Christians: Are you known for Who you are for or What you are against?

As a Christian I’ve longed to be identified by what I am for versus what I am against. I move from rage to shame when I see public figures identify themselves as Christians while they defend hateful actions or words. I sigh deeply when I see not so public figures express their opinions in not so Christian ways on social media. Why oh why, I bemoan, do there have to be liberal and conservative Christians? I’m so turned off by it all that when I filled out my “religious views” on Facebook I felt compelled to define Christian as “Trusting the Father, walking with Jesus and depending on the Holy Spirit”. I realize it’s a really lame, incomplete definition of what it is to be a Christian.

Over the last few years I’ve come to realize my desire to be identified by what I am for versus what I am against is also a lame and incomplete definition of a Christian too. Bummer. I’m not too fond of conflict.

In an opinion piece published by Times and Patheos, entitled, “I Want My Christianity Back –Without the Ugly Baggage”, the author, Mark Sandlin, bemoaned, “Truthfully, I don’t blame people who assume that if you’re Christian you’re anti-LGBT, anti-abortion, anti-real equality, anti-other religions and pretty much anti-anything else that one small but loud subset of Christians find offensive or threatening.” I get what he’s saying…kind of. But that quote in itself is full of the potential for misinterpretation.

Among other things, it’s that darn “anti” prefix. Jesus was and is “for” all people. Let’s face it, the people who ticked him off the most were the religious folks. But Jesus is no door matt or “live and let live” God. He has standards – the highest of standards. It’s called holiness. (Holiness is another grossly misunderstood word).* When Jesus was asked what THE greatest commandment is he said it is to love God with all your heart, soul and mind; and the second greatest is to love your neighbor as yourself. He went on to say that everything else hangs on these two commandments.

Christianity is all about love. Jesus’ teachings are about defining love. And I think we’re all familiar with the concept that sometimes the truest love is tough love. Just like our love for our children means we teach them that doing whatever they want isn’t good for them, Jesus and therefore Christianity teaches doing whatever we want isn’t good for us.

So back to that prefix “anti”. If Sandlin was defining anti as hatred toward people he’s spot on. But if he’s defining anti-whatever as believing certain beliefs are not God’s best for us, I got to go out on a limb and say he’s got a pretty wimpy version of Jesus.

In the last couple of years I’ve been forced to take a stand on a very unpopular position. It just about killed me. I vacillated and struggled and wrestled with God. “But Jesus, I want to be know by what I’m for, not what I’m against!” “But Carrie, if it’s all about love, sometimes love is tough, not butterflies and rainbows. Also, do you trust I know what is best?” Okay, maybe He didn’t use those exact words. But after seven long months of struggling, I surrendered to His way as it was spelled out in the Bible and as I believe it was to be lived out in my personal walk with Jesus. (I also accepted the reality that I was going to be misunderstood.)

Maybe, that’s the heart issue those loud conservative and liberal Christians need to bring before God –- surrendering to His way. They all come off sanctimonious because they think their way is His way. I think the obnoxious conservative and liberal Christian politicians aren’t taking the entire Bible into account. I think their picking and choosing. That goes for the obnoxious common man on Facebook and email chains. I think they’re defining Christianity their way. But doesn’t being a Christian mean you’re a follower of Christ? He’s the Lord. He’s the Savior. We’re not.

Bottom line. Where’s all the love? Jesus is the very definition of love. I think we all need to get to know him better and read the Bible in context.** I think we need to make love the priority.

“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love.” 1 Corinthians 16:13,14

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8

 

*Good reads on Holiness:  “The Pursuit of Holiness” by Jerry Bridges and “Free to Live, The Utter Relief of Holiness” by John Eldredge

**Good reads on Jesus:  Obviously, the Bible.  I also suggest reading “Beautiful Outlaw” by John Eldredge

The Sense of Smell

I haven’t worn cologne in a number of years. I keep meaning to find a scent I like but I always find other things to spend my money on. When I read a novel in which the female protagonist smells like wisteria or a biography that mentions fond memories of a mother who’s scent was lavender, I almost feel guilty that I can’t claim a signature cologne that leaves fond memories of me!

This morning I was reading in 2 Corinthians where Paul tells the church: “we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are saved and those who are perishing…the fragrance of life”. Now there’s a fragrance I’d like to wear daily. The passage goes on: “You show that you are a letter from Christ…written not with ink but with the spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”

I’ve read that the sense of smell brings back more memories than our other senses. And so our heart is pierced when a familiar smell takes us back to a fond or sad memory. The smell of pine needles gives me joy in part because vacations in the woods created glorious memories for me. My mom had a hard time with the smell of gardenias for some time because there were so many of them at her father’s funeral.

But the aroma of Christ is a fragrance of life! 2 Corinthians 2:6 tells us “He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life”.

