Love Them Anyway

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Friends and enemies.

Encouragers and persecutors.

Jesus said “Love them, do good to them.”

Everyone, Lord?

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:44)

Time and again Jesus posed a question following a question and finished with “Go and do likewise.”

And so He gave the perfect example of doing just what He calls us to do.

He submitted to the Father and endured hatred from His enemies and persecution from those who were blind to the Truth out of His love for us…and for them.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  (Luke 23:34)

Then He breathed His last, “Tetelestai!”  It is finished!  The debt we owe was paid in full. Ours is to receive that free gift, humbly seek to live out the love evidenced by truth that paid it, and return that agape love – that gift – to others.

They were kind to me…love them.

They wounded me…love them anyway.

They spoke words of encouragement to me…love them.

They tore me down and maligned my character…love them anyway.

They agreed with me…love them.

They disagreed and would not listen…love them anyway.

They found my words helpful and wanted to hear more…love them.

They ridiculed my beliefs and my love for you, Lord; they rejected you…love them anyway.

They made life easy for me…love them.

They made life miserable for me…love them anyway.

What that love looks like may be different and, yet, always the same.

“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” I Corinthians 13:6

We won’t love our enemies like we love those who love us; still, we love by choice.

Jesus knew that; it is why He said to do both – pray for them and love them, knowing we cannot pray for someone without it changing our hearts to initiate a compassion for them even as we ask Him to transform their lives through a relationship with the living God!

Love can only be achieved by submitting our disdain, anger, hurt, and pride to Jesus who redeemed us, not just to pay our penalty for eternity, but to make us more like Him; to bear His image well and to break our hearts for what breaks His.  In obedience, as we pray for those we consider “enemies,” or for friends who have wounded us, we will supernaturally begin to love like Jesus; we will begin to desire a heart change in them and in us.  If we do not have concern for the lost or reconciliation among brothers and sisters in Christ – regardless of their “reason” or their attitude towards us – we are blind to Calvary love.

Love speaks the truth and does not change it to suit the situation or the audience.  But love that extends from a heart submitted to Christ is kind and patient; it does not pick and choose who is worthy of love. It is hard, but it is good.

Loving someone may mean saying hard things, those that will not “feel” loving or kind; and yet, doing so in a way that reflects the heart of God rather than our prideful one – speaking to bring healing and change rather than to be “right” is love of the purest kind.

Love is bold and responds out of obedience to Christ, so it does not compromise nor does it excuse behavior.  We can be angry about the sin that ensnares their hearts and ours, but the love He calls us to is not haughty, arrogant, easily angered, or rude.  It extends the grace of God but does not cover the offense.  Instead, it offers the reality of what was done at the cross.  It remembers that, apart from the grace of God, we would be His enemies.  Apart from Him softening our hearts and opening our eyes, we would still be blind to the truth – that redemption and the ability to run in freedom from sin is made possible by the love of God through Christ’s work on the cross and His resurrection!

Apart from His grace and our continual feeding on that grace, we are entangled by sin that so easily weighs us down and causes us, in pride, to look and live with our own eyes and hearts instead of His.

If He calls us to something, we can do it!  But it takes the total grace of God, the choice to submit our wills to Him and begin to pray for their heart change and their redemption.  And, when we have opportunity, to do good to them and provide for them even if they don’t deserve it; provide the way out then walk alongside them in the process.  We cannot will ourselves to “feel” love for someone; but we can, by an act of the will, be faithful to do what God has told us to do, even if we don’t “want” to.

Love is bigger than the “rightness” of our cause; it is intended for the redemption and restoration of souls.  It is intended that our “enemies” and our friends see and come to know the living God who has a made a way.

Love is an action.  Love is a choice; a decision to submit our hurt, our wills, and our desire for justice to the God who knows our hearts as well as those of our enemies and our friends.  We act out of that obedience not out of our emotions.  Sometimes it changes their hearts, but it always changes ours.

They are friendly…love them.

They are harsh…love them anyway.

They love truth…love them.

