Christians, Let Us Remember

glowing-cross

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you oh Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

It is finally the day after, and we all woke up this morning as Americans. Yet we are Christians first.

Some voted (or did not vote) as an expression of anger or protest. Many more of us used our vote as an instrument of principle. Whatever the outcome, our call in Christ is for reconciliation.

Many factions have sought to divide us, have sought to have us focus on flaws and sin instead of mercy and grace. The enemy has infiltrated our hearts, our thoughts, and our words.

“It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” (Matthew 15:11)

handsqueezingheartWe have several choices today and over the next four years.

We can let our shock and disappointment grow fear in our hearts. We can continue to brood, letting our anger simmer until it boils over into a rage that we can no longer contain. We can continue to cast blame, point fingers, and feed our resentment. Either of these choices will keep the door open for the enemy to squeeze Christ’s living water, grace and love out of our hearts.

 

On the other hand, we can choose to accept the results with grace. We can pray for our new President, for all the members of our new Senate and House of Representatives. We can pray there will be (or already has been) a gracious concession speech without bitterness or rancor. We can pray for a peaceful transition of power. We can pray for progress over politics. We can work wholeheartedly to unite our country.

In January, the hand of the winner of this hard-fought election will be placed on a Bible. The new President will take the Oath of Office. We can choose to put behind us the animosity we have lived with the last 20 months and instead, take up our cross and the mission of reconciliation. We can choose to be the light and the mouth of Christ.

You see, the controlling force in our lives is the love of Christ; Christ’s love guides us. He died for us so that we will all live, not for ourselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. Because of all that God has done, we now have a new perspective; we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. Whoever is a believer in Christ is a new creation. The old way of living has disappeared. A new way of living has come into existence. All of this is a gift from our Creator, who pursued us and brought us into a restored and healthy relationship with Him through Christ.

And He has given us the same mission – the ministry of reconciliation – to bring others back to Him. He reconciled the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And He gave us this wonderful mission of reconciliation. We are Christ’s ambassadors; God makes His appeal through us. (2 Corinthians 5:14-20)

Are We Ready?

not-listening-jim-carrey

In Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, (The Sermon on the Plain, Luke 6:17-52), he records Jesus telling us to love our enemies and pray for them. He writes of Jesus instructing us to refrain from judging or condemning others. He recounts Jesus reminding us to look at the logs in our own eyes first. (Luke 6:27-42).

I’ve read and quoted these verses many times, yet as I read them again, I noticed a key phrase for the very first time.

The Bible is like that – God’s word never changes, but if we allow it, the Spirit continues to mature us in our faith and transform us in ways we never though possible. Mysteries open our eyes to passages we have never seen before. We have “Aha” moments, and understand the words of the Lord more deeply. We gain clarity in areas of former confusion. We have breakthroughs divergent from long held beliefs.

To you who are ready for the truth; But I tell everyone who is listening; But to you who are willing to listen; But I say to you who hear; If you’re listening, here’s My message: (Luke 6:27)

The quote above is from five different Bible versions. In Matthew’s account (Matthew 5.1) by contrast, Jesus begins by sitting down and waiting until the crowd had gathered around him. Luke, who was a physician and known for his precision in chronicling detailed and accurate accounts, tells us Jesus begins his sermon by addressing those who were willing to hear the truth.

God speaks to each of us, but do we listen? Do we stop to pay attention to His whispers? When we pray, do we make time to listen for His response?

seven-deadly-sins-620x320Do we compartmentalize God’s commands when they don’t fit nicely into our acceptable framework? Do we pick and choose which commands to follow like we choose items off an á la carte menu? Do we prioritize the sins of others as more egregious than our own?

If we commit to follow Jesus, we must follow all His commands. Jesus was sent from God; he is an equal part of the Trinity, and appeared to us as the physical embodiment of the Father to bring us back into our Father’s embrace. We have the Spirit to remind us of his words – words of life – commands to keep us following in his footsteps. His commands keep us together in unity, in understanding and in healing. God wants us to continue to choose life.

