Okay friends, here is the thing, for the past few weeks, I haven't slept much. About a month ago the Lord imprinted something on my heart in a big way and I just haven't been able to shake it. It seems everywhere I go, the people I talk to, the books I read, the verses I dwell on all have one thing in common. So I ask that you hang with me during this blog post. Somethings may make sense, some may not, but I really want to try and express to you my heart and what I have been digesting because I feel an urgency in me to share the truth to those I know because time is precious.
About a month ago I found myself in the back of a limo with a group of friends. We were going to get tattoos and then have dinner. It was a night set aside to celebrate life and be a community. As we were heading home, I took a minute to sit back and observe. My heart was pounding, not out of anxiety but out of joy. I felt like I was at church. That night I posted this on Facebook...
"With each step of the journey, I am discovering that I have over thought what community is. Each day I am learning that community is riding in a limo on a Tuesday night just because you can. It is making memories and starring circumstances in the eye and not allowing them to steal your joy. It is holding your sister's hand no matter what is ahead and never letting go.
When it comes down to it, it is simply loving God and loving others. Everything else is pointless."
Loving God and loving others. That is what life is all about. Jesus said it over and over again.
"'Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?' And he said to him, 'You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.'" (Matthew 22:36-40, ESV)
The greatest commandment is to love God. The second is like it, love each other.
"A new command I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35, ESV)
People will only know we are God's disciples if we love.
"This is my commandment, that you love another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another." (John15:12-17, ESV)
We have been chosen by God to love and in loving it means we will do anything for those around us.
Here is the thing friends, I have been in church my whole life. When things are hard, I go to church. When there are moments to celebrate, I go to church. Friday morning I had some free time and where did I go, you guessed it, church. I sat in the empty sanctuary with a guitar and worshiped. Church is comfort for me, but what I am discovering in myself, is that I have been doing church wrong. I know that "church" is not a building, but the people in it. As a youth pastor, worship leader and missionary, I cannot tell you how many times I have said that and I truly do believe it, but I fear I have been doing things wrong. You see I believe I have made church too complicated. I have striven to make things perfect. I have striven to make relationships perfect. And the truth of the matter is they can't be because of sin. But the one thing that covers up sin is love. The love that came to us from the cross. The love that God commanded us to give to others, yet I have made things too complicated. Church isn't about the programs. Church isn't even about the missionaries or the sermons or the music. Church is about love.
As Christians we do not get to pick and chose our level of service for the King. It is either all in or all out. Jesus said the EVERYTHING depends upon us loving him and loving others. You cannot be a Christian and not be a disciple. You cannot be a disciple without loving God as your Father. You cannot love God if you are not loving those around you. That is what church is. But sometimes the church does a very poor job at being the church. Sometimes we, myself included haven't loved the way we should. We haven't served the way we should. The excuses are as vast as the drops of water in the ocean, but the fact is we have messed up and the reason why I think we have, is because we have made church too complicated and it scares people off. If a person is a little different and they don't fit into a small group or discipleship model, they are turned off. If we are not loving them for who they are and where they are in life we are not showing them Christ.
I know I have written about this before on the blog, but in the past month my heart has become very broken to the hurts around me. Why? Honestly, because I prayed for it to happen and in Mark 10 Jesus said if we pray and believe, it will happen. So from the back seat of a limo, I prayed that God would break my heart for the people in my life. I prayed that I could in someway feel their pain, either physical, spiritual or emotional so that I would know how to better love. And I didn't stop in the limo. Everyday I wake up and pray that God would put someone's pain on my heart so that I would know how to love on them and pray for them. The past week, I have laid in bed at night and wept for people. People I am close with. People I pass on the street. People I don't even know, but the Lord woke me up and asked me to pray. Through it all, yes there have been moments in the day when I feel tired, but more often than not, I feel stronger, because I have figured out a new way to do church.
Church is a large group of firemen, police officers and paramedics, lining the street to give hope and love to a 6 year old boy who has dreamed of being a fireman.
Church is bringing lunch for a friend just because it is Thursday and people need to eat lunch on Thursday.
Church is a car ride. The destination could be an appointment, a hospital, a store, anywhere, but the conversations in the car are ones that include love, because no matter how bumpy the road to the destination is, the journey can be sweet.
Church is going to a park with a friend just to talk while her children play.
Church is going to Target 5 times in 5 days, because there is always someone who needs to go to Target and going with a friend is a lot more fun than going by yourself.
Church is walking into someone's hurt and doing whatever it takes to bring hope, even if it is going through their trash.
Church is what we make it and friends we need to make it about love. Not about judgement. Not about committees. Not about agendas. Not about worship styles or sermon series or youth programs. We need to make it about love. Because when you open your heart up to literally feel someone else's pain you understand the scriptures more clearly. You understand what Jesus meant when he said, "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." This could mean physically dying for someone, but more importantly it means walking alongside someone because we all need to be loved. The crazy thing I have learned is that as I love others, I feel God's love more in me. I feel Him loving me more. I don't do this to win a prize or to get a pat on the back from someone, I love because it is what my heart longs to do. We were created for it. We were knit together to allow others to know they matter too.
If you are still reading this, first off thank you for sticking with me, but second you may be thinking, "I already know this. You are preaching to the choir." You may be right and I may have just spent this time writing something we all know, but here is one reason why my heart hurts. We all know it, but do we do it. The fact is I can stand up in front of many people who attend church weekly, and say all this, but some of those people, even though they are at church, won't be in heaven someday, because they missed the fact that they had to love. Some people reading this blog right now, won't get to spend eternity with my Jesus, because they missed the point. No one is exempt from this! No one has a "I don't have to love" card. No matter what age you are or how many times you have done a certain part of ministry, you still need to love!! If we miss this, we miss getting to spend eternity in heaven.
This week I have been reading Joshua. As I soak in the story, I wonder if we church members have something to learn from those we place judgements on. Rahab saw two spies and she took them in and hid them. Did she ask a lot of questions? Did she set up a permission form for them to come in? No welcomed them in and because of that her whole family was saved. What did Rahab do for a living? She was a prostitute. She was someone who in my eyes, needed to be shown love. She was one of those "seekers" that we have programs to reach. But not that day, she showed love by opening up her home to two spies and because of that her name is listed in Hebrews 11, the great chapter of faith.
Here is the thing that I am learning (and please understand I am still learnING. I am not perfect) I have made Christianity too complicated and I am done doing that. Jen Hatmaker in her book, "For the Love" says "If you assume an obedient life requires a thousand moving parts, a bunch of church programs, an international movement, a big fancy ministry or a giant platform, let Jesus' description of the kingdom relieve you: small, invisible, humble, tiny seeds, mostly hidden. Faithfulness is not easy, but it is simple. You are already able, already positioned, already valuable in your moral life on your normal street next to your normal neighbors in your normal work...God is big and good enough to lead us all, and together we just might see his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven."
I want a new outlook on church. I want to simplify the way I serve. Because when it comes down to it, that only thing that matters is love. If we are not loving, we are not His disciples. I will even take it one step further, if we are not loving we are not His children.
Nothing else matters.