Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective

Malankara World Journal
Penta Centum Souvenir Edition
Volume 8 No. 500 October 14, 2018


Chapter - 14: Love

Love of God and Neighbor by Fr. Philip LeMasters

Those who are blessed in the eternal life of the Kingdom are those who have been purified by the love of God to the depths of their souls and who show that love in their relationships with others....

The Unshakeable Love of God by Fr. James Guirguis

God’s love far exceeds any concept of love that we might understand. His love for us is perfect. ...

Be Christians like Jesus, who loves people, and not 'legalistic', 'hypocrites' or 'corrupt' by Pope Francis

The novelty of Jesus is that he brings the Word of God, the message of God, that of God's love for each of us. ...

Love Means Telling the Truth by Dr. Ray Pritchard

Paul knew that true Christian fellowship could only be built upon a solid foundation in the truth. If he didn't tell them the truth, they would go merrily on in their sin and the relationship would be broken. Only the painful step of confrontation would ever make them realize how much they really loved him. ....

Stern Love -- A Meditation on a Moment When Jesus Was Unkind by Msgr. Charles Pope

We tend to equate kindness with love; this is a mistake. Kindness is an aspect of love, but so is rebuke and so is punishment. ..

A Love That Stays by Gwen Smith

Even when we fail, God does not. Even when we disobey His commands and run away from all that is good and holy, He loves us. Yes, consequences will be handed out, but His LOVE will remain. ...

14. Chapter - 14: Love

Love of God and Neighbor

by Fr. Philip LeMasters

Gospel: St. Matthew 22:35-46

If you're like me, you sometimes lose perspective on what is most important in life. We get so busy, so distracted, and so worried about what is going on around us at the moment at home, at work, or wherever that we sometimes lose sight of the big picture, and instead focus on small things that aren't really crucial. So we end up wasting our time and energy on what really isn't very important.

The Pharisees were experts at missing the big picture, especially of interpreting the Old Testament law in such rigid detail that they ignored the true point of the commandments. When one of them asked the Lord to name the greatest commandment in the law, he was apparently trying to trap Christ in a complicated argument. But the Lord wasn't about to play that game; He wasn't about to waste time and energy in pointless speculation that served only to confuse people. Instead, He got to the heart of the matter: He quoted from the book of Deuteronomy, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." That fundamental, and often overlooked, central teaching of the Jewish faith is the first and great commandment, according to Christ.

But our Savior wasn't done yet. He added a second commandment "that is like it," taken from the book of Leviticus: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." And He concluded that all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. In other words, the ten Commandments given to Moses and all the other legal material of the Old Testament, together with all the prophetic teachings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Amos and the rest of the prophets, grow from these two basic commandments: to love God with every ounce of our being and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Jesus Christ got to the heart of the matter, for He knew that the law and the prophets were intended to direct the people to communion with God, to loving fellowship and union with Him which would include their relationships with one another. Remember His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.

In other words, those who are blessed in the eternal life of the Kingdom are those who have been purified by the love of God to the depths of their souls and who show that love in their relationships with others.

No, Christ did not come to destroy the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them. He called His followers, and He calls us, to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees. That doesn't mean that we will follow more laws than they did, but that the meaning and purpose of the Law will be fulfilled in us: that we will grow in the likeness of God, that we will be united fully with Him through love; that His love will overflow into every relationship that we have and will become present in the world through us. In other words, we will become holy through the love of God and neighbor; indeed, that's what true holiness means, to be purified in love and union with God and with one another.

Though we may not yet have the eyes to see it, our entire life in the Church—and every bit of our life in the world as Christians—presents an opportunity to grow in holiness through the love of God and neighbor. Indeed, that's the point of it all: of our services, our prayers at home, our fasting, our feasting, our generosity to the poor, our forgiveness of others, our marriages and family life, our recreation, and all our work on the job or at school. They are all part of fulfilling our most fundamental calling: to grow in the likeness of God, to become partakers of the Divine Nature, to grow in loving union with the Holy Trinity and with one another.

But that may sound strange. After all, we work to make a living. We go to school to learn and to prepare to make a living. We spend time with friends and family, play games and watch sports or listen to music because we like to. We don't often think of these activities as religious at all. So what do they have to do with growing in holiness or fulfilling the commandments?

