Dear First Pres,

I’m writing today from our denomination’s General Assembly. It is our annual business meeting, and we are gathered, this year, in Fair Oaks, California (yes, it is hot here too). There certainly is important business that we are attending to, but the feel of the gathering is much more like a family reunion than a business meeting. It’s one of the things I love about this family of churches to which we belong. Even though we are dealing with tough and important issues about the future of our denomination, we do so with a great spirit of unity and love.

That’s one of our goals for the Session (our church’s leadership board) as well. This month, at Session, we were able to say thank you to our outgoing elders: Stuart Conrad, Jim Cousins, Ron Dull, Laura Magnee, Tarry Rolf, Joel Wilson, and Ralph York. But before we let them go, we spent time together with these outgoing elders, the incoming elders, and the returning elders reflecting on 1 Corinthians 13. As you know, this is the chapter in which the Apostle Paul reflects on love. He says that even if someone has the most powerful and magnificent spiritual gifts, but doesn’t have love, their lives are like fingernails on a chalkboard to the church.  Then he describes love. You know it; “Love is patient; love is kind …” I encourage you, even if you already know it, to spend a few minutes reflecting on this chapter today (1 Corinthians 13). At our Session meeting, we charged one another to love well. We want our Session to be marked by love. No matter what comes our way, no matter how tough the issues, and no matter how strongly we might disagree on a particular topic, we want love to be our defining characteristic.

But love is hard to do. When we really love one another we become peacemakers with one another. That means we always pursue right relationship with each other. That means we carefully call out divisive behavior. That means we don’t turn a blind eye to a brother or sister’s sinful behavior.  And that means we have to let go of pride and our ego.  Loving each other well is not easy work, but it is so worth it. And the only way for us to really love well, is to receive God’s lavish love for us. It’s when we really learn to receive God’s love – love that is unconditional, fierce, and lavish – that we are freed up to love others like He loves us.

I’m so grateful for the love I’ve experienced here at the EPC General Assembly. I’m so grateful for the love on display in our Session gatherings. And I’m so grateful for the love of First Presbyterian Church Fresno. May we love more as we grow in God’s love for us. And not just for ourselves, but that the world may know what the Kingdom of God is like.