Friday, June 30, 2017

Loving Your Enemies: Extended Devotionals

Loving Your Enemies
Extended Devotionals

Please forgive my lateness - I will need to extend the date by which I said I'd add the additional reflections. This week required more of me than I anticipated, but I will get the additions up!

By July 22, 2017: Although these are extended, there’s more I want to add, including reflections from having attended Pavel Goia’s 6:30a messages. I will post the “more” as an addition to this post - not a separate one. I will likely add onto what I have already written (again), so re-reading is welcome & advisable. The reflections from Pavel Goia have to do with prayer and are powerful spiritual tonics. Blessings, grace & peace to all of you!

A Fruitful Obedience Issue.
When Jesus said, “Love your enemies,” that was God telling you to do something. When God tells you to do something, it’s not an option. It’s an imperative - a command. It’s an obedience issue - something we can sin over if we’re not careful. And the result of pop psychology and worldly philosophies gradually seeping into the church (many of them have meant well, trying to help without seeing the whole picture) is that we sin in this area a lot and think it’s okay in the name of self-preservation and protection.

Safety and boundaries are very important. God wants us to have them. He also wants us to live according to His interpretation of and provision for the safety of our hearts. Throughout Scripture, God regularly called His loved ones into very unsafe and deeply sacrificial situations to be instruments of divine purposes, yet Jesus also told us to not throw our pearls to pigs - to not give what is precious to people who won’t recognize it. So how do we reconcile these two seemingly opposing teachings? We marry them. 

Unhealthy spirituality comes when people try to separate what God designs to exist in union: grace & the law, faith & works, mercy & justice, wholeness & holiness, love & truth - etc. Biblical spirituality consists of these paradoxical pairs as much as proteins are the building blocks of our body. We are spiritually unhealthy when we embrace the lie that God loves us so much He’d never want us exposed to the unsafe minefield of actively loving on people who have hurt us or could hurt us and probably will continue to hurt us until they repent, if they repent. (Deep breath)

Inevitably, everyone who loves you hasn’t or won’t without pain and personal cost. That’s simply how love works in a fallen world. Passages in God’s Word like Hebrews 12:7 and Galatians 6:12 tell us that hardship can be seen as soul-training and that avoiding the persecuting backlash of living how Jesus lived is no badge of honor. We are called to at least learn how to take a punch, how to take a bullet on behalf of loving humans because the Son of God let Himself be flat-out tortured & killed to love humans. At some point, we all want following in Christ’s footsteps to only be easy. So many of us want following Jesus to be under our own control. But if your relationship with God is going to be healthy, the only person who should be under your control is you. Not God. Not anyone else. Other human beings that Jesus died for are not your turf, they’re not my turf. And the Almighty God of the universe is not our turf, either. 

Now of course loving your enemies is hard. But it can also be exciting…! It’s front lines Great Controversy. It’s the agonizing and exhilarating taking turns. It keeps you on your knees. It is a profound growing experience that will at least yield fruit in you that will certainly affect other people even if the enemy you’re loving on chooses to harden their heart as hopelessly as Pharaoh did. And you can always know that when you obey, God will break it, bless it, and multiply it to feed others. 

Some Wisdom About HOW.
God doesn’t give senseless commands. There’s a great deal of rich stuff to unpack from why we are commanded to love our enemies. It’s not just “the right thing to do” - it’s redemptive for us and for them. And you will start feeling the benefits before your enemy does, because when you love your enemies, you take away their power and negativity. You hurt their arsenal. They may still raise their voice, flail, lie and verbally abuse you but because you’ve switched into the mode of loving them, their behavior takes on a totally different meaning to your heart. Learning to love your enemy is one of God’s slow-burn miracles. It takes a lot of time and effort in contrast to the more instant miracle of raising the dead, but it’s still a miracle - something utterly impossible in your own strength but deeply encouraging to your faith and others’.

