Wednesday, August 12, 2020

An Act of Love

A few days ago, as I talked about what it means to commit to excellence in everything you do as a sign of your faith in God, I mentioned that there were four things I hope that someone comes to learn when I serve them from my heart:

I love God. God loves me. God loves you. I love you.

These are the four truths that shape our hearts to be servants of our communities, to give of ourselves freely to those in need, to offer what we have for the good of others. For the most part, we agree on that. What's more difficult is to understand how to place them, in what order these ideas should fall. And to a lot of persons, it might seem that I have them more than a little messed up. But I think they have to go in this order if we want to maximize the impact of the Gospel and have a real chance to preach it a little (with or without words) in our world.

Today's evangelism tries to start at the end, but we've seen very clearly that that doesn't work. We've been told to go out and love our neighbors ("I love you"), but how often does that lead us to an opportunity to tell us why we love them? Most persons in our world are just glad to feel loved for a little while; they don't care where it comes from. When was the last time someone asked you to do something for them, you showed up and did it, and then they asked you why you did it? Or it wasn't awkward to try to bring up why your heart led you to do it? Evangelism in this direction just doesn't work. If we start with "I love you," that's as far as we ever get. We might, if we're lucky, get a "hmm.." if someone we've loved finds out we're a Christian, but they don't ask a lot of questions and they usually don't even connect our Christianity with our heart or our service.

Traditional evangelism tried to start with "God loves you," but without a real context to put that in, it's pretty meaningless to the average non-believer. Great. God loves me. So what? What kind of real, meaningful impact does God's love have on my life? None? Okay, great. Then let's move on. It's really hard to work backward from telling someone who 1) doesn't know God and 2) doesn't know love that God loves them, and then try to show them through our own lives that that love is a good thing. It's disorienting and confusing and insanely hard to follow. (Not to mention that we spent a lot of our traditional evangelism wrapping the message of God's love in His judgment and condemnation, which didn't help us a whole lot, either.)

So here's why I put these four truths in the order that I did. I hope you can see the natural progression here and start to understand how this is a better way.

I love God. The first thing I want you to see when I am serving you is me giving freely of my life. I want you to see me holding onto my own life loosely, being generous with what I have, unconcerned about reciprocity or keeping score or anything like that. I want you to see that this is a deliberate way that I have chosen to live and hopefully, what you see is that it is because I have the confident assurance of the God that I love. I want you to see me holding myself to His standard in everything. My faith truly shapes my life. It is meaningful. It allows my life to be meaningful. It gives me the opportunity to live generously and graciously. I am serving you out of the freedom that I have to give of myself because my heart is already secure in the God that I love.

God loves me. The second thing I want you to see is how I'm thriving under this paradigm. I want you to see that this is really working for me. It's not some facade I've put on or some story I'm telling myself; the God that I love loves me back, and He is really taking care of me in all of the ways that He's promised. He is good to me, beyond good. He is gracious toward me, beyond gracious. I secured my life in Him (see truth #1), and He has secured my life in Him (truth #2). Now, the reason this doesn't work in reverse, the reason "God loves me" can't come first is because it creates this cheap version of Christianity where I love God only because He loves me. That borders on self-serving, self-centered faith that is only in it for what I can get out of it or that somehow feels obligated to love God. And that's just not what Christianity is. That's not what it's supposed to be. So I love God. God loves me. It's reciprocal, yes, but the emphasis here must be on my freedom to choose to enter into this love (particularly since the aim is to get others to freely enter this love, as well).

God loves you. The third thing I want you to see is that God loves you. It's only at this point that it's even worth introducing this idea, now that I've laid the foundation for what God's love is and the difference it makes. If you can see me living my life with open hands and freely giving of myself because of the confidence I have in the God who actively loves me and secures me in His hand, then you can start to understand the impact that God's love has on real human living. And it's a natural progression here to make because in the act of serving you, I can start to show you how God has provided for your need to be filled. You already know that I am someone who is not keeping score, who is not thinking about reciprocity because I don't have to. That means that I'm not here because of something that might be in it for me; I already have everything I need. And if I'm not here because I'm in it for me, then I must be in it for you and God must have been gracious to send me your way because He knew you needed me. Because He knew I could help you in this time of need. So I can start to show you a God who is providing for you right now because, hey, He loves you.

I love you. The last thing I want you to see is that I love you. I want you to know without a doubt that my love for you comes with no strings attached, which is why it comes last. I am not, like too much of our modern evangelism, trying to rope you into a deeper conversation about Christ. This isn't a "gotcha" moment where I serve you quietly, then demand an hour of your time to tell you about Jesus. My hope is that by this point, you are already getting the idea. The last little piece of that is to see the purity of the love that I have for you. And this is done when I do my task well, commit myself to excellence, honor you with the gift of my service, and thank you for the opportunity. This comes when I put the grace of this whole thing on your shoulders and walk away, hands dirty, giving you the freedom to live blessed just as I was living when I walked in. Not only do I come in with no strings attached, but I walk away carrying the strings you tried to tie into it. I set you free form the whole thing to just love it...because I love you. And by this point, the foundation of that love should be crystal clear, whether I've spoken an actual word about it or not. The Bible says we love because He first loved us, and this is it - we love others because He first loved us. So our love for others has to come from the foundation of our love for Him and not the other way around.

We get this all messed up, all jumbled up, and then we wonder why it's not working, why our witness isn't better, why the world isn't catching on. I really think it's because we've got it in the wrong order. I really think this order makes more sense, gives us a more natural progression for both love and grace. And who knows, someone might just meet Jesus because you make it your priority to love Him first. 

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