the weblog of Alan Knox

So, why does the church have a love problem?

Posted by on May 17, 2013 in love | 41 comments

So, why does the church have a love problem?

So, in a previous post, I began “Tackling the Love Problem.” Then I wrote about “The incredible primacy of love… It’s more important than we think.” Next, I said that “We have everything we need to love others.” Finally, I wrote that “Love is easily recognized as love.”

What is the “love problem”? It’s quite simple actually. Jesus said all people would know us by our love. But, when you ask people what they think about Christians, love is far, far down the list… if it even makes the list. We have a love problem.

Now, let’s be honest with ourselves and with one another. We don’t love because we’re disobedient to the Spirit. It really is that plain and simple. The Spirit indwells all of God’s children. The Spirit produces love within us and leads us to love others. But, we don’t do it because we choose not to yield to the Spirit and instead yield to our own desires. (This is described many ways in Scripture, such as presenting ourselves as slaves to sin even though we have already been set free from slavery to sin – Romans 6.)

But, disobedience is not the “love problem.”

Here’s the thing. We should expect new, immature believers to have a harder time love than older, more mature believers. We should see an increase in love as people mature in Christ. Thus, even though many Christians would struggle with love, we should still see a general tendency toward loving others among the church… and that tendency should increase.

That’s not what we see… and while we may want to make excuses, it’s certainly not what the world sees. And, remember, Jesus said “they” would know us by our love.

The “love problem” is a result of lack of maturity in Christ. I think this lack of maturity affects our love (and our demonstration of love) primarily because love cannot be taught through speeches, sermons, books, articles, seminars, conferences, and, yes, even blog posts. As awesome as blog posts are, you will never learn how to love someone by reading one of my incredible posts. You will never be challenged to show love to that difficult neighbor (who you’d rather ignore or perhaps curse) by reading my eloquent prose.

For that kind of “teaching,” we need life on life interaction… the kind of discipleship that we find in Scripture… where (as Paul said) followers of Jesus shared not only the good news but their very lives.

No, we’ll never learn to love by listening to a sermon or reading a book, but we will learn to love to observing the life of a brother or sister in Christ as they learn to love. We will learn to love by being helped to show love to a difficult neighbor by another follower of Christ who has “been there.”

This is why the church has a “love problem.” It’s tied back to our relationships (or lack of relationships) and fellowship (or lack of fellowship) and overemphasis on information transfer.

Because, while the church as a whole can probably tell you the different Greek terms for “love,” and exegete various passages on “love,” and quote several verses about “love”… how many actually know one another well enough to help each other love?

It’s messy work.

The way we typically do things now is much more efficient and “excellent.” But, it’s also producing a “love problem.”

So, what do we do now? What do you do now?

———————————————

Series on the “Love Problem”

  1. Tackling the Love Problem
  2. The incredible primacy of love… It’s more important than we think
  3. We have everything we need to love others
  4. Love is easily recognized as love
  5. So, why does the church have a love problem?

41 Comments

  1. 5-17-2013

    Thanks Alan. I couldn’t agree more. I see this fitting well with what I am working through right now (on a personal level – and theoretical level on my blog). The Christianity I have grown up on emphasizes true doctrine. It judges who is a true believer based on correct theology. However when I look at Scripture, I don’t see a list of essential beliefs attached to passages that speak about salvation. I see salvation being based on trust in the person of Jesus, not belief in information about Jesus. When we judge each other based on correct thinking – we will not find unity with many people. If only we could recognized we are united around the person of Jesus – not in our different theologies about Him. To what degree are we following a religious system of correct teaching – or are we following the person the correct teaching is supposed to lead us to?
    I see a connection with the love problem you are describing. Thanks.