Learning to love your enemies is learning to love as God loves. Why? Because every human born into this world starts off as His enemy. We’re all born with a sinful nature. We have to learn to love Him (which is only possible with a total heart transplant [Ezekiel 36:26] because of how incurable our Jeremiah 17:9 heart is), and He always has to wait before we can even begin to understand Him, not to mention love Him back. Also, God never stops loving even the humans who won’t quit being His enemy. Learning to love your enemies will teach you worlds about God’s heart. It starts off feeling completely counter-intuitive because God’s wisdom is foolishness to the world’s ways, but it becomes deliciously liberating as you keep doing it in, on, by & through faith. It becomes something you will never again want to live without, because it is a holy, sanctified, divinely sanctioned and redemptive coping mechanism that does what all others can’t. And who wouldn’t want that kind of gift package…?!

As you begin to learn how to love your enemy, try to think in opposites but with a readiness to improvise differently every time, thinking about all components present and their implications. When your enemy is being inflammatory, you need to be cool water. When they’re frigid, you need to be gently warm. But these are metaphors. What do they look like? For example: if your enemy is blowing up your phone, Facebook page (or blowing up in front of you) with verbal abuse and their emotions are clearly running without a leash in sight, you need to be the opposite. You need to be sterile and kind. You need to keep your words fewer than theirs because you don’t want to engage in similar fashion when their sinful nature is firing with all pistons.

If you can’t pray up a loving facial expression, you need to at least pray up a quiet one. This is because love is patient, kind, and does not delight in evil. You behave this way to not give their sinful nature the dignity of a response that in any way mirrors it. If your enemy is acting superior, quiet and cold, here is a time to think in opposites, but also improvise, because you don’t want to totally be their opposite as follows: if someone isn’t talking, you shouldn’t be so hooked into opposites that you resolve to crowd up their silence with your own words. Silence can be a soothing grace, and the willingness to sit quietly with someone difficult can show them you’re respecting them, content to take it at their own pace. Your efforts may often appear to do no good due to the fact that some grown adults just want to be irrational because it works for their constructs. But you will have at least planted the seed of your witness through the active agape of denying what every human innately knows are natural instincts. And as Pastor Heros said last week during camp pitch, “No one can deny a life of self-denial.” 

Judging vs. Discerning + Gently Restoring.
We’ve cut Matthew 7:1 off at the knees. It doesn’t merely say to not judge. It says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” expressing that the way you judge others will be turned on you. Jesus is saying to only judge in a way you’re ready to have applied to you. For every action there is a reaction and the wages of sin is death. Ellen White sheds further light by defining the judging Jesus says not to do as “intruding upon the province of conscience” (MB 123.3) and setting your lone self up as the standard while still having your own sinful nature, a thoroughly spotty record, and no right to cast the first stone (any stone). 

However, Jesus also told us (in the same chapter!) we would know a tree by its fruits (Matthew 7:16). In Galatians 5:19-21 & 5:22-23 we are given lists of good and bad fruits that are diagnostic tools when we’re trying to discern what we’re dealing with and how to love strategically. There’s a spirit these days that has made many of us shy back from the redemptive & gentle, holy boldness that needs to characterize us. Instead, we have a cringing attitude based on the fear of man that says, “I don’t want to judge/make them feel judged…” Yet Galatians 1:10 says, “If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

Think about this for a moment: a judgment is something solid & definitive. We celebrate the judgments we like (especially in courtrooms). God is all about stable structure and light, whereas Satan loves to blur and darken every good thing. It’s no accident that the good thing judging was meant to be has been turned into a trigger for reactionary negativity and that our divinely designed capacity to think analytically (no animal, plant or object can do that) has been conflated as this very trigger. It’s diabolical. It’s the devil’s work. He is always trying to kill, steal, or destroy and he has succeeded at getting us to pour contempt on our own potential to think & live as morally deep & deeply effective free agents. 

Galatians 6:1 teaches that when a soul is caught in a sin (or entrenched in being an enemy; healthy Christians don't seek to be or have enemies but are active in seeking to diffuse enemies right into their own family) that if you have a real dependence on God (or are willing to grow one) that you should seek to gently restore, to love your enemy. Restoration requires external confrontation (gentle as a surgeon’s scalpel; it cuts, but never unnecessarily) to lance the boil of their need to repent of a sin that is bulging with its self-deceiving & malignant fruit. It also needs their confession from within to give God access for spiritual surgery. If it’s unconfessed, it’s inaccessible. God will not force. And so He waits for, woos and wrestles with us in the interim. 

