For their "Talk to Me" video series, in which parents interview their children or adult children interview their parents, recently The Huffington Post encouraged their bloggers to participate. While my wife and I don't have children, we do have two delightful nephews; my sister and brother-in-law's children, ages five and one. Xavier, the five-year-old, always has interesting questions for me and we have great conversations together, so I decided to interview him for this project.
For me, life is all about relationships. It's about offering sacrificial love to others because of God's loving demonstration to me of what love is. Years ago the renowned Gospel songstress Mahalia Jackson gave us traveling music for this journey of love:
If I can help somebody, as I pass along.
If I can cheer somebody, with a word or song.
If I can show somebody, how they're traveling wrong.
Then my living shall not be in vain.
We should be a mechanism through which God's love can be felt.
Speaking to his friends, the disciples, we find a snippet of Jesus' words in John 15:12-13. "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." I hope that somehow, someway Jesus' words ignite revival within all who believe. Sadly, contrary to the words of Jesus just referenced, Christians aren't always known for laying their lives down for others, and even when we do, you could argue that it's sometimes in an insincere, manipulative way intended to colonize or conquer, to confuse, or to control. Increasingly, we're less committed to building brides to people who cannot give us an identifiable, sizable return on our investment.
Easter is an event that no doubt shook-up the world. We should celebrate Easter as we did a few weeks ago, and now as we continue in the season of Eastertide, honoring Jesus as the risen, resurrected Lord. It is, after all, because of Easter that Christianity exists. Easter proves that Jesus wasn't a lunatic. The prophecies were true. God is not a liar. This ragamuffin from the lowly town of Nazareth was without chosen to save the world. But amidst the hunting of multicolored eggs, the eating of candy, the embracing of fuzzy-wuzzy bunny rabbits, Jesus is lost in the sauce of our selfishness. How can people have faith in the Lord and ask him to save them, if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear, unless someone tells them? It's hard to hear, much less understand and receive the Gospel. So, let me ask, "Who are you dying for?"
That seems to be Jesus' charge to us -- this idea that there's nothing more profound, nothing more awe-inspiring, no higher illustration of love than for someone to lay down their life for another. Of course, in this specific instance Jesus is speaking about how Christians should be in relationship to one another, fellow believers, but the implication also is that Jesus expects them, and that Jesus expects us to die for those who are far from him because, well, that's what he did for us. While we were still helpless sinners, he died for the ungodly, proving his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
You don't have to be a super Christian -- whatever that is -- in order to do this work. Whether the Lord has destined you to be a mother or father one day, a military serviceman or servicewoman, or a mathematician. Whether God's will is that you enter business, or science, law, or music, or medicine. Whether the Holy Spirit desires that you become a writer or entrepreneur. No matter what you do in life vocationally or personally, you can be exactly you, whatever your name is, exactly who God created you to be and you can do the sacred, missional work that all who follow Jesus are called to. You can take your time, your money, your power, your talent, your preference, and your privilege, and use all of it to lay down your life in order that someone else might feel God in how you treat them.
One person I'm dying for is Xavier, the nephew I mentioned earlier. When a few years ago he was diagnosed with an eating disorder that makes him sensitive to the texture and taste of certain foods, so much so that he'd gag while you were trying to feed him, whenever I could fit it into my schedule I decided to make the roughly 80-mile round-trip drive to some of his appointments with a specialist because I wanted him to know that I love him very much. When he wants to talk to me, I make it a point to be present with him and take our conversations seriously because I want him to know that I value him. When now as a kindergartner he sometimes feels a bit melancholy or indifferent about wanting to go to school, I try to surprise him with a visit because I want him to know how special he is to me.
In my interview with Xavier I asked him, "Do you know that I love you?" And he said, "Yes." So, I asked, "How do you know that I love you?" Xavier responded by putting his pint-size hand on his heart and he pointed to his heart to indicate that he feels my love for him because of how I treat him. Since his birth my prayer has been that he will one day come to know God's unending love for him, and that maybe it won't take him twenty years like it did me, that maybe it will be different for him. Xavier's not my child, but I can lay my life down for him. I can act in such a way that the Holy Spirit has living, breathing, practical, relational evidence through my behavior to communicate to Xavier a portion of how much God loves him.
Laying your life down for others isn't primarily about if they will eventually become a Christian or not. Yes, it would be awesome if they do one day decide to join the family of God. That's what we pray for. That's what we long for. That's what we hope for. But our actions must be rooted in love that's unashamed and sacrificially committed to the long-haul because God's love for us is unconditional. Jesus is clear in his declaration: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends."
Who are you dying for?