In Charles Schultz’s famous cartoon Peanuts, Linus says, “Mankind I love, it’s people I can’t stand.” Never has this sentiment so clearly been displayed than in Christian circles, where we talk an awful lot about unconditional (agape) love.
Yep, we talk about love. But living it? That takes some practice. And after more than 25 years as a Christian believer, I think practice, not perfection, is the point of life.
If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 1John 4:20
Unfortunately, I think people mostly expect perfection from others and practice from themselves, especially in these days that seem to reflect the prophetic Matthew 24:12, “Because lawlessness is increased, the love of many will grow cold.”
My journey with God didn’t start out with a lot of other people. I was not raised in religion or spirituality of any kind. I had little experience with church other than weddings and funerals. Though the existence of God was not entertained at home, the possibility fascinated me.
I became a Christian lying in my bed one night when I was fourteen, after watching Billy Graham on television. He spoke directly into a situation I was facing at the time and the incident capped off a few supernatural signposts I experienced throughout my youth.
I kept this private for a few years. I didn’t tell my parents until after I started college.
And I began reading the bible. I wish I could express to you how it came alive. The words were powerful and clear. I felt like they entered my body and inhabited me, as though they had the power to change me. Indeed, they were changing me.
In Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis writes, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
When I read that quote for the first time, I wanted to shout with excitement, “Yes! That’s how I feel, too!” His words beautifully encapsulated my own life experience. At last, somebody else understood how I felt. I saw the world in a brand new way, that had little to do—and yet everything to do—with others.
And so I was drawn to attend an evangelical, protestant church while in school. I wanted to bond with other people who believed the same things, and I grew in ways I never thought possible.
Unfortunately, these are probably the same people Linus was talking about. Through the years, people have been hypocritical, people have let me down, people have lied, cheated, stolen and still praised God, people have been really, really mean. Hypocrisy. Cruelty. Selfishness.
You know…regular people. Sinners.
After a few significant disappointments, I temporarily withdrew from organized church. I just wanted to go back to the way it was in the beginning: “It’ll be just you and me, God, okay? My heart is sore and I don’t want to share it with anyone anymore.”
I’m so grateful that God didn’t leave me in that self-made cocoon. Instead, he crashed through my bitterness to be that objective filter he has always been. Here are a few points to ponder about how to love in the Kingdom of God:
1. Be the church you want to join—period. Treat others the way you want to be treated. It’s called the Golden Rule because it’s not dependent on how others treat you. Do it because it’s right. No excuses!
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21
2. One thing Jesus wants us to preserve is our vulnerability, because without it we cannot serve or be served.
3. One thing Jesus wants us to do is forgive, otherwise our experience with his forgiveness is meaningless and proves that our lives haven’t really been changed.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has also forgiven you. Ephesians 4:31
4. Don’t assume being right is the most important thing. Every single person with whom I’ve had a conflict in the past figured I was the one in the wrong. But looking back at most of those situations, I still feel pretty much the same way. I certainly assume God is on my side. (i.e. “May the LORD judge between you and me, and may the LORD avenge me on you; but my hand shall not be against you.” 1Samuel 24:12.)
But if you’ve spent many tiring hours sorting out arguments between your children, you’ll know that everybody’s wrong—or everybody’s right. It’s all about perspective. Parents just want their kids to stop fighting for their rights, grow up and forgive one another.
So it is with God, I believe. He wants us to learn how to hold each other in forgiveness instead of fighting to be right. In fact, the degree to which we show this ability is the degree to which people outside the faith will recognize the presence of God in us. How powerful would we be as a body if we took this seriously?
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. John 13:34-35
Love isn’t always a warm, fuzzy feeling. Sometimes love is an act of faith. It’s recognizing that it’s not my job to change you. That’s God’s job. My job is to love you regardless of how you treat me. Tough, huh?
But Jesus did it for me. And you.
If there’s ever a day when I fail you, please…forgive me.