Well, the answer is found when we remember that the Incarnate Son of God became a human being with a real body in order to bless, heal, and sanctify us and everything about us and our world. In His resurrection Christ conquered every corruption and distortion of our fallen humanity, and has now ascended into heaven as the God-Man, showing us our destiny for life eternal. The good news of the gospel is that every single bit of our life presents an opportunity to share in His sanctification of our humanity, to grow in love of God and neighbor, to continue on the path trod by our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ.

For example, who isn't worried about the economy these days and how it impacts our businesses, our livelihood, and our personal finances? We don't like to hear or say it, but bad economic times remind us not to worship the Almighty Dollar and not to look for fulfillment and peace in money or possessions. We are called to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, not to love wealth or worldly success. And when times are hard, we are reminded to place our trust in Him, not in what is here today and gone tomorrow and can never truly satisfy us.

If we want to love our neighbors as ourselves, we never have to look far at all. Every person whom we meet is a living icon of Christ and is called to life eternal. No matter the circumstance, whenever we put someone else's interest above our own, whenever we are generous with our time, our attention, or our resources, whenever we help someone in any way, we serve Christ and grow at least a bit in the divine likeness. No matter our age, gender, occupation, or circumstances, we all have the opportunity each day to love our neighbors as ourselves and Christ in our neighbors.

And in relation to the Church, let's remember above all not to be like the Pharisees. They loved to keep score on how righteous they were in comparison to others. They thought that obeying laws was an end in itself. Unfortunately, it's possible to go through all the motions of religion without love for God and neighbor. It's possible to miss the point entirely and to become a self-righteous, legalistic judge of others. But that's to miss the point entirely, for we fast, pray, come to Church, and lead upright lives not in order to impress God or other people. Instead, in humility and repentance, we want Christ to train our souls, to shape our lives in His image. The point is not simply to follow a bunch of laws, but to grow in love for God and neighbor through the worship and way of life taught by the Body of Christ, the Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

When we make the time to pray daily and to come to Liturgy on Sundays and Feast days; when we confess ours sins and prepare conscientiously to receive Communion; when we wrestle with our passions through fasting or other forms of self-denial; when we humble ourselves to serve others and to ask for their forgiveness when we offend them; when we live faithfully—though imperfectly—as Christ's followers, we grow in the love of God and neighbor, and we shine a bit more brightly with the holy light of Christ. Then we grow in union with the Lord and His righteousness and, despite our unworthiness, we share in Christ's fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. That is what our life as human beings is about, and it is possible because the Son of God really has become one of us so that we may become more like Him, being truly perfected in love.

Source: Eastern Christian Insights Used with permission.

The Unshakeable Love of God

by Fr. James Guirguis

Gospel: 3:13-17

One of the ideas that has guided modern anti-religious thinking is the idea that God has multiple personalities. That God is sometimes love and sometimes wrath. This has caused an unhealthy fear of God and has often caused people to dismiss the “Christian” God as being petty or childish or unstable. For instance some teach that if someone accepts Jesus Christ, then God loves him. But if he rejects Christ, then God hates him and moves to punish and destroy him. This has led to unbalanced views of heaven and hell and the afterlife, but most importantly it has caused people to be unsure of their relationship with God or to reflect hostility towards God since they believe that God is already hostile towards them. If we believe in this type of God, we are left confused or angered by the unpredictable personality of God. It then becomes no wonder that people have fled from the Christian faith and that the typical modern western man or woman no longer considers Christian faith as an integral part of our society and culture. These are the ways in which our theology or dogma have a deep effect on our worldview and thinking from the top down. What you believe about God affects your whole world.

In today’s gospel reading, we are reminded of the reality of this God whom we serve. John writes “For God sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” So John tells us that the Lord Jesus Christ did not become a man who dwelt among us and lived our life and experienced our pain and suffering because He hated us or wanted bad things for the human race. In fact it is the opposite, He came to us and was present with us because of His deep love for us. We see this again in the life of the Lord Jesus as He does not impose His beliefs on others or cause them physical pain or use force in order to coerce them into faith and belief, no! Instead we see that He teaches out and works openly and invites people to come to Him.