A friend recently told me that they can’t get into the Bible and what she called a Jesus obsession, because there’s enough to deal with in life without feeling guilty and having to analyze every little thing. She doesn’t know that the Spirit gives life! It’s no longer about the laws we’re expected to keep in spite of being incapable of keeping them perfectly. It’s about abundant life full of the love of Jesus! It’s about freedom from serving the “every little thing”.

How exciting it is that God sees us as the aroma of Christ. He’s entrusted us to be his hands, feet, arms, and lips of mercy, justice, love and freedom. So it’s true after all, the fragrance we wear is important!

The Price of a Pity Party

As I watched a reporter standing on a balcony in densely populated Gaza City, with flares flying behind him and explosions in the distance, I was reminded that I have no real sense of the depth of human suffering. I was sitting on my comfy couch in my detached single home dwelling in a clean and affluent community in a relatively peaceful country. Living in a war zone is only one on a long list of atrocities my fellow man endures every day. Sex trafficking, child abuse, gangs taking over neighborhoods, hurricanes, cancers, mental illness, tyrannical governments, abject poverty…the list is overwhelming.

And yet, I know even though comparing life sorrows can give a bit of perspective at times; it doesn’t take away the sting of each personal trial. Nor should it. Trials are not about one-upmanship. If it hurts, it hurts. If it hurts it’s a symptom of our broken world.

My story has its own set of heartaches and in the quite of the day or night lately I’ve been tempted to make a mental list of each current challenge or sorrow. When I made the error of starting that list it was rather daunting. A guest list for a pity party that I can’t afford to host.

I love and I mean LOVE Philippians 4:8,9 — “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you.”

I chose these verses for my wedding ceremony. I’ve turned to these verses in countless times of disappointment, stress and fear. None of the things on my pity party list fall under Philippians 4.  They may not fall under this list but they certainly need to be covered by this list.

A common suggestion when a person is facing a challenge, hardship or heartache is to press through it. Clench your teeth, pull up your bootstraps, say yes to success, etc.. Pressing through is only going to last so long before you’re going to be worn out. The pressing I want to do is press into.

I want to press into the truth of God’s Word. I want to press into God’s perfect love. I want to press into the lives God has put in my life. I want to press into the outstretched arms of Jesus. I can feed my affinity for lists by listing the truths I ought to be pressing into. I think I’ll start with:

1) Nothing can separate me from the love of God. Romans 8:39

2) I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13

3) No eye has seen, no ear has heard and mind has conceived the things God has prepared for those who love him. 1 Corinthians 2:29

If it were a snake it would have bit you!

I’m finding the menopausal years kind of creepy. Now hang in there younger readers my story will have some aspects you can relate to.

I’m increasingly looking for items that are right in front of my face. Today I set the remote control on a paper to hold it from being blown away by the fan that is running in our family room. A short time later, could have been 10 minutes, could have been 2 minutes, I’m not sure, I was moving our entertainment center to see if the noise I heard when I was dusting earlier was the remote control falling behind the TV. Nope, it wasn’t there. As I was pushing it back I glanced at our coffee table where I saw the remote control on top of a paper. Scary.

Sometimes when I’m trying to remember something I picture little filing cabinets in my head flying open and the contents being thrown up into the air by some unseen force.

Ultimately, I find the remote control, or the ingredients for dinner that are already out on the counter, or my glasses that are on my head and I go on with my task, albeit, a bit more irritable. But it got me to thinking, what other snakes are right in front of me ready to bite?

I am on a number of email lists. It seems like any store I’ve ever shopped at sends me daily emails. I know I can just unsubscribe and end the madness but…what if I miss the deal of the century? Or, what if when I truly do need to buy something, I don’t receive the coupon of that day? Man, those stores know what they’re doing, don’t they?

In the past I wasn’t tempted to buy something I didn’t know I needed until I walked in a store. Now I have a daily snake of temptation greeting me when I open my email. When I recognize the snake I quickly hit the delete key on each email with a store or website name. But then there are the days where I open the email and start perusing the website of said store. Danger! Danger!

These email coupons fall under the dilemma of 1 Corinthians 6:12 “’All things are lawful for me’-but not everything is beneficial. ‘All things are lawful for me’-but I will not be controlled by anything.” Not everything that is good is good for me as an individual. Saving on my purchases, making the most of my money is a good, responsible goal. Fear of not saving when I could have saved is not good for me. It’s turning a good thing into an idol. Actually, it’s allowing myself to be a slave to “the deal”.

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery leading again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” Romans 8:14-15

Thanks Abba, Father!  You’re awesome!

Wasted Time?

I just spent the better part of 2 hours – scratch that – I just spent almost 2 mind-numbing hours watching clips from “Britain’s Got/Australia’s Got/Korea’s Got/America’s Got Talent”! No, I was not ironing clothes, filling care packages for soldiers or sorting bags for the homeless AND watching “ –‘s Got Talent” on my TV. I was sitting at my computer with a cup of coffee, tears dropping down my cheeks and occasionally wiping those tears with the cuff of my sweatshirt. No, this wasn’t in the evening after a full day. This was how I spent 2 hours of my morning.

