As a young person, I enjoyed your typical American Christian upbringing. I attended church, Sunday school and Bible school. I participated in church choirs and church camps as a young girl. I was taught to ring bells in special programs. In the days of my youth, I had become accustomed to what I lovingly refer to as the “highlight reel” of Christianity, the big stories of the Bible: Adam and Eve, Joseph, Noah, the virgin conception and birth, and Jesus’s ministry and subsequent death on the cross, and, of course, the Resurrection. I knew the stories from repeated exposure to them but, not surprisingly, my faith was shallow. Nonetheless, my mother was faithful in her seed planting, raising five children to know who Jesus was even if they didn’t fully embrace Him. She knew what I didn’t know then: that someday her daughter would need to lean on that foundation, hard.
Eventually, I did what every person does and made a royal mess out of my life. As a young adult, I left my faith altogether and dug into more worldly things. I left behind what I thought was an archaic belief system and read psychology and New Age books. Self-sufficiency and an “anything goes” was my religion. I was busy finding my “truth”. By my mid forties, I was divorced and my life was in shambles.
I don’t look upon any of what happened to me as wasted. In hindsight I can now see how every step I took away from God, He used to bring me closer to Him. Like a magnet attracting it’s polar opposite, the invisible field of His love kept me from getting too far away. When my life hit absolute bottom, the seeds my mother had diligently planted miraculously began to sprout.
If the happenings of 2020 have given me any gift at all, it was time to read the Bible from cover to cover and deepen my understanding of more than just that highlight reel. While we learn the Bible in bite-sized chunks, it is far more jaw dropping understood broadly and as a whole.
And this is where the progression of people coming to faith is really amazing to me.
We humans tend to think in immediate terms, whereas God enjoys the long view. His Word reveals to us that He isn’t a rushed God, and He’s cool with watching a story unfold a little at a time. When the Bible tells us that He is patient, it’s telling the truth. He has patience we cannot even wrap our tiny brains around. Story after story of the Bible is evidence of that, but brought together as a whole, its proof is undeniable.
So why am I telling you all of this?
Despite being called the “Christian walk”, seasoned Christians, myself included, seem to forget what a walk implies. It means a journey, a constant moving toward. We don’t call it the Christian arrival. Or the Christian completion. It’s a walk because it’s a journey that we take our entire lives. We are forever learning and being drawn closer and closer to God. But we don’t ever fully arrive until we are called Home.
Often, seasoned Christians forget where they came from. This can be tricky, particularly if the hot mess you were delivered from through God’s grace was years ago. For me, it wasn’t too long ago. The memories are still easily accessible. Sometimes, we also tend to see our sins, past and present, as not quite as bad as the next person’s. We tend to see certain individuals as “very far off”.
In case you’re thinking you’re not this sort of Christian, consider these questions for yourself:
Do I judge people who aren’t Christian?
In my heart, do I think that being LGTBQ is terrible and wrong because of what the Bible says about homosexuality?
Do I condemn women who abort their unborn because Thou shalt not kill is one of the Ten Commandments?
Am I against aliens coming into my country despite what the Bible says about welcoming the stranger? Or maybe I’m not against them coming here, I tell myself, as long as they go through the proper channels and do things the “right” way.
Now, before you stop reading and think this is a political post, I assure you it is not. What I’m attempting to expose is our distorted thinking about what it means to be a Christian. And I’m attempting to correct our vision about just who the gospel is for.
This much I know for sure: I didn’t become a Christian because I was already “good people.”
In fact, my laundry list of sin reads like a Who’s Who of the Bible. I think aside from “Thou shalt not kill” I have covered just about every one of them. If you consider the cat I accidentally ran over when I was 17, I guess I have done them all.
Now, consider the following passages.
John 3: 16-17
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (Emphasis mine.)
When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” (Emphasis mine.)
Matthew 7: 1-3
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?
There are times when, as Christians, we are quick to judge someone for being where we once were. We forget the grace that has been afforded us. We forget that grace is for others as well. Often, we misunderstand what Jesus has called us to do. The Great Commission found in Matthew 28: 18-20 calls us to go and make disciples of all the nations. While we’re eager to spread “Christianity”, we’re not spreading the gospel. Because the gospel is one of love, not of condemnation. The gospel is one of saving grace.
Grace. Unmerited favor.
There’s an old adage that says you get more flies with honey than with vinegar. That makes complete sense. Flies, and people, are attracted to what is sweet and repelled with what is sour. So is your message to others sweet or repugnant? Are you taking what you learned in scripture and applying it to yourself so that you can walk in love and teach grace and forgiveness? Or are you using scripture to point out the faults of others?
In 2 Timothy 3: 16-17 we are told that all scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God (emphasis mine) may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. Dont’ misinterpret and misuse this passage. This scripture is for you and me, believer. We’re to use the Word of God to check ourselves. Not to cut the unbeliever off at the knees.
And that is where I believe we have gotten it wrong.
We’re to be helping others along the path we’ve already walked. We’re not supposed to expect them to catch up by smacking them with a ruler on the knuckles or a Bible to the head. Just as my spiritual journey happened in steps, sometimes forward, sometimes a few backwards, I was constantly wooed by the sweet aroma of a loving God who wanted nothing more than to welcome me. He lured me to Him with His sweetness.
Psalm 34:18 tells us that the Lord is near to those who have a broken heart and saves such as have a contrite spirit. Dear Christian, He is near to those whom you are condemning. He is offering the sweetness of Christ to the broken. Do not become a stumbling block to those He longs to bring closer.
Scripture says that the Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Here is proof that God is cool with our taking the long road rather than the shortcut in bringing His to Him. Yes, some are still wandering around in the desert rather than entering the Promised Land. I did that for most of my young adult life. But, again, God is patiently waiting.
I think schooled Christians miss the point of the parable of the Good Samaritan. We think we don’t, but we do. Proof of that is in our social media rants that contain judgments about how any other person or group is living. Maybe we get riled up with urgency when we read that we don’t know what hour our Lord is coming. So we take the short cut and condense the lesson and tell everyone what they’re doing wrong. It’s like handing the cliff notes of the Bible to someone and saying, “I don’t have time to teach the whole lesson, but here’s where you’re falling short. Quick! Change your ways and believe because He’s coming!”
Except that’s not at all what changes hearts and minds. Condemning people, individually or collectively, does not change them. It is the vinegar in the ointment. It stings when it’s applied and makes people shy away.
I’m sure my mother, during those middle years of my life, could have felt like her teaching was all for naught. But she never condemned me. She invested in me heavily at the beginning and then allowed me to make mistakes. If she judged me in any way, I never knew it.
Personally, I am extremely grateful to all of those Christian friends and relatives who stood by me and loved me and showed me Christ’s love through their actions during my wrecking ball years.
In closing, I would like to share this with you. When applied to burns, honey is an antibacterial. It moisturizes the wound and helps it heal faster. We would do well to consider that analogy when we consider our own Christian walk as it relates to coming alongside others. Consider offering to those you might otherwise judge a sweetness that will stick and heal: understanding, patience, kindness, love, and grace.