“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.” -- Thomas Merton
We've been posting all month about what it means to be loved and to love those around us. No small task when our lives are so loud, but this is more than a suggestion for those that believe. Christ-followers are challenged to be known for their love (John 13:35). Not known for where we live or what we drive or even by how many people we influence. This idea is a great equalizer... are you known for your love? Loving and serving others should be a natural extension of the new life we have found, an undeniable testament to the change happening in our hearts. Leading others to our loving God should be unavoidable!
It will not come easily though. Obstacles will find a way to disrupt and distract you every day. Fear will haunt our minds, prejudices will silence our sharing, and we will be tempted to convince ourselves that God can use someone else. And while it's true that He will even use the rocks if He has to (Luke 19:40), it's so important to realize that we are the plan. The church is God's redemptive plan for the world. God loves us. God saves us. God transforms us. God uses us... it's not about us, but God certainly does all of his work in us and through us and for us. We may not be the main character here, but we are a major part of the story.
Admittedly, an abundant love for others is not necessarily what the world experiences when they encounter the church. Even though the church is supposed to be a gathering of believers, believers are still very human and our world is very fallen. The beauty of the Gospel is that we can bring all of our mistakes and all of our flaws to God and He is faithful to forgive us (1 John 1:9). And then as His Holy Spirit dwells with us, we are given the power to transform our lives. Walking with Him. Learning from the Word. Renewing our minds. Crucifying our flesh. It's a full-time, life-long job that is difficult yet wildly fulfilling. As our faith grows, we will be more attuned to the character of Christ and patience will complete a perfect work (James 1:4). I'm astonished when I think of the possibilities!
As a society, somewhere along the way, we decided that we could judge another person based entirely upon what we could see or what we could assume. Another living, breathing human was only worth our time or effort if we understood them and their issues. And frankly, we began to believe that people could only be deemed as saved, healed, or "okay" once they received our help, took our advice, and began to live and look like us. Conforming to the standard was the only way you could be accepted, achieve, or arrive.
But I dare to believe that wealth does not determine worth.
Loving our neighbor means we must love everyone. People with lots of money are worthy of love and people with lots of debt are too. In suburbia, poverty often presents itself as insecurity, being one paycheck away from no home, no food, no car, or no phone. You are not loved less when you do not have all the luxury you desire. Even for those who identify with Christ, belief does not equal comfort or give you an escape from hardship. You're not a better Christian because your bills are paid and you are not less of a Christian if you lost your job or your spouse. It's right in the middle of those situations that we want to be found!
When we started Reach North Texas more than 12 years ago, I was ready to give away toys and to host play dates for all of the kids, but I was NOT ready to take on the establishment or to overthrow the status quo. I just wanted to serve literally anyone who needed help. We never had (and still do not have) a list of qualifications you must meet in order to receive help. I never want to stand in judgment as to who deserves our care and attention. It's a balance between goals and grace. We are not disorganized and we are not poor stewards of what we have, but we do judge both our failures and our successes with an unusual measuring stick. It's not a financial measurement, like staying on budget or raising a certain amount of money. It's not about service, like having a certain number of attendees or growing exponentially year-over-year. There's only ever been one measure for our ministry: obedience, especially when it does not make sense.
In this crazy human condition, love is the vessel for hope. Loving everyone is step one. Having something to offer them is step two. Hope. That's much too large of a subject to dive into in my last paragraph, so I'll plan to pick up here in my next entry and leave you with this verse that inspires me daily:
"Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we also have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we celebrate in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also celebrate in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." -- Romans 5:1-5