What possessed me? Was this an ethically wrong use of time? Was this slothfulness? (Cool, neglected word, isn’t it? Slothfulness). Should I be embarrassed? Do I need to make up for lost time? Can I make up for lost time? Was this lost time?

Why was I lost in those clips? There are some obvious answers to this question: I love a good story; I love to cheer for the underdog; I love the thrill of God-given talent. But I know the foremost answer to this question is that I love to see people be seen. I’m not talking about, “Hey look, there’s Carrie”! The “seen” I delight in is “we see your worth”. However, connecting being seen with a talent show makes it sound like our worth is found in being talented. I’m losing my analysis here.

A couple months ago, I was talking to my youngest daughter who is studying to become a civil engineer. She asked a great question. Why do we admire and compliment talent in the arts and sports far more than accomplishments in education, the sciences and hard work?  We came up with a couple theories including, the arts and sports have a component of drama in them and we are moved by dramas. The arts and sports are performance pursuits that have more opportunity to be seen by others than educational achievements, sciences and hard work. And lastly, how can I eloquently state this? What we are fans of and ooh and aah over, shows that our culture is screwed up and has messed up priorities. Maybe.

I have to give kudos here to my husband. My girls and I have been guilty of yelling at him, “You don’t know who ‘so-an-so’ is?!? What planet are you living on?!?” He calmly replies, “No I haven’t heard of ‘so-and-so actor/athlete/singer’ and I really don’t care. What’s so important about them?” He enjoys and retains the information in documentaries on history, politics, religion, inventions, how-things-work, nature, etc. He wears the title “nerd” with great pride.

But fan-girls and nerds a like need to know how God SEES us. The fact that Jesus came to save us and we don’t have the capacity to save ourselves highlights that He’s not all that taken with what we can do. He’s smitten with who we are and since He’s God, he knows through and through who we are.

As Stasi Eldredge writes in her book “Becoming Myself”, “God has a thing for human beings. Though as you look around the planet, this does at times seem hard to believe, it remains true. We are loved. Born out of love, into love, to know love, and to be loved. Yes, we are born into a fallen, sorry world, which is at the same time more lovely than any fairy tale. It is both. And in this beautiful, heartbreaking world, God—the eternal, omniscient, amazing One—loves human beings. Including you. Especially you.”

You are seen! You do not need your 15 minutes of fame on “America’s Got Talent”. The startling truth is in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. And if you need assurance that there aren’t any judges who will push the reject buzzer on you as you stand on this world stage, read 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

Let that sink in. I’ve got to go iron some clothes; or at least hang up the pile of clothes that is covering my couch. I don’t want to look like I wasted time.

 

Worry is a Measuring Stick

Worry is used as a measuring stick.

When a loved one is in crisis, it’s as if the depth of our love for them is displayed in the time spent worrying for that person.  Sleepless nights, circles under the eyes, weight gain or loss can be thought as a mark of true love and commitment.

Yet, as a follower of Christ, worry measures my lack of memory and trust in the truth in God’s good Word.  In Matthew 6:34, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  And in Matthew 6:27, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

My head knows worry is at best a waste of energy.  My head knows worry is at worst a breach in my defenses against the enemy.  Worry sets my mind on the “what if’s” that are catastrophic.  Jesus wants us to set our minds on the “what if’s” that are victorious.

But worry, doesn’t have a lot to do with my head.  I may justify worry by saying it spurs me on to do what I can do to solve the problem for the person or situation I’m worrying about.  Hogwash!  My head ought to know I don’t have a whole lot of control over the person or situation.

Worry, then, has more to do with my heart.  Does my heart know that “in this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! Jesus has overcome the world”?  Does my heart know that even though there is so much that is bad in this life there is so much that is good because of Jesus? Does my heart know that this world is not my home; I am a citizen of heaven?

Actually, at its snarkiest, my heart says, “Yeah, yeah, how do you appreciate the light if you haven’t seen the darkness.  Yeah, yeah, I grow more spiritually in hard times than in easy times.  Yeah, yeah, Jesus is good and in the end he will make good of all situations.”

“…Yeah, yeah, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger (now I’m singing with Kelly Clarkson).  But didn’t most all of Jesus’ apostles die a martyr’s death?  What is this, self-harm theology?”

Actually, worry is self-harm.  It will not add a day to my life.  It will not let me handle or enjoy today.   It will not help my loved ones and their situation in the least.  It may add to their burden.  Ouch.  It may add to their burden.  (I needed to say that twice).  Now they’ve gotta worry about me worrying.  Now they’ve gotta feel guilty about how their situation is messing with my life.  Ouch.  Now my demons have a honkin’ bridge to walk over and join their demons and trounce on them.  Ouch.

Worry is a more than a measuring stick.  Worry is a whipping stick.