In March of this year a young woman walked in to a Tennessee church’s school and shot and killed three 9-year old children and three adults. She was described as “transgender” and a person with emotional problems. If you weren’t already aware of this terrible tragedy you are now. And my question is, as a Christian, how will you do in loving her? In showing her mercy and forgiveness? I can be honest in saying it wasn’t my first or even second reaction. As I was working on this new series about the fruit of the spirit I was challenged, however, to do just that – to love someone who seems unworthy of that love.
You may be familiar with the stories of Jesus and the disciples coming face-to-face with what were called “demon-possessed” people. Here’s one such story from Matthew 8:
“28 When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way.29 “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” 30 Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding.31 The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”32 He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. “
You notice the line: “They were so violent that no one could pass that way.” I imagine the townspeople hated and feared these men. Yet, Jesus healed them. He loved them, just as He loved the townspeople who didn’t know Him and were so frightened of His abilities they sought to drive Him out of town. He loved these two men just like He loved the disciples standing next to Him. These vile, dangerous, murderous men. He loved them enough to not leave them sick and imprisoned with whatever demons had infested their brains. He freed them to live the life God intended. And although I cannot have hope for the Tennessee shooter’s soul – because the actions led to her death – I can grieve out of love that her heart, mind and soul had been twisted by this world.
As the vitriol around the world has increasedI can’t help but see the fertile ground we have tilled for Satan to blossom. For modern demons to take root in people’s minds and hearts. The angry faces on the news, the destruction of property, the glee people express when someone they don’t like is “brought down” – it’s all symptoms of a world turning toward fleshly pursuits rather than the eternal. And love? Even love has become distorted.
“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” Luke 6:35
Loving our enemies has become, instead, love whatever people do and whatever they desire. On the contrary, Jesus’ reaction to every single person He met, whether murderous or not, was that living sinfully led to eternal death. The wordly version of “love”—do whatever feels good — was never His message. When we hand out needles to drug addicts we aren’t loving them, we are helping them destroy themselves. When we turn a blind eye to fellow Christians living sexually immoral lives, we aren’t loving them, we are giving them a fast track pass to slavery.
This challenge to love one another as Jesus did faces us Christian almost daily. What does this love look like? How can we love a person who kills innocent children and adults, at a church, no less? It seems too impossible. And it is.
I recently heard Pastor Wayne Barber say, “True faith, real faith results in an obedient person of God. The obedience is the bloom, the fruit.” That fruit cannot be created by us just as I cannot make the lettuce grow in my garden. God creates the seed, the soil, the water, the sun and the mystery of how it all comes to together. All He asks of me is to plant what He provides. To water it and then enjoy it. As with all the fruits of the Spirit in us it’s a melding of the work the Spirit does in me and the actions I choose to take in order to fully enjoy those fruits. Or put it this way: to do the one thing I have available to honor God’s provisions in my life – to glorify Him with my daily actions and worship. So how does the impossible become possible? This week we will look at three ways to live fully in bloom with the fruit of love.
Firstly, as a Christian seeking to do God’s will and live a life in full bloom, we need to accept this concept of love is not a choice. It is a command. It is the Royal Command from Jesus.
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. John 13:34
Jesus loved Judas. Need we say more? He loved the pharisees who hated Him. He loves you. Yes, you, who sins on a daily basis. You grieve the Holy Spirit probably every day in some way or another. Either by ignoring that person in need, holding on too tightly to your treasure, having an inner hatred for someone, not forgiving that relative, taking the Lord’s name in vain, being selfish, and more. Yet He loves you. You’ve stepped on His foot more times than He would want to count. You’ve disregarded Him. Ignored Him. Falsely testified about Him or maybe even pretended you didn’t know Him. And He loved you. He loves you and me enough not to want us wallowing in our sinful chains but rather seeking Him to blossom and live in freedom.
I tell you my friend, the opposite of love is hatred. And hatred kills. It imprisons us. It creates an ugliness that permeates into every pore of our being. It is that hatred or anger I came to realize, along with my pride, being the root of a very bad habit — my cursing. I’ve tried for many, many years to stop. It wasn’t until I realized the Spirit was already in me and I was fighting against it that the seedling of love for others began to sprout. The Holy Spirit, sent to guide us until Jesus’ return, is living in every one of us who has accepted Jesus as our Savior. It is there, showing us, guiding us, admonishing us. It’s the tap on our shoulder saying, “Be kind. Forgive her.” It’s the great battle of whether we let the outer world rule our hearts or the inner world of the Holy Spirit take control.
When considering this command to love, especially those who have harmed us or others, take a moment to consider Saul. He hated the Jews and especially Jewish Christians. He was murderous, feared and downright despicable. He terrorized and destroyed communities. And on his way to Damascus to do more damage, oblivious to God’s love for him, Jesus sought him out. He brought light into the darkness of Saul’s heart. The conversion of Saul to the ever-faithful disciple of Christ, Paul, might be the greatest love and rescue story in all history. He was loved even in his blackest days. Loved enough to be sought after by Jesus. He didn’t have to accept this change – because the life path set before him would be the most difficult he would ever face. But he did. In doing so the Christians around him were also faced with a difficult decision – to love him as Jesus did. To love him even though. Imagine Paul coming into a community he had torn asunder. They stood at the edge with a decision to make. To show the world what real faith looks like or to turn their backs on God.
I once read that God is love. He made us from His love to enjoy this world along with Him. When He sent His Son for our final cleansing He was telling us, “I know you’ve messed up beyond belief. I want you to be made righteous to stand next to me in all eternity.” An eternal bond of love, never to be broken again. He’s asking us to mirror that for all the world to see. To live in the hope that Jesus can cleanse a blackened heart. And in doing so the owner of that heart may take his or her place next to us as children of the One Most High. So today, think of who you seem unable to love. Ask God, ask the Holy Spirit to cleanse your heart and bring about a tender sprout of love. Have faith, real faith, without doubting. I know hard it sounds. I’ve done it. I love a few people who don’t seem to deserve it based on the world’s rules. When I did as Jesus commanded it changed my life completely.
Coming up: Hatred breeds the weeds in our heart.