Agape in Action

Opposition or Opportunity?

Imagine you’re on a mission to change the world. Naturally, you’d want to surround yourself with the best people for the job. Who would you pick? Rich people who can help fund your dreams? Influential people to give you credibility and help pave the way? Like-minded people whose lifestyles reflect the image you want to project? It seems like a logical way to start.

That wasn’t Jesus’s plan. He consistently flipped logic upside down. When He started His earthly ministry, He surrounded Himself with the poor, the weak, the unclean. Look at his closest friends. There were a handful of uneducated tradesmen. A government employee that everyone hated on principle. A political extremist. Some we don’t know much about, but they were all very young. Only Peter was even old enough to pay taxes, and he was loud, arrogant and brash. Jesus’s other two closest friends, James and John, had such bad tempers that they were called the “Sons of Thunder.” Judas was a thief, and stole from their ministry. Hardly the dream team that we would expect. And yet they’re the ones that He entrusted to carry on His teachings to the early Church.

His life and ministry were scandalous. Jesus regularly had dinner and hung out with the outcasts of society. He cared about children and surrounded Himself with women, who were barely recognized in that day. He loved the unlovable and welcomed them without hesitation. He shunned the religious leaders who cared only about appearing righteous, while ignoring the suffering of others.

Jesus didn’t care about peoples’ material wealth or social status. Only their hearts. He never sought out anyone who could help Him advance in this life, and He never turned anyone away for being weak or not worth His time.

Why do we refuse to do the same?

We argue our opinions and unfriend anyone who dares to disagree with us. We tell ourselves that we can’t possibly love that other person because they’re different than us. Maybe they belong to a different church or political party. That means if we love them, we’re weak because we haven’t won the argument. It can be hard to love people we may not even particularly like. It’s all too easy to forget that we’re brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus came to save everyone – of all races, nationalities, politics and walks of life. If God doesn’t care, how can we?

The Gospels are full of stories of the disciples bickering about which of them was the best. Jesus constantly broke up the arguments and reminded them to keep their eyes on things that really mattered. He told them in Matthew 10:43-45, “But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus is the ultimate example of how we should live. He reigns over all creation, but still humbled Himself to live a human life and die for people who might never even love Him back. He spent His life helping and serving other people – especially the lowly, the poor, the invisible ones that society discarded. During His last night, He washed His disciples’ feet. That was the job of a servant, but none of them were willing to humble themselves to do it. So the Messiah Himself did it for them. He even washed the feet of the man who would betray Him.

The disciples started following Jesus as children (mostly teenagers). They had nothing in common except for their love of Jesus, so their pride and ambition got in the way at first. It wasn’t until after He returned to heaven that they finally understood. And they spent the rest of their lives serving one another and the Church in the name of Jesus.

Keeping that in our minds and hearts, let’s try to show each other a little more compassion. As believers, we’re the only example of church that some people may ever see. The world is watching. What are we going to show them? Arrogance, pride and discord? Or love, grace and mercy? If our lives as believers don’t look any different than the world’s, why should they even listen to anything we have to say?

That doesn’t mean to let injustice go unchecked. Jesus was very clear about that, and quick to defend the vulnerable. But someone doesn’t have to look just like us for us to love them. We’re all created differently, with different gifts and purposes. And every one of us has a job in the body of Christ that only we can fill. We can learn so much from each other. Every perspective is important. Only God can see how the entire puzzle fits together. Our only responsibility is to love God and love each other. Not just the ones that look like us or act like us.

How will you respond when you see someone in need? Will you react with the love of Jesus? Even if they can’t do anything for you in return, or if they disagreed with your last social media post? Or will you stop to decide first if they’re worthy of your love? If you’re ever in doubt, take a minute to ask yourself how Jesus would respond. I have a feeling you already know the answer. He would wash their feet.

