Thursday, April 23, 2015


The Ground is Level and Made of Love at the Foot of the Cross

I have been wrestling back and forth with a number of thoughts and the issues we see most hotly debated today, many of these issues for me circulate around how to walk the fine/grey lines of life, to be in the world, yet not of the world. How to perceive diversity in culture/thought/ideology and discern between what is simply differences and what the Scriptures teach, which I believe to the Truth. When is something right or wrong, and when is something simply different?? How to love the sinner, yet not love the sin [which is a much more Biblical "approach" than to say "hate the sin, not the sinner"]. How do I speak truth, and yet speak it in love?? How to be seasoned in my thoughts and actions with meekness and humility. How do I meditate upon and contemplate the great grace I have been shown, and yet not become proud that I have been able to walk in that grace for the last ten years?? How to be thankful for the many lessons I have learned in life, especially the last 5 years, and yet be cognizant of the grandeur of the lessons I have yet to learn. How to appreciate the abundance of blessings I have in my life (spiritual, relational, emotional, physical) and yet to walk circumspectly and in diligence aware that I am simply a steward of all that I have, and I possess nothing except for my beliefs and acting out of those beliefs. How do I look at and respect others who are different than me? How do you?

In my personal life these questions play themselves out in myriad ways.

First to mind is in that my calling to Jamaica was to be a Godly male role model to children, specifically teen boys, that are at risk, primarily because of their lack of Godly male role models in their lives. So how do I, someone who was by the sheer Providence of God granted an upbringing FULL of Godly male role models, possibly relate to and walk through life with young people who were likewise brought into this life by the sheer Providence of God yet in a situation opposite of mine, where they were brought up, perhaps, without a single Godly male role model?? I really have nothing to offer in and of myself. Except for my beliefs and the actions I take based upon those beliefs. So I must go back to the cross, to which I cling, recognizing that without the cross I am nothing. From there I can see that although I may have been born into a situation that is quite different from many of the kids I work with, I am no better than them and they are no less than me. I must Recognize Reality that God made them just as He made me, that He loves them just as He loves me and that He, a tri-une God that is three different persons with three different roles and yet One God, has made us in His image, therefore stamping each of us with unique character traits and roles in life that in one way, shape or form mirror His nature. Once I do this, I will be able to Eagerly Expect others to think differently than me, to process life in a way that is different than me, to understand roles and relationships and societal values and morality in a way that is different than me. Why? Well because they have a completely different life experience than me, one that is unique and that has thousands of variables just as my life has had thousands of variables. Yet still ordained and authored by God, taking me back to step 1, recognizing the One who granted their life just as He granted my own. Then, if I expect these different filters of thought, I will be able to Slow, Suspend and Stop the process of judging my boys and despising or looking down on them or their actions. Why? Go back to the cross. Is it good for me to think less of them for the actions they take? No, just as I too filter life through a different lens, be it right, wrong or different. It is only by the cross that I am saved, and at the foot of the cross no one is any better than another. From here I can shift from a carnal mindset that would judge to a spiritual mindset that intercedes by Prayerfully Petition both for their heart/soul/mind and for my own, allowing me with confidence to draw near to the throne of grace, that I may receive mercy (for I am in need of it just as my boys are in need of it) and find grace to help in time of need, grace that leads me to truth and spiritual discernment between those hard things in life that are SO grey, that line that separates what is simply unique/different from that which is contrary to truth and sin. (Heb 4:16) Coming out of the throne room of grace is like walking from night into day, we see things in a whole new light and those "differences" that I saw in the beliefs/thoughts/actions/perspectives of others I can now see in the glorious light of Truth, which allows me to either; Earnestly Enjoy those things which are simply beautiful diversity (cultural/ethnic/racial/lingual/personal, etc) because I have gone back to the beginning, realizing that just as God Himself is a diverse God so He has made us in His image, therefore we are a diverse people, OR; this process allows me to come out of the throne room of grace and Earnestly Empathize with those whose actions/thoughts/beliefs/etc that are NOT simply diverse reflections of our inherent uniqueness but are in actuality contrary to the nature of God and therefore contrary to truth and hence, sin. You see, this is where we so often fail as followers of Jesus, because we do not first put on the mind of Christ when we are confronting sensitive issues that are contrary to truth and we do not seek to listen and learn and be spiritual in our mind and in our response. Just as Jesus was empathetic and compassionate with the prostitutes and thieves, so too ought we be empathetic and compassionate. Jesus judged in a sense that he told the woman at the well to "go and sin no more" and yet He did so in a way that was full of empathy and encouragement in truth. It was compassionate, He knew the full story behind her actions, He knew of the challenges she faced in her life the and inner longing to love and be loved. We must KNOW the full story behind the actions/beliefs/perspectives of others as well before we will ever be able to empathize and exhort them to become more like Jesus. We must always recognize that the SAME needs I have are the same needs that OTHERS have. This is empathy. So now that I can either enjoy the diversity God has made or empathize with the root issues of the sinner in need of grace (which I am also), I am able to Consciously Consider others, my Deaf teen Jamaican boys, better than myself, this hearing adult American man. It is God's desire that His children, in humility, count others more significant than ourselves, looking not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others. Having the mind of Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Php 2:3-8) Jesus put MY needs above HIS rights, and all He desires of me is that I put the needs of others ahead of my rights. By doing all of these things, I will fulfill the golden rule and the fruit is that I will Truthfully Treat others the way that I would want to be treated and as I have ALREADY been treated by God.

