This was the basis of a sermon I preached at Hope & Anchor church in Springfield, MO. If you want to listen to it, click here.
In the last 9 months, a lot has happened. My first book came out. My novel, Street Preacher, came out, and that has been real exciting. Also, my second book, a memoir, got picked up by a publisher and will be due out at the end of June.
Also, 9 months ago, I preached at Hope & Anchor church and many told me it was “the most honest sermon they had ever heard.” I am not sure about that. I think what many mistook for honesty was actually the warning signs of a total breakdown.
You see, also in the last 9 months, I got locked up in a psych hospital for 4 days. A little while later, I began a job as a hospice chaplain. It would be an understatement to say that I have learned a few things.
As Christians, we know that we are supposed to love. Non believers even know that Christians are supposed to love. But what does that mean? Who are we supposed to love? How? What does that look like?
About 20 years ago, I was in seminary. A class I had was assigned a group project. The project was to find a way to share the gospel by serving people. The group that I was in decided that we would hand out bottled water on a street corner and that we would put a label on the water that says, “This is to remind you of the free gift of Jesus Christ.” The problem was, that no one wanted to go very far for this project so we decided to this close to campus. The campus of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary was not in a good area. Let me rephrase that. The campus was in a terrible area. The street corner we picked was near an alley where people were murdered on a fairly regular basis.
So we went out there and we gave out water. We gave out water to people waiting for the bus and to people in their cars stopped at a red light. We were giving out water when we noticed a man park his car near the alley and just sit there. He didn’t get out. He just sat there.
One of my classmates said, “Anyone notice him?”
“Yeah, “ I replied. “Maybe someone should give him some water.”
“It’s your turn,” my class mate said, handing me a bottle of water and clearly not picking up on my sarcasm.
Now this is not a good situation to be in. When you are in seminary, you can’t suddenly admit that maybe you are too afraid to share the gospel. On the other hand, approaching people in parked cars in alleys of very dangerous neighborhoods is not a particularly safe idea either.
Unable to back down, I took the water and walked over to the car.
“Would you like some water?” I ask. This guy is big and he’s just looking down. I don’t think he wants to be bothered.
“What?” He says. Ok, he really doesn’t want to be bothered.
“Have some water,” I say, passing the bottle through his open window and then turning to walk away.
I get about halfway back to my group when I hear a car door open and I hear someone yell “Hey!” I turn around and this guy is running toward me.
Let me get back to that story later.
In John 13, starting at vs 34, Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another…”
So there it is. The whole of following Christ summed up in this new law: Love one another.
But again, I ask, “What does that look like? Who am I supposed to love? How am I supposed to love?”
Jesus continues, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
“Just as I have loved you.”
So who do we love? Well, Jesus loved everyone. He was notorious for loving the people that everyone hated, like tax collectors. He was known for loving people that everyone thought were horrible sinners like the woman at the well or prostitutes. He even loved people that everyone else forgot about, like the blind and crippled people that could do nothing but sit on the side of the road and beg.
There is a scripture that says that God knows when a sparrow falls from a tree and he considers us much more valuable than sparrows. I know there is even a popular song about that, but I never thought much about it until the other day at work.
I drove over to one of the nursing homes that I visit and there in the parking lot, I saw a newly hatched baby bird lying on the ground. I knew there was nothing I could do, but right at that moment, it hit me. Of everything in the world, God even knows about that poor little bird. Then I went in to visit one of my patients. She was feeling really down. She told me, “When I first got sick, there was so much going on. I always had doctors checking on me, and people getting me for different tests. Now I feel like they just put me in the corner and forgot about me.”
I told her about that bird and reminded her that no matter what, God is there. He hasn’t forgotten about her. We spent the next hour talking about all the ways she has been blessed in the past few days.
So, who do we love? We love who Jesus loves.
But how? Jesus said, “As I have loved you.”
We are supposed to love in the same way that Jesus loved.
By far, the most surreal experience I have ever had was last October when I was admitted into the psychiatric unit at Cox North Hospital. I have written a whole book about it, so I won’t go into too much detail but it was surreal to say the least.
I remember when I was being admitted. They had already brought me into the unit and the nurse was going over my information. I could hear someone screaming in the next room. They were saying horrible things and threatening everyone. The nurse looked at me and said, “Are you nervous?”