  2. 5-17-2013

    Alan, Jon

    I come at this from a slightly different angle. I certainly understand both of your points of view and have seen exactly what you are talking about. I have also, however, seen tremendous love displayed in all three of the churches I have attended (one in NY and then 2 since moving to NC) throughout my adult life. I think it is important to mention that we are not talking about “perfect love.” FAR too often I have discussions with people who seem to be seeking this perfected love when only Christ Jesus has can and will love in this manner! We do well to remember that the Church is full of sick people, not perfect people. It is full of people who will hurt, mismanage, manipulate, and sometimes scar others. It is this way because it is made up of people and people are sinners. You are. I am. Everyone is.
    This is not to say we don’t try and cannot be better at showing the love of Christ because we can through sanctification, walking hand in hand with Christ AND his followers. There is a reason Paul offered himself as a model and said, “do what I do!”
    That brings me to one more point that I don’t want to bang like a drum but I feel it needs to be said. When did right teaching and biblical doctrine become the antithesis to love? So often, particularly in the last 3-5 years I have heard it said and repeated, even from church leaders, that “it doesn’t matter what you believe ABOUT God, it just matters that you believe IN God” or something along those lines. Even if I assume the “God” they are speaking about is Jesus. Can I ask an honest question that will hopefully spark some further dialogue? Would Paul believe that statement?

  3. 5-17-2013

    Rob
    No. Paul would not believe that statement. However, we have focused more on head knowledge.

    Personally, I believe part of the problem is two-fold. One, we know that tares are mixed in with the wheat and so a few ‘bad apples’ will give a pretty negative image. But it’s really bigger than that.

    In N. America for sure, the church has focused on ‘making converts’ not on making disciples. It’s no wonder then, that we have a lot of immature converts. Say the ‘prayer’ and it’s all good! Why are we so surprised?I I’ve often felt that we’ve collectively done a big ‘bait and switch’. Say the prayer, go to heaven, easy-peasy. Then we lament the lack of maturity. Being called to follow the Master is a whole ‘nuther thing! Being like Him, knowing Him, walking with Him, listening to Him, obeying His voice, actually becoming like Him is not what is ‘sold’ or modelled very well.

    Having dialogue with one another is also not really significantly encouraged, being truly open with one another is not well practiced. Over the past number of years, churches have sub-conciously recognized that Sunday morning alone is not sufficient and hence, the small group focus we see. But that is all too often just another mini-church ‘study’ frequently led without focus or purpose by well meaning ‘leaders’. We don’t really know how to do ‘life’ together. So, loving one another well (and our neighbors) is an unfamiliar practice.

  4. 5-17-2013

    Jon,

    From reading your blog and your previous comments, I know that you’re not saying that doctrine (teaching, knowledge, etc.) is unimportant. How do you think understanding God (doctrine) and demonstrating love are connected? How do you think the church has disconnected them (assuming that’s what you’re talking about)?

    Rob,

    Since I didn’t mention doctrine in my post, I’m assuming you’re primarily responding to Jon’s comment. I’ll let him reply to that.

    For me, understanding God (doctrine) is extremely important. Like love, though, we will never have a perfect understanding of God and we should not expect others to have a perfect understanding of God (or even an understanding of God that is just like ours). On the other hand, we should learn from and grow with one another in our understanding of God (doctrine).

    However, I would like to point that Paul did make a statement concerning the relationship between knowledge/wisdom and love in 1 Corinthians 13:2: “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

    -Alan

  5. 5-17-2013

    Heartspeak,

    It looks like we were commenting at the same time.

    You said, “We don’t really know how to do ‘life’ together. So, loving one another well (and our neighbors) is an unfamiliar practice.”

    How would you recommend people start “doing life together”? What are some “first steps” they can take to help each other love others?

    -Alan

  6. 5-17-2013

    I do think it matters what we believe about God. It makes it difficult to follow God if I misunderstand who He is. However I want to make the distinction that we are united in our trusting in the person of Christ, not in beliefs about Jesus. I am searching the Scriptures looking for a passage that says we are saved by believing the following essential beliefs about Jesus. I just can’t find such. I believe the same goes for love – our love for others comes from knowing the person of Jesus – not necessarily from knowing correct information about Jesus. Sorry Alan for the thread hijack. :)

  7. 5-17-2013

    Jon,

    I don’t consider it a “hijack.” It’s a very important part of this discussion. As you’ve said, today “doctrine” is often associated with knowing the right things about God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit etc. In Scripture, doctrine (literally “teaching”) was far more than that and included right living as well. I think Titus 2 is a great example of this. Paul begins by talking about “right teaching/doctrine” and describes what that looks like in several examples. Each example is about how people live, not what they know.

    So, this discussion about doctrine and understanding God is extremely important in our discussion of loving others.

    -Alan

  8. 5-17-2013

    Yes, Alan – we were commenting at the same time. I’ll answer your question “How do you think the church has disconnected them”.

