Do They Know Us by Our Love?

thIf I could sum up the primary role of the Christian in the world today, I would say it is to reflect the love and grace of God onto their fellow human beings. Thank about it for a bit. When asked what the greatest commandments were, Jesus responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). Christ said this was the greatest commandment. He then said the second greatest commandment is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Many passages in Scripture take a great of study, prayer, and contemplation to truly understand, however, Christ’s words in Matthew 22 are amazingly clear and simple. Christians should have deep, abiding love for God and their fellow human beings. We should recognize that everyone we meet is a unique creation built in the image of God. We should love others because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). The Bible even suggests that if we fail to love others in the proper manner, it will be impossible for us to adequately love God (1 John 4:20).

So I must wonder … if God’s Word is so clear, why do I so often fail to display love in my life? In fact, why does the Church so often fail to do so? Think about it for a bit – we’re not talking about the minutiae of Christian living; rather, we’re talking about the main theme that should be running through our lives. Love is not one attribute among many in the Christian life – is is the single most defining attribute of a Christian – so much so that others should recognize Christians because of the love we have for one another (John 13:35).

Christ says loving God and loving others are the greatest commandments for us to live by. So I must ask … Do others recognize you as a disciple of Jesus Christ because of the love you display in your life?

The answer to this very important question may be embarrassing. It may be a bit humbling. Heck, we might even be offended if someone suggests we don’t love as we should; however, I would submit the world does not primarily recognize Christians (and the Christian Church) by our love.

If we’re not recognized by our love, how are we recognized? Here’s a list I’ve compiled:

  • They know us because we hate homosexuals.
  • They know us because we shared that Facebook image. You know the one, “Share in 30 seconds or you don’t love Jesus.”
  • They love us because they’ll have to pry our guns from our “cold, dead hands.”
  • They know us because we believe in a young earth.
  • They know us because we are Republicans.
  • They know us because we are Democrats.
  • They know us because we think most science is bunk.
  • They know us because of the tee shirts we wear.
  • They know us because we’ve told them recently they’re going to burn in hell.
  • They know us because we go to Church every Sunday.
  • They know us because we roll our eyes if we see someone drinking a beer.

Do you get my point? We bend over backwards to make sure the world knows what we’re against. We have a little checklist of beliefs we use as a litmus test of true Christianity. Our list may even be right every once in a while, but that’s not the point. Christ says they should recognize us because of our love.

What keeps the church from loving as it should? What keeps you and I from loving as we should? Sometimes, I think we’re afraid to love others as we should because it will be misconstrued as condoning the sin in their lives. However, we need to understand that love is an essential ingredient in dealing with the sin in our lives. In fact, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Love is the context in which we should share the gospel, cure the sin addiction in the world, and create disciples. Outside of that context, the world will never recognize us as belonging to Jesus Christ.

I must admit that I do not love as I should.  My goal is to foster a love for God and a love for my fellow human beings as Christ instructed. I want to give love the attention it deserves. After all, Christ told me love was the most important commandment.

Will you join me?

Letting God Out of the Box

In his book, What is Reformed Theology? Understanding the Basics, R.C. Sproul explains the difference between Religion and Theology. He explains that religion is the study of particular types of human behavior, while theology is the study of God. In other words, religion is man-centered while theology is God-centered. It has occurred to me slowly over the last few months that much of what we do as Christians has little to do with God. We seem intent on practicing a religion that is man-centered.

The desire of any Christian should be to focus his life on Christ. We should all be more interested in how God would want our faith to play out in our lives. Too often, we take our cues from our pastors, denominations, authors, small groups, and other areas of influence when we should be taking our cues from Christ.

Sometimes, I think we have created a faith that has little to do with the real living God.

I am beginning to lose interest in the faith we have created. In the faith we have created, we expect God to manifest Himself in a variety of ways. How many times have you heard someone say after a church or worship service, “Wow, I could really feel God’s presence in there,” or, “The spirit was really moving during that sermon.” Have you ever heard someone say that during a moment when you didn’t feel God at all? I know I have. It is in those moments that I feel like the worst Christian in the Kingdom. There’s been moments when I wondered why everyone else seemed to sense God’s presence when I couldn’t. I wondered what I was doing wrong. Then it ocurred to me … those people are lying.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that you can never feel God’s presence during church or feel the Spirit moving during a worship session; however, I am saying that we have created a church environment where you fall short as a Christian if you don’t feel God’s presence at the right moments. So much of what we do as a church and as Christians involves creating moments for God to reveal Himself. We create emotional sermons, passionate worship songs, tear-jerking service opportunities, and intimate small group discussions with the expectation that God will participate when and where we say so. There are even some denominations that expect the Holy Spirit to make you jump around, dance, and speak in tongues; and if it doesn’t happen, there is something wrong with you.

It is as if someone says, “Let God out of His box now so we can all feel better about ourselves … just be sure to put Him away when we’re done!”

I am nearly forty years old and I have been a Christian for going on ten years. While there have been several times in my life when I have felt God’s presence and even times when I felt as if Jesus were speaking right to me, I must admit that none of these moments occurred on demand. Rather, God has spoken to me in moments of His choosing. Do we really think that we can demand the Creator of the universe to speak to us because it is Sunday morning and expect to get a response?

When you study the life of Christ it is apparent that He never acted and responded to the people around Him in the way they expected. He changed all of the rules and all the expectations they had for their savior. He was a rebel that refused to be typecast. Shouldn’t we expect Him to be the same now. I fear that far too often, we attempt to turn the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit into our own personal puppet.

