Friday, April 30, 2010

Our Testimony ...

In effect we will all have the same testimony in that Jesus Christ saved us from the evil in our lives. And yet each one of us will have a unique testimony of just what happened in our lives, under what conditions, and unique to us, like the DNA strands, and fingerprints that singularly identify us today. It is interesting that the themes of our testimony may be quite similar, a weakness for greed, or lust, or appetite, or power. How many of us suffer from the same weaknesses the devil has devised over the centuries.

There are worse things than not having had a personal experience with Christ bringing victory to your life. One would be the idea that you need no victory; that your life is “fine” just the way it is. The devil works hard to make people believe the meager existence they experience is all that life has to offer. He denies them the desires of their hearts long enough to convince them that no hope exists. Once people begin to compromise their goals, the rest is easy. People settle for the mediocrity the devil provides, without ever tasting the freedom and exhilaration that is possible ONLY through the liberation Christ can bring. Ironically the devil presents the Kingdom of God, as a prison of restrictions, or rules and regulations that must be kept on pain of death. Yet the “rules” or principles of God’s Kingdom define what freedom and fulfillment are all about. They do not constrain us from that which would make us happy, but rather are there to provide a buffer against that which would seek to destroy us and leave us completely empty.

This is tried technique of the author of all evil; Satan acts with malevolent intent and fierce actions and then blames God for “allowing” him to do so. It is why God is so often blamed in the face of tragedy; when in fact, the tragedies themselves come directly from the one who would see everyone suffer with him. Satan seeks only to spread pain however he can. Whether it be a denial of what is truly possible, or an infliction of horror itself, Satan wishes no human escape his wrath. This is his last avenue to hurt our Creator and so he works incessantly to achieve that singular goal.

Another fate worse than a lack of a personal experience with Christ, is a lie about a relationship that truly does not exist. There are those who claim more than just personal victories over sin worked in their lives due to the power of Jesus; they claim divine inspiration, revelation, or authority to speak on God’s behalf. So how do we sort out testimony of truth, from lies told by wolves in sheep’s clothing? For if truth can be found in any vessel of God’s choosing, how do we know He has not made a choice we simply do not understand ourselves. It is easy to get caught up in pre-judging the avenues God is allowed to reach us within. We close ourselves off to obvious sinners (those whose sin is known publicly), and generally do not want to associate with them, or listen to what they say. We stay away from places we deem inappropriate and believe truth is only given in church. We prejudge Christian music we do not enjoy as being evil, and therefore incapable of relaying the Holy Spirit of truth to us. And by all this prejudging, God is effectively excluded almost every avenue from reaching us with His intentions and word.

To treat those who claim direct divine revelation like they are all nut-balls is to err on the side of caution. But to treat all those who claim direct revelation of authors of truth, is to invite apostasy and deception into the mind and heart. So how do we tell the difference and sort the truth from the error? First, we must examine their language and actions in an attempt to know them by their fruits. Those who claim direct interaction with God SHOULD be the most loving of all Christians you have yet to encounter. It is an automatic side effect of being in close proximity to the source of all love. If they come across as critical, condemnatory, judgmental, obsessed with sin and not the savior, they are probably misstating their interactions with the divine. But just because someone is full of love, does not automatically make them full of truth.

Next, we must examine what they say against what we know of scripture to date. To directly counteract scripture is a very dangerous proposition. It may be truth, but requires very close scrutiny before adopting a position we believe to be 180 degrees different than what we know today. To directly counteract a fundamental of scripture is to simply be a mouthpiece for the evil one. Claims like there is no God, the Bible is untrue, Christ is not the messiah, or God does not care what we do. All of these kinds of nullifications of what God wants for us (a permanent escape from evil and the pain that comes with it), are plainly not true. They are lies meant to weaken or destroy faith. They do not make logical sense, if the claims of these people encourage evil they should be avoided.

