I was recently reading a book, "Crazy Love" written by Frances Chan and have to say that it shook me and challenged me... it even provoked me to give some serious thought about myself and my ministry. There is much that I could write about, but I'm only going to address a couple of areas that really have stuck with me. One thing he wrote about how we in the church and ministry define success. He wrote, "God's definition of success is pretty straightforward. He measures our life by how we love."
OK, so we all talk about how we love everyone, right? We talk about how we will accept anyone in our church... but do we go out and invite "anyone" to come to our church? Or are we a bit selective as to who we invite? Come on... be honest. Ask yourself (as I have been doing) "How do I love?" And more importantly who do I love? Be really honest... do you love only those who are loveable? Do you choose to love those who will love you in return or do you love your enemies. Do you love the person whose speech is filled with profanity? Do you love the person whose clothing and hair smells so strongly of stale smoke that it literally makes you ill? Do you love the person who is eyeing your MP3 player or phone to the point that you want to hide it before it disappears? Do you love the person who mocks your faith? (Shall I go on?)
Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 5:43-45)
Let's be really honest here. We live in a culture where a pastor can get by even if he doesn't actually love people and he can still be considered successful as long as he is a gifted speaker or makes his congregation laugh, and he prays for the people around him and visits the sick and elderly. But I am reminded of where Paul writes that even 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 my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing? (1 Cor. 13:2-3)."
So I ask myself... and I ask you... just how do we define success? It seems, according to God's Word, that nothing we do in this life will ever matter, unless it is about loving God and loving the people he has made.
Along those lines, another thing Chan asked in his book that really got me to thinking was this question: "How would my life change if I actually thought of each person I came into contact with as "Christ." Let's make this question practical and real. What about that person at Walmart that is checking out the people ahead of me and is slower than a seven year itch and cannot stop talking about how bad their day has been? What about the the old guy in the pickup truck who is driving 10 MPH under the speed limit who is holding up traffic? What about that one person that you just can't seem to ever be around with out them grating on your last nerve? What if we looked at those people as if they were Jesus? Crazy thought? Try this... "I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me."
I was actually tested with this line of thought recently when I was called by and asked to meet a man who had been arrested and was just released after a night in jail. I went to meet him in a local restaurant. I'll be honest, I did not want to go. I was tired, it was cold, and the story he had spun on the phone was one that made me roll my eyes and think, "Why bother?" (Just being honest.)
When the man walked into the restaurant, it was worse than than I had imagined. He was filthy and the odor wafted into the room ahead of him. I won't even go into the conversation... it does not matter right now. I ordered him something to eat and got us both some coffee. When we went to the table and sat down, I noticed the ladies working the counter spraying air freshener and wiping the counter where he had leaned on it. I instantly hurt for this man. Sure, he smelled and his clothing was filthy; but he was a man and he had feelings. For a minute, I was angry at those women, but I had to admit to myself because I had not ordered anything to eat because the man's odor turned my stomach. I was no better than them. In fact... I was worse. I had to admit to myself that I had not wanted to come, and the fact was, I did not want to stay and was secretly hoping for an emergency call so I'd have an excuse to leave.
As I sat there and listened to him, I had to pray through and repent for the lack of love in my heart. When all was said and done, I really did not do anything for him other than to feed him and lend a listening ear. I did make a couple of phone calls and found a relative who would take him in... but the reality is, he did far more for me than I did for him. I saw in myself that day something that I did not like. I was convicted as to how I saw people. I realized I could preach it... but I was not fully living it. Once again, I'm confronted with the reality that "I have not yet arrived." But I'm growing... and I'm learning to love.