How my t-shirt reminded me about loving each other

I was at the grocery store in Hutchinson last week, picking up a few essentials to stock our pantry up for the duration of the sickness that’s still hanging on at my house. So there I was in the pasta aisle, debating the merits of one brand of whole wheat spaghetti versus another, and this lady comes up to me.

“Hey!” she says.

I don’t know this girl. She’s a complete stranger, though generally I’ve found that people in Hutchinson are pretty friendly.

“I love your Doctor Who shirt!”

And that’s when I remembered what I was wearing. My brother bought me this awesome Doctor Who shirt, and I love it. I wear it all the time.

This complete stranger saw it and immediately identified me as a fan, which I am. So she had no second thoughts about commenting on it and then going on to tell me about a web site where you can find all sorts of cool shirts (I fully intend to check it out).

The Doctor Who fandom is more of a culture than anything else. This encounter with a random stranger makes me smile because I’ve done the same thing before, whenever I see others wearing Doctor Who hats or scarves. It’s fun to spot other Whovians because it means I’m part of a really geeky family, one that understands why bananas are good and bow ties are cool.

But can you really tell all that by what somebody’s wearing? Can you really find common ground with someone just because they’re wearing a silly shirt or a funny hat? With Doctor Who or other fandoms, generally, yes, it’s that easy. But it’s not just fictional universes where this happens either.

The TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space) from BBC's Doctor Who

The TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space) from BBC’s Doctor Who

Today’s verses are John 13:34-35.

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.

This is Jesus talking to his disciples at the Last Supper, mere hours before He would be arrested, sentenced at a show trial, and crucified unjustly.

The commandment that Jesus is talking about here is one of the most difficult to keep in all the Bible: Love each other. Not tolerate each other. Not put up with each other. Love each other.

And note that Jesus isn’t talking about loving our enemies here. He’s not talking about loving others who don’t believe. No, He’s talking to a room full of His disciples. Love each other.

In my experience, the hardest people to truly love have been other Christians. Why? Well, there are a host of reasons, but I think a lot of it is that we expect so much from other believers that when they screw up, we think withholding our love will teach them a lesson. But Jesus never says it’s our job to punish another Christian because they can’t be perfect. It’s our job to love regardless.

Granted, love looks different from person to person. In some instances, love means being there for someone. In other instances, love means stepping back. But the motivation always remains the same.

This is so important because it’s the only way the world can identify us as Christians. It has nothing to do with whether or not you go to church. It has nothing to do with how you dress or how you speak. It has nothing to do with whether you’ve been sprinkled or dunked. Do you want to be identified as a Christ-follower? Love each other.

A Christian who loves without hesitation is as obvious to the world as a TARDIS-blue t-shirt to Doctor Who fan. Maybe the world can’t put a name to what you are, but they will know you’re different. You’ll be a shining light on a hill that nobody can ignore, even if they try.

And when you meet someone who loves others the same way you do, immediately you’ll have common ground. It’s happened to me before. I can know nothing about the person I’m sitting next to, but in watching them love other people, I instantly find something to talk about. Sure, I’m shy, but I love to talk about Jesus and what He’s doing in the world and in my life.

So make the choice to love people, especially other Christians. It changes you, and it changes the way others see you.

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Accepting other Christians when you don’t like them

It’s easy for me to accept the people I have known for many years. I’m an introvert, and I’m actually a very shy person (which no one really believes . . . but it’s true!). But if I have known you for years, I will talk your ear off. Just ask my poor Book Club. I think I talked their ears off last night. =)

I know a lot of people, but I have a handful of deep relationships where the true me comes out.

It’s not so easy for me to accept people I’ve never met. It kind of makes me think of Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, who claimed to be shy which was why he didn’t dance with anyone the first time he appears in the book. In a new setting, I usually hide in a corner and watch people until I can read enough body language to know who is going to be willing to put up with me.

And I don’t necessarily think accept is the right word in that context. It’s not that I struggle with liking people or even loving people. It’s just that I struggle with letting everyone into my inner circle.

So when I read today’s verse, I got to wondering exactly how I needed to apply it to my life.

The verse for today is Romans 15:7.

7 Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.

I was curious about context in this one so I read the whole first part of this chapter. Romans, of course, was written by Paul to the Christians in Rome. And the whole first part of Chapter 15 is talking about how those Christians who are strong in their faith need to live for others, to help others do the right thing, and making sure that our actions don’t cause a weaker Christian to stumble in their own faith.

I also checked this one out in the Amplified Version, and it expands the use of the term accept to include welcome and receive to your hearts. Wow. That sounds kind of intense! Because there’s a big difference in my mind between simply accepting someone and welcoming them into your heart.

Now hold up a second. I just need to reiterate that this is written to the Church in Rome. So what it’s saying is that among fellow Believers, we need to welcome and receive each other into each other’s hearts. Just needed to make that distinction. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from or how long you’ve known Christ, if you are a Believer, you are part of the family. And everyone needs to accept everyone else within the church because we are all brothers and sisters, through Christ.

Which means the opposite is true. It doesn’t mean we need to welcome and receive into our hearts any outside influences that can take our eyes off God. Of course, we need to love those who don’t believe the way we do. But we are not to welcome them into our hearts because people who don’t know Christ will affect the choices we make in following Him.

