After the events of the last few days, my resilience is worn-down. I can’t read another post or comment by an armchair pundit containing divisive broadcasted attacks against the nameless, faceless “THEY.”
So many one-sided, barricaded opinions using words like “idiots” and “crazy” and the all encompassing and overused label of “hater” to pigeonhole anyone who disagrees with that particular social media blaster on a particular issue.
not to mention the onslaught of profanity-ridden contemptuous ridicule.
and the deliberately cruel comments like the ones below after an alligator attacked a toddler at Walt Disney World within days of the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12th:
The mom in me can’t help but think “What happened in this person’s childhood and life that could result in such a complete lack of compassion and empathy? How did this particular individual’s character deteriorate to this level of having so little respect for others? Why is this person seemingly incapable of extending kindness to people who are different from them or – even worse – to people who are suffering unimaginable pain? Is this person friendly in real life? or at least civil? Would they say these terrible things to the victim’s families face to face? Or are they a consummate fraud and a coward?”
And then there are the reports of commentators “slamming” someone or shutting someone down. Interviewers “grilling” and politicians “firing back.”
This stuff is coming from BOTH sides of the issues.
Neither side holds the high ground.
Making a stronger point is pointless if the conversations remain stalemate arguments instead of open dialogs revealing common ground and leading to softened hearts, opened minds and expanded thoughts.
When explaining the reasoning behind a particular point of view in our society today, the use of the words “clearly” and “simply” is empirically wrong.
There is NOTHING clear or simple about the complex and turbulent issues we’re engulfed in.
Thankfully, I’ve come to understand that those who have the capacity to reject the labels and the stereotypes and the caricatures and LISTEN more than they talk don’t spend their discretionary time pontificating through their fingertips about the issues that threaten to permanently divide us.
And I totally get it. I’d rather mow my quarter acre, knee high, 3 week neglected, sloped backyard in the noonday heat of a Florida summer than step a foot into the mire of these issues on the internet.
Some of my personal facebook friends have unknowingly attacked me individually through a shotgun approach, railing against “idiots” whose opinions they believe are invalidated because those opinions are deemed irrelevant and wrong. I’ll never comment on one of those posts or reply to one of those comments and reveal that I have anything in common with the people my (facebook) friend can’t or doesn’t accept. That would make me and my family vulnerable to continued and/or focused attack. I’m not stupid.
(Contrary to their belief.)
Even so, I roll around the thought of asking a few of these individuals to meet with me and talk. Not to try and change their mind about whatever side of whatever issue they are committed to. I have no hopes or expectations of changing someone’s mind when they are so categorically entrenched in their commitment to a particular belief.
But still. I idealistically imagine that a face-to-face conversation would personalize the target of their attacks. And if so, would the personalizing of their target prompt them to pause before they post the next time? Is it possible that they might intentionally choose non-inflammatory and respectful language? Would they try to see from someone else’s perspective?
And most importantly, would they consider exploring the possibility of collaboration or compromise by patiently and thoroughly examining and stepping through the complex multifaceted issues instead of calling for a tunnel visioned, all encompassing mandate that barrels over anything and everything that might be a speed bump in achieving their goal?
Why do I think that more likely, they would just hide controversial posts from me after our conversation and continue as before, perpetuating the status quo?
My problem with jumping on a bandwagon is that I see so many sides to these issues. I understand that each of us have reasons for what we believe, need and want, and I can’t help but think that hearing those reasons might bridge some distance and be the first step to resolving some of the problems.
We need to consider perspectives other than our own. Because groupthink never serves anyone well.
I find it impossible to dismiss the fears and concerns of someone
in order to validate my mindset or to get my way.
I’ve said this before: Everybody is a #differentkindofbroken I want to #edify and #seepeople as individuals, even when they are different from me.
I’m praying for God to equip me to be not only His hands and feet in order to help in tangible ways, but also His eyes and ears and voice so as to follow His plan for me: to Love God and Love others. Even others who think and believe differently than I do.
to be slow to speak,
slow to anger and
quick to listen.
And I’m praying that if people can’t be kind,
that they will at least be quiet.
