[Note: This is the final part in a 3-part series on living like Jesus. I delivered it as a Sunday morning message to a Christian retreat last winter. Please check out part 1 and part 2, and while I write it from my own worldview, please consider it in light of your own understanding of the source of all Love. Thanks.]
Do yourself a favor and google “love graffiti.”
I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to know that God isn’t up in heaven keeping a tally list, with a section for the times I do the loving thing, and the times that I don’t. Because, you know, I like to think that I walk in love, that I treat people out of a sense of extending the love God has for me. But there are so many times when I feel like I fail!
If you’ve been walking in the light of Jesus’s teachings for a while, you’re probably familiar with that still, small voice, that niggle in the back of your head trying to guide you through life, if only you’d listen. Well, I like to listen to that voice mostly when it’s telling me to do things I don’t mind doing anyway, like make my family a really special, delicious dinner that, you know, I’ll get to eat too.
But a lot of the time that voice is just asking for too much, you know? Like, OK God, I see the person walking on the side of the road, in the rain, and she’s got no umbrella, and she’s all hunched over and getting soaked, and yeah, I could stop and offer her a ride, or at least the umbrella that’s in my car, but it’s just so inconvenient. Because, you know, I have places to get to.
But it’s those kinds of things that we need to be open to, because like Dave sending Ben out on a mission of RAKs, God has sent us out with a mission to be hands and feet for him.
If you’re not familiar with that little voice, or if you are, but like me, you don’t always listen, let’s make a deal to tune in to what God–or our conscious, or whatever it is that you call that good-speaking voice–has to say to us, in each moment of our day. Let’s start our day asking God to keep us open to what he wants to do in and through us. I promise that, if you do this, God will take you to new, often uncomfortable, always interesting places.
In acting out God’s love, we are to utilize the gifts he has given us. 1 Peter 4:10 says “10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” So take time to suss out and develop your gifts. You’ve got ‘em. I know. In Romans, Paul writes that people should teach if they teach, should give if they can, should lead if that’s his thing. Maybe you can play guitar. Maybe you are really good with handling finances. Maybe you know just what to say and how to say it. Whatever it is, it’s been given to you to help you love all over your neighbors. Find out your gift. If you need help, talk to your pastor. Don’t worry that maybe he’s too busy for you. I’m pretty sure that “discerning spiritual gifts for the betterment of the kingdom” ranks pretty high on the list of priorities for most.
In their book Untamed: Activating a Missional Form of Discipleship, Alan and Debra Hirsch talk about the many unconventional places they’ve followed God in their desire to love the world. They tell the story of how, in 2001, they bought a night club in their city’s entertainment district as a way of opening a welcoming space for society’s more marginalized people, and say that when they visit a new city, they try to visit the red-light district. Their goal is to reach people regardless o whether it makes THEM uncomfortable.
To the Hirschs, love means “identifying with people, hearing them, understanding the issues they face, humbly living with them, and knowing how they experience and express their search for meaning.”
Now, we are not all called to minister in quite the same fashion as Alan and Debra Hirsch. That is their calling. That is where their gifts lie. But I do want to urge you to step out of your comfortable boundaries when it comes to loving like Jesus. Sit down with your family, pray together, and talk about some ways in which you can put God’s loving grace into action with people you know and people you meet and people you see once and never see again.
So that’s Love. It’s a big thing. I’m thankful God equips us for the things to which he calls us. We know that this Love is meant to serve. But who are we to serve? Who is our neighbor? I joked about it a little, about the guy on one side and the guy on the other, and the guy across the street, but we all know it goes a little deeper than that.
You probably know the story of the Good Samaritan. It’s told in the Bible, in Luke 10:30-37, and recalled in the third episode of Veggie Tales, “Are you my neighbor?” So, the people from Flibber-o-loo wear shoes on their heads, and the people from Gibber-de-lot wear pots on their heads, and each town thinks the other town is silly, and they don’t want anything to do with the other, right? Well one day, a Flibber-o-loo resident is playing on the road when he’s robbed by some bandits. They leave him headfirst in a hole.
Along comes the mayor of Flibber-o-loo, and you’d think the mayor would help him out, but the mayor is much too busy. Then a doctor comes along who is also from Flibber-o-loo, and wouldn’t you know, she’s also too busy to help out a fellow countryman. But then along comes a kid from Gibber-de-lot, with his pot on his head, and he actually stops and helps the guy with the shoe. Then he brings him back to Gibber-de-lot and pays for his care and everyone takes away the lesson that you should love on people, no matter who they are or where they’re from.
