I grew up hearing my dad jokingly say, “Do as I say, not as I do!” I didn’t understand it as a kid, but as a parent now, I definitely do. It’s funny how the one thing you don’t want them to repeat or do is the one thing they seem to pick up on. The good news is that they pick up your good habits as well. They’re just not as noticeable sometimes because they’re not embarrassing. I love that every trash day my son offers to take our next door neighbor’s trash can to her house. At church, he wants to open the door as people exit. He watches our behaviors and then mimics them. It makes us proud as parents when our kids do the right thing, show kindness to others and make us look good as parents doesn’t it?
Sometimes we forget that you and I are children of God and our actions reflect on Him. Galatians 5 gives us the Fruit of the Spirit that we are to exhibit in our lives. When we spend time with God and learn from Him, our lives reflect the qualities He has. The great news for us is that it’s already in our DNA. Genesis tells us that we are made in His image. Just like a child naturally does things that their parents do, so too we do things naturally that God has put in us. There are times though that our sinful nature takes over and wants us to behave opposite of the way God wants us too. That’s why it’s important to choose ahead of time how we will react to things, know what we will say and choose our attitude daily to reflect the love of God.
Ephesians 5:1-2 says, “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” (MSG). One of the greatest ways we can reflect our Heavenly Father on this earth is to start loving others the way He does. The verse, “God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8 NASB),” comes to mind. We need to love others extravagantly whether or not we think they deserve it. The world will know us by our love in action. Don’t hold back. Give God’s love out like you’re made of it, because you are.
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We’ve all heard the saying that actions speak louder than words. We can probably all think of someone who is all talk and no action too. We have very little confidence in people who rarely do what they say. You never know when to believe them. I’ve had friends, coworkers and acquaintances who are like this. It’s no fun to be associated with them because it creates a lack of trust in you as a person. I don’t ever want to be known as a person like that. I want to be known as a person who does what they say or can at least own up to it when I can’t deliver on what I promised.
As Christians, we need to be concerned about our reputation because we don’t just carry our name with us. We also bear the name of Jesus Christ. It’s not just our reputation we’re tarnishing, it’s His. Knowing that, our lives should reflect the work He’s done and is doing in our lives. The love He’s shown us should be something we give out each day. 1 John 3:18 says, “My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality“ (MSG).
A life lead by love is one that doesn’t just talk about loving others, it does it. It shows up in the smallest ways throughout our day. Too many times we try to think of doing great things to the point that it keeps us from doing anything. I love the quote by Mother Teresa that says, “We can’t all do great things, but we can all do small things with great love.” If you and I will focus on doing small things today, showing God’s great love, we will make a difference in the lives of others. Doing great things isn’t what makes the difference in life. It’s doing the small things consistently. Today, look for something small you can do with great love, and bless someone.
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Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.
1 John 4:7-12 NLT
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Throwback Thursday is a new feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other writing ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.
I grew up seeing things very black and white. I believed I had a firm grasp on all the rules in the Bible. The way I interpreted those rules was simple, if you broke any of them, you were going straight to Hell. There was no room for mercy or grace in my mind because those things don’t follow the rules very well. They aren’t easily definable and didn’t fit into my black and white world. It wasn’t until I got older that I began to make room for those in my mind and in my life. The more I looked at the things Jesus did, the more I saw that He wasn’t about the rules as much as the Pharisees were.
One of the stories that helps me to see differently is in Luke 13:10-17. Jesus was teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath. There was a woman listening who had arthritis so bad that her body was twisted and she couldn’t look up. Jesus saw her, laid hands on her and healed her. The head person was furious with Jesus. He said, “Six days have been defined as work days. Come on one of the six if you want to be healed, but not on the seventh, the Sabbath.” But Jesus shot back, “You frauds! Each Sabbath every one of you regularly unties your cow or donkey from its stall, leads it out for water, and thinks nothing of it. So why isn’t it all right for me to untie this daughter of Abraham and lead her from the stall where Satan has had her tied these eighteen years?” (MSG).
Jesus was telling them and us that it’s not just about the rules. We’ve got to have compassion, mercy, love and grace too. As I said, those don’t always fit into our predefined understanding of the rules, but Jesus constantly showed us that those things trumped the rules we try to force people to live by. Jesus was constantly at odds with the legalism of the Jewish leaders and did things like this to help open their eyes to what God really wants from us. A life led by God’s love for others will always yield more fruit than one bound by legalistic thinking. Yes, we need the rules, but without compassion we miss the point.