We too should be conscience of the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Just because we are blessed with a supernatural comforter who is capable of working great works in our minds and hearts, does not free us the influences of other much more malevolent supernatural beings with evil intent. God does not mind being challenged. To ask a supernatural presence “in the name of Jesus Christ” to identify itself is a quick effective method of determining right and wrong in a world beyond our eyes. Satan is not allowed to lie when asked this question in this form. Most of the time evil angels succeed by avoiding being asked this question at all. They present themselves as beings of light that would be insulted to be asked such a meaningless question at all. They may even exhibit anger at the idea you would “show so little faith” in them. But God is not insulted. He understands our need to avoid danger and receive only truth, and He will be faithful to accommodate us.

So what will be your testimony? When walking down golden streets that never dim, will you testify that our Lord saved you from the pain of evil’s counterfeits regarding sexual expression? Or will it be that the Lord freed you from the consuming fire that is greed and avarice? Was it your lust for power and control that drove you to the brink, only to be pulled back by the mercy of Christ? Or was it simply that your eyes were opened by Jesus to the apathy of your own existence, and now you know what it is like to live in freedom with Christ. What can God say only through you? What will be your testimony?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Our Goals ...

The goal we seek is to share the joy we have found with everyone we come in contact with, and especially those we love. The gospel message as we have discussed earlier is one of hope, joy, peace, love, and immediacy. We do not need to wait for heaven to experience His victories over sin in our lives. We are free to begin the process of perfection right here and right now. This changes us. Being born again from the inside out, being remade in His image once again is life altering. It is transformational. It remakes our characters. In short it is the purification process God has been longing to give to us. Only waiting for us to accept His gift, and humble our stubborn will to allow it. With the absence of “self” comes the beginning of His victories over our sins.

Because many in Christianity have yet to experience what it means to have His victories over the sins they still fight against, they seek withdrawal from the world. Those that call for us to come apart, to clear away from the lost, so that we do not unite with them in their evil purposes – do not understand the freedom of victory through Christ. Sin and evil are nothing but pain. They are not goals to be sought after, they are a curse we are finally freed from by Christ in us. Having been made free from the chains of sin, we do not seek to return to bondage with others in the world – rather we seek to see them freed as well. This is the burden of those who have tasted freedom, and something that those who have not simply do not understand.

If Bill Gates randomly decided he liked you, and thought that you deserved to receive one billion dollars tax free (he would take care of all of that), just to make your life better – what would you do with the money? Sure, most of us would pay our bills, get out of debt, buy the home, cars, college education for the kids we may have always wanted. But then what, one Billion is a lot to spend. The interest alone could easily be 50 million dollars a year with conservative investments. Would you keep every cent for yourself? Would you share it with no-one you are related to, no-one you love, no-one you know? Would you seek to move into a cave somewhere in the mountains away from the entire world so as to avoid the risk that someone may try to wrong you? The real benefit of a gift of this magnitude is in our ability to change our lives, and the lives of those we love for the better. Outside of that, the money would be a curse. The same is true of the Gospel.

We treat the gospel as if it were some horribly distasteful medicine taken only when on the verge of death. Instead of sharing how Christ has made your life so much better, we put up walls to keep “the needy” away from us, so as not to get us dirty with their uncleanliness. Sometimes, we fear the ridicule of family members, and so do not bring up the subject of the gospel, thus trying to keep our light hidden like in a cave somewhere. This embarrassment over being a Christian, this hesitation over bringing up the subject of Christ, is a sure indication that you have not felt His freedom or His victories yet for yourself. You still have nothing of value to offer. For when you do, it is very much like receiving MORE than one billion dollars; you simply HAVE to share what you have found. You just cannot contain the good news, once you realize just how good it is.

When you begin to see people through His eyes of love, you realize just how precious they are. You begin for the first time to rightly value the uniqueness and worth of the individual. You begin to see how Christ works so personally, so one-on-one with each of us to save each soul to Himself. And as such you begin to share His burden not to lose even one of them.

There is no soul, no person who is not worth saving. There is no-one that heaven’s streets would be better off without, including you. It is not because we deserve His rewards, or His gifts, but it is because He loves us just that much. When you begin to love like this, you simply cannot sit still, with mouth closed, and silently witness the pain your brother goes through. Not while you could speak out, and show them the way to freedom. Not when you could point them to Christ and in so doing, connect them with the source of freedom from sin and pain.

