I sense a great divide in our culture, and unfortunately, also in the Church. But you can’t really draw a line and say everyone is on this side or that side. There are so many lines drawn in the sand it can be confusing to know which side of which line you’re supposed to be on yourself! And when it comes to knowing which people to align with, it can be even more confusing. Many people you thought you knew and trusted have revealed themselves to be side-swiped by harmful ideologies and political conspiracies. But even then, it’s hard to know what is the actual truth about a lot of things. Even reading the Bible can be challenging, when there are experts explaining opposing meanings of verses you thought you knew!
So what can we hang on to? I believe it’s easy.
Even still, what it means to love someone seems to be up for interpretation. As I talk more and more about the importance of love here and on social media there is always some kind of kickback, usually from conservative Christians. They say things like, “We can’t just love people, we have to turn them into disciples of Jesus.” Or, “So Mark, we should just let people throw away their lives?” As if loving people is a slippery slope into chaos and dysfunction (as if we don’t have any chaos or dysfunction running through our churches!).
It’s time we stop drawing lines in the sand, and simply stand up for love.
Why? Because God loved us first. (1 John 4:19) The Message translation (my favorite) puts it this way: “We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.”
But this means giving up our desire to control other people, something I know I was trained to do from an early age. Too many well-meaning Christians believe the best way to love people is by getting them to believe what we think they should believe. That’s called proselytizing or evangelizing. In actuality, loving someone means caring for them, helping to meet their needs, honoring them above ourselves, laying our lives down for them.
I imagine the thinking behind proselytizing is that it’s probably easier to simply try to convert people, believing that having their eternity secured is the best way to love them, than it is to try to meet some of their more complicated physical or emotional needs. Great for life after death, but horribly insufficient for our life on Earth.
In John 15:12-13, Jesus said, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Believe me when I tell you that pushing your theological beliefs on other people—who might already have beliefs of their own—is selfish, rude, and arrogant. But pushing your love on people is super-duper great, as long as it’s actually loving the other person, and not secretly loving them in order to gain trust so that you can then push your beliefs on them. This is the grossest kind of multi-level marketing friend-building scheme.
But Don’t We Hold The Absolute Truth?
Just because your religion tells you it’s the one true religion doesn’t make it so. It’d be like me saying that I’m Superman, and you have to believe me because I said so. Our religion, our faith, is our choice. It’s a paradigm we’re choosing to live by. In my opinion, it’s a really good one! Because at its core, it’s all about love. And if we got back to that, I’m convinced that we wouldn’t be able to keep people away from our churches.
If I go down in history for anything, it’d be such an honor to be referred to as the guy who wouldn’t shut up about how we need to love each other better. I think that’d put me in pretty good company— Jesus, for example, who said in John 13:34-35:
“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”
Just to clarify, love is my agenda.
Do you want to join me?
In case you missed it, here’s a link to last week’s essay, “Can We Be Better Lovers?” This may be a theme I write a lot about over the coming weeks.
I’d love to hear from you, too. How do you think we can be better lovers of all people? I look forward to hearing from you!!
“Saving My Faith” Podcast Update
I’ve been loving the great comments I’ve been getting from people who have listened to my podcast. They say these conversations I’ve been having are provocative, inspiring, and even challenging. I’m committed to hanging onto my faith, even in the midst of a turbulent religious culture, and this podcast is my way of diving into the really good stuff of Christianity. Listen here or wherever you listen to podcasts, like Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
Dominic Done - We talked about how we can better understand our purpose and identity as the Beloved.
John Fugelsang - We discussed how many fundamentalist Christians seem to be so in favor of things that are diametrically opposed to what Jesus taught.
Krispin Mayfield - We explored Attachment Theory and how the way we learned love as kids is often how we interpret God’s love for us as adults. (A two-parter!)
Mason Mennenga - We talked about hanging onto hope, especially for those going through some kind of faith reconstruction.
Josh Scott - I loved this conversation about how being committed to the flourishing of all people has changed his pastoral ministry.
Come See Me!
This Saturday (June 18th) at the A-Mill Summer Music & Arts Fair (315 SE Main St, Minneapolis) I’m going to have a booth setup where I’ll be taking free portraits of people throughout the day. I believe in using my photography to reveal the beauty that is inside each human and I can’t wait to see how this experiment goes! With nearly 40 vendors and great music throughout the day, it’s a fun way to experience beautiful Main St. and the glorious Stone Arch Art Festival taking place across the river all weekend.
Additional Verses To Hang Onto and Live Into
Luke 6:35-36: “I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.”
1 John 3:16-18: “This is how we’ve come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves. If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear. My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love.”
Philippians 2:3-4: “If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care—then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.”
Romans 12:9-10: “Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.”
On this solid rock I stand.
I should make a t-shirt. lol
Keep doing what you’re doing Mark. Love is Love. Period. Who are we to go against what Jesus clearly stated?