The Counter-Cultural Way Of Love

Love is the most supremely important thing in the world, isn’t it? We write songs about it, lay awake at night longing for it, strategize ways of obtaining it; but it’s true nature and purpose remain elusive and counter-intuitive to most of us.

Love is largely misunderstood.  Billboards, media & music tend to cast it as romantic or sexual. Self-help pundits and counselors promote it as prescriptive and therapeutic to our emotional ailments.  Celebrities and the popular elite hijack it and give it to their rich and beautiful friends, creating blissful relational destinations in a virtual-reality free of the plight of those who have less.

Most Americans don’t understand love because we’ve listened to the wrong voices.  This is why we get caught-up in vain pursuits that don’t produce what we’re looking for.  We’re saturated by images and narratives that make bold promises but deliver loneliness and disillusionment.  This is why so many end-up disappointed, dejected, and discouraged…believing that love has failed them.  I would say that it was not love that they were seeing & seeking, but only mirages that left them thirsty.

When we chase the wrong things, we end-up in unforeseen places where we do not belong.  Each of us is created by our Heavenly Father – who IS LOVE – for love… but we’re constantly being deceived and drawn-away from it by misleading counterfeits.  So what is love?  To find it, we have to forget everything the world has taught us, so that we can rediscover what God says it is.  Here are some examples from my favorite paraphrase of the Bible, called “The Message”:

“Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, Doesn’t have a swelled head, Doesn’t force itself on others, Isn’t always “me first,” Doesn’t fly off the handle, Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, Doesn’t revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end.” (1 Corinthians 13) 

“My dear friends, don’t let public opinion influence how you live out our glorious, Christ-originated faith. If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a street person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, “Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!” and either ignore the street person or say, “Better sit here in the back row,” haven’t you segregated God’s children and proved that you are judges who can’t be trusted? Listen, dear friends. Isn’t it clear by now that God operates quite differently? He chose the world’s down-and-out as the kingdom’s first citizens, with full rights and privileges. This kingdom is promised to anyone who loves God. And here you are abusing these same citizens! Isn’t it the high and mighty who exploit you, who use the courts to rob you blind? Aren’t they the ones who scorn the new name—“Christian”—used in your baptisms? You do well when you complete the Royal Rule of the Scriptures: “Love others as you love yourself.” But if you play up to these so-called important people, you go against the Rule and stand convicted by it. You can’t pick and choose in these things, specializing in keeping one or two things in God’s law and ignoring others.” (James 2) 

”My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves. And friends, once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God! We’re able to stretch our hands out and receive what we asked for because we’re doing what he said, doing what pleases him. “ (1 John 3) 

“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.  In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” (Matthew 5)



“If the Lord is with us, why has all this [misfortune] happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord [deliver us]?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us…”

The words above could have been written yesterday, mirroring the spiritual skepticism of our age; but they were uttered almost 3,200 years ago, as recorded in the early part of the Old Testament book of Judges, by a man named Gideon…just before God showed up, did some crazy miraculous stuff, and changed reality.  They key was Gideon’s belief.

For the most part, American Christians no longer believe in miracles…apparently.  There are a few reasons why.  Part of this, indeed, is because of the immature and impostering few who have made a mockery of God for the rest of us clean-up.  Admittedly, some of us reading this (or writing this) have been willingly or unwillingly part of this…so let’s keep our pointing fingers to ourselves.  Another big reason is fear.  Fear of criticism & rejection by the world we want desperately to identify with…too desperately.  Another one is confusion of God’s role.  We seem to have this unrelentingly skewed perspective that’s God is there to make us happy…that our fulfillment and safety is His end-game.  What we see in scripture and history, however, is that God’s most amazing interventions are about His will, not ours; and He sees all of history with one glance, so His perspective is a bit different.  When we partner with what He is doing, THEN we get to be part of the extraordinary.

