Posts Tagged Love
The sidewalks were cracked and littered with filth and the stench of desperation. People were laying on the ground next to buildings hoping to stay warm in whatever makeshift covering they could find and praying that the refuse they were depending on for life would not be stolen from them by someone while they slept. When you have walked this part of Los Angeles at night a few times you begin to realize that a person sleeping in his own urine is a defense mechanism more than just a person who doesn’t care. We would take groups down here regularly to pass out food and blankets and offer servings of compassion to anyone who had a way to hold on to it. But this night was different.
Each night we go and set up a location where within moments of arrival flocks of people would start standing in line. After a few minutes, another of the leaders and I would step away and scout out some of the even less desirable areas where people who were in even worse shape would be. Our goal was to see if it made sense to take small groups into these parts to hand out food and water or if safety was an issue that night. Fearlessness and foolishness are two sides of the same coin at times. We walked out of sight of the main group and down a side street. We saw an alley off to the side that was dark but about 100 feet in you could see cardboard boxes and signs of life. We brazenly walked in and got about 50 feet in when several men came out to meet us, or more specifically stop us. At the same time several others moved in behind us to make sure we understood they were in charge. From where we were we could see the women and children farther down the alley and the far end was blocked off. This was their home where they protected their families and we just walked in the front door unannounced. The myriad of ways this could have played out were as dark as the street itself but I learned a long time ago that compassion speaks louder than fear. I held out some water and offered some food explaining we were from a church with only a desire to show God’s love. The guy who was obviously in charge silently motioned and the area opened back up. We left food and water with them and took away a lesson in humility.
What we saw as a filthy alley, they saw as a home they could defend. What we saw as people who needed help, they saw as people who needed protection. What we saw as lost, they saw as hope. Perspective changes circumstances, events, and even our understanding of the truth. We see things from our perspective with a mission to communicate the power of God to “the lost” but need to incorporate the perspective that “the lost” don’t always see themselves that way. As a matter of fact, our perspective created by that word sees them in a way that prevents us from seeing the humanity of the person first. The overriding fact is they are a creation of God. Are we seeing that and communicating that in our discussions of “lostness”? Our perspective is one of a clinical understanding of the text. There are two groups. Group A knows God and has “the truth”. Group B does not and needs “the truth”. We keep presenting it in a way that explains the facts as if people will adopt truth just by hearing it. The problem is that Group B understands “the truth” from their perspective which we see as at odds with our perspective so we end up arguing about “the truth” rather than communicating about the Creator who gave life abundantly through his son Christ. What we don’t see is that many times we lose the ability to speak effectively because we don’t understand and respect the perspective of the people we are ministering to.
Maybe it is fear. Maybe it is pride. Maybe it is an exaggerated sense of justice. Whatever it is, we need to change it. I am not advocating we change our practices of communicating within the church. If we are experiencing the love of God and healthy worship in the church, there is no need to change. How we present it to the outside world however needs to change. If the message is more than the words, the message needs to be the focus and not the words. If the perspective is the thing that is blocking us from communicating Christ to the world, we need to stop looking for excuses and change our perspective. The people in the alley were doing the best they could under the circumstances they had to live in. How they got there and the mistakes they made doing so are irrelevant. They still needed help. Maybe by seeing life through another perspective, we might learn that better and become better able to spread the real truth, that God is love and our message should be his love and not our voice.
I read a story recently about a neighborhood tomcat who had become known to people as “Ugly” because he was always filthy, scarred, and getting into fights. He would go up to people and they would throw cans at him or turn the hose on him. Their motto became don’t touch Ugly and they made sure others knew this when going through that neighborhood. One day Ugly bit off more than he could chew and got into a fight with a couple of large dogs. A man heard the scuffle and went outside to find Ugly mortally wounded and lying still on the ground. His heart went out to him and he picked the cat up fearing he would be scratched and started to the local vet. Instead, Ugly nestled into his chest and purred with affection. He didn’t make it to the vet and the man wondered if affection was what the cat truly needed and if he had shown him affection earlier, would things be different? The allegory to Christians reaching out to the unlovable in this world screamed out and the guilt strings played a familiar tune. And yet, when I was done reading, I felt more anger at myself than anything else. If we as Christians need a story of a dying cat to remind us to love the unlovable, there is something very wrong. If we need to be forced by emotion to take the action that God wants from us, we are in trouble. But I have to wonder if it is simply because we just don’t really understand the concept of Love.
Love is thrown around like a fix all and be all. It is all we need and means never having to say you are sorry, as well as a thousand other trite greeting card slogans. But is that really love? Some posit that love is an innate quality that we are born with. Mothers bond with their children immediately and create a connection that cannot be replaced. But is that love? Love is not a biological imperative. It is not caused by a physiological manifestation or chemical process. Those are feelings and are a cheap substitute for love. They are certainly motivating factors especially in relationships where love can or does exist, but they are not love.