There will come a day, when by His grace, we finally see the home He has prepared for us from the foundations of the world; a day when we walk his golden streets and eat at His fine banquet tables. But perfection is much better shared. I wish to sit next to those who I knew here on earth, not find them missing for my silence. I wish to learn to love my enemies even better in that perfect place, not lament their absence over my foolish pride on earth, over my apathy on earth, over my inaction on earth. If my family is not within the perfect realm, my first question will be directed into the mirrors of heaven, could I have done something more? Was it me who might have made the difference in their lives, to encourage them unto salvation? Was it my silence or inaction, or apathy that has seen them miss the opportunity to find Christ and be saved.

When our Lord wished to use me in His service of redemption, When He wanted me to just share what I knew, will I be found too busy, too embarrassed, too hesitant, too reluctant, too afraid of human ridicule? And if so, will I not have all of eternity to realize my blunders? The text in which God has to wipe away the tears from our eyes, even in heaven, is aptly applied to this dilemma. I wish not to be counted as unwilling, uncaring, and inactive. I wish to be able to say I did everything I could, I left no stone unturned, I tried until I was dead to make a difference. God will still have to wipe away my tears, because despite my desires, I will have made substantial mistakes in His cause. But from now to then, how will I live? How will you? How much is enough in the cause of redemption of His people, and your family?

Those in darkness do not need compromise to be led away from it, they need the light. They need to see us live His victories, not share with them their pain by participating with them in their errors. We do not need to condemn them for their wrongs, nor try to identify all their sins to them. We need simply to live the victories He wishes to bring us in our own lives. By this we show them a light that is not tainted with compromise, but pure in His victory. We show them that we share their weakness, but are made whole through His strength. It is not by our own will that we are made free from sin, it is by the submission of our will to Christ. This is the light the world needs to see in living example. Words alone will have little effect. We are called to witness from firsthand experience.

Adam faced this choice in the garden and chose poorly. After Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit, and before Adam did, he was faced with a choice. Trust God, even in the face of her certain death, or break trust and choose to embrace death with her. He chose poorly. We should not repeat his mistakes. We may have loved ones who do not wish to know Christ. If faced with a choice of uniting with our erring loved ones, or trusting God in the face of their apparent death, we must choose to trust our God. Had Adam done this, God could have enacted a plan of salvation for Eve alone, and perhaps the legacy of our world would have been different.

In our cases, though our love for our family may be strong, we must look to God to save them in spite of themselves, as sometimes He has done with us. We must trust that the strength of God’s love is greater than our family member’s ability to resist it. We must remain true to our submission of our will, our decisions, our desires, and our love to Christ that He may continue the work He has begun in us. This ALONE is the only hope our family members may have. Their last chance at seeing what a connection to Christ and His victories is all about may be through us. We must not abandon our course and doom them as well as ourselves to the fate of evil and pain. Rather we must remain faithful, and constant, and consistent in our pointing them to the source of the joy in our lives. Love is a hard thing to resist.

Christians, who have seen no personal victories, sometimes fall into the trap of searching out sin everywhere around them. They believe to call sin by its right name, and point out the errors of the world is the only way to avoid the dangers of evil. This is misguided thinking and focus. It puts our emphasis and our focus on sin, rather than on the cure for sin, in Jesus Christ. The point of the Bible is not to define sin; it is to define how love conquered sin on our behalf. The Bible is a love story, of how God reclaims his erring children. It is His victory story of how love conquers evil and that ONLY love could. It is the story that love and mercy are greater than justice. And it is why we are able to live in His victories, though we deserve them not. For our value is measured in how great He loves us, not what we have done to earn that love. Salvation is His gift to us. Let us remember to keep our focus on how we heal from the pain of evil and sin, not on the sin itself. Let us behold the cross, and the victory it represents. Let us keep our focus and our eyes upward and towards the work of redemption and encouragement to Christ. Let us remember to see the world through His loving eyes, and His tender mercy, and show the world what unconditional love really means – a way of escape from the pain of evil, not a prolonging or participation in it. The work of redemption and reclamation must remain our goal, until breath leaves our bodies, or we are translated into the skies of glory for an eternity with Him and those we may help along the way.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Our Message

