Loving each other is what we were meant to do and how we were made to roll. It’s not where we start when we begin following Jesus; it’s the beautiful path we travel the rest of our lives. Will it be messy and ambiguous and uncomfortable when we love people the way Jesus said to love them? You bet it will. Will we be misunderstood? Constantly. But extravagant love often means coloring outside the lines and going beyond the norms. Loving the neighbors we don’t understand takes work and humility and patience and guts. It means leaving the security of our easy relationships to engage in some tremendously awkward ones.
Find a way to love difficult people more, and you’ll be living the life Jesus talked about. Go find someone you’ve been avoiding and give away extravagant love to them. You’ll learn more about God, your neighbor, your enemies, and your faith. Find someone you think is wrong, someone you disagree with, someone who isn’t like you at all, and decide to love that person the way you want Jesus to love you.
We need to love everybody, always.
Jesus never said doing these things would be easy. He just said it would work.
Love Everybody, Always
We’re not supposed to love only our neighbors, but Jesus thought we should start with them.
He knew if our love isn’t going to work for the people who live close to us, then it’s probably not going to work for the rest of the world. Jesus didn’t say who our neighbors are either. Probably so we wouldn’t start making lists of those we don’t need to love.
Each of us is surrounded every day by our neighbors. They’re ahead of us, behind us, on each side of us. They’re every place we go. They’re sacking groceries and attending city council meetings. They’re holding cardboard signs on street corners and raking leaves next door. They play high school football and deliver the mail. They’re heroes and hookers and pastors and pilots. They live on the streets and design our bridges. They go to seminaries and live in prisons. They govern us and they bother us. They’re everywhere we look. It’s one thing we all have in common: we’re all somebody’s neighbor, and they’re ours. This has been God’s simple yet brilliant master plan from the beginning. He made a whole world of neighbors. We call it earth, but God just calls it a really big neighborhood.
What often keeps us from loving our neighbors is fear of what will happen if we do. Frankly, what scares me more is thinking about what will happen if we don’t. Being fearless isn’t something we can decide to be in a moment, but fear can be overcome with time and the right help. We can bring all the game we’ve got, but only Jesus has the power to call out of us the kind of courage it takes to live the life He talked about.
Just The Way He Created
Some of us have been told what we want our whole lives. We’ve been told we should want to go out for sports or not. We should want a college education or a graduate degree or a particular career. We should want to date this person and not the other one. None of it is mean-spirited, of course, and no one means any harm. It just doesn’t sit well with us.
A similar but different problem happens in our churches and schools and faith communities too. We’re told by someone what God wants us to do and not do. We’re told we shouldn’t drink or cuss or watch certain movies. We’re told we should want to have “quiet times” in the mornings and talk to strangers about “a relationship with God.” We’re told we should want to go on “mission trips” and “witness” to people, and sometimes we do it even if we don’t really know what the words mean—but often, just for a while. After long enough, what looks like faith isn’t really faith anymore. It’s just compliance. The problem with mere compliance is it turns us into actors. Rather than making decisions ourselves, we read the lines off the script someone we were told to respect handed to us, and we sacrifice our ability to decide for ourselves.
The fix for all this is as easy as the problem is hard. Instead of telling people what they want, we need to tell them who they are. This works every time. We’ll become in our lives whoever the people we love the most say we are.
The father wasn’t thinking about how badly the son had messed up. The son wasn’t thinking about it either. They both knew the son had steered his life right off a cliff, but somehow they got past the shame of the failure and got to the celebration of being together once again.
Do lots of that. Find your way back to the people you’ve loved and who have loved you. Figure out who you’ve broken your rhythm with. Don’t let the misunderstanding decide your future. If you lost your way with God, let Him close the distance between you and start the celebration again. We’re all in the same truck when it comes to our need for love and acceptance and forgiveness.
What made sense about Jesus is how He doesn’t give us a bunch of directions intended to manipulate our behavior or control our conduct. Instead, He has beautiful hopes for us and has told us what those are, but He isn’t scowling at us when we’re not yet ready to have those same hopes for ourselves. He won’t love us more or less based on how we act, and He’s more interested in our hearts than all the things we do. He’s not stuck telling us what to do, when to do it, or what we want either. Far better, He continues to tell us through our successes and our mistakes who we are, and here’s what He wants us to know—we are His.
