Loving each other is what makes us different

I decided early on that I wouldn’t comment on this ridiculous red-cup discussion that seems to be dominating all the social media feeds. I don’t know a single Christ-follower who is actually taking it seriously. Actually, what concerns me more about the whole mess is my first reaction to it.

I believed it.

When I read the reports on social media that Christians were upset about the design of Starbucks’s 2015 holiday coffee cups, it didn’t surprise me. I mean, heck, Christians have gotten really upset about a lot of really stupid things before, so why should this be any different?

But as the issue persisted, I started wondering if the whole thing is actually real. Are there actually any Christians out there who have a problem with these crazy red cups? Or was it just a few vocal people who caused a stir that simply went viral?

Regardless, I don’t think my initial reaction to the situation is what it should have been as a Christ-follower.

red-coffee-cup-mugToday’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.

How often do you get irritated with other Christians? I probably shouldn’t admit this, but Christians really tick me off. They tick me off faster than non-Christians any day of the week because I have high expectations for Christ-followers. I expect that a Christ-follower is going to want to live like a Christ-follower. I don’t expect someone who has chosen not to follow Jesus to behave like a Christian. Why would they?

But one of the things Jesus said over and over again in Scripture is how we’re supposed to love each other, and He wasn’t talking about Christians loving non-Christians, which of course is true. We’re supposed to love everyone, but Christians are especially supposed to love each other. And part of loving each other is giving each other the benefit of the doubt.

Instead of jumping to conclusions about what other people say about Christians in general, let’s just take a step back for a moment. Just because Christians as a whole tend to be a little panicky and harsh doesn’t mean that they’re stupid and unreasonable and not worth your time. And just because a few media outlets report that Christians are doing/saying things, doesn’t mean they actually are.

Hey, Christian, guess what? You’ve got an enemy out there. Satan would love nothing more than to separate you from your family in Christ, to get you alone and isolated so he can pick you off more easily. That’s what all this antagonism toward other Christians will eventually lead to. We break away from each other. We fight each other. We hurt each other. We believe the worst about each other and keep our distance, and that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

We’re a family. We’re supposed to be united. Part of loving each other unconditionally is thinking the best about each other, not the worst.

That doesn’t mean that Christians always get it right. And, yes, we need to be aware of that. We each are responsible for what we believe, and that’s between us and God. But you don’t have to believe the same thing as the Christian sitting next to you in order for God to use you.

My first response to the red-cup crisis was ridicule, and I wondered what I would say when I ran into a Christian who was actually upset about the color of a coffee cup. And then, after time passed and I hadn’t met anyone, I started wondering if the person who was in the wrong was me–for assuming that other Christians would even get embroiled in something that’s such a waste of time and energy.

That’s not to say there aren’t antagonistic Christians. I’ve met quite a few of them. And generally, hanging around antagonistic people (Christian or not) isn’t a good idea. But if you’re thrown into a situation where you’ve got to hang around with another Christian, don’t automatically assume that he or she is less knowledgeable than you, less spiritual than you, or less favored than you. Listen to what he or she has to say, and if you agree, great. If you don’t, that’s great too.

If you really are both Christians, you have one thing in common–faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior and your Lord, and that’s the one thing that actually matters. So start there and build on it.

Let’s love each other, Christians. That means let’s think the best of each other first, until we give each other a reason not to. And if we give each other a reason not to, address the problem with love and respect.

The only thing that sets us apart from the rest of the world is how we love each other. So is it any wonder that the world can’t really tell a difference in us anymore?

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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.

A pink saddle at the Sedgwick County Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Being kind to people who you really just want to smack

Loving people is hard work. Have you ever noticed that? I mean, some people are easy to love. They’re those people who make you better. They’re the people who brighten your day when you see them. And I am so very fortunate to be surrounded by people who encourage me and make my life bright. But then, there are the other people. And they are everywhere. You know who I’m talking about. Christian or non-Christian, old or young, at work or at school or at home or even on the street, the other people take your happy mood and stomp all over it. And they almost seem to enjoy doing it. Maybe they would enjoy doing if they enjoyed anything.