There is a reason witnesses are called into court, it is because they have firsthand knowledge of an event. They have seen it with their own eyes, done it with their own hands, or have been a material part of something that allows them to offer firsthand testimony on the subject. Christian Witnessing then, by definition should be a personal testimony of the effects of Christ in YOUR life. I don’t really care to hear testimony about what Christ did in someone else’s life, for that I would talk to them. I can read about what Christ has done in scripture for myself. What I need you for, is something only you are qualified to talk about – what Christ has done to save YOU.

So then what is the message of a Christian Witness? What is it we offer to the world? How is living the life of a Christian comparatively better than living an agnostic life, an atheistic life, the life of Buddhist, Muslim, or other theist. Forgiveness is a start. Our God offer the chance to start over, to begin again, no matter how many times we fail, no matter what the reason for our failure, He is always willing to forgive us and help us start over. But then so is the Muslim God of Allah. What distinguishes Christianity on the value scale against its other competitors?

You can begin to see why the personal part of your message becomes the key part people are interested in. What Christ has done for you has a substantial impact on you, and as such you can describe the before, during, and after effects of His victories won in your life. If you have experienced no victories yet, then I submit you are doing it wrong. Every religion promises self-fulfillment if you discipline yourself and achieve certain milestones of the belief system. Unfortunately Christianity adopted this kind of thinking. The problem with it is that it is based on the idea that YOU do the work, YOU make the achievement, in effect YOU earn your reward. Even within Christianity, those who struggle with sin have traditionally been taught to pray more, read more, study more, worship more, and make better decisions. But the responsibility for removing the sin was left with the sinner. This is mistaken. Salvation itself is being made free from sin. And it is a gift.

You simply cannot earn a gift, not only are you incapable (literally in this case), by definition a gift is something you may not deserve but get anyway. Christ is responsible for removing the sin in your life. It is His gift to you. To receive it, you need only allow Him to do the work He needs to do. Release your will, your decisions, your desires, everything to Him, and He will make you over a new. He remakes what you are, and who you are from inside out. He changes what you want, and how you want it. He leads you where you need to be, to truth you need to hear, and in ways you cannot imagine. But then you were not supposed to imagine, you were simply supposed to be led. When Christ takes that sin from you, that you have simply been unable to defeat, you experience His freedom. You experience His Salvation. His gift is opened and realized in YOUR life. And FINALLY you have something to talk about.

Prior to this, Christians would be better off keeping the mouth closed, and the will submitted. Until you have one of His victories to celebrate you have nothing more to offer the world than it can find somewhere else. But once the SAVIOR of YOUR life, removes sin from you, and changes even your desires for that old bad habit, you have something to praise God for, and now have something the world will envy. People look for quick easy answers. They do not wish to hear that submitting the will to Christ is not easy. It turns out the guy in the mirror is a survivor who does not wish to die. He will fight hard to maintain control, and keep Christ at a distance. The devil will not simply allow you a clear pathway to bliss. He is bound to keep your focus on the demands of the day, until you feel as though you have no time to pray the prayer of submission. Safely distracted from the daily prayer to our Savior, Satan is free to intervene and rekindle old bad habits. Success without submission has already been demonstrated as impossible.

Christians have traditionally adopted the idea that our witness should be a fight against the prevailing evils we see around us, and particularly in others we wish to save. This is mistaken. It is NOT our job to identify sin, point out the obvious, and condemn it as it deserves. If this were to be our role, we would have done well never to focus on anyone outside of the mirror. Our focus as witnesses should not be centered on our failures, or on the shortcomings of others, but on the victories Christ has worked within US. This is the only thing we are qualified to discuss. Christ made the analogy of trying to remove a splinter from your brother’s eye while having an entire log in your own. It is NOT our job to fight sin, even in our own lives, it is Christ’s job alone. Only He can defeat it. Only He can bring victory to you, and in you, YOU cannot. It leaves you with discussing WHAT Christ does for you, often without even knowing how He did it, as He was the one who did the actual work. You just were given the victory.

