Tuesday’s Truth – You Better Find Somebody to Love

Hello again! I know, I’m a day late with this one. It’s not even very long, so that’s not my excuse. Mostly, I was letting an idea marinate, to see if it was what was really supposed to go up this week. And I think that it is. Today I want to share with you something that seems so simple, but yet is often so difficult for Christians to put into practice. It’s one of the central features of Jesus’ life, and yet probably the one we least like to imitate. What is it? Simply put, it is loving sinners. I’m not interested in discussing specific lifestyles, actions, or choices that you or I believe are sinful. That’s not what’s at issue here. The sin isn’t the issue; our action is. Let’s use a bare-bones definition of a sinner – anyone who has not believed in salvation from sin through the death of Jesus. That’s who we’re talking about this week.

 

We like to say that we love sinners and want to bring them into God’s family. But many of us (I’ve been guilty of this too) only love people “outside the fold” in an abstract sort of way. We don’t go outside of the church and love them (socialize with them, care for them in times of need, encourage them, etc.); we hope that they will “get saved” so that they can be like us and then we can really love them.

 

Why do we do this? I think there are lots of different reasons. Sometimes we are afraid that if we associate with people who don’t follow all the same rules as us (this can even apply to other Christians sometimes, sadly) we will become “less saved” and fall into sin. If we associate with someone who uses profane language, we’ll start using it too. If we socialize with someone who drinks too much, we’ll become alcoholics as well. If we befriend someone who’s living with their boyfriend or girlfriend, we’ll become sexually immoral. While we certainly need to be on our guard to not be sucked into sin or worldliness, we are promised that we have not been given “a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.” (2 Timothy 1:7) God doesn’t save us and then allow us to be weak and fragile in the face of sin. If that were true, wouldn’t He just transport each person to heaven as soon as they believed, because they would be too delicate to remain in the world? We need to have more faith in the spirit God has placed within us. If we are loving the lost in the way that God has called us to, we don’t have to worry about being dragged away from Him.

 

Sometimes we avoid people we see as sinners because we just don’t know how to interact with them. We may have been sheltered by our parents during childhood, and by our church during adulthood, that we feel that we have nothing in common with those outside the church. They don’t understand our “holy-speak” and we don’t understand the things that they enjoy or that they are upset by. This is a legitimate obstacle, but one that must be overcome if we want to claim that we really love the lost. How do we do it? A little bit at a time, I think. Look for ways to find common ground with the unsaved around you. If you were homeschooled, went to a Christian college, and then worked in a parachurch organization, you probably don’t want to start out trying to connect with a biker gang. Baby steps, folks. What about the neighbors who have kids the same age as your kids? Or maybe fellow athletes on a community team? Start by finding the things that are the same about you, and hopefully they’ll see the differences between you in a positive light that turns them towards Jesus. (Which means that you’ll have to be careful to make those differences positive!)

 

Finally, I think a huge reason we neglect to actively, tangibly love sinners around us is arrogance and pride. We have our list of the really bad sins, and people in our lives who commit one of those sins are just too “dirty” for us. We can’t be friends with that guy at work, because it might expose our children to the evil in the world if they found out how he lives. We can’t let our daughter invite the neighbor girl over to play because her mommy doesn’t have good enough morals. We see ourselves as “good” and “pure” and these others as “bad” or “corrupted” and we’re afraid that they will rub off on us, or somehow diminish our goodness. We think that it is a case of oil and water, and that mixing is simply  impossible.

 

Friends, that’s not how it works, for so many reasons. First off, you are not so great. Before you were saved, you were, in the eyes of God, just as lost as the most sinful person you can think of. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) In His mercy God saved you, and in His mercy He can save others. There is no award for being saved, because you didn’t earn it or accomplish it. If God can love and have grace and mercy for the lost, surely you should be able to. If you are not a slave to sin, it is because Jesus paid for your freedom, and not because you were inherently strong or good.

