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With Open Arms? Or Closed Fists?

“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.” Romans 14:1

Writing a faith-based blog, preaching in churches, writing an article for a magazine, maintaining social websites…. these all sound pretty important and prestigious, don’t they? I’m honored to think that people want to hear my opinions. They read what I write and hear what I say and take it all in. It’s pretty cool.

Except that sometimes, I say something controversial. And then my readers and followers respond; sometimes with a vengeance. But that’s what I signed up for. To be honest, my favorite blogs are my most controversial and the ones that elicited the most response. The response was not universally good. People questioned my faith, my knowledge and in more than one instance, my heritage.

Those instances were mild compared to some of what I’ve been reading and seeing regarding other issues. To disagree with each other is normal and acceptable. But when alleged Christians start spewing hatred and ridicule around, it just turns me completely off. I don’t understand it.

There are some really controversial issues out there right now. I guess that to someone who thinks he has all the answers, there are no controversies; just his way of thinking. But as we approach 40,000 registered Christian denominations in the world, I don’t know how ANYone can think they have it all figured out. Yet, there are those who claim to be “spreading the Word” by vilifying and condemning any and all persons who dare to believe anything even a bit off of their center.

“Love One Another. (John 13:34)” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (Luke 6:31)” “What you do (or don’t do) for the least of these brothers and sisters…” (Matt 25:40(45)) Do people think of these verses when they climb on their soapbox, or sit in front of a keyboard, and share words of mocking derision; cursing men and working up followers to take actions against their targets? When they picket and confront men in front of their terrified children, do they not worry that they are attacking Jesus himself?

Someone once told me that the Bible commands us to love only our fellow Christians. He firmly believes that “our brothers and sisters” always refers specifically to followers of Jesus. Someone else defended his vitriolic sermon that specifically mentioned a local family by reminding us how “even Jesus called the Pharisees names.” Now as far as I recall, Jesus never predicted or encouraged physical harm to be taken against anyone. He never used curse words, lies and half-truths.

The Jesus I follow went out in peace. He showed love and shared hope with tax-collectors, adulterers, prostitutes and all sorts of possessed and stricken people. When he chastised the Pharisees, he warned them about a future they were bringing upon themselves. He warned his followers to avoid listening to false teachers and to listen to His words and direction. But Jesus never espoused violence or hatred. Even when He was angry at the temple, he flipped over tables. He did not kick or punch anyone or choose to smite the whole lot.

Jesus’ example is to use words and actions that make people want to follow Him. Show love. Share the Word. Exhibit the contentment and hope that comes with walking the narrow path. Make people want to follow.

When our brothers around us are falling off that path; when there are those who try to guide us to pleasures along the wide roads of this world; when it seems the whole world is confused and lost, what are we to do?

Jesus’ brother, Jude, gives this advice in his letter to Christ’s followers. Firstly, “build each other up in your most holy faith; pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord, Jesus Christ. In this way you will keep yourself safe in God’s love. (Jude 1:20-21). In other words, we need to be sure we are still solid in our own foundation of faith; strong enough to carry on in the face of false teachers and bad examples.

Then we “must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them, from the flame of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.” (Jude 1:22-23) In other words, rescue who we can by reminding them of the Way. Be kind to those we can’t save. Show love and compassion, even as we cannot condone their sin.

Of course, showing mercy does not mean publicly humiliating someone over their lifestyle choices. Showing mercy does not mean throwing blood at someone in front of an abortion clinic. Showing mercy does not mean stealing a prayer mat or hanging hateful signs in front of a mosque.

Showing mercy does not mean explaining yourself by cheerfully saying, “Hate the sin. Love the sinner!” when someone takes you to task for extremely non-loving actions.

Think of how you came to Jesus. Was it because someone jumped in front of you and berated your heathenness? Are you a Christian because of a hostile campaign of mocking or threatening Facebook posts against something else you believed? Did you accept Christ to get picketers to stop blocking your driveway?

We need to get the Word out there. But the Word is actually a lot of words, spoken calmly and rationally. It is also a lot of listening and understanding. It is respect and love. It is time spent. It is community and comfort, not condemnation and condescension.

A friend of mine posts pictures of really cute babies on his Facebook page with a note explaining how the mother feels today about her decision not to terminate that pregnancy. Another page displays pictures of aborted fetuses and makes disparaging remarks about people who are pro-choice. Which approach do you think is more likely to make a young woman reconsider terminating a baby?

We are the cute little babies of God. Let’s show the world a picture of ourselves that reflects what one great decision did to our own lives. Love one another for real; not just with words. I really believe that showing people the great things our faith does for us is more effective than condemning or questioning what their choices did for them. Why can’t we hit the streets with our best face forward, start some considerate conversations with all our brothers and sisters and trust that God will pull them closer to Him through our compassion and love.

That sounds more like the Way to go to me.

#followingjesus #spreadingthefaith #tolerance

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