Often the mere presence of the truth just being articulated, no matter how gently, is all it will take for an accusation of “You’re judging me!” to be detonated. Expect it and be rooted in God. This love takes time. Love does not delight in evil but channels in God’s grace even while making eye contact with one of the most disturbing of all obstacles: sheer darkness embodied in a human being. 

Loving in Light of Shame, part 1.
People often get shame & guilt mixed up. Guilt is when you feel awful because of something you’ve done - because of an open-shut choice. But shame is when you feel awful just because of you - the factor of your mere existence in any situation. Whether you’re happy or depressed, whether you’re right or wrong, shame can get underneath and constrict your ability to be real & honest. It constricts you with privately deep, psychological pain. Shame is one of Satan’s most alarmingly effective tools because it causes people to make agreements with sin & is a form of evil that we are as helpless against in our own power as demon possession. 

People are freed & healed of shame by being experientially known just as they are and still receiving unconditional love, just as they are - without the contingency (and certainly without even the mere mention) that they perform or change to access the love. It will help you to remember that loving someone does not equate to agreeing with or approving of their choices. And even there, in this day & age, you don’t always have to initiate the explicit expression of your disagreement or disapproval - the simple absence of your explicit affirmation of their choice sends the message of your disagreement & disapproval, while also sending the message that you love them enough to exercise self-control and gentleness. True, sometimes you are called upon to be unmistakably articulate. But not always. Walk with God about it. Wait to hear from Him. We grow in walking with Him through wisdom and through freshly personal revelations from Him specifically to our individual hearts. 

Count on being frequently shorted when loving unconditionally, but don’t keep a grudging tally; love keeps no record of wrongs. Chalk it all off perpetually as being par for the course of the Great Controversy. You’ve shorted God countless times before getting where you are now, and His everlasting love has canceled your sins. Now it’s time for you to imitate His staggering example. 

Such is unconditional love - God’s grace: His intervening, deliberate goodness. It’s based on what Jesus deserves, not us. This is why we are to love even & especially those we are drawn to the least as if we were loving Jesus (Matthew 25:31-45). We owe it to God & always will. Outside of Christianity, every belief system & every unbelieving human being expects you to pay in some material or emotional form at the risk of their love being withdrawn. Because of this, almost every enemy you will ever love has a stronghold of shame that you will need to factor in. People who have strongholds of shame are terrible at letting anything go because control is how they have the most success (and it’s never total) in keeping shame at bay by their own strength. 

It’s paramount that shame-sufferers do everything they can to avoid feeling the shame they can’t destroy, which is why people with strongholds either crumble or explode when they’re triggered: they have no anchor & so they either just give in, or desperately try to distract themselves by projecting their shame onto you. Shame perpetually gaslights the human soul with the lie that they are incurably unlovable, damaging & repulsive. It lies that not even the simplest overtures of unselfish love will ever reach you. Shame’s effect on humans shows the power of mixing lies with a little truth into more potent lies, armed with disarming believability: we would be all that shame says we are without God. But we have God. Nothing can separate us from His love except our own choice, but when we’re in the captivity of shame’s cruel lies, our choices do separate us & Satan wins. But he doesn’t have to win every battle. And he doesn’t have to win any of them forever. He gets to burn. And he will.

Loving in Light of Shame, part 2.
Shame is a crazy-maker; a unique demon. It will drive permanent wedges between people unless you know how to understand it. It thrives in darkness & ignorance. Shame changes you to where you sometimes forget why you rationalize how you act - all you know anymore is that you just have to. Most of the time, when those who explode (the more externally disorienting reaction shame-sufferers can display) can cough up an excuse for their withering (shame-based) reactions & explosions, it’s that they feel they had to do it to protect themselves. Shame has a big role in people’s safety issues. And it did for mine. 

