As A Leader, Do I Love Or Do I Just Minister About Love?

Bible Pages

written by Lanette Zavala, author of Marriage Vows Under Fire

Over the years, ministering to others through speaking and writing, I have learned how more easily words of wisdom can be imparted as opposed to being implemented. Ministering about love is no exception.

God’s Word shows us how to love in a number of passages beginning ultimately with Jesus’ death on the cross for the sins of the world. When we thoroughly examine Jesus’ sacrifice for us, who were deserving of God’s wrath reserved for sin, we could humbly realize our ongoing need to learn how to replicate God’s love toward others.

Why do I say we have an ongoing need to learn to show love? Because unexpected challenges occur constantly in our lives. When do we respond to challenges with affection, when do we respond with encouragement, when do we respond with a sharp rebuke, and when do we even respond with distance? All of these and others are responses which our Lord Jesus Christ gave as examples in each unique situation He faced. And while He gave these responses, He never gave them apart from love. Learning which expression of love applies in each situation and challenge in our lives is an ongoing learning process.

As a servant who ministers love in blogs, in books, and in person, there are a few points that I have learned and am continuing to learn about the love walk to which I am called:

There is an ever-impacting difference between whether any minister actually loves or only ministers about love.

If I love…

1.  I minister love in word.

2.  I demonstrate it in deed.

3.  I show love in the face of favor and strive to show it (while I make a firm decision to maintain it) in the face of challenges against me.

4.  I communicate about what I disapprove of – with either a light or firm approach, depending on each circumstance – and still genuinely promote peace toward that person I have to challenge, but without dropping my love for him/her.

5.  I affirm and confirm the grace I have for others despite their faults (some faults being directed against me) because of the grace God always shows toward me despite my faults.

6.  I actively, repentantly depend on Jesus to forgive and purify me when I fall short of my call to love.

 

If I only minster love…

1.  I can’t stretch my limited supply of love to reach beyond the boundaries of my emotions, my mood, my human tolerance level, or any popularity I might gain as a “good preacher/teacher/singer” on love.

2.  I can’t ensure that the love contained within my boundaries will last toward people who haven’t yet offended me to the extent that others, who stepped outside my love boundaries, have dared to offend me.

3.  I can so gravely mistake flattery as being love – flattery toward me and flattery from me.

4.  I can’t recognize the need for correction (even when it’s to be delivered boldly) as an expression of love from me or towards me.

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Synthetic Vs. Authentic Love

Bible Pages

Written by Lanette Zavala, author of Marriage Vows Under Fire and publisher of MillennialEdge.net eMagazine.

How in the world can “true love” for one person turn us against another person? As believers in Christ, are we really able to find God-fearing love within our hearts if, while we embrace some people, we shun others for reasons that God’s Word would not validate?

Experiencing divisions within families, cliques within churches, and broken relationships in which one person was chosen to love unconditionally while others were branded to avoid, I have learned that synthetic love exists right alongside authentic love –  everywhere.

Like any other born-again believer, I am learning more about God’s Agape love from His Word gradually – never at a point of complete understanding and never at a point of perfection, though I press toward that perfection as I surrender to the heart-cleansing power of Jesus Christ. I’m like any other believer abiding in Him. Having said that, I can add that I’ve learned a few truths about love. There is human love, and there is Agape love.

Synthetic Human Love

Have you ever been in a relationship that required or strongly compelled you to turn against someone in order to support the person with whom you have that special relationship? Did you honestly think that true love made you come to the decision of shunning one person (for no valid reason) in order to demonstrate loyalty toward the other? True love does not influence such a decision. Human love – synthetic love – influences such a decision.

This kind of love has broken up families, alienated thousands of church members who eventually left fellowships where they had once perceived as loving environments (and hopefully left for Word-based fellowships elsewhere), stolen spouses to spin off families in the appearance of pseudo-honor, formed cliques that give friendship a twisted meaning, and resulted in other issues that complicate life to the point where God has often become the problems’ blame during consequences.

Who can really count on synthetic love? You’ve got to keep up charades, appearances, and acceptable behavior in order to retain it. Don’t believe me? Mess up once or too many times and see what happens. In most synthetically loving relationships, just repent and embrace God’s truth; then, see what happens. A disassociation takes place.