#Jesus wasn’t just a good man Christians should strive to emulate.
If I believe the eye witnesses, He was God himself, in the flesh. He came to restore my relationship with Him – a relationship severed by my rejection and indifference.
I suffer when I am separated from God. Without Jesus, that separation would be eternal.
Any parent will tell you they wish they could take their child’s place when the child suffers.
If you believe what Jesus said, that’s what God did. #ibelieve #GospelMeansGoodNews
I only opened the door because I thought it was a delivery. I’ve been doing a bunch of online Christmas shopping.
There was no smiling Amazon box on my porch.
It was a smiling guy wearing a tie, holding a zippered book and what appeared to be a Bible tucked in his armpit.
Thought Bubble: “AAACCK! Julie! What have you done!?”
After his jovial icebreaker comment about how the vine on my porch reminded him of the grape vines he used to swing on when he was a kid, he abruptly launched right into his spiel with a question about politics and the end of the world that I literally couldn’t make ANY sense of, much less answer.
“Have you ever wondered about whether the world blahblahnonsensicalblahblah.”
Thought Bubble: “um, I can honestly say no. Because I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.”
I told him I was sorry but that I only discussed politics with close friends and he said, “Me too! We have something in common!”
Thought Bubble: “ummmm. no. I don’t think so. I’ve never met you before. You are standing on my porch, not sitting in my living room. We are not close friends. We’re not even acquaintances. and you just asked me a question about politics.
Then he asked me something as equally nonsensical as his opening question, which he seemed believe was a natural conversational bridge from politics to God and once again, I couldn’t make sense of what he was trying to say. In all honesty, it’s very possible I didn’t care enough to put any effort into deciphering the question.
Thought Bubble: “Jehovah’s Witness.”
He was looking at me expectantly.
I was completely frank: “I’m not really sure what you’re asking…This is a Christ-centered home.”
He said: “We have something else in common!”
Thought Bubble: “I know he knows that’s not true.”
Quick Prayer: “Lord, do I go there or not? Please help me follow your lead.”
and Memo to Me: It would appear that Jehovah’s Witness canvassers are trained to find and call to attention something they have in common with their targets – even if they have to invent the commonality.
JW: “Let me give you a tract that addresses politics from that standpoint.”
Thought Bubble: “? huh? What standpoint?”
He unzips what turns out to be an actual book FULL of tracts, all organized in plastic sleeves. Flipping through, he pulls one out, opens it up and points to a quote referenced as Daniel 2:44
“In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed. And this kingdom will not be passed on to any other people. It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, and it alone will stand forever. (emphasis his)
As he slowly read the verse out loud, he followed along the text with his finger and I remember him being completely oblivious to the fact that I was actually looking at his face and not the tract, thinking, “I wonder if he’s been trained to do that. I can’t be the only person who finds it condescending.”
Quick Prayer: “Okay Lord. I REALLY need you to tell me what to say. NOW.”
I took the tract out of his hand, turned it over, looked at the bottom.
My tone of voice was neutral: “You’ve misrepresented yourself.”
He looks surprised. Confused. Hurt. Acting is not his forte.
JW: “I didn’t misrepresent myself! How did I misrepresent myself?!”
Me: “There’s a significant difference between Jehovah’s Witness and Christianity.”
JW: “There are lots of differences between Christian religions! For instance, Baptist’s believe…”
Me, softly interrupting: “I’m not referring to doctrine.”
Silence. I couldn’t believe it. He didn’t have an immediate response.
Quick Prayer: “okay God. Now What?”
JW: “I don’t understand what you mean.”
Me: “I’m having trouble believing you don’t know what I’m talking about. You must have engaged in conversations about the difference before.”
I’m not sure exactly what he said next. But I remember thinking “Tangent. Distraction. Non-essential doctrinal difference.”
Me: “I’m sorry, I’m really not interested in debating non-essential doctrine. There’s a single significant difference between Jehovah’s Witness and Christianity.”
I continued, looking at him quizzically: “I’m finding it difficult to believe you don’t know what I’m talking about.”
JW: “What’s the difference between Jehovah’s Witness and Christianity?”
