Wednesday, January 15, 2014

When the Church Forgets to Love

When asked what the greatest commandment was Jesus answered,

“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it:  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22: 37-39
What keeps us, both as individuals and as the church, from really loving each other?  What does it really look like to love each other? 
More and more I have these thoughts swirling through my head.  I think about friends who are struggling in silence.   They feel like if they share their struggles they will be ostracized by the church, left worse than their current pain.  At least now they are welcome to worship, participate, and continue the impersonation of perfection.  The charade continues--Joyful in public, Broken in private.  Don't let people see the truth because you may lose your reputation and ministry if they see you struggle.  We praise ourselves for helping widows and orphans, but what about marriages that are broken, children who rebel, those with mental illnesses, or people who are just overwhelmed with life?  We certainly don't show their pictures on the screen and most of the time we are too ashamed to even ask for prayer.
Then I think about myself.  What have I done—good and bad?  When have I felt loved and when I have I felt forgotten?  There are plenty of times when I have helped someone in need, listened to their stories, and provided comfort.  Unfortunately there are many times when I turned away because it wasn't someone I was close to, I already felt overwhelmed, or I just chose to be oblivious.  Years ago I felt loved, complete, and accepted.  Things were going well and life seemed perfect.  Then the struggles hit.  As life wore me down, I felt more alone.  I tried to hide my struggles and the more I hid the more I felt removed. 
If the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors, shouldn’t the church be the greatest example of love?  We can’t possibly expect to impact the world around us effectively if we don’t feel whole and supported within the church.  We need to stop pretending!  We’re not perfect and we can’t expect other people to be perfect.  When it becomes acceptable to be a sinful human, we need to be willing to stand in the mess of life with people.  Let’s be real, we have all screwed up, some of us are just better at hiding it.  I’m not condoning living a deliberately sinful life.  I’m asking for people to be strong enough to love each other, no matter the issue.  I'm asking that we love each other enough to actually care about their lives and walk with them through life. 
Love doesn't look the same in each situation.  Love might be showing up to clean someone's house because you know they are overwhelmed.  It might be as simple as a phone call just to check in and listen.  Love might take extra effort--learn a different language, figure out a different way to communicate.  Love takes sacrifice, often we must give our most precious possession--our time.  We need to momentarily set aside ourselves for someone else.  Whatever the form, love is an expression of our oneness as a family of believers. 
Often the most difficult form of love requires discipline.  It's those times when we love someone enough to challenge them, to have difficult conversations about poor choices, and to tell them the hard truth.  Sometimes love is not giving them what they want.  "Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiples kisses."  Proverbs 27: 6  As a church we must be willing to tell the truth.  When someone is on the path to destruction we must offer sound advice, coupled with consequences when necessary.  If accountability isn't present, are we the friend or the enemy?
"Love your neighbor as yourself."   We, the people of the church, must commit to loving each other better if we ever want to affect our world to the fullest.  The church must be a place of honesty and trust where support is sought and found.  We must be willing to truly share each other's burdens.  That doesn't mean just hearing them and offering them on the prayer request list during Sunday School.  We must be willing to feel the weight on ourselves.  To have their burdens so heavy on our heart that we can do nothing but pray on their behalf and offer our support.  We need to be just as concerned for others as we are for ourselves.
Through His strength we must act and during our weakness we must be open to receive--Love!

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