Hebrews 10:23-25 (NLT) Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.
We have a local outlet store here in the county that I often spend my Fridays wandering through. It is a hit or miss kind of place with everything imaginable. On a recent venture, I found a picture of a cactus in pastel colors with “Wanna hug?” written on it. It made me think of our youngest daughter and matched her room perfectly. Well worth the $4 I spent on it. She proudly displays it on her wall. She is my sour patch kid both sweet and sour all at the same time. With a huge heart, her prickly exterior often gives the wrong impression. Do you know people like that? When your first impression is totally wrong, and you must get to know them to see how genuine and kind they really are. God warns about appearance. (I Samuel 16:7) Jesus said, “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” (John 7:24) In a world of filters and social media altered images, it is human nature to make immediate assumptions based on what a person projects especially prickly people. They seem aloof and not interested in close interaction but really they are all soft inside just waiting for someone to dare to get closer.
I find it quite interesting that in Hebrews 10 immediately after instructing us to “hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep His Promise” that Paul then says, “Let us think of ways to motivate each other to acts of love and good works…” and then goes on to talk about meeting together, encouraging each other and the urgency of it. I didn’t expect that, did you? It comes before verse 26 that tells us to stop sinning. What? God is love. The sin in our life is secondary to love. Don’t get mad at me because you have mastered religion but minored in relationship. I am just as guilty. It is much easier to live a life of bondage to rules and regulations. It is habit forming and there is a potential pull of self-discipline that makes us feel like we have a leg up on this whole Christianity thing. Our pride entices us to believe that our ability to follow Christ and His Commands somehow entitles us to grace. This is just not true. We must learn to love Him and through Him love EVERYONE else. If we do not love…we missed it. Our first relationship is with Jesus Christ who gives us full access to the Father. After that, we must learn to love one another. Not defined by preference and personal space, but with the same embrace as that of hope. Gulp! This is a tough one. People are prickly.
I John 2:7-10 (NLT) Dear friends, I am not writing a new commandment for you; rather it is an old one you have had from the very beginning. This old commandment—to love one another—is the same message you heard before. Yet it is also new. Jesus lived the truth of this commandment, and you also are living it. For the darkness is disappearing, and the true light is already shining. If anyone claims, “I am living in the light,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is still living in darkness. Anyone who loves a fellow believer is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble.
So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:34-35) These are the words of our Savior and Lord – Jesus Christ. There are many things to do for the Lord but if not in love they are useless. This whole thing including every purpose in our life is about building a Kingdom not of brick and mortar but souls. Souls are bound together by one thing – love. It doesn’t matter how prickly someone is – we are to hug, hold and embrace them just as though we are clinging to hope.
When she walked into the church, I knew there was something about her. As though she glowed, I was drawn to her. The Holy Spirit whispered, “This one.” So I did what every God-fearing, Bible-believing servant led by the Spirit would do and that night I began to seek (okay, creep) her on social media. Her cover read, “Cancer survivor”. Okay, God I see a connection. The next service, she came to me for prayer and told me that she and my son had the same oncologist. That the doctor had shared his miracle story with her. The next service – she asked Jesus to be her Savior. She was baptized. Then as often happens with baby Christians – she was led to the wilderness. Disappeared. Unfriended me on social media. I continued to reach out to her. Nothing. Saw her in a restaurant, she avoided me completely so I let her go. Until now, she is back in touch. The cancer is back. So many times, God places people in our path. Imperfect. Messy. Hard. You name it with a call to love them beyond the thorns and decide not to let go. I will not let this young lady go. She is now in the fight for her life. Dear disciple of Christ and child of the Living God – we must learn to live above our feelings and reach for those hard to reach people. The ones who are prickly. Or maybe, just hard to hold on to because they are constantly drowning. It is our job to hope tight to the anchor of hope with one hand and cling to them with the other. This is not my idea. It is the command of Christ.
I Corinthians 13:1-3 (NLT) If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
Religion without relationship produces a bankrupt soul. Our comfort is in self when we cannot bridge the gap between us and other people. It is our primary mission to love others. Not just love them but lay down our life as Jesus did to follow His Example. I can write about God’s Love all day but if my faith is not used to share it individually – I have nothing to gain from God’s Word. The substance of our faith is built on a platform of love demonstrated by Christ on the Cross. To carry my cross means to carry His Love burden as well. His Love for all not some. His Love for everyone without expectation. Whom the Son sets free is free indeed meaning His Love for me is not dependent on my love for Him. I am fully dependent on His Love. Grace is enough for me but I cannot pay the price of it. It is paid in full. I owe no man anything except the debt of love. (Romans 13:8) There is no substitute for love – or it is a counterfeit. True love means reaching for those prickly people thorns in all and crushing their tough exterior to let love in. It’s our mission as believers. It is the essence of the Great Commission.
When we moved in this house, it had three scrawny, thorny rosebushes in the front flowerbed. I spent one Saturday pulling them up to replant some safe shrubs and flowering bushes. At the end of the day, I was covered in bloody scratches from my war with the roses. It was worth it because the new plants in the fertile soil are thriving and blooming with beautiful flowers this year. I wonder the potential of people who once offended, hurt or avoided us when we take the time to reach past the thorns and smother bitterness with love to plant seeds of faith in fertile hearts. We will never know until we try.
John 15:12-14 (NLT) This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.