I learned a lesson that I think was one of the greatest illustrations in my life. It was how God wants us to really love one another as an act of obedience to Him. This happened years ago during one of our Young Life training days. We were having a Bible study and were studying Luke 6:46-49, the passage about the wise and foolish builders and the foundations they built upon.
In discussing other related scripture, one of our trainees quoted a verse from the Topical Memory System, but she missed a couple of the words. She got the theme of it, but one of the guys there made a little joke of it and said, "Hey, you're supposed to have it word for word," and then someone else chimed in with a funny but sarcastic comment, and then we went on. But what we didn't realize was that this had hurt her feelings, and tears began to come down her face.
Now she is really a tough kid -- I mean, she is very secure--so she was trying to hide that she's been hurt and she was embarrassed. We were having this terrific Bible study, and she didn't want to be the center of attention. And I'm thinking that we have to get on with this Bible Study. I have been looking forward to it all week. It has a great point. But I can still see the tears coming down. I didn't know what to do, so I kept going with the study.
So we're talking about this passage, Luke 6:46-49. "When the flood comes, his house was built on a foundation..." etc. Tears are still coming down her face. I continue, "Well, the one guy hears his word and puts it into practice..." And of course this is falling like lead balloons. We didn't know what to do, so we kept going.
Finally, one of the guys there says, "Wait. Our sister here is upset, I think we should stop." Then someone else said, "I think we should apologize." This sparked a great discussion about what had just taken place and how we had responded to the situation.
For the next hour, I learned one of the greatest lessons. You know what the foundation is? In John 15, the greatest command is to love one another. Build your Bible study on it, your fellowship on it -- loving one another. Is it possible that we build our relationships without the foundation of love? Do you work better when you feel accepted and loved or when you feel judged? In Young Life, we have the best camps, the best programs, the best people in Young Life -- does that make it the best if there is no love? No way!
I'm so thankful that when Jesus commanded this, he didn't say, "be pure," or "be the best athlete," or "be the most handsome, the smartest, coolest, sharpest." No way-- "love one another." Everybody can do it! It doesn't take a lot of ability to just care for someone and ask them how they are doing. You and I have such power through using this, because people are desperate for it.
Now, it's no secret that I'm bald. We have a friend who stops by the house frequently and always likes to make a joke about it, and I think to myself, "how dumb." He could have said something to build me up -- it was in his power. It doesn't take a great jump shot. God asks us to love each other --and that's how we work best.
Here is something we say in our Young Life training program: "People change significantly when they have the opportunity to have a group experience and share feelings and discuss problems in an atmosphere where they feel empathetically understood and warmly accepted." We'd spend all our money to be in a fellowship like that. And then we would change! We're desperate to be loved like that.
God is the one who wants us to love. Let's look at 1 Corinthians 13. "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels.." I'll take that, wouldn't you? That we could have people laugh when we want them to, cry --gosh, to be that articulate, speaking with the tongues of angels -- "but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or clanging cymbol." He's saying that it's not that hot.
How about you speakers? Would you take it? To be able to speak with the tongues of men and angels? That's "the best" No way! Without love, no one even wants you up there. Sit back down. You're just a clanging cymbol, nothing there.
"If I have the gift of prophesy..." I'll take that." ... if I have a faith that can move mountains.." --would you just take that? The fact is, a lot of us would. But the real fact is that without love, "I am nothing." Do you know how you measure nothing? There's nothing! If I have a bucket with nothing in it, there isn't anything in that bucket. He doesn't even say, "without love, you're half full." Without love you are nothing! Do you really believe that?
I still remember my first summer assignment on Young Life staff. I had hives I was so scared. I was afraid that the people around me would see me fail. I tell you, I would have been a lot better off if I knew they were going to love me through my mistakes. Okay, next one: "...if I surrender my body to the flames.." Now wouldn't some people do this? I gain nothing. It's not gaining a little bit -- it's nothing. If you take love out of the best, it's not even the worst--it's nothing. IQ, looks, what are the things that do it?
How would you like to walk around with Judas or Thomas for three years. Jesus knew Judas was the one who would betray him. But did he love him? Of course. Jesus gets in Peter's boat, and Peter says, "depart from me.. for I am a sinful man." But who did Jesus give all that fish to? This was when he knew Peter was a sinner. Then Peter walks off with Jesus. Now that's after he told Jesus he was a sinner. Jesus still loved him as a sinner. That's the power that we have.
"Love is patient, love is kind." Think back to Thomas. He comes in and they are so excited, and he says, no, "unless I see the nail marks in his hands.. I will not believe it." How would you like to around that guy? And I think Jesus was patient. I think patience is hanging in there with someone where they are right now. Wouldn't it be great if we love one another as we are, where we are, and be patient with each other as God works through us?
"Love is kind." Isn't that a great word? It's gentle, it's mercy. "It is not proud." When we're linking arms, we don't have to be prideful. "It does not envy." That can be a tough one--we see someone else's gifts and want them. "It is not easily angered." You can't be angry if you're really for each other, if you're patient and kind. We get angry because we want what we want. If we want what God wants, we won't get angry.
"It keeps no record of wrongs." You know, I would guess that a lot of us have some things in our minds about even some people of something that happened in the past. I'd like to suggest that maybe we write down the wrongs that we have held against people, and give it to the Lord and let it go. "It always protects, always trusts..." Now we'd like to change that a little bit. You can't always, we say. But the love we are talking about isn't our love. Jesus said, "love as I have loved you." Love "always hopes, always perseveres." Not bad, huh? Wouldn't you like to be in a fellowship like this? Wouldn't you like to be on this team? Do you think that you would do your best on this ministry team or in this family or with this fellowship of believers?
And what makes us think that we have to do the changing or pruning of one another? In John 15, Jesus says His Father is the gardner and does the pruning. I taught myself this lesson. At my home, there were these two big forsythia bushes outside our window. Well, I thought they needed pruning, so I took the shears and cut everything down. The problem is, I pruned just a little bit too much. Actually, I pruned a lot too much. That afternoon Alice, our next door neighbor, knocked at our door and asked if she could cut some branches from our forsythia bushes. She wanted to have some of the beautiful yellow flowers to decorate her table for a party she was having the following week. I told her that I was sorry, but I had just pruned them. She said, "You what?" They are going to bloom in six days! I had pruned all the branches with all the buds. Aren't you glad that Jesus says that God the Father is the gardner and that He does the pruning?
When I came on staff, I had hives everyday. At the University of Pittsburgh, I never had to go out to anybody. In Young Life, I had to go out to people. Here is another passage that launched me into ministry at the time. 1 John 4:18-19. "we love," why? Because he raised Lazarus from the dead? Because he changed water into wine? Because he was so smart? "Because he first loved us." Boy, if that doesn't pour water on parched ground. That's it! If we want kids to love us--"Speak with the tongues of men?" Nothing. Really serve them? Nothing! Do all these things with love? They will love you. And that's the best. Absolutely the best.
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