 

Second, the sin of others can’t just “rub off” on us. It’s not like the flu – it doesn’t just spread, I promise. I’ve spent a lot of time around a lot of people with all the different brands of sin, and I haven’t become ensnared by any of them. But don’t ask me, ask Jesus. He spent more time with the lost than most of us ever will, and yet he remained without sin. Jesus loved a fraudulent tax collector (Zacchaeus – Luke 19:1-10), an adulterous woman (the Samaritan at the well – John 4:1-26),  and so many others that he and his disciples were infamous for their associations with the moral and religious outcasts (Matthew 9:10-11, Mark 2:15-16, Luke 5:29-30, Luke 7:34).  Jesus didn’t see his righteousness and purity as something to be jealously guarded and protected, but as something to be shared. He knew the importance having faithful friends who loved and worshipped God and set that example for us in his choosing of the disciples. We all need a community of people who share our faith and can encourage us. But Jesus also showed us how important it is for us to let the love we receive from our relationship with the Father spill over into the world around us, particularly to those who have not yet experienced the love of God. Jesus didn’t come so that good, moral Christians would have something in common; he came so that the sinful, the lost, the broken could be saved, healed, and restored (Matthew 9:12) And that is the job he left to us when he returned to the Father (Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8).

 

To wrap this all up, I’m not sure exactly why this is what I felt compelled to write about this week. Perhaps it will be a timely challenge and reminder to some of you. Maybe it will convict someone. I know it has challenged me just thinking about it, evaluating how I live in relation to the lost around me. Do I judge, or do I love? So often Christians feel that we have the right, the responsibility even, to judge the sinners around us. But we don’t. Of all the commands and instructions and responsibilities that God gives us after we are saved, judging is not one of them. Not the unsaved, not the saved. He kept that job all for Himself. I get so frustrated by people who claim to be Christians, but then make Christianity so unattractive by loudly and obnoxiously judging and denouncing sinners. Yes, sin is a problem. It’s a huge problem. It’s the problem. But we don’t win people to Christ by telling them how terrible they are and how they are ruining society. We don’t make Christ attractive by proclaiming our own goodness and righteousness. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict people of their sin, and it is the kindness of God that leads to repentance, not our bashing or our boasting. (Romans 2:4)

 

Loving the lost is a risky proposition. It opens your eyes to see people the way that God does. It allows for the possibility that you will care about someone who refuses to answer the call to salvation. You may see those you love lost for eternity. God calls us to love the way that He does, and that kind of love opens the door to all sorts of pain. God’s heart aches continually for the lost who refuse His loving advances. And yet the rewards are just as infinite. When you see the lost saved, broken lives made new, sick souls healed, and people transformed by the power of Christ, there is nothing more amazing. You get to be a witness to something that causes all the angels to rejoice. I don’t know how God is calling you to love those around you. But I do know that He is calling you to it. Please seek Him this week, and don’t just wait for an answer – get out there and start loving some sinners!

 

Peace!

 

 

 

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In This Election Year, Can We…?

Welcome, friends!

I do not consider myself a particularly political person, but in light of the election this year, and what seems like a constant storm of political commentary and confusion both within the Christian community and without, I feel the need to speak up about a few things. So that I don’t overwhelm you, I’m going to break this into several installments. Now, before I start, I want to give the disclaimer that I know I may be stepping on some toes. I will probably be suggesting things that go against your personal grain, no matter what side of an issue you are on. Please know, though, that I am not specifically trying to take sides in what I say here. None of this is in support of any party, candidate, or law. I simply want to open your minds up to thinking about things in a new way, perhaps a better way. Please feel free to comment and discuss as long as you are willing to keep the conversation civil.

So, to start off, I’d like to ask you

Can we stop equating patriotism with piety?

Display your love of Jesus and America at the same time!

I love Jesus; I like living in America. In my mind, the two are not connected. Yes, I have the freedom to love Jesus without worrying about the consequences, but I am not more of a Christian because I am also an American. Sometimes we are told the lie that we live in a Christian nation. That is absolutely not the case, nor should it be, according to our Constitution. We may be a nation with a lot of Christians in it, but Christianity really has nothing to do with the founding of our country (more on that in another post), nor with its continued success – or failure, for that matter. To love God does not mean we necessarily love America, and to love America does not mean we necessarily love God. I have met some amazing Christians who live in India, Spain, Mexico, Palestine, Israel, and many other countries,  and they love Jesus just as much as I do. Not all of them love America, or even see it as all that relevant in their lives. But Jesus, He is always relevant to them.

