Thursday, August 8, 2013

Set apart

What specifically do we do as Christians, tangibly, that sets us apart from the average person who doesn't follow Jesus but say they strive to live a good life? Think for a moment on one person you know (hopefully you know at least one) that claims to be a good person but has no faith in any God whatsoever. Now consider that you two are observed together for an entire day. Make it a normal day where typical activity occurs, like work, running errands, driving in traffic, interacting with a spate of others, etc.

Now, imagine this observation has been videotaped and is now being watched by a third party that has never met either of you. Would there be a noticeable difference between the two of you? Would an impartial, unbiased observer be able to discern that you are a Christian? Would the observer question the status of your friend?

These are significant questions for you and me if we are indeed followers of Jesus. In John 13:34-35, Jesus told his disciples “Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples – when they see the love you have for each other”.

Without any understanding of scripture, it might be easy to suggest that your friend loves you and you love your friend so therefore you are both actually doing exactly what Jesus preached to his disciples. The truth, however, is that Jesus loved his disciples (and us) in a radically different way. Jesus came to pay a debt that we could never pay. His sacrifice was (and is) the greatest example of love that has ever been shown to mankind (you and I). That kind of love is not something we are used to demonstrating to others.

Our love for each other must be noticeably different. So much so that anyone watching will be inclined to want to know more. In fact, our love for each other should transcend even the love Jesus showed us! John 14:12-14 is clear. Jesus tells his disciples that they will do even greater things than he did! You and I are included in that epiphany, that we will do greater things than even Jesus did, can you believe that?! We are called to do great things but I think we lose sight of our calling because this world convinces us otherwise. Without clear direction and focus, we not only fall short, we lack discipline, foresight and a clear understanding of our commission from Jesus.

To be set apart is to be placed outside of the natural boundaries of the world around you, specifically for a purpose. We as Christ followers have been set apart from the world to do the work of the Father, to do the work of Jesus, to be his hands and feet and to seek and save the lost, as Jesus came to do (Luke 19:10). Our command has always been straight forward but we seem to lose sight quite often. This is evidenced by how we treat each other, let alone how we treat those outside of the church. If the world is to experience the love of Jesus, it is going to come from His followers. But what does that look like?

The radical thing about how Jesus demonstrated his love for us is that Jesus saw past the messy, dirty, messed up lives of those he came in contact with and offered them love. And not just any love, but eternal life kind of love. Grasping the breadth of that kind of love takes some concentration, but I believe that we are called to do just that. Again, we have been set apart by Jesus, to do the work of the Father, living in His will, to do something Big, Bold and Beautiful; we have been called to Love one another.

Nowhere in the Bible does it say to simply love those who look like you (see Matthew 5:43-48). Nowhere in the Bible does it say to love only those who are in your circle of friends (see Luke 10:30-37). Nowhere in the Bible does it say you should have an attitude of selfishness (see Philippians 2:1-5). In fact, the Bible is chocked full of illustration after illustration of God’s love for us, imploring us on to love as he has loved us (see John 3:16). We should literally get carried away with loving one another, caring for each other and reaching out to meet the needs of everyone around us.

This all comes down to the intent of your heart. You must examine your heart and your mind, as Paul instructed, to be singularly focused on Jesus. With a focus like that, you will not be able to help how you treat others, how you reach out and love them, regardless of what they look like or who they represent in your life. Your intentions change when you become a Christ follower, from being a servant of the world to being a servant to others for Christ and his kingdom.

Being set apart is unfortunately one of those “churchy” euphemisms that we throw around expecting everyone knows what we’re all talking about. It’s true that God has set his people apart, to be holy and to do the work that Jesus has commissioned us to do, but saying all of that is very “churchy” isn’t it? Do you share with you un-churched friends about how you’re “set apart”? Probably not. So instead, let me ask you this; what are you set apart to do? The will of the Father, yes indeed. But what is the will of the Father?

In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus was crystal clear what is most important. Jesus said we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind. And what did he say next? Jesus said that it is equally as important to love your neighbor as yourself. This has to be one of the most pivotal verses in the entire Bible because it does not mince words, it is succinct, it is to the point, it is essential and it is from the mouth of Jesus. We have been set apart to love one another and we are called to do so in nearly the same way we love our Lord!

In another place, Jesus defined who our neighbor is, specifically noting that we are all neighbors, even those we do not know, and especially those who we might not consider talking to ever. Our calling to love one another is not only our commission, but it is what will actually constitute the very body of Christ, otherwise known as the church. The church was not formed by disillusioned people, but rather men and women who were willing to sacrifice everything for each other. That is radical thinking compared to the kinds of churches we see here in America and even abroad. The Acts church model is one of love, and in that act of love we see blessing upon blessing that is bestowed to God’s people.

We have to get to a place where we no longer see political affiliations but instead see a brother in Christ. We need to look past differences and instead find commonalities and build bridges. We need to get out of the comfortable spaces we reside in and step out and build relationships with those both inside and outside of the church. All of this will take time and will especially take bold commitments on the part of followers of The Way. But, Jesus said we can do it. In fact, he was so bold as to say we would not only do it but we would do even greater things, in his name!

You and I have a purpose. Our purpose is to love Jesus and love each other. Stop putting caveats on your love and open your eyes to a world that desperately wants and needs to be loved. When that happens, the world will not only see what love is, but more importantly, they will see the difference.

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