This week's 'thought' comes (once again) from Gary Thomas' book "Simply Sacred." I send it out because it is profoundly insightful and challenging.
It's a good way to measure if we are truly loving others or simply experiencing an inward emotional affirmation of something in them that pleases us -- and there is a big difference as I hope you will see! This entry is entitled "Loving the Unlovely." Enjoy.
"One of the cruelest remarks I've ever heard came from a man who left his wife for another woman: 'The truth is, I've never loved you.' The remark is designed to say, 'The truth is, I've never found you lovable.'
But put in a Christian context, it's a confession of the man's utter failure to be a Christian. If he hasn't loved his wife, it is not his wife's fault, but his. Jesus calls us to love the unlovable -- even our enemies! -- so a man who says, 'I've never loved you' is a man saying, 'I've never acted like a Christian.'
I regularly visit public libraries. One day I was walking toward the computer terminals when the smell of a homeless man became almost overpowering. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him hunched over a table, his tattered clothes and unkempt hair marking his lack of a permanent address. I enjoy it when folks tell me how much God has 'used' me in their lives, but I shake my head when I think of the gospel missions in most cities dedicated to reaching individuals such as these.
It's easy to be 'used' when you get to sit in front of a computer in your home and do something you enjoy. It's hardly sacrificial when I'm given well-furnished rooms in hotels and whisked across the country in airplanes (to speak at conferences).
But we display Christian love in loving those most difficult to love, not the easiest. Jesus tells us that when we hold a banquet, we shouldn't invite our friends; they might invite us back and thus repay us. Instead, Jesus said, invite the lame, the paralyzed, the poor, the blind -- those who can't pay us back (Luke 14).
That's what is so difficult about Jesus' call to love others. On one level, it's easy to love God, because God doesn't smell. God doesn't have bad breath. God doesn't reward kindness with evil. God doesn't make berating comments. Loving God is easy in this sense. But to love God through unlovely people? That's the challenge -- and that's our call.
Today, think about the one person in your social sphere who is most difficult for you to love; this person may well be God's 'angel,' a messenger sent to help you become more like Christ."
Obviously, it's not wrong to appreciate kindness, cleanliness, courtesy, helpfulness, humility, cheerfulness, respectfulness, beauty, and so on, in others. But we should carefully question the extent of our 'love' if we find those things necessary in the other person in order to 'love' them. For if we secretly demand such things in others before we can love them, what we are really saying is: "You've passed the test. You measure up to my personal standards. And, therefore, since I feel good and comfortable around you I will affirm, praise, protect, care for, and offer you my love."
Yet something about that should smell fishy. For although to many it may seem like love, it's really the opposite of love. In fact, upon further investigation, it's really selfishness to the extreme -- a selfishness that can evidence itself in a complete rejection of that person if they should ever stop exhibiting those qualities. It may even be a sign that we really don't know how to love at all. Like the Pharisees Jesus rebuked so often, it could mean we merely found someone who "measured up" to our high and conditional standards of lovability and acceptability.
How utterly different is the love of God who went out of His way to find people who didn't exhibit the qualities He desired in them (yes, that includes us!), but chose to love us anyway, despite our many flaws. A God who sent His Son to "die for us while we were yet sinners" (Romans 5:8) -- ungodly, undeserving, unloving, and spiritually unkempt -- with the "overpowering" smell of sin wafting all about us.
Yes, my friends, God showed us His love even though we were people who were completely unlike anything that measured up to his preferred standards. It's little wonder, therefore, that He calls us to love the unlovely. He's simply calling us to love others as He loved (loves) us.
So don't be fooled. If you cannot bring yourself to love someone who doesn't measure up to your standards, it's not love, whatever else it may be called.
Just a little food for thought... Pastor Jeff