It is not that God forces us at all. Out of His love for us, He opens to us the opportunity to choose Him and to choose His way over the ways of the world (which are the ways of death and corruption). Yet, even in the life of the Lord Jesus we see that people would not always accept Him or His teaching. Sometimes they would reject him and then we saw the one thing that was unimaginable. People turned on God and attacked His Son. Humanity repaid God’s love by betraying Him. Far be it from God to condemn the world, in fact it was the world who condemned His Son. How much love does God have for us, that He would allow such a terrible and hateful thing to occur? We have no way to quantify such a deep love.

St. John writing in his first epistle says this about the subject “God is love.” He is telling us something about God’s character, God’s personality and even God’s essence. In a manner of speaking, love is in the very fibers of God’s being. There is no place for anything other than love within Him! When we say that God is love, we are saying that His love is perfect, eternal and unconditional. God will always love you. There is nothing that you can do that will change this pillar of our universe. God IS love.

We see this love come to complete fruition when we see the Son of God hanging upon the cross. In effect, this is the way in which God says to the world “Now you see just how much I have loved the world.” St. Paul writing in today’s epistle had this to say “But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is our glory because it fundamentally changes the way that we understand the world, theCreator of the world and our place in the world.

Everything is seen differently when we begin to understand God’s love. We even understand our lives differently through the lens of the cross of Jesus Christ. We understand through seeing the cross, but even more, through living the cross. It is one thing to see Christ from the outside, it is another thing to put on Christ and carry the cross.We begin to see that life is not about comfort but about struggle. We begin to see that doing the right things does not always mean that you are rewarded with comfort and happiness. Often it means thatyou will have to really suffer. That is part of what it is to be a Christian who lives according to the law of love. To loveis often to be used, humiliated, disgraced, hurt or even killed. Many of you have experienced such pains and trials.Why do you think that we remember the Martyrs so often? Because they have demonstrated to us what it means to put on the Lord Jesus and take up His cross with love. But my brothers and sisters, if we recognize that men and women like us have been able to embody and demonstrate such love, we can never forget that God’s love far exceeds any concept of love that we might understand. His love for us is perfect.

This love brings us to life and gives our life new meaning. Even difficult things and painful circumstances become beautiful when they flow from our love for God and when we attempt to live His love for others. So this is exactly what we try to do on a daily basis. We don’t simply go around in a careful way, trying to avoid all kinds of pain and struggle. That is no kind of life. We embrace holy struggles. We struggle to be loving to others even when they treat us poorly. We struggle not to condemn others, even when we see them sinning. We struggle to be faithful and dilligent to our work and our families and our husbands and wives. We struggle not to get swept away with the currents of the world. We struggle to be honest even when we see our classmates and co-workers being dishonest. We struggle to live holy lives.

We carry our crosses with the understanding that each one of us can multiply the love of Christ in the world. We carry them bravely, knowing that God is able to raise us up because He alone has conquered death! We carry the crosses that He allows in our lives, no matter how difficult they might beand He promises that we will share in Hisresurrection. All of this is given to us by grace because He first loved us and gave up His life for us, to Christ our God is due all glory, together with His Father and the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

Source: Out of Egypt Blog

Be Christians like Jesus, who loves people, and not 'legalistic', 'hypocrites' or 'corrupt'

by Pope Francis

Being Christians like Jesus, "with the zeal to seek people, heal people, to love people" and "not purely legalistic and hypocrites like the scribes and Pharisees. Do not be corrupt like Eli's sons, or lukewarm like Eli . " They are the " models " of believers of which Pope Francis spoke today at the Mass.

As reported by Vatican Radio , the Pope noted that the Gospel speaks of " the attitude of Jesus in his catechesis", of how he "taught like someone who had authority, and not like the scribes ." They, he said, " taught, preached bound people under the heavy weights and the poor people could not move forward".

"And Jesus himself says that they did not move these weights even with a finger , no? And he would say to people: ' Do what you say but not what they do'. Incoherent people ... But always these scribes, these Pharisees it is as if they were always beating the people, is not it? 'You need to do this, this and this', the poor people ... And Jesus said, ' But, - he says to them- in this way you close the door to the Kingdom of Heaven. You do not let them in, but neither to you enter'. It is one manner, one way to preach, to teach, to give witness to their faith ... And in this way, there are many who think that faith is something like this ... ".

