Yesterday, my sister and I volunteered to help give out boxes of food with Northfield Church. It was cold - around 30 degrees fahrenheit, with a fair amount of wind and an overcast sky. There we were in an empty parking lot with boxes of food, diapers, and baby wipes, handing items in through the windows and doors of people's cars with no expectation of anything in return. The people who visited us were offered prayer and copies of the Bible, but they weren't forced to take them as a condition to receive the help they needed.
This is what love as a verb looks like.
My sister and I served on the prayer team, talking with those who wanted prayer and asking them, "how can we pray for you?" We listened to people's stories - several clearly needed to talk as much as they needed to eat. One woman was crying as she asked us to pray with her - not for something for her own gain, but for the people of Ukraine and Russia and all of the world as turmoil stirs. So we prayed for God to bring hope to those who are in darkness and to help us all to be satisfied, not just through the food we put in our mouths, but in our hunger to see the world become a better, safer place.
The leader of the prayer team said that sometimes during these food drives there are people who come just to talk and seek out the prayer team - they don't even need the food. They just know that they can come and feel loved and supported.
This is love as a verb. This is putting your heart into action where you see need. This is not empty prayer, sent off as an afterthought along side my own needs and wants for God to fulfill like a vending machine. There is a difference between this kind of Christianity and the toxic kind that has poisoned so many people's view of not only the religion, but of the God that loves unconditionally.
When my sister and I joined Northfield, it was not because we wanted to go to a fancy church with a pretty building in close proximity of our apartment. It wasn't about having potluck dinners once a month or who had the best events calendar and most pleasing sermons. Rather, we chose our church because we looked around and we saw the things that this church was doing in the community. We watched videos about the outreach and how Northfield treats love as a verb. That's how you can tell the difference between true followers of Jesus and those who just want to go to heaven when they die. There's a difference between wanting to live forever... and being willing to live for Jesus.
I know a lot of people who read my writing have been burned by zealous Christians and members of other religions. I know many of you have that one homophobic aunt who quotes Leviticus at you and that you've seen the preachers standing on inverted egg crates shouting through a megaphone and waving signs that depict hell and condemnation. I know many of you have gotten Bible tracts promising eternal fire and misery.
Too many Christians focus so much on what they stand against and never get around to telling others what they are for.
True Christians are eclipsed by their screaming counterparts.
Love is covered over with hatred and judgement and the people who need the love of Jesus most of all are pushed away.
But love is unconditional, and it is active. It's listening and it's holding hands with poor old women who just need a good cry. It's letting people know that they are seen and heard and supported, that they aren't just floating around in the universe untethered. There are people who love them and care for them with action.