I feel fortunate to have been introduced to prayer at an early age. My experiences with prayer, especially the ones that I had on my own- without interference- led to a deep understanding that God is real. He is entirely separate and independent from myself. I also became convinced that all I really needed to know was God loved me and wanted me to love Him back. It was a simple yet powerful picture I carried with me for much of my childhood and adolescence.
However, over time that picture became obscured with many of the well-meaning messages I received from church, books, Bible studies and fellow Christians. I was drowning in an overwhelming mass of mixed messages. Go to church, read your Bible everyday, become a missionary, become a housewife, do not swear, do not drink, do not have sex, do not think about sex, pretend sex does not exist, sex is a wonderful gift from God. Do not watch R- rated movies, only listen to Christian music, do not play Dungeons and Dragons, grace gives us freedom to do anything. Being poor is the only way to serve God, God rewards with wealth. The Bible should be memorized, the Bible should be understood, only read the King James Version of the Bible. God is love, God is vengeance, God is big, God is scary, God is gentle, God is easy to understand, God is impossible to understand...
After being bombarded with these and MANY other messages, I was lost. I felt confused, unsure how to make sense of anything. Because of my early experiences with prayer I knew with certainty God was real and present, but I could not see Him anymore. He was lost in a cloud of confusing, often contradictory ideals.
But, I remained convinced there was a straightforward way to sift through all of it- and to do so in a way that revealed God, rather than hid Him.
During this time a passage that caught my attention repeatedly was Matthew 22:34-40:
“34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (NIV)
I was impressed upon that Jesus did have something he held as most important- it seemed His worldview, His lens. I wanted to see how other passages appeared through this same lens. Going back and reading other texts with this concept in mind I was able to see the universality of love in every aspect of the Bible.
Jesus’ statement was a clear reference from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6: 4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.) This was the Shema- the statement used to start most prayers for the Israelite people. It was to be posted on doorways and stitched into garments. It was key to the Judaic understanding of God.
The love lens shed a whole new light on the Old Testament laws- especially the 10 commandments. I see how they are practical applications of ways to love God and love other people. It is seen in the narratives chronicling the stories of how God loved his chosen people and ultimately sought only love from them and for each other. It fit in the wisdom books, asking basic human questions- finding love for God as an answer. It fit with the prophets calling Israel back to being in love with God.
I found the same fit for the New Testament- which has many reiterations of this same message. Texts like 1 John call for love to be vital in following Christ. There are many examples but the bottom line is love is key to the Bible.
I was in awe of the truth of this message- not just what I found substantiated in scripture but the truth found in actions or events. Historically and globally the church and God are not always on the same side. It is impossible to reconcile many of the atrocities done in Christ’s name with the fact that Christians are SUPPOSED to be known as such by their love. The actions and events that have stood the test of time as ones that are in accordance with God’s will are those actions which are motivated by love for God and fellow human beings.
It became undeniable to me, the key to organizing all of the messages, ideals, and concepts swirling around was to fit them within the picture of Love God and Love People.
I find it similar to creating a drawing. If I were to draw a picture of a mountain and a tree I can do so simply by drawing a mountain and a tree.
I can add details and colour- or not. Other pictures can vary - my picture of a mountain and a tree can be (and in the interest of aesthetics- perhaps should be) different from your mountain and tree. My picture can change over time- but I want it to still remain recognizable as a mountain and a tree.
Unfortunately, the picture can become something else entirely. Perhaps it loses perspective and becomes a picture of a few leaves- obscuring the mountain and tree behind its absurd proportion. Or it becomes a picture with other additions that do not belong and the focus is no longer a mountain nor a tree. Or the drawing becomes harshly criticized for not looking like the other pictures and its creative expression becomes suppressed.
A picture of our lives can depict a love for God and love for people just as varied and expressive as a drawing of a mountain and a tree.
Finding this simple principal has been invaluable to me- Love God, Love People. When I am overwhelmed with expectations that seem to come from every angle- I am reminded I need only to be concerned with how I Love God and Love People. When I am unsure of what to do- Love God and Love People is a steadfast guidance. It is a simple concept- yet difficult to put into practice, I am constantly challenged by it. I am never perfect at it, seldom even halfway decent. It is never completed, there is always more love to give. But it has always shown the way to go and has let me clearly see God again. The same God I met in my childhood, who has always loved me and only is looking for my love in return.
Meet the Pasotr
Pastor Heather and her family have been a part of the Cold Lake Community since December 2006 and she has been the pastor at Community Baptist Church since September 2017.