Love the Unlovable

Photo by ATC Comm Photo from Pexels

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about what Jesus really meant when preached the words, “love your enemies” (Matt. 5:44). 

I have read and heard the phrase “love your enemies” so often over the years that it has become a kind of cliché to me – just another platitude that sounds nice but has no true effect on the way I live my day-to-day life. 

For starters, the term “enemy” is difficult to grapple with. I am generally a nice person. I smile at strangers, hold open doors, pick up my dog’s poop, refrain from honking in traffic (mostly). I don’t see myself as a person with enemies

So, does Jesus’ command really even apply to me?  

A few months ago, my husband and I drove up to Ohio State University to watch my sister-in-law graduate from her PhD program. The morning of commencement was cool and cloudy; the OSU stadium (a.k.a. “The Horseshoe”) hummed with the excited voices of a record-breaking 12,213 graduates and their families and friends. 

The commencement speaker was Fareed Zakaria, an author and journalist for CNN and the Washington Post. In his speech, Zakaria challenged the graduates – and all of us watching – to consider an important question:

“What can we [as a nation] do to come together?”

He described an alarming truth about America today: We are a country that has become increasingly tribal. Without always consciously realizing it, we tend to surround ourselves with people who look like us, live like us, think like us, believe what we believe, vote like we vote.  

There is a reason we humans stick to our tribes: They are comfortable. When we surround ourselves with people who are like us, we don’t have to question our views or ideas (which is nearly always an uncomfortable experience). Our tribes are safe and stable places to live. The problem with tribalism, of course, is that over time we lose the ability to listen and to empathize with those who do not “belong.” Instead, we judge and condemn and dehumanize people who we consider to be “other.” 

I am so guilty of this.

I may not have enemies who I interact with in my day-to-day life, but I have certainly harbored hatred for people whose political and ideological beliefs differ from my own. In fact, I fume almost every time I listen to the news or scroll through the comments sections on politically-charged Facebook posts. 

Anybody else? I know I’m not alone in this. None of us are immune. 

This same kind of dehumanizing tribalism was happening in Jesus’ time when he preached his famous Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’”(Matt. 5:43). Yes – this is still what our culture tells us today: love your tribe and hate those with whom you disagree. 

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44).

The Greek form of “love” used in this verse is philea love – the kind of affectionate “brotherly love” typically reserved for family members and best friends. Philea love requires familiarity, a sense of equality, and genuine friendship. 

In other words, Jesus’ command in this verse is not an empty platitude that vaguely means we ought to be kind or polite, but a deeply radical, countercultural, and counterintuitive charge to be in relationship with people who look, think, live, vote, and believe differently than we do. He is calling us to love those who, to us, seem most unlovable. 

Jesus’ words are the answer to Zakaria’s question. What can I, Johanna Lange, do to help heal our divided nation? Well, I can start by seeking out ways to be in loving relationship with people whose beliefs differ from my own. 

Doing this will never feel comfortable, but Jesus’ commands rarely are. 

Fence Posts and Faith: Finding Beauty in the Seemingly Insignificant

I have loved being outside ever since I was little. We didn’t grow up with air conditioning, so my brother and I spent most of our days outside entertaining ourselves with the simple pleasures that encircled growing up on a farm. If it was hot outside, more than likely it was hotter inside! Maybe that is where I acquired my love for nature and the outdoors. Or maybe it was from my mom. You see, she would never let us bring toys for “show and tell.” She thought that was too boring, so we would go looking outside for something interesting and unique to share on our special day…something with a science lesson behind it because my mom was a teacher, and once a teacher always a teacher. We brought in a whole range of things: snake skins, petrified wood, chrysalises, a hornets’ nest (minus the hornets), praying mantis, milkweed pods, a pet squirrel, and the list goes on. (I wonder if our teachers were ever worried about our “show and tell” day). Or maybe I inherited my love of the outdoors from my dad. I loved to rake hay in the summer (most days). I enjoyed driving the tractors for various things and bottle feeding the calves. Those are all memories from my childhood…seemingly insignificant to anyone else, but treasures in the eye of the beholder.


