Friday, November 18, 2005

Love

I feel like I need to preface this post with a statement: The following words, sentences, and paragraphs, are the somewhat consolidated thoughts of my heart. They may not always make sense, and my lack of great proofreading may cause you to misunderstand some of what I say. Please know that this is my heart, and this is how my mind thinks through things like this. If something is confusing please ask me questions and I will do my best to clarify my thoughts.


My sweet friend Aimee, who so kindly supplies me with the question of the week, sent me this email the other day:

“Hey... I was on the web... found this question and thought of you... it sounded like something you might blog about.

If I was able to unconditionally love as God does, how would I think, feel and act, and how different would my life be? How would other people respond to me?”


First, I love that I have non-blogging friends who send me stuff to blog about. I aim to please, and well Aimee brings up a great question that falls right in line with some things that have been floating around in my head lately. So I took her question and I added another dimension:

If I was able to unconditionally love as God does, would I?


I remember either hearing or saying this statement:

“But for Christ, the prostitute and the pastor are the same in the eyes of God.”

I now realize the error in that statement, it makes a horrible assumption, specifically that the pastor doesn’t know Christ. Ok, so that was supposed to be humorous but I can feel that none of you are laughing. But my point is valid.

Instead of my first statement I should say:

“With Christ, the prostitute and the pastor are the same in the eyes of God.”

Now I know some of you may argue that I’m making the same point with both statements, I’m just changing up the semantics, but I disagree. See the first one implies that these two people are different but become the same without Christ. Now this statement might be true some of the time but not all of the time, because the two people might not be different to begin with. The second statement is true all of the time. And that is important to note.

Why am I talking about this you ask? Well, because I’m convicted of how arrogant and unloving my heart can be and God is showing me in His tender grace what unconditional love really looks like.

Look back at Aimee’s questions for a minute. Ponder them.

If I was able to unconditionally love as God does, how would I think, feel and act, and how different would my life be? How would other people respond to me? If I was able to unconditionally love as God does, would I?

Now let’s look at the pastor and the prostitute. How do I love each of these, or better do I love each of these? If I do, is my love based on something?

I do love the pastor. He is a great man and has been a wonder spiritual leader to me as a teacher of the scriptures. He is a good man who is a loving husband, father, and grandfather. He is funny and silly and makes me laugh. He is tender hearted when it comes to the grace of God. He speaks with honor and respect for those in authority over him and for those who came before him leading the way. He is a good man.

Now about the prostitute, or feel free to substitute in any person, let’s take a drug addict for instance. Now I don’t get all warm and fuzzy inside about loving a drug addict. I can begin to make assumptions about them because of what I see in their lives. Or better yet, I don’t even need to see anything in their life and I can make assumptions. Addicts are screwing up their lives, they are hurting those around them, they are killing themselves, and they are wasting away. They probably don’t even know who God is. They probably aren’t good husbands or wives or parents. They sure don’t respect authority because they are participating in something that is illegal. They aren’t good.

So from the above it is obvious my love is conditional. But, you say, the pastor deserves your love, he is good, the addict doesn’t because he isn’t good. And I respond, when did being good become a determining factor for loving another? And then who decides what is good? You? Me?

And the greater question is who is to know the heart of the pastor and the heart of the addict? Maybe the pastor is just fooling everyone; maybe he is a wicked man living a lie of faith. Maybe the addict is lost, so far from God, but there is faith deep in his heart and God is working to grow that faith and to change this man from within.

So who do I choose to love now? Do I choose to love the addict and not love the pastor?

Why do I have to choose? Who says I have the right to choose?

And I know some of you are thinking, but Katie this is old school stuff. I know all this. I realize that we are to love each other and yada yada yada. Great you know this. Guess what I know it too, because I wrote it. But do you do it? Do you love?

And let’s make it even simpler, let’s take people you already know, people who you care about. Do you love them unconditionally? Or do you love them when they love you? Do you love them when they are nice to you and show that they care about you? Or do you choose not to love them when they hurt your feelings, when they forget about you, when they do something that you don’t approve of? Conditional love is never on a grand scale, it is measured by centimeters and moments. We choose to love, how to love, when to love, and how much to love by how we feel we are loved. It is a numbers game where everyone comes out the loser.

But we have the greatest example of love. We have the one who loves unconditionally, who loves us unconditionally. So if we are loved unconditionally by the one who is love then why are we conditional with our love?

If it is true that God loves unconditionally, then Christ and the Holy Spirit would both love unconditionally. This is proven by Christ’s actions to those around Him, which we see throughout Scripture. Now if the fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control, then the same kind of love that Christ possesses we would possess by the Spirit.