They hate truth…love them anyway.

They love me…love them.

They do not love me…love them anyway.

Then leave the results to the God who is exceedingly able to redeem and transform our enemies…and us!

Set It Free – Forgiving When It’s Hard

“Forgiveness can do much for one; forgiveness can do very much indeed.”

Sometimes it’s hard to let go of legitimate hurt.  You have been let down, wounded deeply by a close friend, and you find yourself reeling from the betrayal.

We may be annoyed by a stranger or an acquaintance speaking against us or acting in a way that hurts, but the close friend knows our hearts and we have allowed them a place of intimate confidence.  Trying to trust again can be daunting because “…only a friend comes close enough to ever cause so much pain.” (Michael Card)

In the midst of that situation, I have found myself shaking my head, yelling into an empty room to “get it off my chest” but knowing the words spoken would not be helpful were I to speak them directly, especially in the same tone.  They would not “be useful for building (the other) up according to their needs.”  (Ephesians 4:29).  Rashly speaking my mind might feel good for the moment, but it is not God’s intent and can ultimately deepen the rift and impede the settling of my soul as well.  But simply maintaining silence can be equally as painful to both parties; there is a better way.

I have been humbled by the Lord’s gentleness, bringing me down from my rant and calling me to His heart; reminding me that holding on to hurt wounds me deeper and could hinder the healing process between me and my friend.  Bitterness is not the answer.

Jesus was betrayed; that was the focal point of the Michael Card song above and, while I did not betray Jesus as Judas did, I have betrayed Him with my own sin more times than I can count.  Yet, He died for me and forgives me every time I bring my ragged self before Him as I seek to relinquish my sin more each time.  He has called me, to no less; and, if He calls, He equips.

If I choose not to forgive, no matter how large or small the infraction, then, as Amy Carmichael wrote, “I know nothing of Calvary love.”

But does that mean we simply ignore the injury that caused the pain, whether it be intentional or unintentional on their part? Is that amnesia helpful to the other or do we each need, at times, to give the loving accountability of one who wants the best for the person who offended me but also for the relationship as a whole. Are we willing to receive the same?

Certainly, there are times the intent of another is laser focused and meant to injure; but far too often the other person has not denied self or has allowed self preservation to open a breach in wisdom.  The result?  A word spoken too quickly, a confidence given up, an action that defies reason when at the hands of one we have entrusted.

“Real love demands pursuit…The Bible never says ‘Make it easy for others to sin against you.’* (Lane and Tripp)  Rather, we are called to pursue peace through reconciliation.

As Mathew 18:15 says, “If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him – work it out between the two of you.”  But we go prayerfully, with the goal of bringing truth to light and unity back to the relationship.  We humbly pursue, asking the Lord to show us if we have played any part in the conflict.

Certainly, in the case of old wounds, we may simply have to lay past hurt at the cross and walk away from the pain that we feel if not the person.

But, when the wound is fresh and we fail to honestly seek a better resolution, we run the risk of pressing it down without bringing complete healing and the danger is two-fold.  It can leave the one who offended us feeling as if they did nothing wrong, which is not healthy for them.  And it can create a bitterness we do not even realize exists until an incident later arises that causes the pain to resurface and our response to be even more pronounced.

God calls us to reconciliation with one another.  He calls us to bring conflict into the light where nothing is hidden and the darkness can be dispelled.

Proverbs 27:6 says, “faithful are the wounds of a friend.”  Words that bring healing, painful as they may be, are “truth spoken in love” but aptly so.  In this conversation, the words are intended to bring our sister or brother to understanding, to see behind their actions or their own words to the “why” so they can have eyes that comprehend and a humility that leads to repentance first to God and then to the one offended.

Certainly, we must ask the Lord to give us words that are healing, that are constructive; not with the intention to crush but rather to restore.  Words that bind up not tear down.  And in that time of asking God for our own heart to speak wisely, we cannot fail to ask that He be working in their heart as well so that they will receive it as intended.

