God's love moves us from darkness to light


By Woody Woodrick

Advocate Editor


March 4

Love is light

Purpose: To motivate us to appreciate and live in the light of God’s love in a world of darkness.

Bible Lesson: 1 John 2:7-17

Key Verse: “Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling.” — 1 John 2:10


For the past couple of years, the Mississippi Conference Commission on Religion and Race has conducted a series of visits to towns that played roles in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.


At each stop, those who were involved in the struggle to see African-Americans granted their civil rights shared their experiences of those times and insight into where we are today. The events I’ve been able to attend were enlightening in many ways. The series of events is called “Journey Toward the Light: Conversations on Race.”


Obviously, this relates to our lesson in that racism exists in the dark. We can’t call ourselves Christians and still embrace racist attitudes or condone them with silence.


In the Lenten devotional guide prepared this year by the conference (Between the Ashes and Alleluias), George Washington of Jackson discusses the hatred exhibited toward Medgar Evers as he sought to help register African-American voters in Mississippi. Our state is still trying to come out of the darkness of that era. Another kidnapping and killing of a black man by white men during that time has been reopened and charges brought. Some wonder why stir up these old feelings. The answer is that we must move from darkness into light as individuals and a church if we are to be the light God calls us to be.


The latter part of our lesson warns us against getting caught up in seeking the desires of the world. How does society measure success in life compared to God’s standard? American culture is built on a desire to achieve. Many of us want to be the best at whatever we do; the best attorney, the best doctor, the best businessman, the best editor. Sometimes we do reach that level. And then what?

Have you ever worked hard for something you wanted and then felt empty when you got it? What was missing; why weren’t you satisfied?


Do these verses mean we should not want to achieve success? I don’t think so, but I do think the verses challenge us to define “success.” Doing our best at work or other activities is not wrong. However, the danger is in making the trappings of worldly success more important than serving God. If living in the biggest house in town is our most important goal, once we get there it will seem like a mausoleum. If earning $1 million becomes the driving force in our lives, it will leave us spiritually poor.


When we mark our success by how well we follow God’s direction in our lives, I think we will change our definition of success. We might accumulate some creature comforts, some rewards for doing our jobs well, but they will not be the source of our inner peace.


In what practical ways can we pursue the will of God today?


March 11

Striving for pure love

Purpose: To remind us that love of one another is the key quality of life in the Christian community.

Bible Lesson: 1 John 3:11-24

Key Verse: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.” — 1 John 3:2


A few “Southern” colloquialisms still manage to hang on, although they’re fading with each generation. One I remember from my childhood is to “remember who you are,” which goes along with “we do that (or don’t do that) because we’re Covingtons.”


Southern families for generations tied behavior with identity. That was both good and bad. “Of course he would never do that, he’s a Patterson,” we might say. Or, “He’s acting just like a Johnson!” Certain qualities set families apart.


What qualities distinguish members of the family of God?


We are called to love one another. Like so much of the Bible, the command is a paradox, simple yet complex. What does that mean to love one another? Does that mean everyone or just us “good” folks? What about those who hurt us? Love one another all the time?


I don’t know many people that I would say truly love others. Loving others is harder than it seems, because it usually means putting others’ needs ahead of our own. I’d much rather taken care of myself first, and then if there’s time or energy left over do for others. Yet, it is our love for others that should set us apart. “They will know we are Christians by our love,” the song says.


What’s really frustrating is that ridicule is often society’s reaction to loving others. The current social atmosphere is that about the only group that can be freely laughed at and scorned are Christians. We certainly can’t (and in most cases shouldn’t) comment on someone based on race, gender, ethnicity, etc. But Christians seem to be fair game. Why?


Is your church a loving faith community? How do you know? How does the community around your church know its members love others?


In our lesson, we are called to lay down our lives for one another. How does this define love, and exactly what did Jesus mean? What are some ways we lay down our lives for others?


March 18

Showing Divine Love

Purpose: To celebrate the love we have received from God by showing love to others.

Bible Lesson: 1 John 4:7-21

Key Verse: “We love because he first loved us.” — 1 John 4:19


We all stood on the first tee. A group of three golfers had reached the tee ahead of me, so I waited my turn. I had seen those guys before and knew they were good golfers. They seemed to always have lots of friends eager to play with them, and when I had seen them on the course everyone seemed to be having a good time. I wanted to join their group, but etiquette said I should wait to be invited.


One of the group saw me and said, “You by yourself?”


I said I was, and then he said, “Well, come join us. We need a fourth.”


I eagerly moved my golf bag closer to theirs and began taking some warm-up swings. I tried to play it cool, but inside I was thrilled. I was just a teen, and these were grown men with single-digit handicaps asking me to join their group.

Then someone said, “What are the teams?”

I froze. Teams? I didn’t want to play as a team. I wasn’t good enough. I just wanted to tag along; maybe be seen playing with these guys. I didn’t want somebody this good having to depend on my game.


One of the others paired us up. What could I say?


