Ask yourself, are you a loving person?

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 9, 2005

I have been doing a little reflecting lately on how loving a person I really am, and what it means to truly love with God's love. It's not as easy as one might at first think.

It is natural for us to feel comfortable around those who are like us. It is human instinct to gravitate toward those who look like us or act like us.

It is not natural or comfortable for us to extend the loving arm of God's unconditional love and acceptance toward those who are very different from ourselves.

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But the reality is that God's goal for His people has always been to challenge us to do that which makes us uncomfortable. And it is no different when it comes to loving and accepting those who are different, especially if they are also strangers.

In fact, in Matthew chapter 25, Jesus tells us that He comes to us in the stranger. When we show love to the stranger, we show love to him and when we judge and reject the stranger, those who are different, we judge and reject him.

Pretty strong words, especially if the stranger also happens to be the drug dealer, the prostitute, the homosexual, the abortion provider, the pregnant teenager, the children who track mud in the sanctuary, the young mother whose kids scream during the sermon or the neighbor kids who throw rocks at the church. And the list goes on and on.

You name it. If they're not one of us, however you define 'us,' then they are the stranger; the one in whom Jesus comes. And we are called to love and accept them unconditionally.

But Steve, aren't we to correct them of their mistakes and show them the way?

We are to show them the way - the way to Jesus and the way of His love - to teach them to love God and to love the others, the greatest command as taught by Jesus himself.

And yes, we are to teach them God's Word. But keep in mind we are all on the road to maturity. None of us are completely there yet, not a one of us.

And the reality is that we tend to view the worst sins as the ones we don't commit.

And the sinful attitudes and actions we struggle with, well they aren't nearly as bad as the ones that person over there is doing.

I was talking to a young man recently, who shared his testimony with me. In it he was talking about his church.

He said that what he most liked about his church was that it was a place where people can come as they are and be accepted and loved as they are; a church that recognizes that it is God's job to change the heart and transform them into what he wants them to be.

So often we try to change them into what we think they ought to be. And what is even worse, we want to change them even before God gets ahold of them. But if we don't love them as they are when we come into contact with them, they won't stay interested long enough for God to connect with them anyway.

If we cannot accept anyone who comes into our churches the way they are, sin and all, knowing that if and when God gets a hold of them, and then contact with them anyway.

If we cannot accept anyone who comes into our churches the way they are, sin and all, knowing that if and when God gets a hold of them, he alone can change their hearts and lives, then why should God accept and love us in spite of our shortcomings and failures.

You see, the bottom line of all this is that we love others because God loves us. We don't deserve God's love, yet he gives it. And we don't give our love only to those who we feel deserve it.

We are commanded to offer it to everyone, no matter what they look like, or what they act like, or how much money they have or don't have, or how they smell, or what terrible sins we think they are committing.

Can we love and accept the stranger as he or she is, unconditionally? Perhaps we will at least try.

Steve Judson is pastor of Memorial United Methodist Church in Coal Grove.