Tag Archive | Jesus

Love Rather than Judge (November 25, 2009)

I talk to a lot of people – huge surprise, I know – Christians who attend church, those who do not, as well as people who do not believe in God at all. In fact, I just had a conversation with a friend who grew up in a Baptist church, but no longer attends any church with her family. Her rational was exactly the same issue I hear from most people who are not actively participating in their faith, especially Christians. It is simply a fear of judgment from the members of the church. This fear may or may not be legitimate, as Satan is the father of lies, and thus tries to pass on self-doubt to individuals. He hopes that this will prevent people from living the lives God has designed for them. However, I believe that a person’s fear of judgment within a church body can be rational. Sometimes people who have grown from certain sins want to help other people going through similar events, and this may come across as judgmental – although it’s likely never the intention of the more mature believer.

Simply put, our job as Christians is to love other people. This doesn’t only apply to lovable people. We should love sinners and less mature Christians, just as Christ loves us, even though it may not always be comfortable for us to do so. We should love others, especially other believers, without judgment or condemnation. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1).” Even if we have spent our entire lives as Christians, and have no major skeletons from our own past, we still fall extremely short of Jesus’ perfection. Jesus died on the cross for everyone, not just us. We need to reach people and share God’s love without any strings attached. We should love others where they are, and encourage their spiritual growth without coming across as if we believe we are better than them.

God is responsible for judging everyone and will hold us accountable for our actions here on Earth. Christians passing judgment on other Christians is essentially saying that God cannot accomplish His will without our help. It is not our place to articulate all of the sins of every person we come in contact with. Believers should establish accountability partners to help facilitate their Christian growth, with people they trust and respect. This way, if you start to engage in inappropriate behavior, there is always a gentle voice to guide you back along the path to righteousness. Any spiritual correction that is necessary should always be given in a humble, loving, private manner. It should be accompanied with understanding and support, rather than judgment and superiority.

In general, we should always remember the words of Matthew 7:3 “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” This is an exhortation to believers, and reminds us that we will be judged according to the manner we judge others. Trust in the fact that God can and will change believers into the person He desires them to be. Once a nonbeliever truly accepts Christ into their heart, they will be personally convicted by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works differently in everyone’s life. Sin problems are not all tackled immediately when someone becomes a Christian. God is gentle, loving, and will guide people through their Christian growth. We should nurture this growth as sisters in Christ. Paul sums this up perfectly in Romans 14:1-4:

“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”

God is in control and will accomplish His will regardless of how much we help Him ‘fix’ other people. This holiday season, may we all live out the words of Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind to one other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Help make the church a safe place for all people, no matter what their past, present, or future sins may be. Through love, not judgment, we can show others how incredibly fortunate we are to have such a merciful God.

Failure of Modern Religion

I have noticed an extreme polarization in the beliefs in our country over the past few years, with people strongly embracing individual differences, including political affiliation, social issues, and especially views regarding religion.  On one end of the spectrum, moral relativism encourages us that there are unlimited ways to reach heaven as long as we are sincere; but, at the same time, Christians vocally disagree over the gray areas, which are ultimately unimportant in the grand scheme of things.  The modern Christian faith finds itself at the center of a great deal of negativity because of this type of spiritual snobbery.  The result is that we may be scaring people away from Christ instead of loving them.

Religion is a man-made attempt to get closer to God.  I’m not sure where I first heard that quote, but I’ve been saying it for years.  In fact, this premise had been a major force in the love/hate relationship I have had with the modern church throughout my lifetime.  The church is full of humans, and humans are very far from perfect, so churches (on a local or larger scale) are therefore fallible, and prone to have problems.  The church is a realistic portrayal of our corporate need for Jesus, but we also can allow it to become an idol and thus we take our eyes off of Jesus.

I know so many people who refuse to give Christ a chance because of negative effects of the church.  I started writing this back in December when a colleague shared with me that she does not attend church because Christians are too judgmental and there are too many man made rules.  I have heard numerous iterations of this statement my entire life.  Examples include, but are not limited to: not allowing a child to be baptized because the mother was unwed, restricting church membership to those who appear to have it all together, and having “certain” sins count as being more horrific than others, when sin is sin is God’s eye and He hates all of it.

Jesus never rejected anyone because they were too bad of a sinner.  He never showed hatred towards someone who grew up with a lifestyle that seemed bizarre to Him.  Jesus pursued relationships with all people; He opened doors and encouraged others to engage.  Jesus spoke to people whom society looked down upon with mercy and love.  Consider the Samaritan woman at the well.  Jesus began a conversation with her, asking her to give Him a drink, even though Jews were not supposed to associate with Samaritans. Jesus was upfront with her about her sin, but did not condemn her.