    I think by emphasizing correct teaching over building relationship with each other and God. Discipleship becomes watching a video series or reading books together, instead of walking through life together. Being a good Christian becomes knowing the correct answers, but not necessarily having the heartbeat of Christ.

    I believe the way forward is gathering with other believers with the purpose of building each other up to become more like Christ. This will likely look different than gathering together to learn correct information about Christ. There will still be a time and place for more formal teaching, but I know relationships that encourage mutual edification are of great value to my growth.

  9. 5-17-2013

    I think there are so many factors starting with we have created a paradigm of what church is and looks like… “attendance”. “I attend, therefore, I am”. And this is what is practiced in church. Sunday, Wednesday bible study and/or prayer and a monthly gathering of the men or women. Too often, we do not know the name of those people, where they live and have never been to their home or vice-versa. And if it is not driven by the leadership and is not the DNA of the church, nothing will progress or emerge differently. It will continue as usual. On top of that, we need as leaders to involve people in one another’s life. Take time share our difficulties, trials, cry with one another, heal one anther, etc. We take no time to “administer love” to one another. I take you and we become a part of another persons’s life. Ministry is not modeled, it is just taught or preached on Sunday or in a a bible study. Of course, ministry not being a position or title, but the “expression of administering love” to one another.

  10. 5-17-2013

    Good point Alan… I should be careful not to limit the term doctrine to how I have viewed it in the past. Thanks.

  11. 5-17-2013

    Thanks for the comments guys. Good stuff.

    Heartspeak,

    I’m with you that we are making converts rather than disciples. I would argue, however, that alongside not modeling love in the church we also have a major problem in terms of teaching and doctrine. Mainly, we don’t teach it. It’s all about getting a hand raised or a prayer said and no foundation laid. The church, despite all of this focus on head knowledge (which, BTW, I haven’t seen much of in the local churches I have attended. Most of this, I have seen from afar) is fantastically ignorant of much of the biblical narrative. I think it’s hard to mature in that environment regardless of how loving people are.

    Alan,
    I agree with you. That’s why I pointed out how Paul saw himself as a model of how to live and love. That took massive courage on Paul’s part and a confidence in his relationship with Christ. I guess what I would I would ask you based on the verse you quoted (which I love!) is this: what if ALL you have is love? Then what. I think the outcome is the exact same — you have nothing. Plenty of people are incredibly loving and gracious and yet do not know Christ. I’m just saying the two should walk hand in hand and instead the Church today is seemingly putting the two (knowledge/ doctrine/ biblical wisdom vs love) at odds. To me, you simply can’t have one without the other!

    Jon,
    I would ask where biblical love comes from. I agree that we love best when we understand that it comes ultimately from the person of Christ. But how do we gain faith? I know that it is a gift from God but how does scripture say we get it? It comes from hearing the Word of God! Rom 10:17. So I guess from my perspective, I cannot love the way Christ asks me to love without first having the faith in him (which comes from the word of God doing the work of God). We may not even know it, but that in and of itself contains doctrine of a sort. Theology, doctrine, love, wisdom, sanctification. I think all of these things are inseparable in the life of the believer. And when we do separate them, we are in trouble.

  12. 5-17-2013

    Vince,

    I agree! I think it has to be in the body’s DNA. It has to be something that when I attend, I can see an obvious pull into the community of believers and a dependance on each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. It sounds so easy on the outside looking in, but I think a lot of churches really struggle with it. And I would argue that they certainly wouldn’t be doing ignoring this intentionally. So I guess the big question would be how do we fix it?

  13. 5-17-2013

    Jon,

    Your last paragraph (beginning with “I believe the way forward…”) is an excellent description of what we need. The “gatherings” that you talk about can be planned times of getting together or unplanned times when we’re sharing life together. Either way, we need space and opportunity to “Consider one another to stir up love and good works.” (Hebrews 10:24-25) How does someone start doing that, when they’ve never experienced it for themselves?

    Vince,

    I agree. Earlier, I asked another commenter these questions, and I’d love your input as well:

    How do we start (take the first steps in) this kind of sharing life together? Many people recognize the problem – the “love problem” – but they don’t know how to take the next step.