In the First Reading from the Book of Samuel, we find the figure of Eli, "a poor, weak, lukewarm priest" who "let his children do so many nasty things". Eli was sitting in front of a doorpost of the temple of the Lord and sees Hannah, a lady, "who prayed in her own way, asking for a son." The woman "prayed the way humble people pray: simply, but from her heart, with anguish". Hannah "moved her lips", like "so many good women do in our churches, in our sanctuaries". She prayed "and asked for a miracle". And the old Eli looked at her and said, "But, she is a drunk!" and "he despised her". He "was the representative of the faith, the leader of the faith, but his heart did not feel well and he despised this lady". "How many times do God's people not feel loved by those who must bear witness: Christians, Christian laity, priests , bishops ... 'Look at the poor people, they do not understand anything ... They need to take a course in theology to understand properly. 'But why do I have a certain sympathy for this man? Because his heart still had the anointing, because when she explains her situation , Eli says, ' Go in peace, and the God of Israel give you what you asked for . 'His priestly anointing comes forth: the poor man had hidden inside his laziness ... he was lukewarm. And he ends badly, poor man".

His children are not seen in the passage of the First Reading, but they were the ones who ran the Temple, "they were robbers". "They were priests, but robbers". "They sought power, money, exploited people, took advantage of alms, gifts" and "the Lord punishes them heavily". "Such is the figure of the corrupt Christian", "the corrupt layman, the corrupt priest, the corrupt bishop, profiting from their situation, their privilege of faith, from their being Christian" and "their heart ends up corrupt" as happens to Judas. From a corrupt heart comes "betrayal". Judas betrays Jesus. "The sons of Eli are therefore the third model of the believer. And then there's the fourth, Jesus. Of him the people say: "he teaches with authority: This is a new teaching". What is new is "the power of holiness", "the novelty of Jesus is that he brings the Word of God, the message of God, that of God's love for each of us". Jesus brings God close to the people and to do that he draws close to them: He is close to sinners". Jesus forgives the adulteress, "he speaks of theology with the Samaritan woman, who was no angel". Jesus "seeks people's hearts, Jesus approaches the wounded heart of the people. Jesus is only interested in the person and God". Jesus "wants people to get close, he wants them to seek him and he is moved when he sees them, like sheep without a shepherd". And this attitude "is why people say: But this is a new teaching'." No, "it is not new teaching: it's a new way of doing it. It is evangelical transparency".

"Let us ask the Lord that these two readings will help us in our lives as Christians: all of us. Everybody in their particular place. Not to be purely legalistic, hypocrites, like the scribes and Pharisees. Not to be corrupt not be like the sons of Eli. A not to be lukewarm like Eli, but to be like Jesus, with that zeal to seek the people, heal people , to love people , and with this to say to them: ' but if I do this so small thing then think of how God loves you, how he is your Father . This is the new teaching that God asks from us. We ask for this grace".

Source: Asia News/Vatican Radio

Love Means Telling the Truth

by Dr. Ray Pritchard

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 7:8-13

Let's take a little quiz together called "What would you do if."

What would you do if someone in your church sued another member for slander? Before you answer, consider the second question. What would you do if you discovered a case of incest by one of the leading men of the church? Let me give you another one for good measure. What would you do if you discovered that some young people (and some not-so-young people) were engaging in premarital (or extra-marital) sex? Or if you found out that some of the elders didn't believe in the resurrection of Jesus? Or if people were getting drunk while taking the Lord's Supper? Or if three adult Sunday School classes demanded that the entire church adopt a vegetarian diet? Or if you got a note in your mailbox saying that four of the board members had called a special secret meeting to consider firing the pastor and replacing him with the associate pastor? And here's the last one. What if all these things were happening in your church at the same time? What would you do?

If you are like most people, your immediate reaction would be, "I'd find another church." That would be fine for you, but it wouldn't do much to help the church. If the only people untainted by compromise left, how would the church ever recover? There must be a better answer that just pulling up your stakes and moving on.

I think we've all heard about the woman who said she was looking for a perfect church. To which a friend replied, "If you ever find such a perfect church, please don't join it. You'll ruin it." Though we would all like a church without serious problems, there aren't very many of those around. And if we did find one, we would ruin it if we joined it.

We are left with an undeniable reality. The church is made up of people, and wherever you have people, you have problems. Since the church deliberately opens its doors to all kinds of people, we end up with all kinds of problems.

Someone may object, "Sure, churches have problems. But no church could ever have all the problems you mentioned. That's impossible." And that list does seem fantastic, for how could a church survive all those things? Here's the surprise. I didn't make that list up. That's from a real church. Not one in the United States. That's a real church in the New Testament. It's a description of some of the problems in the church at Corinth. And so the question "What would you do if" becomes very crucial because one local church faced all those things and more.

