I have always struggled with the concept of tough love. To be honest I have often felt the term was used too broadly. Some have used it when they don’t want to enable someone to make unhealthy choices or continue to engage in sinful behavior. Others apply it when the hard work of loving becomes too inconvenient, using “tough love” as an excuse to move on rather than acting in the best interest of someone else. Few of us would admit to the latter. But I think if we were to examine our deepest motives, the ones we don’t want others to see, in one way or another we have all used the “tough love” card as an easy out rather than doing what real love requires.
So in the spectrum of the relationships we have with others, where does tough love fit? What is it and how should it be applied? When should it be used and what should the state of our hearts be when we use it? These are the questions that have been rattling in my head lately. I wish I had a definitive answer. But scripture does give us a true definition of love and that’s where we should start.
In the renowned 13th chapter of 1st Corinthians Paul lays out for us what love is. Many of us are familiar with at least a few of love’s many defining traits: “ Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” When I look at this list I am reminded of how my sinful nature is quick to defy loving others.
How often am I really patient with others? How often do I walk through one day without an envious thought? How often are my motives truly not self-seeking? I am humbled by this passage, especially when I think about how God’s love is perfect towards us in all of these categories. No matter what we do, God’s love does not fail.
When I think of love as Paul describes I do not picture a warrior toughened by battle ready to protect themselves from an oncoming enemy. Instead I see a shepherd with a staff ready to look out for the needs of others. I see a father patiently waiting for his son to come home. I see a savior, entitled to all things divine, but choosing to be hung on a cross so that others might live. I see love emanating from within rather than a protective barrier keeping things unloving out.
This type of love is radical. It’s open. It’s freely given. And it can be heartbreaking. To give of ourselves in love of another and not have that love take hold in their life is painful. But we are still called to love. How often do we grieve the Holy Spirit with our thoughts, our actions or our apathy? But still God loves. And so must we.
It is my conclusion that real love is tough. It’s tough to be patient. It’s tough to be kind. It’s tough to always hope, to always persevere, to keep no record of wrongs. But the reward is worth it. For when we love we get a glimpse of God’s undying love for us. And the more we realize His love, the more we love others. Thus a beautiful cycle of grace, redemption and growth is begun.
Our love for others is not conditioned on others. It is conditioned on Christ’s example for us. We love unconditionally for we are unconditionally loved. It is my heartfelt prayer that as a church we recognize our need for God’s love while fulfilling our calling to love others so that they too recognize their need. May others see Christ in us because of the depth of our love for them and may we continue to bow in worship of the One whose love knows no depths.Read More
I have a good friend that as suffered an almost incredible series of health issues over the last few years, culminating in a series of hospital stays, failed operations, good reports, bad reports, and the separation from his beloved family, friends and students. The maddening ups and downs remind me of something written by Camus.
You remember the “The Myth of Sisyphus” from Greek mythology where a poor soul was condemned to struggling to push a rock up a hill, only to have it roll back down, obliging him to begin his labors anew. This is how I would describe Emery’s situation. (BTW, please pray for him by name).
Yet in all of these trials he is able to maintain a good attitude and is serving as an excellent witness to God’s love and the power of the Spirit and writes continually about his faith and thoughts about God’s grace. His attitude is: (Romans 8:31-39) “What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?...
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I pray for him daily and we exchange encouragement constantly. He’s my friend but more so, my brother.
How many of us become discouraged when life hands us bitter circumstances; I do sometimes. But we can be sustained.
Job 5:7-9 says “but human beings are born to trouble just as sparks fly upward. As for me, I would seek God, and to God I would commit my cause. He does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number.” I’ve seen it work.Read More
We have been talking a lot about love at Immanuel. In Matthew 5, Jesus gives us the ultimate command to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. Presumably, Jesus is not talking about people that you simply do not like; nor is he talking about relationships within the church. He is talking about enemies that would like to see you ruined, destroyed or worse.
How are we supposed to love people like that? One clue is verse 45 of the same chapter. Jesus says, “(God) causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” In other words, God’s love for humans is indiscriminate. His love is such that it highlights our limitations to love. For instance, if I were in God’s place and I was aware of the hearts of all men, I would certainly want to bless the good guys with rain and hurt the bad guys with some type of acid rain.
But God doesn’t do that. Why? Because I’m pretty sure we’d all get the acid rain. Who really deserves the love of God? If my enemies don’t deserve God’s love than I certainly don’t.
The book of Romans talks about enemies too. But in this case, we are the enemies. It says that we were once God’s enemies; and in spite of this, he sent his son to die for us. So if God loved us, even though we were his enemies, what should be our response to our enemies? Love! It’s the kind of love that wants the enemies’ good just as much as the good of those for whom we are affectionate.
God’s love falls on our enemies just as much as it falls on us. And the only reason we are no longer considered his enemies is because of his love.Read More
By earthly standards, it had failed. Their highly effective youth program shut down due to a building that needed too numerous repairs to count, exceedingly dwindling finances, and only 15 remaining members. Many in their shoes would have lost hope. If it were a business, the doors would have long been shuttered, its employees shifted to a new location or left on their own to find new lines of work. A not-for-profit would have thrown up its hands for lack of funding and found new ventures to try with a new target audience to help.