I still enjoy being outside. I love the beauty that God surrounds me with even in the seemingly insignificant, so as I was out on my walk a couple of weeks ago, I took notice of a few fence rows that still used hedge posts as their anchors. There are a few of these left, but most have been replaced with metal T-posts and electric wires. It’s amazing what I notice when I walk. Even when I run, I don’t notice all of the details like I do when I walk, and that is because I go at a slower pace. I took a good look at those fence posts, seemingly insignificant as they were, and began to see the beauty in that aged wood. Some hedge posts had whitish gray lichen growing up the sides and some orangish yellow, some had morning glory vines tangled around them, many posts had patterned grooves of weathering worn into the wood, and some of those gnarled knots provided a home for birds as they supported the rusted fencing from years ago.  To me, those sights were things of beauty.


I started to think about the “seemingly insignificant” that I pass by every day and fail to pay attention to. Jesus didn’t pass by the “seemingly insignificant.” He operated at a much slower pace than the world around Him and took the time to take note of those surrounding Him, the needs that they had, and the ways in which He could help them and use them as instruments for His glory. He ate with the tax collectors, sought out poor widows, dared to speak to the prostitutes, touched the untouchables, conversed with those who were shunned by the “popular crowd”, and gathered the little children into His arms.

If you think about it, we are pretty insignificant when it comes to our sinful lives. We don’t have much to offer of our own sinful flesh, but Jesus sees us differently because He has redeemed us a lost and condemned creature.  He purchased and won us from death and from the power of the devil. We are significant in His eyes. It is because of Him that we have worth and beauty. We are His beloved children that He gave His life for. Our faith lies in our Creator. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care” Matthew 10:29.  “Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” Matthew 18:4.

So here are the points that I would like for you to take from my ramblings above: rejoice boldly over the small things, be wary when you start taking blessings for granted, use each day as an opportunity to find joy in the blessings that the Lord has given you (and there are many), be alert to the needs of those around you, stand strong in the faith, and praise Jesus for the price He paid on the cross and His victory over death because it is through that very sacrifice, and only through that sacrifice, that we have significance in our Father’s eyes and will therefore be able to enjoy life with Him in eternity one day. “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Isaiah 43:1b

Welcome Gina!!

The Martens Family – They’re pretty fantastic:)

We met at a wedding in our early 20’s. I was dating a friend of hers from high school. This friend is now my husband. I met lots of his friends that day – all of which I never thought I would see again – including Gina. The wedding was held in a small town in Missouri – the home of his High School Alma Mater – a place I thought I would never see again. How happy I am that I was wrong on both counts.

When we moved to Concordia 3 years ago, Tom was excited that several of his high school friends were living here with their families. I always marveled at the relationships he had established in his 4 years at SPLHS – they were not just friends but family. Gina was one of those friends that had stayed and I am so very grateful.

Gina became one of my first friends upon our move to town. On most weeks we found a day where we would set aside time to walk and talk. Gina, who is also an accomplished runner, kept the pace brisk and the conversation interesting. We had each experienced a challenge season of parenting children with severe health issues and she became a safe place to process all that entails that type of situation. Gina has a quiet strength and a deep relationship with Jesus that makes you want to know him better when you are in her space. She is a light to all around her and intentionally points the students she teaches and the runners she coaches to the One who give us the strength we need.

I am so thankful that this busy mom, wife, teacher, coach, devotion writer, running enthusiast and friend as made a stop by the fire. The way you will feel when you read her post is how you would feel if you were actually sitting next to her at a fire – blessed. Welcome to the fire Gina… We’re so glad you’re here!!!

Growing to Love

Do you have something in your life that you do now that you didn’t used to do?

My family of five sat around the dinner table last night, eating fajitas and quesadillas and salad.  I also put a bowl of strawberries and blueberries and some snap peas and ranch dressing on the table, since two of my boys won’t touch salad. My middle son, Zeke, tried the salad, loved it, and asked for more.  In response, my oldest son, Noah, said, “I’ve never liked salad.” True fact.