People begin to avoid those who disrupt a carnal flow that once felt comfortable for everyone trapped inside it. Sometimes that comfortable flow is deception.  Sometimes it’s a co-dependent relationship that allows one person to wreck havoc on others who passively foster the chaos for the sake of a peace that really doesn’t exist. Sometimes flattery is all people can tolerate in relationships based on human love. I believe this statement has dwelt in the back of most of our minds: “As long as you tell me what I want to hear about myself, you’ve got a friend in me.”

Here is what synthetic love requires:

1)  Secrecy to cover up lies

2)  Flattery

3)  Formation and upkeep of pedestals

4)  Clique activity

5)  Disassociation from one in order to maintain association with another

Is there forgiveness for synthetic love and all the problems stemmed from it? Absolutely. God gave His only begotten Son as the Remission for our sins in order that He can readily forgive the sins of those who surrender to Jesus Christ in repentance. Through this loving gift, He empowers His followers to distribute that love, which we’ve experienced.

When Jesus explains in His Word to us how to love our neighbors, He gave an unfailing model that was a sure outline to follow. He said that we were to use our love for ourselves as an example of how we are to love others. “Love your neighbor as yourself” means love your neighbor in the same way you love yourself. (Mark 12:31)

Agape Love (The Love of God) Which Is Authentic

Jesus told us in John 15:13, “Greater love has no man than this: that a man lay down His life for His friends.” Primarily, Jesus was referring to Himself as He made that statement and as Himself setting an example of how His followers (born-again believers) are to love.

I Corinthians 13 is one of the most frequently read chapters when defining how we are to love others with God-fearing love. Paul very thoroughly elaborates in the entire chapter how we as Christ-followers love. We love in self-denial, in truth, in humility, in kindness, in simplicity, in hope, in forgiveness, and in perseverance. It’s a life-long lesson that we learn through triumphs relying on Christ and through failures from which we rebound in faith after loving in our humanly way.

Where there is opportunity to engage in the complacency, shallowness, and even elementary easiness of synthetic human love, can we dare to take the high road by choosing God’s Agape love that instructs us how to do so in His Word? Agape love within a believer never flatters, never deceives, never forces decisions on someone to choose “us versus them”, and never stops standing corrected on how to love. But Agape love may require distance with forgiveness while ensuring that the love does exist. Agape love may require a sharp rebuke where praise may have been the option – but the wrong option – in the face of an offense (like adultery, violent tendencies, or traumatic negligence).

Agape love can be tough at times yet always gentle. Dealing with so many people in our lives, there is no blanket solution in dealing with all problems in a Godly loving way. But because God’s wisdom accompanies His love, there are unique ways to deal with each person in our lives without setting aside Agape love in order to do so. We can continue to learn firsthand that It never fails.

Understanding The Heart Of A Hurting Wife

Marriage Vows Under Fire 1Written by Lanette Zavala, Author of Marriage Vows Under Fire Inspirational Love Story Series a Family Review eMagazine

Just like a husband, a wife has a need to actually experience the love professed to her. In most cases, demonstration of this love reaches her heart more effectively when it’s presented tenderly, verbally, and creatively over a far longer period of time than those moments during which sexual contact can occur. Her need for value can be shown in your affection, your sacrifice, and expressed interest in her intellect.

Over a period of time, usually after the honeymoon, marital problems can present themselves in various ways. Problems occur when needs aren’t met. But crises occur when these problems linger for too long or begin to form into more severe problems such as betrayal, abuse, and neglect. Genuine reconciliation can be just as challenging to grasp when a wife is hurting as it can be when a husband is shut down. But where the Lord made reconciliation a must in marriage, He made it possible in His Word.

Marriage Vows Under Fire was written from a woman’s perspective concerning a number of issues that preoccupy our hearts. The characters face in-law problems of co-dependency, infidelity, mental illness, co-habitation, domestic violence, and other issues that so many wives and single women agonize over. While the ebooks are love stories, they are also bold series of fiction reflecting our realities. Of course, life is not fictional. To deal with our problems in relationships and to minister to a hurting wife, Biblical solutions are needed:

1 – If you realize you’ve done something that has hurt your wife – whether you betrayed her trust or shut her down with a form of dominance – don’t just apologize. Express genuine sorrow. To apologize is to remove the burden of your offense from your plate in order that you can move on. But to express sorrow is to remove the burden of your offense from your spouse’s plate in order that she can move forward.