Do the Right Thing, Always
We actually build castles all the time, out of our jobs and our families and the things we’ve purchased. Sometimes we even make them out of each other. Some of these castles are impressive too. Lots of people come to admire what we’ve built over the course of our lives and tell us what great castles we have. But Jesus told His friends we weren’t supposed to spend our lives building castles. He said He wanted us to build a kingdom, and there’s a big difference between building a castle and building a kingdom.
You see, castles have moats to keep creepy people out, but kingdoms have bridges to let everyone in. Castles have dungeons for people who have messed up, but kingdoms have grace. There’s one last thing castles have—trolls. You’ve probably met a couple. I have too. Trolls aren’t bad people; they’re just people I don’t really understand. Here’s the deal: it’s how we treat the trolls in our lives that will let us know how far along we are in our faith. If we want a kingdom, then we start the way grace did, by drawing a circle around everyone and saying they’re in. Kingdoms are built from the people up. There’s no set of plans—just Jesus.
We’re supposed to just love the people in front of us. We’re the ones who tell them who they are. We don’t need to spend as much time as we do telling people what we think about what they’re doing. Loving people doesn’t mean we need to control their conduct. There’s a big difference between the two. Loving people means caring without an agenda. As soon as we have an agenda, it’s not love anymore. It’s acting like you care to get someone to do what you want or what you think God wants them to do. Do less of that, and people will see a lot less of you and more of Jesus.
Talk behind each other’s backs constantly. Just talk about the right stuff. Talk about Jesus. Talk about grace. Talk about love and acceptance. People don’t grow where they are informed; they grow where they’re loved and accepted. Talk about who people are becoming and who you see them turning into. And give people medals, lots of them. The people around us should be walking around looking like the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They should jingle when they walk.
If we want to be like Jesus, here’s our simple and courageous job: Catch people on the bounce. When they mess up, reach out to them with love and acceptance the way Jesus did. When they hit hard, run to them with your arms wide open to hug them even harder. God wants to be with them when they mess up, and He wants us to participate.
Adam wanted to make pizzas, I’d grow the tomatoes. Be with each other. Don’t just gather information about people who have failed big or are in need—go be with them. When you get there, don’t just be in proximity—be present. Catch them. Don’t try to teach them. There’s a big difference.
We don’t need a plan to do these things. We don’t need to wait for just the right moment. We just need to show up, grab a parachute, and when it’s time, jump out of our shoes after people the way Jesus jumped out of heaven to be with us.
Sometimes we make loving people a lot more complicated than Jesus did. We don’t need to anymore. It’s just up, down, and out.
Go Be You
Every time we fake it and aren’t authentic, we make God’s love for us look fake too. He doesn’t have a wax figure of us somewhere that looks smarter or taller or shorter or skinnier or more ripped than us. He doesn’t want us to just look different. He wants us to become love. It won’t be because we talked about who we wished we were over and over again or because we gave ourselves enough positive affirmations in the mirror. Only love has the power to get us there.
God isn’t shaking His head in disapproval as we make our way toward Him. He’s got His arms outstretched, welcoming us home to Him with love. I bet if we could hear what He’s thinking, we’d hear Him whispering, “You’ve got this. Just keep moving toward Me.”
Do you want to do something amazing for God? Trade the appearance of being close to God for the power of actually being close to God. Quit talking a big game and go live a big faith. One of Jesus’ friends said if we want to get it right, we need to live a life worthy of the calling we’ve received. The call is to love God and the people around us while we live into the most authentic version of ourselves. We weren’t just an idea God hoped would work out someday. We were one of His most creative expressions of love, ever.
Lose the wax. Don’t fake it; sync it up. Go be you.
Land The Plane
He knows that without risk we can’t grow. God didn’t promise us a safe life. Instead, He said He would give us a dangerous, courageous, and purposeful one if we’ll take Him at His word and stay engaged. Sometimes God is confidently quiet. He doesn’t give us more explanations. He knows we don’t need more words of instruction. The moment we take even a tiny shuffle forward, what God is already thinking about us is this: I love you. You’ve got this. You know enough.
What big idea do you have that you’ve not pursued because you didn’t know if it would work? Who have you wanted to reach out to in love but were afraid you’d be rejected? Who has broken your heart? Who took advantage of you in a business deal? Who misunderstood you? Who do you need to forgive? Now’s your time. Don’t wait any longer. You know what to do. You’ve got this. You know enough.
Go land the plane.