Love one another…

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Top of the mountainA new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. John 13:34-35

I have discipled and loved many college-age students over the past 15-or-so years, and I’ve heard a lot of reasons for not following God.  It seems when we want to live life on our own terms and by our own rules that we can come up with all kinds of reasons to reject God, and we defend our reasons to the point of being angry.  I don’t consider myself to be well-versed in apologetics (the practice of defending a religious view), and I often resort to simply sharing “the reason for the hope I have”.  I don’t like to argue about God.  It’s hard to be “right” and show God’s love at the same time.  Not impossible, but very hard.

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 1 Peter 3:15-16

I love the students that have been in our group who have struggled with the hard questions of how God fits with real life. I love that they are thinking about what they believe and making the truth of scripture come alive in their lives. But there is one statement- and I’ve heard it several times now- that stops me dead in my tracks.  It’s a statement that is too close to home.  It’s a statement that makes me want to point fingers at everyone but myself.  It is a statement that hurts, because it is so often true.  It usually goes along one of these lines:

I’d rather be friends with non-Christians, because Christians have hurt me.

People at church are fake.

Their love has conditions attached.

They judge me.

They judge others.

They gossip.

The people who are really there for me in hard times are my non-christian friends.

I love God, but church isn’t a safe place to bring my friends who are really messed up.

Ouch.

Ironically, the church I am a part of in Fort Wayne and the church I grew up at in Battle Creek both have the same mission statement:  Love God and Love Others, and I think they do a good job of living this out. I get fairly defensive on behalf of church families I love.  I know lots of people who love others sacrificially, who would never judge someone who’s struggling and who are genuine followers of God that sincerely love people.

But I keep hearing these words from people.  I heard these words here in Rough Rock last night.  Someone I was talking with said, “My friends outside the church are there for me when I struggle.  Even my Mormon friends have more love for me than the people I know at church. They prayed for me when everyone at my church turned away.”

I think we would like to write these statements off.  Explain them away as people who expect perfection from the church.  Tell them that no one group of people is perfect and they need to get over expecting perfection from the church. Instead, I think we should seriously think about our own role in this breakdown.  Not everyone else’s role.  Mine.  What do I say and do that turns people away from God?  In what ways am I not loving others?

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues,they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  I Corinthians 13:4-8

Am I patient and kind with people?  Am I willing to dive into a long-term process with someone- walk with them through the good and bad for years?

Do I hurt people because of my pride?  Am I so convinced that the way I do things is the only way that I shut down other’s ideas?  Do I crave “important” roles in the church?

Do I dishonor others by gossiping or slandering them?  This is so subtle in the church, because we  (and everyone else) know that gossip and slander are wrong- so we get sneaky with it.

Do I keep a mental list of everything someone has done wrong- only to pull it out as proof that he or she will never really change?

Do I get frustrated with people who don’t do things my way or on my schedule?  Do I leave church angry?

Do I take secret pleasure in knowing someone else really messed up?  Does it make me feel like I’m doing better than them as a Christian?

Have I placed more importance on prophecy, tongues or knowledge than on simply loving people?

We need to seek God on these things and be honest with ourselves.  If the church is a picture of what followers of God look like, how are we doing?  How can we grow in this?  How can we hold each other accountable to love above all else?

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  1 John4:7-8

I’m just becoming a part of this little church in Rough Rock.  I see love here, and compassion.  I see a desire for the lost and addicted to find freedom in Christ.  I also hear gossip and see a struggle for who will lead, and pride from those who do.  I see a church much like the church families I love in Michigan and Indiana- good and bad all together.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!  Romans 7:21-25

Yes, thanks be to God, who delivers us through Jesus Christ.

This week was eventful!  There are so many differences in our culture and lifestyle that I told my mom I’m not even surprised much any more.  I expect the unexpected.  Like walking by the sheepskin hanging from the porch only to be served mutton stew once inside.  Like being chased by goats at the grocery store.

This week we celebrated “First Sunday” -meaning that all of the four Friends churches in this area meet together at one church.  This month it was Red Ridge Friends Church that hosted.  We gathered in a small wooden church with a wood-burning stove for heat.

Red Ridge Friends Church
Red Ridge Friends Church

Each church took turns leading worship and sharing God’s word.  When Rough Rock went up front to lead my first thought was- it’s my new family up there!  Already the faces and stories of this little church are dear to me.  It’s amazing how that happens in a church, in spite of the struggles.  People you would normally just pass on the street become family.  You know their joys and pain, you enjoy meals together, you pray for and encourage each other.  I’m so thankful that in spite of enormous cultural differences we are all a part of God’s family!

My new church family!
My new church family!

Thank you so much for your prayers and encouragement this week- several of you have tried to send me videos for the kids here and discovered that my mailing address isn’t right. I finally drove to Chinle this morning to speak directly with postal workers.  Apparently the Rough Rock trading post didn’t give me the whole address.  Here it is:

Ruthanne VandenBosch
HC 61 Box 5000
P.O. Box AZZ
Chinle, AZ, 86503

Blessings over your coming week!!!

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