2 – On the same note of the above point, reconciliation from a problem involves more than the hurting person’s forgiveness. Have you ever heard someone make this statement? “I have already told So & So that I’m sorry. If he/she can’t forgive me, then that’s his/her problem.” This statement or even unspoken attitude violates a passage in God’s Word.

In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus tells us, “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (New King James Version of the Holy Bible)

Forgiveness is a dominant message when reconciliation is discussed. But the other part of forgiveness is often missing in reconciliation messages. Reconciliation is approached from two, not one, angles that Jesus presents. Many times, when we’ve offended somebody, we fail to understand the depth of our part in reconciliation because of pride we harbor and sometimes even arrogance. If one spouse harbors an unforgiving attitude while the other harbors an attitude of stubborn entitlement to forgiveness (with no intention of reaching out to ensure security within the hurting loved one’s heart), which spouse is doing the will of God? Neither.

If you see your wife battling unforgiveness, which is a sin, Galatians 6:1-2 says, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (New King James) Help her forgive you. Don’t stick your chest out patting yourself on the back for a few moments of effort. Is she sinning if she doesn’t forgive you? Yes. But persevere. Help her out of the sin with some tenderness and demonstrations of loyalty if that’s the necessary distance to go in order to reach her. Show enduring love and don’t require from her unconditional love if yours is fragmented by stubborn entitlement.

3 – Marriage involves traveling this life’s journey together. If you and your spouse are running a partnership marathon together, and your spouse trips and falls for any number of reasons, why would you keep heading toward the finish line by leaving your spouse on the ground to agonize in that injury alone? Do you know how many onlookers would be willing to tell you, in all honesty, how much of a nincompoop you’d be for that? Not many, if at all. (People don’t like additional problems and therefore shun correcting somebody in areas where it might really matter to somebody else.) Don’t sprint toward a finish line that can only be crossed by a husband-wife team. Lift up your injured wife and let her rest her weight on you.Marriage Vows Under Fire 2

Well, marriage is more than a mere marathon. And injuries do occur. Those injuries can be imposed by any number of offenses. But, with God’s Word, what are you willing to do to Biblically restore security within your wife? Especially if you had something to do with her inner wounds?

In Marriage Vows Under Fire  love story series, there are characters who represent a number of couples today sitting with their lips stuck out – not to kiss but to pout. Anger has set in, betrayal has resulted in resentment, and wounds have become scars. With so many reasons to forgive and to pursue loved ones for that forgiveness, the women of Marriage Vows Under Fire resemble many of us – wives and singles.

Marriage Vows Under Fire Series 2: Tender Rivalry is the second installment in this series.

What If We All Gave One Bag From Each Grocery Trip?

Woman with groceriesThe “most wonderful time of the year” is right around the corner. It’s a time when families gather around decorated tables prepped with feasts and around a bunch of gifts to distribute. It’s a time to curl up in front of the fireplace and rest in shelter from the winter. It’s a wonderful time for only a fraction of the world’s population.

There is another part of the population who will spend the Christmas holiday reflecting on past events that led to their hunger, or their homelessness, or both. There is an even larger population that is surviving – but just barely. What many of us tend to do in privileged American society is reach out to the poor during the holidays, if at all, and shut our eyes to their needs the rest of the year. Too often I’ve been guilty of this.

All of the above mentioned dilemmas can be remedied. Local food banks and mission centers manage food pantries as well as clothing centers that accept donations for free distribution – year-round. If a significant number of givers (those with hearts to give) were to make a personal decision to donate at least one small to large bag of groceries from each grocery trip to a local food bank or mission center, imagine the significance from the receiving end! With additional opportunities to donate clothing and other items that might not be needed in our homes, imagine the additional covering that we are providing others who may need clothes on their backs or necessities that they wouldn’t be able to afford.

Here is a blog where I’d like to offer my knowledge of centers that take donations for free distribution. But you may also know of places where donations are accepted. Please feel free to send your input in the comment section. (And as with blogging on any Biblically-based topics, you are also welcome as a guest blogger on this subject. Just comment and I can re-upload it as a blog.)

