For the next few weeks I want to talk about something that I am super passionate about. I tell you this up front because if you don’t know me personally, that is my cue to you that you might want to ready yourself for what I have to say.
If you know me…well, you already get the point.
I’ve shared with you how I have the opportunity every day to get up and go to a “job” that I love at a place called The Link of Cullman County. I put the word “job” in quotations because for me this is much more of a calling than it ever is a job. I am a steward of a vision that is not mine, but God’s. He allows me to serve my community through, what I believe, is an incredible mission to love those on the margins, in the fringes, can seem invisible, and often times forgotten.
However, though it is my call to lead this vision in Cullman, Al I truly believe with everything in me that it is every believer’s call to also be involved in this vision. You may be thinking…
“Why? I am not passionate about serving the poor, the marginalize, the underserved like you are… I love animals, or conservation, or finding a cure for cancer.”
All of those things are of utmost importance, but if you’ll give me a moment of your time I’ll share with you how God has place at the center of His heart for humanity to love one another as the primary goal.
Let me start by telling you a story about a friend of mine that I have known for more than three years now. Her name is Sherry. When I first met Sherry, she was an inmate in the Cullman County Detention Center and I was her Jobs for Life™ teacher. Jobs for Life™ is a biblically based jobs preparedness class that teaches the unemployed and underemployed the value of a job and how God created all of us for work.
Sherry looked like she was in her mid-fifties but she’s in her early 40s, she has a very husky voice which is from years of smoking cigarettes and the crack pipe. She looked “rough.” She spoke “rough.” She asked very blunt questions and though she was trying hard to follow after Jesus, she still had a lot of issues to overcome. She could only read at a 4th grade level. Sherry’s only legal job over the last twenty years or so was working at a Burger King for a few months. However, her resume included prostitute, stripper, madam, and drug dealer. The second week of class she let me know that her and her former partner were both in the class, but that they have accepted Christ as savior and decided their relationship did not honor God.
She also had leadership skills, charisma, and the ladies around her always showed her respect…though that may have been out of fear.
But she was hungry for Jesus, and for that she earned my respect.
Sherry was not easy for me to love. We were as opposite as they come, everything about her screamed, “FIX ME!” And I thought I knew exactly how I was going to accomplish that.
But everything I thought I could do to make her “right,” God showed me was completely wrong.
All the expectations I had for that relationship I had to throw out the window, God has shown me over and over again…I didn’t need to fix her, I just needed to love her.
In Romans 12:9-21 Paul (our assumed author) talks about putting our love into action.
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
So what is Paul saying here? He’s sharing with us some really great advice on how to engage with the people who we rub shoulders with in every day life…
the woman in the checkout line in Walmart who has a cart full of food, kids running around her hips and food stamps in her hand,
the man with the tattoos, gauges in his ears and shaved head,
the guy with baggy pants and the hooded sweatshirt,
the lady wearing the latest and greatest trends and
the young adult who looks like he hasn’t bathed in a week.
He’s saying to us get into people’s lives, love them where they are and for who they are.
See Paul knew something about humanity…we see people from our own perspectives which is mainly a view of what is on the outside. And because we don’t always like what we see, we want to fix them.
We want to give them what they need and send them on their way.
But here’s the thing, there is more to us then the mask we put on.
In Genesis 1:27 it says, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
We bear the image of God. We were sandwiched into creation, Adam before all of the animals and Eve as the crown of all creation.
We are His image bearers, created in His likeness. We are the most precious in his sight.
In v. 11 of our Romans text it says, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”
So if we take the idea that we are made in the image of God and that we are to be devoted to one another, honoring one another above our selves, we can clearly see we are to HONOR the image bearer.
Honor which means to give high esteem and respect.
We are to give high esteem and respect to the image bearer. The image bearer who was born into a family with a silver spoon in their mouth, the image bearer who has different color skin then your own, the image bearer who may be physically impaired or mentally delayed, the image bearer whose family can’t keep the lights on or the water running and therefore has poor hygiene, the image bearer who sleeps on the park bench (yes, even in Cullman, AL), the image bearer who sells their body to help pay the bills, the image bearer who looks like they are all rough and tough on the exterior but has learned to build the walls to stop the hurt from drowning them.
You see in the eyes of God we are all bearers of His image and therefore loved by Him and His command to us is to honor one another above yourselves.
In honoring …we engage. We love in the ups and downs of life. We don’t give up. We pray and we DREAM BIG and fall hard on the Lord.
We cry with each other, we rejoice with each other, and we mourn with each other. We do not repay evil for evil, rather we love our enemies.
This is why I say to you, to love the homeless, the prostitute, the incarcerated, the marginalized, the poor, the destitute, is just as much your call as it is mine. There is no getting around it.
So I want you to consider today, how you are showing honor “above yourselves” to the image bearers around you.
My challenge three years ago was to learn how to love Sherry as an image bearer.
Today Sherry is out of jail and has nearly three and a half years sober under her belt. She is working three jobs to support herself. She gives back to organizations she believes in, organizations that gave to her like us, like the rehab she attended for 6 months. She attends church every Sunday and is engaged in a small group. She is constantly recruiting people to attend church or meetings with her. She’s graduated from the IOP program through the Mental Health Care of Cullman. She is being reconciled to family members and constantly sharing Jesus with nearly every person she meets. She is one of the bravest people I know. And I am so honored to be her friend because she regularly challenges me to go deeper with Jesus and to love people even more than I think I already am.
Looking at us, you’d still say we couldn’t be more opposite, but we are both image bearers of God. She is my sister in Christ, we share the same Heavenly Father and we are both still trying to figure out how to become more like Jesus. So different on the outside, yet so very much the same.
God is calling you and me, regardless of what we do, to honor the image bearers around us. So for the next few weeks we’re going to explore some of these issues in more depth. How do we show love to those who have no homes. What does it look like to show honor and dignity to a woman who earns money by selling her body? Can we share the gospel with an addict? Does God care about the incarcerated, don’t they deserve what they have received…and more.
So stick with me cause we are going to journey through this together. Learning how to love those that are hard to love because they may be so different than ourselves.
My challenge to you is how can you start to do that this week? How can you not just love the ones that are easy to love and show honor to the ones that are easy to show honor to, but how you can place those in “lowly place” above yourself so that you are loving as your Heavenly Father has loved to you?