Saturday, January 05, 2013

I Think It's Time to Change the Water.....

I have a gnawing feeling in my gut today, and I'm pretty sure its not anything I ate.

Pretty sure.

Actually, I'm quite sure. 

My heart and mind has been swarming, recently, with contradictory notions about the Kingdom of God, and how we are supposed to live this counter-cultural revolution that Jesus ushered in some 2000-odd years ago.  

I can't escape the feeling that, for a large part, The Church in America has got it largely wrong.

Or at least, I've had it largely wrong. I guess I can't really speak for anyone else, can I?

And I don't think it's so much about what we teach or believe about Jesus, God, and the Bible that is wrong. 

Its what we do with that teaching.  Its how we live and breathe and exist and put into practice all the things we teach or believe about Jesus, God, and the Bible that has gone so very, very wrong. 

As I sit here in my living room, trying to flesh out the swirling thoughts in my mind, I can hear my wife in the kitchen, cooking.  I hear eggs frying in a pan, and I can smell cinnamon rolls cooking in the oven. One of our cats is snuggled up in a rocking chair across from me. I can hear the occasional car rumbling down the street outside our home.  The clock ticks on the wall. The trees outside move slightly in the occasional breeze. 

Life happens all around. It's the air we breathe - literally.  We see it, but we don't  really see it very well.  We exist in it, and for the most part, walk through it and ignore most of it because it's what we do.  It's how we are conditioned.  It's the way we live.  Its the air we breathe and the water we swim in.  

My desire, though,  is for my fellow brothers and sisters who follow Jesus to begin to see just how dirty the air and water is.

Honestly, I think that's the deep desire of anyone who has decided to follow Jesus. We want to tell others about the truths we've learned. Right?

The problem is, my self wants so badly to scream at everyone I know, grab them by the collar and shake them until they wake up and smell the stinky air and bad water!  I want to slap people and wake them up to the beauty that is the Kingdom of God, and the need to love others as Jesus loved us, and to love God with all our hearts! I want to make people see how important it is to "go the extra mile", and by God, if they don't get it, maybe making them go two extra miles will wake them up to the reality of God's love! 

Of course, if I were to follow the way of my self, most people would think I was a raving lunatic. No one would see the love of God and the sacrificial love of Jesus in someone slapping them around to make them understand a point. No one ever does. 

Sacrificial love doesn't slap people, or scream at them, or try to force them into believing anything. In fact, sacrificial love, the kind of love Jesus calls his followers to display in their lives, doesn't insist on anything for itself. It's all about others. That's the definition of sacrifice.  

Therein, I think, lies a large part of the problem.  For much of the world, "Christianity" has been defined by people who say they follow Jesus, and yet don't actually do the things or live the life that Jesus asks his followers to live.

Look at the kind of life Jesus calls his followers to live in the Sermon on the Mount  in Matthew 5 and 6. Look at some of the hallmarks of that kind of life that Paul writes about in Romans 12, and his definition of love in 1st Corinthians 13. Look at Galatians 5 and read about life lead by the Holy Spirit and the 'fruits of the spirit'. 

We read about these in church.  We learn about them in Sunday school, and study them in our bible study groups. We talk about prayer and fasting and loving our neighbors and loving our enemies, and understand the Kingdom principles behind why Jesus wants us to live this way.  

The problem is, the rest of the world reads Matthew 5 and 6, and Romans 12, 1st Corinthians 13, and Galatians, too. They know what the Bible says.  Most people generally like what the Bible says about love and faith.  They generally like what it says. 

But when they look from the pages of the Bible to the faces of Jesus' followers, all too often I fear the world raises an eyebrow and shakes their collective heads in quizzical dismay, because what they see on the faces and in the lives of Jesus' followers seldom matches up with what the Bible says his followers should look like.

They read about Jesus telling  his followers to love, so the world looks for love.  Too often they don't find it. 

They read about  Jesus telling his followers not to judge, but too often that's exactly what the world finds on the face of Jesus' followers - judgement.

They read about Jesus telling his followers to turn the other cheek, and go the extra mile out of love. Too often the world sees Jesus' followers refusing to out of their way for anyone. 

They read about Jesus telling his followers to be salt and light in the world. to be different from the world so that God's lavish love would be displayed through his followers.  Too often, the world doesn't see any difference between Jesus' followers and anyone else.

They read about Jesus telling his followers to give to those in need, but too often find judgement and callousness instead of fulfilled needs.   

But along with all these indictments, and I'm certain we could all come up with more, there is one that I think is the deepest, most telling indictment of all.  And it's this:

They read about Jesus telling his followers to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and to place all our trust in God for life and security.  Instead, they see Jesus' followers, especially in America, placing their trust in the dollar, their jobs, their homes, and their security- just like everyone else. 

If Jesus' followers won't actually trust him, why should anyone else?

