Hear me: Love your enemies, even those who make your blood boil. Let love show up in your actions. Treat others well and do good for them. Bless those who are cursing you and want to see you hurt. Pray for the hearts of abusers. These people will do everything they can to steal your joy. Do not let them. Bring them to me in prayer. Release you negativity and do not give hatred a place in your heart. Bitterness will damage you far more deeply than your enemy ever could.Luke 6:27-28
Letters to the Beloved
“By this, all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”-John 13:35
John 13:35 is a continuation of verse 34. Francis Schaeffer wrote some of the most remarkable pages about these two verses in The Mark of the Christian (1970). Following Jesus, Schaeffer said that how we carry out Jesus’s commandment is the key criterion by which the world may know what Christianity is all about.
We often assume that people determine the truth of the faith based upon well-reasoned apologetics, culturally relevant messages, or excellent facilities. We stress secondary issues, and we miss the main point.
These other considerations are not unimportant, but they are not ultimate. What if our principal focus was on the reality that every person desires to be loved and accepted?
Jesus told his disciples, “Look…you have seen how I have lived my life. I have loved the unlovable. I have healed the broken. I have crossed cultural lines, even with those most people consider morally deplorable, including some of you. I have sought to serve rather than be served. I want you to do likewise, and when people see my love through you, walls will come down.”
Love defines my essence, and I want it to represent you too. My followers often do well loving people who look, think, and live as they do; however, they ignore, criticize, and attack those who are different. Conservatives attack liberals, Christians dishonor Muslims, and pro-choice advocates smear pro-life groups. Every single day, my image bearers treat one another with contempt. Listen, hatred is evil. Love those who live differently than you do. Even if others continue to lie about you, attack you, or seek to tear you down, pray for them. You know that I am love, and if you are indeed my child, love defines you too. Do you not know that I made the sunshine and rain for everyone and not just for those who think like you?
Matthew 5:43-45, Letters to the Beloved
In 1980, Isaac Asimov wrote, “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” Remarkably, he said this before the onset of social media. His quote is perhaps truer today than ever. Every day, outlets such as Facebook and Twitter are seemingly overrun with examples of misinformation and rampant, ungrounded opinions. If one has a feeling about the way something is, they are free to express their opinion freely and loudly. Indeed, with billions of interconnected voices on the planet, we can even provide support for our opinions by citing experts whose viewpoints reflect our own, even when the overwhelming majority of experts disagree.
Assuredly, the advent of the 24 hour news cycle, which coincidentally began in 1980 with CNN, has also fostered a culture wherein opinions are widespread and facts often get lost in the chaos. In a similar way to the availability of supposed expert opinions, we now have numerous options for getting our “news,” which has sadly become less about the reporting of facts than about propaganda.
In addition to the nearly complete penetrance of social media and the unrelenting cacophony of propaganda presented as news, some of the shifts in education have not served us well. The self-esteem movement, for all of the good it has done, has also gone wrong in many ways. It has moved beyond helping people to understand their unique value to overvaluing of one’s own opinions. I recall reading in D.A. Carson’s The Intolerance of Tolerance that this elevation of opinion was even finding its way into math classes where students were not corrected for making mistakes even in simple calculations.
These seeds take root. We learn from an early age that every person’s opinion is as valid as everyone else’s, but then we confuse opinion with fact. Social media then provides a platform for every person who wishes to share whatever they want and, because of the proliferation of the 24 hour news cycle and self-professed experts who conflate opinion and fact, anyone can provide evidences for their pet positions. This ends up providing fertile ground for animosity and division.