I fear that at times, and especially in some churches, Americanism is thought of as part of the Gospel. It’s up to Americans to spread the Gospel to the rest of the world, America is God’s second chosen nation after Israel, America is blessed because we are Christians, America is going to pot because we’re not Christian enough, and so on. I get so frustrated when I walk into church and there are American flags everywhere, and when we say the pledge of allegiance or sing patriotic songs during a church service. That’s not church, that’s a pep rally. As I said, I’m very glad I live in America, but I have absolutely no interest in worshiping America when I have come to worship the Lord. Please, please don’t turn our flag, which should stand for freedom, bravery, truthfulness, and strength, into a patriotic idol.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t be patriotic if you are a Christian. You should, to an extent. There are times and places that are appropriate for expressing your joy at living in a mostly free and mostly prosperous nation. You and I are extremely blessed in many ways to live in the U.S. Are Christians in Scotland, France, Poland, Papua New Guinea or Brazil less blessed? If you were to sit down with them and really discuss it, I believe that they would say absolutely not.  I think we need to begin our discussion of how Christians should look at politics and elections by grabbing hold of the fact that we are Christians first, and Americans second. If China, or Mexico, or Russia, or Iran were to suddenly take control of the U.S., would you cease to be a Christian? Would you love God less? I hope not.

In light of this, I want to also ask you,

Can we stop being proud, and start being thankful?

There is a song that makes me cringe every time I hear it. A song that many people love. In fact, in the post-9-11 world, it has become somewhat of a second national anthem for many in America, that is Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA.   It’s probably not the best example of patriotic music ever written, but that’s not why it makes me cringe. It’s that word ‘proud’ in its chorus: “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I”m free…” I’m not proud to be an American, and I don’t think you should be either. Now, before you pull out your 2nd Amendment-protected shotguns and shoot me on the spot, I want to break that down for you.

Besides the fact that there are many, many things that we as Americans should not be proud of in our history (more on that later too), there is the fact that most of us didn’t do anything to become Americans. Most of us did not come from poorer or more oppressive nations and start new lives here, working hard to become citizens. Many of us have not fought in wars to help ensure the freedoms of those in this country or in others, though we should have profound respect and appreciation for those who have.  Most of us were simply born into our “Americanness” and have enjoyed the benefits of living in this country our whole lives.

That is not to say that we don’t contribute to our nation by exercising our rights in government, by paying our taxes, and by building better economies and communities. But very little of that is something we can really be proud of on a national scale. You may be proud of your small business, as you well should be, but your small business has not solved our economic problems as a nation. You may feel good about how you voted in the last election, but your vote alone has not changed the laws, the morals, the culture of the country. You did not declare our independence from Britain, fight in the Revolutionary or Civil wars, draft the constitution, or author the Bill of Rights. You inherited the benefits and blessings of those who did. You have nothing to be proud of, in the strict sense of the word.

What you do have an immense call to be is thankful. You have every reason to be thankful that you live the United States of America. You should be thankful that you live in a country whose constitution outlaws discrimination based on gender, race, or religion. You ought to be thankful that your voice and your vote are taken into account in the choosing of leaders and making of laws. You should be thankful that you are entitled to due process and a trial by jury. You should be thankful that you live in a nation where Mormons, Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, and Jews have just as much right to practice their religion as you do. You should be thankful that atheists and agnostics are allowed to live without worshiping anyone or anything. You should be even more thankful that you are free to share Jesus with them all. You should be thankful that you have the right to free speech, and that others have the right to freely voice their disagreement with you.

While I don’t feel that America is the greatest nation in all respects, nor do I think it’s the only place I could live happily, I am certainly thankful beyond what I can express that God chose to bring me into the world here. If we’re going to be Americans, and we want something to be proud of, let’s be proud of our work to uphold the rights of the oppressed, to alleviate the suffering of the poor, to bring justice to all, to genuinely care for our neighbor. And when I say this, I don’t mean to be proud of doing this as a nation, but as individual Americans. What do you say? Because that is a pride I could get behind.

Biker Chick, or If At First You Don’t Succeed, You’re Probably Doing It Wrong

Still a little dark...glad I don't have to leave any earlier

I rode my bike to work this morning. It was lovely. It takes about the same amount of time as driving my car – though the fact that going to work is downhill means I get a nice little workout on my way home- and it allows me to turn my focus more toward appreciating the beauty of God’s creation around me (rather than trying to avoid hitting said creation, especially the meandering “we own the road” deer that seem to outnumber the human residents of this town). If you had known me as a child, this would be a shocking revelation. Me? On a bike? Without needing medical attention? Not possible.

