True love changes us

Love people just as they are.

Yes and no.

Yes, all people are created in the image of God and have specific gifts, talents and abilities. Even more than that, each of us has a purpose here on Earth.

I accepted Christ as my savior as a teenager mainly because counselors and other campers at a church camp I attended accepted me for who I was, even though I did nothing to earn their love. I wanted what they had, and it was Jesus.

Love people just as they are.

No. God loves us too much to leave us there. Accepting Jesus as my savior was the starting point, not the final destination. The road of life needs to be re-paved; the old one eventually will wear out.

If we claim to follow Jesus, we must grapple with this:

 

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? On what will they give in return for their life?”

Matthew 16: 24-26

 

And this:

 

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Mark 1:14-15

 

Deny themselves? Take up their cross? Repent?

No wonder Jesus said the way of life is narrow and few will find it (Matthew 7:14).

Deny themselves

I’ve written about this several times recently, and gotten some push-back from it – not surprisingly. It’s not about me. It’s not about you. The world doesn’t revolve around me. Or you.

The church I attend has a term for this: Live surrendered.

It’s not easy, certainly.

I do not have this life (or the next life, for that matter) all figured out. There’s plenty I don’t know. Am I willing to learn?

We all know how difficult justice is to find in our court systems. Lawyers gather as much evidence as they can, for and against, and the jury weighs the evidence and makes a decision. That’s the best we can do.

Yet sometimes innocent people are convicted, and occasionally guilty people go free. It happens. We know this.

Is there a better way? Is there such a thing as true justice?

Yes, there is. But we might not get it until the next life.

At that point, when we see what justice really looks like, we might wish we didn’t have to face it. Because all of us will have to face it.

That’s a column for another day.

The point is: I don’t have all the answers. I know someone who does. That someone is the One who created me. Sometimes God will tell me what the answers to my questions are, sometimes He will not. I follow Him anyway. This is called trust.

I trust that God’s way is better than my way. (Sorry, Frank Sinatra.) That’s what denying ourselves means.

Take up their cross

Yikes. The cross is an instrument of death. We wear it around our necks as jewelry, build them alongside highways and hang beautiful ones inside our churches.

Crucifixion is one of the most horrific forms of death man has ever devised. The purpose – the only purpose – of a cross is to kill someone.

Jesus had a cross. We know that. But he said that followers should take up their cross. Do we have to die too?

In a sense, yes, we do. For the wages of sin is death … (Romans 6:23)

We earn wages. Sin has a price. It’s death.

What is sin? Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. (1 John 3:4)

So, sin is breaking God’s laws.

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. (James 2:10)

If we think this through, we know this is true. If I’m guilty of theft, I’m not necessarily guilty of murder, but I’m still guilty of breaking the law and I have to serve a sentence for the theft I committed. Right?

So, sin is breaking God’s laws.

What are God’s laws?

“ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

How do we do that?

On one level those words are easy to understand. But it takes a lifetime to fully know how to love God and love people. (Quick note: Do we love God with ALL our heart, soul and mind – or just with the parts of our heart, soul and mind we want to give to God? We aren’t allowed to interpret the Bible the way we’d like. We either follow it, or we don’t.)

Repent

Gotquestions.org has a good explanation of repentance:

In the Bible, the word repent means “to change one’s mind.” The Bible also tells us that true repentance will result in a change of actions (Luke 3:8-14, Acts 3:19). In summarizing his ministry, Paul declares, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20). The full biblical definition of repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of action.

Love them as they are? Yes. But that’s only the starting point.

Why change?

“No slave can serve two masters … You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Luke 16:13)

“They (my followers) do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.” (Jesus, in John 17:16)

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Denying oneself. Taking up our cross. Repenting. And following Jesus.

This is what true love is.

There’s just enough truth in nearly every viewpoint to make all of us dangerous

How do you think your religion is perceived by others who are not part of the faith?

A friend needed a few people to answer a 10-question survey for a community college religion course she is taking this fall. I figured, why not, I’ll give it a shot. I wondered what direction a “religion” survey would go.

Religion

Question 1: What does religion mean to you?

My response: Religion is a generic term for any belief in God or a higher power. It might be personal, or it might not be.

Question 2: Is there a difference between faith, religion and spirituality?

My answer: “Faith” is my personal belief in God, who is unseen, but who affects my life deeply. “Spirituality” is a hot-button term that means different things to different people. Spirituality includes the supernatural, which may or may not include God.