    Rob,

    When Paul wrote that passage in 1 Corinthians 13, he was writing to people who were already “in Christ” – in spite of all their problems in understanding and life, he never questioned that. In the same way, I’m writing this to people who are “in Christ” – followers of Jesus Christ, children of God, indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Without that as the starting place, this whole conversation is null.

    -Alan

  14. 5-17-2013

    Alan,

    That is precisely my point. I am speaking to the Church at large as well. I just used the lost as an example of love completely separate from Christ and his body. What worries me is that while I agree wholeheartedly with this whole discussion, I think we have an expanded problem when we don’t understand biblical doctrine or narrative either. So, the Church is struggling, in my opinion, on both ends of the spectrum precisely because we can’t seem to put the whole picture together. Does that make any sense. Because I have certainly seen what it is you are talking about, but would maybe argue a different cause? Not sure.

  15. 5-17-2013

    If the context is within a church where that has no focus or emphasis, it will be difficult to break those barriers. I can tell you what happened with us (my wife and I). Our steps were practical.

    What made it a bit easier for us was four things: a.) we were in leadership (teaching pastor); b.) this was the DNA of our church; c.) trusted leadership that allowed us the freedom to “be ourselves”; d.) our emphasis on prayer and healing.

    Now, people sometimes get skeptical or nervous when you begin to talk about healing and prayer. However, both prayer and healing are the personal means to care for people… intimately. There is a connectivity. As we love God, we are drawn to the pain/suffering and struggles in people’s lives. But we must “do” something about it. The Scriptures admonish us. Leaving it to the sermon/message only is not biblical or practical. Both the Jesus and the early church declared and demonstrated the message.

    We began by going up to the front at the end of the message inviting people that were burdened, struggling or in pain to come up for prayer (often to the side of the church). Everyone faces life and its challenges. We cannot let people do it alone and at the same time we must realize healing is required, whether it is physical, spiritual, emotional or mental. Why? Life can bruise us up and there is also an enemy. Our love should not want to see anyone remain in this condition. Jesus not only came to redeem man of eternal suffering, but any or all suffering that affected a person. That is love!

    We took time to pray for people and watched the Lord minister to them. We prayed over people, they cried, we held them, took personal attention to their heart often put our arms around them.

    Yes, people were healed in the variety of ways mentioned above. Of course, this was done in such away with no hype, manipulation, embarrassment, etc.! Additionally, I identified those who had such a gift and concern to pray for people as well and got them involved.

    Within a very short time, we mentioned to the church we were going to have a prayer and worship group at our home. The church had other groups that met in different homes during the week. And in order to accommodate the time for different people, we had it on both Saturday and Monday night.

    In that setting people came, we had cake, dessert, coffee, tea, (dinner for those who did not eat) and people came. We always made sure people “be themselves”. My wife and I would often welcome people… put our arms around them being glad to see them! We always communicated what type of people we were and how we felt it was important to love one another and express that love.

    After grabbing something to eat and sitting down, we would go around the room and take up requests and jot them down on a white board. Afterward, we began some worship… allowing people to enter into His presence and focus on the Lord.

    Then after a time of worship, I would begin to pray (modeling) since some never did or were not used to praying. Over-time others began to pray. After that, we would ask if there is anyone who would like us to personally pray for them… at other times the Spirit of God would reveal something regarding someone and we (I) would ask if it is okay to pray with/for that person. As God, would minster to that person (love takes on another deeper shape and form within that person) and as we begun to pray for one another, I would grab (recruit… remember, relationship was/is being established with love and trust) that person and tell them to pray… ‘they can do this as well’. Love enveloped within and through that person to another. The care and love for each other grew since it was being expressed “practically”.

    As a sidebar, what is unfolding during this was the ever-increasing love for each other and all people… through the Holy Spirit. In other words, people began to catch the heart of God. They were reaching out to one another [practically] and we would have dinner at each other’s home. Also, a good number of these people joined us in the front praying for others.

    Afterward, we would have more fellowship and laughter and people would open up more. Love and strong relationships developed. At times, we would just have a Mexican night or something similar (with games) and people bring a dish. Kids played upstairs. Just beautiful stuff! Our group was one of the largest and we had 20 something’s, middle-aged, etc. People felt safe, loved and were growing practically. People became so engaging with each other and anyone who came.

  16. 5-17-2013

    I knew you were going somewhere. :)

    I hear you saying:

    The problem IS disobedience & lack of maturity…..but we are disobedient & immature because we don’t have enough practice.

