Allow me for a moment to do a bit of virtue signaling!
One morning last winter, Facebook decided to post an old photo from the winter before on my newsfeed. It was taken by my wife, who tagged me when I was shoveling snow off our neighbor’s front yard. We were living in St. Louis, and I figured while I was shoveling my own sidewalk, I’d be a good neighbor and clear off the area for the couple who lived next door.
Those two ladies had introduced themselves to us when we first moved in earlier that year. We appreciated their welcome, and had reciprocated with friendliness.
But over time, I think they realized that I’m a pastor. And since they were a couple, it felt like things changed a bit.
They probably saw a yard sign we’d put out welcoming everyone to our church, about 4 blocks down the road. We were right in the heart of St. Louis and had a very multicultural congregation. The sign had people of all races, smiling together as one church family.
A day later, a sign appeared in front of the couple’s home. It was a rather “in your face” statement about their home standing for “science” and “inclusion.” Maybe I was a bit touchy, but the timing made me think it was a rebuttal to our church sign. If that was the case, I didn’t really blame them. I’ve known several churches who have talked about God’s love, but never seemed to show much of it themselves.
Now, before we go on here, I need to address the “elephant in the room” (and no, I’m not just looking in a mirror now). As a pastor, but more importantly as a Christian, I do believe what the Bible says. All of it, without apology.
But since I believe all of it, I also believe the part about ALL of us being sinners stuck in the same boat. None of us is perfect, none of us is worthy of God’s love. That would include me, and even my lovely wife. Since I believe that, I see myself as no better than anyone else.
So while I may not affirm your lifestyle, I certainly don’t affirm mine either. I affirm Jesus and the way he lived. The rest of us come to God with nothing in our hands to offer him but our lives and devotion.
But this is the part of Christianity that most of us have done a lousy job of communicating. Instead of fighting how Satan is destroying people, we’ve often fought the people themselves. And, frankly, right now we’re paying for it.
Because right now, a lot of the people we ignored and marginalized in the church are fighting back. Some of them are mad as hell at Christians and the God we often wrap around ourselves to look more righteous.
So if you truly have the love of Jesus in your heart, how do you respond to people who are “as mad as hell at you?”
Simple…you “love the hell out of them.”
After our neighbors rebuttal sign popped up, my wife and I went out of our way to express our love to our neighbors. We’d be sure to speak to them every time we saw them outside. If we spotted them at a distance, we’d wave our arms like a Florida palm tree in a hurricane.
One day, as I was walking up the steps to my front door, one of the ladies stopped me.
“I have a friend who’s getting kicked out of her apartment soon. She’s got kids and is desperate. Does your church have any way to help with them?”
Well, that was my opening. I went right back down to the church, even though I’d just left for the day. I talked to our office staff about what options there were. When it was clear none of the social services in the area would help, I determined we’d put the family up when they finally had to leave their apartment.
I texted my neighbor back, who now had given me her cell phone number. I said that we’d do all we could and to give her friend my contact info.
About a week later, I asked her if I had missed her return call. She apologized for not letting me know that everything had worked out for her friend. So much for our opportunity to prove ourselves. But that couple knew now we cared enough to jump into action and help people with no connection to us, because that’s what Jesus would do.
Later on that year, I came home to realize the couple had very suddenly moved out. I was worried about them, maybe something bad might have caused them to move so swiftly. But I had since lost their phone number, so I had no way of contacting them to say goodbye. They were our neighbors, regardless of our battling yard signs.
What I’ve learned from being around people who may disagree about my faith is this: my job is never to judge them. That’s God’s business, and way above my pay grade. Our job is simply to love people as Jesus would. And Jesus loved and ate with, and even defended, people who were often disobeying the very Scripture of which he was the source.
Think about that a minute. My Jesus, our Jesus, who was the “Logos,” the very “Word Incarnate,” loved people extravagantly while they were in the very process of rebelling against him personally.
If he loved them…if he loves me…how could I do otherwise?
Lest my memory ever get too diminished, I was once one of those rebels, too. I was the neighbor with a chip on my shoulder. And I was the one that Jesus himself chose to “love the hell out of.”
Dave Gipson is a husband, father of 4 adopted children and one biological child, former foster parent, and pastor at Naples Family Church of Naples, FL. An author, Dave's new highly acclaimed book, "The Seven Surprises: Everyday Epiphanies on Being a Better Human Being," is now available. He also contributes regular commentaries to the Naples Daily News as well as other international publications. He has served churches for the last 25+ years, from Florida to the inner-city of Chicago. Rev. Gipson holds his ordination in the Southern Baptist denomination, and has two earned Masters degrees in Religion and Divinity. Read more at http://davegipson.net.Follow him on Twitter at @realdavegipson.