Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Staying Inside the Lines

Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.” – Ephesians 5:1-2

When I was a little girl I was easily occupied with two things: paper and crayons.  I could sit for hours and color one picture after another.  There were birds, flowers, houses, dogs, horses, cats, crazy designs of lines and different colors, and anything that I could imagine to put on paper! 

When I entered elementary school we begin coloring sheets.  These were usually some sort of image to color with a letter or number on the page represented by the image, like “A” for Apple.  What I found out was I didn’t care much for coloring sheets.  Oh yes, I’d color them, and rather quickly – so that I could turn them over and color whatever I wanted on the back.  I just didn’t like having to color someone else’s picture, and staying in the lines.
“Stay inside the lines, Faithie!”  The teacher must have said it a million times.  Yes, I could do it – but that took slowing down, thinking about it, and truly working at it.  That would take more time than we had in class, and then I didn’t get to do what I wanted to do – my own masterpiece on the back of the paper.  But eventually, I saw the benefit of keeping the teacher happy, if you know what I mean.  Then I started doing things her way.  But, rebellious as I was, I would sometimes take a crayon and go over the lines VERY DARKLY to be sure it was clear that this was now MY drawing that I was coloring!  I made it my own before I would finish it.

We don’t like to stay in God’s lines either.  His ways are so simple, and yet, we just refuse to do things His way sometimes.  In Matthew 22:34-40 Jesus has a talk with a lawyer.  The lawyer, being somewhat of an authority on laws and staying in the lines of the laws, wanted Jesus to tell him the greatest of all commandments.  Jesus gave him two and told him that all the laws given rest upon following those.  He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind”, specifically saying that one was “the first and great commandment.”  But then He followed with the second and said “the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
So there we have it: Love God with heart, mind and soul, and love each other as we love ourselves.  Love isn’t so hard, is it? 

It would appear to be impossible if we were to measure its difficulty by our actions.  To love God with all our heart would mean we never want to disappoint Him.  To love Him with all our mind would mean that we stay focused on Him, His word, and His way.  To love Him with all our soul would mean we don’t give up the throne of our hearts to serve anyone or anything else.  But if we look around, we see we perform poorly in keeping this command.
Can we even love each other as ourselves?  Without first loving God with all we have, I don’t believe it is possible.  To love each other as we love ourselves would mean we have to have a self-less love, loving with no ulterior motives.  We would have to love in deeds and feelings, and do it just for the sake of loving.  We couldn’t just give fake love, like saying “How are you?” and not waiting to hear the answer. Sincere love is the love we give ourselves.  It’s self-protecting, self-lifting, self-giving, and self-admiring.

We don’t stop loving ourselves when we are unlovable, but we most certainly fail to love the unlovable.  To love others as we love ourselves, we would have to love without ulterior motives or expectations of love in return.  Think about that.  When is the last time you tried to show love to someone who you knew would not show you love in return, who would reject you?  Jesus did it all the time.
In Ephesians 5:1-2 Paul speaks again of the second of these commands, and says “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us”.  Love is godliness.  Loving makes us more like Christ.

Sometimes we want to draw our own picture of what love looks like.  Love is a mom holding her child’s hand. But could it be you holding some else’s child’s hand as well?  Love is visiting the elderly.  But could it be visiting the imprisoned hardened criminal as well?  Love is spending time talking to a friend who needs consoling. But could it be consoling someone who you don’t even know?  Love is hugging our church family, and they hug us back.  But could it be giving someone a hug that doesn’t know how to accept love? 
We want to fulfill our own ideal of what love is, but God’s idea of love is much greater, must different, than the image of love we have drawn.  To please God, to follow His instruction, we have to stay inside His lines, “be imitators of God”, “walk in love, as Christ also loved us”.  He loved us while we were unlovable, while we were sinners, His very enemy (Romans 5:8). 

Loving God’s way means a strong relationship with God.  “God is love” (1 John 4:7-8) and if we are to imitate Him, we have to start at loving Him.  He is our source of love, the well in which we must draw from.  His love is pure.  We have to love with our heart, mind and soul – and the sequence is important.  Until He gives you a new heart, through salvation, you are not a vessel for Him.  You can’t love with His love.  Then He can move in, change your mind, and take possession of your soul.  A relationship with God is easy to attain, but like all other relationships, the desire to strengthen it determines how strong it is. 
Love also takes time.  You can’t rush love, not real love.  Real love may mean asking God to change how you feel toward others, to show you what He sees instead of what you see.  It takes planning, thinking, praying, and determining where God needs you to show your love. 

Love has to be perfected, to be made into what God defines love to be.  The only way to perfect it is show love to one another.  1 John 4:12 says “If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.”  Perfect love, God’s love, is fearless (1 John 4:18), and doesn’t consider the possibility that we could get hurt.  It considers love to be worth the risk. 
I once read a sign that said “You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.”  I think that sums it up.  I can show love without “staying in the lines” God has given, like writing a check for a cause.  But true love causes us to give more.  It gives of itself, just as Christ gave Himself for us.

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