9. Radical Ministry of Love
"Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn't love in order to get something from us, but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that." Ephesians 5:1-2
An American was walking down the streets of a Chinese city. He was greatly interested in the children, many of whom were carrying smaller children on their backs, and managing at the same time to play their games. ‘It is too bad,’ the American sympathetically said to one little boy, ‘that you have to carry such a heavy burden!’ ‘He’s no burden,’ came the quick reply; ‘he’s my brother.’ ‘Well, you are gracious to say so!’ said the man, and he gave the boy some money.
When the American reached home he said to his family: “A little Chinese boy has taught me the fullest meaning of the words, ‘Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.’ “ He told them of his interview, and added: “If a little Chinese boy can carry and care for his brother and refuse to consider him as a burden, surely we ought not to think it a burden to carry our little brothers, the weak and the needy ones, who look to us for help. Let us rejoice as we carry others, and say by our actions, ‘He’s no burden; he’s my brother."
"Love your neighbor as yourself." Romans 13:9
Are any of us capable of this type of love on our own? Definitely not, but Philippians 4:13 states: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." So by admitting we are incapable of loving others in our own strength and asking Jesus for help, we discover He will love through us and love is the key that opens the door to all things. At times this radical relational lifestyle stretchs us past our comfort zones, but living on the edge with Jesus is the only way to live.
1. Why are relationships important?
Relationships are an essential part of our spiritual survival. They present opportunities to selflessly give of ourselves. These sincere relationships are something money can’t buy. They are formed through time coupled with honesty, transparency, and the sharing of joy and the sorrows in life.
Relationships are also wonderful sources of support, encouragement, joy, companionship, and inspiration especially during times of crisis. If we choose not to have relationships and isolate ourselves into a lonely existence, our chances for spiritual survival are not as good.
There are several different levels of relationships: 1st level are acquaintances, we know them by name along with having heard some of their life story; 2nd level are friends, we’ve shared time with them in a variety of circumstances and they know our weaknesses as well as our strengths; 3rd level are secret bearers, we’ve entrusted our inner most secrets to them and they most likely have shared theirs with us; 4th level are close members of our spiritual family.
Here is a short list of Biblical characters who put God’s love into action in their relationships:
Joseph forgave his brothers. He then provided food for them and their families.(Genesis 45:1-15)
Ruth worked in the wheat fields in order to provide food for Naomi her widowed mother in law. (Ruth 2:17&18)
Esther risked her life by speaking to the King in order to overturn a royal decree to exterminate all the Jews. (Esther 7:3&4)
Jesus healed and fed the multitude because He had compassion on them. (Matthew 14:14-20)
The Good Samaritan took pity on a man that had been beaten and robbed. He bandaged his wounds, took him to an inn, and paid for his care. (Luke 10:33-35)
Mary anointed Jesus' feet with expensive perfume valued at a year's wages and then wiped His feet with her hair. This took place six days before Jesus was crucified. Bathes were not taken as frequently as they are today, so the fragrance of this perfume was reactivated by His blood and sweat as the Romans beat Him causing a sweet aroma. (John 12:3)
John, the only disciple out of the twelve that did not abandon the Lord, stood at the foot of the cross observing every act of shame and humiliation Jesus experienced at the hands of the Roman soldiers. (John 19:25-27)
The New Testament believers shared everything they had with those among them who were in need. (Acts 4:32-37)
Dorcas sewed robes and other clothing for the poor and the widows. (Acts 9:39)
When God sees us in need He goes into action. We are to do the same for others when an opportunity arises and especially go the extra mile in helping the Junkyard People.
2. Who are the Junkyard people?
They are those who have come to believe they are unlovable, valueless, and unforgivable. They are people who have been damaged, broken, and discarded like useless cars in a junkyard. In order for these people to achieve their God given destinies, it sometimes requires members of the Body of Christ act as tow trucks. As we lovingly tow the people out of their misery to Jesus the Master Mechanic of their hearts, he will then repair, restore, and help the junkyard people move forward into their divine destinies.
