I’ve heard individuals say that this world belongs to Satan. Do you believe that? Watching CNN and the Baltimore riots and similar tragedies may give any of us evidence that Satan (an evil spirit) has taken over. But if I believed that Evil has conquered the world, I would look for the nearest exit.
What about John 3:16? “For God so loved the world that He gave his own begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world, through Him, might be saved.” Or consider the command of Jesus after His wilderness experience: “And Jesus said, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan’” (Luke 4:8).
Several years ago, I almost changed professions because of a few negative experiences. Although I felt called to be in a “helping” profession, I was frustrated with committees that weren’t committed, meetings that wasted time, ushers that wouldn’t “ush”, church disputes over minor matters, and negative attitudes towards other races. One of my leading church members made this gosh-awful statement, “If a [horrendous racial slur deleted] comes to this church, I’ll throw my hymn book at him.” This thing that is going on in our country these days is a two-sided issue. In the end, I knew that running away wasn’t what I really wanted. Trouble-makers are the very ones who need God’s grace. I wasn’t called to minister to saints, but to those who needed the Good News of a God who loved them. That included the one in the pulpit. I was not in ministry to judge people, but to love them—even those who had completely lost their way. I wanted to live the kind of life that spoke louder than words. I’ve made mistakes and blunders, but I have no regrets about staying the course as a pastor.
Beliefs shape personalities and behavior. What you believe is who you are. Our parents, teachers, preachers and peers are our main “belief makers”. If a child hears from a significant person that he or she is no good, that child may grow up with a huge inferiority complex, never feeling secure enough to make a difference in anything. It is difficult to undo what parents, preachers and peers can do so thoroughly. But there will always be racists, bigots, preachers who push guilt rather than grace, judgmental-ism, and exclusive-ism. Speaking of exclusive-ism, I hope I’m not being judgmental when I say that I have visited churches where they practice “closed Communion”. I can’t imagine Jesus saying, “If you don’t believe is certain dogmas or rituals, you can’t come to my table.”
On page 71 in Philip Yancey’s latest book, “Vanishing God”, is a quote that I couldn’t resist using. “Mark Rutland whimsically recalls a survey in which Americans were asked what words they would most like to hear. He predicted the first choice: ‘I love you.’ Number two was, ‘I forgive you.’ The third choice took him by surprise. ‘Supper’s ready.’ It dawned on Rutland that these three statements provide a neat summary of the gospel story. We are loved by God, forgiven by God, and invited to the banquet table. In the midst of a planet marked by brokenness—violence, natural disasters, ruptured relationships—the Gospel is truly good news. Like an iPod listener dancing in a subway station full of glum commuters, a Christian hears a different sound of joy and laughter on the other side of pain and death.”
So, let me pose a few questions about your personal beliefs.
First, do you look upon every human being as a child of the same Creator God? This one belief could bring about a lot of changes throughout the world. What we believe about “ultimate reality”—about God, about the absolute nature of things—has a profound influence on the way we see the world. And these deeply held convictions greatly influence the way we relate to people, to life, and to ourselves. We do share the same physical heritage, from the same Creator. To see others as brothers and sisters—regardless of their differentness—would be so awesome. Differentness is not necessarily badness; although wars are being fought because of differing ideas. We need a “live and help live” philosophy, and not just a “live and let live” approach.
A second question: Do you believe that everything is connected? Somehow, animal, mineral, and vegetable al depend upon each other. When I drive around the traffic circle on MacArthur Drive in Alexandria, I think about the importance of the wetlands and ecological balance. (I don’t always have noble thoughts about that circle). But I believe that we are caretakers of the land we’ve inherited. So many species of wildlife are becoming extinct because we have not been careful enough as stewards.
A third question is: Do you believe in abiding by the Ten Commandments? They are the “best directions” for living a life that I know. You can review them in Exodus 20. I would add the worlds of Jesus, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31). This is a wonderful recipe for a life that makes a difference. I believe that ultimate reality is love and peace. May God help us to get it right.
Speaking of recipes, my spouse has a Texas cookbook that I was flipping through the other day. Amid the recipes was one that stood out to me. I recommend it wholeheartedly.
1 Cup of Greetings
1/2 Cup of Smiles
1 Large Handshake
1 Full Cup of Love
3 Tablespoons Sympathy
1/2 Cup Compassion
3 Cups of Hospitality
Cream greetings and smiles thoroughly. Add handshake separately. Slowly stir in love. Sift sympathy and compassion, folding in hospitality. Bake in a warm heart. Sprinkle with unselfishness and enjoy! Amen.