Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Loving the Unlovely...

When chaos comes calling do you know where to turn? Chaos entered my world and drama unleashed itself in my small group in the late summer of 2005. I remember there were times when I took the remarks and the gossip so personally and I would come home and fall to my knees and just sob to the Father. It’s during those moments when leadership is not so fun. I was personally being attacked and it was all because a group member no longer liked the night we met on. Worse my right hand person was in the middle stirring the pot! I knew who was behind it as our enemy has not changed his ways, but I wanted to tell these 40-something year-old women to grow up, even though they were merely his puppets at the time Ephesians 6:12 (NIV). We’ve all been challenged to love someone who absolutely drives us crazy. The truth is we may not even like them, let alone love them. Does anyone come to mind? I’m talking about the kind of person we cannot seem to get away from. This person may be a co-worker, an employee, an employer, a small group member, a small group leader, someone who runs in your circle, someone you do ministry with, the neighbor who just will not move, an in-law, an outlaw, a spouse, an ex-spouse, you get the point. This is the type of person when you see them coming, you just want to do a 180 and turn the opposite way. A fellow small group member (in another group for leaders) eloquently called these types of people, “jackhammers” ~ thanks, Sharon! I love that. Jackhammers. Scriptures calls them the iron that sharpens iron. Sandpaper… thorns… difficult…unlovely. Whatever the title you and I want to label them with, we will find they are somehow assigned to us by God. I will share how scripture empowered me by the Spirit of the Living God to love someone I did not even like at the time. Wow, did I just type that out loud? I’m ashamed to admit that while I spent most of those small group years on my knees in prayer for this woman, I just did not care for her at the time. Now the love I have for her is God's love.

I John 4:7-21(NIV) “7Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 13We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. 16And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 19We love because he first loved us. 20If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

This is such a priority of God and in order for us to live well, we must love well. We can study the Word, serve in our church, lay down our lives for others, but if we do not love and demonstrate that love, God will say to us, “If it was without love, it was nothing; it was noise without substance” (I Corinthians 13). Jesus did not hesitate when He was approached by the Pharisees and asked what the priority of God is in Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV). “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.” To love God and love others. Everything hinges on that. Here’s the problem: the Word of God is clear that in the last days hearts will grow cold (Matthew 24). Hearts will not grow warmer and warmer…hearts will grow colder and colder. Look at our culture – we are becoming desensitized. We are so over-exposed to the sufferings of this world that it’s become the norm. Somewhere along the way, we began to insulate ourselves by placing layer upon layer over our hearts and minds and we began to detach and grow cold. II Timothy 3 also says something about this and we should be disturbed about the day we live in:

“1But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. 6They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, 7always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth. 8Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these men oppose the truth—men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. 9But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.” II Timothy 3:1-9 (NIV)

