Because we had to make a last-minute change of plans for the pastors’ day meeting last month, all the pastors learned of my wife’s pending surgery to remove her thyroid, which was cancerous. This precipitated a great deal of prayer for which my wife and I were profoundly grateful. As the surgery approached, I was informed many times that we were being lifted up in prayer by pastors and their congregations. Afterwards, many pastors inquired about the process and the resultant outcome. Thank you so much for your care and your prayer!
The surgery was successful, and all signs of the cancer are gone. At this point there is no further treatment required. She will have to take some medication to do the work that the thyroid no longer performs, but that is a minor inconvenience. We feel blessed both by the outcome of the surgery and by your prayers. Thank you!
Yet there is another aspect to this situation for which I’m also grateful. It seems that much of our recent time in Conference has been occupied by boundary maintenance and clarity about where lines are to be drawn. To be sure, it is important to develop certain boundaries. Boundaries help to define who we are over against who we are not. But too much time focused on self-identity hampers us from being the full witness that Christ calls us to be.
In your prayers and concerns for my wife’s health, you demonstrated to me the amazing capacity to care about that which is beyond yourselves. There was no self-interest in your concern and prayer. For many of you, you have not had the opportunity to get acquainted with my wife. You were not praying for a close friend or family member. Yet nevertheless, pray you did! You prayed fervently and repeatedly.
I believe this is the heart of our gospel life. It is sharing the love that we have received (undeservedly) from God as embodied in the life and teaching of Jesus and as empowered by the Holy Spirit. It is sharing this love not for what we might “get out of it” but because that is what we are called to do. In John 13:34-35 Jesus gives the disciples a “new” commandment: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Apparently the early church did such a good job of living out this commandment that even the outsiders witnessed their love for one another. Tertullian, early church leader in the 3rd century, wrote about the pagans identifying Christians in his Apology with the comment, “See how they love one another.”
We may disagree about exactly where some boundaries are to be drawn, and how firmly they are to be held. That disagreement may cloud our self-identity. But when we love one another, especially when that act of love has no personal gain or self-interest involved, perhaps we are actually identifying who we are more clearly and effectively than any effort to define boundaries. And I thank you for that as well.