Encouragement

Come As You Are

I saw a cartoon on Pinterest once about two people texting back and forth. One of them is in tears, but puts on a happy face and doesn’t let on that anything is wrong. They laugh back and forth, even though one person is clearly going through something. Have you ever done that? I know I have.

Our society teaches us that we have to be in control, preferably with a smile on our face. Someone else somewhere has bigger problems, so you should be grateful for your comparatively small ones. When people ask how you’re doing, they expect the answer to be “I’m fine,” regardless of what the honest answer is. It’s simpler and cleaner that way. Most people don’t like to get messy. It’s hard. So much easier to encourage others to be thankful for what they have and tell them to look on the bright side. They mean well, but that can leave us feeling like no one else understands.

But God won’t do that to us. He wants us to come to Him, just as we are. And He will meet us, right where we are. He loves us too much to leave us there, so He wants us to grow and mature spiritually. But you never have to put on a brave face with God. He knows you’re scared. He knows you’re overwhelmed and sad. He even knows when you’re angry with Him. And it’s ok. He can handle it – your tears, your questions, your doubts, all of it.

Some people imagine God as mean and scary, just waiting for them to mess up so He can punish them. But as believers, we know He has adopted us into His family. He’s our Father, and He loves us desperately. Romans 8:15 says, “So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “’Abba, Father.’” The word “Abba” is a term of endearment – it means “Daddy.” Your Daddy wants to love you through all of your worries and hurts. You’re not alone.

“The only person who dares wake up a king at 3:00 AM for a glass of water is a child. We have that kind of access.”

Timothy Keller

If you don’t know Jesus yet, this invitation is open to you too. One of my favorite pastors, Daniel Fusco, said once, “When’s the last time you said, ‘Jesus if you’re alive, will you reveal yourself to me?’ I dare you to pray that prayer.” He already knows you don’t believe. He knows everything about you. And He loves you so much that He would have come to give Himself for just you, if that’s what was needed. He desperately wants to have that relationship with you. If you ask God to show you if He’s real, I believe He will. In a very personal way. It might take time, but keep your heart open and just watch what happens.

Jesus lived a human life. He understands how hard it is, and He wept too. We don’t have to pretend. Lean on His strength. Study the Word. If we have God’s promises tucked into our hearts, it’s easier to remember them when things seem hopeless. And never be ashamed to be honest with God. He can help. “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28)

Agape in Action

Mission Accomplished

All words have meaning. Some just have more significance than others.

Today is Good Friday. This is the day that Christians remember Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross. (Watch this video if you’re curious for a few more details about the historical proof). He made several statements from the cross, but the final one was “Tetelestai!” You might imagine it as a defeated whisper from a dying man. In reality, it was a victorious war cry.

“Tetelestai” is a Greek word meaning “It is finished.” Grammatically, it is a perfect tense word, showing that a completed action has ongoing effects. In other words, “It is finished, it stands finished, and it always will be finished!”

“Never before and never after was ever spoken ONE WORD which contains and means so much. It is the shout of the mighty Victor. And who can measure the depths of this ONE WORD!”

A.C. Gaebelein

Tetelestai was a common word in those days, with a variety of applications:

  • Business dealings were complete when “tetelestai” was written on invoices or receipts to prove that a transaction was “paid in full.” Jesus paid our bill completely.
  • Servants reported “tetelestai” to their masters to say “I have completed the task assigned to me” or “mission accomplished.” In John 17:4-5, Jesus prayed, “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” Jesus lived a human life to serve, and this was His ultimate mission.
  • Priests used “tetelestai” to declare a sacrifice “faultless, perfect and acceptable.” Jesus was all of those things. He was both the Lamb and the High Priest. He willingly gave Himself as a blameless sacrifice to save us. It was no coincidence that He chose to die when He did – during Passover, when Jewish priests would sacrifice a lamb to atone for the Israelites’ sins. Theirs was a temporary solution. Jesus came as the perfect sacrifice, which lasts forever. “Once for all time.” Hebrews 10 (NLT)
  • Artists declared that their “masterpiece was complete” with “tetelestai.” Jesus is the artist that revealed God’s design and love to the world. He is the clearest view we have of the Father.
  • Historically, the Greeks used “tetelestai” to depict a turning point in history – when one period of human history ended and another one began. Jesus’ death and resurrection certainly fits that also. It’s the end of the Old Testament Law and the beginning of the New Testament and the freedom in our New Covenant with Him. It’s the difference between BC and AD. Jesus came to change everything. One life has never had such an impact on the world.