Jesus never compromised His beliefs, but He also didn’t shove them down anyone’s throat.  Think about it…  Jesus did not chase after people to share the gospel; he let them come to Him.  He may have preached in public areas, but He never forced His beliefs on others.  When the rich, young ruler asked Jesus about how he could attain eternal life, Jesus answered his question honestly.  However, when the price was too high for this man, and he walked away, Jesus let him go.

The bottom line is this… As Christians, we need to come together on the basic tenets of our faith, those foundations which define our salvation, and we need to stop the internal finger pointing and end-fighting.  Until we do, we are a stumbling block to the lost, those who desperately need the grace and mercy that only comes from Jesus. As Christians, we should focus on loving God and loving people, helping others understand that Jesus died for everyone’s sins and that by believing in Him, we can all enjoy eternal life!

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:34-40).”

Reflections of Christmas (December 25, 2009)

December 25th, 3:00 AM…for those of you who don’t know me well, I often write in the middle of the night.  My rational is that since I rarely have a chance to slow down, God messes with my sleep and uses my down-time to talk to me.  On this Christmas morning, my mind struggles to focus on one particular thing.  Mostly, I am thinking about the meaning of Christmas – the true meaning, Jesus’ birth.  But, since we’re nearing the end of December, I cannot help but reflect about my spiritual walk over this past year.  What makes me even more pensive is that we are approaching the one-year anniversary of this newsletter.  That means I’ve written eleven devotionals, but have they – have I – glorified God and inspired women in the process.

At the surface, it may seem like my thoughts are jumbled, but I submit to you, there is a definite connection between the Christmas story and our daily responsibilities as Christians.  As we embark on yet another year of our life on this Earth, let us remember the joy we feel because of Jesus’ birth, and the love of God the Father, who gave us the ultimate Christmas gift over 2000 years ago.  Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection are not mere events to consider twice a year, but really something that should be at the forefront of our thoughts every day!

That sounds great, but is that what we do?  Is that what I do?  Are sometimes my ideals simply words on a page that lack meaning and application in my life?  When someone looks at me, do they see God’s love, or do they see some self-centered woman who cannot seem to get things right for any appreciable amount of time?  Am I really progressing in my spiritual walk?  Is it that two-steps-forward-one-step-back type of maturity, or do I find myself sliding down the spiritual mountain?  I ask these questions to myself, but really, we should all consider where we are and where we’re going.  If we truly believe the Christmas story, we need to ask these questions, and, we need to be honest enough with ourselves to answer them, but without condemnation.

When I reflect over the year, I see a few shining moments where God’s love radiated from me, but I also see some moments where I must have been demon-possessed! I honestly relate to Paul when he writes, “I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.  Now, if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it (Romans 7:15-20).”

I have to include the whole text to help you appreciate my thought-process.  Paul has rehashed my entire spiritual journey in this passage, including the agonizing frustration that goes along with it.  I’ve had this identical conversation with God, even taking it to the point of yelling, begging, and crying over it.  I ask Him, “What’s wrong with me?  God, come on, please help me be consistent.  Help me show Your love; help me do the things I sincerely want to do.  Why is that the more I want to show You, the more I end up disappointing You, and myself?  Why?”

Paul was able to point out that our problem with not reaching our ideals is because of sin living in us.  I don’t know about you, but looking at the magnitude of sin in my life, Paul’s words alone are not too reassuring!  I mean, sure there’s been progress in reducing my sin, but it’s an incredibly slow process, like using an ice-pick to break up a glacier the size of Greenland.  It would be enough to overwhelm me if I had to tackle this problem on my own.  But, I am comforted to know that our sinful nature is overcome because of Jesus!

And, that brings us back to the Christmas story, the true meaning of Christmas… the birth of Jesus, who would later die to redeem us.  We are completely undeserving of His sacrifice, especially considering nothing is required for us to accept His ultimate gift.  For me, this puts everything in a different light.  I’m not just forcing a mere ‘thank you’ to be polite for a gift I didn’t want.  I am truly humbled by the magnificent gift that God has given me – a gift I didn’t even realize I needed for a large part of my life!  I want to grow spiritually; I want to share God’s love with everyone; I want to honor the amazing God who loves us unconditionally.  This doesn’t mean I will always get everything right, or even come close, but I can and will accept I am a work in progress and continue persevering towards to the goal.  This year, let’s make it a daily priority to remember what we’ve been given and put God first in everything that we do.  May you have joyful and blessed New Year!

“For this reason I kneel before the Father from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts.  And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled in the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:14-19).

Christmas Night

And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11 ESV)

Ever since I was a little girl, it’s been hard for me to sleep on Christmas night. Back then, I was so excited about Santa coming and anxious about everything I was going to get! I would sneak downstairs and admire all of the presents that were under the tree, and wait, ever so impatiently, until I could wake my parents up to open my gifts!

