Monday, July 7, 2014

Conversations with Peter - Part SEVEN: Generous Love

Monday, July 7, 2014
So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others.  With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus.  Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.   2 Peter 1:5 - 9 (TMSG)
In last Friday’s devotion Peter gave us a different perspective on developing genuine Christian personality.  While our first five words dealt with developing inner strength (character, understanding, discipline, patience and worship), the big fisherman now turns from focusing on personal growth to caring for the church family, Christ’s body.  Warm friendliness is familial affection – that which you know (by instinct) to do for those close to you; for those to whom you feel most predisposed to be kind.
And now today Peter takes us even deeper into the world’s population.  Generous love is much more expansive in its reach than just the family.  The word is agape, God’s kind of love.  That kind of love is sacrificial and is an inclusive offer to everyone.  When it comes to being compassionate in response to the needs of people, it matters not whether I feel anything like affection for a person - I give myself to that person’s need, family, friend or stranger.  And I do it largely because of my love for God.  I extend myself as God extended himself in Christ dying on a cross for me; because of me! 

What does that look like in Real Time?

Did you ever have one of those “can’t believe I did that” moments?
A few decades ago I was serving a church in North Florida.  A woman who was a member of our church brought her 30-something son, Ted[1] to my office.  She was worried about his faith.  The young man was dying of AIDS-related issues.
The Mom unfolded the story of how her son had been drawn into a “party lifestyle” and how it had wrecked his reputation, his health, and made him a slave to drugs, alcohol and sex.  And now that he was beyond what the doctors could do, she was worried that he’d gone too far for even God’s help.
I listened intently to what the mother was saying, but I was watching the son.  His head was down, eyes scanning every part of the carpet in my study.  His shoulders were slumped over, arms folded as if to hold himself together.  It was as if he was enduring an ordeal of having his insides displayed on an examining table.  Life had indeed broken him in many ways.
I had the sense that all Ted really wanted at that moment was not to be in some preacher’s office hearing his mother describe all his failure.
When the Mom finished outlining her son’s sad story there was a very uncomfortable silence for what seemed an hour (but probably only a minute or so).  And then it happened – I got up from my chair, went to where Ted was sitting and hugged him, held him for a while.  I told him, “Ted, I’m so sorry for what you’re facing, but God loves you, and I’ll do my best to be your friend.”
What was strangely a matter of “generous love” about this encounter was the fact that I’m rarely impulsive, but I had just hugged someone who was HIV-infected, dying because AIDS had taken-over his life.  In the early 90’s it was still largely unknown how “contagious” AIDS might be.  We had been warned often to be careful about direct contact with the “untouchables”.
After Ted and his Mom left my office I slumped back with a sigh at my desk and had that “can’t believe I did that” moment.  The hug had been a spontaneous moment of one human being, driven by compassion reaching out to another.  But I’d touched the leper – and now (I thought) I’m probably going to die too.
The outcome of that brief moment is not a miraculous tale of physical healing.  There were some awkward moments and heartbreaking pain in Ted’s life and death some months later.  But Ted’s Mom shared with me that they had many moments after that day when they talked of his faith in God, and she was comforted that he felt loved and secure in Christ.

For You, Today

You might need to touch a leper today.  Or you might be the leper. 
Either way, be generous with love – just like your Father in Heaven!

[1] I have shared “Ted’s” real story with permission, but not his real name.

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