“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life.” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

Are we sometimes too obdurate in our points of view, too inflexible in our behavioral habits, made too intractable by fear or anger to stop and listen, to reevaluate, to consider Jesus just might be right?  

Silence

 

“Remember, before you speak, it is necessary to listen,” Mother Theresa

Tape Face

Arguments. Gossip. Hostility. Name-calling. Contempt. All this occurs in an atmosphere of wanting to be right, of not listening, of refusing to be slow enough to speak in order that we hear and learn. This kind of talking does nothing but stroke our own ego.

He then called the crowd together and said, “Listen, and take this to heart. It’s not what you swallow that pollutes your life, but what you vomit up.” (Matthew 15:11)

How can we, in a climate of division and mistrust, practice the skill of taking a step back in order to arrive at a willingness to listen? And not just listen to form a reply, but listen with the intent of understanding.

This kind of listening accomplishes several things.

  1. It helps us widen our own narrow perception of reality
  2. It helps us form relationships
  3. It helps us understand the experiences, history and hurts of other people
  4. If we are Christians, it helps unify us with our brothers and sisters in Christ
  5. It allows us to hear the voice of God through the Holy Spirit

Of course, we must desire to step back from anger, practice thinking before speaking, prefer to find common ground, and aspire to approach people with openness and compassion. If we don’t, then we simply choose to reject, condemn and despise.

As we stay silent and think – seriously consider our words before we speak, weigh the consequences of our words on others, take time to evaluate the words of others, and reflect on how words that float on social media have an effect on you and the children you know – we begin to form conclusions driven by more than our momentary and sometimes incendiary reactions to an event.

We are able to respond in a way that includes listening to understand.

So faith comes from hearing the message, and the message heard is what Christ spoke. (Romans 10:17)

We are able and willing to widen our perspective to see another point of view. We are able and willing to have compassion for the experiences of people unlike ourselves. We are able and willing to seek common ground and thus solutions, instead of blame. We are able and willing to find unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ. And finally, we are able and willing to hear the blessing of God’s voice.

“In silence we will find new energy and true unity. Unity is the fruit of prayer, of humility, of love…We cannot find God in noise or agitation… In silence He listens to us; in silence He speaks to our souls. In silence we are granted the privilege of listening to His voice.” Mother Teresa

 

Mother Teresa quotes from No Greater Love, ©1997, New World Library, MJF Books, NY, NY

Black and Blue Lives Matter

My heart is aching. Because all lives matter.

The coward who shot and killed five white police officers in Dallas, Texas did not serve the nation yesterday.  They committed an unjustified and horrific act of violence and murder that took the nation’s attention away from the unjustified murder of two black men – Alton Sterling and Hilando Castile. We cry for their families.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”  Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This coward took the nation’s attention away from a peaceful, non-violent protest which had the support and encouragement of local police. He callously took the lives of five brave officers, four of whom worked under a black police chief committed to unifying a police force and community.

“We’re hurting. Our profession is hurting… We are heartbroken. There are no words to describe the atrocity that occurred to our city. All I know is that this must stop, this divisiveness, between our police and our citizens…Pray for these families. Pray for our strength in these trying times.” Dallas Police Chief David Brown

The three officers whose names have been released pending family notification are Brent Thompson from DART, and Michael Krol and Patrick Zamarrippa from Dallas P.D. We cry for their families.

“This has been a week of profound grief and heartbreaking loss. The answer must not be violence; the answer must never be violence. We must reflect on the kind of country we want to build and the kind of society we want to pass on to our children. We must reject the easy impulses of bitterness and rancor and embrace the difficult work of finding a path forward together.  I ask you to turn toward each other, not against each other.”  Atty. General Loretta Lynch

Now, we are in mourning for more victims. More families. More division.

Last night was an act of pre-mediated murder. During negotiations before the murderer was himself executed by a robo-bomb, he admitted he was angry and wanted to take down white people, especially white officers. He did that, but he also murdered an officer of color and seriously injured a black mother, Shetamia Taylor, shielding her four sons from the gunfire.

The two killings earlier this week were not pre-meditated, but they were certainly murders.

