I just returned from a weekend retreat with our Junior High crew where I was reminded of the simplicity of faith. Oh how we love to make faith more complicated, more rigorous, and more based on following human rules than on the love of Jesus Christ! The speaker did a fabulous job speaking on the story of the Prodigal Son, or as I have learned to call it, the Forgiving Father. Some have said this is The Story in a nutshell. That is, in telling the parable of the Forgiving Father Jesus summarizes the Good News: there is a God who longs, even waits, for each of His children to come home, to receive the gift of forgiveness, and come to a party for them!
In conversations I have with students, it's always fascinated me to me to hear what they have to say to the question, "What does it mean to be a Christian?" They often talk of things they need to do and things they need to refrain from doing. The list usually consists of: read the Bible, pray, go to church, don't have sex, don't drink or do drugs, don't lie, cuss, cheat, or steal. It's telling really. It shows what they have learned growing up in church, or for those who haven't been raised in Christian homes, what they perceive Christianity to be all about. It's all about following rules and keeping track of spiritual progress by showing up at Christian events, checking off boxes on our Bible reading plans, and filling the required time quota in our quiet times. What does it mean to be a Christian?
In his book, Manning tells a story of attending a meeting with the Navigators organization where is asked whether he has a word for them.
He says, "I do have a word for you. Instead of being identified as a community that memorizes Scripture, why not be identified as a community of professional lovers that causes people to say 'How they love one another!' Why do we judge Jesus' criterion for authentic discipleship irrelevant? Jesus said the world is going to recognize you as His by only one sign: the way you are with one another on the street every day. You are going to leave people feeling a little better or a little worse. You're going to affirm them or deprive them, but there'll be no neural exchange...We're denying to the world the one witness Jesus asked for: Love one another as I've loved you."It made me think: How am I known? How is my church known? What are the things by which we are identified, I am identified, in the community? Is it our love or is it something else? Is it the way we are generous, gracious, forgiving and kind - the way we love - or is it something else?
Jesus says we will be known by our love, so why is it that Christians continue to be identified as judgmental, homophobic hypocrites? Ouch. What does Paul mean when he writes in Galatians 5:6, "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love"? THE ONLY THING THAT COUNTS. This is it, Paul says. When it comes to living for Jesus, it's not about following a set of rules or the Law, it's about faith expressed in and through love. Faith demonstrated through love. Faith in Christ, shown to the world, demonstrated in the life of the believer, in they way he or she loves. Jesus says elsewhere, "You'll know whether the tree is good by its fruit."
How are we known? How are you known? Is it in your desire, your passion, your unending commitment to loving people as the Forgiving Father loves you? Or are you known, am I known, are we known by something else?