Don’t pretend like you aren’t thinking of someone right now. We all have them in our lives. Those people who we cringe when we see coming. I’ve got a couple (no one in my close inner circle though, thank God), and I wish I could tell you I was a good enough Christian that I embrace them with loving, open arms. But that would be a lie. More often than not, I hide. Because hiding is so much better than having to talk to them. Because talking to them runs the risk of me saying something regrettable out loud.

After all, why not? What if they deserve it? What if that extraordinarily irritating person really just needs to be put in his or her place? What if that obstinate, arrogant moron needs a good talking to so that they understand they’re the ignorant ones?

A pink saddle at the Sedgwick County Fair, Hutchinson, KS

A pink saddle at the Sedgwick County Fair, Hutchinson, KS (because I’m going to get on my horse and ride, this morning, folks)

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 passage makes me clench my teeth because there are days–so many days–when the last thing I want to do is love people. I don’t want to love people, especially stupid people. But guess what? Do you know who said this?

Yup. Jesus Himself said this. And there’s no misunderstanding this, no matter what language you read it in, no matter what translation you read it in (yes, for any of you who might be wondering if I’m a heathen, I read multiple translations at the same time! *gasp*). And I believe if Jesus says it, I should do it, whether I want to do it or not, whether I feel like it or not, whether I even like it or not.

Jesus says to love people. I’m supposed to love people like He loves people.

Really?

Yes. Really. (Yes, I’m talking to myself right now.)

But Jesus isn’t telling us to roll over and let people walk over us. He isn’t saying that we’re supposed to walk around with our heads hanging low, sighing unhappily about how we’re supposed to love everyone. “Ho-hum. I have to love that idiot who told a lie about me.” News flash, folks. That’s not love.

Okay. I’m a little snarky this morning. Maybe I should apologize. But there’s a reason.

See, I had planned to do this post anyway because there are just certain people I encounter in life who I have a hard time being kind to. I have a hard time loving them because they just make it so dang hard. So I was going to post about loving each other anyway–and then I discovered that another WordPress blogger decided to repost something I said yesterday and proclaim to all the Internets that I am a Christian Infidel. And most of it stemmed from the fact that I made a somewhat derogatory comment about the King James Version of the Bible.

(Although my statement was less about the KJV and more about people who carry them around clubbing others with them…. “I’ll leave you to your deductions.”)

And you know, I wasn’t even angry about it. It made me laugh more than anything else. But then I got to thinking about it when I started this post. If I had the opportunity to speak to this person, what would I say to him? Not that he would care about anything I say. Obviously, he didn’t read my post. He just pulled out the part he didn’t like and decided I’m a horrible sinner (which I honestly can’t deny). But what would I say? What would I think? Could I look him in the eye and tell him that I love him? In spite of the fact that he’s pretty much twisting my words?

Well, that’s what I need to do. That’s what Jesus does with all of us, if you think about it. How often have I twisted the Bible to suit my own preferences? I’m sure I have. Everyone does. I wish we didn’t, but we do. We don’t want to submit to God’s authority, so we take it on ourselves to rationalize God’s truth to make ourselves feel better about our actions, about our inaction, about the way we treat others. Jesus knows we do that, and He still tells us that He loves us. That’s what makes Him different. That’s what makes Him Jesus.

Christians, that’s what makes us different. When we can look at the people who hurt us, the people who use us, the people who make us so angry we could just scream and tell them that we love them, they can’t say anything against it. When we look at those people–the ones who deserve to hurt, the ones who we think should be punished–and tell them that we love them because Jesus loves us, it shows that what we believe isn’t just for show. It proves that what we believe is real.

And that’s what the world needs right now. The world doesn’t need a translation of the Bible; the world needs the message of the Bible. The world doesn’t need another religious person wandering around making everyone feel guilty; the world needs to know how much Christ loves them and what He did to save them.

That’s what will change the world. It’s not me and it’s not you. It’s Jesus and His love, and the most amazing, awesome, incredible gift He has ever given us is the power and the strength and the courage to love people who don’t deserve it.

