Black vs. White…
Conservatives vs. Liberals…
Right-wing vs. Left-wing…
Republicans vs. Democrats…
North vs. South…
What is the unifying character amongst all of these people?
When you cut us open, we all bleed red. And we all need Jesus–although we have the God-given free will to reject Him. (I wouldn’t recommend that, though).
I have been blessed to have been exposed to all kinds of people from different walks of life from as early as I can remember. I have always been fascinated by people–different cultures, mores, languages, rituals, religions, nations, etc. I think that our differences ought to be celebrated and respected. I find American culture these days particularly troubling because we find all kinds of ways to be divisive. We are supposed to be such a melting pot–last time I cooked a dinner in a big pot, the ingredients meshed well together and complemented one another, producing a delicious aroma and an even better taste. America is too intolerant these days to be rightfully considered a melting pot.
The reason I say this is because I was lambasted by an Atheist simply for mentioning God today, and I almost reverted back to my old, temperamental self. Luckily it was on the Internet and not in person, so I had time to pull myself together and provide a very good response to this person.
It was absolutely ridiculous, but here goes.
There was a story about Valerie Harper who played Rhoda on Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda shows being told she only had three months to live. My comment was simple–the only one who knows our true expiration date is God. For some reason,that drew the ire of a poster who informed me that there was no God, and that I should pull my head out of my “behind” and join the rest of the real world.
Like I said, I have always loved people. I have studied people. I devoted my college career to courses in human behavior and development, psychology, sociology, religion, biology, anatomy and physiology, communication, languages, etc. Why? Because people fascinate me. Not just Black Christians such as myself. No, what really fascinates me is how we go through so much to differentiate ourselves from one another, but at the end of the day, we usually want the same things–a decent life. In the pursuit of that decent life, we operate under different belief systems, but we still mostly want the same things.
Which is why Atheists, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Agnostics, etc., do not offend me as long as they do not insult me, or more importantly, insult Jesus. I informed that person that he was entitled to his beliefs, but in no way was his silly dismissive post going to change my mind. I did have to tell him that his post was a waste of keystrokes, and informed him that I have always welcomed people of different beliefs to talk to me. They aren’t going to change my mind. I am fully aware that in somr cases, I will not change theirs, yet I have been charged to present every single person with the Gospel whether they accept it or not.
The Atheists I have talked to–I used to talk to a former co-worker at Target quite often, now, she has moved to California and I rarely hear from her–have had different life experiences like the rest of us that have led to their belief system. Some were raised to be Atheists, some met a personal tragedy in their life and determined that God didn’t exist. Guess what–although most of the Muslims I know were raised to be that way, some of them were also converted later in life. Same for some Christians. I will admit I do not know any Jewish converts–all of my Jewish acquaintances were brought up that way.
During my conversation with my Atheistic co-worker, we talked about religion regularly. I listened to her when she talked to me about why she did not believe there was a God. Since we were friends, she was respectful enough not to say anything negative about God–only that there was no proof that there was a God, etc. She listened when I presented my case. As far as I know, she did not change, and I definitely did not, but there was a level of respect there that enabled us to go back and forth without being offensive or denigrating each others’ beliefs. Of course it is my prayer that everyone receives Jesus, but all Christians should know that that is not the case, and that you attract more bees with honey than vinegar. (Isn’t that the saying)?
Some may question whether Christians should associate with people of other faiths. However, I do not think that a close personal friendship would work out. Also, again in my opinion, those who are spiritually mature can be acquaintances with non-believers, because who knows what kind of influence that person might have. However, babes in Christ, those who are just beginning their spiritual walk, may not be strong enough to avoid the potential influence and should not put themselves in such a situation. Before anyone questions my reasoning, consider the Scripture that tells us to “love thy neighbor”–it does not say, “love thy Christian neighbor”. Nope. There are others that command us to be kind to everyone, love our enemies, etc. If we were to only be good to Christians, how would we convert non-Christians???
There are also Scriptures that warn us against being more than occasional acquaintances, however. My favorite is 1 Cor. 15:33: “Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts character”. That Scripture explains it all. Close relationships with non-believers may cause us to be misled.
Some people have never picked up a Bible, and have never thought to be receptive to the concept of God. As my Rev. Teacher often says in class, “YOU may be the only Bible some people see”. My goals when associating with everyone, particularly non-believers, is to be a light that may bring them to Christ. A non-believer may not initially be interested in walking up in a church if they have questions, or soliciting a pastor, or reading the Bible. They will, however, watch how a person who claims to be a Christian goes about their daily business. People can usually tell I am a Christian without asking because of my attitude of love and my friendly disposition. They get that regardless of their beliefs. I treat people well–I respect them, and I never make them feel stupid. As was the case with my Atheistic co-worker. She told me often that I had the best attitude out of anyone she had ever met. Perhaps that is why she felt comfortable presenting me with her opinions about God, which provided me with the opportunity to refute them. If I had come at her with a finger pointed at her and told her she was going to burn in hell, I doubt she would have listened to me any more after that.
