Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Lessons from my 8 year-old: How to follow Jesus.

I have a new favorite activity with my oldest child: running together. He ran his second 5K back in May and has been wanting to run another. So we have another one coming up in a few weeks and he's been getting up early to run with me before school.

Early-morning, post-2-mile selfie in which I discover there are no filters in Instagram that
will make my skin look good next to his perfect baby-skin. sigh

Yesterday on our run, I asked him, "How do you think you can serve Jesus in your class this year?"

And then this conversation happened:

R: I'm not always sure what it means to serve Jesus.
Me: Well, what do you think it means?
R: I think it's doing things that help other people. Because since I can't give God a hug, I can give a hug to someone he loves.

Um, YES.

Sometimes I think we make "being a Christian" too complicated. It really boils down to two things:
1. Love God
2. Love others.

"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great 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

I love this. How do we know we are loving God with all our heart and understanding and strength? Look at how we are loving others. Because Jesus said the second greatest commandment is just LIKE THE FIRST ONE! That's how we can tell. The Bible says we are to be set apart, to be holy... this is how. This is it. That's supposed to be our "calling card," our mark. It's how people are supposed to be able to tell we are followers of Jesus (John 13:35).

And you know what? This is actually harder than following a set of rules. It's messier. Christians aren't meant to be defined by what causes we are for or against. We aren't to be identified by the signs we hold, the politicians for whom we vote, or the radio station set in our cars. We love others because we love God. We love other Christians, above and through our differences over exactly what the Bible says. We love non-Christians, we see that they are image-bearers of God, that they are precious and beloved. All that isn't easy, it's deep-down, heart-level hard work.

There's nothing about loving others that means we need to be so concerned about making others behave like us. I can love you in all your weird quirkiness that looks nothing like my weird quirkiness. I can love you when we agree and I can love you when we disagree. I can love you when you are on-track and all is well and I can love you when you lose it and scream at your kids and  hide in the closet and eat chocolate chips. Jesus didn't come for behavior modification. His whole purpose was not to turn us in to moral enforcers. He came to show us how to love sacrificially. And besides, what he's working on in my heart might not be what he's working on in yours at the moment. That's okay. This might be why I'm so drawn to loving the gay community. I think good-hearted, sincere Christians have been thinking we were loving them but in ways that hurt them instead.

So there you go. We can't give God a hug, but we can hug someone God loves. We don't need to work to bring down systems that keep God impoverished, but we can sure do that for the people God loves. We don't need to identify and eradicate systemic racism that keeps God oppressed, but we can sure do that for the people God loves. And on a person-to-person level, we can love each other. Really, actually, dirty-messy-there-for-the-good-and-the-bad love each other. And there might be times we need to be concerned about the behavior of someone we love and we need to say something... but only after we've earned that solid place in their lives. Think about who has traction in your life, who has been there for you in the good times and the bad. Those folks love you. They have the right to speak truth to you, even when it's words that might be hard for you to hear, right? Well, we need to be those people. Want to speak truth into someone's life? Be there - love them. Until I truly love someone, I really have no right to make any comments about their behavior or their beliefs. And you know, once I love them, I just might find I no longer need to.

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