Tag Archive | sin

Love, Acceptance, and Authenticity

Yesterday, I saw the movie “Love, Simon” and it was very convicting to me.

Let me start by answering the obvious question running through your mind, but I will elaborate extensively on this as I continue…. Why would a Christian woman want to see a movie about a teenager coming out as a gay young man?

I was intrigued by the movie when I first saw the preview and knew I would love it because it would be real and about voicing emotional struggles, something I’m not the greatest at.  I chose yesterday because it was the 4th anniversary of the funeral my uncle (who was also my godfather) and I thought it would be a nice way to show respect him because I loved him deeply.

I will digress for a moment to share about my relationship with my uncle.  I found out my uncle was gay when I was in high school and I had a really hard time with accepting that.  It really wasn’t until I was in college and had a gay professor/friend that I was able to love them both for who they were.

For the record, I was not a Christian at the time.  I had grown up as a Catholic, been confirmed, and then walked away from God.  I mention this only to say that my initial concern with homosexuality was not because I felt “holier than thou” or that I was a better person (trust me, I had my own “sexual sin” to contend with), I just didn’t understand it; it was different and different confused me.

And now, over 20 years later, I am a Christian, and honestly, I still don’t understand homosexuality.  But, you know what… it doesn’t matter whether I understand it or not.  God did not place me on this earth to understand other people or their choices.  He created me to seek Him, allow the Holy Spirit to transform me from the inside, and love other people.

Back to my uncle… He was a kind, loving man, and I felt like I could be completely myself around him.  I never felt like I had to wear a mask or try to impress him.  I knew he loved me simply because I was me, not because of what I did for him. When I spoke at his funeral, I shared several stories that described our relationship and ultimately compared the love my uncle showed me to the kind of love that God shows me – the unconditional kind.  I listened to my speech yesterday and cried the whole time.

I cried because I miss the one relationship in my life where I felt I could be truly authentic and not be judged.

I cried because losing my uncle also meant I have lost connection with his friends, who I also care deeply for.

I cried because a family member, who I used to have an amazing relationship with and I know truly loves me and wants the best for me and our family, sent me a very hurtful text over a year later regarding my decision to have a private wedding and threw in a dig about that speech being all about me.

I cried because after the funeral and at the after-party at the bar my uncle previously owned, so many of his friends came up to me and told me what I said meant so much to them.  The crazy part is that it wasn’t just the stories I shared that impacted people, it was the way I talked about God and salvation and even talking about when I shared Christ with my uncle.

I just cried and cried…. and then I went to see Love, Simon and cried some more, on the way home, I cried even more….

I guess it’s about time to get to the original point of this blog…. otherwise, you might think I’m just a cry baby (which I am, so I’m happy to share that as well).

There’s a part in the movie (and it’s the trailer, so this isn’t a spoiler) where a comment is made as to why straight people don’t have to come out.  That got me thinking….

I think they should… I think we all should “come out”, but sadly, many of us never do.  I’m not talking about our sexuality here, I’m talking about something way more intimate – coming out as who we are.

I can imagine that telling your family and friends that you’re gay is incredibly scary, but it’s just as hard to share your authentic self…. the imperfect, crazy, sinful, broken-hearted person that you are; that I am; that we all are.  It doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight, we are all pretty messed up – and that’s okay.  That’s what we are supposed to be.  That’s actually what drives us to seek God, although we often look for substitutes before we get on the right path (but, that’s a blog for another day).

I understand why people don’t want to share their imperfections – because judgment hurts.  Everyone wants to be accepted for who they are, especially if they’re different from you.  I think we need to create a culture where it’s okay to be different and stop trying to be the judge of everyone’s life.  God is the only judge that matters (well, other than our court system, which I am not trying to minimize here).

God will judge us (Revelation 20:11-15), that’s biblical.  And, it’s also biblical for Christians to judge other Christians in a well-defined manner (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5:9-13).  This type of “discipline” is to be done in love, bathed in prayer, and it’s vitally important to remember to make sure we are looking first to our “logs” before our brother’s “specks” (Matthew 7:1-5).  I don’t know about you, but I have plenty of my own logs to worry about before I start condemning random people for their sins.

God commands me to love… (Mark 12:28-31; John 13:34-35; John 15:12-13; etc, etc – lots of this in the Bible).  Love means accepting people who are different than you.  Let me phrase that a little differently… Love means accepting people who sin differently than you.  Love means seeking to understand the emotions and feelings that are beneath other people’s choices and truly getting to the heart of the matter.  And, if we are completely honest, the “heart of the matter” is often a scarred, beat up, abused, terrible mess.  I know mine is!

