being known for love

“they will know we are christians by our love, by our love.  they will know we are christians by our love.”

– peter scholtes

when we started the refuge 4 1/2 years ago we said that we never wanted people to come to the refuge for the “great teaching, worship, or kids program.”  i am not saying that these things have no value, but i sincerely believe these are the 3 primary reasons many people go to church.  there’s a church i know of with a really amazing preacher & i can honestly say over 13 years i’ve lived in denver that i have never once heard anyone talk about that church in any other context than “so and so’s teaching is amazing.”  i know why these 3 things are highly valued in contemporary church culture–they bring people in the door.  the problem i have with it is that none of these 3 things have anything to do with what seems to be the primary message of Jesus–a sacrifical life of love in relationship with other people. i am not saying that these 3 things make that impossible; of course that would be missing the point.  but i do believe that when we focus on these 3 things first, we very rarely get to the real stuff underneath.

this past saturday night my friend karl taught a short message as part of our saturday series called “living the way” (we’ve been focusing on the epistle passages from the lectionary).  here’s the passage:

Dear brothers and sisters, we can’t help but thank God for you, because your faith is flourishing and your love for one another is growing. We proudly tell God’s other churches about your endurance and faithfulness in all the persecutions and hardships you are suffering… So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do…” 1 thessalonians 3-4, 11

we had a short but lovely conversation about it together and it reminded me of how much i love our little nutty community & how much i continue to learn through being part of it.  when i read this, i see the apostle paul telling this little church to remember three things:

  • your love for one another is growing & that really matters.
  • you will need endurance & faith to keep living this crazy life of love out amidst hardship & suffering.
  • encouragement to do all the good things that our faith leads us to do.

i want to be a person who is known for my love.

and i want the refuge to be a community that is known for its love.

love fueled by Jesus’ love & example.

 

but like almost everything that Jesus tells us in the gospels–it is hard to love.  because love requires patience, kindness, humility and a whole other range of things that don’t come cheap, easy or very naturally for many of us.

our propensity toward serving ourselves is incredibly strong.  and i think that’s what worship, teaching & kids programs can tend to perpetuate.  they’ve got us addicted to inspiration & feeling safe and comfortable instead of pointing us toward the crazy upside down ways of the kingdom where suffering, hardship & in-the-trenches-with-other-people is central.  “the church”, to me, is not about getting my needs met, it is about being part of a group of people who help me learn the ways of Jesus so that i can pass his love & heart on those i intersect with not just with words but with actions.  i always like to call the church “Jesus school.” and i don’t think we learn by passively sitting & listening & going home or keeping ourselves at a distance from our own and others pain & suffering .  every day, i am reminded of how much more there is to learn.

i know i always sing the same song, but i can’t help but think what alcoholics anonymous & 12 step programs are fairly universally known for–a safe place that helps people give up addictions & change their lives. some day i want to do a little data collection to confirm this, but my gut says that if people were asked what “the christian church” is known for, they’d probably say something along the lines of “gathering people together once a week for sermons & singing” or “being against homosexuality & abortion” or a host of other things that probably do not include the word “loving people.”

i think Jesus is fairly clear that love is where it’s at & what he wants to be known for: one of my favorite chunks of scripture is john 13-17, Jesus in the upper room.  today i am reminded of Jesus’ words in john 15:  “love each other as I have loved you. greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends…this is my command: love each other.”

yeah, saturday night was a good little reminder for me.  i feel more clear than ever that i want to be known for our love & that’s it.

and that’s enough.

radical, inclusive, tangible, real, enduring, crazy, against-all-odds-and-what-the-world-and-sometimes-the-church-says-is-practical love.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

9 Comments

  • Loved your thoughts here Kathy. It’s refreshing to see your community practicing excelling at LOVE over programs etc.

    It makes me cringe to see FB status updates like these every Sunday:

    “Our pastor is awesome…the sermon totally rocked today”.

    “Worship was amazing today…the worship team sounded just like Chris Tomlin…”

    For as long as I was plugged into a church…I never even considered that my purpose or anyone’s purpose should be about love…outside of hearing the message “for God so loved the world…” God loved…and my job was to believe that. I went for the worship…and the teaching…and my kids went for the candy and give aways as rewards for bringing their bibles and a friend.

    I hear over and over that I shouldn’t judge that experience…but it’s tough because it was so toxic for me…and to date, it’s not characterized over all for producing a culture known for their love of others.

