Love Your Enemies

Love Your Enemies

“But I say to you who hear, ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs form you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But, love your enemies, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

– Luke 6:27-36

I think these may be some of the hardest words Jesus spoke. Even as I typed them out, part of me wanted to skip some parts. Part of me wanted to change my mind and not write about this at all. What Jesus says here is radical and, in many cases, may seem impossible. How can Jesus expect us to love people who hurt us? How can He tell us to turn the other cheek when we are struck? What does He even mean by that? Are Christians supposed to be pushovers? Are we supposed to let people abuse us and hurt us and just sit there and do nothing about it?

 

Loving Your Enemies and Setting Boundaries

 

Well, I want to start by saying, no. Jesus does not expect us to be pushovers. If you are in a situation where you are being abused in anyway, Jesus does not expect you to just sit there and let it happen. You are a child of God, He loves you, cares for you, and wants to set you free. And if you have been in a situation like that or have just been hurt by other people, whatever that looks like, what Jesus says here does not mean that Jesus doesn’t care.

In fact, He cares very deeply. If you read through the Gospels you will see how much God hates sin. His love and grace don’t excuse sin or make it ok or no big deal. He hates sin, all sin. When other people sin against us and hurt us, He hates that. It is good and right to set both legal and personal boundaries. It is possible to love your enemies and still have limits. You can forgive someone for what they did to you without continuing to have a relationship with them.

One example I think of is one summer a few years ago. I was volunteering at a summer camp for children in foster care. At one point in the camp we asked the kids to come up and say one thing they wanted to pray for. Almost every kid in that camp asked to pray for their parents. Many of these kids came from abusive situations. Their parents had hurt them, and yet in spite of that they still loved them and prayed for them. Of course, for most of those children it would never be right or safe for them to return to their parents. Most of them had to stay in foster care or be adopted into another family. For their safety boundaries had to be set. But, in asking for prayers for those who had hurt them so deeply, they showed the kind of love Jesus asks all of us to extend to people who hurt us. Loving your enemies can be as simple as asking God to have the same mercy on them that He had on you.

When God calls us to love our enemies, He does not call us to take their sin lightly or to treat ourselves poorly by staying in an unsafe situation.

 

Love Your Enemies: Look to Jesus

 

Loving our enemies is hard. And there is only one way we can truly love our enemies the way God calls us to.

We look to Jesus.

One thing God has shown me as I have read through the Gospels is that Jesus never gives us a command that He has not accomplished Himself. Here when Jesus tells us to love our enemies, He is not asking us to do something that He doesn’t know anything about. Jesus is not just some teacher who gives vague commands without understanding the depths of what He is asking. He knows even better than we do what it means to love enemies. As Jesus hung from the cross, He prayed for God to have mercy on those who killed Him. As He died the most horrific kind of death in all human history, He cried out for forgiveness for those who murdered Him.

And, He loved you and me. I sometimes forget that I at one point in time was an enemy of God. Romans 5 says that even though we were enemies of God, because of the death of Jesus we were reconciled to Him. God had mercy on us and extended forgiveness to us even though we rebelled against Him. I don’t deserve mercy any more than anyone else who has sinned against me. Jesus knows how hard it is to forgive those who have sinned against us. He knows what it is like to be sinned against. He knows what it is like to be betrayed, to be hurt by people. So, as He calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who hurt us, He is not doing so without any understanding of what He is asking of us.

If we want to know what it looks like to love our enemies, to love difficult people, we need to look to Jesus. We can’t do what He is asking on our own. And, He doesn’t expect us to. He shows us how to love others in His death and resurrection. And He comes alongside us to help us love others, even those who seem impossible to love.

Exploring Grace: The Divine Paradox

Exploring Grace: The Divine Paradox

By Pastor Ben Hill (Reproduced with permission)

“When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” John 19:30

Think back to the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Do you remember how the massive pile of rubble, molten steel and unrecognizable human remains became a focal point of terror’s evil? Remember President Bush ascending a rubble pile with a fireman, and with bullhorn in hand proclaiming for the world to hear our Nation’s resolve, our determination to bring to justice those who were responsible for that horrific attack? That section of destroyed land was referred to over and over again as “Ground Zero”.

What is a ground zero? It is a place of origin, an established point of beginning. Can you think of the “ground zero” moments in your own life? For the Child of God, the ultimate “ground zero” moment happened over 2,000 years ago on a hill called Mt. Calvary!

God is perfectly holy, and His justice demanded punishment for sin. The complete wrath of God was poured out against the rebellion of man, at the cross where Jesus suffered and died for OUR sins! It was there that the justice of God was satisfied through the Lord’s sinless sacrifice.