I looked him straight in the eye and slowly shook my head: “We don’t agree about who Jesus actually is.” (click the link to see a 2 minute explanation of what JW believe)
Another brief moment of silence.
A woman, obviously his canvasing partner, who had been walking up my driveway, stepped close enough to him so that he noticed her presence and realized he was being observed.
JW: “Well, who do you believe Jesus is?”
Again, I thought: “Don’t explain. and only focus on this one issue.”
Me: “I’m having a difficult time believing you don’t already know who I believe Jesus is. You must have had conversations with Christians about this before.”
Me: Are you saying Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses agree about who Jesus actually is?
Thought Bubble: “I KNEW he knew what I was talking about.
and I LOVE the Socratic method. loveitloveitloveit.”
Me: “I’m not going to try and convince you to believe what I believe about who Jesus is. But I do believe you misrepresented yourself. Jehovah’s Witness is not a Christian religion.
Me: “I respect your beliefs. Please respect mine.”
He thanked me for my time and I respected his beliefs again by not wishing him a Happy Thanksgiving.
As I think about it now, I realize why they were canvasing on a Tuesday morning. They know it’s likely there are a lot of people who’ve taken the week of Thanksgiving off.
the words calculated and predatory also come to mind. but still. very smart.
It was Sunday afternoon. I was in “my” room. The living room. Looking out the window that spans nearly an entire wall, hypnotically watching a baby squirrel chowing down on the suet in the birdfeeder. I call it “my” room because it’s lined with a 12 foot wide by 7 foot high wall of 12×12 cubby shelves filled with books about God. Theology. Spiritual Growth. Prayer. Suffering. blah. blah. blah.
84 square feet. My own personal little library. That’s a lot of books. A lot of words. I’ve learned a lot from those books. With endless more still to learn.
My husband was chilling out in the adjacent room. Even though we’re visually separated by the wall of books, we never have to raise our voice to hear each other.
The clock ticks.
Me, softly: “I miss the old me.”
FirstHusband: “What do you mean?”
Me: “You don’t notice a difference?”
He knows what I’m talking about.
The clock ticks.
Me: “I miss optimism.”
silence. He’s not ignoring me. He’s waiting. He knows me. I’m not done talking. I’m not done thinking.
(I know, I know. I’m NEVER done thinking.)
The clock ticks.
Me: “I hate that the gate is so narrow.”
FirstHusband: “I know.”
A few years ago, when I experienced the deafening silence and pitch black darkness and seeming cavernous distance from all that I had come to recognize and understand and depend on as the presence of God, I couldn’t understand why He was allowing such intense pain. I wondered then if the separation was temporary or permanent. If it was temporary, I wondered if the other side would prove to be a pruning that led to a more fruitful bounce back to what I had come to know as “normal” or if this season was a “refined by fire” step leading to an altogether new and different relationship with God.
I’m still not sure.
I’m not sure I’m completely done with that season, so it very well may be that it’s premature to be contemplating the “lessons learned” of it all.
“that I have great sorrow and
unceasing anguish in my heart.
For I could wish
that I myself were accursed
and cut off from Christ
for the sake of my brothers,
my kinsmen according to the flesh.”
Romans 9: 2-3 ESV
Paul is saying, “I genuinely grieve for those who don’t know Christ. I would give up eternity with Him, if it meant that they could know Him.”
And just to be clear, me saying I understand Paul better, does NOT mean I share his sentiments about sacrificing my relationship with God so that somebody else could know Him.
I know me. I’m much. much. too selfish for that.
The pain I experienced during my recent separation from Him here on earth is more than enough to tell me that eternal separation would be…
unbearable doesn’t begin to describe it.
But I do understand what Paul is saying.
And the raw truth of it is suppressing optimism. It’s sabotaging Hope.
Not that I don’t know Satan will be defeated in the end, because I know he will. It’s just that the evidence that the earth is Satan’s domain seems to be everywhere I look.
I can’t not see it.
Back in December of 2013, I wrote about asking God to “Break my heart for what breaks Yours.” Here’s an excerpt from that post:
“The next morning, I woke up…brokenhearted. Seriously. It’s the only word that fits. I was literally grieving over how many people HATE God. or even the idea of Him.