How am I doing so far? Would you agree?

I have no idea how other people answered these questions, nor does that concern me, because I’m not the one taking the religion class.

“Faith” is something my “religion” talks about often. “Spirituality” is one of those words I try to avoid, because I may try to connect spirituality to my faith, but you may connect spirituality with something else completely. Like the paranormal. Or astrology. Or a different religion. Or crystals. Or New Age thinking. Or palm reading. Or …

Perceptions

Question 9 is the one at the top of this column. Those of you who have a different faith, or no faith at all: How do you perceive Christianity, which is the “faith” I live by?

I tried to put myself in your shoes. Here’s what I came up with:

Many people equate Christianity with a judgmental Republican viewpoint, since some vocal Christians promote that. It’s hard, because the God of the Bible is not like that. Others see it as a list of do’s and don’t’s and are afraid they’ll have to give up fun things if they “convert.”

A judgmental Republican viewpoint. I actually wrote that.

I had a discussion earlier this week with another friend over the immigration issue. He’s a staunch supporter of President Trump, and vociferously defended his keep-the-illegal-immigrants-out policy that Trump advocates.

I responded that while I support most of Trump’s positions, I see immigrants as real people. Most illegal immigrants are fleeing for their lives, literally, I said, and the citizenship process is long and cumbersome. That’s the real issue, I argued. Let’s make it easier to become a U.S. citizen.

My friend didn’t buy that argument. He said for the first time ever, immigration laws are being enforced.

Both of us have a deep faith in Jesus Christ. How can we hold opposing views on such a vital issue?

Many of my more liberal friends also support immigrants, legal and illegal, going so far as to encourage sanctuary cities and support churches that are willing to host illegals to protect them from deportation.

Jesus did not take a stand on such issues. He was not a politician. The people of his day, like many people today, wish he was political. That’s why they shouted “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday. Hosanna is a political term. The crowds were looking for a “savior” to overthrow the oppressive Roman government.

As soon as the crowds realized Jesus wasn’t going to do that – he had a different, much higher, purpose in mind – they abandoned him. And crucified him, almost immediately.

While Republican values generally are more in line with the Bible than Democratic values are, the lines are not that clear. There are exceptions, both ways.

Immigration, in my opinion, is one of them.

Neither side is willing to reason with the other on this, or any, issue.

So we get a judgmental Republican (or Democratic) viewpoint.

Reality

Question 4: What appeals to you about your religion?

It gives meaning to my life. The God of the Bible wants the best for me and for all humankind. No other religion’s leader can claim that.

This is why I struggle with politics. Trump said this week that the published death toll of nearly 3,000 from last year’s hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico was not even close. He said Democrats were trying to make him look bad.

Trump cares only about his reputation. Puerto Ricans are pawns to him. “Nobody is singing his praises because we all saw what happened,” San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz told The Associated Press.

GOP activists blame the media for distorting Trump’s record. But The AP is about as impartial as media get.

If you reject published reports and photos of the devastation, then there’s nothing anyone can say to you. Information has never been more widely disseminated. If we pick and choose what to “believe” (the drugstore tabloids don’t count, but that’s my opinion), then we are choosing our own reality, instead of trying to understand what’s truly going on in the world and responding accordingly.

Jesus did not have this attitude at all. Instead, he defended the outcast every time: the Samaritan woman at the well, lepers and other physically sick people, the prodigal’s son, a woman who gave her last penny in taxes, even a demon-possessed caveman. And many others.

I wish Americans thought and acted like that. Many do, often outside the political landscape.

Benefits

Question 8: What benefits to society do you think your religion or religion in general presents?

When lived correctly, Christianity accepts all people. That doesn’t mean Christians agree with other faiths or viewpoints, but we “love the sinner, hate the sin.” That’s a real thing. We promote family values, which overcomes drug abuse, teen sex/abortion, addictions, hate/anger, etc. – ie, looking for love in all the wrong places.

There’s just enough truth in nearly every viewpoint to make all of us dangerous. It’s easy to twist “truth” to fit our own agendas.

The church I attend has a three-point mission statement: Love God, love people, live surrendered. We spend the most time talking about the last point. What does surrendering to God and the Bible look like?

Each of us will answer that question differently. But each of us must surrender to God. Not my will, but yours be done, on Earth as it is in heaven, according to the Lord’s prayer.

That’s the key. Not the Republican way. Not the Democratic way.

God’s way.

The God of the Bible’s way.

That’s what faith means to me.