|Me and my in-laws...we are very different, but there is love|
As a lot of you know I currently am leading a Ladies Bible study at my church on Tuesdays from 9:30-11:30, we provide childcare and we go in the upstairs education rooms and enjoy coffee/tea, and home baked goodies as we study God's Word. This past fall we studied The Confident Woman by Joyce Meyer and starting on Feb 1st we will begin this new series on Building Better Relationships.
Feel free if you can't join our church Bible study to purchase this little study book yourself on amazon.com, it's only about $6 and read along with me as I post my thoughts and insights on each chapter.
God's Timing is always perfect and we ALL struggle with a relationship or two at any given time because we are all sinners and we are all human and we live in a sinful world where we ALL make mistakes. This little book is great because it guides you right to Scripture where you can read first hand what the heart of the Lord wants of you in all your relationships.
Have you ever just said, "All I want is peace?" "I don't want all this drama in my life!" or "Can't we all just get along???" Yep, I bet you have, because I certainly have! Thanks to godly friends praying for me, a godly husband encouraging me, prayer and studying God's Word I am learning how to "be at peace with all men, as far as it depends on me!" (Romans 12:18) That will be a Bible verse the whole family should memorize, right? Because relationships can be challenging, and they are a lot of work, but God designed all of our relationships to show us how important it is to love one another, to show grace and mercy to others, to be kind, to forgive, and to live at peace with all men! Can we do it in our own strength? Absolutely not because the world will not always be gracious, merciful, kind, or forgiving to us. We need God's help! Let's see what Chapter 2 was all about!
Chapter 2: Loving Our Neighbors
"The goal of this chapter is to help you understand the biblical truth about loving others as much as we love ourselves."
Who is our neighbor? Your next door neighbor, the person you see at the grocery store, the person driving in front of you, a person at your church, a person in your child's class, a person on your child's soccer team, a family member, a friend, someone other than YOU!
Matthew 22:39 command us to love others as much as we love ourselves. Love is an action verb. When we love someone we look out for them, we take care of them, and we choose to prefer him or her.
Here are some ways that we may show that we love OURSELVES more than we love our NEIGHBORS.
1. Do you excuse your neighbor's behavior as graciously as you excuse your own? For example, when you arrive late to church you bless your tardiness with the excuse of the kids, the slow drivers on the road, the phone call you had to take, but when someone else shows up late you might quickly label her inconsiderate and disruptive.
2. Do you accept your neighbor's emotions as easily as you accept your own? When you are sad or depressed it's because your family's situation is difficult, the dog died or your mother is ill. If your neighbor gets depressed you accuse him or her of self pity.
3. Do you guard your neighbor's good reputation as carefully as you guard your own? You don't gossip about yourself. However, you may not hesitate to tell your friend about the lazy mother who doesn't clean her house.
4. Do you take actions to ensure that your neighbor is well fed, clothed and housed as your own family? If your neighbor is unemployed and without benefits do you share your paycheck so the family may pay their bills and buy groceries and clothing with the same ease that you pay for yours? Would you be willing to cancel a vacation to bless a missionary friend?
5. Do you forgive your neighbor as readily as you forgive yourself? If you dent the front fender of your car, you probably won't hold a grudge against yourself. But if your neighbor borrowed your car and dents it you might mentally or verbally accuse them of driving carelessly or too fast.
A Closer Look at God's Truth
When Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment he said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." The second greatest was to "love your neighbor as yourself." Matthew 22: 37-39
Notice how none of the commandments teach us to love ourselves. We already do a GREAT job of that! God wants us to put Him first and then to put our energies to getting to the business of loving others!
Scripture maintains that Christian love is best demonstrated in our actions not our words! Actions speak LOUDER than words.
1 John 3: 14-15 says,
14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.
What does this say about the seriousness of our relationships with one another? How do you feel as your read these verses?
If you do not love your neighbor you are living a life of death because if you aren't loving them then you are actually hating them. And hate is like murder to God. It is that serious. We are to be loving! There is no way of getting around the issue of how we are to be treating other people.
We know that God loves us because He sent Christ to die for us while we were still sinners! He loved us so much He died for us. Our love should be that BIG that EXTREME.
Think about what your definition of love is...
Here's mine: Love is willing to forgive any wrongs. It sees past the sin and sees the need for a relationship with God. It wants to do what is right to all people and it always goes above and beyond and runs the extra mile. I've been so blessed to have people like my husband and my family to love me like this. They know my greatest mistakes, my greatest faults and they STILL love me. Christ knows everything about me and He still died for me and all my sins. If I have people and God loving me like that, then my gift back to God and to my family and friends, and to my neighbor is to extend that same forgiving and extravagant love. God's love is so extravagant and it feels so good to be loved like that. Our hearts are meant to desire that kind of love and God calls us to love each other the same way!