This verse is so important because I can tell you that the times I have felt most alone and most judged have been in the church. What is it about Christians that we’re always trying to measure each other? We judge each other by what we wear and how we talk and what music we listen to. Why? There shouldn’t be any judging there. God has already judged. If you have accepted Christ, you’re a new creature and it’s not my job to judge you on your clothes or anything. It’s my job to accept you–to welcome and receive you into my heart–because you are my brother or sister.

And it’s also my job to help you, to assist you in building your life with Christ. To help you keep on the path. And it’s my responsibility as someone who has known Christ longer to refrain from any actions (actions or things that are okay between God and me) that might cause you to have trouble following God.

This is serious stuff.

When you get right down to the meat of it, Christians need to accept each other. We need to love each other, regardless of our backgrounds and our choice of clothing and our choice of music. And if you have doubts on whether or not someone is a Christian? Well . . . honestly . . . can you see their hearts?

No.

If someone claims to be a Christian and knows all the answers, all you can do is take them at their word and let the truth of their actions tell the story. But if someone claims to be a Christian and you are a Christian, you need to accept each other and love each other and support each other. Because we’re family.

And, hey, we’re going to spend eternity together.

 

A note to all Christians from the disciple who broke every rule in the book (except the one that mattered)

Why is it so hard for Christians to be of one mind? Anyone have any theories on that? It’s amazing to me that in a room of 10 Christians, you can have 18 different opinions on how to do something . . . and really you’re supposed to agree on one. Think about that.

Not that it’s any easier for non-Christians to agree, but it just seems to me that people who say they are Christ followers automatically sign up to be contrary. It’s like we all can agree that Jesus died for us, but we can’t agree on how much He loves us.

So what is the image Christians project to others? A super secret club of people who backbite and gossip and can’t get along.

Sorry, folks, but I don’t think that’s right.

The verse for today is 1 Peter 3:8.

 8 Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters.[a] Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude.

The first thing I noticed about this verse is that it’s addressed to “all Christians.” It’s not just new Christians or Christians who’ve believed for a long time or Christians who’ve been long-time members of the same religious establishment. It’s all Christians.

Be of one mind. The Amplified Version says it, “united in spirit.” If we’re Christians, we need to agree on the things that really matter. We need to agree on what’s written in the Bible. I’ve heard it said that we need to keep the main thing the main thing. What is that? I’m a sinner. You’re a sinner. Christ died for sinners. Nobody’s perfect. Believing in Christ–and Christ alone–is the only way to be saved, to have a one-on-one relationship with God, and to have an eternal future in heaven. The basics of true, biblical Christianity. Believing in Christ — not trusting in works or in a religion or in a man or in a symbol — is the only way to be saved.

If we can’t agree on that, there’s something wrong with someone’s basic doctrine. And that means we need to do some Bible study because the Bible is the standard.

Beyond agreeing with each other, though, we need to sympathize with each other. I tell you what, Christians are the meanest people I know. Sometimes they’re also the most selfish people I know. And I know this . . . because I’m one of them. I get so focused on myself and what I’m doing that I steamroll over people around me who need attention and who need to know I care.

Notice, the verse doesn’t say that we need to fix their problems. Most of the time we can’t do anything anyway. But sympathizing with someone is different than trying to fix them. Dictionary.com defines sympathizing as “sharing a feeling with someone, to feel compassionate sympathy.” And many times that’s all people need. They just need you to take the time out of your busy day to try to share their sorrow or their loneliness or their anger or their frustration, and as a believer in Christ, you need to do this for your brothers and sisters. Don’t try to fix them. Just listen. And pray.

It’s part of loving each other as brothers and sisters. I know most siblings don’t act like they love each other, which is a shame. My brother is my best friend. I’m not being sarcastic. I will tell Andy things I won’t tell anyone else, even my best friend and even my parents (who are also my best friends). We are supposed to love each other as Christians, as fellow followers of Christ who are trying to live the way Jesus did. But Christians fail at this immensely.

If you ask a non-believer if Christians love each other, how many times are they going to say yes? How many instances have Christians given the world that we actually care about each other? In my experience, those instances have been few and far between. I can tell you that the deepest wounds in my heart have come from Bible-believing Christians . . . because Christians know how to hurt each other. We’re family, after all. And family always knows how to hurt each other efficiently. But it shouldn’t be that way. We need to build each other up, not tear each other down.

We need to think about the things we say before we say them. Weigh your words. Words have impact. They have meaning. Be tenderhearted. Let your heard feel what your words will do to someone else before you say them.

And be humble about it. Nobody’s a superstar down here. We’re all made of out mud. We all make mistakes. And we all have learned painful lessons about what pride has done to our lives, but the worst choice in the world is to hide the lessons you’ve learned. We need to help each other. We need to learn from each other.

We are so good at putting people on pedastals. And then our faith is shaken because our hero does something wrong.

What I love about this verse is that Peter wrote it. Peter. The disciple who was loud and impulsive and rough around the edges. And even after he decided to follow Christ, I’m pretty sure he didn’t embody very many of these things. But when he let God change him, God did something awesome with him. Not saying he was perfect then. I’m pretty sure he was still rude and abrasive at times.

But Peter speaks from experience here. He knew what worked and what didn’t. And He knew (because God told him) that if Christians were going to survive this crazy, broken, messed up world, we needed to trust God, yes; but we also needed each other.