Ever know someone who never met a stranger? That is my oldest daughter. Ever since she was a baby, anyone could hold her and she simply did not seem to care or mind. Most children, when taken from their mother, will start to reach out and cry to get back to their mom. My oldest never did that. In fact, it actually became quite worrisome for me and my wife. Literally anyone could have walked away with her, and she would have gone with them without so much as a whimper. These days, I think we've managed to instill in her a healthy respect for strangers, but she still has the same personality.
When I think about what my daughter will be like when she grows up, I think back to when I was a child with a neighbor who was always very outgoing and friendly. She had a son my age, and whenever I would go over to his house she would answer the door and say, "Well look who finally arrived! We've been expecting you! Come on in and have a cookie. Where have you been and what have you been up to?" What a wonderful way to greet and be greeted. I always felt welcome there. I also remember the days after they moved away. Even with all the people who lived around us, I remember how empty the neighborhood seemed after that.
The world is full of people that go unknown. We pass them as we walk through the mall, we shop with them in stores, and we drive down the road with them without ever acknowledging them. It is the rest of the world we live in. It is a world full of people yet so very empty. It is a wall of relational separation. We do not know them. They do not know us. So, we will have nothing to do with them.
This wall of separation is what Jesus broke down many times. He went to the woman at the well and spoke with her. He spoke to a man who had climbed up a tree. Over and over again he went to the strangers of the world, looked them in the eye, and communicated on some level - "I know you."
I think it is a great example of what we might be able to accomplish as Christians in this world. Many times we do not know what to do or what to say or how to act when talking with someone we do not know, and that is part of the problem. Maybe it is just a sign of the times we live in, but the walls of relational separation between individuals in this world have grown thicker. The message we are communicating, whether intentional or not, is "I don't know you. You are not welcome here."
Next time, when God speaks to your heart about talking with someone, try to imagine how they might feel if someone they knew walked up to them and said hello. At that moment, just before you speak and just after you have looked them in the eye, think to yourself "I know you" and see where the conversation goes.
Imagine a person with symptoms they have been dealing with their entire life. Every year, they are more and more miserable. Something is making them severely sick, but they refuse to go to a doctor. They never really know what is wrong, but they do their best to treat their symptoms their own way . . . and hide them. Problem is, everyone else around them knows something is wrong, but they don't know what to do. So, the person just keeps covering up the symptoms, and dealing with things (badly I might add) in their own way.
One day they meet up with someone who immediately recognizes what is going on. Turns out, he is a doctor. He knows the symptoms, knows the sickness, and is even willing to prescribe the medication. The person who has been suffering for so long is relieved. Finally, not only is there someone who can see what is going on, but also understands what to do about it. They are immediately thankful and take the medicine home with them.
Weeks later, the doctor runs into this person again. The person expresses great gratitude for what the doctor was able to do, but the doctor notices that there has been no real improvement. "Did you get the prescription I gave you?" The person replies, "Oh, yes! I went straight out and bought the prescription the same day!" The doctor knows that the person should have shown improvement if indeed they have taken the medicine. Puzzled, he asks how the regimen of taking the pills is going.
The person then replies that while they did go and buy the medicine, they haven't actually been taking it. You see, they have been dealing with these issues a long time, and they are not sure they are ready for the cure.
Now, what would you think of someone who did that?
Imagine someone else dying of thirst in a wasteland. You walk up on the scene, and immediately offer them some water. Now imagine what you would think if this person replied, "Wow! Thank you so much for this cool drink of water! I'm about to die I'm so thirsty." However, holding the glass of water, they simply sat there with it and refused to drink it. It's right there in their own hands. They are dying. You have given them what they need to get relief, but they refuse to drink.
Too many people are just like these two examples. Too many people are suffering needlessly. The cure exists, but you have to apply it to get relief.
Simply having the medicine at hand did nothing to cure the person from their sickness. Simply having a cool glass of water nearby does nothing to slack thirst. Going to church, reading your Bible, understanding what God says and what to do about issues in life is not going to make things better on their own. That simply makes the cure available. Your life will only begin to get better when you actually start to apply the cure.
With the Olympic games nearing an end, and the announcement of the Republican choice for Vice-President headlining the news, much of the furor of "Chick-fil-A Day" is over. There may be a few reverberations and after-shocks, but for the most part, the nation is looking ahead to the election. Looking back to August 1st may be a little premature, but let's give it a shot.