  17. 5-17-2013

    I love all these comments. Thank you.

    We have so far to go to living in community with others… for the purpose of building each other up to Christ….and even with loving each other in our own home…..but that’s typical of my personality too to feel like that… I always see how much more there is to get/go and not see back at how far we have come.

    BUT, I used to read examples of true community like I’ve read above and would get so frustrated & discouraged and try to strain control grasp….. but God continually tells me to let go…. let go of my timetable… let go of the ideals… embrace the brokenness of where I am right now… and wait on Him…

    Even the “shoulds” that Alan has mentioned these past days…. would throw me off for days previously….

    But God has built my faith & trust that this is His Work, He is sovereign and I can only do the next thing in my day and that’s all I can do. For right now, my next step into community is to draw closer to Him more and more and practice pausing & yielding to Him in all my interactions & decisions……… Through that, I will be practicing loving those He has put in my life today. practice practice practice.

  18. 5-17-2013

    SOOO if there is anybody else out there with a personality similiar to mine. I thought I’d share some things so somebody out there won’t be totally overwhelmed or discouraged by how much we are failing as individuals & as the beautiful Bride:

    1.
    IDEAL:
    have a real church *family* experience

    WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE AT FIRST:
    inviting people over to dinner

    WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE FOR ME NOW:
    having people over for holidays, celebrations, dinners & birthdays

    2.
    IDEAL:
    purposefully gathering with other Christians to build each other up in Christ, to Christ

    WHAT IT LOOKED LIKE AT FIRST:
    inviting other christians over for a Bible or Book study

    WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE FOR ME RIGHT NOW:
    having “church friends” here weekly to talk about Jesus, read scripture & listen to music together. I can’t wait to get to the point where we are purposefully gathering… all understanding that we are there to build each other up to Christ… wait for it, wait for it….

    3.
    IDEAL:
    Love overflowing on to all those around you because you are so full of the Lord’s love & so close to Him

    WHAT IT LOOKED LIKE AT FIRST:
    practicing thinking about others instead of self….practice seeing things from other’s perspectives. those in need. those in my family. those in our neighborhood.

    WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE NOW:
    practicing talking to God all day long about what I’m going through and all my interactions….then pausing before I respond to anybody to make sure it’s God leading me and not myself. obeying when He says to shhhh or give or do it even though you don’t feel like it. Practicing going against my will & nature.

    4.
    IDEAL:
    help ALL orphans & widows, sick people, poor people, anybody suffering anywhere around you.

    WHAT IT STARTED AS:
    asking God to open eyes to needs and people suffering around us

    WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE NOW:
    giving away money to organizations that help others, donating time as a family to organizations that help…. finding out what ministries are already in my area serving the homeless, poor…keeping friendship with a not homeless anymore but was homeless friend…

    If I could talk to myself years ago I would say:

    let go of ideals. let go of expectations. heck, just let go of everything but Jesus. take SMALL steps. one step, one step. God’s timetable, not yours! It’s gonna be okay! He is trustworthy to build up His Bride! Draw near to Him and see what happens. Focus on Him, see what He does! practice practice practice.

  19. 5-17-2013

    Rob,

    I think the reason we have maturity when it comes to doctrine/teaching/understanding is the same reason we have immaturity when it comes to love (and other practical aspects). Many, many studies have shown that very few people learn through lecture, and yet, that’s what the church relies on (primarily and in some cases only) for teaching/discipleship. Those few people who learn through lecture, are growing in doctrine/teaching/understanding through sermons/preaching/etc. However, they vast majority are not growing in their understanding of God in that way. Even those who can learn certain things through lecture cannot learn love and other practical aspects of following Jesus through lecture.

    Vincent,

    I loved your description. If I can add one thing to it, it would be this: Beyond the gatherings that you describe, also include times when you invite one another to help you serve others outside of that gathering. (By the way, I’m not saying that you didn’t do this. I’m simply suggesting it would be a very positive addition to what you describe.)

    Randi,

    I think I’ve told you this before, but I love the way your thought processes work. And, I love the way you express it through your comments.

    Thanks for sharing some of your personal experiences also. One of the things that we’ve learned concerning #4 is that we can’t help all orphans and widows… but we may be able to help one orphan or one widow.