These all show different uses of the same word, but they all mean the same thing. “PAID IN FULL.” Jesus came to satisfy everything that was required. Nothing could have forced Him, but He gave Himself willingly to save us. And His sacrifice is enough. HE is enough. And He accomplished His mission by dying for us and bringing Himself back to life. Death itself has no power over Him.

It’s Friday now, but Sunday’s coming. And a lot can happen in three days.

(Listen to more here.)

Agape in Action

Agape Well

Jesus was once asked which of the commandments was the greatest. It was a trick question of course; but as always, Jesus sidestepped the test and got right to the heart of the matter.

“‘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.’” (Matt 22.37-39)

It all boils down to two things – love God and love each other.

It sounds so simple. After all, it’s easy to sing songs at church and smile at each other. Or meet a friend to laugh over a cup of coffee. But that doesn’t begin to touch the kind of love Jesus meant.

The Greek language has several words to explain different kinds of love. Phileo is brotherly love, an emotional bond between friends. Eros is romantic love, and Storge is more of a familial love. Each of those come naturally to most people. But the fourth, Agape love, is more challenging.

Why?

Agape love is not based on a feeling. It’s a sacrificial love, a call to action. This is the love that God has for us – the love that made Jesus leave Heaven to live as a human and sacrifice Himself to save us. THAT’S the kind of love that He commands from us.

So how do we show this Agape love to others? Here’s a few things to remember:

Agape love can be hard and messy

Think back to the last time that you asked someone, “How are you?” Did you wait around for an honest answer, or just keep walking past at the “I’m fine” response that we’ve all come to expect?

The real answer might be more than you’re ready for, but give people a chance to be honest. Life isn’t easy, and it can be downright ugly. We all struggle. We all need people that we trust enough to open up to. Be that person for others, even if it means taking extra time out of your day to take on someone else’s burdens.

Be sincere when you ask. Give them your full attention. And don’t just tell them you’ll pray for them. Take a moment and pray for them right then and there. Follow up with them. That lets them know you care enough to pay attention and remember.

 

It doesn’t always take a lot

When someone is struggling, they don’t expect you to fix their problems. It’s usually enough just to know that someone cares.

You can show this love in a tangible way. Offer to give them a ride to church or pick up their kids from school. Take them a hot dinner or cup of coffee. Go on a grocery run for them. These are all little things that can make a huge difference in someone’s life.

 

It isn’t about you

Friendships and relationships make us feel good. It’s easy to show love for people that we care about. But what about the unlovable? What about the people you don’t agree with, or even like? What about people who lied about you, took advantage of you or hurt someone you love? Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for them.  

What about the homeless, orphans or people in jail? These people need to know God’s love as badly as you and I. And yet, most of their lives are spent in the shadows because most people act like they don’t exist.

But Jesus didn’t just notice the “outcasts,” He sought them out. He spent time with them, eating and drinking and laughing with them. Loving them. Loving like Jesus is hard work, and definitely not glamorous. But He will bless it, because it makes us more like Him.

Share some Agape love today

Take a few minutes today to share God’s love with someone else. Ask someone how they’re doing, and really listen for the answer. Maybe help your elderly neighbor take out their trash or pick up some leaves. Show someone who feels taken for granted that you really appreciate them. Text a friend to tell them you’re thinking about them. The possibilities are endless. But be sincere. People can always tell the difference. 

What can you do today to love someone else?