Junkyards are notorious for having a ferocious guard dog. The "People Junkyard" is no exception, but the vicious dog that guards this junkyard is quite different from other junkyard dogs. The People junkyard dog is all bark and no bite. His teeth have been removed. Who is this dog? Satan. Jesus pulled out Satan's teeth on Calvary's cross. Because of this victory, the tow truck people can fearlessly pass the toothless guard dog.
3. What stops us from loving others?
Fear... it can be the by-product of personal painful life experiences involving rejection, abandonment, abuse, and other traumas. Fear presents the illusion it exists to prevent others from hurting us. The truth is fear exists to block us from receiving God's love, loving others, and the blessings of healthy relatiionships. If we are willing to face our fears and release them to Jesus, the Holy Spirit will empower us to receive love and give love like we've never been hurt.
4. What promotes healthy loving relationships?
Gentleness: showing concern by meeting the needs of others. 1 Thessalonians 2:7, "As apostles of Christ we certainly had a right to make some demands of you, but we were as gentle among you as a mother feeding and caring for her own children."
Hospitality: cheerfully sharing food and shelter. Hebrews 13:2, "Don't forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!"
Availability: adjusting personal desires around the needs of others. Philippians 2:20-22, "I have no one else like Timothy, who genuinely cares about your welfare. All the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ. But you know how Timothy has proved himself. Like a son with his father, he has helped me in preaching the Good News."
Attentiveness: give undivided focus to others' words and emotions. Hebrews 2:1, "We must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it."
Tolerance: viewing every person as a valuable individual. Philippians 2:2-4, "Make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one heart and purpose. Don't be selfish; don't live to make a good impression on others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself. Don't think only about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and what they are doing."
Deference: limiting our actions and speech in order not to offend others. Romans 14:21, "Don't eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another Christian to stumble."
Keep Secrets: don't repeat what has been entrusted to you. If the information is something you don't want the responsibility for, tell the person before they disclose their secret.
Sensitivity: knowing by the prompting of God's Spirit what actions and words will benefit the lives of others and what will not. Don't say things that represent others in an unfavorable light and don't repeat things that make people look bad - conceal it. (Prov. 17:9 & 11:13) Romans 12:15-16, "When others are happy, be happy with them. If they are sad, share their sorrow. Live in harmony with each other. Don't try to act important, but enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don't think you know it all!"
Active listening: Stop whatever we are doing. Give the other person our undivided attention. Look into the eyes of that person as they speak. Here's an illustration demonstrating this principle:
One day a 4 year old boy was playing with his toys at his Daddy's feet as his Daddy read the newspaper. The little boy began telling him of his adventurous day and the Dad would only respond with a generic "Ah Ya" and a nod of his head. After 5 minutes of this type of shallow interaction, the little boy shouted, "Daddy you're not listening to me!" "Oh, yes I am." said the Daddy as he continued to read the newspaper. Out of frustration the little boy grabbed the newspaper, crawled up on his Dad's lap, and placed his little hands on each side of his Daddy's face. Then he pointed the Dad's eyes right at him. The little boy then said, "Daddy, I want you to listen with your eyes!"
How often do we find ourselves giving just a nod of response instead of truly listening? Real listening requires our undivided focus on the one speaking by keeping our thoughts on what is being said not on what we want to say next. If we realize we have not been exercising active listening skills with others, resolve to practice active listening skills and forgive yourself for past failures.
5. What is forgiveness?
Forgiveness means to pardon, to excuse, set free, and wipe the slate clean. Let the past be the past. Forgiveness doesn’t need to be accompanied by a current good feeling. It is simply a choice or a decision. The emotions will match up with our forgiveness over time... its a process. We need to be patient with ourselves.