This is where we see the divine paradox of the cross. In that very moment, God unleashes His unbridled punishment of sin but He also reveals His greatest expression of love, mercy, and grace! (Romans 5:8) God the Father gave His Only Son to die so that we don’t have to… this is grace defined! Yet grace is further revealed in the reality that Jesus was not an unwilling sacrifice. He freely laid down His life to pay your death sentence and mine!

O, what a Savior! We are redeemed by the blood of The Lamb!

The ultimate Ground Zero: Jesus died once for all who will surrender to Him.

Pray that you might fully appreciate the divine paradox of grace and that we all might share the love of God everywhere we go.

Fruit of the Spirit: Love

Fruit of the Spirit: Love

By Pastor Ben Hill (reproduced with permission)

Galatians 5:22 – “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness”

“Love” is a word we use so commonly, I love ice cream, I love that movie, I love this team or that team, I love you!… Then with almost the same flippant ease I say: “I love YOU Lord.” Is that really as easy to say as we make it? Love is so essential that the Holy Spirit in defining the gifts that HE gives to us made it the very first one! LOVE! In the English vernacular, we have cheapened the word “love”, but thankfully God’s Word was originally written in Greek and in the Greek New Testament there are several major and different words for “love”.

‘Storge’ = “natural affection, a feeling towards family or pets etc.”
‘Philos’ = “strong intimate, but non-romantic love of friendship”
‘Eros’ = from the name of the Greek ‘god of love’ – “romantic love.”
‘Agape’ = “the strongest and most noble of loves. Unconditional, love that will do anything for another, regardless of cost. This is GOD’s love.”

So, which is the love of Galatians 5:22 that is a “fruit of the Spirit” love? I’m sure you have guessed it is the last, ‘Agape’. It’s the same word in John 3:16 “For God so loved the world…” and in Romans 5:8 “God demonstrates His own love toward us…” Think about that, to love like God loves and to love like Jesus loves, comes from God the Holy Spirit as a gift! Have you ever felt like you couldn’t love God enough? Like there was something missing? The love that we can muster within ourselves, in our own strength is always tainted by the self-curl of the flesh. To be able to truly love unconditionally is genuinely a miracle act of God; it must come from and through Him — it is NOT a feeling, it is an action!

Show love even when you don’t feel it; live love even in the presence of the unlovely. ‘Agape’ is also the love of Matthew 5:44 – “But I say to you, love your enemies…” It then stands to reason that the love we are to have for each other is ‘agape’, and the love we are to have for our neighbors is ‘agape’. When we try to love in our own strength it is always lacking. Remember, true ‘agape’ is a gift from the Holy Spirit; walk in Him, live by Him and LOVE through Him!

A Christ-Like Life

A Christ-Like Life

By Kendall Kelley

Life is tricky. It is full of ups and downs and unanswered questions. But, if you look at life closely, you begin to see its true beauty, you begin to fully understand its value, and can begin to notice God’s hand at work.

I recently watched a sermon by Todd White during which he spoke on becoming the person God has created you to be. His challenge to each of us was to fully see ourselves the way God sees us and to walk uprightly with God, with the wisdom and knowledge of his love so that we may live confidently in who he says we are. But how do we do this?

One point that stuck with me the most is when Todd said: “So many people today are walking around, trying to figure out this thing called life. But you can’t really do the thing until you become the thing.” He said our main priority in life should be this: To live like Jesus lived, to love like he loved, to walk like he walked, to talk like he talked. We must die to ourselves so that we may be alive in Christ. Die to our old ways and to all our selfish ambitions. We spend so much time comparing ourselves to others, wanting someone else’s life, because we don’t understand and know the life God has created us to have. “If we wake up in love with Jesus, spend our day in love with Jesus, and go to sleep in love with Jesus, then we will have fulfilled his first command – to love the Lord your God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind.” (Matthew 22:37)

What does all this mean? What exactly is this ‘thing’ we are meant to become? As I dove deeper into my notes and thought about Todd’s above quote, it was all made clear when I added one word to the phrase: “…you can’t really do the thing until you become like the thing.” In other words, we cannot fully live this life until we become invested in following the one who sacrificed his to give us ours. In John 11:25, Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” So, if we want to live a joyous life, and it is written that Jesus is life, then why not start by living a life for Jesus? We do life by becoming more Christ-like. We relinquish our selfish ways, our need to always know the plan, our acts of comparison, and we begin to see ourselves the way God sees us. We take the gifts and desires he has placed in our hearts and we execute them for the sake of his glory and his good.

You see, when we look in the mirror we see something completely different than what God sees. We see flaws, we see imperfections, we see the regrets from our past, the mistakes we made, rejection from others, our addictions, our sins, and our insecurities. We see that we’re ‘messed up’. God doesn’t see that. In fact, he does one better; he says, “I’ll see you’re ‘messed up’ and raise you freedom. He gives freedom from it all. That is how good our God is. He willingly came into this world and became our sin, so that we could become something more. Something more than what our shame, guilt, worry, and rejection tell us we are.

