The Learning to Love Series
An Introduction to the Series
Becoming a Christian is an awesome step to take. In deciding to follow Jesus we are turning our backs on many of the attitudes, actions, and ideas that once guided our lives. We are turning toward the way of life shown us by Jesus. We turn to Christ because we discover that the “old way” was the way of death; Jesus offers the way of life.
In coming to Christ, we are often thrown off balance. It is like living in a fog and having a new and powerful light burst through to show us a completely new path to follow. This can be a disconcerting experience. We no longer know what to make of our old lives; we only barely grasp what this new life holds.
This brings us to the point of this series: its aim is to illuminate the new way of Jesus while helping us to reflect on our old life.
We will examine the key ideas of Christ’s way: he gives us a new way of view- ing the world around us—a way filled with hope and purpose. We will reflect on the new attitudes that characterize the new way, since Christ helps us to form a new affection. This changes how we view others and what we give our- selves to. Finally, we will examine the kind of lifestyle Jesus wants us to have: what we do matters, and (at times) Christ calls us to stand against the stream of culture.
We will do all this together with others—with some people who have been “on the way” for a while, and others who are just starting on the way. The Christian way was never meant to be a solitary path. The church is intended to be the joyous community of pilgrims aiding and supporting one another “on the way.”
A word about how this course has been organized. The three books of this series are structured around the Great Commandment given by Jesus: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.... Love your neighbor as yourself. ”
In Book One, we will look at what it means to learn to love God. God is alive and personal, as present as our next breath. Yet God is also spirit. Therefore, having a relationship with God is different from having a relationship with another person. We need to consider how one grows and nurtures a relation- ship with the living God.
In Book Two, we shift the topic from God to ourselves. We ask the question: What does it mean to love ourselves? This is a concept fraught with difficul- ties. Improper self-love translates into a lifestyle that is hedonistic, selfish, and self-destructive. But we dare not avoid the subject, because failing to love our- selves properly is also self-destructive. With low (or no) self-esteem, people become doormats for others, fail to use their Christ-given gifts, and have diffi- culty loving others. Jesus calls us to walk the narrow road between selfishness and selflessness. This involves a proper self-understanding, a larger dose of humility, and a healthy sense of who we are.
In the final book, we look at our relationship with other people. Christ’s call is, at its root, a call to love others. Yet this is so often difficult. For one thing, oth- ers are not always very lovable; for another, loving them sometimes gets in the
way of our self-interest. But we cannot avoid the issue. To follow Christ is to live a certain way. Behavior counts; lifestyle matters. But it’s not all sacrifice and pain. Our greatest joys come from others. To be in a loving relationship with other people is to be alive and joyful.
A word to those who are not beginners on the way of Jesus:
So far, it would appear that these studies were written solely for the benefit of those who are new in the faith. In fact, they were written primarily for that purpose. But it’s also true that those who have been on the way for some time need to be reminded of the fundamentals of the faith. Martin Luther stressed this to the clergy. He warned them against thinking that once they mastered the catechism (the statement of the fundamentals of the faith), they could then move beyond it. Instead, he urged them to recite the catechism daily as a spiri- tual discipline. He wrote:
“As for myself, let me say that I, too, am a doctor and a preacher—yes, and as learned and experienced as any of those who act so high and mighty. Yet I do as a child who is being taught the Catechism.... I must still read and study the Catechism daily, yet I cannot master it as I wish, but must remain a child and pupil of the Catechism, and I do it gladly.”1
There is something very powerful about remembering what lies at the heart of the faith. As Luther indicates, we can never master even the most fundamental facts. We need to be brought back to them constantly. In a real sense, we never get beyond the ABC’s of the faith—nor should we. Thus, this series will be of value to the experienced Christian.
It is useful to have a study group that consists of both new and experienced Christians. Both benefit from the presence of the other. Both need each other in considering what it means to “learn to love.” The older Christian brings experience and knowledge—years of seeking to know and live the faith, and this enriches new Christians. On the other hand, the new Christian brings freshness and wonder to this task—new eyes to see old facts in fresh ways, and so those who are older in the faith are reminded why they started on this jour- ney in the first place.
Blessings on you as you seek to walk faithfully on the path to new life in Christ.