So what then is the answer? Let me suggest a few things. First, I think we as a nation would benefit from a large infusion of humility. Unfortunately, we don’t have many visible models for humility because our society does not value it and truly humble people are often in the background. Listen, it is perfectly okay to admit that we do not possess all of the answers on everything. Not only do we not need to be “experts” on everything, in humility, we are free to acknowledge that we actually are not experts. There are experts out there, but in most cases, it isn’t you or me. I have frequently encouraged people and myself foremost, to ask “Is it possible I am wrong?” Let’s not start from a position that asks is it possible if the other person is wrong, but begin with ourselves. Another unfortunate trend in the last several decades has been a lack of training in logic and critical thinking. We are unable to look at information critically and accurately, assessing strengths and weaknesses of the arguments that are presented. Too often, we accept as true the loudest opinions, not the ones that are the most well reasoned. Routinely, we overvalue our own perceived reasoning abilities, believing we are immune from manipulation. But here’s the thing: You are not immune to propaganda. Neither am I. The multi-billion dollar advertising industry counts on it.
Second, before you click “share” on something, ask yourself “is it true?” Many of the provocative memes and “news stories” that make the rounds on Facebook have no basis in truth, but again, with flashy words and tantalizing pictures, we believe them. If you feel compelled to share something, do a little leg work first. But let’s not stop with the question “is it true?” Let us also ask is it good and beautiful. Too many of the things we are exposed to every day and too many of the things we share add to the ugliness. Each of us has the opportunity to be light bringers. Let’s not spread darkness.
Third, develop humble curiosity. Become a listener. Seek to understand the viewpoints of others. Too often our interactions, and especially those that happen online, are characterized by an against mindset. We view those who hold alternative viewpoints as our enemies though we may not use that word. As a nation, it seems we are increasingly divided. We do not seek to understand; we look for people to blame, a perspective that has increasingly characterized our major influencers–news agencies, politicians, public figures, and even pastors. Sadly, these models give us implicit permission to be divisive. When we constantly hear accusatory messages, we come to believe that a) there is definitely someone to blame and, b) it isn’t us. What would change if there was a movement to develop a with mindset instead? From a with mindset, we do not view others as our enemies, but as fellow citizens of the planet. Larry Crabb wrote, “we are people of radical worth and largely unrevealed beauty.” Every one of us. Do our interactions, even with those with whom we disagree seek to reveal beauty and worth? Let’s stop looking for people to fight and instead look for people to love. Sometimes, I think that we forget that our battle isn’t against people, but against evil and divisiveness (see Ephesians 6:12). When there is continued misunderstanding, perhaps ongoing dialog is appropriate, but I think it would be beneficial to engage in “mutual inquiry” and not “debate,” a suggestion I heard from the late Dallas Willard. The difference in language may seem subtle, but I think it does change perspective. Admittedly, social media is rarely the place for such truth seeking, but sometimes, we can dialog together respectfully, patiently, and lovingly. Otherwise, it may be best to offer our peace and disengage with grace.
I’ve been off lately. Unsettled. Between COVID-19, multiple health issues in our extended family, and my oldest daughter’s fast approaching wedding, I have not felt as grounded as a sometimes do. Unfortunately, my emotions tend to come out sideways and in ways that I do not intend. Consistent with my personality style, when I am feeling off-center, I tend to resort to anger–toward myself, others, and the universe. I am usually too constrained for it to come out as rage. Rather, it comes out as irritation, resentment, audible sighs, or a critical spirit. My friend and pastor had the courage to point this out to me recently and it has been eye opening.
Maybe you’ve felt unsettled too. The idea that we are living in the midst of a pandemic is unsettling. Perhaps like me, the churning waters within and without lead to anger. Maybe for you, it comes out as fear, flattery, or withdrawal. Pay attention to those emotional responses. They are great teachers if we will listen.
Running parallel to my unsettledness has been a desire to understand what it looks like to love well in the midst of chaos. Specifically, what does it look like to love up, down, in, and out? I haven’t come to any firm conclusions, but I do have a lot of questions. How do I understand what it looks like to love God and experience God’s love for me when I feel unsteady? How can I use this time to grow in self-knowledge and self-compassion? What passions arise within me and how well do they align with who I want to be? How do I grow in grace toward others when we are encouraged to keep our distance or when we observe them behaving in obviously self-centered ways? How do I understand my role as a global citizen and a steward of creation? How can I foster truth, goodness, and beauty when so much seems broken?