So I’m going to march over to my new friend’s blog and thank him for the pingback. He can do what he wants with it, but because of what Jesus has done for me, I am determined to love people today, especially the ones who make me mad. So watch out! If you piss me off today, I’m going to hug you!

Wasn’t there a massacre on Valentine’s Day once?

Apologies for the delay this morning. My office computer decided to be uncooperative; maybe it’s because it’s getting so warm outside. The weather folks are saying it should be 70 by the end of the week, but I don’t trust it. We shall likely plunge back down into subzero temperatures before the winter is through.

So . . . . today is Valentine’s Day. I’m not sure about its history. I should probably do some research on it because I’m not sure where it came from — and I’m not sure about the history about Cupid, though I would be very interested to find out if he’s always been represented as a naked baby who flies around shooting people with arrows of love. I find it quite silly, really.

It’s amazing to me that the world always finds a way to cheapen things that should remain expensive. Like Love. Love is expensive, but the commercialism of Valentine’s Day has reduced it to animalistic instincts in a heart-shaped box full of chocolates. I’ve never understood Valentine’s Day, though, because I’ve never had a “Valentine.” So maybe I shouldn’t talk about things I don’t understand.

But it seems to me that if you’re in a relationship, demonstrating your love shouldn’t be a once-a-year kind of thing. It should be an every day kind of thing. And it shouldn’t be about giving chocolates or candies or flowers or cardboard Batman Valentine cards; it should be about something deeper that those things might just happen to represent (like the Batman Valentine cards; aren’t those the epitome of true love? I’ve always thought so . . . . ). I guess what I’m saying is that Love is so much deeper than a single commemorative day.

Love is the most expensive gift there is, and it seems wrong to only celebrate it on one day, especially if it doesn’t leave that day. I never liked getting Valentine’s Day cards from people who I didn’t know well because I didn’t know them. And they didn’t mean anything. I can tell you the one Valentine’s Day present I received that made an impression on me, though.

A young man gave me a rose on Valentine’s Day once. He was much younger than me, but I still appreciated it. Not because it was a beautiful red rose and not because he was a boy. I appreciated it and I still remember it because this young man was my friend and I loved him (and he still is and I still do; Paco, you know who you are), and he made a habit of being my friend.

Love isn’t a spur of the moment thing. It’s not something that you feel for a few moments and then don’t feel anymore. It’s something that you feel deeply and in response to that feeling, you act. In response to that feeling, you live a certain way that shows everyone that you Love somebody.

This young man was my friend. He had already proven himself to be my friend, and anything he did for me or gave to me already represented a friendship that pre-existed. In comparison, a gift from someone else I didn’t know was just an item. Just something they handed to me to make them feel like they had done something for me on Valentine’s Day . . . . or just to participate in an event that everyone else participated in. It didn’t mean anything — not to them and not to me.

Maybe this is a poor illustration, but that’s what I think about when I read the verse for this morning.

John 13:34-35

34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

Love each other.

We’re supposed to love each other.

And, look at this, Christians. Christians are supposed to love Christians.

We’re not so good at that, are we? In fact, some of the meanest, cruelest people I’ve ever met have been professing Christians. I have been hurt the most deeply by people who claimed Christ was their Lord. And I have witnessed some of the most brutal displays of hate committed by people who say they follow Jesus.

How is that possible?

And even those Christians who say they love each other don’t really. To many Christians, they tell people they love them, but do they? Is it real love? Or is it just something to say? Is it just a cardboard Batman Valentine’s Day card? Or is it a sign of something deeper?

If you tell another believer that you love them, do you really? What does that mean to you? Can you back it up? Will you pray for that person? Will you sacrifice for that person? Will you give of your money and your time and your resources to help and encourage that person? If you don’t or you won’t, then you’re a liar.

Love isn’t in gifts.

Love is in action.

So am I saying not to give Valentine’s Day cards? Or chocolates? Or flowers? Absolutely not. Give them out! What I’m saying is that you should make sure there’s something deeper there.

And am I saying that you shouldn’t tell people that you love them? Again, no. What I’m saying is that before you tell someone you love them, make sure you really do. Make sure you really understand what it means to love someone else and make sure that you are willing to follow through with it.