"Don't just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good." Romans 12:9 (NLT) I learned a valuable lesson when I was much younger than I am now. My family moved from Michigan the summer between my sixth and seventh grade years in school. I finished elementary school in Kalamazoo, Michigan and began Junior High School in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. Different states in the same country, but worlds apart. I started at a brand-new school where I knew absolutely no one, except the school guidance counselor who had helped register me for classes. It was a super awkward time the first few months of school. As a seventh grader trying to make friends I made a poor, and somewhat desperate, decision. I decided that it would be easier to make friends if I created a story about myself. In other words, I lied. The story wasn't that important or impressive. I believed that people would not find me interesting enough, so I made up a story I thought they would find interesting. I pretended to be something I was not. It was in that first school year I made friends with someone who would end up being a lifelong friend. After we had gotten to be pretty good friends I took a risk. I decided to tell him that the story I had told was not true. I came clean. I stopped pretending and decided to be myself. It was a risk because my friend could have not forgiven me. My friend did forgive me. He told me that he wanted me to be myself and that I didn't need to pretend, and we are still good friends to this day. From that day forward, I have never pretended with anyone. The unfortunate thing is that I still see people who are pretending. I know what it looks like. They act one way when they are with people and very differently when those same people are not there. They put on a good face in front of the crowds, but they are completely different when no one is there. Followers of Jesus Christ do not have this option. We cannot pretend to be someone we are not; we cannot offer pretend love either. Pretend love is when you act nice and loving toward people when the spotlight is on, but when the lights are off and no one is watching you do not show love at all. Pretend love smiles a lot in person and criticizes a lot in private. Followers of Jesus Christ are called to real, Christ-like love all the time. There is no room for pretend love. This is what Paul is referring to when he says not to pretend to love others. Instead, Paul instructs followers of Jesus to really love others. So, when you find yourself tempted to smile and make nice when someone is present but criticize them when they are not present ... DON'T! That is pretend love. Jesus calls us to so much more. Jesus says the mark of His followers is that they love one another. True love. Paul writes to Timothy, “The goal in instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5) So, put away pretend love and really love the people around you. Love them with the real, true, and perfect love with which Christ loved you. It will make a world of difference; I guarantee it! This Sunday we begin a new message series entitled Influence: A Study of 1 Timothy. We will start with a discussion on the influence of love. I hope you will join us this week and every week. The best is yet to come at St. Andrew’s and I can’t wait to see you in church!