What I’m trying to say is that I can love unconditionally if I love by the Spirit. If I allow God to love through me, then yes, I can love those around me unconditionally. But as in all things, “I” get in the way. I choose to allow conditions and expectations to cloud God’s love of others through me. I choose to limit and censor God’s love for those around me. So I have the opportunity, I have the ability to love unconditionally but I don’t, and that is a horrible realization.

Now what happens when the drug addict becomes a pastor? Does my love for them now change? And if it does, why? Has this person changed or have their circumstances changed? Have they become more worthy of my love? Or have I just determined that I am now willing to give them my love because I am now accepting of who they are? Conditions, conditions, conditions.

Yes, we are new creations in Christ, yes the new has come and the old is gone. But Christ didn’t die for the pastor instead of the addict. He didn’t die for the saved. Christ didn’t come to earth, take on the form or man, and spend three years in ministry going to the poor, the broken, the beaten down, the ugly, the unwanted to save the pretty, the good, and the worthy. Christ came to earth to change the ugly to beautiful, to heal the broken, to quench the hunger and yearning of the addict, to love the prostitute, the give worth and value to the poor, to give life to the leper. Christ came for the ugly, the nasty, the worst of the worst, which is me, which is you, which is all of us.

Who you were means nothing to Christ. Do you really think that He can look at a man or a woman and say “you have wandered too far for me to save you” or “you are just not worth my time, my life”? No Christ came to those who needed Him, to those who were lost without Him; He came for the pastor and for the prostitute. Both need His forgiveness, both need His grace, both need His unconditional love.

And if Christ commands us to love our God and to love our neighbor, who are we to set up conditions for who is worthy of His love and therefore our love? Who are we to withhold that which was so gracefully bestowed upon us by the Lord? We are the ugly (clothed in sin), we are the broken (weak, unable to stand, hurting), we are the addicts (it may not be drugs or alcohol but we were all once addicted to the sin of this world), we are the prostitutes (giving ourselves out to this world, offering our bodies up to sin in all forms), we are those who He came to love, unconditionally.

Some of you may know Steve; some of you may read his blog Following God’s Will, and I'm going to use him as an example because I want to put a human face on this point. From his writings, it is evident that Steve is a man who has died to himself so that he may live in Christ. If you only scratch the surface of this man you will see a worship leader, evangelist, friend, son, brother, uncle, counselor, and a heart of deep and abiding faith. What you may not realize at first glance, is that Steve is a former drug addict, a recovering alcoholic, and a man who was ugly, broken, beaten down, and in need.

I hate to say this, and I am ashamed to say this, but four years ago I would not have been friends with Steve. I would have judged him and withheld any kind of grace and friendship because he was not what I would have considered worthy of love. That sounds so awful to hear myself say and my heart breaks that I could have felt that way, that I could have judged another person with so much arrogance. I am sickened by this realization and I am humbled by God's grace to change this in me.

The thing is that it shouldn't matter that Steve is a different person than he was four years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I praise God that He pulled Steve out of that pit and He calls him a son, a fellow heir with Christ. What matters is that through God, I can show love to the Steve of today and to the Steve of four years ago, and to the countless other people who I withold love from because of the conditions I place on them.

God in all His wisdom has opened my eyes a bit and showed me that all are loved by Him. I can’t understand it and I probably never will. How God can love the unlovable, how He can love those who hate Him, and rebel against all that He is. But God does love and he gives me the ability to love in the same way, in fact He calls me to love in the same way, because it was I, who was ugly and broken and nasty, who He first loved.

I want to move us past the “if . . . then . . .” statement for a moment. “If” gives you the opportunity to answer with what you “would” do not what you “do” do. “If” allows you to give the best answer, the “right” answer, not the real answer, and well people we need real answers in this world, not “right” answers, not “good” answers, not “if . . . .then . . . “ answers.

So back to Aimee’s questions, with a few changes:

Since I am able to unconditionally love as God does, how do I think, feel and act, and how different is my life? How do other people respond to me? Since I am able to unconditionally love as God does, do I?

These are the questions I ask of me today. This is the point I feel God is trying to make to my heart. Since I am loved by Him, since He is in my heart through the Holy Spirit, since I am called to love my neighbor as myself, what the heck am I doing?

We’re on the cusp of the holiday season. And while the Christian life should be lived everyday, no matter the holiday; this season, the days leading up to the celebration of Christ’s birth, the remembrance of: his act of submission to the Father’s love for us, the laying down of His spiritual garments and becoming clothed in flesh, His love for us that He would come to us as we are, that He would come to love us in flesh and in body, the love that surrounds that one miraculous moment of birth, of new life. This is when I ask myself, who I love and how I love them.