Forgiveness creates freedom for the one forgiving and the one being forgiven, it enables you to receive God's forgiveness, and it prevents a person from becoming bitter. Bitterness is a cancer of the soul. It must be dealt with or it will defile you and your family. Don't deal with the symptoms, deal with the root. Ask yourself what you are afraid of. Your answer reveals your area of bitterness.
Forgiveness is experienced from a belief based in love and faith. Forgiveness also circumvents the creation of new fear based beliefs which produce havoc in our lives. This process is to be used when you find yourself in an uncomfortable emotional state and you have an inappropriate response to the present situation. The way to change how we respond to our current fear based emotions doesn't require anyone else to be involved in the process. It simply requires that we lovingly forgive ourselves for creating the identified false belief and release the grief associated to it to God. Then create a new love based belief to replace the old fear based belief that is no longer one we choose to remain in bondage to.
6. Why is forgiving myself so important?
Unforgiveness keeps us bound to fear based beliefs and forgiveness releases us into beliefs based on love. "Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." Matthew 18:18 Jesus also said we are to forgive without limits. "Then Peter came to him and asked, "How often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?" "No not seven times." Jesus replied. "But seventy times seven." Matthew 18:21-22
Jesus is addressing forgiving others, but have you ever considered the idea that we can sin against ourselves? Well, its true. Give this some thought. Every time we miss the target of not being true to ourselves by living out love based decisions, actions, and words, we sin against ourselves. In Matthew 22:39, Jesus addresses the importance of the principle of loving ourselves, "Love your neighbor as you love yourself."
If we don't love ourselves unconditionally, we won't be able to love others unconditionally. Because how we love ourselves will be exactly how we love others. If we refuse to not perfectly love ourselves through forgiveness, our fear based emotions will continue to thrive.
"Love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear." 1 John 4:19
Self forgiveness might take on the form of involving the following steps: Recognize we have believed in the illusion of Smoke & Mirrors, we have been responding to and making decisions based on those illusions, we take responsibility by creating new love based beliefs, we acknowledge we are in complete control of shifting ourselves from the fear paradigm we have been operating in, and finally forgive yourself for the responses you generated that may have been detrimental to yourself and those you care about.
Forgiving others isn’t accepting the role of a victim nor does it excuse or ignore the behavior or minimize the act or pretend it never happened or say it doesn't matter. True forgiveness doesn’t need to be accompanied by a current good feeling or emotion. Forgiveness doesn't surrender justice. Forgiveness isn't necessarily forgetting. Forgiveness is a merciful decision. When we show mercy we resemble Father God at that moment more than any other. Forgiveness is the required element for resolving anger and receiving emotional healing. Reconcilation isn't possible in some relationships, but forgiveness is always the right choice.
"We have all been created for greater things - to love a person without any conditions, without any expectations. Works of love are works of peace and purity. Works of love are always a means of becoming closer to God, so the more we help each other, the more we really love God better by loving each other." ~ Mother Teresa
7. In what ways can I show Christ's love?
Opportunities to love others are not always planned and may come at unexpected moments. Every time we hug our children, sincerely ask a co-worker ‘How you doing?’, or smile at our neighbor is love in action. With the break up of the family structure and the mobility of society, many are missing the emotional support they need. This produces loneliness. Loneliness is at epidemic proportions. It isn’t restricted to the elderly. It is a way of life for many single people as well.
Here are some suggestions for putting God's love into action: Practice hospitality. Write a letter or send an email of encouragement. Make a phone call. Speak truthful and positive things that boosts their self-esteem. Provide a need they have like clothing or food. Do an activity with them they enjoy doing. Deliver a home cooked meal. Visit them when they are in the hospital or grieving from a profound loss. Do tasks around your home, church, or office that no one else enjoys doing. Give money to meet a need without any strings attached. Pray with them or at least let them know you are praying for them. Include them in family functions especially during the holidays.
Spiritual Survival Handbook by Kathleen Kaplan. Copyright © 1999. All rights reserved.
Holy Bible New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc. All rights reserved.