No matter who they are, or where they’re from. Or if they look different from you. Or smell different or think different or live differently from you. How good are WE at this? Are we like the Flibber-o-loos who just walked on by?
When you come across someone who makes you uncomfortable for some reason—for me personally, this is usually people who reflect my own darker side—do your eyes gloss over? Do you try to not look?
I’m not just talking about someone holding a cardboard sign on the side of the road. I mean the person you deal with at work who you just don’t get along with? The barista at the coffee place who just looks at you the wrong way, and oh yeah never gets your coffee order right? Your neighbor who plays the loud, angry music? The kids on the news, in far away countries, who don’t have enough food or a place to stay?
The family member who has completely different political views than you and they just cant’ see reason.
The single mom.
The street walker.
The multitude of lonely, hurting people we’re in contact with every time we venture outside our house. They’re all our neighbor. Do we love them? Or do we turn away?
- flickr: analogophile
In Mark 6:34, it says “when Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Those are the eyes I want to look through when I look at other people. They may be loud, obnoxious, smelly, deceitful, or a thousand other things that bug me in my flesh, but they’re just lost sheep, and I know who the shepherd is.
So. We’re to love, love, love. In action. With our gifts. To pretty much everyone. But what’s this about loving others as we do ourselves?
Well, the world wants us to put a heavy emphasis on our selves. In the world’s eyes, our first priority should be looking out for #1. We’re to find our identity in what we do for a living, what we drive, what kind of house we live in, where we went to school, what brands we’re wearing, what television shows we watch, and how big of a television we watch them on.
But when we find our identity in who we are in Christ, a new creation made with the purpose of serving out God’s love to a lost and broken humanity, suddenly the worlds order gets flipped on its head. Instead of a world existing to serve us and all our needs, we serve the world. It’s what Jesus preached when he said the last shall be first and the first shall be last. But what does that look like? What, exactly, does serving the world with the love of Jesus mean to the very next person I meet when I’m done talking here and I walk out that door. I used to think this was complicated.
I used to think God was withholding form me the truth about what exactly I was supposed to do in each circumstance. A friend is going through cancer. Do I tell her I’ll pray for her? Well, praying for her certainly isn’t the least I could do. Do I send her some bible verses? Do I back away, afraid of saying the wrong thing? What do I do? What does loving her entail?
I have a friend who has struggled with addiction. She just got out of a program and is doing well, but we weren’t able to talk the whole time she was in the house. How do I love HER?
I have friends who are struggling to have a child. This is so hard for me to empathize with—my husband and I just looked at each other funny and what do you know, we’re having another baby. But I love my friend emotionally. How do I love her practically? How do I serve her?
I used to think there were big, involved answers to these questions that only the spiritual giants had the answers to. You know about the spiritual giants, right? Those are the people in your church who are always asked to pray over meals and speak at funerals and lead at events…I love those people but I’ll never be one, so I thought I couldn’t have the answers on how to love in difficult situations until I realized Jesus told us how right when he told us that that’s what we’re to do! “Love your neighbor as you love your self.”
Well heck. I know how to love myself. I’m really pretty good at it. I know just what I want in any given situation.
Oreo-cookie-java-chip-chocolate-swirl ice cream, with whipped cream and hot fudge. Hold the nuts.
But really, seriously. Jesus is trying to tell us that, when we’re in a situation and we dont’ know how to respond in love to that person, we need to put ourselves in that person’s place and figure out what best serves at that moment in time. It’s like your mom always said. Right? My mom was ALWAYS saying I needed to put myself in the other person’s shoes. Who knew it came from the bible?!
So when you have a friend who is suffering, or celebrating, or doubting, or you meet someone who is different from you and it feels awkward, or when you see someone on the news who needs help, ask yourself what YOU would need if it were you in that situation. Don’t worry if what you want isn’t necessarily the same thing as what they want. Because, I bet when I said “Oreo-cookie-java-chip-chocolate-swirl ice cream, with whipped cream and hot fudge. Hold the nuts.” I bet half of you went “YUMMMM” and the other half went “GROSS.”
I can’t actually be friends with that half.
But when you’re following the leading of the Holy Spirit like we talked about, listening to that still small voice and acting when it pushes you, guess what? God will guide you on the specifics. You just have to be willing.
So. Love. Everyone. Like you love yourself.
Daniel T. Niles says the disciple “does not offer out of his own bounty. He has no bounty. He is simply a guest at his master’s table, and, as evangelist, he calls others, too.”
Let this be our challenge, to call others to be guests at God’s table. When you and I wake up, each morning, let’s make it our goal to be a living love offering to the people we share this planet with.
Out Live Your Life, Max Lucado;
Untamed, Alan Hirsch & Debra Hirsch