I wrote about miracles the other day and it is breathtaking to see the result of a miracle, to see the healing, the restoration, and the inexplicable event that changes a life forever. The thing we forget is that there was a “before” the miracle. There was something that needed that miracle, something that preceded it and that something was probably not pretty and easy and good.

Again I am drawn to the song Amazing Grace; before I could see I was blind, before I was found I was lost. The amazing thing is that I was loved no less or no greater at either moment. God’s grace means that His love is the same before and after the miracle. He loved me when I was blind, He loved me when I was lost, He loved me unconditionally so that I might see, that I might be found, that I might believe.

He loves the pastor and the prostitute equally.
Christ came for each, for both.
We are called to love each the same, to love each without conditions.
To love.

I’ve mentioned Steve, and I want to plead with all of my readers (even those of you who are silent) to go to his new site, Into the Mirror. He is telling, though his own eyes, the story of a miracle. I will not lie to you, it is hard to read, it is in no way sugar-coated, or censored, or anything other than truth. It is his story, the days filled with darkness, the path through the pain, but it is a story that we know the ending to. It is a story of redemption. It is the story of a miracle. It is a story of love; beautiful, wonderful, unconditional love of the Father for His child, for His lost son who He gave His one true Son upon the cross for. Read the chapters, listen to the pain, and see the unconditional love that leaves its fingerprints all over his story.

Miracles and love.

23 Comments:

Blogger Stephanie said...

Katie. This is blow-me-away amazing. Holy buckets woman, talk about hitting the issue right upside the head.

Thank you for opening my eyes to this.

I need to process.

11/18/2005 12:31 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

So my questions to you would be - what if Steve relapses (or anyone else for that matter)? Although you love them now, would you if they were to change for the worse, not the better? Can you still love the pastor if you find out he is a child molestor? Can you truly love unconditionally or are there boundaries?

The one part of the question you didn't answer was - how would other people respond. The one thing my parents never taught me was to love just a little. I love with my whole heart no matter what. And it freaks people out. They don't know how to deal with it. They somehow feel that they owe you something or they can't live up to expectations you might have or love you the same way you love them.

So, how do you think people would respond to it if they themselves cannot love unconditionally?

11/18/2005 12:51 PM  
Blogger Katie said...

And that leads me to the next question to ask:

How do we love unconditionally? How is that accomplished in this world?

But that is a post for another time, and I am still learning the "hows" day by day, and failure by failure.

11/18/2005 1:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My dearest Katie-

You are an amazing woman. I stumbled across your blog and I am just blown away. God knows what we need and when we need it. You are a wonderful encourager, keep it up. Many lives are blessed because you are so open and honest. Continue to be a light for God.

In Him~

Shane

11/18/2005 2:22 PM  
Blogger Katie said...

Shane - Thank you for your kind words, they encouraged my heart.

11/18/2005 2:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I better tell ya my last name, Barnard.. Thank you for the kind words you said about me.

11/18/2005 2:31 PM  
Blogger Katie said...

Hmmmm well Mr. (or should I say Mrs.?)Barnard, the funny thing is that I have this little thing that lets me track who comes to my site and well I'm pretty sure I know who you are and well Shane Barnard you are not. But that's ok, you said a very nice thing so I will just take it as an anonymous compliment.

11/18/2005 2:34 PM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

AAAAhahahaha!!!


Busted.

11/18/2005 2:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, I couldn't help it.. I know, I know, not very funny.. :D

11/18/2005 2:48 PM  
Blogger krisT said...

Katie~ thank you for sharing your heart with us. You are very talented and God has blessed you. I know each day when I visit your blog *many times during the day* that I will walk away with some encouragement.

Thank you for being so open and honest.

11/18/2005 3:16 PM  
Blogger Amstaff Mom said...

Wow.

I John 3:16 - 16This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.

That's about the only thing I can add to this post. It is so wonderful. Thanks for the reminder K-T. And I'm thankful to God that He blessed us with friends like Jubal.

11/18/2005 3:27 PM  
Blogger Katie said...

Kristi - come as much as you want and as often as you want, the good thing about a blog is that it is open 24 hours

JCol - Do you really think I can go a week without this? Without all of you? No Way

11/18/2005 3:45 PM  
Blogger undercover celebrity said...

Really great post. I am so inspired by your ability to really tear an issue apart, and also to really try and "do" love, rather than talk about it.