    -Alan

  20. 5-17-2013

    Thank you so much for the encouragement. And thank you more for this place to be able to think & write it out. It really helps me a lot to unjumble all the running thoughts. I pray God will help me put these lessons into practice & remember them.

  21. 5-17-2013

    ohh and for the encouragement of ONE widow/orphan. YES! Thank you for that.

    see…. some people may need to RAISE the bar and stop being fooled into thinking they are doing good enough…..and they need to just DO SOMETHING and just do ANYTHING.

    and then others need to LOWER the bar and stop looking so big & far & much and stop thinking they aren’t doing good enough…. and instead just do SOMETHING and just do ANYTHING and let it be what it is.

  22. 5-17-2013

    Alan
    ‘Doing life together’ is more than ‘going to church together’. For me, this is closer to how I can express it. When I’m in community or doing life with someone, it’s informal. Church is what I would call ‘formal’. No, not straight-laced or a form of dress. As Vince said, I attend therefore, I am is the net result. We tend to measure ourselves by our attendance or by our formal participation in outreach or programs. To a degree, we can’t help it, it’s part of our nature.

    I think that (very) generally speaking the church tends to validate the formal and invalidate the informal. If I care for my next door neighbor, no one sees, no one may find out but if I participate in the local soup kitchen with the rest of my church on the 2nd Saturday of the month, then I have a measurement point. The tragedy is that I often witness folks who are very loving to their neighbor but don’t think that’s anything and still think they need to ‘do the soup kitchen’.

    Dare I say, ‘doing life together’ is my way of referencing that ‘organic’ or spontaneous or immeasurable informal aspect of our life. We don’t and to some degree, can’t, measure our ‘love’ if you will. Hence we substitute the programs, the attendance, etc to enable measurement. It’s insidious and deeply woven into our Western church culture.

    All of these things that we so value church attendance, sermons, worship services, prayer meetings, outreach, etc, etc were and are very difficult to do in some parts of our world today. Yet Christianity grows, perhaps even better and faster without them. Nonetheless, we cling ‘religiously’ to our forms…. and wonder why there is so little depth, maturity …. and love!

  23. 5-17-2013

    In the purest form, the church is to be our venue or platform to engage and “administer love” in the various forms mentioned. Doing outreach driven things are fine, good and necessary to reach others’ for Christ. Personally, I enjoy this myself.

    However, it does not meet or equate to the personal engagement and edification that believers require. The response within the church today states, “we cannot just feed ourselves and get fat” along with other cliches that are untrue. Yet edification wrapped in love is mentioned throughout the New Testament.

    People do not want to only just get involved with events to reach other people, they want someone to get involved with them and engage them… with love evolving into being close friends. Too often people (believers) enter church (fellowship gatherings or events) weighed down, alone, empty, spent and leave the same way. And yet we are so ready to do another outreach to/for the lost. Does this make sense? Should we ignore one to attend to the other?

    Ironically, when they come in sometimes they are left to themselves as well. Or within months or a couple of years, they are left disappointed slip out of the church and nobody knows what happened to them, forgets about them and does not follow-up. Welcome, to church in the 21st Century.

    We have more people than ever that are planting churches, but how much progress in “real terms” are we making?

    Do not get wrong I think we can handle both of the above well. I believe in the multiplicity of leaders among other things. Regardless, the starting place must begin with the church and its leader(s). If we do not “love well” among/toward one another [in the community of believers], I am not sure how it will be before, toward or among the world.

  24. 5-17-2013

    You all, Alan too, must check out Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, http://www.emotionallyhealthy.org This topic…love, how to love well birthed EHS out of the brokenness Pete and Geri Scazzero realized in their marriage. God is doing an incredible work through them, addressing the question of loving God, self and others. Thakns for these blogposts…so encouraging to me in exposing this reality for the church.

  25. 5-17-2013

    Wow. What a climax. Great point, Alan. Thank you Randi for your great comments, and everyone who joined in the discussion – some grey thoughts.

    Sometimes I think spiritual maturity is a bit like fitness. You only get fit by working out – but you also need to rest and recover. Over time, you are able to work out longer and harder, but more importantly, you develop a healthy rhythm and routine, learning how no to overextend yourself.