Some feel that love is a learned behavior. It is the “input” required in order to gain something we want. We love in order to receive affection and caring from others. The problem is that it takes morality out of the question. If there is no higher purpose or reason other than quid pro quo, than love is neither universal or sustaining. We would be able to find a balance on expectations of what is required for love and then regulate it to the point of not caring for those who don’t match up. Regulating love to a moral commodity removes its value all together. Love is an action, it is a reality made true by choice. If the evolutionary model that modern science proclaims is accurate, then relationships with others are created based upon a biological need. those needs are to secure internal wants. Love however is an external choice that is willing to give of itself in order to achieve the best for another. Christ said (and many have quoted both in religion and out) that there is no greater love than a man who lays down his life for a friend. How does biology account for that? If the existence of a person ends at death, how does a biological need give a willingness to sacrifice for others. Quid pro quo makes sense to some extent, but if there is no pro quo, how can their be quid?
Because love is an action it is worthless unless it is chosen and made to happen. It cannot be sugarcoated and it cannot be faked. If it is real, then sacrifice follows it. Not necessarily the ultimate sacrifice Christ mentioned but a true giving of self that cannot be expected in return. If we truly love, whether or not we see results such as change in another person doesn’t matter. What matters is the sacrifice and the love shown. A christian should not be loving for any other reason than virtue. Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting there is any value in piety or self promotion of virtuous behavior. The truth is far more realistic. We love because Christ loved us first. That is the backstory for virtue. It is not a normal process in mankind, and it does not exist in nature. We take action based upon our desire to serve God and that action causes us to give of ourselves in love even at our own detriment if needed.
Love is not for the faint of heart and not for people who want quick reward. It is a long journey to be lived with an expectation of nothing more than to meet our Savior face to face upon completion. That is when we will truly see the benefits of love.
I was on a conference call with a group of people completing a project and one of the key players was thanking everyone for their participation in adding to the success of the project. He had clearly not planned what he was going to say and began spewing praise that somehow looped in on itself and began to sound a bit weird. He tried to get out of if by making an analogy to Hannibal crossing the Alps into northern Italy during the Punic wars. You could hear everyone squirm on the phone hoping he would just stop talking. His message and intent were powerful, his delivery and method were not so much.
Words have power, far too much at times. We can have the best intentions or the worst intentions but if our words are not chosen correctly, our intentions do not always communicate. The funny thing is the words themselves are actually neutral, the power they possess we give them. The challenge that many followers of Christ face is centered on this. The intent seems simple, proclaim the message of a loving God who created this planet with the desire that man should explore the wonder of it and thrive. Then it gets challenging. It is a multi faceted conversation that starts with the human interaction with choice and ends with the self sacrifice of Christ allowing reconciliation. Almost every word in those two sentences needs to be unpacked, discussed, and chewed on to make them real in the life of the person doing the chewing. But for some reason, historically, the church seems to throw out the message like it is instructions on how to turn on a light. We then get frustrated when people don’t hear the message.
Maybe some people just want to present it in a clear and concise way to feel like they have achieved a clean understanding. We want to keep it simple and keep the main thing the main thing (along with other cliche’s from the 60’s and 70’s). In order to do this we limit the message by focusing it on the parts that impact us and we find most important. The problem is that we declare what is simple and risk judging what another person can handle and risk actually insulting them in the process. It is almost like we want to chew the food up for them so they can swallow it. (Sorry, that was a bit graphic but did go with my theme.)
Maybe others feel that God values some parts more than others. We want to focus on the parts that he approves of most so we can please him ourselves and help bring others up to speed quicker. Whether by good intentions or just fear, the message is altered by this. The problem here is that when we do this, we are actually usurping the throne of God to declare what parts have more importance and negating the other parts as less valuable. This comes across more like inviting a person for a steak dinner and only letting them eat rice and white bread. They may even like that but are not getting the flavor or nutrition of the meal.
Maybe still others want to feel the security of their own knowledge as a warm blanket. We focus the message only on what we can fully explain and dismiss the rest as “deep study” material. Maybe some things are, but if we direct people away from parts because we don’t like to talk about them, we are providing a gospel different than what God gave us. We give the people the menu at our steak dinner but tell them what to order and what will taste good. Some may appreciate this but is that truly providing a full dining experience?
The message was intended to reach into a person’s soul and confront the demons that hide there. It is a story about how a person connects to the Divine and revels in the power of the Creator. It gives life, true life, not just an approximation established by momentary success. It is the story of a God who’s anger was so great he could only extinguish it himself and whose love was so great he couldn’t stop himself. It is the story of how the infinite became finite to teach us to transcend the distance between them. It is a story that must be heard in full to be evaluated and must be chewed on to be understood. We need to stop being afraid and let people chew.
