I have talked in previous posts about how I desire this year to learn to love people like Jesus did. If I want to be able to fully realize the potential of living in God's kingdom now, I must continue to strive to be more like Christ. I am far from perfect, but with His constant grace to help, I am gaining ground. One of the areas I am gaining ground in is to learn how to have a heart for the people who either don't have the same views I do and even opposite beliefs. If I am going to be honest with myself, you and most importantly God, I must admit that I have come to realize that there was a time, not too many years ago, when I was more like the proud pharisee who prayed something like, "God, I'm glad I'm not like that guy over there." One example would be instead of praying for people who were constantly in trouble with the police, using drugs, getting drunk all the time, or constantly being vulgar, I would look down my nose at them and think something like, "Yea, you'll find out one day what God thinks of how you live. It may be too late, but you'll find out." What a hypocritical judge. Calling myself a Christian with a pretty flippant attitude towards the very people that Jesus would be hanging out with today, drawing them in with His love and His ways. Helping them to become His disciples.
God has continued to soften my heart even in the last couple of years and I am thankful that He has. My desire is to be more like Jesus and if I ever need to repent of something, then let it be so. It is because God is willing to be kind to us that He will bring us to repentance. (See Romans 2:4) One of the things that God has been gently showing me is that instead of being critical towards those who don't share my beliefs, there is now a willingness in my heart to have compassion for them and pray for them with the understanding that if there is anything in their life that needs changing, that is God's job. He doesn't leave that to me. In some cases maybe it is my heart or attitude that needs changing. I heard a teaching not long ago by someone who I really respect, who said that one of the biggest problems with Christians is that we expect people who don't know Christ to live up to our expectations. How can we have that attitude towards someone who doesn't know Christ? Who does yet to understand the teachings of Jesus. The apostle Paul constantly warned against having such an attitude, because at one time we were one of those who didn't have Christ in our lives either. Paul teaches us to be patient and caring to the unbeliever instead, which leads me to ask a question. If we are to have compassion and pray for the unbeliever, how much more should we be praying for our Christian brothers and sisters who rub us the wrong way, or may even be struggling with sin. I used to be "one of those" who would look at a brother's sin and think, "Wow, and he calls himself a Christian," when I had issues that needed dealing with myself. The old casting out the speck when their is a plank in my own eye routine.(Matthew 7:3) I think we are more guilty of this than we realize, at least I was.
Can I drop a couple of names as examples to show you what I'm talking about? Two men who at one time I spoke of in some not so nice ways, but now am allowing myself to REALLY understand that Jesus loves them just as much as He loves me. Maybe I better be more concerned about my own day to day life and leave theirs up to Him.
Up until and shortly after he took office, I was pretty critical, and looking back now, was pretty judgmental at times of president Obama. How dare I. Many of us Christians, especially the conservative Christian tore this man apart. How dare we. Shortly after Obama took office is when I think God said, "Ok, Mark, you have grown in many ways, but you must continue to grow in all My ways. If you really want to be a man after My heart and have the faith of Abraham, (something that I began praying for about 5 years ago) then you must continue to learn better of all My ways," and believe it or not, I think He used the president of the United States as a new teaching point for me. I began to see how many, who say they are Christian, using everything they could against this man. I remember pictures being forwarded on the internet with a caption stating how Obama refused to put his hand on his heart for the national anthem. How we would soon be a Muslim nation very soon if Obama was elected. How Obama was never seen going to church. How he would shut down the rights of Christians. Do I need to go on? All of those things came from "reliable" (cough, cough) internet sources, or conservative radio talk show hosts who we tend to listen to more than we do the teachings of Jesus. I used to listen to those "conservative" talk show hosts, too, before realizing that hateful remarks came out of their mouths just as much as the ones that they accused of being full of hate, not to mention immoral words or behaviors. Little by little, God in His kindness showed me that if I would spend more time with Him instead of them, that it would be far more fruitful and heart changing.
