Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Everyone Has a Dark Side

This is one of the hardest truths in life that I have had to face. Everyone has weaknesses. No matter how good a person is perceived to be, there’s always the chance that they will hurt you, betray you, humiliate you, or neglect you. And maybe the worst part is, sometimes the person that does those things is me.

I have been hurt by family, and by my closest friends. I imagine all of us have. Part of me thought that would all change within the Church, but in some ways it’s been the opposite. The nature of Christian relationships is that you’re much closer to people than you would otherwise be, because of that intimate spiritual connection found only in Christ. But, the closer you are to someone, the more potential they have to do you harm. We can take many things from strangers, but from a brother… there are no words. David says it like this in Psalm 55, “For it is not an enemy who insults me, for then I could bear it. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend.”

Just as bad is being hurt by those you highly respect: teachers, ministers, those in other high positions. I’ve been publicly humiliated by those I’ve greatly admired, and I cannot begin to explain how devastating that was to me. And I shamefully admit that I have likely done the same to others in times of weakness, selfishness, and pride.

There are many ways to react to this dark reality of life. One is to deny it, to believe that people don’t really hurt each other like this, or that it doesn’t really hurt to be treated badly. One is to buy into the lie that we deserve whatever this person has done, because we are essentially bad people. Another is to put up a wall, unwilling to trust other people, because there’s always this fear that the closer they get, the more it’s going to hurt when betrayal comes. But I think the way of God is very different from these.

I believe God invites us to, in spite of our sinfulness, have intimate relationships with other people, because we have a different motivation than the rest of men. In one of Jesus’ beatitudes, He puts it like this, “blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Whenever I forgive and accept those who humiliate me, hurt me, and betray me, I am actually taking on God’s nature… because that’s what He has done to me. Our lives, if nothing else, are on the whole an exclamation point screaming that all we really care about is ourselves, and that God is anything but a priority to us. We have loved the gifts, but ignored the Giver. We have taken for granted His blessings, but complained bitterly about our problems. Mercy to my brother or superior who demeans me seems nothing in comparison to what I have done to Almighty God. My motivation to forgive is that I have done far worse to God, and yet He has forgiven me.

But that doesn’t stop it from hurting. I have shed many tears over harsh accusations, character assassinations, gossip, public humiliations, and brutal attacks on my intentions. I have been so hurt by those I trusted that I wasn’t sure I had the strength to walk out my own front door. But the second part of this reality that I must face is that the roles could easily be reversed. It is not beyond me to betray, to hurt, and demean. So, when all my tears are shed, mercy is my only option.

And, in the end, the only perfect one is God. I must be like David, that though I may be completely surrounded by enemies disguised as friends, He is my only real sustainer and validation. He alone is all-loving, just, compassionate, and unwilling to do evil. I can hold on to that, realizing that one day sin will be completely finished. On that day I can trust my brother without fear, because we will be with God and all that will be left is love.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Gospel Summarized

I'm teaching a class soon at Church on evangelism, and part of it is learning how to explain the Gospel message very simply in just a few minutes. I thought I'd put it up here. Let me know if you have any suggestions or if you find it helpful.

“What is Christianity all about in really simple terms?”

1. God created us to be with Him. The Bible teaches that God is good, and that He created everything that exists. He made people so that we could enjoy an intimate relationship with Him. He promised that if we lived His way, life would go well and He would fulfill all our needs.

2. We have rebelled against Him. The first man, Adam, decided to break that relationship with God. God told him not to eat one piece of fruit, but Adam didn’t trust God and ate it anyway. When he did that, he sinned. We all do that every day. When we lie, cheat, hurt other people, honor other things above God, and act selfishly we’re basically telling God that we don’t trust Him, and that our ways are better than His ways. Because we’ve rebelled against Him like this, the only thing left for us is eternal punishment.

3. Jesus paid our price of rebellion. But the great news is that God loves us even though we continually rebel against Him. So He came to Earth as a person, Jesus, to save us from ourselves. He paid our price of rebellion by being tortured and killed on a cross 2,000 years ago. He paid that price for all people, everywhere. He loves us so much that He died to bring us back into a relationship with God so that not only will we not be punished, but we’ll get to be His children again and experience life in the best way possible.

4. We can reject His love. But we can choose to reject that love. We can choose that we’d rather live whatever way we want to, or that we don’t believe it, or that we’ve got better things to do. If we do that, God will have to punish us. No matter if we ever seek God out or not, doing nothing is still rejecting His free gift. He wants to be with us, but there’s nothing He can do if we refuse His love.

5. We can accept His love. But we can also choose that we do need God, and that we want to accept the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. We can choose to trust in that sacrifice and trust that God knows what’s best for us. If we do that we can not only be forgiven for our rebellion, but we can then experience life in the most fulfilling way possible. This love is free for anyone who wants it, no matter what bad decisions they’ve made in their lives. It’s not about being a better person, but understanding that none of us are good people, and that only Jesus’ sacrifice can make us into good people. God loves us so much that He desperately wants us to accept His love, but we can also choose to reject it. He loves you very much, and He wants to be with you. He is wanting for you to choose Him.