When I was in Seminary I was approached by a fellow student who had heard me offering an opposing view in class. He quickly asked me a straightforward question. Would I consider myself a three or a five point Calvinist? I was on my way to the restroom in between classes and was really not looking to discuss Calvinist Theology at the time. I responded by rattling out an answer that was neither of his preset choices and not something that fit his paradigm. He began to follow me into the restroom and debate his view against my statement through the stall door. Taking the socially awkward moment even a step further, he began to get agitated that I was clearly not giving his argument my full attention. All I could remember thinking was “This guy is in my next class so at least we will be late together.”
As inelegant as this persons methods were, his motive were pure. He thought there was something wrong with my belief structure that would hinder my relationship with God. He wanted to correct that. Unfortunately no matter how pure his motives, his actions were indefensible and rude. With that being the case I have to wonder what value he ever thought he would gain. I am taken back regularly when I see the actions of the modern church resemble this persons’ tactics greatly.
One of the largest questions in our country today is marriage equality. The LGBT society is looking to secure an equal footing in the area of marriage. Their focus is based upon human and national rights that they feel are not being given them based upon that issue. The church is responding by telling them they are wrong and marriage is about one man plus one woman. The LGBT community is responding by saying the Church is full of hypocrites and haters. Can you think of a more awkward and inelegant conversation? How do human and national rights have anything to do with marriage and how does the Church feel it can respond to this concern with a calculation? Why can’t there be conversation that leeds to a supportive agreement? Oh, I remember now, the Bible defines marriage specifically. But does it?
When the Biblical passages on marriage were written, marriage was a social construct with the intent on preserving the family through progeny. The multiplication of workforce was the added benefit that made fertility the focus in marriage. This included marrying within your family if possible to ensure the family line. I am not saying there was not love, but that was clearly not the focus. There were many instances of multiple wives and incest based upon today’s standards. Is this really what we are using to proclaim God’s message about modern marriage? I understand how we would use it to proclaim that message within the body of Christ, but why are we doing it outside that body? If people don’t want the relationship with God that we are presenting, why are we holding them accountable to the standards of that relationship?
The modern family is a social microcosm that is far different than anything this world has ever seen. Our structured understanding that we would want to see in the Bible comes from 20th century Americana and not the Biblical text. Families don’t look like the Cleavers anymore and we should not expect that to be the goal. I am a single parent of a 14 year old that is not my son. I am a bald tattooed biker freak who has security following him because of profiling far too often. The Cleavers would consider calling social services on me rather than calling me and my nephew a family. Does that mean we are any less? Where does the church get the right to make a decision what is a family? I am not removing any of their authority to make statements within the body of Christ but doing so for the world is backwards.
It would seem to me that the church should be understanding this and supporting unique family structures if that is where people are finding peace. Are we really saying the love of Christ can’t permeate those bonds? If we truly believe that our God is the Almighty, graceful, loving, and forgiving, how can we not stand for justice even at our own detriment? If people we disagree with want to live their beliefs, why not let them? Why not help them? Why not encourage them to experience God? Do we not believe that God will break down the barriers and communicate himself to them? I can not save anyone. You can not save anyone. Only God can. So why do we spend so much time trying to do it for him?
We sing songs that cry out “If God be for us who can be against us”. If we truly believe this, why do we need the world to do things our way? And why are we so willing to tell people that they are wrong for doing the best they know how to. I am not advocating we baptize the behavior into Christianity but to stop it from happening before the people want to be Christians is just wrong. I am really tired of hearing people fight and argue about rights when we are referring to how people have sex, watch movies, cohabit, and exist. We are not preserving God’s justice but we very well maybe inhibiting his love. Are we afraid if we let people be who they are we will somehow look bad ourselves? If we truly believe in the forgiveness of God, why are we so afraid if our intention is to serve God by loving his people? Cant we maintain our beliefs without trashing someone else’s?
If Christ were here in the flesh now, would he be acting like our churches are or would he be talking to people instead of at them? I think he would be the first to say that using politics to pursue an agenda in the name of God is wrong. How will people ever change if we don’t give them enough room to want to? How will we ever be able to tell people about the love of God if we are too busy telling people how wrong they are? If we truly believe that God loves all, shouldn’t we be willing to prove that by doing it ourselves? If the only thing stopping us is our own moral code we are afraid to cross, we need to rethink it with Christ code and love others even to the point of loss of ourselves. I don’t have have any respect for a person who just knows the answer, but a person who knows the answer and is willing to back it up by action has my undying respect. I think God would agree. No, that is wrong, I know he would.