Second Mile Mission Center, 1135 Highway 90A, Missouri City TX 77489 (281) 261-9199

Timon’s Ministries, 10501 S.P.I.D, Corpus Christi TX 78418 (361) 937-6196

The Roles Of Each Spouse When One Has Hurt The Other

By Lanette Zavala, author of the Marriage Vows Under Fire romance series ebooks and A Single Woman’s Journey Through Marriage Preparation

God called marriage to be the most intimate relationship that any two people can have with each other on Earth. In fact, the Lord reminded us that two married people are actually one in His eyes. (Matthew 19:5) This is why husbands and wives are so incredibly impacted by the conduct of the other spouse. If a spouse goes on a spending spree, the other will feel the financial impact in a household that relies on a meticulous budget. If a spouse engages in an inappropriate relationship with someone, the betrayal can deeply wound and haunt the other spouse.

Forgiving Spouse-page1Forgiveness, which is an attribute of a true follower of Jesus Christ, is vital to marriage. Since I’ve been born again, I don’t remember one year going by without hearing or reading a message on forgiveness at least three times within that year. Many times the message of forgiveness is delivered with urgency because even a believer can battle (during the spiritual warfare that we are in) with unforgiveness, until the wrestle is over in our victory. (II Corinthians 10:3-6)

While there is no condemnation to believers in the faith of Jesus Christ, we are always reminded with a common passage in God’s Word telling us in Matthew 6:14-15, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” So, for this reason, again, this message is often an urgent reminder within the Body of Christ.

Unfortunately, the message of forgiveness can also be very arrogantly thrown out at those who are struggling with offenses that have occurred. The attitude of “get over it” has often attached itself to forgiveness-related passages in the gospels by many of us in our own need to conveniently forget and move on unchanged within our hearts. With access to grace that a believer has, we sometimes tend to require our spouse’s grace within favorable timing and comfort to a degree that we don’t really realize we ourselves are withholding by imposing that very attitude of “forgive me, move on, and leave me alone about it, you-bitter-ole-thing-you.”

As in any other relationship (brotherly or neighborly), spouses experience offenses. But in marriage, there are potentially more opportunities for offenses because of the time two humans spend together – many times through trial and error. Each is in a vulnerable position, though it is safe in this faith. When an offense occurs between the two, Jesus instructs both – one to be the forgiver and the other to be the pursuer. (“Forgiver and pursuer/aggressor” are just titles that I’ve labeled while identifying them reading the passages in God’s Word.)

Jesus’ Instructions To An Offended Spouse, The Potential Forgiver

Jesus reminds us in Matthew 18:23-35 of the essential nature of a forgiving heart. He gave the parable of a man who owed his master a large debt and, in the face of consequence for not being able to pay it, he begged for a pardon from that debt. And the master released him of it because he was moved with compassion. This same man, who was released from this great amount of debt, was able to walk away in this liberty and found in his path a man who owed him a debt that was smaller than his own pardoned debt.

In his anger for the money that was owed to him, the man put his hands around his debtor’s throat and demanded his money back. When the money could not be paid, he had his debtor thrown into prison. Well, somebody informed his master about what had happened. As a result, the master became angry and had this hypocrite thrown into prison for the past large debt.

Jesus explained that, likewise, if we are unwilling to forgive others for their sins against us, the Father will not forgive us. He used such a scenario to explain His point in order to convey that our many sins against the Father have been far greater than any sin another could do against us.

We were born into a fallen species called humans, as we all know. Humans have a nature to sin against God. Sin is such a familiar word, that many in our generation are desensitized to its actual affect and disgrace in the eyes of an infinitely perfect God. We had a nature that is so offensive to the Lord, that we were headed in the direction where the tempter of sins is himself destined to go. This place is the lake that burns with fire and brimstone where all, whose names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, are to be thrown by Whom the human mind cannot grasp as being yet and still a just God. (Revelation 21:27)

This just God knew the outcome of humans who had no Savior that would be acceptable before the Father. So, in His love for the world, He sent His only Begotten Son as the Ultimate Sacrifice for our sins. In Romans 5:7-9, Paul taught, “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him (Jesus).”