Immeasurable grace. Unconditional love the likes of which I will never fully comprehend.
and so often – much too often – the response is arrogant and caustic rejection. vehement acrimonious derision. revulsion. hate.
and then there’s indifference.
God, through the ultimate expression of love, sacrificed Himself on the cross so that ANYone can experience abundant life in Him.
and so many people respond with “meh.” So many people don’t respond at all.
I’m brokenhearted. Not just for people I know and love, but for people I’ve never met.
this is new. and not from me. On my own, I’m incapable of this kind of intuitive compassion.“
Some read those words and thought I was being arrogant. condescending. sanctimonious. I can’t stop them from thinking that. Haters gonna hate.
Some might read them and think I’m an emotionally driven drama queen. Those people obviously don’t know me very well.
The fact is, it’s much easier to live with the knowledge that so many people hate God when you only process the information intellectually. It’s their choice. And the choice has consequences: current and eternal separation from the God who loves them unconditionally. End of story.
But when you genuinely care about someone, and you know they’ve mistaken religion for a restored relationship with God through Jesus, you grieve for their loss.
Again. I can’t stop people from thinking that.
I believe that God, through the ultimate expression of love, sacrificed Himself on the cross so that ANYone can be restored to uninhibited relationship with Him and experience abundant life through Christ, not only for eternity but also now – here on earth. And so. many. people say He doesn’t even exist. So. many people blame Him for Satan’s handiwork. They want Him to intervene and stop “bad” people from hurting “good” people, not thinking through the implications that would have in their own lives if God intervened and stopped them from ever doing anything rebellious.
My acute awareness of how many people live separated from God brings with it the broken heart I prayed for. Not just for people I know and love, but for people I’ve never met.
And I can’t not see it. I can’t not know it.
And so I find myself wrestling with the paradox of personally experiencing the joy of abundant life in Christ and grieving because so many people seem to hate God. And anyone who loves Him.
I wouldn’t change the seeing. or the knowing. It’s good to know.
And a little bit not…
“…faith isn’t the absence of doubt. It’s believing and acting alongside your doubts…
…faith wouldn’t even exist if doubt were not also present, because the essence of faith was the leap taken in the face of uncertainty. Faith wasn’t a set of beliefs, or an ability to hold onto those beliefs without wavering. Faith was action – action taken right in the middle of your doubts.
If there were no uncertainty at all, a leap of faith wouldn’t even be necessary. You could just keep on walking.
from O Me of Little Faith: True Confessions of a Spiritual Weakling
by Jason Boyett
I used to think that doubt was evidence of a lack of faith.
Not so much anymore.
These days, I’d probably say I’m a bit of a “doubt snob.” By that, I mean that when I hear a Christian say they’ve never doubted God, I would wonder if:
1) they are lying. (let’s just get that one right out of the way)
2) they have forgotten. (kinda like childbirth. The memory of that kinda pain fades with time)
3) they haven’t actually thought things through. (see what I mean? “doubt snob”)
I’ve spent my life trying to figure things out. If God ever gave me a new name, it probably would have been “Madua” (in Hebrew, it means “why”…what is the reason…what is the cause). I’ll pull and follow a “why” thread as far as I possibly can go.
In all the question asking and thread following and reading and learning and studying I’ve done so far in my life, the one fact I know for sure:
Not everything can be known for sure.
What do I do with that?
Do I only take action if I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the action will result in success?
Do I only believe in God if I know, beyond a shadow of doubt, that He exists?
No one can prove, beyond a shadow of doubt, that God exists. I can’t prove that God answered a prayer. Or led me to a decision. Or provided an opportunity. Or equipped me for one of those opportunities.
So, again. What do I do with that?
In the absence of certainty, I choose to act or not act.
Personally, I choose faith in God. I can have some faith in myself or in “the system” or in other people, but at some point, they’ve all let me down. I can have some faith in reason and science, but when you drill down to their root, neither can be employed to prove their own foundational claims without some core assumptions as their bedrock.
Assumption is a synonym for faith.
We all have faith in something. And we all act on our faith, in spite of our doubt.