Being a mom, that magical part of Christmas hasn’t gone away, as I definitely enjoy the genuine enthusiasm of my son as he looks forward to Christmas morning! The smiles, the hugs, his plans to wake up at 6am, the inability to wait before tearing into his gifts…. It’s completely priceless!

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a childlike excitement about Christmas, but for too long, this was all I saw. Presents, family, food, tradition… All very good things, all memorable, important parts of Christmas, but definitely not the centerpiece of the holiday season!

Looking back, something was always missing from my Christmas celebrations. While it was great to receive presents and spend time with family, there had to be more! I even went to church on Christmas Day almost every year, but that still wasn’t enough.

Although it took me a long time to figure it out, I now know that what was missing from my past Christmas celebrations was my personal, authentic relationship with Jesus Christ!

The birth of Jesus is more than a nice story… The nativity scene is more than a fancy decoration… God sending His Son to become man and later die for my sins is, by far, the best Christmas present imaginable! Receiving this gift – truly accepting God’s grace and mercy – is a life changing experience! This is what Christmas is all about!

At church tonight, our drama ministry presented two sketches about how many people see Christmas, and how it’s easy to get caught up in the gift-giving and family craziness that the holidays bring. In between the sketches, our choir sang beautiful Christmas carols that focused on the true meaning of Christmas. Our pastor tied everything together perfectly, connecting our modern Christmas existence with reality, which is only found in Jesus.

I was amazed at how everything fit together, and felt honored and blessed when a stranger approached me and told me that we completely depicted all of the pieces that Christmas brings and how she really enjoyed everything.

I love how God can use something so simple to show the world His love. I am truly humbled that He allows me to be a part of His plan!

I am even thrilled that my inability to sleep on this Christmas Eve is not caused by selfish thoughts of the presents I’m going to receive or what we’re going to eat for Christmas dinner.

Instead, I’m completely in awe of the presence of God in my life! I am incredibly grateful for the Holy Spirit slowly working in me. I am thankful for an amazing church family and the godly people in my life, who help me stay grounded in my faith!

My life is far from perfect, because I am far from perfect, but I still have complete joy because of Jesus! Even when life hurts, I can rejoice because I know I am forgiven and made free and will spend eternity in Christ’s presence!

I sincerely want everyone to be able to experience God’s love, and personally know Jesus! I pray that people who haven’t found what’s missing from their family celebrations will open their hearts and see the true meaning of Christmas… Jesus Christ!

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6 ESV)

Heart Purification

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8, ESV).

I posted on Facebook earlier that the K-Love verse of the day was Matthew 5:8, and that today’s lesson from my Aunt’s Max Lucado “Experiencing the Heart of Jesus” Bible study was on the Beatitudes. 

“Coincidences” like this tend to get me thinking….and the following paragraph from Lucado really got my brain going this morning:  “And though your heart isn’t perfect, it isn’t rotten.  And though you aren’t invincible, at least you’re plugged in.  And you can bet that he who made you knows just how to purify you – from the inside out.”

God knows how to purify you from the inside out… Why, yes, He does, even when you’re not looking for Him to!  In fact, God started working on my heart years before I was saved.   I believe this was necessary for me to fully embrace His love for me.

When I look back to the relationships and other experiences I had during college and graduate school, it was clear that my heart was non-existent.  I was closed to receiving love from others and tended to push people away when they tried to get too close.  The rational behind this could be a dissertation in itself, so I will spare you the details, but basically, I kept my heart safe, so no one could hurt me.  Instead of opening my heart to the possibility of things I didn’t understand, I hardened my heart, refusing to let anyone in.

Luckily, God slowly began softening my heart and planting seeds that would one day allow me to realize His love.

The major chisel to my hardened heart was the birth of my son.  I have learned so much about how to love by becoming a mother than from anything I have ever experienced.  Most people try to teach their children to love as they do; but, I can honestly say that my ability to love has resulted from my son teaching me!  I wish I could say that I learned the first time I held him in my arms, but like everything, it’s been a process.  Early on, I failed more often than I succeeded, but God gave me a wonderful boy, who always loved me in spite of my many imperfections as a mother.  I am grateful that my son and I are finally to a place where we can both learn from one another!

The next major chisel to my heart problem was the realization that my life was not where I wanted it to be.  I was still not a Christian, so I cannot really cite this verse as the basis for my change, but looking back, it makes perfect sense:   Get rid of the sins you have done, and get for yourselves a new heart and a new way of thinking (Ezekiel 18:31, NCV).