The Bike and I, a play in 3 acts

Who doesn't want handlebar streamers?

You see, I have always had a love-hate relationship with that two-wheeled monster, the bicycle. My first bike was a fantastic creation with purple wheels, neon stickers and colorful handlebar streamers. But it was not the pink bike I had clearly specified on my list for Santa. Eventually we made up, and I learned to like my bike, especially when I discovered that I could leave purple skid marks on the sidewalk. It seemed like the bike and me might be a match made in heaven after all. We did have our little squabbles, like the time I tried to go all Evel Knievel and ride my down the hill from the front yard to the back. The boys next door did it all the time, and it looked so cool. My first grade understanding of physics wasn’t all that great, and I neglected to notice the fact that our side of the hill was signifcantly steeper than the neighbors’. Needless to say, It was a good thing my mom insisted on me wearing my very uncool helmet, because otherwise I would have several nifty scars on my forehead, and probably some serious brain damage. But in general, the bike and I got along well, and I even got to ditch the training wheels. I was well on my way to the Tour de France. Or at least the Tour de Block.

It didn't look exactly like this, but it seemed about this intimidating

A couple of years later, I got a “big-girl” bike. A purple and hot pink mountain bike. It was totally rad, to use a phrase of the times. I rode it a grand total of about 10 times before it tried to kill me. I was trying to steer, really I was, but there was an irresistible magnetic force to the rolls of discarded carpet in the church parking lot where I practiced my fancy riding. I had always dreamed of flying, but that wasn’t quite how I imagined it. Mercifully, the bike was stolen during a move later that year. And there, with my narrow escape from death-by-demon-bike, my riding career was apparently over. Once in a while I would be at a friend’s house, and would end up borrowing their brother’s bike to try to ride to the 7-11 for a slurpee, but I pretty much thought I was going to die each time. I developed a type of sour grapes philosophy about biking, deciding that it was a dumb way to get around, only slightly better than running (both of which I knew should never be done for fun).

Shade is definitely a good thing when riding in the East

Fast forward about 15 years. While living out East, we discovered a beautiful trail through the woods not far from our house. It was great for walking or jogging (for others to jog, not me!). On a trip back to our hometown, we retrieved our bikes from our respective parents, and came home to ride the trail. It seemed like a good way to spend time together and get some much needed exercise as well. My first time on the bike, I managed to get about 100 yards before I realized that I needed about 30 feet to go around other people on the trail, and that trying to ride over the bridge across the river was like trying to ride through a herd of longhorns in a cattle chute. But my sweet husband was encouraging, and I kept practicing. Later that weekend, we decided we would ride our bikes down to the cute little island in the middle of the river. We got about a quarter of the way there when my bike went off the edge of the pavement, and in trying to correct my path, I ended up flipping my bike over and landing in a mangled mess. No permanent damage was done to the bike or to me, but I had a sore ankle and a nice bruise on my knee for several days. And yet, I didn’t give up. It’s sad to say as a grown woman, but I was really excited the first time I made a 5 mile roundtrip without a) falling over or b) having a heart attack.

In Which I Move to Hippie-land and Become a Biker

My beautiful trail

Not too long after that, we decided to move ourselves West, to a beautiful small town that is incredibly bike-friendly. There are trails all over the place, and in spite of being in the mountains, the town is really pretty level. Actually, bike-friendly is an understatement. Every shop downtown has a bike rack out front, it’s not surprising to see several children or small dogs in trailers behind bikes, and even tiny children are seen riding their bikes to school each day. Bike-crazed is a more appropriate term.  I started researching commuting and grocery shopping by bike, and got really, really excited. When we were house-hunting, one of the requirements was that it be close enough to ride our bikes downtown for events and shopping. When we finally found a house, it was not only close enough to downtown to bike everywhere, but it was also only about 100 yards from the entrance to the main bike/hike path through town. It was just over a mile from work, and a mile and a half from the grocery store or the main drag downtown. As they extend the trail system, I’ll also be able to ride my bike to Wal-Mart. I love the idea of the bicycle trifecta – green transportation, money saved on gas, and exercise without adding much time to my schedule.