I've already suggested one answer: ignore the problems. But that's usually not the best answer because it doesn't help the people struggling with various issues.

Unfinished Business

It's clear that Paul didn't believe in running away from thorny problems. He believed in facing them straight on. That's why he wrote 1 Corinthians. It was difficult, heart-breaking, and brutally honest, but he did it. He told them the plain truth even when they didn't want to hear it. When we come to 2 Corinthians, written just a short time later, most of the problems he discussed in 1 Corinthians aren't even mentioned. They had been faced and dealt with biblically so Paul never brings them up again.

But there was one piece of unfinished business. It was the matter of a man living with his father's wife (See 1 Corinthians 5 for details). It was a sin so heinous that even pagans would not do it. In his first letter Paul had ordered them to throw the man out of the church. They had done it. Later the man had repented. Now he wanted back in the church and the people would not let him back in, which is understandable if not charitable. So in 2 Corinthians 2, Paul declares, "The man has suffered enough. Let him back in" (vv. 5-11).

A few chapters later Paul looks back on the whole process of dealing with the church's difficult problems. He reflects on how it made him feel, how it made them feel, and the good things that came from it. We find that personal reflection in 2 Corinthians 7:8-13. These verses contain a vital perspective for 21st-century believers who would rather duck the hard issues of life.

In our day of mushy love and cheap grace, when we redefine sin instead of calling it what it is, we need to regain the biblical perspective. Love means telling the truth even when it hurts. These verses flesh out three implications of that principle.

# 1 Telling the Truth Often Hurts.

Look how Paul says it in verse 8: "Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it-I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while." This is why so many people would rather ignore problems. It's not easy to be blunt knowing that you risk rejection and misunderstanding. Sometimes people just don't want to change. So it's easier all the way around to keep our mouths shut. Paul has a biblical balance. He didn't enjoy exposing their problems. He wasn't a troublemaker who felt good when they felt bad. At first, he regretted his frankness because he wanted their love and acceptance. But he risked it all for their ultimate good. Telling the truth can be painful for the one who tells it.

Not only that, but this verse makes it clear that telling the truth can be painful to those who hear it. I don't know about you, but I like compliments. I would rather be complimented any day than have someone I know come up and tell me where I've gone wrong. But as I look over my life and remember the times when people close to me told me the truth about my faults and failures, I can testify that I grew more from those times than when someone simply complimented me on what I had done. Sometimes it has come from a phone call, sometimes from a casual conversation, sometimes from a letter in the mail. I never like it at first, I never want it, and it always goes down hard. But if the truth is spoken in love, even if it is tough love, I will end up saying, "Thanks. I needed that."

That much we already know. And if I stopped here, I would justify our natural aversion to getting involved with other people. It's often painful and frustrating on every side. So we don't do it.

# 2 Telling the Truth Changes Lives.

Here's where the rub comes. We see a brother or sister faltering along the way. Many times they don't even know what's happening. But we do. We see the invasion of sin in their life. And we say, "I don't think anything can change them." Maybe, maybe not. But our only chance is to go to them directly, tell them the truth, and see what happens. Why? Because telling the truth changes lives.

There are two responses a person can make. Paul explains it in verses 9 and 10:

Now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death (vv. 9-10).

I had a chance to visit with a friend going through cancer treatment. Every month he went to the hospital for very difficult chemotherapy. He looked pretty weak to me so when I asked what those treatments were like, his wife said that the treatments made him sick for a week to ten days after each one. The monthly visits were almost as bad as the cancer itself. Yet that was the only hope of cure. That's what Paul is saying here. The only lasting solution for spiritual problems in the body of Christ is to confront them head on with the truth. But that truth can be painful to hear. And it may cause one of two things to happen.

First, there may be sorrow that leads to repentance and salvation. "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret" (v. 10). So maybe someone comes to me and says, "Ray, you're way off base." That makes me mad because I know I'm not off base. I know I'm right. I go home fuming and Marlene says, "Honey, what's wrong?" I say, "Somebody said I'm way off base." My wife (who is very wise) looks at me with a little grin and says, "What if they are right?" Now it's two against one, so I go into my room and stew for awhile. Eventually the light dawns, and seeing what I fool I really am, I confess my sin to God, make things right, and with God's help change my life. What is all that? It is the end result of truth-telling. It made me sorrowful, but that sorrow forced me to evaluate my own life and get things squared away with the Lord and with the family of God. How do I feel in the end? I have no regret. It's like swallowing a tablespoon of castor oil. I hate it going down, but in the end
I have no regret.

