When I grow up, I want to be like Reggie Joiner.
As I sat in the final lab session on Wednesday, that thought kept rolling through my mind like a penguin on rollerblades. Every time I hear Reggie speak (I think he’s the type of guy that will be ok with a total stranger calling him Reggie) or read what he’s written, I feel like I’m hearing/reading what I would say/write if I were a lot wiser and more articulate! This time was no exception.
He talked about the story Jesus told of a Samaritan who liked someone who was not like him – and how we need to live in that same mode. “You don’t have to be like someone, to like someone.” If we are going to be serious about loving the people that Jesus loves, we will have to like some people who aren’t like us. Maybe they’re white, and we’re not – or they’re not and we are… Maybe they’re poor… Maybe they’re gay… Maybe they’re too young… Maybe they’re too old… Maybe they’re just kind of strange… The point is that in Matthew 22, Jesus redefined the word “neighbor” (you know, those people we’re supposed to love as ourselves) to include those who are very different – even to the point of liking people we’ve been opposed to before.
In liking people who are different than we are, we can open the door to helping them understand God’s love (as well as understanding it better ourselves). Sometimes we get caught up in the idea of “loving someone to Jesus” (or loving someone so that they will love Him/us back) and miss some pretty foundational aspects to meaningful relationships. Joiner (I think he’d be ok with a last name only reference, too) shared 5 statements that “your neighbor needs to know”. This list was fleshed out in some great stories that he shared to illustrate those foundations being built.
My neighbor needs to know that:
- God’s love is bigger than my religion.
- I will be present as a friend even if they never believe what I believe.
- Even my own faith is not 100%.
- I’m not trying to change them.
- The Bible is not just a good book.
Some of those may be a little hard to digest at first bite, but let me encourage you to chew on them for a while. I think he’s right. I think when it comes to loving our neighbors, we’ve become too utilitarian in loving them in order to get them to join ‘our side’. I know in our hearts, that’s probably not what the vast majority of us are trying to do, but I’m afraid that’s the way we can come across. I’d love to see my students learning to communicate those 5 things in their relationships more consistently.
As he shared stories of life change, one of the themes that came out was the need to allow questions. Why do we think we always have to have all the answers? Do we really think that? And what about when people ask questions to which we do not have an easy answer? Chastise them for even asking…? Do people have to leave the church to ask their hardest questions? When it comes to parenting, mentoring, youth ministry, etc.,
If we don’t allow our kids to process their doubts, they’ll never own their own faith.
I love it that right now, we are in a season of a lot of questions in our youth ministry. It tells me that my students are wrestling with who God is and who that makes them… It tells me that maybe when they grow up, some of them will be like Reggie Joiner, too.