On that day, I went to my local Chick-fil-A to support a man who simply stood up for what he believed. His words were not critical or full of hate. He stated his own position clearly without resorting to name-calling or cursing at anyone who disagreed with him. Yet, still there was an outcry. Cities threatened to boycott a business because of the expressions of one man. To show support, on August 1st, I went to Chick-fil-A where I saw many other Christian friends working their way through the line. As I did, a thought began to nag at the back of my mind in question form. How did we get to this point?
What I mean is, how is it that whenever a Christian says he is for the traditional definition of marriage he is labeled not only anti-gay, but his words are labeled hate speech?
I think it has a lot to do with the duality of perspective with Christians in general. I don't mean to hurt anyone's feelings, but if we are going to speak truth, let's let that door swing both ways. When it comes to what Christians are willing to call sin, we can be very selective when we want to. For some reason, homosexuality has become the whipping boy of what's wrong with this country, while other immoral acts are hardly addressed. To use a phrase I've been hearing a lot lately, let's drill down on this and see what happens.
How many homosexuals are there in your church? Just asking the question and thinking about it can leave many squirming. I have a feeling the honest response would be something like, "We don't know. We don't want to know. Hopefully none." Can you sense the walls going up in your heart already? There is a lopsided sense that homosexual individuals are not like us, and that sets us up for a divide of the heart. Where we are in error is that such a divide of the heart cannot coexist peacefully with a heart that is supposed to reflect the love of Christ to all men. Inside, we know we should be more like Christ in our outward love of others, but inwardly we war within ourselves over how to express that love to someone "not like us" at all! So what are we supposed to do? Just throw our hands up and do nothing?
Well, let's take a look at a couple of other questions. How many couples are there in your church that are living together but not married? How many couples in your church are married, but one or both of them have been divorced in the past? How many individuals in your church have had premarital sex? Think about the answers to those questions for a few minutes, and then ask yourself this next question. How do I feel about all of them?
Chances are, you see some part of yourself or someone you know and love in them, and so dealing with them in the right way becomes easier. Maybe you see your own life in theirs, and you understand the yearning for the grace, love, and forgiveness of God and other Christians. There is no wall there because you do not see yourself all that different from them, and even if you have never been in their place, you have an innate understanding that it could happen to you. If it did, you know how you would want to be treated.
Last questions. Why can't we treat the sin of homosexuality the same way we treat other sexual sin? Do we throw out divorced couples who have remarried as adulterers from our churches? If someone we know has had sex outside of marriage, are they unwelcome to sit next to us in a pew? If your son or daughter cheated on their spouse in adultery, how would you want them treated?
I am convinced that the Bible is clear that homosexuality is a sin against God - against God, not me. The last thing I am going to do is treat the homosexual any different from anyone else I have ever known who was guilty of any of the other sexual sins. If I am willing to allow everyone else who has committed sexual sins in my church, then I should be just as willing to allow homosexuals to sit in the pew next to me. All the self-righteousness has to stop if we are ever going to reach out to this world. Christ sat and ate with sinners, and he was ridiculed by the religious elite. Where would you be in that moment? Sitting next to Christ? Wagging your finger from the sidelines? Somewhere in the middle?
We have to remember we are all broken and in need of mending. That is what we all have in common with everyone else, regardless of what sins we have committed. Yes, I went and ate a sandwich at Chick-fil-A on August 1st, but I was also perfectly willing to eat one that Friday. Why? Because I believe that if Christians are truly a part of the family of God, then it's time we started showing some family resemblance. That means understanding that if you lived in the time of Christ, He would be asking to sit next to you to eat. In this day we live in, that may mean getting ridiculed by the religious elite, and if so, at least you know you'll be in good company.
There is no other feeling quite like the one of desperation. When you get into a situation where the options are rapidly dwindling down to zero, and every delay closes off routes and opportunities to escape your situation. You begin to rush to find any answer. Desperation brings you to a point where any answer will do. Whether or not it is the right one will have to be sorted out later. When you are desperate, you need an answer "right now." As more time passes, and the situation becomes increasingly more grim, the tension and stress can reach a deafening crescendo. At the highest point of desperation, when no answers have appeared, and you begin to realize that escape is not possible, total panic can result. Desperation can feel like a noose tightening around your neck. Wild eyed, and with no other resource, you realize if someone does not help you out of this, then it is going to happen.
