You give love a bad name

It is a cruel twist.  Love is supposed to be the core value of what Christians believe and how they act, and yet love seems to be the one thing missing from many “Christian” hearts.

Don’t believe me? Just read the comment section on any blog or article. It doesn’t even matter if the article is on faith, politics, social justice, racism, or how to make a batch of cookies…someone, somewhere, will use the name of Jesus to spout hate and venom.

Sometimes, the person making a comment will use church-y phrases or justify their cruel words with Scripture passages they don’t understand or take out of context.  But more often, they use shame, name-calling, and hate-speech, all while claiming to be Christian.

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How is this speaking in love? How is this showing the world the grace and mercy found in Christ Jesus?

In the upside down nature of the kingdom of Jesus, we believers are to be humble, embodying love, forgiveness, and grace. In Christ’s kingdom, we are to lessen ourselves in order to raise up others. There is no greater place to be than in the servant role, laying aside our own selfish desires in order to serve another.  It doesn’t matter another’s religion, their race, nationality, gender, or even the state of their hearts. They do not even need to appreciate us in our servant role. Rather, we are to pour out ourselves, willingly, lovingly, for the sake of the other.

This is what it means to be a follower of Christ, what it means to be Christian. It means to stifle our (sinful) inclinations to be right, to be dominant, to be louder than other voices.  It is putting aside our wants, our desires, our selfishness and instead giving our time, our energy, our love in service for another, with no ulterior motive other than to serve out of a holy love of God and our neighbor. This is not watering down the Gospel message, but rather embracing it wholeheartedly and living it to the fullest measure.

It is being counter-cultural in a culture that worships the ascent up the success ladder, seeks fame-for-any-reason, idolizes money and “stuff”. It is being counter-cultural in that we move downward, rather than upward.  It is putting aside the Americanized version of Christianity, where prosperity equals blessings, and wealth equals worth, and instead, clinging to the truth that the meek will inherit the earth and the merciful will be shown mercy.

Have we missed the point? Are we that blind to the truth of who Christ calls us to be?

No convert has been made through insults. No honest dialogue has happened through name calling and denigration.  No transformation has happened through hate.

Christ tells us the greatest commandment is to love God and love neighbor. He doesn’t put parameters on it, telling us only to love if they are the same as us, if they look the same, think the same, if they know God, if they worship the same way, if they are in the same economic class. No, Christ just commands us to love. And that love is our witness. Love is building relationships, having conversations, being authentic, serving and caring for the physical, emotional, and yes, spiritual needs of our neighbor. And who is our neighbor?

Everyone.

There are no exclusions, no exceptions. We each are made with the fingerprints of God upon us, the imago Dei (the image of God) inside of us. Every human being has sacred worth because they are a creation of God, and His breath has breathed life into them.

Your neighbor is the Muslim family down the street, the gay couple next door, the atheist in the cubicle next to you at work. Your neighbors are those you know, and those you will never know, across the span of this beautiful green and blue sphere. Your neighbor is those who hate you, those who mock you. Your neighbor is the drug dealer in “that” part of town, your neighbor is the alcoholic sitting in a booth at the local bar, your neighbor is the meth addict locked up in the county jail. Your neighbor is the homeless woman, pushing her tattered belongings in a shopping cart across the park. Your neighbor is the person sitting across the aisle from you at church, the one that you carry bitterness towards. Your neighbor is all these, and more. And if you claim Christ, you must cling to the love He had for every one of these, for the least of these.

And we will all mess it us, at some point or another.  And we will need to forgive, and seek forgiveness. That is part of living in a world broken by sin, scarred by hatred, tainted by evil. We will never be perfect, or always get it right on this side of eternity. Even with the best of intentions, we might get it wrong, we may injure another. But when are hearts are open, when our souls are filled with the love of the Creator, when we long to love in the way we have been shown by Jesus, then we are moving forward in building His kingdom here on this earth.

That is the beauty of mercy and grace. If we embrace this, we will begin to see transformation of the world, beginning with the transformation of our hearts.  Perhaps then we will see another song ring true….

“And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.                                          Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

 

Spring for my soul

These first four months of this year have slipped by so quickly, as time seems to do the older one gets. We made it through our first Lenten and Easter season as a ministry family, and we are only slightly worse for wear.

Lent was a personal journey for me. I wrote more during the Lenten season than I ever have before. I created a daily prayer devotion for our church. At the beginning, it went so well. I had two weeks ready to go before Lent even began.

And then life happened.

And I was never ahead again. Rather than having them planned out ahead of time, I was sometimes creating the next day’s prayer at 11:30 the night before. NOT the best idea…but hey, they all got done.

Having to write every single day was an exercise of devotion for me. There were days when the words wouldn’t come, when it felt forced. And then there were the days, oh those beautiful days, when everything flowed, the scripture spoke to me, the Lord provided insight, and I had more words that I could use. I loved those days, and hated the others. My creativity ebbed and flowed like the spring weather here in the northern tundra of Minnesota. Here one day, warm and fresh, with beautiful sunshine and the next, freezing, with snow accumulating atop the brave tulips that have begun their push through the frozen ground.

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Springtime in Minnesota

The weather lately has done a number on my attitude. After a warm(ish) March, April came in like a lion, tearing at us with cold wind and (almost) daily snow. This bipolar weather pattern wears at my soul, exhausting me with the grey, dreary days, keeping me inside, hiding from the bitter winds.

In just a few days, we have 70* temps forecasted, and it almost makes me physically ache with anticipation, especially today, as I huddle under a blanket while the temp outside strives to reach freezing and we deal with a cantankerous furnace. I am craving sunshine again, and warm rains, and green grass and budding trees and flowers. This is what my soul needs now, what my mind needs, what my body needs. I need to run in the sunshine, and feel warm breezes upon my skin. I need to smell the dirt and the budding greenery.  I need to feel the warming earth under my bare feet, see the colors of the blooming flowers.

Even the words I have these days seem dreary, uninspired. Blog post after post have been started, and subsequently abandoned. Time after time, I have felt inspired but the moment I sit at the computer screen, words seem to scurry from my mind and I sit here, blank.

This is the season when faith is relied on more fully, and I lean into the knowing  that spring, and its glorious warmth and sunshine, are on its way.  This is the time when I need to cling to the faith that this dreariness, this bleakness, will not last, neither in the weather nor in my spirit.