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Learning to Love the Sinner I Used to Be

As we go through our lives, we have met and will meet many people. Each person will come to us at a different time and will form a unique relationship of some magnitude and duration. Some will be family, some friends, some will be co-workers, some will become extended family, and some will come and go, and that will also be for the best. All these people will provide something to your life- a lesson you will take away from the interaction. Not all will be positive, and unfortunately, some of the best of them will be for a shorter time, than the ones that were more negative in your life. And this can be hard to understand if you never learn about love. Fortunately for some, the first real loving relationship found is with God, and that can set a person up for a lifetime of success when it comes to love. Maybe you didn’t have that Godly relationship first, and since then it has been a struggle. Delays happen, but you live, and you learn, right? What if you haven’t found that relationship with God yet and everyday life feels like a struggle every day? Well, let’s start right now, and talk about love. Let’s see the way God loves us and wants us to love each other. Let’s flip your hypothetical coin of life. You must live on tails, since you probably feel like your chasing your tail all the time, just like my dog who never tires of it. You do, though, right? You get tired of it. Let’s flip the coin; head’s up!

From as far back as I can remember, I grew up going to church. I grew up in a small town in Louisiana. If you aren’t from a Southern State that statement may sound a bit meaningless. However, if you are from a Southern State in the United States, then you know “growing up going to church” means every Sunday morning you were there for Bible school class and a full church service. You also came back for the Training Union and Sunday service that evening. You also were present every Wednesday night for mid-week service. You never missed church for any reason, as there was no need to miss church. You could miss school on Wednesday if you were sick, but you went to church so you and others could pray for you to get better. And during summers, there was more to do at the church. Vacation Bible School or (VBS), was a regular summer activity for Southern children. Every church had a week of (VBS) starting the first week of June. Every week you followed the church until the last week of July. School started the second weekend in August, so you had one week to return to your church for (VBS) presentations and awards. School returned, and regular church activities resumed.

You may be thinking, “Those kids grew up with God forced down their throats!” No, we grew up with “church” forced down our throats, but the one thing we never felt pushed on us was God. My grandparents oversaw my Christian upbringing. They raised (#11) children some of who have a very close relationship with God, and some who stay between the lines. The generations have since changed to parents in this “day” in charge of their children’s relationship with God. What does the Bible say about that? Is it a generational switch hitter, or isn’t that one of those instructional verses, such as –

Proverbs 22:6

Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it. (NASB)

Even as times have changed, as well as duties and responsibilities keep shifting amongst those of us who are parents, there is one Father who remains consistent in life and death. One of the first songs I learned to sing was “Jesus Loves Me.” The first song I played on the piano for the church was “He’s Still Working on Me.” My grandparents loved for us to sing and play church songs. And performing in the church was beautiful as well. The best day for them came when each grandchild took the aisle to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. I was ten-years-old when I talked with my grandfather about what that meant for me.

I loved my parents. I loved my grandparents. My whole life was around them. I spent a lot of time walking and talking with my grandfather and learning about his family. He talked about his mother and father, and he would tell me I would meet them one day. He told me they were with God. And when he talked about going “home” to see them, he seemed happy. It made me scared to think of him leaving me. And I realized home was where the people I loved was. As a child, you understand your Father and your dad will be there, and your grandfather, and that is where you want to be too. And I wanted to be there. I wanted to be with all of them, and I wanted my Father’s love. I learned all I could about God. I started the steps to become a servant and disciple of the Lord. I learned God’s commandments, and I was so happy to know that it was God’s commandment to love one another. I realized Heaven was home, and that I wanted to be there too because there is where love was.

John 15:12 (NASB)

This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.

Two years later, I lost my grandfather. I’m sure this has happened to many of you. As we grow in our youth, we lose someone who is our world. We lose the greatest love on Earth we know, and we then realize just how far away Heaven has gone and life begins for each of us. There is a turning point in your faith. You learn to cling to it, live through it, live it, and see it as eternity. You see Heaven as your home, and you turn your back on everything that can cause you to detour from it. That’s what happened to this twelve-year-old girl. I turned my back on all evil doers. I lived a life totally free of sin, rebuked all those who sin, and today…of course not. I can’t even write anymore as an opening teaser. I am human, and I am flawed. I have been angry, bitter, and carried bitterness in my heart. I went years not forgiving and being vengeful. I loved myself more than others, and I let my lifestyle become rooted in sin. I too became a sinner.

