“Love God, love people”.
Seems to be the catchphrase of churches today. Looks great on a billboard or t-shirt. Sounds like a great mantra. Excellent quote for a bumper sticker. Blogs and books are written about it quite a lot these days. I see/hear/read that phrase everywhere of late. It’s an inspiring, healthy, scripture-based phrase. Can’t argue with that. Right?
Oh, but I can.
Last week, my daughter and I were out in our community and we pulled up to a red light. In front of us was a church with a large yard banner that read… you guessed it… “Loving God. Loving People.” I sighed and said “It’d be nice if churches did more than just post that quote everywhere”, which prompted a conversation with my daughter about the importance of doing versus simply saying something so powerful.
Church-folk, we need to have the same conversation. Can we talk?
Can we! Churches, and church-folk, can talk a good talk. We can talk for hours on end…all about church.
We talk about inviting people to church. What the church is doing this week. What the church has challenged us to do. How much we give to the church. How the church is doing this or that this week and you must come. How well the church is doing because we had this many or that many on any given day. We church-folk can talk about “our” church.
And we can talk about our church leaders.
How much we don’t agree with this leader. Or how that leader is “not in their place of giftedness” (which, in non-church vernacular means that they should quit – or be removed from their position – and do something else because we think that they suck at what they’re doing). We talk about this one that’s controlling. This one’s “falling away”, or “in sin”, “not hooked up anymore”, or “struggling with something”, because they’re not doing as many things inside the four walls of the church (building) as they used to. OR we talk about our poor, pitiful, pastor and his wife. They’re so misunderstood and unsupported. Life is so difficult for them. They don’t have good “armor-bearers” and there is too much demand placed on them. They’ve got such a hard calling to minister/serve the people in the church, it’s a wonder that they stay. (Don’t get me wrong. I’ve served in church leadership for over 20-some years and it’s no ball of fun at times, can be very difficult, and is – most definitely – not for the faint of heart. However, the pity parties don’t accomplish anything except division.)
We can also talk about each other. Like. Dogs.
She doesn’t live up to our standards for her life. He isn’t doing what we think he should be doing (because, you know we know better than he/she does regarding what God has spoken to them or intended for them). How dare they leave our church? “They’re not following God they’re following a man.” “They left us abandoned”. “Their heart isn’t right” because they left, so let’s talk about them to everyone we know that they know and see if we can’t damage their heart even more by our gossip and hurtful words.
We can talk.
We can also talk about those who don’t attend any church. Those who believe differently from us. Those who don’t WANT anything to do with church – or Christ – for whatever reason. “Those people”… “Them”… “Non-believers”… “Seekers”… “Sinners” (which, last time I checked defined every single one of us who breathes. But I digress.)… “Un-churched”. We talk about how they need to come to our church. How they need to “get connected” with our groups. How “they” are going to hell. How God hates “them” and what they do. How “they” are wrong and we’re right. How “they” don’t act/speak/live in a way that meets our approval because we “talk the talk and walk the walk”, meanwhile “they” do not even know what the heck we are talking about.
We talk and we talk and we talk. All while our little church logos, bumper stickers, and banners wave in the wind crying “We love God and we love people!”
It looks real nice on that church sign. And we wear it proudly on our pre-washed bright colored t-shirt. But here’s a “solid” for you: Words. Mean. Nothing. Without. Actions.
Scripture says: “You shall love the Lord, Your God, with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these.” – Mark 12:30-31
And in James 2:14-26 we’re admonished not to just wish a “God bless you” on people in faith, but to do something to meet their practical needs.
And there’s the ever popular 1 Corinthians 13. “The love chapter”. Part of which – verses 4-8 – people quote in marriage ceremonies, public speeches, and more. However, the first 3 verses aren’t very well known. They’re a little more challenging. A little more of a “truth slap” to those of us who claim to follow Christ. Here’s a paraphrase from a recent sermon I heard about these 3 verses:
It doesn’t matter how “in tune with the Spirit” I believe that I am, if I do not love others – graciously and without expecting something in return – then I am nothing but a lot of loud noise, according to God. (- 1 Cor 13:1 para) Spiritual gifts, “experiences”, knowledge is not ultimately the point. Without love it means nothing. (- 1 Cor 13:2 para) Even if I do the most extravagant thing that I can, to show how spiritual I am, but do it for any other reason but love, it doesn’t matter. (- 1 Cor 13:3 para)
So, churches and church-folk, how about we stop talking and do something about loving God and loving people?