A witness should never attempt to be the judge, the prosecutor, or the defense attorney – these roles have already been taken in the heavenly courts. God is our Judge. Christ our advocate. Satan our prosecutor. And we are guilty as charged. But then a funny thing happens, our defense lawyer takes on our sentence Himself in our place. Thus there is no fear of a coming judgment, our sentence has already been given and carried out on Calvary. We don’t die because He did for us. We get His life, and His reward as a complete gift. We are only qualified to focus on what we have witnessed, our defense lawyer taking our place, and doing the work needed to save us Himself. This is the difference between Christianity and its other contemporary competitors. Our religion is based on a Savior. Mankind needs a savior in order to stop sinning. We simply cannot beat evil ourselves. It takes a Messiah, to end the bondage we suffer from to serve ourselves at the expense of others. We must be reborn to see the wisdom in serving others ahead of self.

And what does Christ put in the place of the sin He removes – LOVE. The Author of love, teaches us daily how to love like He does it. We begin to see others through His eyes. We begin to see scripture and truth through His prism of redemptive love. Stories that used to focus on failure and violence are now re-examined and the gentle love is revealed throughout them. God did not begin our redemption in Matthew, He started in Genesis. There were times when evil was extinguished in the Old Testament as a foretelling that someday all evil will cease to exist. But even in this, the traces of love can be found. For it is more merciful to enter non-existence than to perpetuate extraordinary pain into infinity.

Lives lived with the submission of the will to Christ, cannot help but bare the hallmarks of that process steeped in love. And love draws everything to itself. Love is more infectious than evil, and even more powerful. As Christ adds victory over victory to the submitted heart, the level of love the person has increases geometrically. And the world cannot help but take notice. They begin to want to know how this is possible, how this is so. And thus a witness is created by His victories, and His love reflected through us.

We were not meant to boast about any of this process. We are to be humbled by the realization that our failures are only resolved through His death, resurrection, and strength. It is humbling to admit you are an addict to sin and evil, a helpless slave bound to repeat bad decisions, and embrace self-inflicted pain until you finally die. You would be without hope, were it not for the Savior of your life. In YOUR salvation is your testimony. It is personal to each of us, as we are all unique, created for a unique purpose in all of time and space. The song of Moses will sound just a bit different from soul to soul, as each gives testimony of the victory Christ worked in them.

Our message then is one of hope, found in our own experience. It is one of grace, witnessed in our own lives. It is one of victory that ONLY He can bring. And it is one of love that has no equal, no parallel in the world. To live this way is to finally live the Christian life. To have testimony of this life is the only message the world waits desperately to hear. Let us not cower back into a corner of desperate forgiveness, but boldly put our salvation on the line and trust in Him to actually save us from us once and for all time. This is the only life worth living. It is the only existence worth preserving forever. And it is the only message we can give testimony about.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Friends & Enemies ...

Who do you call friend? How is your friendship defined? Is it based on common values, shared experiences, proximity, or growing pains? How long does it take you to make a friend? I am sometimes humbled by watching small children on a playground. They meet, they speak, and they being playing together immediately assuming there is friendship between them. It takes an abuse of the assumption to change the minds of smaller children. If no such abuse takes place, the friendship is confirmed. The older we become, it seems the longer it takes to move the status of someone we associate with, to the category of friend. We categorize people in many ways such as: acquaintance, fellow employee or co-worker, boss, current client, sales prospect, customer, guest, classmate, church member, family member, friend-of-a-friend, person of interest, date, fiancée ,,, there are many you can name; but few imply friendship. Why?

A true friend puts no demands upon us, so you would think we would aspire to have many of them, not less. You would think we would be working to include almost everyone we encounter in a positive way as part of our friendship lists. Instead, sin or evil has put a crimp in our ability to trust. We tend to be more reserved and cautious when making new friends. We have to assess what the reason for the friendship might be from the other person’s perspective. All of this thinking is practical. It is based on our real world experiences. It is based on the number of times we have been hurt by those we thought to be our friends. And as usual, it is limited thinking that due to Christ and our submission to Him, we are free to move beyond.

