The word “love” is overused and misunderstood by most Christians.
Unconditional love is a concept that nearly all Christian churches embrace and support but very few put into practice. Love has fallen on hard times among church folks. I believe that if we really understood the demands of love, as required by Jesus, we would quit tossing it about so casually.
Love led Jesus to empty himself and take on a role that was beneath himself in order that a broken, lost world could be saved. Love caused Jesus to deny himself the position, power and prestige that was rightly his, so that the will and plan of God would come to fruition. Love enabled Jesus to say, “not my will, but thy will be done.”
How do you make sense of that which makes no sense? It does not make sense that a tired shepherd, at the end of a long day, would leave 99 sheep, to go out looking for one that was missing. Most would say that the loss is minimal and that losing one sheep is a part of the cost for doing business. Some would understand sending out a hired hand or a well-rested sheep wrangler that was in the business of sheep procurement. But Jesus, because he loves and values each lamb, traverses, and traces his steps until he finds the missing sheep.
In the IGRC the disaffiliation process has been civil, and non-combative. I have done my best to oversee a process that is mutually respectful, fair, transparent, and open. Most of the churches and pastors have been willing to accept my plea to “wait until we know what General Conference will do.” I appreciate the restraint and the trust.
For the very small (but still important) percentage choosing to “get out now,” I have deep concerns about the unintended carnage being left behind. I’m not sure that some seeking to disaffiliate have considered the message they are sending to members of their congregation that do not want to disaffiliate.
I’m sure that I do not understand the pressing need that would cause a congregation to leave a significant number of its members, those deciding that they want to remain United Methodist, out of the church’s future. I cannot believe that splitting a church, separating from folks that you’ve worshipped with and fellowshipped with, is the way of Christ. I cannot believe that it is “Christlike” to tell folks that have been raised in a church facility that they now have to find a new place to worship because “our group” has voted “you and your group” out. At the end of the day, when all the dust settles, it is not about “honoring Jesus” or “upholding the Bible.” It’s about power and control. This type of power and control are never rooted and grounded in love.
Love is not a sentimental, mushy, goosy, feeling; real love is an intentional choice and a decision of the heart, soul, mind, and will. Real love is based on a total commitment to Jesus Christ, and a determination to love like Jesus, that is interwoven into the very fabric of one’s being. Loving like Jesus requires that we live like Jesus lived. Jesus did not demand his own way, but he carefully listened and discerned God’s directives. Above all, Jesus was committed to loving obedience.
Jesus knowing that Judas would betray him, loved Judas enough to wash his feet. Peter cussed and claimed that he did not know Jesus and never associated with Jesus, but Jesus cooked and fed Peter breakfast (an act of loving service) prior to restoring him into leadership. Jesus, while preparing to ascend, was aware that some in the crowd were “doubters” but Jesus still commissioned them to go share the gospel. Jesus loved unconditionally!
Prior to leaving, Jesus gave us a new commandment, recorded in John 13:34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” He continued in John 13:35: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The ‘disciple that Jesus loved, John the apostle’ wrote in 1 John 3:16, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”
The challenge before us is simple. We can continue to choose “our way”, or we can choose the difficult, often unclear, uncomfortable, complex, and complicated way of Christ, the way of unconditional love.
Jesus is surely saddened by the state of confusion and disharmony that we have allowed and accepted within the church body. Our acts of selfishness are a horrible witness to one another and within the communities we are called to love and to serve. Let’s stop the foolishness and ask Jesus to teach us and enable us to love like he loves, unconditionally!