“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

“And who is my neighbor?”

Well, a man was going down from Lancaster to Palmdale–forgive me if I contextualize the story–and he was robbed and beaten, leaving him half dead on the side of the highway.

A pastor, a deacon, and an agnostic were coming down the road.

When the pastor saw the man, he passed by on the other side of the road. Then, when the deacon saw the man, he also passed by on the other side.

But the agnostic, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.

He went to him and cleaned his wounds and bandaged them.

Then he put him in his car and took him to a hotel and took care of him. And the next day he went to the hotel clerk, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ And he left his own credit card to charge the account.

Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?

Which of these three loved their neighbor as them-self?

Which of these three can say they love the Lord God? — the greatest commandment

So, I took some liberty with this passage. These were mostly Jesus’ words from Luke 10, except Jesus said priest not pastor, Levite not deacon, and Samaritan not agnostic, and so on. The parable was a stab at the religious leaders of the day who claimed to love God, but lived for the love of themselves. They really did not love their neighbors, especially not those who were ‘outside the camp’ — those who were ethnically, economically, or culturally different.

The question is, are Christians unloving? Are Christians like the religious leaders of Jesus’s day? Should we put Christians in the same camp as the religious leaders of Jesus’ day?

Let’s start be reviewing a few accusations of Christians I found online:

The world says Christians are unloving because…

  1. Christians are anti-women. Christians don’t believe women should have a right over their own bodies when it comes to issues of abortion and birth-control. And Christians don’t value women in the church. They treat women as inferior to men.
  2. Christians divide over ethnic differences. We have black churches, white churches, Hispanic churches, Korean churches, etc.
  3. Christians support violent behavior. Christians are pro-war, pro-death penalty, pro-torture. This is one of the biggest issues.

To most of you, these accusations actually seem ridiculous. I think they are too.  But, let’s give the benefit of the doubt for a minute. I think these are gross exaggerations, because none of these accusations are simple in nature. They are all very complex issues.

But I think that each of these accusations includes a half-truth. And I think those half truths are actually biblical truths, so I will not agree with the culture on this. I will not agree that the church is unloving like the Christian leaders of Jesus’s day.

Here’s why.

  1. Christians are not anti-woman. Paul himself ministered alongside women. That Christians believe in the sanctity of life–that is, that God has made all life sacred–does not mean Christians have no care for women who are dealing with unwanted pregnancy, even when that pregnancy is the result of violent acts.
  2. Christians don’t hate other ethnicities; we tend to have ethnocentric churches because it’s just easier to relate to people alongside cultural lines. The Apostle Paul said he had to live as other cultures live in order to teach the people of that culture about Jesus Christ. Ethnic differences are always going to be present, but biblically, should be celebrated, and I believe some churches, including Sonrise, are doing a great job celebrating ethnic differences.
  3. And finally, Christians don’t support unnecessary violence. Christians are charged to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. But, we have also been called to protect widows and orphans, and those who are unable to care for themselves. So, sometimes violence of some kind might be necessary.

What I really think is happening here is that the media is painting a caricature of Christianity, that has some truth in it, but grossly overstates the issues.

You know what a caricature is right?

You see caricature artists at fairs and theme parks and stuff. They draw a picture of you and then grossly overstate certain features to make them funny.

The media takes true and right values of Christianity and warps, twists, and exaggerates them in order to mock the church in public.

Today is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. It’s the day that we recognize that all people are made in the image of God. All people. People of different ethnicities are made in God’s image. People of different religions are made in God’s image. People of different ages, even unborn children are made in God’s image.

If we look at history and at the church today, the church has made some grave errors. The church has not always recognized the sacredness of life in different groups of people.

But, I also think the church is responsible for some of the most profound examples of love. The love of Christians is responsible for countless hospitals, orphanages, food banks, homeless shelters, and ministries to all sorts of needy people. The church has always been recognized for our hospitality and ministry to the orphan, widow and downtrodden.

Right here in the Antelope Valley, we have Care-net Pregnancy center, Grace resource center, Lancaster Homeless shelter, AV Hope-on-the-go. Churches in our neighborhoods have ministries to prostitutes and ministries to fight human trafficking. We have enrichment classes for the unemployed, parenting classes for new parents, marriage classes for struggling marriages.

The churches in our city recognize that it is necessary to love God if we are going to love people.

Here at Sonrise, we have community ministries. We are starting to post them on the bulletin board outside the auditorium and pray for them on the new prayer focus on the bulletin. We have people in this church who participate in food ministries, clothing ministries, children’s ministries, and we have people looking at recovery ministry, family help ministry, financial ministry.

There’s a lot of ministry happening in the church today, because…

Christians are Defined by Their Love

It’s natural and fairly obvious that Christians love, because love for God–real, genuine love for God–naturally results in love for the people He created in His image.