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One of the places I find myself at odds with mainstream Christianity in America (and maybe you too) is how we treat non-believers. In today’s culture, Christians are under attack for our faith. There is a war for the heart of this nation that we find ourselves in. The problem is that the enemy uses people and groups to attack us, and we fight back with these groups of people. We’ve forgotten that our fight is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and rulers of the unseen world. We never once read where Jesus attacked the people who were attacking Him. Instead, He loved them and fought against their spiritual darkness by bringing light.
We as Christians have been called to be salt and light. Who needs those? People who are living in the dark and need God’s flavors sprinkled in their life. How can we bring light when we are constantly attacking the person? How can we show them how to taste and see that the Lord is good when we consider them our foes? We’ve can’t afford to be distracted by the enemy and fall into the trap of attacking others. We are to be known for our love rather than our disdain. How can we show God’s love when we are meeting hate with hate?
In Colossians 4:5, Paul urges us, “Be wise in the way you act toward those who are not believers, making good use of every opportunity you have” (GNT). His message was to the Christians there to remind them of the roots of their faith. I believe we too need that reminder. We need to pray for wisdom in how we show God’s love to those who are against our faith, and that we do it in a manner that is pleasing to Him. Our mission hasn’t changed. If we want to turn this world upside down again, it’s going to come from God’s love through us not from our human attempts to force change.
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To me, one of the scriptures taken out of context the most is 1 Corinthians 13, also known as “The Love Chapter”. It’s been used in nearly every Christian wedding, hung on the walls of our homes and quoted to people in Love about how they should love their spouse. The truth is that it has nothing to do with loving our spouse. It’s about loving people with God’s love that’s in us in order to point them to him. We can do all sorts of things for people that bring us glory, but if we don’t love them in a way that points to Him, it’s pointless.
The last verse in the chapter is probably the most recognized one, but I want to look at it in the Amplified version which adds context to the original meaning. It says, “And now there remain: faith [abiding trust in God and His promises], hope [confident expectation of eternal salvation], love [unselfish love for others growing out of God’s love for me], these three [the choicest graces]; but the greatest of these is love.” I believe love, in this context, is the greatest because love of this sort offers God’s grace and makes us more like Him.
The first verse in the next chapter continues Paul’s thoughts on the matter. It says, “Pursue [this] love [with eagerness, make it your goal].” That kind of love isn’t natural for most of us. It’s something we’re going to have to desire to have, and we’re going to have to pursue it. It’s going to require us to pray for it and to put it into practice in our lives until it becomes a part of who we are. To have unselfish love for others should be the goal of every one of us, especially since Jesus said we would be known for our love for one another.
Today, think about what that love likes like coming from you. What can you do to show someone God’s love? It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture that goes viral on social media. It can be a simple word of encouragement, a prayer for a friend in need, a purchased cup of coffee for the person in line behind you, a warm meal for a homeless person, or a call to someone feeling lonely. These unselfish acts of love don’t have to change the world, but if we do enough of them out of God’s love for us, it just might.
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I once was invited to a dinner that all of my upbringing was telling me I shouldn’t go to. After praying about it, I felt in my heart that God was telling me to attend. I consulted with my pastor about what to do. He simply asked, “What would love do?” While at the event, I couldn’t help but notice the people there were society’s outcasts. My heart broke because they were living life in No Man’s Land, and weren’t even accepted by Christians (including myself). This ragtag bunch had found each other, but I was saddened that none of them would step foot in a church because of how they would be received.
My prayers up to attending the event were, “God, let me show your love whether I speak to anyone or not. Give me the courage to do what you’ve asked and to be a light in darkness.” At the event, my prayer changed to, “God, these people need you. Put someone in each of their lives who will demonstrate your love and tear down the walls they’ve built to keep you out.” I kept thinking of my pastor’s question. What would love do? What did Love do? He came and died for this group of people as much as He died for me. I was no more worthy of His grace than they were.
I recalled when Jesus called Matthew to follow Him. Mark 2:15 says, “Later, Levi (Matthew) invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.)” (NLT). Then the religious leaders called Him out on it. Why was He having dinner with this group of people? They were so bound up by religiosity and the fear of what others would think, that they couldn’t understand that’s what love does.
You and I have to be careful that we don’t fall into the same trap as those religious leaders. We need to be more concerned with what God thinks of us than other people. We need to be more concerned with the souls of people than our reputation of being a “good Christian”. Jesus showed us what love does. It goes where others won’t, loves people that seem unlovable and invites them into a relationship with their Creator. It’s not easy doing what love does, but we’ve got to get better at it if we’re going to bear His name.
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