“And who knows
but that you have come
to your royal position
for such a time as this?”
Esther 4:14b (NIV)
I posted only the second part of this verse because these are the words that resonated and stuck with me the instant I read them. I didn’t even try to memorize them. They just took immediate residence in my head. My paraphrase is:
Who knows if you were put here in this particular place, NOW, for a reason?
In Biblical context, the message is specific to Esther. But the first few words are also relevant to us today. Here’s the entire verse:
“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
Here’s my paraphrase again:
If God has sovereignly placed me in a particular place at a particular time to accomplish something for Him and I remain silent – if I do nothing – He WILL send someone else to accomplish His will.
And I will forfeit the blessing that would come from being obedient. And by blessing, I don’t mean some sort of thank you gift or prosperity tit-for-tat. I’m talking about God’s definition of blessing. I don’t always know what that is. Sometimes, it’s the “You’re NOT gonna beLIEVE what God did!!!!” story I get to share after He does something phenomenal that can’t be explained away or dismissed as coincidence.
This verse and these thoughts came to mind last week after I heard someone say they were “ready to check out.” Discouragement had become too much. Looking from the outside, you’d never guess. They look strong and confident. They are friendly and are genuinely enjoyable company. It was another reminder and confirmation that we are all #justadifferentkindofbroken and that we need to strive to #seepeople. Thankfully, in the pit of discouragement, this person had reached out to someone. Risked vulnerability and rejection. And the friend they reached out to is a Christ-centered believer and immediately responded in full on “Esther” mode.
If you are doubting the the point of you. If you are feeling small. If you are feeling helpless. Unloved and unworthy and irreleveant. I have a message of encouragement for you:
Right where you are.
With what you’ve got.
And all that you lack.
Under yet another spiritual attack of doubt and fear by the ultimate perpetuator of lies.
In defiance of satan with a lower case “s.”
Wholly dependent on the Holy Spirit to equip you in your weakness.
Speak truth in love, not about what others lack, but as a witness to what you’ve FOUND through a living and intimate relationship with Christ through the Holy Spirit who dwells within you.
You are where you are through God’s providence. Wherever that is, you are in a unique position to see someone who is unseen. To look them in the eye and listen to them. To let them know they are seen and genuinely heard.
You are in a unique position to be a WITNESS (that’s a noun, not a verb) to the grace and unconditional love of Jesus Christ.
“I don’t know that Lucifer’s sin was rebellion in the full sense of the word. He did not seek to replace God or overthrow God. He simply sought to act independent of God…
the root sin of all sins is this desire to act independent of God.” (emphasis added)
by Steve Fry
I don’t use the word “sin” much.
Not that I don’t believe it exists and that I’m prone to it.
I believe it does and I know that I am.
It’s just one of those words that has too many interpretations to be used effectively in casual conversation.
(I don’t use the word “Christian” so much either. Way, WAY too many interpretations of THAT word.)
In certain company, if I were to utter the word sin, I would find myself standing all alone holding my own personal (Jesus) Freak Flag, listening to crickets.
Because not many people want to talk about the word sin. But when you don’t talk about something, meaning begins to take on more and more personal connotations. Definitions aren’t globally understood and accepted when they’re formed and sequestered inside a vacuum of individual history and experience.
“Sin” can mean different things to different people. But my thought is that before the word sin means something to me, it means something.
When I think about the multitude of sins in my life, at the core of each and every one of those sins, I recognize a desire to choose for myself what is right and wrong rather than look to God and submit to His authority. That’s why Steve Fry’s statement: “the root sin of all sins is this desire to act independent of God.” hit home with me.
Regardless of the actual behavior, the choosing to decide for myself – to act independently of God – is rebellion.
Rebellion against God. It’s the heart of the nature of sin.
It’s not my actions alone which constitute sin and separate me from God. My actions are an expression of the state of my heart and my mind. And the state of my heart and mind are a reflection of the state of my relationship with Christ.
I can admit my dependence on God, live under His authority and experience abundant life in Christ.
Or I can act independent of God, choosing to rebel against His authority and separating myself from Him.
