I’ve been asked several times why we chose Agape Ann Arbor for the name of our new community. The short answer is that the name communicates what we want this community to be. Agape (pronounced a-gah-pay) is a Greek word for love. Greek is the language in which the New Testament of the Bible was written. I say a Greek word for love and not the Greek word for love because Greek actually has three different words that we translate in English as love. First there is eros (pronounced eh-rohs), from which we get our word erotic. Eros is the word used for romantic or sexual love. Second is philos (pronounced fee-lohs). Philos is the word used for brotherly love, hence Philadelphia the City of Brotherly Love. Agape doesn’t have any English cognates of which I’m aware. Agape’s basic meaning is benevolent love or goodwill. Plato used it to describe the love between people of the same city.
The Christian and Jewish writers of the first century used agape to translate the Hebrew word chesed (pronounced khe-sed), which is the word used to describe God’s loyal unconditional love for his people. In the New Testament, therefore, agape means unconditional, irrevocable love. It is the word Jesus used to describe the love he has for us. The love he demonstrated for us by dying on the cross for us, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13 NIV).
Agape is God’s love. We are community experiencing and expressing God’s love. We are a community experiencing and expressing agape.
But that’s just the first word in our name. We were very intentional about including Ann Arbor in our name. It’s not just because we like cute alliterations or because it flows off the tongue well (although both of those are true). We included Ann Arbor in the name of our community because God loves Ann Arbor. Some people have forgotten that. Some people don’t believe it. We are in Ann Arbor intentionally. We came to Ann Arbor because God loves Ann Arbor and we love Ann Arbor. We exist as a community to experience and express God’s love with the people of Ann Arbor.
We Agape Ann Arbor.
Kindergarteners just don’t seem to understand how conversations work. I’m constantly explaining to my daughter that it’s not OK to interrupt people. She has yet to master the delicate art of gracefully entering into a conversation.
Apparently this isn’t just a kindergartener thing though. The people living in Israel in the first century seem to have wrestled with the same problem. This was pointed out to me when I was reading The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series) by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay. As you read the stories of Jesus’ life in the Bible, you’ll notice that he was constantly interrupted. A lot of the great things that Jesus did happened during interruptions: he healed a paralytic that had been lowered through the roof of the building while He was teaching (Mark 2), he healed the servant of a Roman military officer when the officer stopped him as he was walking through town (Matthew 8), ande another time when he was walking through town a woman grabbed his clothes and was healed (Luke 8).
Jesus’ love was unplanned. He was available to help people in the midst of interruptions. Living the Jesus-life means loving interruptions. If we’re going to live the Jesus-life, we need to be able to love people when they interrupt our lives.
This means we need to plan for interruptions. We have a tendency to fill every moment of our lives. When we do this interruptions get in the way of the good things that we have planned to do. The problem with that is the interruption may be the better thing. We, however, aren’t available to do the good that God has put in front of us because we’ve decided the good we’ve planned is better than the good that God has given us to do.
This also means we need to be looking for interruptions. If you’re anything like me, you have a tendency to walk through life with blinders on. The only thing you see is where you’re going and what you’re going to do. We’re blind to the things happening around us. We will never experience or express God’s love if we don’t see the opportunity to do it. We need to take the blinders off and look for the interruptions that God is putting all around us. Then we will be able to experience and express God’s love just like Jesus did.
How are you doing with this? Is there room in your schedule for God to interrupt you? Are you looking for God’s interruptions?
The vision of Agape Ann Arbor is to be a community experiencing and expressing God’s love. Unfortunately most people in our culture don’t really know what love is. We seem to have connected love inseparably to romance. We define love as that feeling we get in our chest when we’re near to whom we’re sexually attracted. For the record, that’s not love. That’s a hormonal response to physical attraction.
So, what is love? Oftentimes, it’s easier to describe something by describing its opposite. The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s selfishness. Love is looking at others and sacrificing of yourself for them. The purest example of love is Jesus. Paul describes Jesus’ love in his letter to the church in Phillipi:
Though he was in the form of God,
He chose not to cling to equality with God.
But poured himself out to fill a vessel brand new;
a servant in form
a man indeed.
The very likeness of humanity,
He humbled Himself,
obedient to death –
a merciless death on the cross!
Philippians 2:6-8 (The Voice)
Jesus gave up everything including His life for us. That is the ultimate expression of love. “There is no greater way to love than to give your life for your friends” (John 15:13 The Voice).
That is what Agape Ann Arbor is all about. We’re about giving our lives for the City of Ann Arbor. We’re here to make Ann Arbor a better city through our investment here. We’re here to give of ourselves, our time, our resources, and our abilities to the people around us so to make their lives better. We will do this in such a way as to draw them to the One who sacrificed everything so that we could have life and “have it to the full” (John 10:10 NIV).
How about you? Do you love the people around you? Are you ready to sacrifice yourself for the 98,000 people in Ann Arbor, MI who don’t know Jesus? Join the movement. Follow us on Twitter. Like us on Facebook. Join our prayer team. Or just come visit us at our next gathering.
Jesus said that the world would know we were his disciples by our love (John 13:35)
Have you ever spent time thinking about what you’re known for? Joe Montana is know for being an amazing quarterback. Oprah Winfrey is know for being a media mogul. Snooki and the Situation are known for taking themselves way too seriously.
As we launch Agape Ann Arbor it’s important to establish what we want to be known for. It’s important to establish our identity. Agape Ann Arbor is a community experiencing and expressing God’s love. The night before Jesus was crucified he gathered with his closest friends to share one last meal. During that meal he gave that community their identity. He told them that they were to be people who loved and loved well. He said that the most distinguishing characteristic of their community would be the love they had for each other.
Unfortunately, many who call themselves Christ-followers, or Christians, have forgotten what our identity should be. We’ve gotten caught up in making sure we look the right way, or say the right things, or vote the right way, or protest the right issues. We’ve forgotten that our job is to love.
Agape Ann Arbor is all about cutting through the crap and getting down to what Jesus said his followers should be about. Yes, there are things that we believe. But those beliefs fuel our purpose to love each other and the city of Ann Arbor. We will be known for how we love.
Contact us if you’d like to learn more about Jesus, or Agape Ann Arbor. We’d love to get to know you.