I used that particular passage of scripture as a checklist marking true or false next to each characteristic about the culture in which we live. I also used it because this particular passage that Paul wrote is regarding Christians and our hearts growing cold, not just the unbelievers around us. Let’s look at some of the characteristics. “People will be lovers of themselves…” The lexical dictionary defines this as self-love, self-centered, an undue sparing of ones’ self with the primary concern that things be easy and pleasant for one’s self. Latter days characterized by people asking, “How can I spare myself from this and how can I get by without this causing me any discomfort or distress”? Love is such a challenge and surely the first place we are going to let ourselves off the hook is in this area…loving people we can hardly stand to be around. We will naturally look for an out in this exact area. I know, because I kept rationalizing “she’s so difficult to get along with”, “she’s hard to like”, “she’s a tough nut to crack”, “she makes others in the group uncomfortable”, etc. We can convince ourselves “they’re not worth it anyway”, “they don’t care anyway”. All the while, God was and is calling me to love both of them – not my way, but His way. This one is too important to God. We will be tested on this one over and over and over again. Your jackhammer may be a person who came with your life package. As I stated in the opening paragraph, this person may be a family member, an in-law {I should note I am thankful for God's answer to many prayers for my husband and in-laws}, a step-parent, a co-worker, a boss, an employee, a small group member, a small group leader, someone we do ministry with, a neighbor who just will not move. The people who drive us the craziest are the ones who we will be challenged to be around often or it would not drive us so crazy. I'm not talking about those you easily connect with because of similarities in your personalities, I’m talking about someone who challenges us on an ongoing basis and nearly drives us to drink. Your personalities may be the opposite. Maybe it’s a high maintenance person who thinks that all we have to do in life is jump through their hoops. Those kinds of people who don’t think we have lives beyond them. The person who there is not enough we can do and they aren’t appreciative of what we’ve already done. I’m talking about someone who may at times have a critical, negative spirit. This person leaves us so frustrated and so empty that when we leave, all the food and drink in the world could not fill us up. Get your person in your line of vision. I’ve got mine – they are our “jackhammers” and definitely the thorns in our flesh. These people are boastful, arrogant, self-centered. The kind of person who talks about themselves all of the time. You recognize them because every time you have a conversation with them, it’s all about them and not one time do they ask how you are. If they ever do turn to you, they want to hear what you have to say about them. If you tell them you prayed for them, they want to know what you prayed (Ack!). Globeheads: they are the world and all the planets revolve around them. Self-centered. We know the kind. Somebody miserable and so co-dependent and absolutely draining us dry. It’s someone we’d say brings out the worst in us. Who do you picture when I say, “You can hold it together around everyone else, but not with them”? You simply come unglued in their presence or shortly thereafter (like I did). Every time you are around them, you get injured. We end up with nasty, hooky thorns in our flesh. After I researched and soaked on this new insight, I had to ask myself, “which one am I?” Am I the person who gets injured or the one who does the injuring? The truth: we are both at times. I write this because one of the most unsettling thoughts is that I’ve been someone else’s jackhammer...sandpaper...thorn...difficult person...unlovely. I know there are times when I’ve gotten under someone’s skin and driven them batty (I am so very sorry if you are reading this and that has been you). This is coming from one who has been just the most messed up person in the world. I was a hess of a mess. Ultimately, there are times when the table turns and we are someone’s “jackhammer”… the iron sharpening someone, we are their sandpaper…thorn…difficult…unlovely person. Ouch!

Luke 6:32-36 (NIV) 32"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. 33And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. 34And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. 35But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (emphasis mine)

“Sons of the Most High” does not mean that by loving people we will become children of God. We who believe in Christ and have become followers of His are already His sons and daughters. What it’s saying is this, “You will never look more like your Father than when you love the unlovely.” NEVER. This is something that we talk about but something that is the most difficult to live out. This is probably one of the most difficult challenges we are called to over anything else thrown our way. It's the test we just don't seem to pass so we have to go back and repeat the lesson, which gets more difficult each time, by the way.

What if we added another element to our mix? Someone who does not love us. Needless to say, the woman with the conflict in her schedule cringes whenever she hears my name. She won’t say it to my face, but I can assure you that she does not care for me in the least. Five years later, I can only pray that has changed. Little does she know I pray for her and would still to this day shepherd her in a crisis. It took two days for God to bring me back to that point full-circle. I am actively loving someone who does not love me. That’s a hard one. It reaches right down into that rejection factor that each of us has. There is nothing more challenging than to love someone who you and I know will turn right around and reject us over and over and over again. Or they may have begun by rejecting us – we have never known their love; we have never known their approval. When we walk with God, we truly know what to do and we know this is something He wants us to do. I don’t think we lack the “ want to”; I think we lack the “how to”. We know what to do, but we lack the knowledge and insight into how to do it. How is supposed to be a reality? The reality of our experience tells us nothing is harder. How are we supposed to resemble our Father who makes it His business to love people who do not give Him the time of day? They scorn Him, mock Him, reject Him. We will never resemble our Father more than when we love that kind of unloving person.