That’s why the Apostle John says,

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. ~1 John 4:19–20, ESV

There’s only one way to read that. No one can say they hate someone else created in God’s image and then say that they love God.

Some of you might think I made an error there. You might say, ‘No, Anthony, John says you can’t hate your brother.’ This has to do with the way that Christians deal with other Christians.

And I’d agree that was John’s point. I think that fighting and hatred between people who claim to be Christians is distinctly unChristian behavior. But, when the Apostle John wrote, he always reflected principles that could be seen pretty clearly in Jesus’ teaching.

And Jesus said to love your neighbor. That’s the foreigner and the sojourner who lives among you. That’s the unChristian people who live in your neighborhood and that you work with. It’s the people you see in the streets and the markets. Jesus said to love those people. So, John’s charge to love your brothers doesn’t undo what Jesus said, to love everyone else too.

It’s great. My son, Anthony loves tools. I built him a workbench in his room with peg board and fasteners. And we got him some tools and other family members got him tools and a tool bag. And he went to Home Depot recently. His grandma got him a Home Depot gift card for his birthday and he was just now able to spend it.

You know what he bought?

He got a lamp for his tool bench so he can work with his tools.

Do you know why he likes tools so much?

You could say it’s because all boys like tools, but that’s not really true.

What I really think it is is, because his father works with tools. And he likes when he gets to work with dad and use his tools. And he likes when he gets to try his own projects.

You know, I don’t think Anthony would like working with tools if I didn’t like working with tools. Kids are mimics. They imitate what we do as parents. — — Watch your kids play with other kids. It’s very humbling.

If parents–or someone in their lives–don’t model things for kids, kids won’t do them.

So, here’s where I’m at. God loves all people, so desperately that he came to earth as a man and sacrificed himself. And then He conquered death by rising from the grave and ascended to heaven to be seated back on his rightful throne as ruler over all things. And he went through all of that so that people could really and truly live. That people could live in peace and love and victory.

And if you consider yourself a Christian, a child of God, then you have a Father who has modeled perfect sacrificial love for you. He has loved you in unfathomable ways. And if you are his child, the evidence is that you love people sacrificially, in unfathomable ways.

You know, whenever I see Anthony working out on the back porch with his tools or working at his work bench, I always smile–I get a thats-my-boy kind of feeling.

Children imitate their Fathers.

Christians imitate the love of God, the Father. Love defines us.

You see, the reason Christians are defined by love is because…

Love Gives us Purpose

The Apostle Paul was a thinker. He liked to take principles Jesus taught and really dissect them. It wasn’t enough for Paul to be commanded to love; he wanted to know ‘Why?.’ Look what he writes:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. ~1 Corinthians 13:1–3, ESV

Someone who calls themselves a Christian, but does not love others; does not–if you were here last week–seek the welfare of the city around us. Someone like that doesn’t know God’s love. They don’t understand the mercy and forgiveness God has offered to us.

So they lack purpose. This is serious. Paul likens this person to a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

You know, we have a pretty good drummer up here in the band. Jon does a good job. But, what if we got some of our preschoolers and got them up here and gave them drum sticks and metal trash can lids.

I’m sure they would be having lots of fun, but they wouldn’t be able to play with the band. And they wouldn’t be making a pleasant noise. They would be terribly distracting and probably agitating to everyone here. Their presence in our musical worship would have no purpose whatsoever.

Paul says a loveless Christian is like that. Not only are they unable to contribute to the work of the church, they distract from the work of the church. Their actions are purposeless if they are not empowered by love.

Are you the type of person who would teach someone without loving them?

Don’t be quick to answer. Many quality preachers have confessed that they got so caught up in the busyness of ministry that they went through the motions without loving their people.

Ask yourself some questions.

What do you think and feel when you are in a group of people? Are you overly aware of the ones who are wealthy, attractive, or have something they can offer you? Are you overly aware of people who are unpleasant to you, that you want to avoid for various reasons? Do you worry about what people might think of you?

Or do you look for ways to love? Do you look for opportunities to give, to bless others?

A sure sign of a  loveless heart is seeing people as a means to your own ends—they listen to you, give you affirmation when you want it, stay out of your way when you don’t, etc. You know, many people profess Christ because of what they can get from the church and from church people.

My wife Jami’s Uncle Daryl used to work for the Salvation Army down in LA. He was a higher up, had a really good career with them. They put on a community meal, I think every night at the mission, and they would often ask Daryl to come do the message before the meal–they always presented the Gospel before they feed people.

Well, in the beginning, he thought he must be the next Billy Graham and maybe he had missed his calling to be an evangelist, because people would rush the aisles to come forward and pray a prayer to accept Christ.

But, after some time, he got to know the people they were ministering to. And he no longer thought himself an evangelist, because he realized that most of the people were there to fill their hungry bellies and very few to fill their hungry souls.

