Learning to love through the lens of God’s perfect love

Brengle West 2021: The Western Territory holds its annual weekend holiness retreat online.

The 2021 Brengle West “Perfect Love” holiness event took place online Feb. 5–7, encouraging attendees to learn more about loving the Lord, others and themselves through the lens of the perfect love given by God. The virtual nature allowed people who otherwise would not have been able to attend the traditional in-person event to participate in three main sessions and their choice of a Saturday workshop.

Commissioner Colleen Riley, Territorial President of Women’s Ministries and Territorial Secretary for Spiritual Life Development, greeted viewers at each of the three main sessions. At the first session, Riley introduced the theme of “Perfect Love,” and the weekend’s Scripture,  Mark 12:30-31 (NLT): “‘And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.’”

Love of God

In the opening session, Lt. Betty Kaurasi Vesikula shared how God—demonstrating his perfect love—redeemed her from a life of sin. She grew up in the church as an officers’ kid in the Fiji Islands; however, as a teen she had a hard time when her family immigrated to the United States. She ran away from home, thinking she could now live a life free from the expectations of being a perfect Christian girl. Her life, however, took a downward spiral.

One day she woke up in a hospital bed. In desperation, she cried out to the Lord to set her free. God responded—her parents soon showed up, with the Vesikula family and a plan for her future. Her story offers hope to anyone struggling with past mistakes.

“I wasted years living in guilt, shame and self-hatred,” Vesikula said. “I believe that the stories of our pain and adversity, when we overcome them in Christ, are meant to serve as testimony to God’s unfailing love and power. Each of our stories are evidence that God can take what the enemy meant for evil and use it for his good. No matter who we were yesterday or what we’ve done, God wants to make something beautiful out of our lives.” She concluded with Romans 8:38-39.

International Social Justice Commission Director Colonel Janet Munn then spoke about understanding God’s love. To realize this love, the challenge for human beings is to move out of our “selves”—beyond the ego’s insistence that “first there was me”—back to the beginning of creation, to Genesis 1. First there was God, who brought all creation into being and then—out of love for his creation—gave the world the perfect plan of redemption with his Son. God is the true center of all creation.

She quoted 1 John 4:19: We love because God first loved us. First, he created us, and then he redeemed us by sending Jesus into the world. It is through Jesus that we understand God’s perfect love. With Jesus, “the love of God moved into the neighborhood,” Munn said. While Jesus adopted local customs, there was a differentness about him. To describe this love, Munn referenced Phil. 2:7-8, when God chooses to be last, least and lowest out of “love for you, for me, for humanity.” 

Love of Others

“Love your neighbors—I think this is one of the most challenging aspects of the greatest commandment,” Lt. Colonel Dean Pallant, Communications Director for the United Kingdom with the Republic of Ireland Territory, said Feb. 6. “Loving others is very difficult, especially people we don’t like, people we don’t agree with, people who do wrong to us and sometimes get away with it.” 

To learn how to love others, look to Jesus, he said. Observe how he led his disciples, how he treated women and children and those society shunned, and his ultimate sacrifice. For Jesus, nothing was greater than this: Love God, and love others as yourself. 

Along with Scripture, Pallant quoted The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine. “To realize Jesus’ radical ethic of love is to treat all our relationships as holy covenants,” the Handbook states. Being a Christ-follower is a deeply relational experience, Pallant said. To engage with others, with love—this is how to treat all relationships as holy covenants. 

The Salvation Army will survive by remembering the greatest commandment. Roughly 100 years ago, Commissioner Samuel Brengle spoke about this: “The Army is buttressed upon God and man,” Brengle said. “Love is the life of the Army… We will be dead if love leaks out.”

Pallant asked listeners to consider any areas in their lives where love may have leaked out. Next, he considered how to implement this love in our daily lives. The first question to ask is, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered this in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25). 

“Jesus’ message is radical,” Pallant said. “Everyone is our neighbor because everyone is created in the image of God. Everyone is precious in God’s sight.” Pallant said we need to seek to understand people, especially when they don’t agree with us, noting that believers should never disrespect others.

He provided a framework for living out this love of others. To be like Jesus means to be faithfully present and engaged in the world. “We are building God’s kingdom when we serve our forgotten neighbors,” he said. He added that we must also speak up against forces of injustice.

Loving others is an essential part of the greatest commandment, Pallant said. Social justice is too, he added. “Social justice is loving your neighbor even when it’s not your problem. God’s justice for the world—that’s why we love our neighbor.” 

Love of Self

Most people can relate to the tape that sometimes runs endlessly in the mind, replaying all the mistakes, disappointments and failures from the past, with the accompanying message of “You’re not good enough, you’re worthless, you’ll never succeed,” and so on. This is not supportive of self-love.

“If we’re called to love others as we love ourselves, it’s vital how we love ourselves,” Captain Caroline Rowe, Phoenix Kroc Center Corps Officer, said Feb. 7. “That negative tape that goes round and round in our head? That’s the enemy whispering in our ear.” 

It’s a tactic the enemy perfected long ago. Rowe recalled Gen. 1:26-27, when God created humanity in his image, with intent. “We can’t call what God created trash,” Rowe said. The enemy wasted no time in slipping into the Garden of Eden, derailing Adam and Eve—God’s perfect creation—with his deceitful whispers, causing them to question and disobey God. Sin separated them from God. The very first people in creation struggled with self-love, Rowe said. In their shame, they tried to hide from God.

All through Scripture, God is seeking to bring people back to him. Rowe mentioned several of them: the woman at the well, Solomon, Moses, Rahab, Gideon and Zacchaeus. To answer why believers still struggle with self-love, Rowe said the restoration that comes with transformation has to be coupled with the holiness journey. It’s important to pray and meditate on the Word. 

“As we encounter the living God, he changes our view and brings our identity into focus,” she said. But since we are still human, the serpent can still whisper those lies to us—especially about who we used to be—unless we are ready with that Scripture verse to declare that we have been made new (2 Cor. 5:17). 

“When you are first born again it’s almost like you have dirty glasses; you can’t see clearly,” Rowe said. This is why as a believer continues on the journey of drawing closer to God, it’s so important to read and meditate on the Word. “It’s almost as if he’s cleaning our glasses…He’s saying to you, ‘You must love yourself so you can live into the calling I’ve placed upon your life.’”

In this journey, when we begin to love ourselves, it’s not arrogance or self-pride, Rowe said. We accept God’s gifts to us. We appreciate how we’ve been created. “You know why? Because it’s not about me; it’s about the Holy Spirit working in me, and when they see me, they see Jesus…We stand in the identity of who he created us to be.”

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