God’s compassion for us and His forgiveness for us is far greater than we can ever imagine. Also, our sin, our offense, against the holy, blameless, just God Who sacrificed His Son for us (one evidence shown when Jesus asked His Father on that cross, “My God, My God, why has Thou forsaken Me?”), is far greater than any sin anyone has done against us because, in order to save us from our sins, He went to the distance of giving His only Begotten Son as the Ultimate Sacrifice.

Our own sins can remind us why we should forgive anyone. If we are willing to forget our own sins (sin being the very act that offends God and separates us from Him) and love ourselves despite our knowledge of our sins (which are all against God), do we not have love also to forgive others with the love we have for ourselves as the guide on how to do so? When Jesus told us “love your neighbor as yourself”, He really was not telling us to love ourselves first in order to love our neighbor. Such an encouraging angle, but just so out of context.

Jesus was pointing out (paraphrased in other words), “Because y’all love yourselves, you have a first-hand and very likely unfailing guide to refer to on how to love your neighbor.” Think about it. Even if you beat yourself up over a past mistake or offense, you won’t miss too many meals. You won’t let yourself go thirsty past forty-eight hours if you can help it. You’ll feed yourself and drink water or something like it. If you’re cold, you’re going to warm yourself. If you’re hot, you’re going to find out how to cool your body. If there is no other way, you will at least love yourself to this minimal extent. And Jesus knew to use such love as a sure measurement on how we are to love others.

Thus, Paul wrote in Romans 12:20, “Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.” James and John also pointed out in each of their letters, along this same message with James’ actually on showing faith, that there is no way to show love toward someone if the opportunity to minister to their basic needs is neglected. (I John 3:16-18)

So, while the opportunity to offend our spouse is more likely to occur because of our closeness and vulnerability, as explained, the opportunity to forgive is also very likely in the life of a true believer because God transferred that forgiving nature into us through His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Jesus’ Instructions To An Offender, The Potential Pursuer or Aggressor of Love

At one point in my life, it would have surprised me to learn that Jesus’ message for two people, one from whom an offense came while the other one harbored anger about it, did not stop with a message addressing the offended person. Between those two people, He instructed the offended to become the forgiver but also addressed the offender to become the pursuer. In fact, the pursuer is instructed to become the initial aggressor of love.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:23-24 (NKJV), “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” For the spouse who has offended the other, there is no room for any arrogant entitlement, as we can see reading this verse. (My husband of eighteen years rarely harbors anger and has made the role of pursuer primarily easy for me when I’ve done something wrong toward him.) But if he communicates to me or sends out unspoken vibes concerning some sin I committed against him that he’s been struggling to forgive, I am instructed by my Lord to address that issue in order to reaffirm my love for my husband and even to help him forgive me .

The Lord knew that having an attitude of entitlement is far easier than denying self through self-examination to the point of bearing the offended’s burden with what may be an unrecognizable heavy matter. In a form of arrogance (many times unintended), we can so easily harbor the thought, “I don’t have to pursue him/her. If he/she can’t forgive, it’s no longer my problem because God forgave me already.”

Do not require unconditional love from your offended spouse within the same heart that is failing to show unconditional love in a different way. You’re basically telling the person that he or she owes you beauty for your ashes. But God is the One to Whom we take our ashes to receive the beauty though the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ. So, if you take your ashes (the offense you committed against your spouse – even as that offense has been forgiven by God) and you impose those ashes on your spouse (setting up a standard of expectation that requires a beautiful response to a possibly unapologetic offense – or synthetic apology – you’re going to come out of the dispute smelling like ashes.) God did not tell us to go and impose those ashes on that vulnerable person.

Instead, God told us to go first be reconciled to that brother who has something against us before we take a gift offering at the altar. What makes us a possible aggressor of love is because aggressive love may be the extent required to win back that spouse’s comfort with us. And if we neglect this passage for our own comfort, for our own determination to move on with some pseudo-peace that we’ve defined for ourselves, and for our own facades that we like to publicly display sometimes, then we fail to obey one passage while sitting back and comfortably watching our spouse fail to obey the other passage about the same past issue. So, who’s really walking in obedience here? Neither.

Jesus is showing us how to step up, as the past offender, and show love to the point where we are willing to ensure both of us in the marriage are obeying God. Galatians 6:1-2 tells us, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”