How does submitting the will to Christ allow us to make more friends, and take more risks, you ask? First, it teaches us a proper reliance on Christ alone for our emotional needs. It helps to center where we look for reassurance, guidance and even comfort to one who will never let us down. Knowing we can trust Christ 100% of the time, gives us an emotional foundation from which to approach the world and each other. Second, allowing Christ control over our day, our decisions, and our likes and dislikes gives Him the freedom to lead us to who He wants us to encounter. Our interactions with others then become anything but random. If Christ leads us to someone, it may be for us to meet that person’s need, or perhaps for them to meet ours. But we can have confidence that there is a purpose for it. As our faith and trust increases in Christ, our ability to love others deepens and becomes more immediate. We begin leaving the worries with Christ, and start enjoying the freedoms this provides in our day-to-day relationships with those we encounter.

In addition, as our emotional reliance becomes more intimately involved with Christ and as we get to know Him better one-on-one, we begin to have more to offer in a friendship with others. We are less “needy” ourselves, and more suited to “give” in a relationship. This makes us more attractive as a potential friend to those we encounter. As Christ has served us, we are able then to appreciate what He has done for us, and are inspired to share His work for others around us. We are equipped better to offer an encouraging word, take time to notice the achievements or efforts of others, and offer appreciation to those who rarely receive it. In short, our submission to Christ, makes us a better friend to have. It also changes the nature of our enemies.

Know someone who is out to get you? Perhaps a current or former colleague who would spare no expense to see you fail? The friction could have started from jealousy, or perhaps a perceived insult, maybe from real damage inflicted in action – but somewhere, somehow, you developed an enemy. Sometimes those we disagree with politically or religiously we think of as our enemies. But rarely do people who merely disagree with us, take the time and invest the energy required to do us actual harm. A real enemy does not mind investing either in our demise. It is human nature to believe we do not deserve to have an enemy. It is within us to blame the enemy for the source and status of any conflict. We may have made overtures in the past to resolve the conflict peaceably. We may have offered an apology even when we did not believe we were in the wrong. And still our enemy is undeterred. What now?

There is a truism about divorce, in that it takes two to complete one. Even though the fault may seem completely one-sided, and all external appearances may support this view – it is just never that simple. Ignorance, omission, and negligence can play as vital a role in why we develop an enemy as malice, or direct action might. We may have spoken our passionately held opinion in the presence of someone who held equally passionate and opposite views. We may have shared our negative feelings about someone and used improper language, which by the time it returns to the person we were talking about, is made even worse through exaggeration. We are sometimes ignorant of the damage a careless word can cause, and sometimes, in so doing, our enemies feel justified in their feelings towards us. It is nearly impossible to maintain an enemy without active participation on your part.

What does submission to Christ do to change our enemies you ask? It begins by changing us. Through bowing our pride to Christ, we allow Him to lead us to truth. Sometimes the Truth is unpleasant to us as He reveals our part in the creation of our enemies, but it is still His truth. And the revelation may be needed before we understand why our apologies may be needed, and why they should be sincere. When we realize the damage we may have caused our enemy, it melts our own hearts. Sympathy is then possible for someone who as yet may still hate us. Knowing we may have erred, allows us to approach our enemy in humility. We may have to endure insult, anger, and resistance as we approach as this is the conditioned responses one gives to an enemy. But part of our submission to Christ has enabled us to look beyond the pain that drives bad behavior, to the need we all have of love. Through Christ we are able then to obey His council and finally and truly LOVE our enemies.

Love is a hard thing to resist. Trading anger for calm responses, trading wicked lashing out, for considered sympathetic responses – these are hallmarks of a submitted will to our Master. Through His strength our human weakness can go the extra mile, and emulate the behavior of Christ as He used to approach us. For have we not all treated the Savior harshly when engaged in our wickedness? Have we not all barked at Him to get away and leave us in “peace” while we sin? Yet He endures our cruelty and continues to offer us His love. When we yield to Him, we become like Him. We start thinking less about getting even and more about making it right with those we have wronged, including our enemies. We begin to remember that ALL men are our brothers in Christ. We are reminded that our current earthly enemy may well be our closest neighbor on the golden streets without name. And we are humbled and astounded at our ability to entertain negativity. Christ frees us from this. He frees us from the weight of carrying hurt and pain for another. Our burdens are lifted away forever.