At that moment, when you are at the precipice of panic, when you realize you can't, that can be one of the most liberating moments of your life. It all depends on how you view life and your situation. For many people, they cross over into the zone of sheer terror and panic and go to some dark places in the mind where crazy and wild answers to temporary problems surface. What they do not realize is that the answers found there will only create more problems even greater than the one they are facing now. In solitude, they see no other way out but the answer that they have thought of on their own, and it is here when people think of drastic measures like suicide, robbing a bank, or in some way hurting themselves or others as a means of escape.
It does not have to be that way. For Christians who believe and trust in God, we always have another answer. As I said, it can be one of the most liberating moments of your life. For when you are the most desperate, when you have finally struggled all you can, when you have totally exhausted every answer and realize you can't, that is when you discover whether or not you really trust in God. Some Christians really do trust in God, and they never get to the point of desperation because they have always been truly trusting in God the whole time. However, I suspect that there are quite a few others out there like myself. You want to say you trust God all the time, but when things get desperate you struggle instead of trust, and panic when you could be resting in Him.
Always do your best, but also trust in God. Understand that God gives the blessings in this life. Sometimes we undergo trials and difficulties, but if we keep trusting in God, even these times do not have to be desperate ones. In fact, the desperation you feel could be a warning sign that maybe you aren't trusting in God like you should. What would happen if God took your house, everything you own, and even your children off this earth? It happened to one man in the Bible named Job. His response? "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him . . ." - Job 13:15
The moment you realize you can't, just keep repeating those words over and over. You can't, because you never could. So why are you still fighting and struggling? Relax. Find the liberation from your problems that can be found by simply trusting in God. An answer will come. It may not be the one you wanted or were expecting, but when it comes it will be an answer. Psalm 18:30 "As for God, his way is perfect: the word of the LORD is tried: he is a buckler to all those that trust in him." Psalm 37:5 "Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass." Nahum 1:7 "The LORD is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him."
The 30th Olympic Games have finally kicked off, but a single word of the introduction during the opening ceremony reverberated in my mind. Over the coming competitions we will see athletes rise to the top of the podium to claim Olympic gold, while so many others look on in disappointment and defeat. We will hear stories of wins that came by tenths and hundredths of a second, and even a decimal point of difference too fine for the human eye to detect. These athletes will give their very best in a moment to win the highest prize and obtain global recognition, but their success did not happen in that moment.
What many observers fail to understand is the commitment the Olympic athletes make to take them to the top. It is commitment to a single word: Repetition. Imagine a young girl running across a strip of floor, launching off of a spring board into the air where multiple acrobatic flips, twists and turns happen in the blink of an eye, and then coming down to land on both legs without a single hop. The score lights up, and we see she has scored a perfect 10. The audience cheers and she takes the top of the stand where flowers, recognition, and Olympic gold are hers. What so many people do not truly understand is that this is not the first time she has executed a perfect 10.
Over many days, weeks and years she has trained her body to perform the moves. Day in and day out she runs, hits a spring board, flies through the air, lands, and then does it all over again. For many hours in the day she will run, hit a spring board, fly through the air and land. She will do this again, and again, and again, and again. Weeks will pass as she hones her skill. Competitions will verify who among her class is truly the best our nation has to offer. Around the world, such competitions will take place. Then, when she has proven to be the best in the nation, she will be chosen to compete against the very best that the rest of the world has to offer. Run, jump, fly, land, repeat.
At some point during the Olympics, she will be asked to run, jump, fly, and land one last time. If she can do it flawlessly one more time, only then will she win Olympic gold. The whole event itself is over in seconds, but years have brought her to this moment. Success, however, will never be determined in a moment. Success was determined long ago, in her day to day struggle to run faster, her every day refinement of jumping off the springboard exactly correct, the honing of each of her muscles as they tighten to move her body spinning and flying through the air, her synced coordination as she unfolds her body to land perfectly, and her will to commit to the arduous task of repetition. Run, jump, fly, land, repeat.
The recognition for winning in the Olympics is not really a recognition of a single moment on a single day of victory. What we are really recognizing are the years spent in the patient repetition of perfection that comes on display in a moment, but a perfection that had always been there day after day.
It reminds me that life is a marathon. If we are to find success as a parent, if we are to find success on the job, if we are to find success in marriage, we have to remember that our success will not be found in a moment. Success will be built into our lives through patient repetition of doing what is right, and only recognized in fleeting moments. How do you build a successful marriage? How do you train children do to what is right? How do you find success in your Christian life? You build it each and every day with each decision you make. You forge it with patience, and a commitment to the repetition of excellence.
Hebrews 12:1 " . . . run with patience . . . " Run, jump, fly, land, repeat.