What will it take to put aside our own pride for the good of our friend or one we love? Is the healing of a relationship worth the effort?  How can we step out of our comfort zone to a place where conflict might result but restoration and reconciliation will likely follow?

We know that bitterness hurts our own relationship, first with Christ and then, not just with the other person, but with all to whom we are close.

The ease with which we slide into placing that same mistrust on another is frighteningly simple; the way the enemy of our souls causes us to “see” with blind eyes and “hear” with deaf ears things that are not so is far too subtle and swift.  So, the question is not how can we put aside pride and the fear of conflict, but how can we not?

Sometimes we want to feed our bitterness; to stand in our “right” when they are “wrong.”  But perhaps, before a word is even spoken, it would be more beneficial to choose something about the person for which to give God thanks even if it feels like a chore to do so and even if it is a small thing.  A minute by minute dose of gratefulness will do much to re-order our hearts and attitudes.  Our hearts are made more pliable by obeying His command to be thankful even as we ask for healing.

“…in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”  (Philippians 4:6)

It can transform bitterness into deeper forgiveness.  Small obediences can change our hearts.

In a conflict with a friend, the totality of “love” is put on the line and only God, who is perfect in love, can empower us to work through the wounds of one who has acted unlovingly and seek repair through a love rightly expressed by words and actions.

“Love 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.”  (I Corinthians 13:5-7)

The enemy desires to stoke flames of bitterness between believers because it hinders each person’s walk with the Lord and each person’s focus on the God of grace who has forgiven us so much and equipped us to walk securely.  Even as we hope for the other person to have a humble heart, to “take every thought (word and action) captive,” and to speak and hear truth for the purpose of reconciliation, we must be willing to do the same.

Friendships, relationships, can be messy; but they are also opportunities for seeing God’s grace firsthand and for extending it to another.  It is often costly. We may not receive the response for which we hope, but our call is to obedience and to reflect the Savior well regardless. God cancelled our debt on the cross through Jesus; we must be willing to do the same.

And, if they have humbly asked for forgiveness, can we do less than accept their offering? The enemy loves to push us to stoke anger and let it develop into bitterness, doing further damage to our hearts and the relationship.  But God calls us to extend His grace to restore a cherished relationship.  We give and receive a gift when we forgive, no matter how big or small the offense.

In this situation and in others that will arise, I pray for eyes to see and a heart that increasingly seeks the best for whoever I find myself in conflict with; trusting that God can take what the enemy meant for evil and make it even more beautiful and redemptive in His time!

“Forgiveness is both a past event and an ongoing process into the future.  It is a past promise you keep in the future…When we choose to practice true forgiveness, the relationship is not just brought back to where it was before the offense; it actually moves further down the road to maturity.”  (*Timothy Lane and Paul David Tripp, “Relationships: A Mess Worth Making”)

FORGIVENESS by Matthew West

It’s the hardest thing to give away

And the last thing on your mind today

It always goes to those that don’t deserve

It’s the opposite of how you feel

When the pain they caused is just too real

It takes everything you have just to say the word…

      Forgiveness

      Forgiveness

 It flies in the face of all your pride

It moves away the mad inside

It’s always anger’s own worst enemy

Even when the jury and the judge

Say you gotta right to hold a grudge

It’s the whisper in your ear saying ‘Set It Free’