Now we are free to work towards the redemption of our enemy. And consistent, constant love is a hard thing to resist. As we reflect His love through us to those who need it, the hearts of our enemies will be touched by His Spirit, and melted by His love reflected through our hands, mouth, and ears. One who may have in the past called himself our greatest foe, can become our closest ally, as Saul was transformed to Paul, by the power of the LOVE of Christ on a country road. Our enemies may resist love for a while, as we did in resisting our Savior, but LOVE remains a hard thing to resist. Over time everyone is instinctively drawn to love. It is in this that our image of God is defined. We are creations of love, and recognize it, and long for it, and deeply need it – every one of us. It is through love, that enemies become friends. It is through love that friends become a precious commodity. For as we alter our thinking, we begin to realize the truth of fulfillment in service. This yields a bright contrasting alternative to the lies we have been told of self-gratification. As a friend who serves, we are fulfilled within us, while becoming something others wish to have around. Love is a hard thing to resist.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Adopted & Extended Family ...

My kingdom for a sense of belonging: how often we would trade our success as the world measures it for a place and a people we could truly call home. The embrace of evil has left many scars upon our world and our relationships. Death, disease, accidents have claimed lives of family members, left spouses alone to raise who remains, or parted siblings from each other. The loss of love and refusal to submit to Christ has torn marriages apart and left wounded souls moving from pain to pain. But in the chaos there is still hope. In the darkness there is still light. Our condition is not our destiny, we are called to something more and something deeper.

Family is often defined through accident of birth. Since my mother and father conceived me, I am their child, and so on with my children. But family of blood bonds is not the only measure, and sometimes not even the strongest. We are all descendants, and we are all adopted. We descend from Adam and Eve and are all part of the human family by blood. But greater than this we are ALL adopted by Christ into His family unit with God through His grace and love and ransom paid for our redemption. Christ called us more than servants He called us friends. He was not ashamed to call those who believe in Him, “His brothers”. We are family with Christ by His gift enabling it, and our choice confirming it. The bonds of family by choice then are sometimes greater than those of blood.

Our Christianity is not the only example of families forged by choice. Marriage itself is a union of diverse blood lines and genealogies. The Bible speaks of a man leaving his mother and a woman leaving her home to become “one flesh”. It is the formation or extension of a new family through the choice made to bond with God in love forever. And over a lifetime, not even a parent can claim to love their own child greater than the love one devoted spouse reliant upon God can do. The love inside a union made perfect by God is the strongest love known to us. Only a spouse can know someone to this level of intimacy. And this love was one of choice, just as the one to be saved by Christ is.

So how do we honor our adoption into the family of Christ? Do we guard the gates, close and bar the doors, and see to it no one else like us is ever permitted to enter again into our new family unit? It sometimes looks this way to the world. It is what happens when we internalize the love we have been shown rather than manifest it outwards, back to the world where it is needed. Sometimes it is our inclination to take our forgiveness, and our love from God, and go isolate ourselves away from the world. We mistakenly think this will protect us from evil influences. But it does not. Rather it teaches us a lesson of selfishness even with what is freely given of God to us. We become standard-bearers rather than lovers of lost souls. It is backwards, and it is mistaken. We should reflect the love God has shown us. We should embrace our forgiveness, let go our shame, and face the world renewed to make it better not worse.

It is possible to love someone like a brother without ever being related by birth or by marriage. It is possible to love a mother who does not come from a bloodline you are connected to. It is possible to honor them, to cherish them, to forgive them as they have need, and to call them to remembrance of where all love can be found. It is possible to extend our ideas of adoption well past the concept of only taking in a child without parents into our lives. While the formal adoption process for taking in children may be the highest calling of Christians demonstrating love for the world, the second highest calling may be in the taking in of others through a less formal process. When we adopt a grandmother for instance who has little family, or is shown little attention, we do no less an honorable thing.