Contrary to what you’ve been led to believe by the world around us; God is not dead, but very much alive and active!  The thing is, our perceptions of what is real and compelling are dependent upon what we expose ourselves to…and what we allow to gain dominion over our reasoning.  Are your opinions more informed by media and popular thought, or by God’s timeless wisdom and ways?  Are you reticent to admit that God works miracles because you believe that He cannot temporarily subvert the laws of nature, or because you don’t want to be made to look foolish for hoping?

Lack of trust in God’s desire to/ability to work wonders in the plane of human existence has always had a dampening effect on it.  Even Jesus admitted that He was unable to do many miracles in the small town he grew-up in because of peoples’ lack of faith.  I think that many of us who call ourselves by the Name of Christ, don’t often live as though we actually believe He is still walking with us and desiring to do His work among us today.  Largely, we’ve adopted the critical heart of our culture and try to keep it hidden away while going through the motions of Christianity just in case He actually shows up.  Perhaps that’s too harsh?

“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)

The Greek word “unbeliever” here is “ápistos” – from “a”-“not” and “pistós” – “faithful.” Properly, not faithful because unpersuaded, i.e. not convinced.  So the Bible isn’t talking about people who don’t call themselves Christians or go to church….it’s talking about people who don’t live like they really believe.  It’s a good thing this is a journey, right?

  • “Why doesn’t God do miracles anymore?”
  • “Why aren’t there prophets or epic stories like in ancient times?”
  • “Why does it seem like, when I’m reading the Bible, that I’m reading fairy-tales that are detached from real life…those things just don’t happen anymore.  Where is God now?”

Have thoughts like this ever come to your mind?  Have you ever said them?  I have.  So have my children.  In fact, my inquisitive son has asked me these very questions on more than one occasion…usually accompanied by an eye-roll that corresponded to his age when asking.  But that was before he encountered the Lord for himself, and had the choice of believing on the basis of his own observations & thoughts as he grew older.

Is there really, truly a God?  Or is IT just a projection of human longing & meaning that manifests itself as all the various religions throughout the world’s regions & histories.  If the God of the Bible really is there, can He handle our questions?  Is His ego big enough to accept our inquiries?  Are the histories of His works as recorded in the ancient scriptures reliable enough to survive the fire of investigation? I am one who has asked all of these questions, and continue to aggressively search for answers, even to this day.  I can say with confidence that I believe wholeheartedly that the Biblical stories are true, reliable, and prescriptive.  I also believe that the miracles & meanings that characterized God’s activity in ancient times continue today.  I believe it theologically, because Jesus and His followers (and their followers) experienced it and said that it would continue; and I believe it because I see it with my own eyes, hear about it from people I know and trust, and learn crazy/impossible/wonderful stuff happening all over the world all the time!

There are many alternatives to the explanation that there really is One True God – Yahweh of the Jews; the God of the Patriarchs, Judges, Kings, and Prophets, as recorded in what we today call the Old Testament.  The God and Father of Jesus Christ; the Fulfiller of Prophecies who claimed to be God’s Son, miracle worker and healer, controversial teacher and leader of a Spiritual Rebellion against religious hypocrisy & greed…Who inspired the writing of the New Testament and catapulted the greatest movement of faith, hope & love the world has ever known (or will ever know).  But yes, there are many alternative explanations and paths.  There is always choice in belief…what’s important is to only go where truth and love collide.

I’m tired of listening to people give convincing arguments for why the Bible can’t be taken literally.  I wonder what will happen if, instead of getting blown-over by the wind; we decide to take God at His word, lean into it, and believe Him to show up in ways that He promises.  That’s the journey of faith, let’s do it.

Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (John 14:11-14)

“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” (James 5:13-18)



I have lots of opportunities to spend time with Jesus People of all sorts. Church pastors & preachers, para-church & non-profit leaders, lay leaders who have normal jobs, and church-goers who simply want to understand and follow Jesus in their own lives somehow.  One thing that I see consistently & constantly in just about all of them is some level of confusion regarding what we’re supposed to be aiming for by gathering together…namely, what is “CHURCH?”

