A Loving Church
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that the world needs help. Fires started by baby showers, babies dying in the street, and worst of all, confusion. After the terrible year of 2020, people see that their neighbors aren’t exactly what they post on social media. The public can’t trust their eyes, mouths, or ears in fear that they may offend or be wrong. Everyone clamors to be popular regardless of being truly known. Aside from the various statistics saying that we are more connected, just as many stats say, we are depressed, isolated, and lonely. While the “normal” mayhem continues around us, there seems to be a growing roar beneath the likes and chatter saying, where is the church?! Where are the leaders to walk us out of darkness? Where are the people to feed the poor and homeless? Where are the ones to take care of the elderly?
The sad truth is that we ignore the hard work and celebrate the ones twerking on Instagram. You don’t see anyone lining up to be selfless because we are in the age of self-care. “Let me cut all ties with people,” who challenge me. “I can’t wait to go to the spa,” to get the grime of today out of my system, we repost. “What is new on Netflix?” to tune out the following headline. It is no one’s fault that we all want respite from stressful events, yet it should be everyone’s concern about what causes them. Where is the church, you ask? Look in the mirror.
As we concern ourselves with searching for the next great thinker, leader, pastor, motivator, or evangelist, we neglect our responsibility as believers in Christ to get to work. Each of us has a unique gift to bring that makes a specific impact on those around us. As the church, it is our shared duty to be the light in a very dark world. We add the much-needed salt to an otherwise bland life; we need everyone to participate. Although the world needs significant changes, true transformation starts with simple acts of kindness and love in our neighborhoods. Allow me to share some of the first steps to impact your community by loving your neighbors every day.
There are countless times in my life when someone I knew needed my presence more than a scripture reading. When a person doesn’t show up to church service or looks “sad,” many people tend to avoid them when they are hurting. We assume that because they don’t go to church, they weren’t that invested anyway. If a person is “sad,” then we try to mind our own business humbly, just in case they tell us how they are doing. It’s time that we all step up to be genuine friends to those in need. Instead of constantly being concerned with our lives, we can reach out to someone else.
I know that tapping the shoulder of someone or saying “are you okay?” may sound revolutionary, but it is one of the most effective ways to encourage someone else. You don’t have to know someone personally to ask if they are doing well, and you don’t have to know them personally to pray for them either. Jesus described the notion of treating others with the same care as yourself in Matthew 7:9-12, “Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets”. As believers in Christ, we should feel compelled to treat others with compassion because God gives us that daily. Compassion should be our first response, and we should willingly provide gentle friendship at a moment’s notice. Imagine how you would feel if someone were to tell you not to give up at the right time. What would you feel free to do if someone were to pray for you when you needed it? You never know what is on the other side of well-placed encouragement. Depression can break if a true friend intervenes in a dark place. Discouragement will have no rule if we lift one another in Christ.
Love the Unloveable
A more powerful way to show compassion is to love those who hate you. If you go to work and constantly get talked about or criticized, take the believer’s road and be good to them in return. Jesus explains loving the unlovable best in Luke 6:32-36 “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful”. We don’t love others hoping that they will change their mind; we love because Jesus so radically loved us.
Even on our best days, we still offend and sin against God. Jesus, while dying for our sins, pleaded with the Father on behalf of those murdering Him. “Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots” Luke 23:34 NKJV; Christ was and is our most excellent example to love at all times. If Jesus could love those who put Him on the cross, we can forgive and love those we dislike as well. Loving those who hate you means not taking the opportunity to get even when you are justified. That means not sending the nasty message or cursing someone out. Having patience and not letting their malice define who you are, and letting God handle it. In these matters, you will need to pray and rely on The Holy Spirit to get you through, but you will be obedient to Christ.
Be a friend
Friendship has subtly lost its meaning over the years. We “friend” on Facebook then forget the person for years. We have work “friends,” but we don’t know each other past work hours. We have “old friends” who drag us into old habits and “new friends” we try to impress. Yet, the Bible defines friendship in a radically different way than we do. In proverbs 17:17, we see that “A friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity.” How many friends do you have that you can honestly say love you? Love you through the good and bad times and not when you say something that doesn’t fit their truth. Do you have a friend that challenges you when you are wrong? Friends are rare, and when you find one, it shouldn’t be easy to throw them away. The closest friends deserve to be called your brother because they don’t turn tail and run when things become difficult. Brothers stand beside you in the rain and celebrate your wins in the sun.
When you say you are a friend to someone, you should know that it comes with responsibility. Scripture says that “As iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” Proverbs 27:17 NKJV. Are the people around you becoming better men and women of God because they know you? Are you moving forward together, or is one of you sucking the life out of the other. Are you prepared to watch out for their well-being and be there whenever they need help? We shouldn’t hesitate to love at all times, and we should never be fair-weather friends. Jesus said, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” John 15:12-13 NKJV. If you are not prepared to be selfless enough to put your life on the line for someone else, then maybe you don’t have true friends. Being a good influence on those around you and caring about them is basic decency even unbelievers have. Friendship is not built on what you can get out of a person but on what you can give them. Live every day to be a good friend as Christ was to you.
We Are the Church
Whether it is a stranger, enemy, or friend, we must love our neighbors in this world. If everyone, including the believers, is hard-hearted, we will live in a cold and bitter world. The worst part is that no one will tell the difference between those who profess to be Christians and the unbelievers of the world. Everyone will seem like a counterfeit when God is searching for genuine believers. Jesus told us, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” John 13:34-35 NKJV. When Jesus comes back, what excuse will you have for not doing His greatest commandment? What will you do when He says, ” Where is the church?!!” and begins his search for proof of faith. My prayer is that for every one of you, you boldly say we are the church from now on and act.