Over the last few Sundays, we’ve been talking about the Book of Revelation. We’ve used the language about opening other people’s mail and how we are only seeing a small part of the message that was originally intended for someone else.
That got me thinking about the words we say to one another, how they are heard, interpreted and received. One of my love languages is words of affirmation and so, if you have written me a card or letter over the last 2.5 years, know that I read it, treasure it and save it to read on rainy days when I am discouraged or worn out. There is power in our words, both spoken and written down.
A few years ago Ryan and I started a new tradition with our children, a tradition that we hoped would spark words of love. Emmaline is 7 and Charlie is almost 5 and we read a lot to our kids and they like to read to each other. I would like to think that we speak words of love to each other, as husband and wife and to each of them, our children. We aren’t perfect of course, but we do try and model gentle language in our home. And so every year at this time, when Valentine’s Day rolls around again, and we feel the same pressure to buy and spend, we’ve used the holiday of Valentine’s Day to actually Shower our children with words of love. Below you’ll see two pictures from yesterday morning. Late Monday night, we cut out colorful hearts, and wrote phrases of things that we love about each of our children on them. The kids had so much fun waking up yesterday morning and seeing them all over their door. Emmaline was able to read the majority of her hearts, but Charlie needed some help. As I read each love note to them, their smile widened, bigger and bigger as they heard words of love poured out on them. Isn’t it a beautiful feeling when we hear that we are beloved and treasured by someone else?
Now while I would agree that a lot of the Bible is hard to wrestle with and needs to be studied in community with others, I would say that if you look close enough, you can see words of love from God back to us. They may not be words that you would find in a Hallmark card, but they are words, nevertheless about God loving us and wanting God’s best for us. They are words about sin and redemption and sacrifice and hope. They are words that give life, and a deeper meaning than what our culture can offer.
When you read Revelation over this next several weeks, look for the words of love and encouragement. In the letter to Pergamum, from Sunday, the words of warning don’t sound loving, but they are the cautious words of a parent warning you not to fall into the wrong crowd at school. They are the encouraging words of a coach or music teacher that sees how hard you are working and doesn’t want you to give up your talent or your instrument. These words in Revelation are the words of a tired parent of a toddler that wants them desperately to listen and pay attention. Words that sound harsh, but when read through the eyes of a loving God, are actually full of hope.
In our Parenting Class on Sunday, a group of us parents of young ones were discussing the sermon on Sunday and we were remembering the times when we were very passionate about our relationship with God. And how, just like in our marriages, our relationship with God takes nurturing and work. I can remember a time when I was really “on-fire” for God and it was when I was a Team Member at Methodist Youth camp. I loved serving, singing, sweating, jumping, cleaning and teaching youth all because I loved Jesus. I remember having a quiet time every day that I took seriously and looked forward to that time daily because I really felt a deep love and devotion for God. I remember walking through tough seasons over those four summers in my personal life but having that strong relationship with God was what grounded me. I didn’t understand the counselors that did not take advantage of their quiet time every day because I saw it as such a gift. And still to this day, when I think about the time in my life when I felt that I was closest to God, those four summers come to mind. I even have several journals that I can look back on and read from those quiet times.
Fifteen years later, I am reflecting on how different my life is now. I don’t have a carefree life and a fruitful summer job that pays me to love Jesus and serve others; today my daily schedule looks very different. I have a husband in ministry, three needy and exhausting (yet adorable) children, I have “real” life struggles, like bills to pay, debt to handle, health concerns, sick children, busy loved ones, denominational drama and the worry of the unknown. Don’t get me wrong, I have a life that I LOVE living, but it is very different from when I was 20 years old.
Yet still, I can find that passion for God in the midst of the struggle. I can grow my love for God and neighbor when I don’t see things working out as they once did. And in fact, I have learned more and more this year, that as I share about my own struggles, it opens the door for others to share their struggles and so together we find God in the comfort that we are not alone.
On Sunday, Pastor David used the metaphor of marriage to talk about the passion that the Church at Ephesus had lost in the second chapter of Revelation.
The two questions he asked were these:
Is your love for God as strong as it has ever been?
As you might have already guessed, my love for God is NOT as strong as it has ever been. I just shared how there was a past season in my life where I felt my love for God as strong as it has ever been. To be honest, I believe that part of difference was because I had fewer relationships to pour into, part of it was being at Methodist Youth Camp on Holy Ground and part of it was my youth. As we learned on Sunday, we can REMEMBER or look back on the love I used to have and then it leads to REPENTENCE. Remember that the word, Repent means to find a new way of thinking about my passion for God. If I can REMEMBER that I had more passion once and I want to have more passion again, then my REPENTANCE is finding a new way to cultivate an old feeling in my current season.
The second question asks this. What nurtures your love for God and what eats away at it? Each of us will have a different answer about what nurtures and what eats away, but I can tell you what has never fueled my passion for Jesus is the Hypocrisy of his followers. And so, instead of pointing fingers, I try and practice authenticity in everything I do. I am usually the first one to be real or vulnerable or to admit that “Jesus loves my Hot Mess self” too!
At the same time, I benefit by surrounding myself with truth-tellers. Over the years, I have always seen my love for God grow when people I trust deeply tell me the truth.
“Rachel, you can’t be late as often as you are, it is disrespectful.”
“Rachel, you haven’t been a good listener lately”
“Mommy, put down your phone, I am talking to you.”
“Pastor Rachel, did you ever read that long email I sent you?”
There are other examples like this, I promise you, but here is the point. As these beloved individuals speak truth into my life, they love me in such a way that it feels as if God is speaking through them to me. Because sometimes, the words of others, are words from God and they are delivered with such grace and candor and concern, that we are left changed by their impact.
And so, I leave you with this. As you consider the passion you once had and the passion you hope to have again, are you surrounding yourself with people that speak God’s truth, in love, to you? Are you prepared to receive it? Are you open and authentic in your sharing with those you deeply love and are you able to see how God might be giving you a new way to think about your passion? And as you learn more, are you willing to nurture that passion and work for a stronger and more mature relationship with your Creator?
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.