What we do and how we live matter, friends.  That's why I have a gnawing in my gut today.  At every point where I wrote "Jesus' followers", I should have written my own name, because I am just as guilty as anyone I'm complaining about.  I am a part of the problem.

But I don't want to be anymore.

I've come to the conclusion that the only way to begin change is to be the change I want to begin.  Yeah, I know, Gandhi said it, and it's quite wise, and I also read it recently in a book, but it's still a beautiful Kingdom principal.  Be the change you want to see.

Change starts with one person, and the only person I can change is me.

I'm the only one that can submit my life to following Jesus and trusting his Calvary love to change me.
I do, however, encourage each of you, dear readers, if this is has touched any chord in your heart, to be the change you want to see in your own life.

I want to see more love, so I'm going to love more.

I want to see more grace, so I'm going to be more gracious.

I want to see more mercy, so I'm going to be more mericful.

I want to see more patience, so I'm going to be more patient.

I want to see less judgement, so I'm going to judge less.

I want to see more of Jesus in the face of his followers, so I'm going to commit myself to following Jesus better, so that my life will display more of the love that I think God wants to display through his followers.

I need to stop rambling now or I will go on forever.

Be the change you want to see.  Often we hear, "if change has to start someplace, why not with you?"

I think the better slogan is, "if change has to start someplace, it can only be with you."

Or me. 

Monday, December 31, 2012

No Offense, But.......

I've been rolling around thoughts on the Kingdom of God, and how to live in that Kingdom (to the best of my ability), every chance I get.  

The other day I told my Bible study class, I don't think Christians have the right to be offended by people outside the church, and I meant it.  Obviously it sparked some conversation, and we batted that thought around for a while.  

But I ran into a situation where I actually put into play the very ethics that I profess that we Christians should hold to as we walk through life. 

I was with my wife and stepdaughter visiting our "Grandma" at her old-folks home.  She has a nice room in a place where many elderly live - all with varying degrees of health and declining abilities.  Several of the residents hang out in the front lobby, sitting in chairs or standing by the front windows looking out at the day. We usually say a pleasant "hello" to most as we pass by, sometimes stopping to say a bit more to those we've gotten to know a little better than others.  

As I was waiting by the front doors for my wife to sign us out of the facility, an elderly lady with a scrunched up face (I think she's had a stroke), was standing with her walker looking at me.  She said something I couldn't quite hear, so I walked closer and , "I'm sorry, dear, I couldn't hear you."

She looked me in the eye and repeated herself, in a voice garbled the way stoke victim's voices sometimes are: "You're way too heavy", she said.

It was a statement of fact.  I am, indeed, way too heavy. 

"You need to go on a diet", she continued.

Now, everyone knows it is not politically correct to call attention to someone's weight, regardless of our thoughts on it, or how true or correct our thoughts are. We've been taught in our culture, its wrong to comment.  

But, she did, and there it is.  So now what do I do with that?

Within the space of about 2 seconds, I had several thoughts go through my mind.  

"How dare she?"
"She's old and her opinion is useless, anyway."
"She knows nothing about me or my life."
"Really, lady? Did you seriously go there?"

But thankfully my New Self, born of the Spirit, held sway with my heart, and I leaned close to her ear, since I do know she is somewhat hard of hearing, and said, 

"Thank you, dear. You're right, I am way to heavy and do need to go on a diet", and I smiled at her, and in that moment, truly loved her. 

I had a choice to make. I could assume she was a snarky old lady who thinks fat people at gluttonous laggards.  I could assume she was a mean old lady who just enjoyed pointing out people's flaws.  I could choose to be hurt by her words, and strike back in the way life has taught me, protecting my ego and my "positive self image" by putting her down, and elevating myself.  I could have responded with the ways of the world. 

Or, I could give her the benefit of every doubt, do as Romans says and consider her 'better' than myself, see the log in my own eye before trying to remove the splinter from her eye, and consider that perhaps, just perhaps, she was concerned in her way for my health. Perhaps she'd had a family member die from complications of obesity or diabetes. Perhaps she used to be heavy and knows the struggles that come with being overweight.  Perhaps she just wanted to talk and couldn't think of another way to start a conversation. 

Perhaps.  So I chose to run my response through the filter of love:

"Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance." (emphasis mine)
As I stood next to her, and told her she was right, she smiled a crooked half-faced smile, and her eyes lit up a bit. She nodded and said something like, "you work on that, you'll feel better". I couldn't quite understand her every word, but that's definitely the jist of it.

It is my assertion that we, Christians, don't have the right to be offended by people who are outside the kingdom of  God, in the way that we take offense and defend our sensibilities in the culture.  Our only job is to love people, fully, to the extent that Jesus loved us.  Jesus was not offended by you or I when we were outside the Kingdom, and He gave his life for us.  He loved me even before I was cleansed by His blood.

We should love others even before they are cleaned up and made acceptable, and even when they poke us in our tender emotional spots.  Jesus did, and they poked Him to the point of dying.

Just my thoughts today. Agree or disagree?