the sake of our family.  We may need to give up our plans for the needs of others.  We may need to accept that someone else’s idea is better than ours.  We may need to stop and listen.  We may need to let love rather than judgment be our first response to another’s situation.

A few years ago I participated in a gathering where people were being prayed with for physical healing, reconciliation of broken relationships and other miscellaneous needs.  At one point as I was standing to the side of the room observing all that was happening, the words came into my mind, “It’s all about love.”  People were caring for one another, showing mercy, and humbly and faithfully interceding with God to be and bring his presence to bear on others’  needs.  It was a stretch goal, but that did not deter those who were praying.  

Advertisements

“Love, Not Judgment”

These words came into my mind after receiving communion on Easter Sunday.  I was kneeling while the distribution of communion was being completed, and thanking God for his suffering, death and resurrection for us, and the blessings that I and my family have experienced as a result.

The words, “Love, not judgment,” kind of came out of nowhere, interrupting both my prayer and thoughts.  In reflecting on these words at the time and later, I was quite aware that I have struggled with the sin of being judgmental for most of my life.  How often have I been quick to analyze someone’s circumstance without knowing all the facts and coming to a judgment?

Upon further reflection, and assuming that these words and thoughts were from the Lord, I asked myself and the Lord what I should do to counter this tendency.   “When you see a person, whether a stranger, acquaintance or close family or friend, your first thought should be, ‘how can I love this person.’  There is no need to analyze or judge.”  Perhaps there is a need for encouragement or affirmation.  Sometimes there may be a need for prayer; perhaps, just a need to listen.

Jesus had some rather strong words about judging others.  He said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged.”  Frightening!  He goes on to ask the question of why do we look for the speck of sawdust in another’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in our own eye.  He says, “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Mt. 7:1-7)

James asks, “Who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:12)  Being judgmental derives from the sin of pride, of which the human condition seems to have an ample supply.

In my work as an attorney for a large oil company one of my early assignments included representing our marketing department and the various managers of that department for a particular region of the country.  I was told to watch out for a certain District Manager who had a reputation for ignoring some of the legal requirements for our business and was generally very difficult to deal with.

I was subsequently invited to attend a marketing managers’ meeting where I sought out this manager and spent some time with him.  We played some tennis during an afternoon break and I got to hear about how he viewed the challenges of his job, about his family and interests in life.  It appeared to me he didn’t deserve the reputation that was following him.  I never had any problems with this manager, nor did we ever have any legal problems coming out of the sales district he oversaw.  Fortunately, I withheld judgment, as the need for critical judgment was not apparent.

The obvious lesson from this incident is not to make a judgment until you know the facts.  But an even better approach when we encounter people is to ask ourselves, “How can I love this person here and now?”

Are You a Sheep or a Goat?

073016-prayer-shawlsEMJ1

Ruth’s co-worker, Stella was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  As the illness progressed, Ruth frequently talked with Stella on the phone.  “Very soon I realized that the Lord was putting it on my heart to bring his word to Stella,” Ruth observed.  “My first reaction was apathy and denial. ‘Lord, are you sure you want me to do this?  I’m not sure I know how.’ 

“Finally, after lots of prayer and several sleepless nights, I asked if she was receiving visitors.  She said yes and also mentioned that she had been having several dreams recently and that I was in each of them.  I took this as a sign that the Holy Spirit was bringing us together.

“When I visited her the following day, she asked about the right way to pray and wondered whether her illness was the result of something bad she had done in her life.  I assured her that was not the case, and that God loved her more than she can comprehend.  All she needed to do was invite God into her life.

“Over the next few visits, we continued to talk and pray, and she invited Jesus into her life.  The last time I saw her before she died, she had an angelic peaceful quality about her, and although she could barely whisper, she assured me she was praying and would be just fine.”

After Stella’s death, the family thanked Ruth for helping Stella find the Lord.  Interestingly, they tried to do the same thing, but had been told that her friend Ruth was already providing for her spiritual needs.

What is significant about this story is that Ruth’s love for Stella moved from being passive in nature to becoming active, as evidenced by Ruth’s initial reaction not to act on the promptings she was receiving from the Holy Spirit.

The parable of the Sheep and the Goats is considered to be about the last judgment when Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead.  Notice that whether people are considered to be a sheep or a goat at the time of judgment has already been determined by their choices and conduct in life.

To the sheep, the King says, “Come, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Mt. 25:35-36)

The sheep asked when did they do these things for the king, and he said whatever you did for the least of people, you did it for me.  Our action toward others is our action toward God.  Unless love is acted upon, is it really love?

In recent years I have deliberately volunteered to serve in the Chaplain’s office of the local county jail, take communion to residents of a nearby nursing home, and participate  in an organization that raises money to establish special education programs in Catholic schools for the intellectually disabled.

My hope is to counter the inherent self-focused busyness in my life, and to let my faith and love move from being passive to being active. 

“There is no substitute for active love.” (Jerome Biblical Commentary)

 

“Love Remains”

e05a5527e0b416c53c47620c731f931cDo our actions have lasting effect?

Our daily lives are filled with many actions.  Most of them affect the current moment, some may affect the future for a certain period of time, but few remain long term or have an eternal effect.

We get up each morning, shower, brush our teeth, comb our hair, eat breakfast, go to work, break for lunch, come home in the evening, have dinner, read the paper, watch the news, help our kids with their homework, attend an evening meeting for some civic or church related purpose, watch some television and go to bed with the expectation of restarting a similar cycle the next morning.   On the weekend, our actions may vary to include some household chores, taking children to sporting or school activities, going to church and engaging in some relaxing entertainment.

In the course of all of these many actions which are here today and gone tomorrow, we will have the opportunity to love and serve others. 