How about instead of expecting people to come to our fabulous, exciting, well-done, sometimes spirit-filled, church service (all of which I, personally, love attending myself, btw), we GO into all the world and share the gospel by loving others practically and meeting their needs?
How about instead of using the money that people have given – because pastors have taught them “do not mock God, but bring 10% of everything you make to church first” (another post, another day) – to pad a “rainy day” bank account like a hoarder who doesn’t want to let the smallest thing go… how about we use some of that money to do things for the community that we are planted in and the people – both in our church and without – who have real needs? Wouldn’t that demonstrate Christ a little better than money in the bank?
Or what if, instead of starting our own “helping” organizations – that compete with the ones already proven and serving in the community – so that we can proudly boast about how we have a “Christian” soup kitchen, food pantry, clothing bank, homeless shelter, serving organization to exalt our name… what if we pooled our resources, time, and energy to come alongside those already established places and “make a name for ourselves” as the church that truly gets involved by working with our community organizations by providing love, support, and volunteer hours?
What if, instead of having to advertise that we “love God and love people” with printed chotchkes, stickers, and signs, it was simply known that that group of people who attend that church really love God and care about people, all because it was demonstrated instead of talked about?
The bottom line… Christ didn’t just talk about serving others, loving others, dying for others. He DID SOMETHING. His hands and feet were always extended to give, serve, love, help, touch, do, and provide the ultimate sacrifice for each and every one of us.
Talk is cheap. Doing something that demonstrates Christ to others is what matters. Otherwise, we’re just making noise… unpleasant, undesirable, unheeded noise with our ever-moving lips.
Again, pardon my cynicism, but can we please stop talking and actually DO something?
Let me spill it straight from the gut
This heart pain is like an open wound, an unchecked cut
That’s gushing and flowing, never slowing.
Dripping red into a pool of
With firm and constant iron grips
Kneading and applying pressure to the seat of affection.
Generating agitation, resurrection,
Creating discontent and dissatisfaction.
Until it becomes an urgent fervor,
a desperate desire
An aching cry for Refiner’s fire –
Hungry, yearning, burning, crying out for
More. Of. You.
So light a spark down in my soul
Fan the embers, watch it glow.
Blow It, feed it, stir it, grow it.
Breathe the breath of power and life
Upon the flame ‘til it inspires
A raging, roaring, uncontrolled,
Wildfire that cannot be contained
A passion that is contagious. Outrageous. Unashamedly gracious.
Intensely touching others with Your. Amazing. Love.
More. Of. You.
Ever heard someone lash out with the words “Religion is a crutch!” Most of us have heard it more than once. Many who say they have a faith in Christ get offended, or highly defensive, when they hear this popular criticism. They tend to argue about doctrines, scriptures, and beliefs in an attempt to convince others that their religion is anything but a crutch.
Well, hold on to your pantyhose. This Christ-follower fully agrees. Religion IS a crutch.
Now before you throw those blasphemy stones you’ve got clenched in your raised fists, read on….
A crutch is defined as: “anything that serves as a temporary and often inappropriate support, supplement, or substitute; a prop”
Perfectly defines religion. Temporary. Unable to truly support. A poor substitute. Something that props you up… which, by the way, when removed will trigger a fall.
The definition of religion is “the practice of religious beliefs and/or ritual observances of faith”.
In scripture, Christ and those who mechanically practiced religion were not fans of one another.
The religious measured others according to their index of proper acts, acceptable behaviors, respectable lifestyles, and appreciable knowledge. If one didn’t conform to their preconceived notions of tolerable conduct, the religious would judge them as unworthy, unfaithful, even deplorable.
Christ measured others according to His Father, Whose heart knew of every decent and scandalous act ahead of their committal. Whose eyes saw every righteous and unrighteous behavior before they came to pass. Whose ears heard every respectful and shameful word before they were spoken. Who knew the measure of every lifestyle, deemed successful or unsuccessful by the fellow man, prior to the first breath of life. Yet His Father continued to love them, understanding their humanity, yet knowing that He created them with incredible potential and giftings for good.
Christ demonstrated what true faith should resemble, and those who counted on religion were considered inferior and judged harshly by Him for their false teachings and man-centered standards.