When eyes have been opened by the liberating power of Christ removing evil from our character and our behavior, we see need more acutely than we did before. Hearts are touched by infirmity that were once willfully ignorant of suffering all around us. Christians have a unique ability to see through the eyes of Christ and meet needs of those He leads us to encounter. We need not constrain our ideas of relationships to merely friends, but as Christ did, we can elevate people to the status of immediate family by simply willing to do so. We can “adopt” siblings, parents, and children into our core family units making room in our hearts for even more love to reign. Our cup will surely run over in so doing. You will discover what it means to love on a level you can only dream about today, when you are willing to share more of yourself with more people who have need of you.

This is not intended to dilute a marital relationship. We do not seek to add more spouses to our mix. For there can be only one of these if we are to honor our union with man and God. But we do not often confuse parental love with romantic, nor do we often crave the romantic embrace of a sister. Keeping away the impurities Satan would introduce and focusing only on the Love God would have us embrace, allows us to expand our concept of family to a much broader picture, and more accurate one. For in heaven, we will all call each other by our familial names. If you and I have never met, through Christ we are made brothers. When I encounter you in heaven, you will already be my brother. I will already feel for you, what I feel for my brothers by blood, and my brothers by choice. We will together have found a place of belonging.

One fear a parent may have in adopting another child into an existing family unit, is how the other siblings will react. When our attention seems diverted to the hurting who have great needs, sometimes others who still need us as well can feel abandoned or neglected. To avoid this, we must involve them in the sharing of love. We must make them part of the solution of meeting the needs of others themselves and not try to take the entire burden upon our own shoulders. As we share the work of love, we lighten our own loads, and create a vested interest in success across an entire family, rather than resting in the hands of only one person.

While it may be difficult to think about, the same process of sharing burdens needs to be applied when a family member becomes seriously ill, or is lost to death. These occurrences were not supposed to be something we must contend with, but with evil comes the pain of evil, and the loss it can inevitable cause even through no fault of your own. When confronting tragedy, it is not time to cover up, it is time to open up. Feelings should be shared, emotions let out, and responses respected. We should not try to force someone to react the same way we do. But we should try to employ them in the work of showing love and support to others who remain with needs. This work of reaching out, even when suffering inside continues can act as healing to all. Both the hurting one who shares can be healed, as well as the target of their efforts.

Who can know your pain, or your joy more than your family? Who accepts you for who you are more than your family? Our families know us, and love us in spite of our shortcomings. We need wear no mask when facing our families, as they would only see it anyway. There is no need to cover who we are when dealing with family, as they have shown us love in spite of that already. This is the advantage of family over friendships and acquaintances. There can be deeper love in a family. There can be more intimate love in a family.

Before a Christian casually calls a stranger a “brother”, they should consider the ramifications of what they are saying. Are you ready to loan your newly met “brother” $5,000 on nothing but a handshake? Are they free to come stay in your home, eat from your table, and have you look out for them until they die of old age? Some say they would not do this for their blood relatives, why would they consider doing this for merely a “Christian Brother?” I submit there is no difference between the two, and what Christ has already done for us is greater than anything I just listed. The early Christian church did exactly what I described above. They took it a step further and sold everything they owned of value and donated every cent to the church for distribution across the family, as the family had need. This church was symbolized with white for its purity. Seems our symbolic coloring has dimmed a few shades since then. I fear we look more like death, or perhaps worse, like mediocrity.

It takes trust to open oneself up to the world. Not trust in the world, but trust in Christ that our lives will go according to His plan. We may lose our wealth in expanding our ideas of family. The needs may simply overtake our ability to provide for them. If this is our lot, count yourself blessed. For it is Christ that holds ALL of our needs. We may lose our ideas of privacy by expanding our ideas of family. But if this is so, count yourself blessed. For what we lose in privacy we gain back many times in love shared with those in need. We were not put here on earth to be wealthy and alone. We were put here to love and to be known for how much we love. When we submit our wills to Christ, the great adventure of loving begins. I pray it takes hold of our hearts, and allows us to finally truly become one family.