Second degree murder is such a killing without premeditation, as in the heat of passion or in a sudden quarrel or fight. Malice in second degree murder may be implied from a death due to the reckless lack of concern for the life of others. (search:murder,legal dictionary;law.com)

This has been a long week for this country. We have seen terrible, senseless things. Every member of this body wants a world in which people feel safe regardless of the color of their skin. That’s not how people are feeling these days…Let’s not lose sight of the values that unite us; let not lose sight in our common humanity. The values that brought those protesters to the streets of Dallas: respect, decency, compassion, humanity. If we lose those fundamental things, what’s left?” Paul Ryan, Speaker, House of Representatives

 

From What Cup Will We Drink?

drinking glasses

The shooting in Orlando, Florida in the early morning hours on Sunday was a horrible tragedy. It was a horrific mass shooting that was both a terrorist shooting by someone who identified himself with Isis, and an act of domestic terrorism by someone born here who bought an assault rifle and decided to use it in an act of hate and violence. It was the act of a coward.

How do we view this act of violence?

A few have unfortunately already begun to drink from the cup of condemnation. They view it as “divine retribution for sins.” They have forgotten their First Love and have become like the Pharisees; grasping at law, yet compassionless for their brothers and sisters in the human race God created.

AR-15 style assault rifle fires 800 rounds per minute
AR-15 style assault rifle fires 800 rounds per minute

Some have latched onto and drink from the cup of politics. Instead of focusing on sympathy for the grieving families, and allowing time to mourn, they jump immediately on the bandwagon of gun control. While I may entirely agree with your position, now is not the time; now is the time for lamentation.

Others may choose to drink from the cup of hatred: all Muslims are alike. If Omar Mateen’s family had been banned from coming into this country, this never would have happened. We forget the Pilgrims came to this country to have religious freedom.

I prefer to drink from the cup of unity and compassion; I thirst right now for unity and compassion in our country and with my Christian brothers and sisters.

As President Obama said yesterday,

“This was an act of terror and an act of hate; this is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American — regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation — is an attack on all of us and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country. And no act of hate or terror will ever change who we are or the values that make us Americans.

 “Today marks the most deadly shooting in American history.

“In the coming hours and days, we’ll learn about the victims of this tragedy. Their names. Their faces. Who they were. The joy that they brought to families and to friends, and the difference that they made in this world. Say a prayer for them and say a prayer for their families—that God give them the strength to bear the unbearable. And that He give us all the strength to be there for them, and the strength and courage to change.

“In the face of hate and violence, we will love one another. We will not give in to fear or turn against each other. Instead, we will stand united, as Americans, to protect our people, and defend our nation, and to take action against those who threaten us.”

It should not matter this terrorist took out his hate upon people in a gay bar. It should matter that he took out his hate upon 103 human beings, 50 of whom died on American soil.

I pray with all my heart God plants a thirst in us for unity, grace and love. I pray as a nation we unite in compassion, we reach for dignity for all people He has created. I pray for those of us who are Christians, God please help us lay down our need to accuse and condemn, and pick up Jesus’ yoke of love and grace.

I pray with all my strength we see this as a horrible act of hatred, of terror, of one person’s twisted mind taking out his twisted logic on 103 people, 50 of whom are dead. Let us pray in grace, and be united in love.

Voting

Theology2I live in the U.S. in the State of California and I voted this morning.

Did my Christian world view influence the way I voted? Sure. How could it not. I’m also a 65-year-old woman. That also influenced the way I voted. So did the sum total of my life experience.

So now I await the results, along with the residents of this state, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota. The final primary is next week when the District of Columbia votes.

 

Of course, these are only the primaries. The general election date is November 8th.

And every presidential election year I pray. I began praying back in April last year.

“This prayer is also for all the believers who will follow [these disciples] and hear them speak. Father, may they all be one as You are in Me and I am in You; may they be in Us, for by this unity the world will believe that You sent Me.

“All the glory You have given to Me, I pass on to them. May that glory unify them and make them one as We are one,  I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” (John 17:20-23)

Why do we allow The Enemy to throw us into disunion over anger or litmus tests?

