The Law of Love in Missional Endeavor

January 14, 2014

After two good weeks of being on my own between chemotherapy rounds— lonesome for the stimulation of daily conversation with care-giving friends—yesterday at the start of Round 3 my day was full of interesting dialogue. I find myself “rehearsing” my blog topics and get the most interesting feedback! 

We’ve been talking about a missional mindset and its implications for evangelism and outreach at the personal level. My last two posts (here and here) explored our mission field of the religiously allergic and our own reticence to take risks in order to convey the gospel to them. Today, I would like to ponder a particular scenario and possibly raise an exception to “the rule” I have been laying out there.

Many of the people we have close relationships with are family members. Due to our pluralistic society and the scattering of families for education and employment around the country, a family of origin may no longer be homogeneous from a religious standpoint. I daresay the membership of your church family does not comprise primarily folks who are cradle Presbyterians or life-long Lutherans either. So think about the families they came from, even as you assess the life paths of your parents, siblings, and children. It seems less likely now that they are singing out of the same hymnal or have maintained the same spiritual and religious vocabulary. Some may even have chucked the faith altogether.

This diversity of belief is real in my family (all generations), too. My family of origin and my next-generation family represent the entire spectrum of belief, from professed atheism to strong Christian orthodoxy, from liberal to conservative Christianity, from committed Roman Catholic to ordained Presbyterian to non-denominational. Let’s just say, there’s lots of potential for fireworks at Thanksgiving.

I continue to live my life for Christ as best I can and manage the current challenge of lung cancer, and I have a burning passion for missional living and giving a non-ambiguous witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Even as I say that, I know that a conversation with certain family members about the Bible, Christian faith, or their personal spiritual journey is off the table. We’ve had those conversations before, and they have made themselves clear, their lives reflect their decisions and values, and they are living out their various commitments as consistently as they know how. If Jesus were in my shoes and relating with my family, what would he be doing in response to these apparent closed doors?

He would love each and every one of my family members. Just love them. He would find ways to relate to them on their turf. He would ask the question internally, “How does [so-and-so] receive love, and what of that can I give to convey my affection for this unique creation of God?” I may think it is loving to advance an uninvited apologetic argument, because everybody needs the Savior and to know why, right? It is certainly true that everybody needs the Savior, but insisting on that constantly is like hammering our beloved in the head. An intermediate step (and perhaps long-term the only step) is for me to love them with consistent kindness, respect, active listening, generosity, and good humor. Just as we love our little children in such a way that they can eventually grasp the nature of their heavenly Father’s love for them, so we love all those with whom we have covenant relationship.

What I am learning (some family members may say, slowly, very slowly) is that our love for our siblings, parents, or children becomes conditional if we are constantly pushing them for a decision for Christ. What Jesus is saying to me is this: You’re past the point of convincing them of anything. Just love them. Don’t wait until they make a decision you approve or conform to your standards of belief and practice. Love them today; embrace them as they are. Keep praying for them, but do not let a possible (even unlikely) conversion be the condition for your love. Today, affirm them in those qualities that encourage you, give you joy, and that make sense in their current situation. Rejoice when they rejoice, weep when they weep. Privately you may weep over some of their choices, but that is Jesus’ burden to bear and he will help you translate that mourning into gladness.

This is how I understand the Law of Love as it plays out in covenant family relationships. Friendships and associations outside this circle do not have as their starting point blood relation. They are different, and the missional way is navigated on a case-by-case basis with them. They may turn out to be just as non-religiously entrenched as someone in your family, and when you get to that wall, you stop pressing and move on. Move on to other subjects, move on to fellowship with others, it all depends . . . God will give the wisdom if you ask for it. But in all things, your motivation is love because that is the love God poured into you over a lifetime, not waiting until you were presentable or converted. He has loved you from the beginning of your life and held out great hope for you. With that security and hope, you can do the same for those around you.

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2 Responses to “The Law of Love in Missional Endeavor”

  1. Jodie Says:

    Mary,

    The last three paragraphs above are excellent. A church family that practiced those principles within its own walls would grow and would be a Gospel witness to every one it came in contact with.

    In some ways it is the mirror opposite of where we find ourselves today, mired in conflict over doctrine, dogma and money, rather than being immersed in the unconditional love Jesus first showed us.

    Jodie

  2. emd5542 Says:

    Oh, Mary, how I long to be in all of your classes. I’d probably drive you nuts though! 🙂

    Does WordPress keep a count of numbers–how many visit your blog, each and every one?

    I must settle for your blogs which are inspiring and inspired, and which teach and preach. Love that.

    Peace and Joy,
    Eleanor

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