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Life Notes

Love is not Envious

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious… 1 Corinthians 13:4a,b,c

Near the end of the classic movie, The Wizard of Oz, the Wizard gives the Tinman a heart and says, “Remember, my sentimental friend, a heart is not measured by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.”  The deeper we dig into Paul’s exposition on love in the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians, the clearer it becomes that love is only experienced in our relationships with others. We cannot be a loving person – we cannot experience deep love – without first becoming a person who loves others. The Tinman loved his colleagues deeply and sacrificially, but he felt unworthy of receiving love because he did not have a physical heart. Paul writes that love is first patient and kind. He follows that with a list of things that love is not, beginning with envious.

Envy is a feeling of discontent with another’s accomplishments, successes, or good fortune. It orients us in a negative, covetous manner to another. It is impossible to freely love someone toward whom we feel envy or jealousy. One reason we have negative feelings for others is that we compare ourselves and our situations with others, which puts us in a confrontational position toward the other. One of us is always better looking, more talented, richer, smarter, better dressed, more socially acceptable – name the trait, whenever we compare, there will be a winner and there will be a loser. One person will gloat, and the other will sulk.

True love, on the other hand, is not threatened by the good fortune of the other. The Tinman was genuinely thrilled that the Scarecrow received acknowledgement for his intelligence, and that the Cowardly Lion was rewarded for his courage. When we compare ourselves to others, we feel threatened whenever something good happens to them that is not also happening to us. When we only think of how we are different from others, instead of how we are similar, something good happening to another feels like something good has been withheld from us. That sort of immature, emotional (and all-too-common) response is selfish and narcissistic, making it incompatible with love.

This leads us to the basic belief that underlies envy – that of scarcity. If we believe, even subconsciously, that there is only so much love and blessing to go around, then we will see the love bestowed on others as love we cannot get for ourselves. We become envious because someone else has something we will never be able to have. God, however, is a God of abundance. Being envious shows our lack of faith that God will provide good things in our lives, too. One way we can reduce the envy in our lives is to recognize and name the abundance we experience. Less envy results in more love.

Let us make 2016 the year of love, as love was meant to be.

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Giving Thanks by Giving 

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. James 2:14-17

This past Sunday, I sat through two equally disturbing sermons given by the pastors of my church. The sermons were not troubling because of weak delivery of the messages, however. The sermons got under my skin because they revealed aspects of my being that I prefer not to acknowledge. The theme was judgment, as described by Jesus near the end of the 25th chapter of Matthew. In verses 31 to 45, Jesus describes the identification process by which those who enter eternal life will be separated from those who will enter eternal punishment. The factor distinguishing one group from the other is how they treat and care for the least privileged in society.

At least by biblical standards, I am a selfish person and a stingy passer-along of my blessings. I have been known to pat myself on the back for being a good person, which is to say I do not commit a lot of sins overtly. Sins of commission – those sins directly committed – are not where I fall so short by Judeo-Christian standards. Sins of omission – the good I am capable of doing, but fail to do – well, that is an entirely different matter.

Like many of you reading this Life Note, I will sit down at a table overflowing with an abundance of wonderful food today, and in the presence of family and friends, I will eat myself into a long, luxurious, Thanksgiving nap. Meanwhile, Pastor Tom told us that about 13 people in the world die of starvation every minute. Later today, I will consume more food in one meal than some people eat in a month. And in the time it takes me to eat my way to desert, another 400 or so of my neighbors will starve to death.

My purpose is not to ruin everyone’s Thanksgiving with an extra helping of guilt-casserole, however. The point is to remember the critical needs around us, even in this country, and even in our town. Yes, it is appropriate to celebrate and be thankful for the rich blessings we have been given. Is it sufficient, however, to simply give thanks, eat ourselves silly, and then go to sleep? Maybe this year we will commit to doing something more to show our gratitude, perhaps by sharing from our abundance for others who lack. Pick up an extra turkey and give it to a food kitchen. Help prepare and serve a meal at a homeless shelter. Visit a nursing home. Donate. Most of us have so much more food, clothing, money, time, and other resources than we need. There are many places where our excess is accepted and passed along to those less fortunate. That is giving thanks by giving away. This year, all year, let us not forget the giving part of Thanksgiving.

Enjoy a blessed Thanksgiving; and then give to a world that needs your leftovers.

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