Our world is full of “if/then” statements.
If someone is nice to me, then I can be nice back.
If someone does me a favor, then I can return the favor.
If someone shows me respect, then I can be respectful.
These are the kinds of conditions our world is built on, and I think each of us can see this attitude in ourselves if we examine ourselves with sincerity.
It is no different in the Church. We always have the sense that outsiders must qualify in some way in order to be embraced by us. If they do not enthusiastically take up our doctrine—if they do not join our club—they are outsiders and worthless to us. This failure to see in others—no matter how detestable they might be—the image and likeness of God, and to treat them with the love and dignity due to them as such, cannot be justified.
Sometimes this discrimination is less pronounced. Sometimes it’s as simple as wanting to hang out with the guys you find funny or the guys who are good at playing soccer like you are. Sometimes we simply don’t want to talk to the guy who’s not cool enough—the awkward kid, the nerdy kid, the loser.
Sometimes we’re too insecure to speak up when a friend’s cracking jokes on them, or maybe we join in ourselves.
Sometimes we try to rationalize those behaviors. Other times we’re just spineless.
Let’s face it: this is human nature. Each of us is guilty. The fact is it’s easier to love those we find easy to love, and it’s easier to go about our days only seeing God in the faces of those who look like us, think like us, live like us or do for us. We are spiteful creatures, but, even more devastating than that, we are utilitarian to the core. We love people only insofar as they are useful to us.
We also see things through lens upon lens imposed on us from an early age. Engrained in us by a larger western culture as well as the very local culture in which we’re raised are racial prejudice, socioeconomic bias, physical standards, intellectual chauvinism, and the like. No matter how subtle, these attitudes cannot be justified in any way.
The point here is not for me to stand on my pulpit and say I’m bigger than all of these things. I’m not. It pains me to see how our human condition keeps us from loving those whom our Heavenly Father loves. It kills me that we see so much hate, hurt and suffering in our world—and in our own hearts.
All I know is this: something is deathly wrong with us, and this is not how God the Father loves us.
Growing up, I was taught all of this the hard way. You see, I was on the receiving end of social rejection. I didn’t measure up. I wasn’t cool enough to be “one of the guys.” The only thing I was good for was being the scapegoat for every one else to make fun of and bully so that the spotlight wouldn’t be turned on them. And they made me truly believe that. Something in me was deficient. I was not enough. I tried really hard to make myself enough, but I never felt I could be enough in my own right.
This feeling plagued me even unto ministry. I drove myself into the ground last year trying to be everything for everybody, and it was because of this experience, this conditioning. I tried not to miss a single volunteering opportunity because I didn’t want to fail my Adore family and be deemed unworthy. I didn’t feel like I would ever be cool enough to be part of the club—to be liked, wanted, loved—but I figured that if I became a consistent contributor I’d be less easily thrown away. They’d have to keep me around. They couldn’t toss me to the curb like so many had done before, and I’d finally get to hang out with the cool kids, even though it might have felt obligatory to them.
But they taught me something. Even as I have become more superfluous to their ministry as new leaders have risen up and I’ve committed to less, they have loved me radically. They have loved me not as the world loves me, but as God loves me. Their love hasn’t changed.
Even though this is what I’d been preaching for the past several years, I guess I never believed it could be true. I still struggle with it, but I want each of us tonight to understand something with perfect clarity: you are loved unconditionally by a Father who neither thinks like the world thinks nor operates how the world operates. You do not have to qualify for His love—you could never qualify for His love! We simply have to receive it.
Receiving it is a challenge in and of itself. As I’ve said, it’s something I still wrestle with. The voices of my past still taunt me, and the voices of the world often make it hard to believe the still, small voice of God stirring in my soul. Sometimes they drown Him out altogether, and other times I don’t want to hear that I’m worthy of love because I know in such a deep, dark, and wounded place that I’m not. But this is something that’s critical if there is ever to be Hope for our world. We need to address our need for healing and challenge our perceptions of love.
The task does not end once we find healing for ourselves, however. We must also evaluate the ways in which we allow ignorance, insecurity, selfishness, and unlove to reign in our dealings with others. The world has too much brokenness. We must not delude ourselves into believing it’s all “okay”—that we’re okay. Meditating on how God loves us and how we fail to love others must convict us. If it doesn’t, all this religion crap is just pointless. The love of God should change us. If it doesn’t strip away the lenses, if it doesn’t strike down our selfish rationalizations, if it doesn’t jolt us from our ignorance—and do all this on a continual basis—it’s pointless.
The love of God is not pointless.
We’re not meant to be comfortable. We’re not made to love in a way that comes easy. Real love is not meant to come easy. Nothing meaningful ever does. Sit with that and ask yourself how God might be asking you to get uncomfortable—to experience Him, to be convicted, and to love others in a messy, radical, and maybe not-so-pretty way.
Learn to love that which is hard to love.
Pray for yourself, and pray for our world.
• Matthew 5:43-48
• Matthew 25:31-46
• Luke 15:11-32
• Luke 23:33-34
• 1 John 3:1-3