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      Nurturing people in the image of God since 1868.                                                                          POB 397/520 Dry Creek Rd./Smithville, TN

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LOVING THOSE WE CANNOT STAND

 Gloria Melville related the following experience in the March, 2002 issue of Reader's Digest: "At my church one day, a woman who had often snubbed me went out of her way to give me a big hug before the service. I was surprised by her gesture and wondered what had initiated her change of heart. I got my answer at the end of the service. 'Your assignment for next week,' the minister instructed, `1s the same as last week. I want you to go out there and love somebody you just can't stand.' " Have you learned to love those you can't stand? The truest test of love is how it treats the unloving and unlovable. At the crass of Christ the God who commands us to love our enemies practiced what He preached. Romans 5:611 asserts that long before we loved God, He was loving us. That text teaches that although we were "ungodly, sinners, and enemies .... God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (vs 8)." At the cross of Christ, God gave a tangible demonstration of true love. The people surrounding Jesus at the cross were not loving Him, but He was loving them. While they spit on Him and beat Him and blasphemed Him and nailed His body to a rough piece of wood, Jesus continued to love them and prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). As He died, Jesus was loving those who couldn't stand Him.

All of this, of course, is what makes Jesus so compelling. In a hate-filled world, Jesus offers a radical alternative: "You shall love the LOW) your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:28-3Q). Love God. Love your neighbor. It sounds good, and it is what we expect preachers to say. But what do you do when your neighbor is not very neighborly? What do you do when the people God commands you to love turn out to be the very people you can't stand? And what do you do when that person is sitting on the other end of the same pew, or across the dining room table? Someone observed, "The Bible admonishes us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemiesprobably because they are generally the same people." Love God, love your enemies (Matthew 5:44), love your neighbor. Somewhere in a11 that there is bound to be someone who is hard to love. But, according to Jesus, we are never more like God than when we choose to love those we can't stand as well as those who can't stand us.

Dan Gulley
Smithville church of Christ