Loving each other: More than just a nice idea

I listened the other night as my grandson explained to me that he had a deeply powerful experience with Jesus when he was a teenager. He said he wasn’t sure what he believed or what he was doing, but he asked Jesus to be a part of his life. And, Jesus reached out and touched him!

Then I listened further as he explained to me that he thinks about it off and on, but isn’t participating in a church. When I asked, “Why not?” I received the answer I was afraid I would receive: “Grandpa, I tried several churches, and they kept saying things that made it clear that if they knew me they wouldn’t accept me, and that they certainly didn’t like my friends. Sometimes they wrote my friends off because they were Catholic, sometimes because they had questions about various teachings of the church, sometimes….” There were so many examples.

As I reflected on his answer, I remembered my own teenage experience with church. “Mom,” I said after watching members of a church community fight, “these people would have been better off never to come to church. They were good friends before they started coming, now they are enemies over this dumb church argument.”  These were not just a teen’s words designed to shock Mom. As soon as I moved away from home, I quit church and avidly avoided most church people, whom I found to be judgmental, arrogant, and lacking any understanding of or compassion for a young college student. I never intended to go back—but that is obviously another story.

Jesus’ prayer recorded in John 17:20-21 is both tantalizing in its power and taunting in its directness when I look at church history, at the American church, at our fellowship here in Champaign, and at myself.

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

Would there be a lot more grace in the world if the churches that wear Jesus’ name were also living more of Jesus’ love for one another?

I want to confess openly: I do not love nearly enough, and I do not care nearly enough. Sometimes, the ease with which I do not love enough or care enough is terrifying! I cannot imagine why God puts up with me.

But I also want to testify openly: Because of Jesus’ transformations in my life, I love more than I ever did before and certainly more than I would have if Jesus were not active in my life as Lord and Savior. Because of Jesus’ transformations in my life, I care more than I ever did before and certainly more than I would have if Jesus were not active in my life as Lord and Savior. These are not just proper doctrinal statements; they describe an experiential reality in my life for which I am deeply grateful. When I allow Jesus to be Lord and to instruct me in “the way” to live life, it is transforming. When I remember how much willful self-destruction and disregard for others Jesus has saved and healed me from, it is awesome.

I also want to acknowledge openly that it isn’t always easy to figure out what is really a loving action or a loving word or a loving response. The great “love” chapter in the Bible (1 Corinthians 13) also includes the statement “Now, we see through a glass darkly.”

Certainly, we cannot let those who watch from outside be the sole definers for us of loving as Jesus wants us to love. But, we would do well to let them be one of our check points. When my grandson was a teenager “trying out church,” he saw clearly a truth that somehow seems to now get fogged over in the lives of many of us who are busy “doing church.” As a young teen, he didn’t yet know the Bible verses, but he vividly knew the truth of this statement in 1 John 4:20-21:

“Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”

I pray to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ—please give us more desire and more power to love so that those who are seeking might see something that would draw them toward you, not drive them from you.

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