A deeper love for all God’s children

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‘The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers.  Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.  Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay.’ <a href="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20peter%204:7-9;&version=51;http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20peter%204:7-9;&version=51;">1 Peter 4:7-9 (New Living Translation)

I’ve been under a ton of stress over the last few months.  I’m sure many of you have experienced or are experiencing these times as well.  Back in July 2006 I applied for a job on the other side of the US, in Arizona.  The process dragged on for some time and I was finally offered the position and had to go through the purging of stuff and the sale of a house.  Not to mention wrapping up a job In Maryland, finding a new place to live in Arizona and so much more.

But during this time something even greater came to the forefront of my journey.  That was the realization that I was leaving people I love behind.  The multiple church communities and co-workers that I had developed deep relationships with.   It wasn’t as strongly felt until the day that my family and I pulled away from our house and passed by so many landmarks that served as memories of good times and bad times.

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Then when we arrived here in Arizona, my heart was torn and filled with guilt for having left so much behind.  Maybe more background is needed, but I’ve likely already set myself up to publish a novel here.  Sitting here, tonight, writing this note that so many will have the opportunity to read, I’m reminded why my sadness is so great.  In all of my experiences within the “church”, for my 39 years of life so far, never had I found what Peter refers to in his letter above, until I fell into an unlikely group of God’s children in Maryland.  I found people who really showed a deep love for me.  And I too, gained a deep love for them.

Our relationships were young and old.  Some for only 3 years and others for 9.  People my own age, some younger and some older.  Some from longstanding Christian backgrounds and some still feeding at their mother’s breast.  Some with backgrounds in other religions.  I think about it and I wonder how much like an Iceberg our relationships may have been.  Though what was evident seemed so deep, I know there was (and is) still so much more to discover.

So now I’m faced with a new start.  Not saying goodbye to my deep friends in Maryland.  But looking to capture such a relationship here in Arizona.

Since my arrival here, finding the place I’ll fit in has been difficult.  I’ve been looking for a church home to help me sponsor a church family as had been developing.  But at the same time, I’ve run into questions from a leader of one of our denominational schools where they feel I do not have a proper understanding of our doctrine, nor the proper understanding of the doctrine of the Christian religion in general.  In fact, I would take his statements literally as I don’t belong here.

It’s an interesting scenario really and my mentor within our denomination tells me it’s not a big deal and they just aren’t understanding my words.  You see, I found myself expressing concern over a school resource that has a section about “cults”.  And plainly on that page it states that all religions besides Christianity are evil.  Not to get too deep into that argument, I understand the Christian premise here.  But what I was expressing to my school was that I don’t feel that running around shouting that “your religion is of the devil” was a very loving practice.  On top of that, I just don’t believe that all religions are of the devil.  Sure, they don’t all point directly to Christ, that’s a given. 

My point here being less about my disagreement with a great leader for over 30 years in my denomination, or the agreement with him of the four members of the President’s cabinet with a combined 150 years of service.  But with the quickness and ease it seemed he, and they via proxy, seemed to want to dismiss me from my ministry and from the church.

This incident took me back to when I first felt unwelcomed by the church when I was in my late teens.  It reminded me of the hypocrisy that I saw within the church as so many televangelists seemed to fall from their positions.  And it makes my heart hurt for all people who have felt and still feel put out by the church.

But here comes the good news.  Have you ever had one of those times when you are so down and out and feeling like you just want to give it all up and either give up on Christ or at least give up on the church and maybe go back to being a loner for Jesus?  But just then, when you are turning that corner, making the decision, something smacks you upside the head and reminds you what your calling is?

Well, I had one of those moments.  And it’s quite ironic what I found within it.  You see, while numbing my pain in front of the television, on came an advertisement for a show called “One Punk Under God”.  Ok, I may have lost half my audience just now because they’ve never heard of the show, and I’ve likely lost half the rest because they have.

Recall the TV evangelists I mentioned earlier.  One of them that impacted my life in a negative manner was Jim Bakker.  First, I never was comfortable with his show itself, it seemed fake and all about getting us to give them money.  Secondly, when I saw Jim fall, I chalked up another point for wanting to stay away from the church.  But then, I think I was much more self-righteous in those days.

Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker were the king and queen of the PTL Club, the largest church in the US.  TV shows, vacation wonderlands, you name it, they were the cats pajamas.  Jim made a mistake, had an affair, allegedly took money from the PTL (was arrested and served time for, though later was somewhat absolved of).

