Posted 6/17/20 —
This past weekend, our family ventured out to spend some time together in Ocean City Maryland as we have done many times in the past. We enjoy the ocean, the sand, mini-golf and go-carts, Fisher’s popcorn, and, most of all, the trip down to the boardwalk for a large bucket of Thrasher’s French Fries.
Yet this year’s twelve block trek down the boardwalk for our Thrasher’s fries felt different than in any year in the past. I noticed an uncomfortableness, heaviness, and uneasiness in the air. People seemed to be avoiding eye contact. People seemed to be speaking more loudly, crassly, and more angrily than usual. I felt myself becoming irritated, uncomfortable, and even judgmental of those who passed by.
As we made our way down the boardwalk that evening, I wish I could say I had an “AH HA!” moment of spiritual clarity in knowing how to respond. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure what to think and didn’t have anything helpful to say to my family. So we just walked on and got our fries.
However, over the coming days, I’ve have been reflecting on this experience in light of everything going on around us. And one question keeps coming to mind that I recently heard Andy Stanley challenge me with:
“What does love require of me?”
What does love require of me in this particular situation at this particular point in time? As I personally seek to follow Jesus, I believe my priorities are simple but not easy:
Jesus clearly explains and repeatably demonstrates throughout Scripture that my neighbor is the person who happens to be in front of me right now—the person who crosses my path, including those who are hurting, grieving, suffering, persecuted, overlooked, or forgotten.
My neighbors include those who are different from me, those who have had different life experiences that I don’t understand. And those neighbors are typically the ones who are hardest for me to see. I suspect I am not the only one who has this challenge.
Loving our neighbor isn’t easy work. The truth is that it’s difficult and messy. There is a cost to it. It often costs us our convenience, our priorities, our pride, and our personal agendas.
Yet I believe that if we lean into it, this type of love will stretch us, refine us, and scrape off our rough edges, moving us to be more like the character of Christ every day. It will cause us to see people more like He does. It will cause us to take the time to listen, to truly hear and feel our neighbors’ stories and better understand their perspectives.
And, ultimately, it will demand that we respond out of love just as He does.
In the past few weeks, our nation has experienced and seen in vivid clarity the murder of George Floyd. We’ve heard cries for reform through demonstrations and peaceful protests in our country and around the world. We’ve witnessed images of riots, looting, and violence. We’ve watched our social media platforms blow up with heated dialogue from all sides and perspectives.
And we’ve experienced this all in the middle of dealing with the daily realities and difficult circumstances created by the global COVID-19 pandemic.
As I’ve continued to take it all in, Andy’s question keeps coming to mind: What does love require of me?
What does love require of me in the midst of all this? What does love require of me in this moment in time, where I am right now? What does love require of me when I read a Facebook post that makes my blood boil? What does love require of me when my unconscious tendency is to discredit someone’s story and perspective different than my own?
What does love require of me in the ways I interact with and the example I set for my children, Josh and Sophie? Or in the words I say to my wife, Geralyn? Or in the way I lead my team and advise my clients at work?
As a white middle-class male in living in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, what does love require of me when I hear the stories of heartache, frustration, and anger in the Black community?
While the answer to this question may be different for each of us and take different forms, here’s what I believe it looks like for me:
Love requires me to begin to be more intentional about seeing and seeking to better understand all of my neighbors—especially those who are seemingly most different from me. Seeing them and relating to my neighbors as Christ sees me, and seeking to understand and relate to them as Christ understands and relates to me. And then it demands a response—an action—to respond and act out of the same love that Christ continually demonstrates to me.
Right now, right here, the cries of my Black neighbors echo loudly.
So to my Black neighbors, I say: I hear you. I will try to see you better. I will try to better understand. I grieve with you and am angry alongside you. I will stand with you.
In the midst of all the upheaval, pain, conflicting political agendas, and 24-hour news cycles, my hope and prayer is that we as a LifeGuide family are able to sift through all the noise and continue to seek Christ’s heart by asking ourselves, “What does love require of us? What does love require of me? What does love require of me in this moment, in this place”
I firmly trust and believe that if we ask and act on that question, in His strength, that our collective neighbors will catch a glimpse of the only true answer for our hurting and broken world: the heart and hope of Jesus our savior.
To close, I’d like to share a prayer I heard recently from pastor Kevin Deyoung that impacted me greatly:
We pray for repentance for those who sinned against George Floyd, those who have responded in sin, and those of us—perhaps all of us—who have harbored sin in our hearts toward those who seem to be on the other side, part of the other team, those who vote for the other party.
We pray for whatever necessary reforms might give hope and healing and dignity and the feeling of safety for our Black brothers and sisters, especially here in our church. We pray for bravery and safety, and fortitude for our law enforcement officers. Give them wisdom, strength, integrity, and grace as they lead through these difficult days.
We pray for our political, religious, and civic leaders. May they be humble, honest, measured, principled, and open to good ideas no matter where they come from. May they be self-sacrificing, disciplined, courageous, and compassionate. Where we have such leaders, may we listen to them and follow them. Where our leaders do not exhibit these qualities, help them to change and repent. We seek peace for our city and all the cities of this great country.
We weep. We lament. We mourn. But not as those who have no hope.
May gospel beauty rise from these smoldering, literal ashes. May truth triumph over lies and grace conquer lawlessness. May your people be one as you, O Father, and your Son are one. May the church—the body of Christ, the bride of Christ—rise up as an example of love and with a message of salvation for a weary and war-torn world.
Give us the grace to serve you, O God, and, if necessary, the grace to suffer for what is right. Give us the peace and health and safety we do not deserve. Give us the reformation and revival we need.
— Doug Denlinger