Second, there may be sorrow but no real change. I may not respond well to the truth someone tells me. That's what Paul means when he says "worldly sorrow brings death" (v. 10). What are the signs of worldly sorrow?

Dejection: "I'm sorry I got caught."
Defensiveness: "It wasn't my fault."
Self-justification: "You just don't understand the situation."
Anger: "Get off my back."
Unkind words: "Who are you to be judging me?"
Projection: "You're not so perfect yourself."

Many Christians become quite adept at sidestepping the truth. Some of us make it a lifelong habit. That's what the sorrow of the world is. It's sidestepping the truth to avoid dealing with reality. It's using every defense mechanism in the book so we don't have to change the way we live.

But godly sorrow always produces a radical change. Check out verse 11:

See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.

Here are seven marks of godly sorrow:

First, we are quick to make things right.
Second, we are anxious to clear our record of wrongdoing.
Third, we are upset that our lives should contain such compromise.
Fourth, we are alarmed over our sin.
Fifth, we long to be restored to spiritual wholeness.
Sixth, we are concerned for the preservation of the body of Christ.
Seventh, we are ready to do whatever is necessary to make things right.

Paul saw all of that in the Corinthian church. Because they had allowed a terrible situation to fester in the church, it had taken a painful confrontation with the truth to make them see how wrong they were. But that painful episode produced godly sorrow and repentance and the seven qualities in verse 11. No wonder Paul says "At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter."

# 3 Telling the Truth Builds Love.

We discover one final implication in verse 12: Telling the truth builds love between believers.

So even though I wrote to you, it was not on account of the one who did the wrong or of the injured party, but rather that before God you could see for yourselves how devoted to us you are.

Paul wrote with the ultimate goal of deepening the love between himself and the church. It's not that correction of the incestuous situation isn't important. It is. But Paul knew that true Christian fellowship could only be built upon a solid foundation in the truth. If he didn't tell them the truth, they would go merrily on in their sin and the relationship would be broken. Only the painful step of confrontation would ever make them realize how much they really loved him.

Proverbs 27:6 (KJV) says "Faithful are the wounds of a friend." Sometimes the most loving thing a believer can do is to wound a friend with the truth.

That's one of those hard sayings, but it is true nonetheless.

I have seen it at work in my own life many times. I saw it years ago when a Presbyterian evangelist told me I needed to show joy in my life. I saw it during my college years when the head counselor at a Christian camp told me I had done a good job for the first part of the summer but had slacked off at the end. I saw it when a friend told me I was jealous because the youth ministry was successful without me. I saw it in Texas when another friend told me I needed to develop faithfulness in the small areas of life. Sometimes it has been a note in the mail, more often just a word spoken in passing, though several times more than that. I remember once when my father told me how I had hurt my mother because of my carelessness. That one still stings almost 40 years later. And there have many other times when people I respect have pointed out my failures.

As I look back at all those experiences, two things stand out. It was always painful. I never enjoyed being corrected. But I always loved and respected the one who had the courage to do it. It was bitter medicine that made me better in the end. Why? Because love means telling the truth. Whenever we take that seriously, it will often be painful, it will always change lives, and in the end it builds love between believers. No wonder Paul ends this section by saying that "by all this we are encouraged" (v. 13). Loving people is always extremely risky business. Most of us have known what it is to have our love refused. Some of us know that intimately.

And that, I think, explains why we tend to run from deep involvement with other brothers and sisters in the body. It's too risky. We may get hurt. They may not like what we have to say. Or we may not like what they have to say. It's always easier to talk about weeping with those who weep than it is to actually weep with them.

But God intends for the church to become a body of committed, loving truth-tellers. Easy to say, hard to do. But that's the call and risk of love, that we might pay the price and get involved with each other and take the risk to love.

