God With Skin On
Read your Bible: 1 John 3:11–18
If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.1 John 3:17–18
What can the world do to a man or woman who is grounded in the love of God, who swims in the ocean of His love as a fish in the mighty sea? What can sin do? What can the world do? What can accident do? — A.W. Tozer
In a famous essay, the surgeon Richard Selzer describes a scene that he says he will never forget:
I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. She will be thus from now on. The surgeon had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve.
Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry-mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, so greedily? The young woman speaks.
“Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks.
“Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.”
She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles.
“I like it,” he says. “It is kind of cute.”
All at once I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works.46
When he calls the man a god, he means he is acting God-like. In the incarnation, God became like us — twisting His own lips — to show His love. His love did not remain merely an emotion; it was put into motion.
One night a young mother was comforting her preschool aged daughter during a thunderstorm. “Go back to bed, sweetheart,” she said. And she heard the response every parent has heard from a frightened child: “I want you to be with me.”
“Go to bed,” said the mother, “God is with you.”
“I know He is,” replied the little girl, “But I want someone with skin on.”
In Jesus, God put skin on. He adjusts his kiss to love the human race.
Loving As God Loves
And now God asks you and me to love others as He loves us. To go the distance to those in need and show love, not merely feel love. To express God’s love, not just experience God’s love.
No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love has been brought to full expression through us. 1 John 4:12
How do you do that? I think of people in the church I serve. Their examples could fill another book.
I think of Mary, who despite her own health struggles coordinates a team of volunteers to visit men and women in nursing homes, hold weekly worship services, throw parties, and simply love them.
I think of Jack, who in his retirement has plunged into our food pantry ministry, each week leading a team that gives out bags of groceries for free to whoever’s hungry.
I could tell you about divorce recovery workshops, medical and dental teams that journey to villages in India and Africa, volunteers washing the feet of the homeless, an entire team that cooks food for shut-ins, grief support groups, teenagers who help at the Rescue Mission downtown, pregnancy resource centers for frightened and often unemployed women, guys who give up two weekends every month to be dads to kids without dads, mechanics who give up their Saturdays to do free car repair for widows and the elderly, and much, much more… all just in our church.
And the scene at our church is repeated across our county and state and nation and world.
I know, the problems seem so big. But remember: there’s a whole Body out there. You are one part. What is God calling you to do?
My own heart has been captured by feeding the hungry.
Why? For one thing, it’s specifically mentioned hundreds of times in the Bible as a concern of God.
Like in Isaiah 58, where God criticizes the people for having nice religious services but no real ministry. One example He specifically gives:
“I want you to share your food with the hungry…” (Isaiah 58:7a)
Or in the parable of the sheep and goats, where Jesus tells the sheep that they fed Him when He was hungry. They’re confused. When did they ever feed Jesus? He answers that it was when they fed
“the least of these.”
Why would God place such an emphasis on feeding the hungry?
Because hunger is tied into almost every single scourge of society.
Check out these facts:
- Even mild under-nutrition can lead to reduced body and brain development.
- Kids without adequate food are more likely to get sick. And have a much higher risk of later developing diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and many other illnesses.
- Kids without enough food are more likely to repeat a grade.
- Hunger in childhood is the most consistent predictor of learning problems and criminal behavior later in life.
- Hunger in childhood is also the most consistent predictor of job problems and income insecurity later in life.47
So: Crime, learning problems, job problems, bad health, are all tied into hunger in childhood. This is all from recent research, but of course God already knew this!
By one count, over 200 times in the Bible He says,
“Feed the hungry!”
I don’t know about you, but if God says to do something 200 times, I’m doing it.
And it costs so little. I encourage you to get involved with your church food pantry ministry, or with a local food bank.
When You Care You Get to Share
One beneficial side effect of loving in incarnational ways:
When people see Christ-followers loving others, they are interested in what we have to say. As our church has raised its profile through food ministry and other community outreaches, I have had amazing chances to share God’s love with people ranging from homeless men to mayors of cities and CEOs. When you care, you get chances to share.
God is… calling you to love like He loves!
Questions For Reflection
In 1 John 3:11–18, what does the Bible say about those who claim to love God?
What are some practical ways you can love with actions and truth, and not just words, this week?
Ask yourself the following questions:
Have I thanked God for His love for me today?
Have I shown love to someone today?