Love Believes the Best

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I have no idea what his name was.
But I took one look at him and just knew he was bad news.
1989. Spring Semester at the University of Maryland, College Park. We were gathered in a mid-size classroom for the large-group meeting for Intervarsity Christian Fellowship.
I had been to a small-group Bible study a couple times but this was the first monthly gathering I had attended.
And there he stood.
Dressed all in black.
Black leather jacket. Black t-shirt. Black jeans. Black boots.
With chains hanging from his belt loops.
Slicked back hair.
And sunglasses on at 7 PM. In a basement classroom.
Leaning against a side wall, not talking to anyone, one foot propped on the wall behind him, arms folded across his chest.
His whole demeanor said, “Leave me alone.”
And I did – because he was obviously bad news.
I thought to myself, “Wow, that guy really needs Jesus. Good thing he’s here tonight!”

About 15 minutes later, I was completely flabbergasted when he grabbed his guitar, lost the shades and stepped up to the mic to lead worship.
He had been praying.
For me.
For us.
For the meeting.

Oops.

I took one look at him and decided.
I chose to believe the worst about him.
Instead of believing the best.
And I was dead wrong.

His name was Mr. Bowers. And I could not stand him.
Unfortunately, I had no say in the matter.
He was my 6th grade teacher.
And his major crime was that he was my first and only male teacher in elementary school.
He was not a warm and fuzzy teacher by any stretch of the imagination.
Not funny like my 5th grade teacher.
And not beautiful and kind like my 2nd grade teacher.
Oh, how I hated him.
I decided from the moment I saw him that he was not going to be a good teacher and it was not going to be a good year.
And from September to December, it wasn’t.
My grades plummeted.
And going to school was a misery.

I chose to believe the worst about him.
Instead of believing the best.
And I was dead wrong.

The second half of my 6th grade year was much better.
Because my parents sat me down and we had a conversation.
My Mom nailed it.
She told me that I had a lousy attitude and that it needed to change.
In other words, I was the problem. Not Mr. Bowers.
No – she didn’t use those words – but that was the truth of the matter.
I told her I didn’t know how to change my attitude.
And she told me to pray and ask God to change my heart.
I did – and as I started praying for my heart to change, I began to see him differently.
He was still a man.
Still wore the same polyester suits.
Still had a “just the facts” approach to teaching.
But I had new eyes for the situation.
And it showed up in my grades.
They went back up – and the rest of the year was much more pleasant.

Mr. Bowers didn’t change.
I did.

Mr. Bowers and Mr. Guy-Who-Led-Worship both fell victim to my assumptions.
I looked at both of them and decided to believe the worst.
Which is the exact opposite of love.

In a letter to the church at Corinth, Paul told the believers that he had a “more excellent way” to show them. And then he proceeded to describe the goal, the way God loves us, the way God defines love. Part of it says, “Love believes all things, hopes all thing, endures all things.” (I Corinthians 13) In other words, love chooses to believe the best.

Love looks past the surface and makes a choice.
It chooses to look past the skin color of the person.
Or how they are dressed.
It chooses to look beyond their attitude, demeanor and even their words.
It chooses to not focus on their political party affiliation.
It even chooses to not focus on the past.
And instead, it chooses to look at that person – and whatever they did or whatever I think they will do – through the eyes of God.

Love remembers that that person is created in the image of God.
Meaning they have emotions. Make choices. And most of all, are beings with eternal souls.
Love remembers that Jesus died for that person. If they choose to accept that gift, then He died for them. Regardless of what they have done in the past, they can be forgiven by God. The sin that they perpetrated against me has been punished by Christ’s death on the cross. If they choose to not accept that gift, then they will pay for eternity for the sin perpetrated against me.

But regardless of where they stand with Him, He loves them.
And He offers them forgiveness.
The same forgiveness He offers me.
Because He has forgiven me – I can choose to forgive them.
Love chooses to believe that God can change hearts – and that changed hearts can lead to changed actions.
And most of all, love chooses to believe that I am no better than that person in the eyes of the Only One Who Matters.

Love believes the best.
It sounds naïve.
But it is not.
Because this kind of love, God’s love, is not an emotion.
It is a choice.
In Matthew 10 Jesus sent his disciples out on a mission in the middle of his time with them. He instructed them to go out to the areas around them and to tell those people what they had learned about Him and about the Kingdom. But he told them as they went that they were to be “as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.” He told them people would hate them, persecute them, and treat them badly. But he also told them that He sees it all, knows it all – and that there would be an accounting given when all stand before God.

Here’s the idea:
It is not my job to protect myself.
It is my job to be wise.
Believing the best does not necessarily mean that person has earned back my trust.
It does not mean that I love their sin.
It does not mean that I don’t call sin, sin. Not based on my standard of right or wrong – but based on God’s standard as revealed in Scripture. I cannot say I am better than you because of your sin – because we are both separated from God by our sin if we don’t know Jesus.
Believing the best DOES mean that I choose to view them through the eyes of God.
I choose to love as He loves.
I choose to live as Jesus lived – loving every person who crossed His path – even when loving them meant speaking hard Truths.
Living with a heart that is open to love. Not seeking to protect myself. Not seeking my best interest. But seeking yours. Seeking theirs.

Because my safety and security does not lie in my wisdom. Or my street smarts. Or my strength.
My safety lies in the One who holds it all together. The One who holds me together.
And He said, “Love as I have loved you.”

How did He love me?
“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
God looked at me on my worst day and loved me anyway.
He looked past the external.
Past the labels.
Past the sin.
And chose to “believe all things, hope all things, endure all things” for me
Knowing what a stinker I am.
Knowing that I will fail over and over again.
He chose to love me.
And then He said, “Do what I have done. Love others like I have loved you. Because your love for others will show the world that you belong to Me.” (Kathy’s paraphrase of John 13)
There were no caveats in the statement.
He didn’t say, “Love them when they love you.”
Nor did he say, “Love only people like you.”
He didn’t say, “Love those who agree with you.”
And He didn’t say, “Love those who haven’t hurt you.”
Or even, “Love those who promote your agenda.”
He said, “Love as I have loved you.”

Love believes the best.
Even when you hurt me, I will choose to believe that it came out of a place of your hurt.

Love believes the best.
When you say something that makes my blood boil, I will seek to understand where you are coming from rather than attacking you.

Love believes the best.
When we find ourselves viewing the political landscape very differently, I will choose to listen before I speak – and when I speak, it will be in love. Not attacking. Not screaming. Speaking the Truth in love.

Love believes the best.
I will not decide you do not – or cannot – understand because you are different than me. And if, after conversation, I come to the conclusion that you really don’t understand, I will not treat you differently. I will choose to reject the lie that people like me are the good guys and people not like me are the bad guys.

Love believes the best.
So when you fail me, intentionally or not, I will forgive.
Not because I am wonderful – but because I have a wonderful God who has forgiven me.
Not because you do or do not deserve it – but because I do not deserve His forgiveness.
Not because I like you or do not like you – but because I am deeply loved by Him even when I am at my most unlikeable.

I will be wise in how I conduct myself.
But I will be innocent in my thoughts and actions towards you.
Towards “them”. Whoever “they” may be.
Not by my own power.
Because I don’t have that kind of strength in me.
But by His Spirit living in me, I will love as He loves.
So that “they” will see Him in me.
And prayerfully, they will want to know Him.
Which will change their hearts.
And in turn, will change the world.

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