Dave, my husband, replied, “Ya know, I didn’t used to like fruits and veggies either, before I met your mom. And now, look at this.” Dave had a mound of salad on his plate and was shoveling in strawberries and blueberries by the serving-spoon-full.

It was a good reminder that we are all malleable, if only we are open to the change.

I can’t help thinking about the way in which God has been changing me. You see, a handful of years ago, I somewhat reluctantly enrolled in a continuing education cohort with my husband. It was geared to pastors and their spouses, and, to my surprise, really helped me grow in how I lived out my faith in the day-to-day. One cohort led to two, and now we are learning how to help lead other cohorts. 

Much like Noah’s repulse to salad, I used to say, “I don’t like reaching out to people who don’t know God” (not out loud, of course, because that’s not what you’re supposed to say, but that was how I lived my life).

But God has been changing this in me. 

I became aware that God could use me in my neighborhood (since ours was one of the only cars leaving home on Sunday mornings). And, kinda like a 9-year-old, vegetable-adverse boy looking at a big salad, I knew reaching out in my neighborhood was good for me, but I didn’t have an appetite for it.

So, I started asking God to help me love my neighbors across the street. And love looked like walking over to chat in their driveway after a long day. It looked like starting to pray for their health in our family prayers.

Our next “bite” was putting our fire pit in our front yard on Halloween night and inviting a few of the neighbors we knew to join us around the fire.  (Campfires are great, aren’t they?) A few showed up.


We learned a few more neighbors’ names and were intentional about welcoming people who moved in to houses on our court.  The next Halloween, we made flyers and invited more people to come sit around the fire. And I found in my heart that I actually wanted them to come—God had grown my love for these people who used to just be strangers who happened to live in the same area of town I did. We heard on that Halloween night how “we should do this more often” and “this was really great.” Other people in our neighborhood were getting a taste of the goodness of gathering in community.

I assumed we had a green light to move forward, so a few months later, I made a flyer for a Valentine’s party at our house, where we would play The Not-So-Newlywed Game. We would have good food and fun and get to know our married neighbors in an even deeper way.  I was still a bit timid, passing out fliers, but I was ready for my next bite in my journey of reaching out to my neighbors.

The only problem was that no one showed up. Not one neighbor came to ate pasta.  Not one neighbor stopped by to join in the laughter of playing a silly game.

Our Valentine’s Party minus people

That bite did not taste so good.

It made me wonder if there was any point in reaching out to my neighborhood at all.  If they did not want to be reached, should I keep trying to extend my arm?

I prayed for weeks. I asked God to show me how to move forward. Should we move, if no one on our block connected with what we were trying to do? Should I be focusing my energies elsewhere?

When the spring rains finally let up, I mustered up the courage to approach a couple down the street about the possibility of praying together, like they had suggested months before. Would this be like the Valentine’s Party, where they sound interested, but never actually show up? I wondered. They said they would come over the next day, sometime after 4:00.  Sure enough, 4:30 hit the next day and they were knocking on my front door. 

I let the boys have bonus screen time and my neighbors and I sat on folding chairs on my back porch and prayed for our neighborhood. We prayed for specific concerns we knew of and we prayed in general that Jesus’ light would shine through us to the darkness around us.

And then they suggested hosting a neighborhood barbecue. They would make the fliers and cook the meat. I would bring some side dishes and talk to the neighbors closest to me. We would do it in less than two weeks.

The barbecue will be this Saturday. Last night, my sons and I passed out fliers to each house on our block, getting to talk to individuals from every household except for two. And as I went from house to house, I was surprised to find that I knew many of their names, and some of their stories. I was surprised that I wasn’t as apprehensive as I had been in previous years—quite possibly because I knew that at least one other couple would show up for the event.

I rejoiced that an outreach-apprehensive person like myself could grow into a person who reached out to her neighbors in love… kinda like learning how to love salad.


We’d love to hear from you around the fire this week: what is your thing that you are growing to love?