Religion is what you do for God that everyone can see. Faith (trust) is how you live with God when no one is watching or keeping score.

A life focused on sin, especially other people’s, is a life eclipsed by death. A life focused on love, especially to those that are different, is a life lived to its fullest.

The worst mistake anyone can make is to perceive anyone else as lesser. – Andrew Solomon

Jesus said, “If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing.”

Why is one of Christianity’s most conspicuous characteristics superiority?

Love is a choice, it must be freely pursued. Love is also selfless; it does not seek its own. Therefore, how and why are much more relevant to our conversation on love and obligation than what or when. I guess it doesn’t matter what we call it: duty, obligation or even expectation as long as the motivation is love. I freely choose to love and am willing to take whatever may come with it. Lastly we can’t forget the sacrificial aspect of true love, choosing to surrender.

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow and quite frankly this year more than any other it has me very anxious. I’m just beginning to understand that the reason for my anxiety is the obligation that’s attached. The expectations are completely external yet so effective they couldn’t be more personal. So here’s my question: Can love and obligation peacefully coexist? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The key word here for me is peacefully, as that’s certainly not what I’ve been experiencing which causes me to think the answer is probably no. Bound is an important element of understanding obligation. And freedom is a huge part of my understanding of love. I know we are “bound together…” but also “love knows no bounds” all that to say, I’d love to hear your take on this question along with any thoughts you have on this “holiday”.

Ideally I want every day to be a gift to those I love and maybe I’m just feeling resentment that others are telling me when I need to step it up.

1 Thessalonians 4:9-12

But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do so toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more; that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside,…

This portion of scripture has so much to consider. It came to mind after reading this post by John Pavlovitz. He has some great thoughts concerning faith, trust and doubt which I wholeheartedly agree we all struggle with. The question that led me to this scripture “Is doubt inevitable and unavoidable?” gets answered, “Yes.” But another query is, “Does it always have to be like this or is it possible to decrease doubt and increase trust or faith?” I think there is much reason for hope here. Scripture supports growing trust, history is filled with examples and chances are you can look back on your life and name any number of areas where trust has replaced doubt.

We can and should encourage each other with this hope but never from a position of superiority. We can’t forget our times of question and doubt or think for a moment that we won’t be faced with more. We are all completely unique and in personal relationships with God whether we know it or not. Diminishing others because their faith doesn’t measure up is as wrong as wrong can be.

It seems to me the more our trust increases; the less important it is for us to be right, the more compassion and understanding we have for everyone, the less afraid we are of questions and the more equipped we are to share God’s love without strings or hoops.

Other thoughts on this passage: It begins and ends with love, always has, always will. Taught by God, we should never abdicate our personal relationship with God to anyone especially those that claim spiritual authority, apostleship, anointedness or asks you to be accountable to them. Increase more and more, there is always more of Him, we will never exhaust Him, there is and will always be more of Him to be understood and known. Lead a quiet life, mind your own business, and work with your own hands , For me these bring about many questions about what we see in so much of modern “Christianity”. Walk properly toward those who are outside, oh my.

Jesus said, “Follow Me” many times. What do you suppose He meant? I ask because it seems like we’ve decided He meant for us to get others to follow us. This is far from His intent as He warns in Matthew 23:15, “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You go halfway around the world to make a convert, but once you get him you make him into a replica of yourselves, double-damned.”

Our desire should always be to draw others to Jesus using only the implement of love. His love, the very love that filled your heart should be shared or taught without religious baggage and devoid of go-betweens. “Make disciples” is better read, “Teach (share) My love”.

Recently I was rereading a favorite novel written by James A. Michener in 1949 called “The Fires of Spring”. I’ve been troubled by the following passage since:

“… She sat still and intent. Suddenly her right arm shot out quicker than David’s eye could follow. She had caught a fly. Methodically she ripped off its wings and placed the flightless creature upon her barren table. Then, with a finger of spit, she drew a wide circle about the dismembered fly. Composed and calm, she watched the fly as it stumbled about the table top. As long as the fly stayed within its circle, which was ample, the mad woman followed it patiently, with her great eyes rolling this way or that. But when the fly once touched the forbidden line, the old woman’s face clouded in anger. Then she raised her right hand and with a brutal spatulate finger crushed the fly.

Then, like a spider, she waited until another fly came into her ken. Flashingly she would snatch it from the air. Wingless the fly would wander across the surface of his restricted world. It was free until it transgressed the line. Then the horrible forefinger ended all feeble wanderings.”

The reason this disturbs me is it’s such a clear description of what we’ve been taught about God. How many times have you been warned to “stay under God’s covering” or “obedience is God’s love language”? Which is another way of saying God loves you when you’re following the rules. You’ve probably learned God has favorites and other forms of blessing theology as well. (If you follow this link please read the 5th post first, then up the page from there.)

In the story we can easily see the woman is mad yet somehow we accept this same behavior from God because He can do whatever He wants. Jesus tells us, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” Let that sink in for a minute. Is He letting Phillip know what he’s been taught is all wrong? Did Christ ever treat anyone like the fly? I guess He did get angry one time in the temple but wasn’t that anger directed at those who were profiting from folks being taught to obey or else?

Jesus came to prove God’s love for you, to show you no matter who you are or what you do, His love doesn’t change. He wants you to know Him, really know Him and it breaks His heart when we picture Him anything like the lady in the story. The truth is God gave us wings and all of creation to enjoy and explore. Please don’t let others remove your wings because of their need for control.

Luke 13:24
“Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”

What if the gate is so narrow that we go through just one at a time? Could this scripture be an indicator of God’s desire for intimacy? Is it possible when trying to enter with the crowd we’ll hear, “I do not know you?” Jesus came to invite us into a one of a kind, my love is perfect for you relationship, don’t miss it like so many in His day by clinging to religion others insist you follow.

The best things in life are people and the best people are free, truly free. Too often, especially in religious circles (now there’s an interesting term) we become folks who have traded one set of chains for another. We try to conform to other’s ideas of who we should be, how we should act and what we should think at the expense of being real, being ourselves. How can we realize God’s unique love for us when we’re following the crowd?