Most of the time, when we hear the word “church” in our culture, it refers to a location or a weekly event.  The Greek word translated as “church” appears 114 times in the New Testament, and not once refers to a place or time…it’s people, literally.  Organizations & leaders & sacred practices are not Church….that’s human religion.
All of the people of Jesus are the Church: Each of us beckoned into individual daily communion with Him; commissioned to follow His example in the world we live in; and called to live in interdependent community with small groups of other followers.  This is unmistakably the Biblical model of Jesus and His followers, but it’s a lot easier to just show-up at a big shiny building on Sunday morning that will deliver a taste of all of it into our laps for free, and call it good.  “Life’s too short, we have to make sacrifices along the way…there’s just not enough time to live the Biblical way of Jesus in today’s world…we have to accommodate and be more efficient,” we may think.  Most of us instinctively know this isn’t right, but we don’t act like we know it.  Instead, we act like victims of our culture, settle for daily & weekly & monthly rhythms that squeeze-out God and His people, and wonder why we feel distant from Him and the abundant life that He promised.  Part of this, I think, is because we don’t understand what the Church is.
I feel like the word “church” has been broken & twisted almost beyond recognition in our culture.  With some exceptions, church traditions of all shapes & sizes had their genesis with small numbers of people trying to flesh-out what they’ve considered to be the most compelling aspect of God’s intention for His people together.  So why then, when we look at all the various denominations that have sprung up around the world over the years, do we see such disparity and disagreement…and disillusionment with others?  Why, when we look at the Biblical accounts of the beginning of Jesus’ Church, and compare it to our own present-day corollaries, do they often bear little resemblance to each other?  Why are we making a mockery of one of Jesus’ last & most fervent recorded prayers for the unity of His people? 
I’ll say it.  TRADITION
We love our traditions, but they often distort God’s mission and get in His way.  Even traditions that are meant to be reminders to reengage us with the Father’s heart can have a way of taking-on a life of their own and replacing our focus that belongs to Him.  I’m not anti-tradition, but the older I get the more antagonistic I am becoming about forms & practices that layer-over God’s timeless intentions.  Jesus spoke-out vehemently against manmade traditions that inhibited His Father’s will:

“He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” (Mark 7:6-8)

Here’s a theoretical question…  What do you think would happen to the American Church if church buildings, services, and clergy, suddenly went away?  What impact would that have on the cause of Jesus in Amercia?  It’s really ironic to me that, here in the “land of the free and the brave,” Christianity has been plummeting in free-fall for decades; while in many places where it’s ridiculed, suppressed, and even persecuted, the Kingdom of Christ is exploding….but it doesn’t look anything like our organized western churches.  It looks more like the rapid, uncontrolled, underground, movemental growth we see in the New Testament.
So what’s my point?  I’m not opposed to traditional churches or services or clergy, but it’s essential that we see these as secondary.  Did I just say that? Yes, “GOING TO CHURCH” IS SECONDARY.  
We have believed the lie that showing-up to a 2-hour meeting in a holy building on Sunday morning with a bunch of strangers is the compulsory part of church that will somehow filter into the rest of our lives; while spending time with Jesus on our own, learning & praying with others, and living it out in the world is like “extra credit.”  I’m calling B.S. on that whole mindset.  I’m calling all of Jesus’ people to focus on the essentials and hold our traditions loosely.  “Going to church services is fine, but it is NOT THE CHURCH… any Christian leader worth his/her salt would agree with me.  
BEING THE CHURCH is about living our daily lives
1. In Jesus
2. With Jesus’ People
3. On Jesus’ Mission in the World
Whatever FORM this takes in your life is “your church.”  No fantastic event, no matter how attractive or inspiring, can ever replace this essential common denominator.  Any tradition that muddies, diverts, or squanders this truth must be poured-out so the cup can be full of the Living Water.

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20) 

“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25) 

“Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)