They were there to be blessed, not to bless others.

And there’s a lot of blessing to be had from church people, because Christians are known by their love. But, following Christ is not about what you can get to fulfill earthly desires.

Jesus said to pursue the Kingdom of God first, and then everything else will be added to you. In other words, focus your life on building God’s Kingdom; loving people and leading them to the truth about Jesus. And then everything else you need…God will worry about all that.

Many sterile and unfruitful churches exist because they have failed to love their neighbors around them. They have  become nothing more than a clanging gong or clanging cymbal. They have become annoying and irrelevant, because they do not go to their neighbors to love them.

Fulfilling  Jesus’s command to make disciples is about more than having the right doctrine or the right presentation. If you  “understand all mysteries and all knowledge” yet don’t have love, you are nothing.

Paul said,

If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. ~1 Corinthians 8:2–3, ESV

It’s not about what you know—or what you think you know—it’s about love. It’s not about you or what you want; it’s about them–our neighbors–and the love of Christ we are commanded to bring into the world.

Making disciples isn’t about gathering people into churches to sing songs and listen to teaching. The real focus is not on teaching people at all. Discipleship or Disciple making is not about head knowledge.

Disciple-Making is About Love

Jesus’s call to make disciples includes teaching people to be obedient followers of Jesus, but the teaching isn’t the end goal. Ultimately,  it’s all about being faithful to God’s call to love the people around you. It’s about loving those people enough to help them see their need to love.

At this point in a message, you might be asking yourself, “How much do I care about the people around me?”

But, I don’t think that’s the right question.

The question is, “Do you love God? Are you grateful for the mercy He has bestowed on you? Are you confident enough in His saving grace and the transformational power of the Gospel, to risk pride and reputation to get out into the community and love people? Are you confident enough in the power of God living in you to give up time and wealth to see others transformed by the love of God?”

I’m very slowly and carefully reading this book right now called, You Are What You Love. It’s one of those books that’s so dead-on and so challenging that I am certain I’ll read it again and probably again after that. It’s changing my life right now.

The premise is this: ‘Who you are is not defined by what you think.’ Who you are is not defined by what you think or what you claim to believe. Instead, who you are is defined by what you do without thinking.

We called that category of behaviors habits. When we see a parent yelling and cursing at their children, we never think to ourselves, “I’m sure it’s fine; I’m sure he knows that’s wrong,” or, “I’m sure she knows it’s wrong.”

Right? Or, we would be crazy if we supported government legislature that judges, not based on what they do, but based on what they believe is right. That would be idiotic!

“Well we know he killed someone, but since he knew it was wrong, we won’t prosecute.”

There’s an older movie called Minority Report. In the movie, there are prophets who can tell the future. The police use the prophets to figure out crimes people will commit in the future and then prosecute and imprison them before they can commit the crime.

Which sounds great–it creates a virtually crimeless state. But, there’s an ethical dilemma.

How can you be certain of someone’s heart, someone’s intentions, when they didn’t actually do anything?

We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. ~2 Corinthians 5:10, ESV

Do you see this?

We always say things like, ‘Only God can judge a person’s heart.’ But, it’s clear that when we go to judgment, the deeds of the person–what he has done in the body–are the criteria we will be judged by. Our deeds are a window into our hearts.

We tend to judge the quality of a person’s faith based on what they believe or think is true, not on how they actually live, but that’s not how it works.

James says,

Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. ~James 4:17, ESV

And that’s where the devotionals we are doing for life groups are really tearing me up–really challenging me. Our devotionals for our life groups for the past few weeks have been all about what it means to be a real disciple.

And it’s funny, because I’ve spent nearly my whole adult life in ministry of some kind and I have 6 years of formal Bible education. And I’ve read dozens of books on what it means to be a disciple.

This stuff should seem super basic to me.

There’s no new data. But, you know, I keep reading these books because I want to be a better disciple maker. I want to be challenged, and motivated to be zealous about making disciples.

So, even though the book we are using for our devotions is pretty simple; I love it. It’s instilling in me a zeal. It’s renewing my first love.

Look how Francis Chan, the author of the book Multiply and a number of other titles…he puts it this way.

Why do we as Christians believe we are going to go before the judgment seat of God one day and he’s going to accept us?

I urge you to be a part of that movement of the church that loves. It’s not about what you know. It’s not about what you believe. It’s about loving God so much that your heart, your habits, are to love others.

Honestly assessing your heart and asking God to purify your habits needs to be a part of your daily life.

Take some time to consider your relationships—family, friends,  coworkers, neighbors…

The way you think about and interact with the people that God has placed in your life can tell you a lot about your heart.

Think about your relationships and ask yourself how well you love those around you.

It’s that important, because an unloving Christian is an oxymoron. It doesn’t exist