Let me recap a quick story from the sermon I linked below that I would encourage you to listen to. Word association is a practice to help you realize the meaning and thought that you associate with a word. When I say "deaf" what do you think of? Perhaps "can't hear" or "can't talk" come to your mind...and years ago that's what I would have thought too, before I knew a bit more of the reality and context in which a Deaf person lives out their life. Now I no longer think of it like that, rather I see a different yet beautiful way to experience life, one that is full of color and emotion and extremely visual. I didn't always think of it that association with that word has changed since most of my adult life has been surrounded by the Deaf world. Just as Jesus is able to respond to our TRUE needs because He truly knows us, so we need to know the true needs of others in order to respond effectively in grace and truth and love.

Another word association. What do you think about when I say: Jonah. You immediately think of what? I won't even type it because we all know that you thought of what swallowed him and that's ok. But let's get to know the TRUE essence of this story and then perhaps we will associate something else. Jonah was a prophet of God, meaning he had access to communion and dialog with God, thereby knew of His power and might and nature. When Jonah was called to go to warn the people of Nineveh of God's planned destruction, he ran away from the opportunity to warn them(kind of silly when we consider that Jonah knew God cannot be hidden from). At the end of the book in Ch 4 Jonah explains why he fled when he says  "I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster." Do you see the heart of Jonah? He didn't want to see the people of Nineveh spared. He wanted to see them suffer. He hated them. God loved them. Is my heart so different than Jonah's? Is yours?

What word association did Jonah have for the people of Nineveh? It wasn't good. Probably his first thought was of hatred, despise, wishful destruction. And God asks, "is this heart condition a good thing?"

So let's try this word association again. Let's try and think of the "Ninevehs" of today. What are those things/people/ideals that make your face flush and your blood boil and cause you to start developing a heart condition similar to Jonah's, because you are either completely FOR or completely AGAINST?

LGBT rights?
Religious freedom?
Gay marriage?
Biblical marriage?
Gun rights?
Freedom of speech?
Human rights?
On and on and on the list could go.

You see, the story of Jonah is not really about Jonah at all. It's about God and it's about me. After Jonah caves in to the pursuit of God to heed the call and goes to Nineveh and preaches, the people listen and repent, and God turns from His righteous judgement and has mercy, sparing them. Jonah goes into a depression and is angered because the people are not destroyed and bitter that God had mercy on them. And God asks him "is your anger and condition of heart a good thing?" No, it was not. And yet God had mercy on Jonah, too, raising up a plant to give him shade from the hot sun. This made Jonah happy because it satisfied his perceived need, which was physical comfort. The next morning the plant was dead and God sent a scorching heat upon Jonah, who once again went into depression and anger and wanted to die. Again, God asks if his anger and condition of heart is a good thing. Obstinately, Jonah says that he is justified in his heart condition and just wants to die. 

You may feel the same way at times. You may see the sway in public opinion, the messages of the media, the laws of government, the success of your enemies and be depressed because the people who YOU want to see LOSE and be MISERABLE and be PUNISHED are instead seemingly winning, happy and basking in delight and you would rather proverbially die. God questions you and me, "is the condition of my heart a good thing? Is this the love that I have shown you?" 