I told her, “no, but this isn’t my best day.”
Then she said, “Have you ever been in a place like this, or jail?”
I thought, what! This is going to be like jail?
Then I get taken into the day room where the guys is screaming at everyone. He’s threatening the nurses because they told him that no one goes into their rooms until 8pm. Another patient tries to intervene and this guy, who I’ll call Jay, threatens her. I grab one of the orderlies and ask if I have a room. He says, “let me check.” Then he goes to the nurses station, checks something, and then says, “Yeah, you’re going to be in room 14 with Jay.”
I know this isn’t the time to be judgmental, but really?
So over the next 4 days, Jay and I shared a room. I learned that he was not a bad guy. He even promised not to stab me. He was a wounded guy who has spend most of his adult life bouncing from jails to hospitals. He is me without the blessing of a family like I have and support like I have. There is no reason to think that in a turn of events, I wouldn’t be like Jay. When I realized that, I realized that it was a lot easier to be patient just like Jesus is patient with us.
Then when I got out of the hospital, I started to tell my story to everybody. I’m not a millenial, so I didn’t put it on Instagram, but I did put it all over Facebook. And the strangest thing happened. People started telling me that they were getting help because of hearing my story. Did you know that out of pride and fear, I spent most of my life not telling people how I struggled? Oh I can tell you what I’m good at, but once I started sharing my weaknesses, it seemed to really affect people. If you want to love like Jesus does, you make yourself vulnerable out of compassion for others.
Then I got a job as a chaplain for a hospice. The first thing they had me do was to go and visit all the patients that were within 72 hours from death. As a pastor, I have visited hundreds of people, maybe thousands. I have taken classes on how to visit, and how to steer the conversation around to pitching salvation.
One thing I learned right away at this new job is this: when you go in to sit with someone who is about to take their last breath. When you go in to be a source of comfort to them and their families, you have to leave agendas behind. There is no sales pitch. All you can do is love the way Jesus loves. You sacrifice everything about what you want and you love them.
That’s how Jesus loves, with patience, compassion, and sacrifice. And one other thing: teaching. Jesus taught the people he loved and this tends to scare us the most. We start thinking, “there is no way I can teach anybody.”
This is the best part about the Gospel. It isn’t a self help book. It isn’t an instruction manual. The Gospel is a newspaper, it isn’t telling you what to do, it is telling what has been done. Most of the time, when Jesus taught, he said, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” All you have to do to teach like Jesus is to tell people the good news!
And look what he said then, “By this, all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
People will know you follow Jesus, when you love like Jesus!
Now, back to the story about handing out water. So I give the guy the water, I walk away, car door opens, he yells, I turn, he’s running.
He comes up to me and he says, “I don’t believe it.” And he tells me his story. He’s a bus driver. He begins his shift mid-route at this intersection. He’s been trying his hardest to show people the love of Christ on his bus but he drives in a rough neighborhood. He tells me, “I was just sitting there praying, ‘God, please give me a sign that you haven’t forgotten about me.” It was right then that someone handed him a bottle of water that said, “This is to remind you of the free gift of Christ.”
Listen, when you love like Jesus, you wind up getting in the middle of what the Holy Spirit is doing. You aren’t the one running the show, but you get to see some really cool stuff happening.
Now it is not natural to love like Jesus. Years ago, I was really burned by a church experience. I was betrayed by a friend and anger consumed me. Someone told me, “you should start praying for that friend.” They challenged me to think of what he drove and every time that I saw a similar vehicle, pray for him to be blessed. I didn’t really feel like it, and it wasn’t easy, but the anger subsided and I started to see things in a much more productive light. You see, it isn’t natural to love like Jesus. It is supernatural.
I love my church. The reason I love this church is from the first time I came, I realized that I could be myself. I could be angry, I could be depressed, I could be imperfect and it was going to be ok.
I want to challenge you to go out and love like Jesus loves. Love who he loves and love how he loves.
Aaron Davis is the author of the novel, "Street Preacher" and the memoir, "Baggage Claim." For information on how you can have Aaron speak at your church, school, or organization, click here.
Author, Parent, Husband, Christ-follower