Monday, October 14, 2013

The Greater Than's

Something has been boiling in my soul for a while now, and I just have to write it out. With the type-first-think-later world of social media in the forefront of our modern existence, I have to dive into new depths of self-control as I peruse the ridiculous things people say. Apparently, making ridiculous statements is the new black.

What bothers me (eats me to the bone, actually) is the way people (usually people who call themselves Christians) discredit and verbally destroy evangelists, leaders, preachers and other prominent Christians. Bad-mouthing the way they dress, nit-picking every word they say (usually out of context), and spreading misinformation like wildfire. Number one target lately in my newsfeed has been Joel Osteen. People love to rip him apart in their virtual realities, and it chaps my figurative hide.

Funny thing––I don't even listen to Joel Osteen on a regular basis. He's not one of the top voices of the day that I seek out for guidance and instruction in faith. But, I have heard him enough, read his writings enough and seen him on TV enough to hear his message: the message of salvation through Jesus Christ (John 3:16-17). The message of training your mind on what is noble and right and lovely (Philippians 4:8). The message of making a positive impact on your world (Matthew 5:16).

When you or I choose to bash a leader over things we perceive as errors, issues or problems, our words don't actually do anyone any good.  Have you ever been persuaded to reconsider your own convictions by being ridiculed? By having your lifestyle criticized? By the buzzing crowd of naysayers that follows you everywhere you go? It's just not an effective strategy, and it's basically wasted breath. Or keystrokes. Negative statements have never produced positive actions.

If a Christian person has such a serious problem with someone like Joel Osteen, why not just change the channel?  Why not pray for him and trust God to deal with his heart on things? If you are legitimately concerned over someone's teachings and fear that he or she is leading people astray, pray for them!  Pray for God to be glorified and the truth of the Bible to shine out clearly! If you really trust in God, don't you think He can handle the situation? As we gripe and complain based on our preferences and our theological positions, we're missing the whole point.

Over these past 30 years of getting to know God, He has been chiseling away at my rough edges, and I have come to a point where things are pretty simple: God loves people. As in LOOOOOOOVES people. Which has brought me to the realization that people are not my enemies.  My enemies are the "principalities, the powers, the rulers of the darkness of this age..." (Eph. 6:12).  People are God's great treasure, His pinnacle of creation, His children and His desired friends. He loves people!  All people! His love was so great that He went so far as to sacrifice His perfect, spotless Son on behalf of all people throughout all time. He wants every person to know Him and be known by Him. People are not the enemy.

People are the purpose. God wants His kids back in relationship with Him. Sin separated us from Him, but Jesus broke the power of sin and paid our debt once and for all. And now He gives every person the choice to accept His gift or not. He paid the way for our freedom and it's up to us to go on the trip or not.

But people are never the enemy. 

Sometimes Christians get too "churchified" and surrounded by religion that we forget about real people living real lives who don't feel welcomed into our circles. Or, we become so insulated in our church culture-of-choice that we adopt a self-righteous attitude and fall into the trap of legalism. We proceed to measure humanity against a list of acceptable behaviors; except everyone's "list" is different...and no one can actually measure up.

What's my point? People are treasure. People are valuable. I need to see them and think about them the way God does.

God has been softening my heart toward His kids. I don't pretend to understand them all, but there are buds of compassion and love for them blooming in my heart. They are not my enemies. You are not my enemy. The TV preacher I don't agree with is not my enemy. You are my brothers and sisters. You matter to God, and you should matter to me. I should treat you well––with kindness and love. I should not tear people down with my words when I don't agree with them.  I will do more harm than good by spewing my distaste or my accusations. Don't misunderstand––I don't agree with everyone. I actually don't agree with most, but love compels me to cover people and not hang them out to dry. Agreement is not a prerequisite for love. God loved you before you could ever choose Him, when you were in complete DIS-agreement with Him.

Very simply put, I have realized some "Greater Than" equations that help clarify how I should treat people. How I should treat you. Living by God's Kingdom ways instead of this world's broken ways is so much more effective! In my mind, I can envision a little, ugly thing called Judgment being swallowed up by a much bigger thing called Mercy.  I see the fires of Hate being extinguished by the waterfall of Love. It is only when we operate in these "Greater Than's" that we can nullify the plans of our true enemy:

                                                            Mercy > Judgment
                                                               Love > Hate
                                                  Compassion > Indifference
                                                             Grace > Law
                                                   Affirmation > Defamation
                                                    Acceptance > Exclusion
                                                             Belief > Doubt
                                                               Faith > Fear
                                                            Giving > Taking
                                                        Positivity > Negativity
                                             Encouragement > Discouragement
                                                  Self-Control > Anger
                                                        Humility > Pride

And there are more. Everything about God's Kingdom seems upside down from the way the world thinks...but He already told us that (Is. 55:8-9)!  It is imperative that we don't buy into this fallen system of thinking and expect it to bring us life. We need the mind of Christ and the daily filling of the Holy Spirit in order to operate in Kingdom ways (Rom. 8:5-6).

This topic has been heavy on my heart and I have more to say...but for now, I'll just end with this:

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.

I Corinthians 13:3-10, MSG