Praying Through Proverbs

Several months ago while reading through Proverbs, I spent some time doing something I had never done before. One problem we face with the book of Proverbs is that the verses seem disconnected. You can have a verse about laziness next to a verse about anger next to a verse about bad rulers next to a verse about the dangers of alcohol next to a verse about the benefits of fearing the Lord. It can seem jumbled together. So to focus my own mind, I started praying through Proverbs by taking a chapter and turning each verse into a prayer. That helped me think about how to internalize the truth of that particular verse. And I tried always to include a "so that" as part of my prayer. Here are some examples from Proverbs 29:

"A man who remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed-without remedy" (v. 1). Lord, grant me a soft heart to hear the rebukes of others so that my life may not be ruined.

"By justice a king gives a country stability, but one who is greedy for bribes tears it down" (v. 4). May I love justice more than money so that I may be strong to help others.

"If a wise man goes to court with a fool, the fool rages and scoffs, and there is no peace" (v. 9). Help me to pick my fights wisely so that I will not be embroiled in arguments all day long.

"Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him." (v. 20). Help me to listen more than I talk today so that I may learn from others.

I freely admit there is nothing profound about those prayers. I mention it here because Proverbs keeps coming back to the issue of wisdom in giving and receiving rebuke.

It's evidently a big deal to God how we respond to hard truth. If we are going to become healthy in this area, we need courage and we need humility.

Without courage we will never speak up.
Without humility we will never listen up.

May God grant that the truth spoken in love and received in love might heal our hearts, lead us to repentance, free us from bitterness, and unite the body of Christ.

Lord, make us sensitive to those around us.

That we might see the hurting and be an agent of healing.
That we might see the fallen and lift them.
That we might listen to words of wisdom.
That we might dare to care instead of walking away.
That we might risk misunderstanding to help others. Grant, O Lord, that our love might be like yours and go right through to the very end.

In the name of Jesus who knows us fully and loves us anyway, Amen.

Copyright © 2016 Keep Believing Ministries, All rights reserved.

Stern Love -- A Meditation on a Moment When Jesus Was Unkind

by Msgr. Charles Pope

Gospel: Mk 7:24-30

The Gospel for today’s Mass shocks most modern readers and perhaps a few ancient ones as well. It is the story of the Syrophoenician woman who begs Jesus to heal her daughter. But Jesus ignores and then rebuffs her. Our shock says perhaps more about our poor understanding of love than about Jesus’ terse response.

For review, here is the well known passage:

Jesus went to the district of Tyre.
He entered a house and wanted no one to know about it,
but he could not escape notice.
Soon a woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit heard about him.
She came and fell at his feet.
The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth,
and she begged him to drive the demon out of her daughter.
He said to her, “Let the children be fed first.
For it is not right to take the food of the children
and throw it to the dogs.”
She replied and said to him,
“Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.”
Then he said to her, “For saying this, you may go.
The demon has gone out of your daughter.”
When the woman went home, she found the child lying in bed
and the demon gone.
(Mk 7:24-30).

While I have commented on other theories of this story elsewhere (Do Not Pass me By), in this post I want to briefly explore what our shock reveals about our own attitudes.

Briefly said, we tend to equate kindness with love; this is a mistake. Kindness is an aspect of love, but so is rebuke and so is punishment. Mercy and patience are aspects of love, but so are insisting on what is right and setting limits. Very often, true love requires us to be firm and insistent. Sometimes being kind is rather unloving, since that can assist or enable people in doing things that bring them great harm.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus, who is God and therefore is love, is for a moment “unkind” to the woman who seeks help for her daughter. He has His reasons for this. And while neither your nor I can read her heart, Jesus can. And it seems that Jesus sees a need to exact greater faith and trust from her. His rebuke challenges her, and challenges met have a way of increasing faith. She could have gone away angry or discouraged. With Jesus’ rebuke, her faith in His goodness is challenged. By staying in the conversation and refusing to give up her hope or faith, both these virtues grow. There is an old expression, “Things do by opposition grow,” and we see that here.

Why would her faith need to grow? I cannot speak for her, but I can speak for myself and from my experiences with others. Many people merely want relief, not healing. Healing is hard; it takes time and effort. Healing usually means that one must reexamine one’s life, thoughts, priorities, and so forth. Healing usually means making changes, some of them significant. It sometimes means giving up pleasures and ending unhealthy relationships.