In an area of strife with poverty, violence and indifference, no one would have blamed them for quitting. Sure they might help a few people, but is sacrificing so much for so few really worth it? Certainly they had given enough, perhaps it was time for them to pursue their own dreams, focus on their own families, or simply move away from the heartache they faced every day.
But God had told the membership of the little Methodist Church on the corner of South Union Avenue and 44th Street that there was still work to be done. So they stayed. They prayed. And they continued to pour themselves out into the neighboring community they had grown to love. They became the local site for the county food pantry. They held weekly neighborhood feasts where everyone was welcome to share in the meal and fellowship at no cost to their families. They became a host location for a national youth organization, allowing their humble building to house hundreds of teens each summer who were impacted for God by their service to neighboring communities.
And through their obedience to God’s calling, they impacted me. Having been a member at a large (some would call “mega church”) for most of my life, my husband and I chose to join a significantly smaller, local congregation that served the city where we lived. We definitely went through a period of adjustment. Gone were the seemingly unlimited resources, the latest sound technology, the abundance of volunteers and gorgeous architecture. Gone too was the ability for us to just be one of the crowd, to allow others to do faith for us while we nodded our approval.
Of course there are many people who have tremendous faith in large churches and there is nothing wrong with having an abundance of resources, people or nice locations. God uses large congregations in fantastic ways. But for us, we needed to be pushed. We needed a faith community to challenge us, grow us and expect us to do the same in return. Ten years later, our small church has now become family – people we cry and laugh with. Pray with. Cheer with. Lookout for each other’s kids with.
At times however I must confess that being part of a smaller faith community with very limited finances and volunteers has its challenges. It’s hard sometimes not to compare ourselves to other congregations in the area that seem to have so much more and wonder whether we are really having an impact.
But then I remember the little Methodist Church and I am reminded and encouraged that no matter the size, God can and will use a faithful people to build His kingdom. In fact in Matthew 18:20 Jesus promises us that even where only two or three of his faithful gather in His name, He will be there. That is powerful encouragement! So take heart church. Continue to be obedient to God’s calling. Rest assured that God’s work through us is never in vain. By the world’s standards we may be small but in Christ not even the gates of Hell can stand against us. (Mathew16:18)Read More
In the past months it has been a volatile time for us as Christians. We have seen judicial decisions that go against our beliefs; we have seen leaders promoting ideas and passing laws that grate at our consciences, and with the looming elections we know that there are candidates that will only accelerate what we perceive as the breakdown of our country’s moral position. What are we supposed to do in the face of this?
First of all we know that “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities, there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1b) Sometimes this is hard for us to swallow; it is for me anyhow but when we accept this it actually relieves from the burden of civil disobedience and frees us to do what God desires us to do.
Do we seethe when we see evil men abuse political power, using it for evil ends, sure we do but we need to remember that God means it for good, following his plan. We may not fully understand that plan but we remember that: “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Does that mean then that we should sit back and meekly accept what happens as God’s will? I don’t think God would have us do that. There are plenty of examples of “civil disobedience” in the Bible. Consider the book of Daniel where Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down to the golden idol in disobedience to King Nebuchadnezzar’s command or when Daniel refused to abstain from prayer to anyone other than King Darius. These would have been sins had they followed these commands. The line is drawn when we are commanded to sin.
Peter and John were arrested for preaching about Jesus and put in jail. The religious authorities were determined to stop them from teaching about Jesus; however, Peter said, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19–20). Later, the rulers confronted the apostles again and reminded them of their command to not teach about Jesus, but Peter responded, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
• Christians should resist a government that commands sin, civil disobedience is permitted when the government’s laws or commands are in direct violation of God’s laws and commands. We should however work nonviolently within the laws of the land to change a government that permits evil. We need firstly to vote but also to write letters and exercise our free speech to lovingly declare Christs love.
• If a Christian disobeys an evil government, he should accept the consequences. Did the workers in the underground railway or the Christians that hid Jews from the Nazis break the law? Yes technically. Was it in support of God’s teachings? Yes, most definitely. Did they suffer for their efforts if caught? Yes, again
• Christians should be encouraged to work to elect new government leaders. Only to remember that God is sovereign and his plan may be beyond our understanding. But we need to speak truthfully, act lovingly and therefore, at least, grasp the moral initiative, and do right in subjugation to our God.Read More
What is the difference between someone who tries to earn their righteousness (person A) and someone who knows that righteousness can only be received by the work of Jesus Christ (person B)?
Person A works really hard at doing things that will prove they’re righteous.
Person B knows there is nothing they can do to earn righteousness. It has to be received as a gift.
Person A asks, “doesn’t all my good work account for something?”
Person B says, “God doesn’t owe me anything, yet he loves me so much that he sent his son to die for me.”
Person A wants credit.
Person B wants Jesus.
Person A says, “God loves me, and the proof is all the good things I do.”
Person B says, “God loves me, and the proof is Jesus on the cross.”
Person A is resentful of other people’s blessings.
Person B celebrates when good happens to others.
Person A hides their sin that cannot be seen.
Person B confesses to others their sin that cannot be seen.
Person A defends their righteousness by comparing themselves to others.
Person B loves others because they are keenly aware of their personal need.
Person A puts themselves in the position to never be wrong.
Person B puts themselves in the position to receive God’s transforming grace.
Person A doesn’t actually need Jesus. They have it all figured out.
Person B understands that every breath is a gift from Jesus.Read More