      Forgiveness, Forgiveness

      Forgiveness, Forgiveness

      Show me how to love the unlovable

      Show me how to reach the unreachable

      Help me now to do the impossible

      Forgiveness, Forgiveness

It’ll clear the bitterness away

It can even set a prisoner free

There is no end to what it’s power can do

So, let it go and be amazed

By what you see through eyes of grace

The prisoner that it really frees is you

      Forgiveness, Forgiveness

      Forgiveness, Forgiveness

I want to finally set it free

So show me how to see what Your mercy sees

Help me now to give what You gave to me

Forgiveness, Forgiveness

Thoughts on Walking in Forgiveness

  • Stop. Pray.  Ask God for a heart to see own sin even as we go to another; pray for both hearts.
  • By keeping account of wrongs, we do not let it go. Share our hearts, open doors for restoration, and move on.
  • If we nurse bitterness, we are sinning against our brothers and sisters and we are sinning against God ultimately hurting ourselves. Choosing forgiveness over nursing wounds will bring healing.
  • When you walk away in anger from anyone who does not agree with you or assigning evil intent to that person, you are missing the grace of God that seeks truth.
  • When you grow angry with anyone who confronts you and either use your anger towards them or cut them out of your life, you are missing the grace of God.
  • Choose to “think on” and listen to music and other “inputs” that remind us to forgive as God forgave us.
  • Choose to cultivate thankfulness.

Repairing Burned Bridges

God’s grace given and received repairs burned bridges, dismantles bitterness, and restores peace to the soul.

I love the times when God gives me the grace to step out of my comfort zone so He gets the glory.  Sometimes that involves a task for which I don’t feel equipped.  Sometimes it means reaching out to someone either I know dislikes me, for reasons real or imagined, or to someone I have hurt or who has hurt me.  Either way, it is taking God at His Word and watching Him do “super abundantly more than I can think or ask!”

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The enemy of our souls loves to make us fearful of situations and to take wounds we have received to nurture bitterness in our hearts towards others.  He loves to feed our insecurities and/or our indignation.

But God says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”  (Romans 12:18)  Not peace at any cost.  Not peace at the expense of Truth.  But where we are able to take that step and allow God to repair bridges that have been burned by hurtful actions or words; where we can say “Please forgive me” or “I forgive you,” that is where the healing begins not only for the other person but for ourselves.  And that is where God is glorified.

Our God shows His power in our weakness.  He urges us, by His grace, to act and asks us to respond to His promptings.  Will we ignore and choose to feed our resentment or our apprehension?  Will we justify our response?  Or will we, in humility before the Father, act according to His Word and reap the blessing of obedience?

Sometimes that blessing will come in the form of a healed relationship and sometimes it will be realized in the peace God gives simply because we have said, “Yes, Lord” and left the ultimate outcome to Him.

Recently, fear almost got the best of me.  I encountered an acquaintance who had become angry with my husband and I over a situation that we had not intended but had since taken measures to correct.  I knew I needed to speak – God made that clear and I was willing…until she got closer; then fear started to creep in and my desire to avoid the possibility of her anger again almost took over.  I began to justify my hesitance with thoughts such as “What does it matter now?” and  “Why put myself out there; we are only acquaintances not friends.”  But the Holy Spirit’s nudging continued and I moved towards her.  What ensued was nothing less than more of God’s superabundant mercy.

Understanding replaced anger; a common ground replaced fearfulness.  A burned bridge was rebuilt with a surer foundation.

I could have turned the other way and continued to nurture an attitude that probably never would have hurt the other person, for truly our paths rarely cross.  But the reality is that the attitude left unchecked would have changed me.  My self protection would clearly have been contrary to God’s call to “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”  (Hebrews 12:15)

The enemy of our souls loves to take that which we leave unfinished, the small “root of bitterness,” and from it create a chasm by way of an unloving and unforgiving spirit.  Whatever part we have in the smoldering bridge, we must bring it to the cross and let the grace of God change us rather than let it slowly burn, eventually touching even our closest relationships.

There will be times, as has been the case before for me, that apologies will not be accepted, that another will not allow a passage to be rebuilt, that the relationship will not be restored.   But that is the “as far as it depends on you” part of Romans 12:18.  As we act in obedience and ask God to bring the healing and restoration as only He can, we are also modeling the grace of God before the other.  It is not our responsibility for them to accept that outreached hand, but it is the call from our Redeemer to offer it.

And, if the bridge is restored, we are to be the one to take the first step across and walk towards another for God’s glory and our great joy!

“Only love for Christ has the power to incapacitate the sturdy love for self that is the bane of every sinner, and only the grace of Christ has the power to produce that love.”      Paul David Tripp

 

Forgiveness is a Choice

“Why did it have to be a friend
Who chose to betray the Lord?
Why did he use a kiss to show them?
That’s not what a kiss is for.

