As I prayerfully consider where God is leading our ministry at First Wayne Street, three words have come into focus. Go. Love. Together. God is calling us to go into our community and world to share the love of Christ with all, together. Last week, I used this video to talk about the importance of going – and how wherever we find ourselves, that’s where Jesus is calling us to be His witness through word and deed.
On Sunday, May 16, Rev. Dr. Tim Hallman used Acts 1 to remind us of our call to be Christ’s witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Essentially, Jesus is calling us to witness in our neighborhood, our city, in the places we would rather avoid – and wherever we find ourselves.
I believe that we provide our best witness for Jesus when we embrace a lifestyle of love. Unfortunately, as I’ve shared before, Christians are becoming less known by our love and more known by characteristics we should not be proud of…
In his book, unChristian, David Kinnaman shares research that shows how those outside the Christian community view Christians. This is how, according to Kinnaman’s research, Christians are known…We are known for being hypocritical, hyper-focused on conversion, anti-homosexual, sheltered, too political and judgmental. In his follow up book, “You Lost Me”, Kinnaman points out that in addition to those characteristics, we Christians are known for being overprotective, shallow, anti-science, repressive and exclusive.
So, is that really how we want to be known? I hope we’re all in agreement that this is NOT how we desire to be known. I believe that’s why leading lives of love is so vitally important for the church.
Yet, if I’m being honest, I also know that Kinnaman’s assessment rings true. In an era of American Christianity where we are known more for what we stand against, than what we stand for – we can’t be surprised by this point of view. Our amazing, wonderful, mysterious faith has been boiled down into catchy slogans, bumper sticker theology and passionate keyboard warriors advocating for a couple of hot-button political issues.
I believe one step towards leading lives of love is a radical commitment to keep Jesus the main thing. Too often, we get distracted by denominational, political, relational and financial issues and Jesus gets lost in the mix. I’m not saying those issues aren’t important – they are – but we have to keep Jesus at the center of it all.
Over the last year, we’ve seen both the best and the worst sides of people. While we have seen people going out of their way to serve others, we have also seen the opposite. We have seen followers of Jesus on the front lines demanding their rights…rather than sharing, we hoarded, rather than serving, we resisted, rather than supporting and encouraging, we threatened and demeaned.
Jesus said, “They will know you are mine by the way you love one another.”
In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus is asked about the greatest commandment. In answering the question, Jesus boils the entire law down to one word…LOVE. “You shall love the Lord your God will all you heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Jesus states that, if we can get this love thing right, we will follow all the law and the prophets. Yet, we know that love is not easy.
Who, exactly, does Jesus call us to love? Well, everyone!
In Matthew 5:43-47, Jesus expands our understanding of who is to be included in our love. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”
Jesus calls us to love, not only those who love us, but even our enemies. In other words, Jesus calls us to be inclusive in our expression of love. Those we are tempted to exclude are the very ones Jesus is calling us to love.
Author John Pavlovitz has a new book coming out and I just love the title, “If God is Love, Don’t be a Jerk.” That just might be the best way to sum up our call to love…”Don’t be a jerk!”
So, we know that Jesus calls us to love and that love includes everyone, even our enemies. But, what does that love look like?
In Matthew 25:31-40, Jesus gives us an idea of what it looks like to lead lives of love. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
Love looks like leading lives of humble service. Love looks like being consumed with how we can meet the needs of our neighbors in practical and tangible ways. Love looks like feeding the hungry, providing a drink for those who thirst, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for and visiting the sick and imprisoned, recognizing that when we serve others, we are serving Jesus.
We demonstrate our love for God in the way we love others. What will it look like for you and I to put love into action today?