A little over seven years ago, I absolutely shredded one person in particular that I loved, upon being triggered (there’s almost no one who doesn’t have some shame, it’s just a question of how much). I didn’t even ask her first for her version of what happened; I just flipped. And I rained and I poured and I thundered in a hefty Facebook message (oh the courage we have from behind a screen vs. in person). I didn’t know the first thing about either defining or dealing with my shame. Although I was acutely aware of hating myself coexisting with the desperate desire to feel more safe and more whole, I couldn’t have told you about shame’s role in my behavior back then. And even if I could, I wouldn’t have even wanted to confess that shame was an issue because that would have felt like an admission of weakness and I already felt far more weakened than I wanted. And that wasn’t the only time I was severely, deeply unkind to her. But God pulled a Romans 8:28 & now I can look both back in the past & around my present situations with understanding. 

Proverbs 26:2 says that like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow, an undeserved curse does not come to rest. This friend of mine always treated me gently, despite my acidic dysfunction. She planted seeds in me through the witness of her behavior. For all the months & years I did my best to sound polite while talking badly about her, I never had peace about what I thought was the thesis of the wreckage of our relationship. I could never talk about her without getting worked up. I carried her in me like something that refused to be digested. The curse of my treatment of her did not come to rest in either of us. She went on living for God while multiple factors were driving me into my dark place, my cocoon. 

How God helped me change probably won’t be many enemies' stories (but who knows!). In the bitterness and gall of my wandering and disorganized grieving from traumatic emotional losses independent of my shame saga with this friend, I became desperate to be reunited with God. Desperate enough that I was willing for Him to show me anything from the past that I needed to see differently, if only I could feel His presence in my life and heart again. And He showed me my friend and I saw my sin - my huge, flaming, swollen mistake. My heart melted in a volcano of bittersweetness. The sweetness was from the utter relief of blue skies clarity after years of clouds and storms with only a shred of blue sky if I was lucky. The sweetness helped me bear it that the bitterness over my behavior and all the lost time gave my insides a serious scrubbing. I was utterly convicted that I had to at least apologize to her and ask for forgiveness even if she never wanted anything to do with me again (and I thought she wouldn't). After a solid 3 years of our relationship having been ruptured and the two of us being estranged, I was completely floored by the first line of her response: “Oh Chloe, I’m so grateful for what Jesus can do with hearts!” It took me months and even years to get used to experiencing the miracle of reconciliation and maturing enough to fully trust that something so beautiful and otherworldly had actually taken place. That miracles happen. Reconciliation is a miracle. It's not just a little phrase. We started talking right away and over time, it bloomed into thorough, cleansing conversations. This friend of mine ended up having a deeply supportive role in my wedding day & wedding party and is one of my safest, closest friends today. She is my sister in Christ and I love her deeply and she loves me. We both praise and credit God for the miracle we had the privilege of experiencing together.

Lots of enemies are more lost than I was, but the principles of these issues stay true - you just need to obey harder & longer. Pavel Goia’s Friday morning (June 23) message dealt powerfully with this; get the recording (get them all!). Whatever enemy you have, your situation is not isolated. They may be the first worst person you’ve ever met, but they’re actually a very old stereotype, a trump card of Satan that he uses against those who don’t have enough courage (yet) in an attempt to keep them from ever growing any. People have loved “the worst people in the world” with their eyes wide open before and so can you. They are not a new & earth-shattering phenomenon, just because they’ve changed your life as you know it. They may very well be unlovable but they can be loved if you insist on it through your God-given & God-preserved free will and by faith and not by sight through Christ who gives you strength. Galatians 5:6b says the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. Faith is living in a different reality according to the better truth - the whole truth. To love your enemies is to feed God’s sheep - it's to feed your [spiritual] family of origin. Love is seeing enemies according to that better truth: they may view you as their enemy, but they aren’t yours. They’re your family. Forgiveness means that every human is your family (whether they're close or estranged, they're still family) because you are a human being and all of you are created in the image of God. Evil is your enemy. The sinful nature, dysfunctional brokenness, and spiritual strongholds in your fellow humans’ lives all compose your collective enemy. Loving the humans who hurt you and need you happens before forgiving them because loving them is how you forgive them. Loving people who are further back in their spiritual journey saves them, just like it saved you. 

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