A Closer Look at My Own Heart
Luke 9: 23-24:
23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.
What does it mean to you to take up your cross daily?...
For me it means, to deny myself, deny my rights, deny my feelings, and look to the best interests of others and always put God first. I find that when I'm focused on my feelings, my rights, my this or that, I start to get a very ME centered approach and look on life. I start to get very selfish and really start not caring about God's perspective or the other person's perspective. I have found it to be much more freeing to take the high road, so to speak , and let God deal with the difficult people in my life, but my job is to love them, honor them, respect them, and treat them BETTER than they treat me or than I want to be treated. When I focus on my needs I forget that God wants me to look to Him for strength in loving the difficult people. And you know what? God does give you the grace to put your own feelings aside and fill it with love. I can honestly say I've prayed for many a people where I just needed God to show me how to love them and He really has!
What do you think a definition of self denial is?
Mine is: Self denial is putting God first, others second and myself last. It's choosing to love the unlovable and sand paper people in my life. It's always ready to forgive and give someone a second chance, a third chance and even a 40th chance. We put the needs of others before ourselves because we have faith that God will take care of our needs. We trust Him to fight our battles and bring justice to where need be. We don't take matters into our own hands or seek revenge, or withdraw, or not forgive someone who has hurt us.
Here are some reasons we may have difficulty in denying ourselves: Which ones do you find you can relate to? And remember it's not about YOU...:) I say that with love and kindness but as a gentle reminder...
A. Self importance: If you walk into a gathering and you are wondering who will speak to you, who will notice you, who will remember your birthday or prayer request, you are choosing self importance. Our job is to deny self importance and welcome the lonely, talk to the quiet person in the back or the woman all alone. Listen to the ignored. Sit by someone who is hurting and offer a hug.
B. Self occupation: If you arrive at a meeting with your list of people to see and things to do, you may be so self occupied that you ignore the hurting people around you or fail to hear a person telling you that she will have surgery the next day. To deny self importance is to remember to say, "Hi, how are you doing?" Before blurting out a question such as, "Can you help with Bible school next week?" Too often we only agree to help people when we are free to choose the time, the place and the way. Sometimes, people need help when we've already got plans. Sometimes we have to skip our own To Do list and put another person ahead of it!
C. Self affection: If you overtalk about your vacation, achievements or family members at the expense of another's need to talk, you are allowing self-affection to ruin your listening skills. How well do you listen? Do you listen for an opportunity to bring the talk back to yourself or do you listen to really understand the other person?
D. Self protection: If your ego wants to defend itself against criticism and correction, you are putting self-protection in the forefront. When you are in the self protect mode you criticize the person who dared to criticize you (and sometimes we criticize people not to their face but behind their back or in our minds).
E. Self inspection: If you check your feelings to see if you should attend church, read the Bible or say yes to intimacy with your spouse, then you are letting your feelings override God's instructions. (Whoa!) How much wiser it is to check your decisions or commitments. God calls us to live in obedience to His Word and His Spirit; He does not call you to obey your emotions. Love is a verb. Actions speak louder than words.
F. Self sufficiency: God has decreed an interdependent lifestyle for believers. We are members of one another (see 1 Corinthians 12:27) Is it difficult for you to allow another person to change a tire on your car if you have a backache, or bring you a meal after just having a baby, or to clean your house? To deny self-suffciency is to admit that you need help and will receive it when offered. Because then you miss out on the blessing of someone blessing you and you also hurt the person who was trying to bless you when you say no.
Can you think of more examples on this self denial list?
John 13: 34-35 says
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Romans 13: 8-10
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,”[a] and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Think of all the reasons why you should be loving your neighbors as you love yourself:
Here are mine:
1. All people will know we are Jesus disciples by our love...
2. God loves us in this extravagant way
3. We fulfill God's law when we love others
4. We have a continuing debt to God to pay and that is a debt to love one another...now that is a debt I don't mind paying!!!
What can you do different today?
*Really listen to what people have to say when they are speaking to you.
* Be aware of other peoples emotional and physical needs above my own.
* Love others in an extravagant way.
* Get rid of my pride and allow other people to help me.
* Forgive again and again and don't keep score.
* When I go to church on Sunday or to the store with my kids really look for someone to bless and even pray for God to put someone in my path.
Next Tuesday we will read and share about Ch. 3 Honoring One Another...it's a good one!