Love means being vulnerable with those closest to you and accepting their vulnerability when they share it with you.  And while you may not agree with who they are or the choices they make, showing them grace and mercy rather than condemnation.  We also should commend their bravery for sharing intimate details of their life because that’s never easy, and again, I am talking about more than just sexuality.

Shame and guilt are from the devil.  While we should not be proud of our sins, we shouldn’t feel ashamed to share who we are, sin and all.  We are all sinful people.  It’s nothing to be afraid of.  We live in a broken world; horrible things happen; it’s heartbreaking.  That all started with Adam and Eve and it’s only going to get worse before it ultimately gets better when Jesus comes back for eternity.

Why add to the world’s problems by shaming and condemning others for who they are or what they choose?  We all have tons of our own problems to work on, so there’s no reason to add to our list of sins by being critical of others.

And when the person we are shaming doesn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, all that happens is they get pushed farther away from desiring to know God.  I feel like if we, as believers, show compassion to everyone, regardless of how they sin differently, we would present Christianity in a much better light.  Sometimes I feel that unbelievers do a better job of showing love and mercy than we Christians do, and that makes me sad.

I look forward to living in a world where we see our similarities, not our differences; where we can respectfully agree to disagree when we don’t see things the same; where we seek out to better understand why we disagree without it becoming an argument.

I had a very open conversation with a Muslim while in Senegal and it was amazing.  I see our differences, but I also see where we are the same.  I didn’t feel led to argue about right and wrong.  I simply told him what I believed and he told me what he believed.  I shared my perspective and I listened to his perspective.  It was simply beautiful.  I want this in all areas of life.

I need to do my part in this.  I want to share more openly how I feel, and I want to listen better to how others feel.  I don’t want to start debates of what is “right” and what is “wrong”.  If you ask me for my beliefs and opinions, I want to be honest with you, even if it’s not what you want to hear, but I don’t want it to turn into an argument.  We can agree to disagree, but it’s important that we share our authentic selves and not wear a mask.  I do this pretty well with a couple of my long-time friends because after all these years they “get” me, but I want to be like this with everyone and not feel like I have to dance around my feelings so as not to offend.  My motivation is never to offend… I just want to hear and be heard.

I used to be better at this than I am now.  I guess it’s easier when you’re young, single, and carefree.  But, now, I have more intimate grown-up relationships, where I want everyone to feel free to be honest about what they truly believe without it turning into something ugly.  I’ve experienced enough “ugly” to last a lifetime, so I’m ready for things to change.

I mentioned crying after seeing Love, Simon….the whole way home…. Now, I am going to be vulnerable and tell you why.

I cried because despite having a blog called “Authentic Believer”, I hardly write blogs of any real significance anymore.  Why?  I guess it’s because I am struggling with intimacy in my marriage and if I can’t share my true self with my husband, how can I share my authentic feelings publicly?

I cried because just yesterday morning, I had an assignment in this marriage book and workbook I am working through (it’s called “How We Love”) that told my avoider self to ask people for help even if I don’t think I need it.  It even says that this will be difficult and to ask God to help you first recognize and acknowledge your needs.  I did that, but I still didn’t recognize or acknowledge my need.  I needed to invite my husband to see Love, Simon with me.  I needed him to understand why it was important for me to see it.  But, instead, I encouraged him to go hang out with his youngest son because he just returned from visiting his mother during spring break.

I couldn’t invite him to see the movie because I was afraid he wouldn’t want to go or wouldn’t appreciate it the same way as me.  I couldn’t even talk to him about the movie, other than to say it was good.  I am crying as I type this because it’s terrible I am so afraid of our differences that it’s easier to post my feelings for the whole world to see than to just tell my husband how I feel.  I’ve always been a better writer than talker; I guess that’s part of it.

This intimacy part is blog lagniappe; I didn’t even intend to go here at all, but I needed to to be authentic… and just for the record, the feelings I shared above are not about my husband. He is a wonderful man, he loves me for me, and he’s incredibly compassionate and great with emotions (unlike me).  This intimacy problem is all me, my husband tries so hard, but it’s my issue.  I don’t want anyone to misunderstand that.

I am going to try and blog more and let everyone know who I really am; if I am going to be an authentic believer, I need to be authentic.  I think some people think they know me better than I know myself.  But, that’s not true, I know myself really well; I just don’t always share it very well.  I hope that will change.

