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A Love Response


My Journey. I grew up in a Wesleyan Methodist family where the church program, daily Bible study and hymn singing, were central in our lives. Sunday was our Sabbath for which the house had been cleaned in readiness on the previous day, hair washed, shoes cleaned. Special meals were eaten, best clothes worn, hospitality practised. Between three services we enjoyed times of friendship, music, reading and admiring our beautiful and spacious garden. It was the only day of the week when my mother’s knitting needles did not go clickitty-clack. The church, which focused on Jesus as Saviour, gave me love, community and identity.

I enjoyed the missionary programs when missionaries returned with glowing reports and pictures and my Sunday School class. When I was thirteen years old and attending a Bible Class camp, I went forward in an altar call and signed a card that said I gave my heart to Jesus. After that I wondered about training to be a church deaconess when I grew up, becoming a missionary and perhaps even marrying a minister.  I was quite unaware of the words witness or witnessing. Love was the centre of my faith.

Three years later, influenced by a Seventh-day Adventist charismatic evangelist and the fact that he often spoke about England, his homeland where my own family came from, my mother and I were baptized by immersion and were told that, by that act we were now Seventh day Adventists. Before the baptism I had told the evangelist that I wanted to be baptized the way Jesus had been, but I did not want to join his church. An articulate sixteen year old, I often disputed teachings that seemed to me illogical or not truly demonstrated in history, but some of my friends attended, so I continued to do so, thinking that my walk with Jesus had expanded. 

From then on the word witnessing seemed the focus: emphasised at Sabbath School, at the preaching service, and especially at the afternoon youth service which all the church members attended. As Joe Huston wrote in comments to Spectrum, I too was expected to report my witnessing for the week past, focusing on: Bible Studies given, money donated, persons helped, hours of missionary work, clothing given away. Being a competitor, I entered into what was expected.

Twenty years or so later, still an Adventist and now an academic who had been a missionary and married a minister, I was appointed a Lecturer in English at a Catholic University. The wife of our former Conference President begged me earnestly not to accept the position or to have anything to do with the Beast and his image. I perceived things differently and began thirteen fulfilling years of employment, working with nuns, priests and Christian people of several denominations. Wary, I watched out for evidence of Catholics witnessing to their faith and trying to win me as a believer. Well, no-one ever did! Rather, they demonstrated religious devotion and diligent academic commitment, being fair, considerate and compassionate. Friendly with several nuns, I saw unselfish love in action, simply by the way they behaved. At times we laughed together, talked about our pet cats and I heard them sing ‘Make me a channel of your peace . . . Then I recognised that was the principle by which they lived.

Did I witness to my colleagues? Oh yes! I tried by pointing out that the sprinkling of infants was not true baptism, that after death the person went to the grave, not to Heaven; when a student asked me what that perplexing number 666 meant, I whispered the reply but in no uncertain terms. I also refused tea, coffee, meat and eating between meals. I was witnessing indeed, so I thought, trying to fulfil the model set out on Sabbaths, trying to turn my friends into Seventh day Adventists.  They listened, smiling in gracious response, even thanking me for the discussion and never argued.  I cringe at the memory of my crass conduct, glad that there were times when I listened to the Holy Spirit and let Jesus do loving actions through me with spontaneity. Thank God that since those years I am listening more to Him.

2. Some personal Insights.  The lesson notes I have for this week’s Sabbath School lesson say: “We should work to win souls to Christ. The question we need to answer ourselves is what motivates us to do just that?”

For me this statement is too cognitively based, too analytical, suggesting structure so that we live as if we are in charge of running a business. I prefer to change two words that alter the focus and emphasis, rewriting it as: ‘We should live to win souls to Christ. We need to ask ourselves who motivates us to do just that?’

I want to cry out: ‘Hi there, stop, slow down, relax. Meet Jesus and let His love flow through you, prompting you what to say, when, where and to whom. Is it not HIS business?’  You could be surprised, as were some Biblical characters such as Peter and Paul. It is my belief that you will taste freedom and happiness, for when his love changes a nature, spontaneous, unforced witnessing follows.

Love is a key wordas this week’s Bible texts indicate, and God himself is Love, revealed to us through the life and witness of Jesus, and via His spirit operating in our minds. I find a response in my own heart to John 6: 28-35, especiallyverse 44.

Think of people who place leaflets in your mail box or come knocking at your door. Some intend to persuade you to be a Democrat, others insist that the Republicans know best. Some want you to become a Latter Day Saint, others are committed to your attendance at their kingdom Hall and that you join them, witnessing door to door for Jehovah. All of them want your money. They may affect pseudo affection and use much forceful, even antagonizing argument.

Likewise, are we striving to witness in our own strength by persuasion or pseudo friendship to make Seventh-day Adventists?  Is that the same as loving Jesus and letting him guide our lives? Is love from Love himself, our home base?

 Some of the ideas from The Five Love Languages [1] by Gary Chapman which considers human relationships, may be useful for discussion, not as structured goals, but as ways of recognising love in action.

Chapman suggests that the five languages of love are:1. Words of affirmation. 2. Quality Time. 3. Receiving gifts. 4. Acts of service. 5. Physical Touch.  

Within these five ways I recognise the way Jesus lived, using 1. Prayer and praise. 2. Knowing time-out in a Shabbat, symbol of the Recreator who is Rest and leads into a meaningful week. 3. Acceptance and recognition of Providence. 4. Offering healing of the diverse fevers of human experience. 5. Using the sensory, symbolic experience of water, wine and bread.

In retrospect, I see that from the Wesleyans I learned love, from the Catholics I learned devotion, and from Adventists the significance of witness to all the world. From Jesus, the author of love, devotion and witness, I am knowing support, joy and freedom. Now that is something to talk about, to celebrate!

[1] Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1994.

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