    I spent most of the past week loving people. I met up with a number of different women, all going through hell in their own ways, prayed with them, hugged them, cried with them. I also looked after my kids and husband. Last night I curled up on the sofa and cried from emotional exhaustion. My husband found me and hugged me, and prayed for me. Later, my teenagers joined me to drink tea and eat cookies and have a good laugh. I am so thankful to have loving people in my life to refill my tank so I can go again. I pray my “love muscles” get stronger as I age, not weak and flaccid from lack of use.

    - Kathleen

  26. 5-17-2013

    I have loved these comments and place to process, thank you!

    kathleen – your comment was so beautiful to me in so many ways. I think I’ll save it in my email to come back to. It really touched me. not exactly sure what it was. Just beautiful imagery of muscle/fitness. What you’ve written makes so much sense. Rhythm & routine…. practice… learning… working out… rest & recover. Over time, will be able to go longer and harder… and over time, we will also be able to teach, show more people what we have done, how to do it. And then the part about your husband & teenagers. It made me tear up. I pray that for myself. I pray my kids & are are so bonded and able to enjoy each other after a long week, like you’ve described. That creates a beautiful vision of what could be, for me. I love everything you’ve written. Thank you.

  27. 5-17-2013

    Vic – Thank you for that link.

  28. 5-17-2013

    “We don’t love because we’re disobedient to the Spirit. It really is that plain and simple. The Spirit indwells all of God’s children. The Spirit produces love within us and leads us to love others…

    But, disobedience is not the “love problem.”

    …This is why the church has a “love problem.” It’s tied back to our relationships (or lack of relationships) and fellowship (or lack of fellowship) and overemphasis on information transfer.”
    ————————

    I’m thinking that “obedience” to the Spirit and “love” of others are not that much different or disctinct. If I fellowship with other Christians, what I might see in them–and they in me–is how they are learning to more and more consistently surrender their lives and rights in obedience to a God who loves them and and so they trust Him, and how that plays out in actions and reactions to circumstances and to others around them (whether family, co-workers, fellow students, neighbors, other Christians, enemies, etc.) at any time of day or night or place.

    When you ask, “So, what do we do now? What do you do now?” This has been a good topic that knocked the wind out of me. I’m still too overwhelmed to consider giving the church advice. Listening in the last few days and thinking about these posts and responses, I have become very hopeful (again) that I can learn to submit to Him and obey Him without terms or reservations. I know when He asks me to love someone when I am attuned to Him inside. I don’t always obey, but I know the joy and peace of doing so. Other times, I get distracted and run on down the road of life busy in my own world and wouldn’t know if He was yelling “Duck!”

    What will I do now? Oh, boy. What will He do? He indwells me!

    I feel light as a child anticipating a jumble of the following words and more, in whatever order they happen to arrange themselves each day: Love, fall, listen, receive, lean, obey, fail, submit, rejoice, repent, rest.

  29. 5-17-2013

    Well, I go away for a few hours and you all just have a big encouragement party without me. :)

    Seriously, I really appreciate all the comments and challenges. For me, it comes back to the question of whether or not I am obediently following Jesus to love others. I can talk about what “the church” is doing all day long and nothing will change. (I think I mentioned something about wanting to go beyond talk in my introductory post…)

    So, what I’ve been asking myself is this: Does that person know that I love her/him? Why would I expect him/her to know that? How does God want me to love that person right now?

    Then, the next set of questions are similar: How can I help that brother/sister in Christ love others too?

    I’ve found that the answers to all of those questions are often very different depending on the person and the day.

    -Alan

  30. 5-17-2013

    I’ve heard is said that we should find out what god is doing and participate in that. So while it is true love can be described as responding to the spirit, there is also a universality to love such that we too as believers need our eyes opened to see what love looks like.
    Ironically as time goes by we can recognize love less and less, especially as knowledge puffs us up.
    Over the past years we have experienced a lot of love from unbelievers, love that in times past we just would not recognize or open ourselves up to because of religious filters and pride (how can they love so much without believing!?).
    So yes we can find love happening in unlikely places and participate in that.
    This love, this being made in gods image, connects us all. The spirit moves as it wills and god is no respect-er of persons.
    Part of the love problem is we have tried to own and package love.

