One of the most interesting, if not comforting, perspectives on the diversity of the Christian family, especially as recorded in the Bible, is we are oftentimes a mess. At times it is the result of our own doing and sometimes it’s not our fault but the fact remains we are a mess. The great comfort is, as dysfunctional as we maybe, there is hope. Bill Butterworth’s Sunday message gives us one glimpse of brokenness and the power of God to restore.
Two separate words cross my mind as I rethink Bill’s message – locusts and love. Joel 2:25 states: Then I will make up to you for the years that the swarming locusts have eaten, the creeping locusts, and the gnawing locusts . . . . What a graphic picture of how life is for many of us. Trouble after trouble seems to swarm all over and around us. We can’t seem to catch a break. Then another thing creeps up on us and takes us by surprise. Finally a long simmering matter keeps gnawing on us, breaking us down little by little, sometimes unseen until the structure crumbles. God’s messenger, Joel, was telling the nation of Israel their choice to ignore God and His Word resulted in the troubles visited upon them and the only way out was to change their ways, return to God and be connected again. Amazingly, when the connection is re-established, God states He will restore what the locusts have eaten. The noted Bible teacher, Warren Wiersbe, says Joel 2:25 “is a word of promise to all those who return to the Lord with sincere and broken hearts.”
When Bill Butterworth talked about needing acceptance from ourselves I quickly thought of the Great Commandment – Love the Lord your God with all your heart . . . Love your neighbor as yourself. Back in the early days of my faith journey as a student at USC, I received teaching in a discipleship process that has influenced me to this day. A popular notion at that time stemmed from the saying, I am third, which came from the story of the relationship between star Chicago Bears football players Gayle Sayers and Brian Piccolo, and later made into a movie, Brian’s Song. The legendary running back, Gayle Sayers, had severely injured his knee in a game and his best friend on the team, Brian, more than capably took over the running back position. Even though Brian had now achieved his ultimate success he spent countless hours helping Sayers heal and rehab. He would not let Sayers give up and pushed him forward to the point Gayle returned as the star running back for the Bears, replacing Brian. The story doesn’t end here but I will let you check it out for yourselves. This was the story of God first, others second and me third. I was challenged by my discipleship teacher to think of God first, me second, then others. This shakeup of the lineup was revolutionary. But before you think this to be sacrilege, let me say this “re-thinking” allows one to put others before oneself in a manner that I believe is God ordained.
The words of the Great Commandment state, love your neighbor as yourself. Dr. Dave asked in my discipleship class, “How can you truly love others if you don’t love yourself first?” Christ stated we should love others as ourselves and how we view ourselves cannot help but impact how we then extend love to others. This was really intriguing. How did I feel about myself? What baggage did I carry into all my relationships? I see better today how this impacts my response and reactions to people and whether I am selfless or selfish. What is the right way to love myself?
The first step is to understand and know deeply that I am loved by God. I am fearfully and wonderfully made in His image. My worth to Him is measured in His blood and life given up freely for me. All the gnawing locusts denigrating my worth are all silenced by a gracious and merciful God. I am secure in Christ. Therefore, I can love others, because He first loved me. Furthermore, putting others ahead of me is not only do-able but the right thing to do. Even though I am trashed by people I need not hold back for fear of losing because God will not fail me or forsake me. So, loving me second results in I am third.
The second step is living out He is God and I am not. I am not God’s gift to mankind or even my wife. I am not here to act in judgment but to serve and connect in a way that restores and builds. I am not the fulfillment for life but a conduit of His life. I am here because of God’s mercy and grace. I extend love and grace on the basis that I have been given much more. I give from a place of wholeness through Christ and not to fill a deficit in me or claim that I am better than others. And the miracle is I find wholeness and satisfaction in relationship as I allow God to work in and through me.
Understanding God and how He would have us love one another happens best in our relationships. Whether in good times or in disastrous ones, we all need to accept ourselves, help one another and find healing in God. GateWay Church is a wonderful context in which to practice growing in wholeness. Who are you inviting?