“Love God, love people”.
Seems to be the catchphrase of churches today. Looks great on a billboard or t-shirt. Sounds like a great mantra. Excellent quote for a bumper sticker. Blogs and books are written about it quite a lot these days. I see/hear/read that phrase everywhere of late. It’s an inspiring, healthy, scripture-based phrase. Can’t argue with that. Right?
Oh, but I can.
Last week, my daughter and I were out in our community and we pulled up to a red light. In front of us was a church with a large yard banner that read… you guessed it… “Loving God. Loving People.” I sighed and said “It’d be nice if churches did more than just post that quote everywhere”, which prompted a conversation with my daughter about the importance of doing versus simply saying something so powerful.
Church-folk, we need to have the same conversation. Can we talk?
Can we! Churches, and church-folk, can talk a good talk. We can talk for hours on end…all about church.
We talk about inviting people to church. What the church is doing this week. What the church has challenged us to do. How much we give to the church. How the church is doing this or that this week and you must come. How well the church is doing because we had this many or that many on any given day. We church-folk can talk about “our” church.
And we can talk about our church leaders.
How much we don’t agree with this leader. Or how that leader is “not in their place of giftedness” (which, in non-church vernacular means that they should quit – or be removed from their position – and do something else because we think that they suck at what they’re doing). We talk about this one that’s controlling. This one’s “falling away”, or “in sin”, “not hooked up anymore”, or “struggling with something”, because they’re not doing as many things inside the four walls of the church (building) as they used to. OR we talk about our poor, pitiful, pastor and his wife. They’re so misunderstood and unsupported. Life is so difficult for them. They don’t have good “armor-bearers” and there is too much demand placed on them. They’ve got such a hard calling to minister/serve the people in the church, it’s a wonder that they stay. (Don’t get me wrong. I’ve served in church leadership for over 20-some years and it’s no ball of fun at times, can be very difficult, and is – most definitely – not for the faint of heart. However, the pity parties don’t accomplish anything except division.)
We can also talk about each other. Like. Dogs.
She doesn’t live up to our standards for her life. He isn’t doing what we think he should be doing (because, you know we know better than he/she does regarding what God has spoken to them or intended for them). How dare they leave our church? “They’re not following God they’re following a man.” “They left us abandoned”. “Their heart isn’t right” because they left, so let’s talk about them to everyone we know that they know and see if we can’t damage their heart even more by our gossip and hurtful words.
We can talk.
We can also talk about those who don’t attend any church. Those who believe differently from us. Those who don’t WANT anything to do with church – or Christ – for whatever reason. “Those people”… “Them”… “Non-believers”… “Seekers”… “Sinners” (which, last time I checked defined every single one of us who breathes. But I digress.)… “Un-churched”. We talk about how they need to come to our church. How they need to “get connected” with our groups. How “they” are going to hell. How God hates “them” and what they do. How “they” are wrong and we’re right. How “they” don’t act/speak/live in a way that meets our approval because we “talk the talk and walk the walk”, meanwhile “they” do not even know what the heck we are talking about.
We talk and we talk and we talk. All while our little church logos, bumper stickers, and banners wave in the wind crying “We love God and we love people!”
It looks real nice on that church sign. And we wear it proudly on our pre-washed bright colored t-shirt. But here’s a “solid” for you: Words. Mean. Nothing. Without. Actions.
Scripture says: “You shall love the Lord, Your God, with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these.” – Mark 12:30-31
And in James 2:14-26 we’re admonished not to just wish a “God bless you” on people in faith, but to do something to meet their practical needs.
And there’s the ever popular 1 Corinthians 13. “The love chapter”. Part of which – verses 4-8 – people quote in marriage ceremonies, public speeches, and more. However, the first 3 verses aren’t very well known. They’re a little more challenging. A little more of a “truth slap” to those of us who claim to follow Christ. Here’s a paraphrase from a recent sermon I heard about these 3 verses:
It doesn’t matter how “in tune with the Spirit” I believe that I am, if I do not love others – graciously and without expecting something in return – then I am nothing but a lot of loud noise, according to God. (- 1 Cor 13:1 para) Spiritual gifts, “experiences”, knowledge is not ultimately the point. Without love it means nothing. (- 1 Cor 13:2 para) Even if I do the most extravagant thing that I can, to show how spiritual I am, but do it for any other reason but love, it doesn’t matter. (- 1 Cor 13:3 para)
So, churches and church-folk, how about we stop talking and do something about loving God and loving people?
How about instead of expecting people to come to our fabulous, exciting, well-done, sometimes spirit-filled, church service (all of which I, personally, love attending myself, btw), we GO into all the world and share the gospel by loving others practically and meeting their needs?
How about instead of using the money that people have given – because pastors have taught them “do not mock God, but bring 10% of everything you make to church first” (another post, another day) – to pad a “rainy day” bank account like a hoarder who doesn’t want to let the smallest thing go… how about we use some of that money to do things for the community that we are planted in and the people – both in our church and without – who have real needs? Wouldn’t that demonstrate Christ a little better than money in the bank?
Or what if, instead of starting our own “helping” organizations – that compete with the ones already proven and serving in the community – so that we can proudly boast about how we have a “Christian” soup kitchen, food pantry, clothing bank, homeless shelter, serving organization to exalt our name… what if we pooled our resources, time, and energy to come alongside those already established places and “make a name for ourselves” as the church that truly gets involved by working with our community organizations by providing love, support, and volunteer hours?
What if, instead of having to advertise that we “love God and love people” with printed chotchkes, stickers, and signs, it was simply known that that group of people who attend that church really love God and care about people, all because it was demonstrated instead of talked about?
The bottom line… Christ didn’t just talk about serving others, loving others, dying for others. He DID SOMETHING. His hands and feet were always extended to give, serve, love, help, touch, do, and provide the ultimate sacrifice for each and every one of us.
Talk is cheap. Doing something that demonstrates Christ to others is what matters. Otherwise, we’re just making noise… unpleasant, undesirable, unheeded noise with our ever-moving lips.
Again, pardon my cynicism, but can we please stop talking and actually DO something?