Sadly this seems to have been forgotten today. Today it seems so many still boost themselves up by bracing their lives on pompous practices and spiritually-superficial rites.
Obeying a list of “holy behaviors” will prop one up on a self-righteous and ego-aggrandizing pedestal. The problem is that this narcissistic truss will only provide a deceiving facade of support. With the first stumble, or deviation from the tally of rights and wrongs – like an injured man whose crutch is yanked from under him on a slippery surface – the pseudo-holy foundation tumbles, taking the soul bound by religion with it.
Unfortunately, those who have allowed themselves to be crippled by the demanding and unrealistic checklist, tend to reach for that same list of do’s/dont’s – making excuses for their own fallings, and holding others hostage to their deformed expectations of virtue. They find a strange sort of comfort in their religious list.
After all, adhering to a series of hallowed intentions takes less faith and diligence than building a relationship that is truthfully spiritual and real. The rules, regulations, and human-ordained practices of religion are a poor substitute for living with an honest and faith-filled relationship with the agape loving, grace-permeated Christ.
Religion is a crutch. It is an inappropriate prop for the self-righteous. Religion provides a false sense of support and stability and is a temporary aid to bolster the ego. It is a weak, ugly, foolish crutch that Christ would snatch away in a second to prompt our reliance on Him instead of ritualistic nonsense.
Stand up. Allow Christ to strengthen you as you choose to follow Him… Listening for His voice, obeying His promptings, and walking – unaided by man-made rules of legalism – with Him. Drop the crutch.
Oh… and drop your stones now also, please and thank you.
Ever read a scripture passage that reached into your soul a grabbed hold with an iron grip as if to say “Pay attention to me! I have something for you!”?
This past week I was reading and came across a passage like this. When the women had gone to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, they encountered a man who told them “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” – Mark 16:6-7
Go and tell His disciples…. and Peter. In my mind this implied that Peter was being mentioned separately from the disciples possibly due to his sin of denying Christ 3x.
However, every Commentary that I read indicated otherwise. They all agreed that Peter was not be distinguished from the disciples, but instead was Peter was being singled out to assure that he was informed along with the other disciples… to guarantee that he was included in this report of Christ’s resurrection and His promise that He would come to them again.
Peter’s name was called out to make certain that he knew he was included in the invitation to meet with Christ once again.
I can only imagine how his heart must have skipped when his name was called. Such a mixture of excitement, anticipation, fear, and guilt. He had, after all, sworn and uttered curses as he denied even knowing who Christ was in the midst of the God-man’s most physically/emotionally demanding… potentially damaging… days on Earth. He had abandoned Christ. Turned his back on the Christ that he had walked with, talked with, ate with, slept beside, been taught by, and even been called by. Peter had refused to acknowledge the One Who had – with all patience and understanding – seen the potential in Peter’s strong-will, brash personality, and impulsivity.
Peter had sworn he knew no such man called “Christ”. Three. Scandalous. Times.
And yet, Peter was being called out by the same, Christ, and acknowledged as His in the presence of all the other disciples… who, most assuredly, knew of his shameful denials.
Scripture later records that Christ appeared to the disciples when they were fishing and John recognized Who was on the shore. And rather than waiting for the rest of the disciples to row there in their boat – for that would take to long – Peter jumped from the boat and began to swim to shore (is it any wonder with his impulsive nature?). He wanted to be in the presence of Jesus.
Christ waited until all the disciples were together and had shared a meal. He then called Peter’s name again. He singled him out once again in the presence of the others. Imagine… “Peter?”
Was He going to rebuke Peter for his sinful, slap in the face, spurning? Would he point out how Peter had denied Him and then, publicly, announce that he was no longer chosen to represent Christ? After all, how could he?
How could Christ, in all good conscience, allow Peter to represent Him and His cause knowing that Peter had stood before many and, cursing and swearing, joined in His ridicule and refused to acknowledge his relationship with Him ? How could the hand of God continue to anoint Peter’s life with such a blatant rejection? So many thoughts and emotions must have been leaving footprints on Peter’s mind and heart.
“Peter” “Yes, Lord?”
“Do you love me?”
Three times Christ asked if Peter loved Him. Scripture says that Peter was hurt because Christ asked him the third time. Could it have been another painful reminder of Peter’s 3 rebuffs?
