This is not my usual post. I know that many of you come here for gardening tips or homeschooling support and I love that! I hope that, even though this is different it is a benefit to your spirit. I also hope that you will stick with me, regardless of your religious beliefs. Consider it a personal favor to hear me out. It would mean a great deal to me because this is heavy on my heart to the point where I’m literally dreaming about it at night. It’s high-time I say what I’ve been choking back for a long time and, since I’ve got this little corner of the blogosphere to call my own… here it is.
A few weeks ago, my sister-in-law shared an extraordinarily powerful story about a close friend of hers who is Israeli. I won’t go into all of the details here but it came down to a moment when this young woman, along with a small number (relatively speaking) of her like-minded countrymen very literally placed themselves in between two armies. Both armies were committing acts of unspeakable violence against civilians and the true battle between the opposing forces was about to commence. These protestors stepped out into no-man’s land and said – to both sides – you will not do this in my name. I am a citizen of Israel and I stand for peace. If you want to kill each other you will need to kill me and all of these peace loving people between you first.
They did not end the war, but they stopped that battle. It could have gone very differently for them, but thankfully, that day, the voice of peace prevailed. That day, in that place, lives were spared.
I have thought about that story for weeks.
“You will not do this in my name.”
I think about that every single day.
You see, I call myself “a Christian.” I truly believe that Jesus Christ was the son of God.
You believe differently, you say?
I have no beef with you.
I love the part in the movie, The Stand, when Nick Andros tells Mother Abigail, “But I don’t believe in God.” And she starts laughing and embraces him and says, “That’s OK, Nick. God believes in you.”
See, as a Christian, I accept the Bible as the message of God. Today’s post isn’t to debate how literal the stories of the prophets were meant to be taken or whether or not the correct number of gospels were included. Frankly, for what I have to say today, none of that matters because the Bible has one over-arching theme: Love.
When asked to choose a single commandment, out of hundreds (thousands?) that stood out as the most important, Jesus answered, “Love God with all of your heart, your mind, your strength.” Then he offered the runner up as well. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” His next statement was immensely powerful. “All of the other commands are hung upon this.”
You simply can’t, in good conscious, call yourself a Christian – a follower of Christ – unless you accept that loving God and loving others is the most important thing we can do.
“But who is my neighbor?” The guy in the story asks.
And Jesus goes on to tell the parable of The Good Samaritan. If you haven’t read it before it’s worth a glimpse so I linked to it here. Basically, it’s a story about a Jewish man who is badly beaten and robbed. He is then left in the gutter to die by the religious and political leaders of his own country. Finally, a foreigner from the nation most despised by the Jews – a people considered so spiritually filthy that to converse with them meant ritual cleansing would be needed – picked him up, clothed him, took him to safety and provided for his ongoing care. That foreigner was the man’s true neighbor.
So Jesus was saying we are supposed to love not just those who think and act and look as we do, but even those (especially those?) who are completely different from us in every way.
And what does love look like?
The Bible tells us this:
Love is patient.
Love is kind.
It does not envy.
It does not boast
It is not proud.
It does not dishonor others.
It is not self-seeking
It is not easily angered
It keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
(From 1 Corinthians 13)
If you call yourself a Christian then your entire spiritual belief system is based upon the belief that God Himself loved THE ENTIRE WORLD with such a powerful, all-encompassing love that He took on flesh, was born as a man, took on the failings of EVERY person, died and conquered death, creating a pathway for EACH of us to be restored to right-relationship with the Divine.
Not some people or American people or good people or most people. ALL people.
“Christian” means, “a follower of Christ.”
“Leave your nets and follow me,” Jesus said.
“Take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus said.
There is a whole universe of stuff that is open for interpretation and debate in the Bible and in Jesus’ teachings but that one message was given again and again in simple, clear, unmistakable terms.
God’s love is immeasurable. It is universal. It is eternal.
God’s love is for every person of every time in every place.
God’s love is consistent, selfless and without bounds.
We are to love as God loves.