Has this happened to someone you know? Has this happened to someone you love? Maybe this has even happened to you? You may be thinking, “You aren’t the first person this has happened to?” No, but when it happens to you, it hurts your heart when God starts confronting you about it. When do you realize that yesterday could have been the last day to make it right, and you didn’t do it? I think about the people I have lost, and some who are still here. I reflect on them in Heaven, and me, not there with them. The possibility of my soul not spending eternity with them? And here’s the most hurtful part of it all, and that is the only love that has never failed me is that of my Father. No matter what I have done, God has loved me. HE has forgiven me. Every step I have stumbled and every sin I have committed, every apology I make, HE does not want to hear because it is as they say, “water under the bridge.” That’s love, and HE loves me. HE loves you. And what are we doing about it? Are we giving HIM all the glory? Are we breaking the rules and telling others what they are doing wrong, or are we preparing a pure heart and a clean mind as HE has done for us? Are other people coming to us with apologies? Are we folding our arms and slamming doors, are we letting that water flow? Maybe it’s just confusing because God hasn’t spelled out what it is we are supposed to just “let go,” right? Well, how about these verses –

Ephesians 4:17-32

So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. 25 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of another. 26 BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not give the devil and opportunity. 28 He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. 29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. 30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

These words are so much an imitation of the life I was living at one time. Not only was I bitter and unforgiving, but misery does love company, doesn’t she? I wanted to be around people just as miserable as I was. People just as hateful and angry as I was. It’s a funny thing, though, love that is. When love is there, love is what binds; love is what brings you back around. Love is what calls for you. And for me, it was my Father calling for me. A million crazy things began to occur in my life. No matter what I did to make a difference, to keep them as they were, they would not stay the same. And I have forced away from these people and these places that made me angry and bitter. That is what God does; HE sets life in motion. No matter how much you fight it, you just see life changing. I’m sure you have heard the phrase “a leap of faith?” Well, that is what happens, when God reaches out to you. HE used the faith HE has in you, and HE teaches you how to love a sinner. HE teaches you how to love Y-O-U. After all, you are going to meet so many people just like you, and HE expects you to love them too. It’s best to start with one and open your heart up for others who HE will send your way.

One thing I have learned over time since I was that ten-year-old girl who thought love would save her from hurt is with each passing day, there’s always the hope of tomorrow. And as that twelve-year-old girl who suddenly felt as if her whole life had been turned upside down, faith is certain to see you through from the pain of one moment until the hope that love comes back around. Which brings me back to one of the many verses lying in the back of my mind, and always present in my heart:

1 Corinthians 13:13 (NASB)

But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Loving a sinner is not easy. Once you look at yourself in the mirror every day and recognize yourself as a sinner, you will think it is the hardest thing to do to find love there, inside yourself again. The thought of finding love inside someone else, whose life is also deep in sin, just isn’t a possibility. Honestly, think about all the other sinners in the world just like you. None are worse than you, and none are better for, in God’s eyes, there are no tally marks. One of the hardest things for me was to encounter people who loved the sin in their lives. I was trying so hard to serve the Lord, and the people around me seemed to be sinking their heels in deeper into the evil around us. Another test, another trial, but it didn’t matter, the Lord was calling, and I would keep answering. I learned to love those around me and put their sin aside. I would pray for them, and I would pray for God to remove their sin from their life. I had to do what was right for me. I could change me, but I could not change them. God, though, was so much bigger than any of us. I left the sin to HIM, and I worked on me.

After a while, I began to think how selfish I was becoming, thinking only of myself. I should be helping others more, and putting myself second. I was praying for other people, but shouldn’t I be doing more? I was doing all the changing for myself. Was I supposed to change my life, to put my heart in the hands of someone else who was as consumed with a sinful lifestyle as I was before GOD found me? I rededicated my life to the Lord during this time. My prayer partner helped me steady myself in faith and the acceptance of God’s grace without question. She also helped me find scripture reading as less of a challenge and more as a guide. Anytime I needed help with prayer; she taught me to “ROME to ROMANS” first. I still go there first to see what I can find to clear my heart and mind. Do I want to take you there now to answer the question – What more should I do? Anytime you wonder, what more should I do? “ROME to ROMANS” first –

Romans 12:3-21

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Overcome evil with good! Be of the same mind toward one another, do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Wow, just these few have answered my questions. I hope if you have more, you will keep “ROAMING” for scripture is the answer.