“Lord, You know all things. You know that I love You”
And Christ, for the 3rd time, reaffirmed Peter’s calling to “feed My lambs”… to minister to those who are lost and hurting… to those who have no Shepherd.
“Lord, You know all things”…..
Indeed He does.
Christ knows all things. He knows that we are human. He knows that we make mistakes. He knows that we even, at times, reject or spurn His place in our life with our actions and/or words. He knows.
And yet, just like Peter, He continues to call out our name. He continues to let us know that if our heart is still trying to find Him through the dense fog of shame that can cloud our view of Him… if we are still seeking His light in the midst of our own mental and emotional darkness… if we are willing to jump out of the boat and “swim” towards Him – not waiting for things to be just right or others to come along with us… if our response is that pain-filled, guilt-ridden, cry of “Lord, you know all things. You KNOW that I love you”… then, in spite of our sin, He calls out our name and reminds us that we remain called, appointed, chosen, His.
Such marvelous Grace.
I’ve got it and I’ve got it bad.
No, it’s not split personality disorder. Not a sad case of the blues. I’m not madly in love with someone other than my husband… well, except for myself sometimes.
I’ve got a messiah complex. A ridiculously inaccurate messiah complex.
It’s my responsibility to save things and fix people. Every. Single. Day.
The world can’t survive without me. At least that seems to be what I subconsciously tell myself at times.
My students and co-workers will be lost if I take a day off. Things at church might not go smoothly if I miss a Sunday… or a leaders meeting. If I say no to an invitation with family it might upset things. My input is important in most any situation. My opinion valid. My perspective pretty awesome and accurate. My way, quite often, the most reasonable and practical – the wisest way.
See? I have placed myself on an imaginary pedestal without even realizing it. I unconsciously believe that I am the all-knowing, troubleshooter of the totality of what is wrong in life. The ever-wise moderator of relationships and conflicting conversations. The oracle who sees the errors of ways. The prophet who speaks the hard-hearing truth.
I have set myself in a high place in my own mind. I have assumed the position of savior of the world. … again.
There have been several times, in my life, when I have climbed up to this high and lofty mental place of honor. Times when I wouldn’t – couldn’t – say no for fear of the world stopping if I did so. Times when I had to be ever-present for everyone or things would forever be marred and scarred (at least in my own mind).
And each time I have gotten soundly, profoundly, and squarely, knocked off that pedestal and painfully back onto my reality-recognizing butt.
My mind, my emotions, my body, or all three at once, take control and say “enough is enough” and they forcefully set me off my feet and onto my kiester, or my back. This is where I am forced to recognize that the world will continue to spin – tasks will still be completed – life will go on – friends, family, loved ones, students, and co-workers will survive… and possibly even thrive – all without my influence or interference.
Although I do not believe God is the author of sickness, fatigue, breakdowns, or anything that is evil, I do believe that He allows us to crash and burn at times as a natural consequence of our own ignorance or sin. And when I have fanned both ends of the candle flame for an endless amount of time, and there is no light left in me because I have been an improper steward of the gifts/talents that He HAS given me, then He allows me to become as a scorched and melted puddle of wax.
At that point I have a choice. Refuse to acknowledge that I am not the end-all, be-all, messiah without which the world cannot flourish – and thus grow cold and hard as His glow extinguishes and I continue to believe I, alone, can save. Or remain pliable, willing to be reshaped and reused by submitting to the heat of His character-molding, mind-renewing fire and the blaze of His Spirit. Allowing myself to be ignited with the His love-shaped, grace-filled Zippo – recognizing that without Him I am nothing. And even with Him, I am simply a broken vessel of light that He has chosen to carry His spark… not to pervert His standing as Messiah and Savior of the world.
Scripture admonishes that man not think more highly of himself than he ought. Proverbs advises that pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.
Me, Myself, and my Messiah complex struggle with this at times and forget. Ever been there?
Video Posted on Updated on
I’ve sat this evening and pondered on the God-given, mercy-motivated, heart-full-of-love induced, grace that has been offered to me… and to you. And I have wondered…
Where could I be? Where SHOULD I be? Where would I be without it?
I could still be neck deep in the mistake-laden quicksand that has been my past. Struggling and striving to pull myself out of the muck and mire, yet also wanting to let the depths swallow me as I give up the fight with the darkness.
I should be lying stripped and marred in the dust by the side of life’s fractured and fragmented highway. Ashamed to lift my head because of the bruises and violent handprints from the times that I’ve been beaten up by the enemy.