God is constantly forgiving us and pursuing us every single second of the day. He does this because we are his children that he made in his image. We’re made in HIS image! That’s huge!! God, who is perfect in all things, made us in his image – meaning he sees no imperfections in us.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m my own worst enemy. My indecisiveness, ability to overthink little details, and desires to understand every circumstance takes over and causes me to lose sight of who I am. Just the other day, as God was revealing some of that hard truth to me, I found myself writing in my journal. Six pages filled with ugly details from all of my past relationships. These were areas of my past that I never wanted to revisit because they were reminders of times when I was wronged and when I did wrong. The burdens I carried had been pushed way, way down. These memories had left permanent scars on my heart. As I sat there with shame-filled pages staring back at me, I realized just how much of an effect it all still had. The guilt, the anger, the fear and need for control – it was still consuming my every move. Then I heard God say, “Now take all of what you just wrote and go rip it up.”

This is a direct representation of our God. He loves us so much so that he calls out our sins and rips them up, tearing away their bondage over us. He forgives so that we can move forward with a pure heart into the plans he has for us. He does this so that we can become who he created us to be and live an abundant life in the body of Christ. He doesn’t call us to live under our pages of regret; he calls us to rise above, seek his face and be a living vessel of his work. But before we can fully rise to the occasion, to be our very best self, we must first be willing to sacrifice everything that keeps us tethered to the ground.

“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” 1 Corinthians 13:12

 

A special thanks to our guest writer Kendall Kelley. You can find her online at http://www.onefinesoul.com/ and on instagram @onefinesoul.

God’s Extravagant Love

God’s Extravagant Love

By Pastor Ben Hill

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:7-8

Augustine said: “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.”

How motivating it should be to love when we think about God’s love for us! Yet why is it so hard to separate the love of God for us from our “performance” in loving back?! The pure perfection of His unconditional love is a concept; indeed, a Truth that must be accepted on faith because sin’s presence in our lives and our world make that pure unconditional love unobtainable for us. No matter how we may try, the “I” of sin will always get in the way somehow.

What, then, do we do? Focus on the reality that “God IS love!” He sees us through a timeless lens: simultaneously as we are AND how we will one day be! His love is pure… His love is proved… He gave His Son!! Jesus died because God is love.

During Oliver Cromwell’s reign as Lord Protector of England, there was a young soldier who was scheduled to be executed. His young fiancé pleaded with Cromwell to spare the young soldier’s life. Cromwell refused and the sentence was to be carried out when the curfew bell sounded. When that time came, the heavy rope of the large bell was repeatedly pulled, but there was no loud ringing sound! The soldier’s fiancé had climbed into the belfry and wrapped herself around the clapper so that it could not strike the bell. Her body was smashed and bruised, but she did not let go until the clapper stopped swinging. When she was brought down battered, bleeding and bruised, and Cromwell heard her explanation and saw her level of devotion and love, he commuted the sentence.

God’s love for you is displayed in brutally and beautifully vivid color as Jesus still bears the scars of being crushed to save you from eternal death! Just accept it…on faith. He really does love you!

Let My Heart Beat Again

Let My Heart Beat Again

 

By Jane Horvath

Have you ever had a situation that astounded you or made your heart stop? I am not talking about a beautiful sunrise or sunset or the birth of your child or grandchild. I am referring to that phone call you never wanted to receive, the work situation, the overwhelming health problem or the relationship that seems beyond repair.

One of my new favorite shows is Code Black. A few definitions of code black, a medical term, is mass casualties or personal threat. Any of the situations above could fall into these definitions. We do not live in a vacuum, so work, health and relationship issues can feel like a personal threat and may involve mass casualties. In every episode of Code Black, someone’s heart stops beating for one reason or another, and the doctors and nurses use a variety of means to restart the heart.

When these situations occur, what means are you using to restart your heart? On the other hand, would you prefer to be just another casualty? What will it take to go from the flat line of your heart not beating to hear your heart beat again?

In Code Black, sometimes the heart starts using basic CPR. Other times a powerful medication like epinephrine is used. If all else fails, the heart jolts to life with a defibrillator. In the case when our hearts stop beating because of overwhelming circumstances, God may use a variety of means to start our heart again.

Many times God uses a verse in His word, a song or a text from a friend to jolt my heart back to life. Other times, it is a message from church or something from a book I am reading that startles me back to life. For other times it takes counseling over a period of time for me to start hearing a faint heartbeat.

I do know that the longer it takes me to recognize my heart has stopped beating, the longer it takes it to start beating again. God is the common denominator for my heart to start beating. He uses people, places and things, but God is the one who breathes life back into my body and soul.

If your heart has slowed or stopped beating because of overwhelming circumstances in your life, do not be another casualty. Instead, seek God through His Word or through a person who knows the life-saving treatments to start your heart beating again for Him.