I think that as a society we are so trained to live in fear -- that drug addict will probably steal from me, etc. -- that we are paralyzed to love like Jesus wanted. That's something that I struggle with a lot.

I know I should have enough faith to believe that God will protect me in those situations... but there's such a level of uncomfortability and risk involved. A challenge to overcome.

11/18/2005 6:11 PM  
Anonymous Bill said...

I'm so thankful that God doesn't love us according to our love. Thank you God for your unconditional love and mercy! I believe the only way we can do anything good is through Christ Jesus. Just to think that He knew us... and loved us... and made plans for us to be with Him even before the world was formed is a concept that still boggles my mind. "Amazing Grace" fits. Thanks for your post, Katie.

11/18/2005 11:05 PM  
Blogger Shenna said...

Wow, this post spoke volumes. From time to time God will remind me of this, and I will be good for awhile, and then slip right back to blending in with the world.

I believe that God wants us to Love, it is his greatest command, but I don't feel we could ever love like he does.

11/18/2005 11:46 PM  
Blogger Jayleigh said...

I'm off to work and so I haven't finished reading this yet, but I want to say how awesome it is that I've been thinking the same things lately.

I posted recently about Mother Teresa who'd said she is able to love "the least of these" because she loves Jesus in them.

I'll come back later!!!

11/19/2005 7:10 AM  
Blogger Broken Messenger said...

Great post, Katie. Very good stuff.

Brad

11/19/2005 7:46 PM  
Blogger bigwhitehat said...

OK here goes. I am confused so help me out. I had a hard time following what you wrote so I have some questions.

What kind of distinctions do you make between judgmentalism and judgment?

Is discerning whether or not we can handle someone’s problems, the same as devaluing them as a person?

Can we value someone as God does but still avoid them out of self protection?

I’m sure you can answer these questions with the same statement. Let’s get practical here.

11/19/2005 8:39 PM  
Anonymous Aimee said...

I loved every word of this... thanks for sharing... I especially loved "If I allow God to love through me, then yes, I can love those around me unconditionally." What an awesome thought for us to ponder.

11/21/2005 9:26 AM  
Blogger Katie said...

BWH - Sorry for the wait on this response, I wanted to take time and go back and read what i had wrote before I responded:

What kind of distinctions do you make between judgmentalism and judgment?
The only time I see that i used the word judge was in response to Steve and who he would have been 4 years ago. I used judge as a word to say I would have determined if he was worthy of my love and friendship by who he was and what he was doing at the time. Other than that I purposely tried to stay away from the word judge, as it is not my place to judge another, God takes care of that.

Is discerning whether or not we can handle someone’s problems, the same as devaluing them as a person? I'm a bit confused by this. Explain the "not handle someone's problem". I guess my answer to the third question might apply here.

Can we value someone as God does but still avoid them out of self protection? Are you using the word value interchangeably for love? Yes you can love someone and avoid them so that you will not fall into temptation, that is a very wise and responsible thing to do. But in avoidance I don't want to take away love or caring for them.

11/22/2005 2:40 PM  
Blogger bigwhitehat said...

The word love is overused in translation of scripture. It is done to convey the conotation while it sometimes does a disservice for clarity. I was interchanging them for clarity in what I said. Not in what you said.

To be honest, I would love for you to contrast avoiding bad company with our obligation to the lost. This would make a far better post than a comment. There are many old men that have written sermons and essays on this. I want your own thoughts.

This is very appropriate in our world of crisis ministries. I know a recovering alchoholic who ministers in places I think he shouldn't go. And that is just one example.

If you like this idea, it would be good. Give it some thought.

11/22/2005 6:20 PM  
Blogger Logan Bennett said...

Katie, I am glad that you found my blog, because i just read this very long post about love, and we are hitting on some of the same points. Here is a little thing that i think, and although it is sometimes hard to put it into practice, here goes....... Unconditional love (a love that has no conditions whatsoever) Love people when they hurt you, love people when they don't hurt you, love people when they disgust you, love them when they don't, love people when they dissapoint you love people when they make you proud, love people no matter what they look like or act like, love them for who they are at that moment in their life, don't love them for who they used to be, don't love them for who they could be, but love them for who they are. Don't love people because we are supposed to, but love people because you want to. I think that you have truly hit the nail on the head with this post, i will be looking forward to reading some more of what you have to say.

IN CHRIST
Logan Bennett

11/24/2005 11:26 PM  
Blogger Katie said...

Logan, And you took my jumbled words and thoughts and put them into an action plan. Thanks. Seems like Oregon does a good job of growing some smart guys.

11/25/2005 1:18 PM  

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