Love Others Like You Love Yourself, Even When It Hurts

August 31, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

Loving people can be easy.  It’s easy when we already like the people and they’ve never really hurt us.  It’s also easy if we don’t really hear what Jesus said in the 2nd greatest commandment.  “Love people like you love yourself.”  That is a tremendous and deep concept and it forces us to think about the way that we love ourselves and then apply that to other people.  It should force us to think about both the magnitude with which we love ourselves and the ways in which we love ourselves.  Obviously, we love ourselves a lot.  Even those of us who struggle with self-esteem, we are the people that we think the most about, try to help the most, are most worried about, etc. What if we thought about and helped and served and loved people as much as we do those things for ourselves?

It’s not just degree.  There are ways that we love ourselves that can be helpful in our understanding of what God has called us to.  I’ll mention 3.

1) I always do what is in my own best interest.  I never (intentionally) do something that I don’t believe is in my best interest.  Even when I sacrifice what I want for someone else, it’s because I believe it is best for me to be that kind of person.  Even if I were to hurt myself on purpose, it would be because I believe that I deserve it.  Everything I do is put through a grid of “Is this good for me?”  What if we used that same grid to consider the way that we treated others?  What would my relationships look like if I only did what was in their best interest?

2) I believe the best in me. I know that I make mistakes but I always have reasons. The bad things that I do are never as bad as you think they are.  If you only understood, then you would know that I’m still a good person.  That’s how we view ourselves but not how we view others.  We look at they way that they hurt us through the worst lenses.  I’m a good person with reasons for what I do.  You are a bad person with lame justifications and excuses. What if we chose to believe the best possible interpretation for what someone else is doing and worked hard to give everyone the benefit of the doubt?

3) I always give me another chance. I have never exhausted the grace that I am willing to give myself.  I have done more damage to myself than anyone else.  In fact, I have probably done more damage to myself than everyone else combined has done to me.  However, no matter how many times I have hurt me, I’m always giving me another chance.  I know that I didn’t mean it and that I’m going to turn it around soon.  However, if you hurt me a couple of times, then I’m done with you. What if we were always willing to give people another chance?

Those thoughts are all well and good, I know, when we are talking about people that we have a good relationship with that we need to love better, forgive better.  These are great tips for improving existing, relatively healthy relationships.  But what about those relationships that are just bad.  How do we love like ourselves those people that are the most unlovable? How do we love those that have hurt us repeatedly and wisdom would tell us that nothing is going to change?

1) Know the difference between mandatory and optional relationships.  You can’t be all done with your kids or your spouse (Cases of abuse being a counterexample.  Talk to a trusted friend, counselor or pastor in those cases and get help now).  God requires you to love and serve them. You cannot remove yourself from some relationships.  I know they continue to hurt you, but God’s love and forgiveness are unconditional and he is calling us to love our family in the same way.

2) Sometimes the best thing that you can do for a person is to create some real distance.  If the relationship is doing real damage, it is in their best interest to step back from a relationship where all they seem to do is cause pain.  You can believe the best in them by believing that with some distance and boundaries they will get better.  You are also forgiving them and giving them another chance in a more healthy context to get better.

3) Do not try and do this alone.  Too often we dismiss people when we are just being selfish and unforgiving.  Other times, we are trying to make something work and we don’t have the strength to do it.  In both kinds of circumstances, you need a trusted friend to lean on, to get counsel from and to just be a shoulder to cry on sometimes.

4) However, know the difference between a buddy and a friend.  A buddy will back up whatever you say.  A friend will challenge you when you are the problem.

5) Live deeply in the grace and forgiveness that God has given you.  You can’t do it alone.  You can’t even do it with just a friend.  You need to draw on the power and the experience of the love and grace that God has shown you.  We love because he first loved us.  It is the same with forgiveness.

God is calling us to love each other deeply and to model his love to the world.  The model becomes even stronger when people see the power of true forgiveness and restoration.  Don’t give up.

“Our Church is Better Than Your Church”

February 10, 2012 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

A couple of days ago, we were praying for unity among churches in Fayetteville.  As some of you may know, this is very important to me.  Other churches are not rivals.  We are not businesses competing for marketshare.  We are one group, trying to bring hope and life to a hurting world.  So, when we feel the need to compete that’s bad.  When we decide to publicly attack and ridicule one another it is worse.

It goes something like this:

That church has a big building. That means they don’t care about missions or the poor.


That church only has a few people, they must not care about reaching out to other people.

I could do this all day, because I have heard plenty of these.  We look at other churches and feel that we can not only judge what they do, but their hearts as well.  Two questions: How do you know that church has a wrong attitude?  Even if you do know (which you probably don’t) what is gained through your public criticism?

Typically what is gained is the self-satisfaction of knowing that you are “right” and “doing it right.”  You also get to justify your own weaknesses but comparing them to (your perception of) other people’s weaknesses.  Then you get to feel better about yourself.  It’s actually much easier to point out the blind spot of someone else than to discover your own and work on that instead. Criticism is easy and feels good.  Rooting out sin in your own life is hard.

I’m currently reading a book where the author laments how megachurches build huge buildings and also talks about how bad it is that churches create celebrity pastors that do video preaching.  I know that’s not unusual. It is however unusual for that to be from a pastor of a megachurch with a large building who offers simulcasts of some of his teaching. How is such a thing possible? Because “we” do it the “right way” and “they” have insincere hearts.