I guess, in summary, what I am saying is, that in all of our dealings we have to follow the example set by Christ and not fall into the divisive ways of the world. Labels are largely man-made. Christians have to surpass the tendency to look at people through labeled glasses and instead consider every non-believer as a possible convert to Christ, and act accordingly.
We also have to be honest to be effective witnesses. I am bothered when my Christian brothers and sisters pretend to be perfect, as though they just dropped out of heaven, and never sin. I love telling people my story, and how awful I was before, how I still have to fight that sin nature so I don’t backslide and descend into awfulness again, etc. We are supposed to become a new man (or woman) when we put on the armor of Christ, but nowhere in the Bible does it say that that makes us sinless. So we need to stop acting like it. I tell people it was not easy to stop drinking, and every now and then when I get angry, a four-lettered slips out. I had out-of-wedlock relations and kids. Because of this, I am no better than anyone else. By the grace of God, I am a new person. Sometimes I find myself fighting the urge to go down the liquor aisle in the grocery store and tuck a bottle of Hennessey or Smirnoff vodka under the rest of the purchases in my cart. It did not happen overnight. For awhile, even while proclaiming my change, attending church and studying my Bible, I was still drinking. Only over time, as I matured, and requesting help from God, I was able to stop. Some people can just quit–I was not one of them, and I am not ashamed by that. The point is, I quit. As for the bad words–sigh. I am a work in progress there. I can say I no longer hurl expletive-laden tirades at people like I used to, but when I fall or someone cuts me off while I am driving, the first thing that pops into my mind is not “God bless”–although it should be. I’m working on it.
Christians also need to stop perpetuating the myth that one sin is worse than the other. Sin is sin. Wrong is wrong. Just as God is no respecter of persons, he also does not have degrees or classifications of sin. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. So, when applied personally, I can say to people to whom I am witnessing that although I am where I am now, I am no better than anyone else because I have done just as much wrong as anyone else. I am a prime example of how God regularly uses imperfect people. Look at all of the disciples. Most of them were men of questionable character. Jesus chose 12 disciples–12 also being the number of tribes of Israel–who had strengths and human weaknesses just like the rest of us. Simon Peter was impetuous, and seemed to be the type of person who occasionally spoke before he thought. He appears to be an emotional, passionate person, which is why he would have made a good disciple. However, he abandoned Jesus (I wonder how many Christians can honestly say they have never done that?) and denied Him three times (Matthew 26:31-35, Matthew 26:69-75 ). It also appears that Peter was the “companion” who impulsively hacked off the high priest’s ear with his sword when they came to arrest Jesus (Matt 26:51).
Thomas was doubtful–he was like many of us today who need to see proof before we will believe something. He did not listen to his fellow disciples when they told him Jesus was alive… He needed to see the nail prints in Jesus’ hands and put his hands in Jesus’ wound before he would believe, and so it was (John 20:24-28).
Also like many of us today, brothers James and John were concerned with ranking and power, and desired to be elevated: “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory” (Mark 10:37).
Levi, or Matthew, was a tax collector. Who likes tax collectors? In those times, tax collectors probably were extremely aggressive–in some instances, they paid the money out themselves and then collected the money from the citizens. Tax collectors were extortionists, and extracted more money from the people than was rightfully owed them.
And of course we all know about Judas of Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus for monetary gain.
I have enjoyed the opportunities I have been given to learn about all of the apostles (the rest are Simon Peter’s brother Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, James, Thaddeus, Simon (not to be confused with Simon Peter), Matthias (who replaced Judas), and Paul) because they all had flaws. Judas showed greed early on–when the young woman anointed Jesus with expensive oil/perfume, Judas was indignant at the waste that he presumed to occur, saying the perfume could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor, although he really coveted the money for himself (John 12: 1-7), and later sold Jesus out for thirty pieces of silver (Matt. 26:15).
But I digress–although I will definitely speak on the 12 disciples at a later time, and in particular, Judas, because his story fascinates me.
My point is this–If we make ourselves available, there is not a single person that cannot be used to advance God’s kingdom. With the exception of Judas, who never truly accepted Jesus as was evidenced by the fact that he NEVER referred to Jesus as Lord–only “Rabbi” (teacher)–the others left their professions and willingly followed Jesus. Look what they accomplished! And during the time they were mothering the developing Church, the body of Christ, isn’t it safe to say they were still sinning? Of course! Just because they had matured did not mean they had become sinless. They were still flawed humans dealing with the conflict between their sinful nature and their divine nature. And so are we.
Since we understand the struggle, we have to be careful and prayerful at all times. We have to appreciate that the differences God bestowed upon us were done for a reason–Each person we talk to, we should consider how God may be just waiting to use them to advance His kingdom, if only we will effectively present the Gospel to them, and, if they choose, they accept it. Black or White, liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, Atheist or Christian–it just does not matter. We are all sinners. We are all flawed. We all need a Savior. We all have a past. At times, we have all doubted God.
I will get back to Genesis tomorrow, but I needed to get that off my chest. I am tired of the intolerance and divisiveness. As Christians, we ought not be concerned with socially constructed labels, group membership, etc. We are supposed to just be winning souls to Christ.