St. Paul has a glorious insight in his first letter to the Corinthians when talking about proper worship and use of the spiritual gifts in chapters 11-13.  After describing the various spiritual gifts of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, prophesy and tongues, and how they build up the church, he declares that none of them are as important as love.  He then proceeds to give a beautiful definition of love and concludes that all of these other actions will at some point pass away, but love will remain.

He says, “Love never fails.”  Acts of love never die.  They have a lasting quality.  They are remembered and extend into eternity.  

The committed love of a married man and woman that result in children being born in the image and likeness of God with eternal souls; the loving care of those children into faith-filled adults; the encouraging word to a work colleague being harassed by a boss; assisting a disabled person in crossing the street; showing generosity to a homeless person or friend in need; forgiving a loved one who has wronged you – all of these acts of love have a life beyond their occurrence.  They have a ripple effect that just keep moving outward in infinite 360 degree rings, often having impact and begetting acts of love by others that we will never know about.  

How ironic that God in his love and mercy forgets repented sin, but remembers acts of love forever! 

We strive for meaning and purpose in our lives.  We seek achievement and recognition in our work and professions.  All of these actions may be worthwhile for they further God’s assignment that we “work and take care of the garden” of his creation. (Genesis 2:15) Yet, in time the fruit of that work will eventually pass.

However, the acts of love taking place in the course of those achievements and in the context of all the other actions that make up our daily lives will not pass, but will remain in the annuls of God’s kingdom.

These actions of love and our souls will last beyond the current season.

Being Washed by Jesus

How willing are you to be served?

As Jesus came to Peter at the Last Supper to wash his feet, Peter said, “’You shall never wash my feet.’  Jesus replied, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’”  (John 13:8)

How hard it is for us to accept being served by someone in authority, particularly when the service involves a menial task usually done by a slave or servant!  It upsets our paradigm.  A servant serves his master.  An employee serves his or her boss.  Jesus, the master and teacher, was turning that paradigm upside down.  Peter was the first to proclaim Jesus to be the Son of God.  How could he allow the Son of God to wash his feet?  Unthinkable!

From earliest childhood, we are taught to be self-sufficient.  A young child proudly proclaims, “I did it by myself.”  One of the challenges of a disabling illness or injury is having to depend on someone else to do things for you that you would ordinarily do yourself.

Several years ago our family was traveling from New York to the Midwest.  We alerted a former friend from law school and his wife that we would like to stop by to see them.  They expected us to stay with them overnight, but we decided to check into a motel, not wanting to impose upon them.  They were offended, interpreting our decision as a rejection of their offer of hospitality.  To use Jesus’ words, we were rejecting having a “part” with them.

Like so many of Jesus’ words and actions, his example offers multiple lessons for us.  While we need to be willing to receive service, it is even more important for us to serve.  When the disciples were arguing about who among them was the greatest, Jesus told them that “whoever wants to be great among you, must be your servant.”  He also reminded them that “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” (Matthew 20:26, 28)

In David McCullough’s biography of Harry Truman, he tells the following story.  At a special reception Truman held for Stalin and Churchill at the Potsdam Peace Conference near the end of World War II, Sergeant Eugene List, an American concert pianist, played a Chopin waltz.  List asked if someone in the audience would be good enough to turn the pages.  Truman jumped to his feet, waived off another volunteer and did the job himself.  In a letter to his wife, List later wrote, “Imagine having the President of the United States turn the pages for you!…But that’s the kind of man the President is.”  

May we choose to follow both lessons from Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples – having a desire to love and serve the people in our lives, and responding with gracious acceptance when being served by others.

Opportunists for God

Do we look for opportunities to build God’s kingdom in the daily moments of our lives?  In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul says, “Be very careful, then, how you live – making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Eph. 5:15-16)  He goes on to say that we need to understand what the Lord’s will is in every situation.

Surely our day, with beheadings in the Middle East, the disregard for human life in the sale of aborted baby body parts, and the random shootings in schools, theaters and churches, is no less evil than what Paul saw in his day.  Nor is our need to seize opportunities to serve God and build his kingdom any less. 

The key, Paul says, is to be wise and understand God’s will.  This requires a mindset always to be asking what his will in every situation is, particularly with the people in our lives — family, work colleagues, friends and strangers.

These opportunities are often unexpected.  Once I was at lunch with a work colleague who started to share how he was estranged from his wife.  He was feeling bad for some things he had done and was angry over her response.  I just listened as he uncharacteristically shared his emotion over the crisis in their relationship.  Though we were in a public restaurant with other patrons close by, I reached across the table, took hold of his arm and prayed that God would give him the courage and grace to reach out to his wife, and that they would both open their hearts to forgiveness and reconciliation.

While I never learned the details, they did subsequently reconcile.  In reflecting on the moment, I believe God’s grace prompted me to say the prayer and use it to soften hearts and bring an end to this estrangement.

When someone expresses a need or lets us know that they are hurting, alarm bells should go off alerting us to an opportunity to be and bring God’s presence into the situation.  As Paul suggests, our first reaction should be to understand God’s will. “What do you want me to do and say, Lord?”

Jesus encouraged us to “let your light shine before men.” (Mt. 5:16)  He seized countless opportunities to heal a cripple, give sight to the blind, expel a demon, open the ears of the deaf and even raise the dead to demonstrate that the kingdom of God was at hand.

The Book of Acts reports that Peter and John did not pass by a crippled beggar as they entered the temple, but similarly seized the opportunity to demonstrate that the kingdom of God was at hand by commanding the beggar to stand and walk.

Are we recognizing the opportunities God places before us each day to be and bring his presence to the people and circumstances of our lives?