When I first was reading this, I’ll confess, I was violating my own admonition here and I became angry.  After thinking about it, I realized that I really was less angry and more disappointed and sad.  I wish it weren’t that way.  I wish that we could believe the best in each other.  I wish that we could present a united front to the world.  I wish that when we do disagree and feel that the issue is serious enough, that we would (novel idea coming) talk about it (another one) in private. (Side note, if they live far away and you don’t have access to talk to them, then try just letting it go and trusting that the Holy Spirit will work on them.)

There are some pretty specific commands in Scripture about what we do when we see a brother or sister in sin.  They say crazy things like go to them and try and restore them.  They don’t say “publicly rant about them in your blog.” (Irony noted)

I know “they” upset you, because “they” don’t get it like “we” do.  Hey, I’ve got some (bad?) news for you.  There is no “they.”  There is just “us,” and we need to show the world the love of Jesus, in part by showing our love for each other.

John 13:34-35

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Now THAT is Church

It was a rough weekend for many people in Arkansas.  There were some terrible storms, some with tornados that causes a lot of damage and destruction.  One tornado hit just outside of Cabot and took out several homes and businesses, leaving many without power and without a place to live.

Out of that destruction, I get some phone calls and notes. (Of course, one person unable to find my phone number, knew that FB would be a great way to get a hold of me)  “We need to do something to help.”  Out of those calls came two guys who wanted to lead a team of folks with chain saws to clear yards if possible.  We decided that we would announce that folks are going to meet in the parking lot around 1:30 and see what we can do.

This is where the story gets really cool.  One of the men in our church is an insurance agent who insures many of the people who were hurt by the storm.  He tells us that he knows of an 80 year old lady whose husband passed last year and all of her family lives out of state.  She lost her house, her yard is a wreck and she had always prided herself on her lawn.  During the first service he drives out to her house and tells her that some folks from our church want to help someone and asks if we can come by.  She told him that she had just gotten finished praying that God would send her some help and that God told her that he would.

So now we announce we are meeting at 1:15 and going to this lady’s house to help her.  Coincidentally (yeah, right) Tim Lundy was preaching on the Good Samaritan.  After that story, the invite is easy.  “Do you want to help this lady who has no one to help her?”  Knowing that many people had plans they couldn’t change, we didn’t know what to expect.  What we had was 50-100 people swarm this lady’s yard and like an (un)tornado cleared her yard.  You may wonder why such a bad estimate of people.  One, we were too busy to count and even trying to estimate it was like estimating the number of ants scurrying in the grass.  Constant motion and work.

The best part of that story for me is this.  No one, except the agent, had any idea who this lady was.  She wasn’t famous.  There was no TV or newspaper.  No publicity except here, which means that you and my mom will know.  People did this because the love of God through Jesus compelled them to go.  No glory, no fame, certainly no quid pro quo, just a love for others that comes through experiencing God’s love.  

I was very proud to be a member of Fellowship Cabot on Sunday.

Stuff Christians Need to Stop Saying #6

February 17, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

So you’ve got a franchise and it has a running joke.  At what point does the running joke lose its luster?  When is it just annoying?  Is it only for the writer and producer?  Do the die hard fans really care?  Do the casual fans even notice?  Would Star Wars be the same if no one said “I have a bad feeling about this”?  How many people would notice?  What about Indiana Jones’s hat?  If there were no jokes about that, would there be something missing?  What about unbelievable death defying escapes to start off Bond movies?  Wouldn’t you be disappointed without them? Or are you just thinking, get on with it already?

Set-up:  Someone has committed a sin that for one reason or another is personally offensive or bothersome to you.  You are struggling with how you should respond and forgive.

Response:  Love the sinner, hate the sin.

I did a sermon last fall out of I John that dedicated a lot of time to ranting about the excuses that we make to justify anger, animosity and sometimes hatred of people that have hurt or offended us.  If you are interested in watching that, you may click here

Let’s break this down into two parts.  First, if someone has hurt us, we should love them.  God has called us to love everyone, not just the people that love us back, but our enemies as well.  We need to make sure that as Christians that we love sinners because otherwise we would love nobody (and consequently, no one would love us.)

What about hating sin?  Is it OK to hate other people’s sin?  I suppose it is hard to argue that a hatred for sin is bad.  The problem comes when we put those two phrases together and apply them to a particular person in a particular situation, it feels mean spirited and, well, hateful.  I theoretically love you, I just hate what you do.  I am not sure what person can separate their emotions in such a way.  God can, I know I can’t, and I’m pretty sure you can’t either.

Here has always been my bigger picture question.  If I love you, why does your sin make me angry and feel hate?  If I love you and you are in sin, my heart should break for you.  You are hurting yourself, damaging your relationship with God and relationships with others.  I hurt for you.  I want you to have victory over an issue that is crippling you. 

“Duh, cloften.  That’s why I hate the sin.”  No, listen.  Sin is not an inanimate object that can be hated.  It is an action caused by a person based on deliberate disobedience on the part of the person.  Sin is a product of who they are in that moment.  It is what they are doing, not what is being done to them.  We can no more love the sinner, hate the sin, then we could love the restaurant, hate the food. 

How about this?  Love the sinner, grieve the sin.  I love you and because of that my heart breaks when I see you sin.  I want better for you.  Or how about this?  It’s even simpler:  love the sinner. 

I’ve got a bad feeling about anything else.