Loving Jesus isn’t such a hard thing to do. Granted, we are sinful by nature so our love is nothing great, but even so Jesus is pretty easy to love. Loving Jesus is something I can do at anytime and anywhere, no matter how I’m feeling or how busy I am.
I never have a problem loving Jesus.
But what do I have trouble with? Serving Jesus.
We don’t like to serve Jesus NOT because we don’t like Him—we love Him–it’s just that Jesus says we serve Him best when we serve others, and that’s the part we have trouble with. Jesus says, “Whatever you do for the least of these my brothers you do for me” (Matthew 25:40). “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).
You see… I think serving Jesus would be just fine if we didn’t have to serve others. Others are the problem.
I can pick the perfect time to love Jesus. I can wake up early before the day gets busy, sit on the couch with a warm blanket, read my devotions, say my prayers, think happy thoughts. But serving my neighbor? Well, that might be required at any moment. It might mean interrupting my busy schedule. It’s such a pain in the neck. Serving my neighbor means that I actually have to pay attention to my neighbor’s needs, his or her feelings, what makes him or her happy or sad. It means actually caring about the problems they face. It might mean their happiness before my own. I have plenty of my own problems and needs and things that I want to accomplish… who has time for the neighbor?
It’s just too much trouble.
Additionally, why does “neighbor” have to be such an expansive term? It includes everyone. Your family–parents, husband or wife, children, siblings. if you go to school–your teacher, classmates, the janitors or lunch ladies. For grown-ups–your boss, your coworkers. If you live in a small town or community—the person who checks you out at the Dollar General or Walmart, the teller at the bank, the person who cuts your hair. It is basically all the people that you live with and encounter on a daily basis.
And you know as wonderful as all these people are and even as much as we love some of them, you and I don’t have a really strong desire to serve them. It’s not that we wouldn’t offer a helping hand to any of these folks in a real pickle of a bad situation–maybe once or twice here or there, we’re happy to “pay it forward.” But serve them?
No. Not really. No thank you.
Our own lives are complicated enough. We’d rather just keep to ourselves, love Jesus, and do our own thing.
But this morning we come across these two words:
— SALT & LIGHT —
How do we get around these words?
Salt and light change everything—every thing they touch. Salt and light can’t help but make a difference. Salt and light make things better.
“You are the salt of the earth…” “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven.” I’ve always thought that these verses make the perfect mission statement for the Christian life. If only I could be a Matthew 5:16 person.
This morning, as write this devotion, these thoughts have me thinking of the very first foster-daughter my wife and I had the privilege of loving. Her name was Alaska. Her unusual name was a perfect fit for the fiery little red-headed, smart-as-a-whip two-year-old that she was. She loved to laugh and talk and talk and talk. She was full of energy. Yet, despite the smile that she worked hard to wear every day, life had been especially cruel to Alaska.
She and her six-month-old sister, Paisley, had been removed from their home and given into our custody because a cousin who lived with them had been sexually molested. Since the cousin was only 1 year old, CPS suspicioned that Alaska and Paisley might also have been abused sexually. However, thankfully, Alaska didn’t show any physical signs of sexual abuse, but almost every day we discovered clues that pointed to some type of past abuse. For example, at end of bath time, when it was time to dry off, she would always stop us and say, “Are you going to hurt me?” We had to promise that we wouldn’t harm her before she’d let us proceed. She also had a strange custom at bedtime: Each night, right after we say prayers with her and tucked her in, she’d insist on having a sippy cup full of milk. Of course, most two-year-old’s do this, but unlike most two-year-olds, Alaska would only drink half the milk and then tuck the sippy cup under the covers. If we tried to take the milk away from her, she’d throw a wall-eyed fit. She simiply had to have that sippy cup with her at night. Later we discovered why.
In the affidavit provided by CPS, which described conditions in the house that Alaska was taken out of, it noted that Alaska and her sister had often been kept in their cribs for 17 and 18 hours a day. Why? Because her mom and dad would get so high on drugs at night and pass out and wouldn’t wake up until noon the next day. Apparently, Alaska had learned—even at such a young age—to insist on getting a sippy cup full of milk and keep it under the covers so that the next morning she’d have something to fill her stomach while she waited the long hours for her parents to get up and get her out of bed.
Details about abuse like this broke our hearts for Alaska and we loved her all the more. Loving her was easy.
However, serving Alaska was not easy. As you can imagine, she had many behavioral problems, and while Pam and I had initially thought that we could take care of that by giving her some good, stern discipline, we soon learned otherwise.
For good reasons, CPS doesn’t allow foster parents to spank foster children or administer corporal punishment. While such forms of discipline can be effective for healthy children in healthy families, for children who come out of abusive situations, this kind of discipline can actually reinforce and encourage bad behavior. We learned this first hand with Alaska.
There are all sorts of other kinds of gentler ways to discipline a two year old. You can use time-outs. You can even use a two-year-old’s obsessive compulsiveness tendencies against them. It’s amazing how much compliance you can get out of a two-year-old when you threaten to do something as simple as take their shoes off. I don’t know why that works so well, but it’s hilarious and USUALLY it’s pretty effective.
But these tricks didn’t work so well with Alaska. She worked hard to get us to show anger and yell. Out of the blue, she’d do something that she knew was wrong, as if she wanted us to react with anger and yell and fuss and send her to “time out.” In fact, it seemed like the more we tried to love her, the more she tried to create physical or emotional distance between her and us. It didn’t make any sense. We thought at first that we weren’t being stern enough. We had spanked our biological children when they were intentionally rebellious, disrespectful and defiant. They grew up to be well behaved children. So we assumed that Alaska was acting the way she was because we couldn’t give her the “stern” discipline she needed.
Later, we learned how wrong we were. We learned that children from abusive backgrounds behave this way instinctively. They push people away—not because they want to—it’s just how they respond to love. They’ve grown up being hurt and abused by people who were supposed to love them, and so they learn to push loving people away. It becomes their natural reflex toward anyone who tries to love them.
Therefore, as odd as it may seem, for a little girl like Alaska, the best discipline was to show her as much tender love as possible. The best discipline was drawing her closer rather than sending her away. What Alaska needed all those times she acted out–hitting and scratching and throw a fit—was someone to pull her close, hug her tight and not let go. She needed love that held on to her. She need love that was more than just words. She needed love that expressed itself in loving, patient, caring action.
I think that’s the same kind of love that Jesus wants you and me to show to the world around us, a world that’s full of all kinds of abuse. A world full of sin. A world that’s gotten really good at pushing God away. A Matthew 5:16 love is a love that is willing to be inconvenienced. A Matthew 5:16 love is one that draws people closer to the Father. A Matthew 5:16 love is the very love that Jesus showed sinners, even as He was being nailed to the cross.
Lord, let me be salt and light, wherever I am. Let me see Alaska in all the people You have surrounded me with. Let me remember that whatever I do for the least of these, I do for You. Amen.