I always like to end my blogs with a verse, but I didn’t know the right one until attending church. I’m including it here:

“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”

‭‭Titus‬ ‭3:1-11‬ ‭ESV‬‬

#thxsimon

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).”

The Sovereignty of God

“We like to think that we’re in control.  But, we’re not.  God is.  And God must be sovereign in order to be God.  If anything holds any sway over Him, if one atom is rebellious to His will, if one bit of knowledge is unknown to His mind, if one force is unbending to His desire, if anything prohibits Him from accomplishing His plan – He is no longer sovereign.  And if He’s no longer sovereign, that which is able to oppose Him is greater than Him – and He is no longer God.”  -Mary Kassian, from Knowing God by Name

Week one, day five of this semester’s women’s Bible study… The name of God we were learning about was “Adonai Yahweh”, Sovereign Lord.  We could have spent an entire semester on this one name, and that still would not have been enough for me to fully embrace this attribute of God.  But, we glossed over it in the last ten minutes of our time together, and it’s been on my heart ever since.

When you consider God’s sovereignty from a superficial standpoint, it is perfectly easy to accept.  God must be sovereign if He is really God.  Everything in the Universe must be subject to His control.  If God is not sovereign, He cannot be God.  However, when I read the above paragraph from our study, the intricate details of His sovereignty became clear, perhaps for the first time.

If God is sovereign, which He must be in order to be God, every aspect of life must be completely under His control.  Everything!  Not one minute detail can be left up to chance.

Can this be possible, especially from a loving God?  What about the bad things that happen in life? What about the choices I make, especially the ones that God would not approve of?  What does this mean regarding my free will?  And, if God’s sovereignty is this complete and personal, how I do I feel about it?  How should it make me feel?

I’ll start with free will.  I definitely believe that God gives us the power to make decisions that may be in line with or opposed to what He desires for us.  Free will goes hand-in-hand with having faith in God.  It is completely intertwined with temptation and sin, and is required to have a maturing relationship with God.

Free will began in the Garden of Eden, when God allowed Adam and Eve to choose to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Their decision to give in to temptation changed humanity forever.  Another example is salvation; if there was no free will, we would not have to personally accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior in order to be assured salvation.  I must independently use my own free will to trust that Jesus took care of my sin problem on the cross.

I am also given freedom to live my life as I see fit, even when God cringes at my poor decisions.  However, because God is all-knowing, He knows what our decisions will be before we make them and those decisions are part of God’s overall plan for our lives. Even when our decisions are opposed to God’s desire for our lives, He allows us to make them.  God loves us so much that He does not want to force us into submission; rather He gives us the freedom to choose our way or His way.  And, while He knows how we will respond, He loves us enough to give us ample opportunity to choose Him.

But, if God is so loving, why would He allow bad things to happen that were not directly a result of my poor decisions?  This is one of the hardest questions to understand, and the answer is not always easy to swallow.  The truth is, because of Adam and Eve’s decision to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths (Genesis 3:7).”  Their lives were made much more complicated; they were expelled from the garden, and we have been living in a fallen world ever since.

God never promises us an easy life on Earth.  In fact, He promises just the opposite.  Jesus says to us, “I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).”  Life is hard; life does not always make sense; it’s not fair, but because of Jesus, we have reason to hope.  He has overcome the world, and by believing in Him, we can spend eternity enjoying endless joy, peace and love, together with our perfect God!

The bad things that happen in life, whether caused by influences outside our control, or our own poor decisions, provide us opportunities for our personal spiritual development.  If life was easy, and everything was perfect, I would not need God; I could be completely self-sufficient!  But, because our world, including my little corner of it, is completely messed up and incomprehensible, I realize that I need God to direct my steps.

By trusting God with my life, I give Him the opportunity to bring beauty from my pain, and help me see past my selfishness.  A great example of this comes from the story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers, and later forgiving them and providing for them.  Joseph said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.  So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them (Genesis 50:20-21).

It is amazing that God will take the bad things that happen in my life and use them for His ultimate plan!  If one person can see the impact God has made on me and because of that, chooses to trust in Jesus for their own eternal life, then the pain I have felt will have been worth it. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, NIV).

The sovereignty of God can bring us complete freedom, if we allow it to.  Since God knows everything that is going to happen, and it’s already part of His eternal plan, there’s nothing we can do to mess everything up!  That should allow me to not get caught up in the poor decisions I have made, or the bad things that have happened in the past (or may happen in the future).  If it were not for the things that have happened in my life, I would not be the woman I am today.  I will continue to be shaped by my experiences, and I pray those involve a deeper level of trust in God.