My turn came, and I teed the ball. Still trying to appear calm, my heart was racing. I swung and the ball shot straight up into the air. The tee box was on a hill. My drive didn’t make it to the bottom of the hill. I immediately began apologizing as we gathered our bags, but my partner looked at me, smiled and said, “Don’t worry about it. I know what you can do.”


Suddenly, my heart felt lighter. Not only had my partner encouraged me, but he acknowledged that he knew who I was, or at least had noticed me on the golf course. I crushed my next shot, pitched onto the green and two-putted for a bogey on a hole where a much worse score had seemed certain.


I was accepted.


Later in life, I experienced other times when I felt either unworthy of accepted or unwanted — especially by God. Yet, after stumbling around for a long time, some friends helped me come to realize that God does accept me. Just like my golf foursome, he knows me and what I can do. That realization changed my life. It changed how I view myself and others.


How has God’s love given you a new affection for others?


Most of us know that living the “Christian life” is not easy. We want to live the way to which God calls us, but it’s hard. The world around us offers temptations that can lead us astray. Some are obvious, but others are more subtle. Wanting a comfortable home, good job and creature comforts seems OK, but those things can quickly become our focus and lead us to be self-centered. Reasonable desires can be the most deadly.


What temptations appeal to you because they seem reasonable?


Sometimes I wonder what it must have been like to be Jesus’ brother in Nazareth. Did they have arguments? Did Jesus play well with others? Could his brothers and sisters sense that he was different?


I imagine Jesus as a very affectionate sibling. I think he knew he was different and maybe a little intimidating to his brothers and sisters, but I think he loved them in a way they could never understand. He was the brother they could always count on. That doesn’t mean, however, they always felt the same about him. I’m sure they were a bit jealous and sometimes got tired of hearing how wonderful their brother was. I think Jesus knew his brothers and sisters and loved them for all their strengths and maybe especially for their weaknesses.


How do we love our brothers and sisters, not just those related by blood, but those related through Christ? Do you think of yourself as the sibling of Christ? How then, does that affect how you act toward others?


Loving others the way God loves us can take away our fear. Fear of what? What do we fear? My biggest fear is that others will some day realize what a sinner I am, yet my greatest assurance is that God still loves me. Man may not, but God does. Trapped in my humanness, that’s a hard concept.


My little experience on the golf course made a big impact. To this day, when I see someone playing alone, I invite him or her to join me. Playing ability is not a factor. Sometimes they choose not to, but the offer stands.


God accepts us where we are and for who we are. We extend that love by doing the same.


March 25

The Way to Love and Life

Purpose: To foster gratitude for God’s gift of eternal life in Christ.

Bible Lesson: 1 John 5:1-12

Key Verse: “This is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” – 1 John 5:11


Our lesson tells us that the theme of 1 John 5 is the blending of belief in Jesus as the Son of God with active loving of the children of God.


One weekend at a Cursillo retreat, one of the men attending the retreat began talking to a staff member about the weekend. The pilgrim wanted to know why the staff member was willing to give up the weekend and do all the things required to hold the retreat. Why would he give up a weekend (actually several) for a bunch of people he had never met?


The staff member responded by saying that when he came to realize how much God loved him, he learned to love others. The love was so great that he had to share it, even with people he didn’t know.


Writer David Chamberlain in his book How Jesus Loved describes three kinds of love: tending, truth-seeking and self-giving. Tending love turns our attention to another to show appreciation for, learn from or give aid. Truth-seeking love is hard, because it causes us to see ourselves as we are. Self-giving love includes self-disclosure, self-control and self-sacrifice.

Think of an experience that left you feeling grateful. Was that experience a gift from God? How does your response compare to your feelings about the gift of eternal life? Do we sometimes take this gift for granted?

We like labels, including the term “born-again” Christian. Are there any other kind; just an everyday, run-of-the-mill Christian? The writer of the lesson doesn’t think so.

Our scripture tells us that “everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.” (1 John 5:1). That’s when we become “born again.”

We then get into the commandments from God: To love God with all our being and to love each other.


Seems simple enough, until, well, we think about that neighbor who won’t do anything about his barking dog. Or that guy at work who wormed his way into my promotion. Or those who don’t take my stance on abortion or homosexuality. Surely God didn’t mean to love those jerks


Love God with all our being and love each other: when we love God, our capacity to love others increases exponentially. We might not always act on it, but it’s there. If God can love me, I’m really not in any place to refuse to love my neighbor and his barking dog.


First John also tells us that those born of God conquer the world. Obviously, this verse has been misused by those seeking political power and corporate wealth. Just as obviously, this verse is about something else entirely. Being born of God, being one of his children, gives us the courage, strength and resources to resist the world’s temptations. Once we learn to resist temptation, our focus tends to shift from the trappings of worldly success to serving God and others. How does love help us conquer the world?


Finally, we examine the witnesses of blood, water and Spirit. We all have some witness of Christ in our lives, some way that he has made a difference. Some of us may have dramatic witnesses, which are inspiring to hear and can bring similar change in the lives of others. Just as important are those witnesses that tell a less dramatic story of a lifetime of serving God and others and how what might have started as doing what was expected turned into acts of love.


It’s all rather simple: Love God, love others.