I John 4, the directives are here for how you and I are going to love those who drive us absolutely crazy. First, we’ve got to know ~ I mean have it as part of our belief systems ~ and be resolved about knowing the love God has for us. In other words, if we are not convinced that we are well loved, then we will never love well. Loving well will come from having been loved well ourselves. And it’s got to start with God. We cannot do ministry if we are looking for approval from those we minister to. Not effectively anyway. You and I have to get our love and identities from Christ ~ not the hurt ones we are reaching out to. That's unhealthy. I had to ask myself and I kept asking for weeks, “Above all else, are you most convinced in your heart of hearts…do you know that you know…do you know “in your knower”…could you bank on it…are you resolved and rely solely on the fact that God loves you?” That’s perfect love; perfect, unfailing love. Proverbs 19:22a (NIV),What a man desires is unfailing love;” It’s what everyone desires when you get right down to it. A love that is perfect, unconditional, never fails us. Let me just go ahead and state it: Nobody has that EXCEPT God. One of the best things we can do as healthy followers of Christ is to let people off the hook of being God because they aren’t and they will fail us many times over. However, they won’t fail us as often if we’ll just let them be the men and women God has called them to be. Frail, flesh, and blood. Only God can love like God. Only God’s love is unfailing, perfect, and unconditional in its nature. It’s complete in every way. In our most terrifying moments, we’ve got to be able to rely on the love God has for us. We’ve got to be completely selfish on this one ~ knowing the love God has for each of us. We’ve got to be selfish about knowing the love God has for us so that we can go out our doors and be selfless. Our prayer should be, “Lord Jesus, Fill me up today. You’ve got to do it here so that I can go out and do it out there.” I John 4:16 states three very powerful words: "God is love." I’ve read it 1,000 times at least, but it was not until this past year that I began to grasp what it actually means. You see, love is not just something that God feels or He does – He is. It is His essence. His “DNA”, if you will. Let me use this example: Gray (aka DH or Dear Hubby :) is a man. I am a woman. We may have a disagreement and not see eye to eye in every area, but it does not negate the fact that Gray is a man and I am a woman. It’s what we are ~ not what we feel. No matter what happens, no matter what life throws our way, it does not change the fact that Gray is a man and I am a woman. God is love ~ it’s not just something He feels or something He does; it’s who He is. No matter what happens, circumstantially, that will never change. That’s why you and I cannot mess up His love for us. We cannot. Because it would be like changing me from being a woman ~ it’s part of who I am. You can bruise me, cut me, but you cannot make me different than how God made me. There is nothing we can do to make God not be love. Nothing you and I could do will change that because it’s part of Who He is. Love is His DNA ~ He cannot help Himself! To have God not love us in our minds one particular day is to say, “God’s not God today”. Because love is who God is. I don’t know if that means anything to you, but that gets me to the core of my being. We’ve got to know and rely on the love God has for us. 1 John 4:19 (NIV) “We love because he first loved us." I’ve always thought this verse meant that we love God because He first loved us because there are other scriptures that imply that same type of thing. However, when I check the context, it’s really saying that we are to love others because God first love us. It’s all about loving other people, not just loving God. It’s essentially saying that we are freed up to love others because God first loved us. Not that they love us, but that God loves us. So often, our love whether we realize it or not, will be self-seeking and self-centered in that we want a love who will love us back. That’s just a natural reaction ~ it’s acting or reacting as the natural man. But you and I are not mere men. I love what the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3 (NIV): “why are there jealousies and quarreling among you? Why milk and not meat? You’re acting like mere men." As followers of Christ who’ve died to our old natural ways, you and I cannot use the excuse the natural man can use because we are filled with the Holy Spirit of the Living God. We are not mere men and women. We are filled with the very Spirit of Christ. And what the Word is saying is this, “I can be so certain of God’s love that I am freed up to love someone who does not even love me back because I’ve already been loved and loved back by God.” We’ve got to know Somebody fiercely and radically and totally loves us. But if we want that to be unchanging and we want to totally rely on it, know it to the death, then we’ve got to get to know God. That is, to study His Word, I mean dig deep and find the nuggets of truth and wisdom and pass that love and those nuggets onto those around us. Often times, God has to bring out the very worst in us in order to bring about the very best in us. “For I’ve been crucified with Christ.” Therefore, I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. © 2005-2010 Extra!Extra!

Author's note:
Being a small group leader carries a certain weight and responsibility with it. Back when this incident happened, I processed this with God, and my faithful small group coach, Leslie. We took time to discern what was going on behind the scenes and what was being said between the lines. I was willing to step down as the group's leader if I was a hindrance to their growth. Ultimately, it all worked out and the truth revealed itself. It was in the group's best interest to stay with our night and so we did. This person was just mad because they did not get their way. Isn't that what being mad is about anyway? We get mad when we don't get our ways. This life lesson has probably stayed the closest to me. God used it to grow them up and to grow me up as a leader. I don't like not being liked, but I knew I was pleasing God by reaching out to her and staying on His mission so I could face myself in the mirror each day and sleep at night. I have no doubt this article is a work in progress because I am a work in progress. I want to also note that if someone is in an abusive relationship, we don't go the distance in those cases (loving the unlovely), YOU RUN ~ as fast as you can! Biblical love is not blind so take off those rose colored glasses, get help and run to the Father and out of that situation.

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