God’s sovereignty should completely free me from guilt, shame, anger, worry, and fear, if I let it and should bring complete peace in the fact that nothing will happen that is apart from God’s will for me.  If I have learned anything thus far in life, it’s that God is worthy of my trust, and truly has my best interests at heart, so giving complete control over to Him should be an easy decision!

“Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country.  I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it (Isaiah 46:8-11).”

Eliphaz – True Friend or Harsh Foe

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, mostly since my writing has been all over the place.  I hope I can keep my thoughts on the right track and actually make a relevant point!  I may revisit some of my previous, unpublished blogs to see if there is anything that can be salvaged…

Last night was the first Wednesday night Bible study I’ve been to in a while.  We’re studying the book of Job, which I recently studied on my own.  The subject was Eliphaz’s first speech and the discussion was very insightful.  The commentary from last night, as well as my previous study (by Charles Swindoll), both begin their attacks on Job’s friends in Chapter 4.  The implication is that Eliphaz is telling Job that he must have sinned and therefore, in some way, caused the punishment he received.

One of our group members made an interesting observation.  He questioned whether Eliphaz (in chapters 4 and 5) actually told Job that his sin caused his problems.  We looked for verses that specifically stated this, and the best we could come up with was verse 4:8 “As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same.”  But, this wasn’t specifically directed at Job, and was more of a general statement about reaping what you sow.  Then, in verses 5:6-7, Eliphaz says, “For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble sprout from the ground, but man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.”  This seems to describe the sin nature of man, and actually goes against blaming Job’s plight on his specific sins.

The more I pondered this, the more I was troubled by it.  I agreed with the original comment, adding that I really didn’t want to admit he was right.  I did not explain why that was, but I will describe it here….

When I consider the book of Job as a whole, a couple things stand out to me from my previous study.  One is that Job was amazingly patient and graceful despite all of the terrible events he went through.  Two is that God never apologized to Job for what happened, and essentially put Job in his place.  A third is that Job’s friends were pretty selfish and cruel throughout their speeches, and really deserved their share of negative attention because of that.  However, maybe there’s more to the story and a second study will illuminate details that I previously missed…

What if Job’s friends were really trying to help?  I do believe their hearts were in the right place, as they showed up to support Job.  They even followed the customs of the day and were silent for seven days, giving Job the opportunity to speak first.  Eliphaz then tried to help Job understand his problem, speaking first of the friends, probably terrified that he would say the wrong thing.  Was his speech delivered perfectly?  No, of course not, and if we’re really honest with ourselves, that’s to be expected, as most of us don’t excel in knowing what to do when trying to help our friends.

When you read Eliphaz’s first speech without the context of what’s to come in remainder of the book, he didn’t do that terribly.  He presented Job with Biblical truths, encouraged Job to seek God for help in this matter, and spoke very well of God’s greatness.  He might have been a little presumptuous about his personal knowledge regarding Job’s situation, but I contend he really cared about his friend and wanted to comfort him.

My point – perhaps Eliphaz did not yet deserve all of the bad press he received in the friend department.  He tried, he genuinely tried; shouldn’t that be applauded?

I think people often avoid their friends’ problems because they are afraid they’ll say the wrong thing.  I am queen of putting my foot in my mouth, despite having honorable intentions. Like Eliphaz, I tend to start out timidly, but once the words start flowing, it’s not always easy to know when to stop.  I think we all fall into that category from time to time.

I need to take this a step further, and this is the hard part – why I didn’t want to agree with the original comment in Bible study Wednesday night… Okay, here goes.

Maybe I should be grateful when someone makes an effort to relate to me when I’m going through a tough time, even if they say and do everything that I believe is wrong.  It could be that they really want to help, but don’t know what to do, but yet they feel they must do something.

Maybe this person loves me so much that it hurts them to see me suffer and they’re willing to do anything to take that pain away from me.  But, not being me, not being God, and not knowing the whole situation, they’re at a significant disadvantage.

Maybe instead of getting mad at the unsolicited advice and perceived negativity, I should feel loved because they chose to say anything, when it would be much easier for them to ignore a problem that is not theirs.  I could just thank them for their concern and feel their love.

Maybe I could just focus on the positive and ignore the negative.

Who says you have to take advice just because it’s given to you?  Giving someone else harsh words in return for their attempt at comfort can truly make tempers flare and then everything will end up being much worse…

I wonder if Eliphaz would agree?