Remember, each person who enters your life at any time has come for a reason. A bond will be formed in some way, maybe for the good or for the bad. There is something to be gained or lost, but your reaction as a loving, trusting and a patient person will prove if God’s good works are within you. You were made alive in Christ, and it is through God’s mercy and love that others will see in your life. Have you found that relationship with God yet? Are you looking for love in your life, and you just feel lost? The one love you need is God’s love. HIS love will show you how to love others, and others how to love you. Others will see you how God sees you – kind, understanding, faithful. You have received a great gift.

Ephesians 2 (NASB)

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of

yourselves, it is the gift of God;

Are you tired? Are you ready for a change? It is your hypothetical coin, and it’s heads up? Go ahead, start ROAMING!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Brenda Stapleton

Brenda Stapleton is a professional writer and social media enthusiast. She is the founding columnist of from the park bench, and continues blogging under the same headline today. She is a content writer, technical writer, communication and procedural consultant, who considers it both an honor, and a privilege to have worked with such a diverse group of subject matter experts throughout the years. She feels it is through collaboration and communication with professionals in other programs, where meaningful partnerships are formed and challenging projects are culminated which produce awareness, integration, and increased success in finding solutions to mutual problems.

Brenda is a former primary and secondary educator, with a Louisiana teaching certification from (ULM) University of Louisiana at Monroe. She is a former nurse tech and registered nurse working under the ULM-RN program. She certified through the (AFA) American Fitness Association as a personal trainer, and is a certified law enforcement professional under (POST) Police Officer Standards Training in the State of Louisiana. She is well-versed in the Arts and Sciences, holding a Bachelor’s and a Master’s in Arts in the discipline of Criminal Justice with minors in Sociology and Psychology. She has credited graduate work in English and Integrated Learning through Technology and Communication, carried over from her Ph.D. work in Integrating Technology, Learning and Psychology from Grand Canyon University.

and More…personally
Brenda grew up in Columbia, Louisiana in the same house, where her parents still live, today. She began life literally, stumbling every day. She was fitted for her first set of braces on her legs, as a toddler. She would wear braces on her legs, until the age of four, and orthopedic shoes until the age of six. Thinking the past was behind her, she took the world in leaps and bounds, until at the peak of her career, she faced yet another set-back, only this one, left her with a neurological injury that was irreversible. Since then, she has strived continuously for a career, where her passion for creativity would be fueled by the fervor of chasing a sense of sobriety that did not leave her doubtful of a future. Armed with a sense of humor, a purpose in life, and a heart full of dreams, she took the road less traveled, compliments of Robert Frost, and she has learned many things along the way.
She has learned adaptability is her best characteristic, and humility is her worst. She has learned the day is scarier than the night, for in the day you will see the harm that befalls you. She has learned unconditional love is never stronger than in the very young, and as it is in the very old. She has learned no matter what emotion a person is experiencing, a cuddly puppy can make you re-evaluate it all. She has learned the only certainty in life, is death- be ready. She has learned the most experienced emotions are forgiveness, grief and hope, and she has learned that patience is the most taught virtue.
In her free time, Brenda can be found lost in the elements of nature. She enjoys cycling, golfing, swimming, and practicing yoga. Her favorite places to be in this world are at the edge of the sand, with the ocean waves kissing her toes, or chasing her footprints away; or riding a bike through the park under the trees full of multi-colored leaves in the fall, with the wind blowing gently at her face, and is deeply overwhelmed by nature. It’s the fleeting moments when she is caught in a rainstorm, or snowflakes begin to fall, and melt as soon as they touch the warmth of skin, or when watching over a cocoon, as it changes into a butterfly, or a rose bud into bloom, when she feels human, small and meek.
Brenda is a published author of articles and blogs. She is currently writing her first book, but acknowledges her two greatest accomplishments, as the two who call her momma. She is inspired by watching her daughters become individuals, face their giants, and grow in life, while each follows her dreams and searches for a place and a purpose to aspire and grow. With several years behind her, and her children growing into adults, Brenda has taken the time to focus on her purpose. In doing so, she has unpacked the dreams she had placed away for safe keeping, and with a bit of uncertainty of what lies ahead, she sets out on yet another road less traveled, and this time, she says she takes a pen and paper along the way.

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