    Reply
  • There is NOTHING– nothing– Like having a family who has my back the way the refuge has mine, rain or shine. I have never felt so safe and loved.

    Reply
  • This is something I struggle with. In the abusive churches I’ve been in, every attempt to confront bad behavior was met with the phrase, “Now, we need to walk in love and forgiveness.” This was a way to control and sweep abuse under the carpet. One of the things I have seen is that Jesus said, “They will know you are my disciples by your love one for another.” Not our love for everyone…. it really is impossible to love everyone at once unless you are God. I’m not. 🙂

    I know what you are talking about is this genuine love for those who come to you seeking a place of refuge. It is sad that abusive churches have twisted this to control and abuse further.

    I pray God bless and prosper you and what you do… and multiply you.

    Reply
  • Great, great post!

    In a subsequent post could you flesh this out a bit for those of us who aren’t part of the refuge? Are we talking about smiling and shaking some hands, taking a casserole when someone is sick or just had a baby, visiting someone we slightly know who was just charged with a serious crime and is sitting in jail, inviting a gay person who just lost their job and apartment to live in our spare room until they can find a job and housing, or what?

    I am well acquainted with those who will argue without ceasing that one “goes to church” for the worship (by which they mean the music) and the preaching. We go to be “fed”, to “get our batteries recharged”. Yes, we should be friendly to other people, but we’re not there for “social reasons”. We’re there to worship God and hear His Word proclaimed. We don’t want to know that the pastor has marital problems and is hooked on porno, and that most of the music and drama people are closeted gays (at least at church). As long as the music and sermon are good, we’re good.

    Every other week our little group goes “for” service. We pick up trash on the streets, clean alleys and do other types of service in the community to show the love of Jesus to the community. Yeah, I know that most people just don’t get it. Some community people think we’re some kind of social do-gooders, and lots of church types think we’re skipping worship. What I do says what I think on this one.

    Reply
  • Kathy- I was just thinking about this in my head the other day. They will know we are christians by our- correct doctrine??? By our powerful worship?? Noooooo by our love!!! Hope to hear some ways you carry this out at the refuge. I think it would be awesome if more services in churches focused on this as opposed to music and a sermon.

    Reply
  • thanks for always reminding us to fly the flag of love.
    funny, as you know i was preaching at another church sunday morning and i admit, deep in my heart how great it feels to hear the clapping and the “wow, you were awesome, i hope you come back”
    it reminded me again of how it all works: people love inspiration, and i love giving it!

    Reply
  • I have so enjoyed reading your blog. I found it on someone’s blogroll that I read often. It helps really helps to know others are grappling with the things I am trying to have the courage and faithfulness to wrestle my way through. I feel that I have found I friend as I read and hear the stories you share. Thank you.

    Reply
  • skylark – i liked that one, too.

    joy – i think you are so right–a lot of that culture produces some amazing things–inspiration & desire to be part & knowledge about God. but i do think that on the whole it doesn’t translate to a lot of tangible love in the here & now in actions, not words. i know that’s a generalization & there are all kinds of exceptions but that has been my experience & the experience of many others i know.

    tami – yep, it’s family. a wild & crazy & lovely family. thanks for having my back & for being you. couldn’t do this without you.

    katherine – oh i am so with you, the word “love” gets so misconstrued. and it can be used to control and serve ourselves. real love releases, sets free, encourages, sends out, sees the best, is sacrificial & humble.

    sam – well my friend, i am sure there are many gaps as there are many others’ experiences here that would fill in other spaces but i think you get the idea. i hope you can come to denver some time & hang out with us. that would be so fun.

    robert – ha. that is so true. sometimes i call it “an adventure in missing the point”. i also think services could focus on it but in reality the only way to do it is to do it & not just talk about it. to model it & live it & muck it up together.

    karl – hey, it’s okay to get some props now & then! i am so glad that you are sharing in other venues where you actually get a little extra love & infuse some others with hope & challenge in the lovely way you do. the wider church needs your voice. soak in all the claps you can because we all know that ain’t happening here, ha ha.

    kfsullivan – thanks so much for sharing & i am so glad the carnival stirs up some good stuff for you. grappling is a great word & so accurate & i have always wanted this to be a place where people felt a little less alone & a little more challenged. i know it does it for me. peace to you.

    Reply

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