Well, this new tv show I found is the story of their son, Jay Bakker.  Jay went through some tough times, became an alcoholic, ran from the church.  But through the power of God came back and began a ministry called Revolution, first in Arizona, then to California, Atlanta and now New York.  No, it’s not filling huge stadiums, but it takes place where Jay feels most comfortable talking with people, currently in a bar, with a small gathering of folks, on a shoestring budget.

You see, Jay’s ministry isn’t real popular with “the church”.  No, it’s not the bar thing, probably not even his smoking or tattoos.  Jay has come out publicly to state that he will love everyone.  His church invites into its’ membership anyone who want to come in.  Specifically of concern to the conservative side of “the church” is that Jay accepts homosexuals as children of God, who are worthy of no different treatment than any other class or label of people.  Jay has gone as far to say that he does not see, Biblically that it is a sin.

I’m not going to focus on that issue any more either as I know it divides us greatly in this world right now.

In one of Jay’s sermons, he speaks of his father’s fall.  And he speaks of the reaction of the church to his father’s fall.  Immediately he was kicked out of the PTL, he was banned from preaching, his closest friends turned their backs to him, he was called a “cancer on the body of Christ”.

Friends, I recall my reaction to when Bakker fell, I was also glad he was getting what was coming to him.  But I wasn’t a Christian at the time.  I now think about the situation and I cry both for Jim Bakker’s fall and for all who turned their backs on a brother in trouble.  I cry that I judged Jim Bakker.  Then I heard his son tell me how wrong I was.  Neither Bakker is trying to cover up the fact that Jim Bakker sinned.  He’s paid for his sin, or rather Jesus paid for his sin on the Cross.  I don’t mean for this post to be all about the Bakker’s either.

Peter was talking about us having a deep love for one another.  Jesus told us to love one another, by our love we would show the world that we belong to Him.  Jesus told us the story of the Good Samaritan, the story in which a robbed, beaten man was left for dead and ignored by a priest and a Levite.

I can’t tell you how much this impacts me right now.  How much this touches my soul.  Forget conservative, forget liberal, forget religion, forget sexuality, forget hatred, focus on LOVE.  Folks, there is nothing more important in Christ’s teaching than what He taught us as the great commandment.  To love God and to love others.

Love, my friends, is defined in 1 Corinthians 13 in this way: “ Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.  Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance” (NLT) Rather than showing someone out the door of the church, or hiding the door from them, or telling them they have to be clean to get in the door, let’s try something old again.  Let’s open our doors, our hearts, our minds and truly show love.  Not in the “love the sinner, hate the sin” manner.  But just the love God’s children, each and every one of them.  God sent His Son to die so that ALL could be saved.  Let’s not allow anyone to be pushed out the door because their sin is on the list of those we don’t like.

When someone within our church falls, let’s follow the Biblical practice of helping them get back on their feet. When someone stumbles as public as what happened to Bakker and what happened more recently to Haggard, don’t make an exception in this love.  Lift up our brothers and sisters in all circumstances.

When someone is following another path in their life, a path that some might call ‘of the devil’.  Let’s not be rude to them and call their faith ‘evil’.  Let’s get to know the person, understand more about their beliefs, see where our beliefs are similar and where they differ.  Don’t get stuck on semantics, rather find and show a deep love for them as a person.  They are your neighbor, a child of God, one who Jesus died for.  By your love of them and of your fellow Christians, they will better understand and accept your faith.

I’m going to paraphrase Jim Bakker now, quite ironic indeed, ‘for too long, we in the church have had an “A” list and a “B” list.  If your sin is on the “A” list, we’ve told you that you can come inside.  If your sin is on the “B” list, we’ve told you to come back when you’ve cleaned that up.  We gotta get rid of the list and just love and allow God’s grace to work in people’s lives.’

So now, let’s come full circle here.  God sent me this message from someone I would have never expected it to come from.  At my weakest moment He pulled me up and set me back on my path.  I love my friends in Maryland, I’ll never let that go.  I’ll make it in my denomination and with God’s leading, I will develop new  deep relationships where I am.  With whomever He puts in my path.  WHOMEVER.

Thank you for your loving time... 

Dean Whisnant Emergent Nazarenes

(public domain photo courtesy of PDPhoto.org)