I would be still wounded, insecure, looking for an enemy, while plodding through the day-to-day. I would be barely able to stand from the weight of rejection and fear of the self-perceived ugliness in the mirror.
If I dwelt upon my coulda, shoulda, woulda’s, I could – realistically – reasonably – relinquish hope for a joyful, purposeful, impacting existance. There would be no shame or blame in pitching a tent and deciding to resign and retire from life… if my coulda, shoulda, woulda’s were all that there was in my earth-encumbered journey.
But for the grace of God.
The God of grace observed every mistake I would make, before I existed. He had prior knowledge of what a damaged, baggage carrying, woman I would become. He was fully aware of how hard and fast I would run away from Him because I was furious at the injustice of life, unreliability of human love, and the injurious nature of ministry. And yet He saw me as precious and worthy of Him.
His heart-borne, blood-spilled, love-filled, grace opens its gates and allows me to walk through – with my head held high in spite of where I’ve been – and rest in the meadows of His forgiveness and peace. He will repair the brokenness in my bones, and the winds of His breath will restore life to my soul. If I am willing, the rivers of His Spirit will soothe my wounds and then stir me to action with the gifts and talents that HE created within me – to lead others into this place of safety. This dwelling in peace.
This… GraceLand where He is King.
Such and amazing place of grace.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. – Romans 5:1-2
Ever been blindsided by anger from someone who has misconstrued or assumed something you’ve done or said? Unexpected, angry words hurl toward you like bullets in a drive-by, causing you to duck and cover internally in order to protect yourself. Or, your response could be as someone who has been wounded and scarred by life and abuse and so you retaliate, firing back your own volley of venom-filled verbosity while you defend your honor and pride.
Perhaps the warrior of words has been you. How many times have you been the violent instigator of your neighbor’s wounds because you mentally created scenarios of wrong-doing or imagined them aiming at target-shaped bull’s-eyes on your happiness or character? So you fire off a round of white hot insults and accusations, causing soul-trauma to the victim of your word weaponry.
Any of this sound familiar?
Most of us can identify with both. Although we’ve all, most likely, been the victim of someone’s harsh and sudden criticism or irritation, we’ve also all dealt our share of oral outrage. We’ve been both the casualty of a verbal violation and the trigger happy dispatcher of uttered ammunition – probably more than once – in our lifetimes.
Truth be told, it gives us satisfaction and gratification to get things off our chest… to spew our sarcasm or anger-laden speech all over someone else. We may even delight in the fact that our diatribe has suddenly stunned them into silence and our pride increases and ego inflates.
For some, that feeling of superior euphoria is short-lived. There is recognition that the momentary verbose vindication deflated the spirit of another God-imagined, hand-crafted masterpiece. The light has been extinguished from their eyes. Their soul is wounded. Auditory arrows have been shot into their hearts and it grieves to the core.
For others, the personal pleasure and pride continues to grow. There is refusal to admit any wrong. Dialectical damage is ignored and the journey goes on, one day at a time, leaving bruised and battered beings in the dust… behind… where they cannot be seen.
Time to put the big girl panties, or the big boy drawers, on.
Time to own it. Own the fact that we do, at times, allow ourselves to be used as tools of the enemy. Time for all of us to stop playing the marred martyr and instead man – or woman – up. Take responsibility for our own words. Admit that we have not, will not, choose to control our tongues when we are offended or anticipating attack… no matter how figmental that attack may be. Confess that we, at times, put our own need for one-upmanship over relationships and recognition of God-value in every human being.
After owning our sinful, spiteful, hateful motivations behind our agitated outbursts – and asking the God who created our targets for forgiveness – we owe a heart-felt, care-filled apology to those we’ve wounded. They deserve to have their dignity restored as we humble ourselves and acknowledge our vainglorious frenzy. No excuses. No justification-filled reasoning. No lengthy dissertations. Excessive words marked the genesis of this injured exchange. So keep it simple. Make an offering of a few honest, authentic, apologetic words. This primes us, and those around us, for maturity – and allows opportunity for restoration and healing in the souls of all involved.
19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. 20 Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires….26 If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. – James 1:19-20, 26
7 People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, 8 but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. 9 Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. 10 …Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!….17 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. 18 And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness. – James 3:7-18
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. – Proverbs 15:1