Saturday, May 16, 2009

Love Gospel

Last night I saw a movie and was struck by something, like an accumulation of thoughts were realized in a moment of cinematic climax. I saw The Soloist with Jamie Foxx. It’s a story of a homeless man, once musical prodigy, Nathaniel Ayers Jr., meeting a columnist for the LA time, Mr. Steve Lopez, in a time of great need. Need…This is the word I would like to explore and begin this journey of thought from. At what I would describe as the climax and pinnacle of meaning of the movie Ayers snaps on Lopez when he learns he is attempting to put him in a mental ward. He pushes him against the wall and begins a very touching response to Mr. Lopez’s intentions. He basically tells Mr. Lopez that he doesn’t know what he needs, that he knows who he is and that he is a man, not just some guy that he can change. Later in the movie the program director for Lamp homeless shelter in LA tells Lopez that what Ayers needs is not medication or to go to a mental ward, but a friend. The movie ends with a monologue by Lopez reflecting on how some physiologists say that just by being a friend to someone changes the chemical interactions in the brain of someone and does help. Your definition of help is where many people get caught up in details.

“Are you trying to convert me?” This is a question many non-Christians will ask. I read a book, Lord Save Us From Your Followers, that spoke to how many people had been hurt by people claiming to follow Christ. In the movie Nathaniel gets upset with Lopez because he finally saw Lopez was only trying to change him. I do not doubt that everyone who does follow Christ faithfully has good intentions and their actions are based on their faith, however, do think we can loose sight of things a bit. People can tell when they are a project or loved. The question repeated over and over, like a chorus of a song, in the book is, “Why is the Gospel of love tearing apart America?” Let’s start with the basics then, what is the Gospel? Why do we preach/teach it? Where did all this church stuff come from?

Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20)." This is what the New Testament Church bases its identity and purpose from. This is commonly referred to as the Great Commission. During Jesus’ earthly ministry He was asked what the greatest commandment was, to which He responded, “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. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22:36-40).” What kind of love? Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a).” When this came together in my head this morning in my sleepy state I was so excited, but saddened at the same time.

Jesus told His first disciples that they had a mission, their lives would change, they had power to change the world. He even told them they would do greater things than they saw Him do. Jesus knew what His gospel could do and entrusted it to a group of ragamuffins that have since passed it on to a far more distant more degenerate bunch. Jesus said to go make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to obey all He has commanded. What’s a disciple? The original word used is Greek, matheteuo. This word means to follow the leader’s precepts and instructions, to teach, to instruct. Go make people who will follow Jesus’ precepts and instructions, who will in turn teach them to others. Baptizism is another highly debated topic for some reason, but it is a basic sign, a illustration, of someone publicly dying to themselves and raising in Christ. Finally, we are to teach them, these new disciples, to obey everything Christ taught. The original word used in Greek here is didasko, which means to hold discourse with others in order to instruct them, deliver didactic discourses. A didactic discourse is communication of thought by words; talk; conversation: earnest and intelligent discourse intended for instruction. I seem to get the impression that what Jesus was asking us to do was simple, go out and have conversations with people, conversations that teach and instruct, and baptize people. Some how we have come a long way from that and now instead of tearing apart that short statement made by Jesus Himself we have well meaning authors putting together conferences and books to instruct people at how to do the gospel. So what exactly did Jesus teach? Read Matthew 22:36-40 and 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 again. The love Jesus was talking about is patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not proud, not rude, not self-seeking, not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs, doesn’t delight in evil, but rejoices in truth, protects, trusts, hopes, and preserves, it never fails. I don’t care about your method. I think your method should fit the context that Jesus puts you in, but if your method somehow is not focused on love and is more concerned with change then I would say you are speaking of nothing that Jesus taught. Jesus’ teaching was based on 2 commandments and those two made up all the rest.

Urban, suburban, prison, or any other type of ministry must be done differently. Some of the ways teaching what Jesus’ message was about, Love, may offend a tradition, a religion, or even heritage, but it is not those we seek to please is it (Galatians 1)? I’d challenge you to do what I’ve been doing over the past couple of years, reevaluating your heart and thought process about what truly working for the message of Christ looks like. If this is the greatest message of Love, a profound changing message from a perfect God, why would it divide rather than united? So is the Gospel and preaching it limited to a Sunday morning, tract, coffee conversation, basketball game, or service project? Maybe the best way to make God laugh would be to think we have this all figured out. The Gospel is so big that we can never truly grasp it all and should seek to follow Jesus’ command only, a command to teach love to those in need.

The movie ends by Lopez showing Ayers respect and saying he is honored to be his friend. Need...isn't it love? Isn't the need people have to experience true perfect love? Can we just love people and trust God to change hearts or does that take away our illusion of control and make us uncomfortable? I pray you embrace discomfort and not being in control, embrace Love, and let everything you preach, teach, live, breathe, and exude be love. People are not to be converted; they are to be told about love and the God who gives it freely. Do we live and are we willing to die for this Gospel of Love, even if it means forsaking all the religious matter we’ve been sold? May your prayer what mine has been last night and all day today, “Lord, help me love, help me see and be love, help me teach and preach love, help me show love, help me love like you.”

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