Again, I don’t have clear answers, but these are the sorts of things I think about. Maybe you are too. It is good and important for us to consider how to be beacons of light when so much seems dark.
I am very happy to announce that my most recent book, Notes from the Upper Room: Lessons in Loving Like Jesus, is available through Amazon in either paperback or e-book.
From the Back Cover:
John 13 to 17, often referred to as the “Upper Room Discourse,” provides John’s narrative of the disciples’ last meal with Jesus. There is no place in the Bible where a single conversation is so carefully recounted, making up nearly one-fifth of John’s Gospel. In Notes from the Upper Room: Lesson in Loving Like Jesus, you are invited to listen in on their conversation, and learn what it means to love like Jesus. From the very first verse of John 13 and the very last verse of John 17, love was the recurrent them. Jesus showed love for his disciples by washing their feet. He taught them about what real love looked like and how he wanted them to put love into practice. In his longest recorded prayer, John 17, he prayed that they would love one another in the same way that the he and the Father loved one another. We were created for relationship, with God and one another. In Notes from the Upper Room, you will learn about loving and relating in the manner of Jesus. Climb the steps, take a look around, and have a seat.
“Jason’s gracious and wise perspective on the Upper Room discourse strikes at the heart of the Gospel, with a hard-to-find balance of depth and accessibility. He applies the love of Jesus to the tensions of our brokenness with great care and empathy. This is an extremely encouraging and uplifting book, and one that I highly recommend you read.”-Chris Wheeler, author of Solace
“If you’re hungry for a biblically centered understanding of both the difficulties and the possibilities of actually putting the love of Jesus on display by how you relate to your spouse, children, friends, and co-workers, Notes from the Upper Room sets the table with a tasty meal. In a strong, clear, and gentle voice, Jason speaks to the crucial value of Trinitarian theology for living the relationally loving life we were designed and equipped to live. This a book well worth reading.”—Larry Crabb, Psychologist and author of When God’s Ways Make No Sense
Here are several ways you could support this project:
1) Please consider purchasing a copy either through Amazon or directly from me and reading it. Books also make great gifts.
2) If you found the book beneficial, would you consider leaving a review on Amazon and, if you use it, Goodreads? Reviews are very helpful to authors.
3) Consider following my blog through WordPress or subscribing by email.
4) If you email me at jasonkanz (at) yahoo (dot) com, I will send you a free PDF of 129 devotionals I wrote based upon John 13 to 17 as well. If the Lessons in Loving Like Jesus is a finely cooked steak, the devotionals are steak bites–the same meat, prepared differently. The devotionals will also be available in a paperback version through Amazon.
5) Stay in touch. Let me know what stirs for you as you read the book.
Go out and love like Jesus.
Love sounds good
but paper love
is too easily
crumpled, torn, and burned.
a more primitive place
not bright white smoothness
eight point five by eleven,
but from an ancient seed
blown to the ground
and buried in death
that transforms into
Always reaching for the light,
though daily assailed
or scorching sun
Perhaps not comforting,
“If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”-John 13:17
My best friend in college would often say, “I thought about it,” his typical response when pressed to share whether he had asked somebody on a date. After telling me about a potential love interest, I would say, “You should ask her out.” Inevitably, his response would come: “I thought about it.”
As we have been discussing, Jesus came as Lord, but also teacher. He did not come to merely download “Jesus 101” into their brains, he came to show them how to live.
In the past decade or two, the Internet has allowed a resurgent interest in theology with women and men reading Calvin, Spurgeon, and even Augustine. They fill their heads with quotes and strongly held convictions. I speak as an insider. Yet too often, we amateur theologians fail to put into practice what we have learned. What happens when there are large heads on weak bodies? We topple over. Jesus was essentially saying to those of us who want to follow him, “Okay great, you know my message, but do not just keep it in your head. Live a life of love.” Serve one another out of the abundance of your heart.
Jesus, strengthen my hands, my feet, my back, and my heart for the battle you have called me to enter. I am prone to archiving theological knowledge that goes nowhere. Make me one who lives out what I believe, in your Spirit. Amen.