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The Love that Jesus Taught

 “Truly, He taught us to love one another; His law is Love and His gospel is Peace; Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother And in His name all oppression shall cease”

-Oh Holy Night

I often quote John 13:35 to my children when they are going at one another with bickering—please tell me yours do that, too.

“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

Of course, they don’t like to hear it because it’s hard to love like Jesus.

My question to them:  If a stranger were to walk into our home would their words draw them towards God or not?”

It really IS that simple. Are we loving one another like Christ taught us to love? Or are we not?

Usually, this very motherly exhortation results in peace for a moment—maybe two—but soon the arguing ensues and then I have to pull out the big guns like taking away electronics (NOT the electronics!!!) or even worse—forcing them to hug it out. Peace is going to reign in the Middlebrook home even if it kills us!!!

A peaceful moment together at Christmas Eve service.

 Law of Love

Last night at our Christmas Eve service, the words from Oh Holy Night gripped my heart in a shockingly revealing way.

The lyrics equate the slaves as our brothers and calls an end to oppression in the name of the one who taught us to love. I thought about what this meant in my life as I shakily sang the rest of the chorus.

Sometimes, I forget the Gospel of Peace in my effort to love the way Jesus taught me to love. I get so caught up in the injustices of this world that I lose myself in it rather than resting in His law of love and gospel of peace.

This year, I’ve been frustrated by the slowness of Kingdom work and have been worn down by the never-ending needs in Haiti. I’ve felt like a failure and more often than not, have felt ill-equipped.

Gospel of Peace

Yet, last night I was reminded that what happens this side of heaven isn’t what fans the flame of our mission. Our eyes are to look beyond to a King who wants to see every human being come to know His law of love and gospel of peace. We keep our eyes on Him—learning and leaning into Him.

Two-thousand years ago, God demoted Himself to the shameful status of a peasant boy so that the chains of oppression would be broken for Us once and for all.

So I ask you this—is your love for your brothers evident? If a stranger were to come into your home—would your love for others draw her to Christ? I’m not talking about easy love—like the kind we have for our friends and family, that kind gets us feel-goods and kisses in return.  Jesus said even the world can love like that.

I’m talking about the kind of love that you have to dig deep for. The kind that leads us to sacrifice for others so that they may come to be freed from the chains of slavery. It is the grit-filled love that tenaciously pursues in spite of rejection. This is the hard love—the kind that is pretty much impossible apart from Him.

If only loving this way was as beautiful as the lyrics of this carol. Peace does not come naturally to us—as all bickering siblings can attest—it is as hard and messy as….well….as a baby Savior being born in a stable.

I’m thankful this season—for a love and peace that can only be found in the one who showed us the greatest love of all.

“Greater love has no one than this; to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13

Wishing your family the Love and Peace that Jesus us taught us. Merry Christmas!

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Pour Some Mercy on Me!

Lately, “doing church” has become a little bit stale to me. Stagnant. Sameness.

It has become the thing to do on Sunday mornings rather than the thing that takes hold of me. There is something about the routine that robs me of renewing faith. You know, the kind of faith that asks to be renewed, refreshed, restored. Don’t get me wrong, I believe gathering on Sundays is an essential element of my faith. But lately I find myself craving the kind of faith that David longed for in Psalm 51-

“Create me in a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

Maybe it’s me. But again, maybe it’s the routine. Blah.

I think these routines were some of the things that bothered Jesus the most about the synagogues of his day. The religious leaders relied on routines to attain holiness rather than recognizing their need for renewal. They were ripe with a righteousness derived from acts that seemed religious like fasting, tithing and offering animal sacrifices. So ripe in fact, that they rotted the souls of the very men who SHOULD have known better.

Jesus challenged these loveless acts not only with his words but by choosing to befriend those who contradicted the religious expectations of the day.

Before his appointment with apostleship, Matthew had been a money-grabbing tax collector. He was despised and rejected by his own people. Yet, Jesus penetrated his soul with two words. “Follow me.” Done.

Moments later, they would find themselves enjoying dinner together along with other less reputable people: Matthew 9:9-13

“While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

What compelled this celestial God-man to keep company with the irreverent and destitute?” Did he identify with the poor and unrefined? Did he indulge himself with feasting and drink?

I don’t think this is it at all.

From what we know of Jesus, he would have never found pleasure in the crass talk of the “tax collectors and sinners”. He was, after all, perfect and holy. I think he hung out with them because they didn’t try to hide their sins with sacrifices and religious order. Their reputation was already ruined so they had no need for pretense.

Jesus searched for opportunities to pour out mercy on those who needed mercy most. His pleasure was rooted in his desire to heal their brokenness. He sought to mend their gaping sins even if it meant hearing unholy speech and seeing the ugliness of humanity. He wasn’t a fragile untouchable leader easily rattled by uncouth women and greedy tax collectors.

 He set aside his reputation so that he could redeem the souls of those whose spirits were sick.

So why aren’t we doing the same? Why do statistics show that the longer a person is a Christian, the less likely she is to hang out with a non-believer? Why aren’t we drawn to the “sick” the same way Jesus was? I bet you he hugged hard and laughed much and wasn’t afraid to cry in front of his friends. He was REAL.

Ask yourself—Would Jesus feel comfortable in your church looking the way he did? Would he relish our Sunday morning routines or would he stir our souls with the unexpected?

I think he would challenge us to redefine our version of “church”. He would lead the way by pouring mercy over the poor in spirit. We will never know the beauty of believing if we aren’t willing to embrace the ugliness of OUR humanity for the sake of redeeming it.

This may mean going to a bar, visiting a local veterans hospital, inviting “those” neighbors to dinner, speaking truth in love, visiting a prison, crossing the tracks, publicly praying for people-if it makes you uncomfortable, then you are probably “doing church”.

My Sunday mornings have become stale perhaps because I’ve stopped looking for opportunities to pour mercy over people within the church walls. Perhaps I’ve forgotten that it isn’t those Sunday mornings that have had the biggest influence on my spiritual growth and I’m expecting too much. While good sermons and fellowship are important, they are not what has given me a refreshing faith that sticks. I’ll tell you what has:

Becoming a foster mom produced in me an “on-my-knees” reliance on Jesus.

Being at my mom’s side as she fights cancer has developed in me deep-rooted confidence that all will be well in the end.

Traveling to Haiti has led me to see another face of my God that I didn’t know existed.

Working with incredible women at HandUp has humbled me and allowed me a judge-free time for confession. Believe me, it ain’t pretty.

The Pharisees didn’t get any of this. They were too busy doing their religious thing. Jesus told them to GO and LEARN what it means to show mercy. So I make the same challenge to you (and to me). Don’t expect church to sustain your faith because it will only let you down. Become a receiver and giver of mercy  and let it run through you and straight into the hearts of people. We might just all be refreshed and renewed TOGETHER.