In his book, Real Church, Larry Crab attributes all of this to an addiction to ourselves. I couldn’t agree more. We create these moments for God to participate in our religion because we selfishly want to feel His presence on our schedules. We play worship music not because we feel He is worthy of our praise, but rather because it gets our adrenaline pumping and makes us feel better about ourselves. We create service opportunites not out of a desire to serve our fellow man, but rather because it makes us feel better about ourselves. We pick and choose our churches like we pick and choose our movies … we’re not interested in attending the church where God wants us because we are too busy trying to find the one that entertains us the most.

Our religion has become all about us when it is supposed to be all about God.

Study the life of any saint worth remembering and you will find they lived a life that was God-centered rather than man-centered. Mother Teresa’s life would have been impossible if she had been afflicted with this addiction to self. Rather than wasting her time creating opportunities for God to reveal Himself, Teresa went about the business of serving her fellow humans and waited patiently for God. By her own account, she went decades without feeling the presence of God … but yet continued to wait for Him.

God is not fast food. We can not have Him our way. We can only experience Him in His way and on His schedule. Larry Crabb teaches that this anticipation is more valuable at times than any experience we can have of God in this life. Jesus taught that this life is all about anticipation. Heaven is so close we can taste it. We should look forward to it like a little child does Christmas morning. There is no experience we can have in this life that will come close to the experience of being with Christ in Heaven … we should embrace this anticipation and quit trying to put the cart before the horse.

Church, sermons, worship songs, service, small groups …. these are all good things if they serve to increase our anticipation for God. He will reveal Himself to us on His schedule. The Spirit will move among us … not like a pay per view movie, but rather like the living, breathing God that He is. We should embrace those moments when we can’t feel God’s presence in this world because He has  promised we will live entirely in His presence someday.

Manipulating God into doing our bidding … creating moments that feel religious … these are the things that false religions are made of. These are the things I no longer have an interest in.

Father, my prayer is for you to speak to me and fill me with the Spirit as you see fit. I ask that you help me stop and take notice of You in the moments You are trying to speak to me. In the moments that I can’t feel Your presence, I ask that You fill me with anticipation. Father, I want to desire your presence like a child desires his Christmas present. Lord, lead me to worship, praise, study, and serve with the right motives. Help me to conquer my addiction to self and become more addicted to anticipating You.

Amen.

Further Reading:

Real Church by Larry Crabb
What is Reformed Theology by R.C. Sproul
Living in the Power of the Holy Spirit by Charles Stanley

Back Sliding and Bicycles

A few years ago my friend Russ and I decided to get into bike riding. It happened kind of on a whim, but I jumped in with both feet and went out and bought a fancy road bike with all the bells and whistles. Soon after, I bought a nice mountain bike and cycling became my primary form of entertainment. I can remember with great clarity how exciting it was when I first rode over ten miles. Soon, a ten mile ride was nothing to me. Before I knew it, a fifteen or twenty mile ride was common place. I even logged a few rides over fifty and sixty miles. It was a blast. Life eventually got in the way; however, and I got a little derailed. I sort of fell off the bike riding wagon and gained about fifty pounds. Riding the bike was suddenly harder for me. I rode just today and had to work to get in seven miles.

If you put my bike riding into church-talk, you could say that I “back-slid.”

“Back-sliding” is a phrase that I hear often. If you hang out with Christians for any length of time, you’ll eventually hear it as well. Normally, it comes just after someone finds out I’m a Christian, “I didn’t know you were a Christian Clark. I used to be one, but I’ve sort of “back-slid.”

This terminology drives me up a wall. My first response when someone tells me they have ‘back-slid’ is to ask them how. I ask for specifics. I am interested in knowing because it blows me away that someone can think they have fallen so far off the track that they no longer qualify as a Christian. Normally, after I talk to someone long enough, I discover that they don’t mean they have quit believing in Christ or the lessons He taught … what they normally mean is that they have fallen back into a pattern of sin that they thought they had outgrown or given up for good. It is the recurrence of that sin in their lives that prompts them to describe themselves as a “former Christian” that has “back-slid.”

Let me explain why this cheeses me off so much. Being “back-slidden” as described above is a man made concept. Obviously, there are some people who used to believe in Christ and possessed a Judeo-Christian faith that have quit believing for some reason. That’s a different story than I described above. The problem is that most people who describe themselves as “back-slidden” don’t fit into that category; rather, they have allowed the presence of sin in their lives to convince them that they no longer qualify as a Christian. Maybe that’s a concept that their pastor taught them, or maybe it comes out of their denomination’s doctrinal statement; but it certainly isn’t Biblical. The Bible says that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God! We’ve discussed the concept of grace in detail on this blog … tell me, whom among us deserves it?

Denominations that allow people to think they can “back-slide” enough to make God quit loving them are doing their members a huge disservice. So you’ve got sin in your life, huh? Guess what … so does every Christian that walks the earth!

The heart of the matter here is cowardice. People that say they have “back-slidden” out of the grace of the All Mighty are cowards. They make it sound like something that happened to them involuntarily. Certainly, there are addictions and what-not that are harder to fight than others, but all of us who call ourselves Christians have to deal with the presence of sin in our lives. It isn’t always easy, but Christ calls us all to deal with the sin in our lives and live for a higher purpose. Paul compared following Christ to running a marathon because it isn’t always easy.

We have a choice … we can dub ourselves back-slidden and fall deeper and deeper into sin …. or we can get back on the bicycle and huff and puff our way for seven miles … and accept the fact that Jesus Christ died for us no matter where we are on the path.

Clark