“A person cannot receive
even one thing
it is given him
John 3:27 (ESV)
I have nothing unless it is given to me from Heaven.
First and foremost,
that means grace.
John 6:44 tells me: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”
I hate the hard truth of this, but I know that if left completely to myself, I would not choose God. If I drill down to the core of each and every sin, I recognize a desire to act independently of God. That desire to choose for myself what is right or wrong, rather than submitting to God’s authority, is sin.
And sin separates me from God.
It’s by grace that my intimate, living, dependent relationship with God is restored through Christ’s sacrifice. Grace that is given to me from heaven.
Secondly, it means everything else:
Of course there’s all the tangible “stuff” like a home, a car, the food in my pantry and fridge, the computer I’m typing on…
but so. much. more. is “given to me from heaven.”
– My husband. My children.
– My health, my strength, the fact that I don’t live with chronic pain and have never faced a life-threatening illness.
– Success in any endeavor, whether it be work, ministry or anything else.
– Financial security.
– My talents. Not only knowledge, but my ability to read and understand and learn.
– My imagination. Any idea I ever come up with.
– My awareness of God’s presence and movement in my life.
– The courage and motivation I find to be obedient when the Holy Spirit prompts me to act or speak.
– The indwelling of the Holy Spirit which equips me beyond my own abilities. Romans 8:9-11
– The confident that is grounded in fact that He is “with me wherever I go.” Joshua 1:9
– The peace that comes from a relentless awareness of his sovereign providence. Job 42:2
– And then there are the harder things that His Word promises He will work for “good” and are meant to “conform me” to the image of Christ.
The trials I don’t understand.
The seasons when He is silent.
The fact that I struggle to submit to His authority. Daily. Sometimes hourly.
I have NOTHING unless it is given me from heaven.
The breath I just took.
I can’t take credit for any of it and I’m not in control of any of it.
Dependent upon the Holy Spirit to remind me, I need to be diligent about remembering all this and being grateful. When I’m mindful and grateful, I’m a better steward of all God blesses me with, and that includes the blessings in disguise.
“That when he had failed in his duty,
he only confessed his fault,
saying to GOD,
I shall never do otherwise,
if You leave me to myself;
it is You who must hinder my falling,
and mend what is amiss. That after this,
he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.
from The Practice of the Presence of God
by Brother Lawrence
This is one of my all-time FAVORITE quotes. Let me paraphrase and give you an idea of how I process these words.
paraphrase: “I forget, I remember, I repent and I COME BACK.”
(don’t be freaking out about that word “repent.” I’ll get to it in a second.)
“…when he had failed in his duty” means when I forget God.
And I will forget. I do forget. I fail to remember Him. Over and over and over again. When I first read this little book and began practicing the presence of God, my thought was, “I am SO gonna start doing this!” Less than 24 hours into this new way of living in relationship to God and I realized how difficult it was and how often I found myself just flat out forgetting – not only to practice God’s presence – but forgetting God altogether.
I quickly realized that practicing God’s presence wasn’t something I could just decide to do and then do it. I had to PRAY and ask God to “remind me to remember Him.” And I had to pray it multiple times per day. Some days, I had to pray, “Lord, please make me WANT to remember – bless me with a desire for You! I realized:
if my goal was to be aware of God’s presence in the minutiae of my life and
if my plan of action to achieve that goal was to “just do it” that
ON MY OWN, I would never achieve it with any kind of consistency.
My goal had to be prayer –
first, a prayer for a desire to practice God’s presence and
second, the prayer “Lord, please, remind me to remember You. Relentlessly. Any and every way possible.”
The truth of the next part of this quote had hit home:
“I shall never do otherwise, if You leave me to myself”
God had quickly shown me that HE would be the one to “hinder my falling.” I would never be able to remember Him on my own.
And finally, the best part:
“after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.”
I’m going to forget God. But when I remember and go back to practicing His presence, I’m not going to waste a minute of the time that could be spent with Him by beating myself up because I forgot Him AGAIN. When I do that, I’m punishing myself for something JESUS ALREADY DIED FOR.