How many give The Enemy a foothold by ranting on Facebook, “liking” or retweeting a negative comment, telling or passing along a sarcastic political joke, or refusing or forgetting to pray for those in office?

How many choose to protest with fists and angry words? Applaud the arrogant and proud rather than humble and courteous? How many prefer those who can shout the loudest rather than those who listen and work for peace and unity? (Matthew 5:3-9)

How many, if the person you vote for is not elected, are already determined to pass along your anger to others, to become bitter and cynical, to refuse any attempt at peacemaking or unity?

“You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.” (Matthew 5:21-22 The Message)

Why is unity so difficult for those of us who call ourselves Christians? Why do we make life difficult for each other, disown each other and tell each other we’re going to hell if we disagree doctrinallyTheology3 with each other? Do you know how many different theological doctrines exist? The images shown are from the table of contents from only one book* – 323 pages of seventeen different doctrines and 2-4 different sides of each of those doctrines. Doctrine is merely man-made and though it may be based on Scripture, it is still widely interpreted.

Jesus did not pray for us to be one with doctrine. He prayed for us to be one with Him and with the Father.

The Holy Spirit is in us in order to accomplish this oneness. If we ignore the Spirit of God and instead worship doctrine or agendas or a person running for office, aren’t we guilty of idolatry? Haven’t we walked away from our First Love? If we have, we must turn back, and remember what the Gospel is truly about. (Revelation 2:4-5)

Dear Lord,

May You hear again this faithful refrain of the words Jesus prayed: may we be as one as You and Your Son and the Spirit are as one; may we all be as one in You as You are in us. In that oneness, may be treat each other with love, grace and dignity, and in that unity show the world who You are in us.

May we remember this today and every day throughout the rest of this year. May we pray for all our leaders, whoever they are, that they would seek to lead justly and compassionately, and that they would seek to be peacemakers and unifiers. Amen

 

*Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology by Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy, © 2009, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI

It’s Not What You Know

It’s Who You Know

I’ve written many times before about our discipleship of love. About discarding the chains that bind us to legalism , judgment and division. Yet somehow, we cling to those chains as if our life – our salvation – depended on it.

freeimages.com
freeimages.com

As we study the Bible, attend Bible classes, or just listen to our own preachers, we become locked inside a bubble of self-righteousness. Day by day, we adopt an attitude cemented in being right about our perception of God, of right and wrong, of what He thinks. And really, if we are convinced we know what God thinks about anything other than ourselves, we don’t know the God who saved us.

As the apostle Paul said, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

In other words, we only know part of the story. God only reveals to us through the Spirit what we are ready to know. No one knows the full measure of God’s thoughts or ways, and we won’t until we see Him face to face. Hopefully, as the Spirit helps us mature in our faith, He also reveals more of God to us. And as that happens, our hearts and minds continue to grow and transform to be more like Jesus.

God’s Word doesn’t change, but as we grow in our faith, our understanding of it should.

“As we receive more revelation by faith, our experience will begin to line up with what God says about us… Humility and staying teachable, along with realizing that we all only see in part and that there will always be more than one way to look at things until Jesus returns, are some of the hallmarks of spiritual maturity.” (©Mel Wild, 2015, Sonshift, Everything Changes in the Father’s Embrace, pp.186, 215)

It doesn’t really matter that our 33,000 doctrines and traditions are different; what matters is Who we worship, Who we receive unconditional love, grace and wisdom from. And it matters that we accept this love, grace and wisdom so we can, in return, give it to others. For if we can receive unconditional love from the Father, we can pour it out to our family, our neighbors, our enemies. If we can receive unconditional grace from Jesus, we can offer it to our family members, our friends, and those who offend or hurt us. If we can receive the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, we can truly know God and grow in His embrace.

“I am not asking solely for [the disciples’] benefit; this prayer is also for all the believers who will follow them and hear them speak. Father, may they all be one as You are in Me and I am in You; may they be in Us, for by this unity the world will believe that You sent Me.” (John 17:20-21)

Father, I pray for all us. May we please begin the New Year in You, in Him, in unity.