 Only a friend can betray a friend 
A stranger has nothing to gain.
And only a friend comes close enough
To ever cause so much pain”   (Michael Card)  

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied Himself…” Philippians 2:5-7

A word is spoken, a deed is done, a spark is lit, and a fire rages.  The wounds of a friend can burn deeply and leave a pit so vast that it takes our very breath away.  We weep and others weep with us.  We cry out, “why?” with few good answers; the silence is deafening.

It is at those times that we, who have been redeemed by the Savior, have to hang on to and live out the Truth on which we stand.  It is not always comfortable to position ourselves there because everything in us wants to lash out and change the circumstances.  We want to establish that we are right and we want others to come alongside and battle with us.  Having others encourage us is right and good.  Paul tells us in Romans 12:15 to “weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn” and certainly broken relationships cause us to weep for ourselves and others who love us will share our pain.  But we must take care that it doesn’t become a bashing that leads to bitterness among many.  (Hebrews 12:15)

To look at a situation and see the insanity and hurtfulness of it is sometimes reality.  To lovingly confront sin in a brother or sister for the purpose of restoring them is commanded.  To devotedly face that one who has injured us and ask for answers or share our pain is part of relationships and it is good. But when the conversation does not bring answers or does not end in the way we would like or when their response is less than agreeable, we have a choice.

We can certainly “blame” another for our hurt, our wounds, and our attitude because they have truly done something hurtful.  But is that our “call?”  Will it bring peace and comfort to our souls and healing to the relationship?  To give up our pain is not to deny another’s sin or hurtful actions nor to make light of them; neither is it to absolve the other from any guilt in their decisions.  Rather, it is to go beyond what we “feel” and see and to be obedient to and imitate our Savior, who humbly gave up His rights and forgave those who rejected Him and ultimately asked the Father to forgive those who crucified Him.  And  His Word is clear, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18) and “Above all, love each other deeply because love covers a multitude of sins.” (I Peter 4:8)

The other person may need correction and, depending on the severity of the action, consequences, even punishment.  But apart from that aspect of it, we must focus on our attitude towards them and our response.  We can choose, in the words of a respected mentor, “to grow bitter or better,” to be submissive to God’s command to us and ultimately “strengthen feeble arms and weak knees” giving up our right to hurt the one who has hurt us or foster the pain and bitterness that will widen the rift between us and bleed out to others.  That is forgiveness; that is faithfulness over our feelings.

Hanging on to injuries of the heart is a choice to not give up “childish ways” (I Corinthians 13:11) which will wound us more deeply and for a greater length of time than the hurt caused by our brother or sister.  Additionally, it can spread like gangrene and create a bitter root that will be harder to dig out in our own lives and may defile others (Hebrews 12:15).  What does it mean to “defile something?”  To corrupt or ruin something.  How it must grieve our Father’s heart for brothers and sisters in Christ to have broken relationships, corrupted and sometimes ruined, because of our choice to nurture pain.

We can say, “It’s their fault that I am hurt” and it may well be.  But while the original issue may begin with another’s actions, we have a decision to let that grow into massive emotional destruction that has the potential to leave a barren wasteland or to put out the fire early and allow the process of healing and reconstruction to begin.

What we see and what we “feel” can often deceive. We can hang on to wounds from people, especially those we love, and allow them to fester or see them in light of truth and give them up to God to heal and use them for His glory and our greatest good.  We are responsible for our actions and attitudes not another’s response to them; so, when we stand and act on His Word, which is true, and don’t waiver, we will come out with a greater view of and deeper love for Him, a peace that comes from obedience, and an opportunity to point others to our Savior even if the circumstances don’t change.

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5 

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”  I Corinthians 13:11-12

“When injured, don’t try to harm; instead, try to heal. Start with rejoicing instead of retaliation. Seek reconciliation rather than revenge.”  (Philip Thurman)