I knew some things in my life had to change, even before I knew I needed God.   Again, this is backwards thinking!   We should realize we need God, and allow Him to change us, but that’s not how it initially worked, likely because I did not have an understanding of God’s grace from my Catholic upbringing.  But, even though I was not seeking God, He was always chasing after me!

Slowly, my heart began to change, and I became open to loving other people and letting them into my heart.  However, as with anything new, it wasn’t a smooth process.  I ended up being manipulated and found myself in a dangerous situation.  But, despite the pain that resulted from my naïve heart, God used this experience to bring me to church, and by this point, my heart was ready to know Him.  Even though some people may not understand my feelings, I have absolutely no regrets, as this led me to learn about God’s amazing grace, Jesus’ unfailing love, and ultimately gave me eternal life!

To me, the most surprising thing is that afterwards, I did not go back to the “safety” of my hardened heart, as I would have expected, but rather I learned to trust God with my heart.  And, while the road has not always been smooth, and my humanness tends to complicate matters, I know I am headed in the direction that He desires for me. 

I’m being purified from the inside out, and as this is happening, I am able to see God more clearly.  Sounds like a win-win situation to me!

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves).”

What is our Mission as a Church?

Today’s church service was essentially a pep rally about our church’s great success in the area of missions, and has left me with a lot of thoughts that I may or may not be able to share coherently… but, I’ll try.

Matthew 28:19 tells us “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. I get this; I really do. We are supposed to share the gospel with nonbelievers. But, “The Great Commission” was not just about telling people about Jesus – it’s about making disciples. Sometimes I think we focus more on the “of all nations” part more than we do “making disciples”. I was excited to hear that our church does train pastors in other countries; that’s very encouraging! But, there are plenty of opportunities for disciple-making within the walls of our church, and definitely in our local area.

The pastor made a comment about how the church doesn’t do anything for people without sharing the gospel. I think that comment, more than any other, really got my mind going. I know the pastor meant nothing negative by what he said. In fact, he was trying to encourage people to give to missions groups by ensuring that their donations would be spent wisely. But, if you think about the implication of what he said….it implies motive. There are strings attached…and I don’t know that there should be.

I remember when I first started attending church. People were nice to me, nicer than I’ve ever seen at a church (of course, this was a different denomination than I had attended previously). I remember when the pastor asked me about joining the church. I told him I wasn’t ready, as I didn’t know how people would treat me once I had things together (I was a mess when I started attending). I assumed people were just being nice because they were supposed to and wanted me to accept Jesus. I worried that some people were “Jesus salesmen” and once they got my notch on their belt buckle, they would move on to another lost soul in need of salvation.

I think it makes some people feel good to bring other people to Christ; it gives them purpose – they’re fulfilling “The Great Commission”. Maybe by focusing on helping others, especially others far away, they can ignore the emptiness they feel in their own heart. Or, maybe some people really do have it all together, so much that their joy is overflowing and they want to share Jesus’ love unconditionally with the rest of the world. Maybe I’m just cynical… But, if we really had it all together, why is the family unit crumbling? Why are we overworked, overextending our credit, out of shape, stressed, and frustrated? Why aren’t churches thriving? And, the ones that do seem to be doing well, why are there so many lost people, both in the surrounding areas, and even in those churches?

I certainly don’t have it together. Sometimes I feel like I’m barely hanging on. If it wasn’t for Jesus’ love, mercy, and incredible patience for me, I would probably have given up a long time ago. I don’t always get things right, and my logic here may be flawed. But, personally, I think in order to successfully share the gospel, we need to be completely transparent to others and especially to God. If our lives “showed” the gospel, rather than our mouths “telling” it, why, that would be beautiful! The greatest testimony anyone can give is showing Jesus through your own weakness. I don’t believe we can ever be successful if we follow steps to win souls locally or internationally.

What’s your motive? Is it loving others unconditionally, or winning souls for Jesus? You might say that they’re the same…but, I don’t think they are. Sure, we don’t want anyone to perish in hell, so loving could mean winning souls….but, I think the difference is in the motive. Loving is unconditional, completely without motive; doing something to help someone, even if that person never develops a relationship with Jesus, but praying with all your heart that they can feel His love and desire Him as much as you do. When you’re doing something completely in love, it becomes nothing about you, and all about Jesus. You step out of the way, and let Jesus’ love shine though you. We are called to love; let Jesus take care of salvation!

The best part about unconditional love, is you don’t have to go anywhere to practice it. Smile at strangers in the store; hold the door for someone; be patient when you’re in a particularly slow line; give someone an anonymous gift; be aware of your surroundings and you’ll always see people who need to see God’s love through you. No motives, no strings, no Jesus sales pitch; just love, pure and simple…

“We love because He first loved us” 1 John 4:19