Thursday, April 25, 2013

Agape Now - The Gospel of Love

This week, I had lunch with an Asian-Indian friend, Ashish, and his wife Natalie. I just love meeting with diaspora peoples like Ashish to learn from them and hear their stories. Ashish, Natalie and their two children are sensing the call of God to go back to India and serve the Hindu people there. They have been accepted by an excellent agency and are preparing for life in India. You have to truly love a people to want to serve them, especially in such a hard place like India, which may be why so few heed the call to go. Please take a moment to pray for this precious family that God would use them to share his Gospel of Love throughout India. 

Over lunch, Ashish shared with me about his work and we discussed Hinduism. Ashish told me that in Hinduism only high caste Hindus can be "saved" (Moksha). The lower caste and Dalit (untouchables) have no opportunity, they have no hope of salvation. Their only hope is to be reincarnated in a higher caste but there is no way of knowing if they will. Is it any wonder, in such a hopeless existence, extreme poverty is the norm. Ashish also shared that because high caste Hindus believe they already have a path to salvation that is it difficult to reach them with the Gospel. On the one hand, you have people who think they have it made and on the other you have people who think they have no chance of making it. But Jesus came for both, sent on a mission of love to the Brahman and the Dalit.

Hindus believe that no particular religion teaches the only way to salvation above all others, but that all genuine religious paths are facets of God's pure love and light, deserving tolerance and understanding. How could it be then that so many Hindus live without hope, outside of God's love and light, deserving tolerance and understanding but finding neither? I don't understand and don't have the answers to that question, if one exists. However would God's pure love and light not be available to even the "untouchables," if it was indeed pure love and light?

Jesus came because God so loved the world, every soul, every person, desiring none to perish apart from the knowledge of his great love for them (2 Peter 3:9). Jesus touched the "untouchables" because he loved them, he cared for them, he wanted the best for them, he wanted to restore them to wholeness. If we are to follow in the way of Jesus, how can we want less for people then for them to know they too are loved, genuinely, deeply, profoundly loved? It is a message unique to Christianity. It cost the Father, which is a term of endearment unknown to other religions, the life of his Son to express his love to mankind. It's been said that when Jesus stretched out his arms on the cross, what was unspoken was...

Also this week, I chatted with a dear brother and friend who I hadn't seen since moving to McKinney eight years ago. My friend told me that the Great Commandment to love God and love others was the law and that we have moved beyond the law. Our message is salvation, he said, and the Gospel is 1 Corinthian 15 - meaning the message Paul preached was Jesus, life, death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. My friend also told me that we don't need to befriend others for Christ, as our conversation was about Muslims in light of the Boston bombing. We only need to preach the Gospel to them. At least that was my understanding of what my friend was sharing. My heart sank and I was truly saddened by how my friend missed our "Mission of Love" (see previous post), especially given the fact that so many billion of people don't know God loves them, especially given the fact that 85% of Muslim who come to faith in Christ do so because of a love of Christian. But I want to extend my friend grace since I recall that it wasn't that long ago when I thought has he did. Tragically, that is a sentiment of way to many Christians today, perhaps unspoken in person but expressed on Facebook posts and blogs - which is often today the revealer of what is truly in our hearts. We focus so much on one element of the mystery of Christ, the salvation he provides through the cross, that we miss the overarching reason for the salvation He provides - God's great love and that calls us to a life of love.

The phrase "Gospel of Love" is not found in Scripture but then again neither is the word "Trinity."  Both are implicit throughout however. If our message to those who are so desperately lost and those who are so desperately hurting is salvation only, we may miss the very reason why Jesus came (John 3:16). We may miss what he told us about his ministry (John 5:19) and we may miss the reality of a God who is love and what that means for us (1 John 4:20). We may also miss the fact that love isn't optional but a necessity for those who claim to follow Christ (Matthew 22:38-39). And, I think we do often miss it, which may be why Christians, especially Evangelicals, are known more for what we stand against than what we stand for. What would change if we were known as a people who stood for love?

Yes, the Gospel is about salvation, that is central to understanding our faith. We desperately need to be saved, but all religions claim to have a path of salvation, at least for some like the Hindu high caste. The difference between the Christian faith and all others is that God says in his great love - "you're to die for." The grace poured out at the cross is an act of the greatest love ever expressed. Forgiveness is an act of love that says you are worthy of being restored to loving relationship. The Good News is a story of love that brings healing, wholeness and blessing. God's love is our motivation for mission (2 Corinthians 5:14) and must be our guide of how we relate to others. In a world of untouchables, of marginalized, of the "least of these," the Good News is that love is the greatest force in the universe (1 Cor 13:13).

How can we then dare say that the Gospel is only about salvation, as a ticket to heaven? Why would we ever reduce the pure love and light of God, displayed in Christ, to an act of accepting an idea about God? The Gospel in all it's fullness is grand and glorious beyond our understanding but it can be experienced more fully, just as God can be experienced relationally. While the phrase the "Gospel of Love" is not used in Scripture, the phrase most commonly used is "Gospel of God." Since God is love, therefore, the "Gospel of Love" is not only accurate but is its highest expression. The Bible also uses the phrase the "Gospel of your salvation" once (Ephesians 1:13). But salvation is an act of a loving God, who in his mercy and goodness, expressed his love in a mind bending, history altering, life changing way.

We who understand the love of God, or are beginning to, must live a life of love, at least as best we can. The Good News is also that in Christ, we have been given everything we need to do so (2 Peter 1:3 ). We're not called to simply accept or even simply to share the Gospel but to live it (Colossians 1:10), living what my friend Dr. Paul Louis Metzger calls an Relational-Incarnational apologetic. The Apostle Paul understood life is best lived as an expression of love, when he called us to a more excellent way. I'll explore some the life of a Gospel of Love in our next post in this series.

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