I’ve repented. There’s no room or need for guilt. Guilt is different from repent. Guilt is a noun. Repent is a verb.
guilt: (noun) “a bad feeling caused by knowing or thinking that you have done something bad or wrong”
repent: (verb) “express sincere regret or remorse about one’s wrongdoing or sin.”
I need to remember and relentlessly claim the promise of Romans 8:1:
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,”
So, to paraphrase this quote from Brother Lawrence? “I forget, I remember, I repent and I COME BACK.”
“Whatever you do,
work at it with all your heart,
as working for the Lord,
not for men”
Colossians 3:23 (NIV)
The first word that jumps into my head when I read this verse is: competence.
I’m not sure when I first figured out that – as someone who professes faith in Christ – everything I do and say reflects on Jesus. There were probably multiple factors involved in coming to that realization:
~ I remember when I was young and first began working in the legal industry, there were multiple highly educated, wealthy people who belittled my faith and spoke condescendingly to me as they expressed that they perceived me to be idealistic and naive because I believed in God and “wasted my time” serving in church. If I listened to the root message under the messages, it was always grounded in the opinion that the only people who believed in God were less educated, less “successful” in the business world and, well…perpetually stuck in a lower socioeconomic class. Those people were sad and underprivileged and believing in God made them feel better. An “opium for the people” kind of a thing.
~ This is really going to date me, but I remember sitting in a hair salon and being simultaneously and intensely challenged by multiple women to defend Christianity in light of the sex scandal involving revivalist evangelist Jimmy Swaggart, a prostitute and a hotel room. It blew me away that, based on his bad behavior, not only was my faith suspect, but Christian faith overall was being attacked and rejected. I realized with much clarity at that moment that Christians were being watched like prey and sometimes attacked for sport.
~ When my kids were little, I remember telling them that no matter where they are or who they are with, when they wear their school uniform, they represent their school. Their words and actions are a reflection on their school. It was a short connection to realize that because the uniform was printed with the name of a Christian school, the kids were described by those watching as “those kids from the Christian school.” The tone of voice was telling as to whether the statement was an indication of approval or disapproval. When the comment expressed approval, it was often spoken with pleasant surprise, while the disapproving comments were more sarcastic and dripping in “it figures” and “what do you expect?”
I’m sure I could think of more examples, but you get the idea. Back then and today, despite the number of Christians with advanced degrees, well-paying careers and lives suffused with gracious words and actions, they are very, very often thought of as uneducated, unskilled, poor, illogical, ignorant, unreasonable, undependable…the list could go on…
Colossians 3:23 reminds me that it’s possible to challenge and even change those perceptions. It’s possible for someone who professes faith in and dependence on Jesus to be viewed as intelligent, competent and dependable. But to intentionally and consistently “work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord,”
I need to:
– as much as I am able,
– as consistently as I am able,
– grounded in an acute awareness of my dependence on the Holy Spirit
to equip me in mind, body and spirit, and
to bless me with determination and stamina and resilience
– regardless of whether the work is directly related to ministry or whether the work is within a secular field.
– by not spreading myself so thin that I can’t come close to a standard of excellence or even achieve “good enough” status in one of my commitments, much less all of them.
2. Choose to speak edifying words – affirming progress as an indication of success, encouraging hope and motivating other people to strive for excellence – instead of
– expending time and effort calling (repeated and/or extended) attention to someone else’s shortcomings and mistakes.
– tearing people down.
And in the process of that striving and choosing, I find that
~ I’m letting go of the white-knuckled grip I have on my right to choose and I’m allowing myself to be conformed (by the Holy Spirit – not only by my own efforts) into the image of the son of God, Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29),
~ I’m being a good steward of the gifts and talents God has blessed me with, (Matthew 25:14-30) and
~ I’m tangibly expressing genuine gratitude to God, for the countless blessings in this abundant life I’m living with Him – regardless of my circumstances. (Colossians 3:17)
I know I’m not the only follower of Jesus who is striving for excellence, extending grace, being conformed, being a good steward and expressing gratitude. My prayer is that every time a Christian hunter, or even just a non-believer, encounters one of us Jesus Freaks, the “with all our hearts” serves as a strong, positive evidence for authentic faith in Jesus Christ.