Do we have the kind of faith that is willing to make the changes that healing often requires, or do we just want relief? I have found that people who have come to me over the years seeking deliverance and help often want a simple blessing or prayer to suffice. They are seeking relief and they want it fast. Some have made the longer journey toward healing, but others have gone away sad, angry, or discouraged.

In my own struggle during my mid-thirties, I think I started just wanting a quick solution to my anxieties; I wanted relief. But I came to discover that it was going to be a long journey to healing. It meant I was going to have to grow in trust by examining some of my controlling tendencies and changing the way I thought and lived.

Many years later, I can say that the healing has come. But it was a long and often difficult journey, during which I felt the way the Syrophoenician woman must have. In my own case, I was shocked by the Lord’s silence. And when I did hear His voice, it seemed only to challenge me. Was the Lord being unkind? Back then, I would have said, “yes.” But I have come to discover that the Lord was doing what was loving, even if at the time it seemed unkind and distant. The Lord was insisting that I come to trust Him more, for my own sake, and He wasn’t just going to keep sending me bromides for relief. His goal was to heal me. That was the loving thing to do.

Kindness has its place, but so does rebuke and so does the refusal to enable us in our sinful and wounded tendencies.

And so it was that a certain Syrophoenician woman experienced a moment of unkindness from Jesus. But she did not fail to receive His love. And while her story is told in a rather quick, focal way, our own stories may extend over a longer period. If we, like her, refuse to give up our hope and faith, if we stay with the Lord allowing Him to work and grow our faith in His work, we, too, will hear those marvelous words of the Lord: For saying this, you may go. The demon has gone out.

Source: Archdiocese of Washington

A Love That Stays

by Gwen Smith

Today's Truth

I will maintain my love to him forever, and my covenant with him will never fail. (Psalm 89:28 NIV)

Friend to Friend

I took a few pictures the other day with what I call my "big girl camera." You know, the kind with a lens that adjusts to things near and far, making objects change from blurry to clear with a simple twist. It's amazing to look through a viewfinder and watch what is hazy become crisp and clear.

Lately I feel like I need this feature for my soul.

Have you ever felt that way?

My week has been a bit of a blur and this distracted heart needs a good refocusing. So I turn to the Word of God, and the adjustment begins. Psalm 89 was penned by a man named Ethan. He wrote the psalm to celebrate the throne of king David and the prophetic promises God made regarding the eternal nature of Christ's future reign.

It's a moving read; full of promise, praise, and wonder. A declaration of God's holiness and steadfast love that seals the destiny of all who place their faith in Jesus.

I read it and am refocused on the hope of God's power, righteousness, justice, faithfulness, and strength. I'm reminded that the indescribable and unsearchable Creator of the universe invites you and me, His small, but cherished creation, to walk in the light of His presence. (v 15)

I'm reminded that God is not distant, but near. That He offers to sustain and strengthen all who are His. That He works through my weakness with a power that is perfect and that He hears the cries that rise from haughty human lungs as they breathe His holy name: Father, God, Rock, and Savior.

I will maintain my love to him forever, and my covenant with him will never fail. I will establish his line forever, his throne as long as the heavens endure. "If his sons forsake my law and do not follow my statutes, if they violate my decrees and fail to keep my commands, I will punish their sin with the rod, their iniquity with flogging; but I will not take my love from him, nor will I ever betray my faithfulness. I will not violate my covenant or alter what my lips have uttered. Once for all, I have sworn by my holiness… (Psalm 89:28-35)

I read these words - these promises from the heart of God - and my soul is stirred deeply.

God maintains His love.

His covenant will never fail.

Even when and if I, we, fail, God does not. Even when we disobey His commands and run away from all that is good and holy, He loves us. Yes, consequences will be handed out, but His LOVE will remain. When we are faithless, God will not betray His own faithfulness to us. He will not go back on His word … on His promise of salvation … on His covenant of grace through Jesus.

God swears on His own holiness that the finished work of Jesus is enough. For me. For you. For the remnant of all who've been kissed by mercy's hope.

With a heart that is refocused on clarifying truth and vibrant grace, I turn from my blurry heart haze toward God's love that remains unfailing for all eternity.

Let's Pray

Dear Lord, There really is none like You. Thank You for loving me unconditionally. Please fix and focus my heart on Your ways and guide me in all truth.
In Jesus' Name I pray,

Now It's Your Turn

Read Psalm 89 and spend a few moments giving thanks to God for specific ways He's shown you His unfailing love.



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