    So I agree with Randi, we need new eyes to see what love can be in practice outside of preconceived ideals. We may find ourselves learning how to love from the most unlikely sources. We need to be more concerned about love, than we are about being right and in the in-crowd. Salvation being a means not an end. Salvation should lead to a greater measure and experience of love for god, ourselves and neighbours.

    As long as we refuse to learn from the ‘other’ we will miss love over and over again. Even Jesus found love from the marginalized… he wasn’t just loving them, he was also receiving love.

  31. 5-17-2013

    Alan –

    I appreciated your last comment. Those questions and then the follow up question was awesome application on how to be lead by the Spirit and be used by God in our daily life.

    And the truth that is looks different each day & each scenario is so true. ohhhh there’s so much grey on what it looks like, what we should do!

    So much following needed on our part to be able to be lead by the Shepherd.

    Practice practice practice.

  32. 5-17-2013

    I also wanted to add in to this conversation that I was so blessed by this whole week of entries & comments on here.

    I realized through these conversations that I personally needed to start talking to the Lord a lot more about what I was doing or not doing. I have really today in particular been confessing my lack of love for what it is – disobedience/sin…. and I really believe this was a key step in what I was missing in my following of the Shepherd.

    I had fallen back into, “she is doing xyz please open her heart”… or “please change them”….

    vs.

    “I am sorry God that I chose not to love right there”. or “I’m sorry Lord I am sinning right now by being selfish.. I need help. I fail at this every time”

    I understand at a deeper level today how talking to Him about this is really necessary as we practice love. Talking to Him about it all helps us discern what is and isn’t sin. It helps us know what He really does desire. It gives Him space to show us what love is and isn’t. I didn’t realize how little I confessed to Him. I have been focusing on thanking Him and praising Him…. I had gotten off track in confessing & asking for help in my love.

    Thank you all.

  33. 5-17-2013

    Art –

    “I feel light as a child anticipating a jumble of the following words and more, in whatever order they happen to arrange themselves each day: Love, fall, listen, receive, lean, obey, fail, submit, rejoice, repent, rest.”

    I was feeling the same way after all this week of encouragement & challenge on here. I definitely felt a new surge in the mission to love right today. :)

  34. 5-17-2013

    Eli –

    “Ironically as time goes by we can recognize love less and less, especially as knowledge puffs us up.”

    that was really powerful, thank you. I wouldn’t have phrased it like that… but I really think you’re right here. had to chew on this one a while.

  35. 5-17-2013

    Vince,

    Your comment was right on, too. and it made me sad. so many come in and out of the buildings totally untouched, unseen, uncared for by the people in there. I was one of them.

    Thank you for your encouragement & truth sharing here.

  36. 5-17-2013

    Heartspeak -

    Do you have a blog???
    “I think that (very) generally speaking the church tends to validate the formal and invalidate the informal.”
    so true. all your examples were right on.

    Alan –

    I am sorry that I’m hijacking your blog like crazy this week responding to the commenters on here separately.

  37. 5-18-2013

    Randi,

    Ref: Blog; Yes, but… I don’t think I can even remember the URL. I’ve started a couple times but I lack the ability (desire? content?) to be quite as consistant as Alan is here. I love that I can be up early here in the PNW and be pretty certain I’ll get to read a new blog entry here. Thanks for asking!

  38. 5-18-2013

    You’ve inspired my latest post, Alan – you’ll find it here; http://www.churchinacircle.com/2013/05/18/lets-get-back-to-our-core-business-l-o-v-e/

    Blessings,

    - Kathleen

  39. 5-18-2013

    Heartspeak
    is PNW – pacific north west?

    does Alan post these really early? I didn’t realize that!

  40. 5-18-2013

    Kathleen,

    I love your comment relating spiritual maturity to a “workout” and the need for rest and recovery, developing a routine. This fits with what the Scazzero’s call the rest and recovery piece, developing a Rule of Life….a Rule of Life being a trellis if you will, that can support us in our journey. The Rule of Life includes Sabbath keeping (rest), something that has been seriously lost in our fast-paced culture. What if spiritual maturity was measured by one’ s abiblity to give and receive love….loving welll? Hmmm….this seems to fit with this series of blogposts Alan.

    As Alan is pointing out….is that the goal of the Christian life?

    Thanks again Kathleen!

  41. 5-21-2013

    Thank you all, again, for the great comments. You’ve given me alot to chew on… and to live out.

    -Alan

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