And the LORD said, "Jonah, you pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left?" (Jon 4:10-11)

To the Christ-follower today, the Lord says, "People, you pity the loss of your agenda and cause and ideology, what you perceive to be your need and the world's need, but YOU are failing to have the mind of Christ and see that I am your Hope and their Hope. You did NOTHING to receive your own salvation and pardon, you who were once far from God and dead in your sins. You believe you have a right to see the "others" lose and suffer. But I, the LORD, tell you, should I not take pity on those who are lost? these great multitudes of people? Just as I have previously taken pity on you?

Try this.

Recognize all men bear His image, that each is uniquely made and loved by God; therefore,
Expect these unique creations to live/think/act/feel/perceive differently from you; enabling you to
Suspend your judgmental and condemning thought process; and instead,
Pray the Holy Spirit to transform your and their heart/mind to be more like Jesus; allowing you to 
Enjoy the reflection of God's diversity or Empathize with the sinner loved by God; in humility
Consider others better than yourself, which as a result and fruit of this you will
Treat others the way that you want to be treated, and as you have already been treated by God.

You see, we get so caught up in what we want/feel/think that we can't treat others the way we would want to be treated, because we forget to first desire God and see things the way He sees them, to know Him as He knows us, to love as He has loved us, to know the Truth and be set free. Freedom from worry about "what if this happens or this becomes legal or this and that" and free to rest in His promises, His sovereignty, His righteousness and justice reconciled with His love and mercy and compassion, so that I can walk in truth and in humility, and to focus on what do I believe about the nature of God and how am I acting on that belief. I'm not saying we don't need to stand up for Truth, but I am saying that HOW we stand up is probably just as important as the position we take. Jesus stood up for Truth, but He didn't do it by condemning sinners and heaping brimstone on them. He stood up for Truth by seeking out the lost and walking alongside of them, by fighting with love and compassion and mercy and self-sacrifice. Really the only people Jesus got angry and hostile with (if I can use those words) were the religious leaders, professing believers and those that carried the testimony of God to the nations. I fear that God may be just as angry with us today! He is angry with HOW those of us who profess faith in Him are treating those who do not profess faith in Him or who live and advocate in opposition to His word..

Does it concern me that homosexuality is being glorified and encouraged and that churches and faith based organizations are facing censure and legal issues when they act out of conscience and appear to be losing their "rights"? Sure, I suppose it does (just as violence, divorce, fornication, greed, bullying and corruption concern me - though I recognize that sexuality is a very unique and special aspect of life), but a homosexual is not in greater need of a Savior than a heterosexual. We are all sinking in the same boat and they have the same issues and concerns and needs as me. Perhaps more concerning than all of this is the failure of Christ-followers to RESPECT those glorifying homosexuality and to show love and grace and mercy to those identifying as LGBT. It is concerning that homosexuality gets treated differently than anything else. It concerns me that people talk about homosexuality without ever talking to or walking with someone who has SSA, it concerns me that people are so quick to speak out but are oh so slow to listen. It concerns me that the church is associated with things like hate, that it seems to so passionately support prosperity and gun rights and military and war, and yet does not so passionately care for the poor and the neglected and to love mercy and seek justice. It concerns me that the church seems to fight against anything that could lead to losing our man made rights and freedom and eventually being persecuted. Did not our Lord surrender His most fundamental rights and absurdly let go of the equality He possessed with the Father, denying Himself so that we could be accepted? And did He not say that those who suffer with Him will also be lifted up with Him? Did He not teach us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you? To let go of my claim to my rights? Why are we so afraid?

It concerns me that too often I pity the metaphorical plant that gives me comfort and then dies rather than pitying the people who are different from me, but just like me are in desperate need of a reconciling Savior. 

Jesus said "Just as I have loved you, so ought you love one another...the world will know you are Mine by your love one for another."

**Many thoughts running through my mind, thoughts of politics and morality, societal values and cultural norms, absolute truth and contending views, human rights and God's rights, my rights and the rights of others, a Holy and Righteous and Just God and a Compassionate, Merciful and Loving God...I would encourage you to listen to the sermon that is attached here, it stirred up many of these thoughts. It is truth and it is love, it is spiritual worship. (after trying to upload it, I couldn't because it seems blogger only allows pics or vidoes....if you know how to attach an audio file, please let me know or e-mail me and I'll send you the file.)

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