31 Days of Philippians 4:8
Over the years, church has been a place where I have been loved on and prayed for—and a place where I have been wronged and offended.
It’s a place where I have encouraged and served people dear to me—and a place where I have hurt those very same people.
It’s a place where I have been embraced with unconditional love—and a place where I have been pierced by harsh, judgmental attitudes.
It’s a place where I have received forgiveness—and a place where I have been called to forgive.
Heeding this call to love and forgiveness is integral to my participation in the mystical body of Christ because—need I say it?—not one of us is perfect. We’re all human. We fail, we sin. But in Christ we have a deeper call—that of living out what Paul tells us in Ephesians, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children, and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Just as the sacrifice of Jesus draws me to new life in Him, the way of love lived out by my brothers and sisters in Christ is a fragrant offering calling me to continued communion and community with people dear to my soul. Theirs, too, is a sacrifice that has spoken volumes to this heart of mine–
through the forgiveness freely given by women I’ve wronged by speaking thoughtless words or repeating idle gossip.
through the prayers of those who have helped me fight temptation and persevere through dark nights of the soul.
through the laughter and tears shared with dear friends as we have rejoiced over and lamented the things life has thrown our way, learning to believe that God’s got a purpose in all this, that He’s not abandoning us.
through the faithfulness of my pastors, who practice what they preach, consistently modeling how to love God and love people, who listen to the deep yearnings of my heart, who see patterns and offer suggestions on how I can open up my soul to the life-giving grace of Jesus.
through the hospital visits made by brothers and sisters in the Lord throughout my daughter’s illness and eventual death.
through the ministry of presence, through gifts of time, food and even money shared with my family when life was at its hardest.
For me, these examples of love in action are what God talks about in the book of Hosea. “I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.” These cords are strong. They tie me to God and to my brothers and sisters. For when I see this kind of sacrificial kindness, I’m seeing God, I’m seeing Christ. I’m receiving His love while learning from the examples of those around me. And I, too, am giving, serving, forgiving, loving.
May the aroma created by such kindness, compassion, and forgiveness play at least a small part in drawing people in all corners, in all communities, into God’s fold.