Pride Goeth Before a Fall…

All ready to go...

And so, just days into the school year, I decided I would ride my bike to work for the very first time. I had my brand new basket on the front holding my lunch and purse so charmingly. I left plenty early so that I would have time to enjoy the scenery. I kissed my sweetie goodbye and pedaled off down the street, so proud of myself. I turned onto the bike trail, reached up to adjust my helmet, and then everything went wrong. Apparently the adorableness of my basket had thrown the balance off, and when I tried to single-hand it, I sent myself skidding off the edge of the trail. As any physicist will tell you, inertia is an absolute bear. The bike went sideways, and I went down and forward. I landed in the gravel and prickly grass at the edge of the trail, immensely thankful that there was no one around to witness my divinely appointed comeuppance.

One of two crash sites

I picked the gravel out of my palms, dusted off my khakis and beige sweater as best I could, and got back on the horse…er, bike.  “I can do this,” I thought, with only the slightest of tears of pain and embarrassment welling in my eyes. I continued on bravely. “Woohoo! I have conquered the bike…yeah!” went through my mind as I turned the corner to the street my school is on, followed shortly by, “Uh-oh…you’ve got to be kidding me!” as the gravel shoulder of the road reduced the coefficient of friction that had been holding my bike upright to nil and I crashed, yet again. I picked myself up quickly, lest a passing motorist (heaven forbid a parent or student) see me in my shame. Now feeling summarily reduced from my normal 5-foot-11 stature to about 3-foot-6, I pedaled very, very carefully the last tenth of a mile to school. Somehow I managed to make it on time and without severely noticeable injuries to my person or my wardrobe.

Safely parked at school

I was left with a healthy fear of the road and a bruise the size of a grapefruit on my leg, which lasted for a good few weeks. My shiny new basket still fit on the front of my bike, but had acquired a peculiar crooked tilt. I also had the pleasure of going back over the entire trail searching for my cell phone which had made a McQueen-esque escape from said basket. In all, though, there was no lasting damage, if you don’t count the basket’s re-alignment.

The Moral of the Story

Lesson learned, I was very cautious as I biked to work over the next several days. I felt quite accomplished when I was able to ride home from Safeway with a full basket and a bag of groceries to boot. My dear and I began making a habit of biking to the farmer’s market each Saturday morning, and quickly realized that we were going to need more baskets and racks if we were going to continue bringing nature’s bounty home each week. Just as I had planned, we were spending time together, getting things done and moving our bodies into a much greater state of health.

Who wouldn't want to ride here?

One day, I realized that I didn’t think biking for fun or for transportation was so dumb, like I had when I was a kid. Not only was it acceptable, it was something I really enjoyed. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’ll ever be one of those die-hards that I see here biking up mountain passes in the snow. I still hold on to my vestigial laziness and comfort-seeking behaviors. I’ll ride to work as long as it’s not actively snowing or raining, the temperature is above 20 degrees and the wind is under 30 mph (which can sometimes be an issue here!). I feel stronger and healthier each day that I ride, and I also feel something else – a sense of accomplishment. I had failed and failed, and finally I had succeeded.

When we fail at something, especially early on in the process, it is easy to convince ourselves that we just don’t have what it takes. We deceive ourselves and give up because we don’t want to fail again. Isn’t that the worst kind of pride? We can’t bear the thought of being a failure, so we refuse to fail. If only someone could show us all the wonderful things we are missing by not adjusting our methods and trying again. I imagine that seeing those possibilities laid out before us would revolutionize our way of thinking about life. Proverbs 24:16 tells us, “A righteous person falls seven times, and rises again…” If we give up the first time we fall, we are not exploring the full potential that God has created us for. Will the falling still hurt? Well, sure it will. Will we run up against things that are really difficult? Definitely – that’s a part of life. But if God calls us to do something, then nothing can stop us. Please don’t think that this means that anyone can do anything just because he or she wants to. Not everything is good for us, or part of God’s plan for us. Sometimes we will reach a point where we are right to give up and try something else. But that point is never after the first fall. God is reaching out His hand to help you back up. Will you take it, and try again?

May your heart be glad!