A quick glimpse at history tells us that Jesus lived in a time and society where many were worshipping other gods in ways that were very different from the way that the Jews worshipped. He was surrounded by people who didn’t follow the God of the Old Testament. He often encountered prostitutes and “loose women,” thieves, liars, cheats and other “undesirables.”
He showed love to all of them. He was no moral relativist. He stood firm in telling them, “what you’ve been doing is wrong. Don’t do it any more.” But he didn’t shun them or yell at them or berate them. He didn’t order them to be imprisoned or killed. On the contrary, he invited them with dinner, visited them in their homes and socialized with them. He loved them, even while disagreeing with them.
He loved them.
Do you know who he yelled at and berated on a pretty regular basis? Those who thought they were so clean and righteous and generally wonderful that they had the authority to pass moral judgement on those different from themselves.
So… here we are in “The Year Of Our Lord, 2014.”
Every day I see and hear people who put on their pretty clothes and go to church on Sunday and proudly call themselves, “Christian,” spewing hatred.
There are a lot of versions of this. Hatred toward abortionists and those who have had abortions. Hatred against homosexuals and those who are advocating for equal rights. Hatred toward illegal immigrants. Hatred toward drug addicts. Hatred toward Muslims.
So much hatred toward Muslims!
In this swirling sea of hate, I occasionally see this pop up on social media. It’s just a t-shirt, but the message is extraordinary and powerful – because it is the MOST IMPORTANT bit of instruction God ever gave mankind.
Jesus held people to a high standard of clean living. He told them, “it is wrong to have adulterous relationships. You’ve sinned in stealing. You must be truthful in your business dealings.”
Because otherwise you’ll burn in Hell?
No… because if you love your neighbor as yourself you won’t sleep with your neighbor’s wife or steal from your employer or cheat your client. Love doesn’t act that way.
And there is NO GREATER COMMANDMENT than to love.
If you are living as Christ lived you will love your neighbors. ALL of your neighbors. Not most of them. ALL of them. Every. Single. One.
Love the neighbors who are a little dislikable – the ones who are obnoxiously political, the ones who are bossy, rude and selfish. The bullies and brutes and the jerks.
Love the neighbors who are truly despicable – the rapists and the murders, the child molesters and the terrorists.
Does that mean you have to smile and hug them and say, “what you’ve done is perfectly OK.”
OF COURSE NOT!
That’s not what Jesus did.
But neither did Jesus wish anyone dead and gone. He didn’t cheer for their destruction or pray for their death.
Instead, he prayed for their restoration to God’s own heart and cheered at their salvation.
This is the core of my faith. It is the rock-hard, solid, center of what a life time of spiritual seeking has brought me to.
It seems that there are clear sides being drawn up. On one side are “Christians” who are opposed to anyone with a different view having so much as a voice to express their own opinion and who are screaming for the blood of the infidel.
On the other side are those who denounce anyone with a faith in a higher power as an ignorant buffoon at best and a hateful warmonger at worst.
And I feel that the time has come for me to stand, as my SIL’s friend stood, between warring factions, and say, “I am a Christian and you will not do this in my name.”
Just to be clear, no, I’m not saying that me sharing my faith on Facebook from the safety of my living room is in any way on the same level as what those protestors in the Middle East did. I’m simply saying this:
To those who call themselves Christian while cheering at the destruction or suffering of any member of God’s creation I say, “Do what you will, but do not count my name among your numbers. I am not with you.”
To those who have been hurt by “Christians” I say, “Not all ‘Christians’ are like those who hurt you. In fact, most of us aren’t. Most of us are trying hard to live a life of love. Sometimes we fall a bit (or significantly more than a bit) short. We’re only human after all. But, really, truly, most of us believe that Jesus loves you and so do we.”
And love never fails.
*After I published this I came across an article on Huffington Post talking about the massive number of Muslims creating a #NotInMyName movement. I LOVE THIS! My heart is buoyed by the idea that, all over the globe, men and women are standing firm for peace!
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