I became a Christian during the heady days of the Jesus Movement in the early 70’s. It was so new, so simple. We rebuffed the stogie, boring old time denominational churches and just loved Jesus, smiled a lot and hung out at the beach singing our new worship songs. I remember I had a sticker of a smiley face with “Smile, God loves you” emblazoned around the edge. Yes, that was true and it was all we needed to know. It was the hippies high on Jesus. However, the faith was real, the conversions miraculous, the impact on our generation significant. It many ways I miss those days. But then I went to college and I started to really understand what all this meant. Then I went overseas on a mission project and that was exciting but I had to decide if I could really live this Christian life in the “real world,” so I came back. I got a job, got married, had kids and my faith became more settled, more anchored as it was tested throughout life. And the longer I lived, and the longer I learned and the longer I was put to the test, the more I knew – knew at the deepest possible levels of my heart – that God did indeed love me. It wasn’t just a slogan or a logo. It was so real and so foundational; it has kept me going for all these years of ups and downs.
Why am I telling you all this? Because I get so frustrated with Christians some times. It is so easy to say “God loves you” to someone, but it comes across so superficial and patronizing, that I think we actually turn people away from Him. Instead of getting a glimpse of God’s heart, they get a plastered on smile. We throw a sanitized Bible verse at them instead of sitting with them silently holding their hand or simply saying, “I’m sorry you’re going through this.” We have the most powerful message the world has ever known, yet we have overused “God loves you” to the point that it has become trite and corny and people don’t really even hear it. All they hear is “God blah, blah, blah…”
I want people to know just how much God loves them, how much they mean to Him, how loveable they are, how much He has done to restore relationship with Him. I want them to know the depths, heights, and breadth of His love. But I want them to know the reality of His love not just the warm, fuzzy words. It’s what drives me to teach, to write, to go to my secular workplace and live differently than the world does. For me it’s not enough just to tell people, we have to tell them in a way that they will get it. Yes, God loves them, but tell them why and how. Then show them.
Showing them may simply be – or should start – with explaining the meaning of the cross. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Showing them may mean reading them the words of love and affirmation found in the pages of His Book – His love letters. Showing them may mean pointing out the grace available every day to confront the highs and lows of life. Showing them may also mean reminding them that every time they wake up in the morning means another day – another gift – to see Him change their life in some way if they would just look. Showing them may simply mean a kind word, an act of service or a cookie, whatever they need from us at that moment.
And when we are done showing them, we tell them, “Look, God loves you.” Then we smile.