Instead of being critical of the president, my heart started to go out to him. That doesn't mean that I support all of his policies and ways of thinking, but that isn't any different than it was with president Bush, either. (By the way, I remember a lot of hateful remarks coming from the more liberal Christian towards the character of president Bush, so nobody here is off the hook.)
Over the past week, I've told my wife that I think it's time to speak out in defense of president Obama. Not that he needs or wants me to, but I believe that for those like me who want to be as much like Jesus as we can, that there is something that can be learned here. It bothers me greatly that this week I have only heard one Christian getting excited about some of the great remarks that President Obama made at the National Prayer Breakfast, which by the way I know of many who splashed on the internet as to how the president did away with days like this; yet here he was speaking at one of the events that he supposedly cancelled. Go figure. In his comments he speaks of praying. He quotes scripture. Refers to the importance of the Bible and talks about a personal commitment to Jesus Christ. He even mentions having to deal with so many people who question his faith. That one really hurt when I read it. Having my faith called into question would pierce my heart. Anyway, why don't we spread those comments around the internet? Why do we enjoy rather going for the gossip? Listen, if we put our faith where our mouth is, we need to pray for this man and support him as a brother. It doesn't mean we support everything he does as president, but as far as the man, we need to love him and desire for him to be the man and leader that God wants him to be, which is no different from the same desire for you and me. I encourage you to read Obama's remarks(click on this link) at that prayer breakfast. It brought tears to my eyes. It is not my job to pretend to know where he is at in his walk with Christ. It is only something that he and Jesus need to work on. Again, no different than you and me.
Can I bring a sports figure into all of this? Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers. This man created his own mess indeed. He got caught. Many of us, myself included, have skeletons in our closets (which we hope will remain there) maybe haven't been caught. Maybe some of us have. Whose sin was greater? Ben should have known better, indeed, especially after going through the sex scandals before, but he didn't. I felt the NFL was right in suspending him. He needed to be accountable for his actions. I was one of the ones who was really hoping the Steelers would have traded him before the season started, or just sent him away. My disgust for him turned to dislike. Then reports started coming out that Big Ben had recommitted his life to Jesus Christ. That he realized the need to bring God back into his life. "It's a calming feeling when the Lord runs your life," Roethlisberger told the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.(click on this link) "And it's something I've always known as a church person, but I've never really believed it." Ben was also quoted as saying, "I think it's coming home---being gone for awhile and coming home." Instead of being hopeful and prayerful, many Christians laughed that off at just his way of wanting to be off the hook and forgiven. Really? Is that what Christ calls us to do. Our job is to love and pray. What is going on in Roethlisberger's heart is between him and the Lord. It is the Holy Spirit who will work on Ben. If he has found forgiveness through Christ then should we not also forgive and rejoice? I have instead continued to see, mostly from those who have a great dislike of the Steelers in general, some pretty disparaging things about Ben on the internet. Brothers and sisters, this needs to stop. I am not fond of the New York Yankees either, but when I see that Andy Pettitte, or Joe Giradi are believers, then I better pray for my brothers. It doesn't mean I have to root for the Yankees, but I better pray that they are blessed in everything they do. (Except against the Cleveland Indians, or the Pittsburgh Pirates, of course!!!) I pray that Ben Roethlisberger has found his way back to God and I feel the need to defend him. Again, not because he needs me to, or wants me to, but because I feel there are things that need to be addressed and can be learned.
I've dropped two names. Those of Barack Obama and Ben Roethlisberger. Just two, but how many others like the president and Ben do we treat the same way? Maybe as you read this you are one of the ones who have already learned to be lovers of men and women in the way that Jesus is. Praise God for that. If we want to truly be like Jesus, then we hate the sin, but love and pray for the man or woman, just like Jesus did. And if you can't love the man or woman just yet, at least start with the praying part. God will love your heart, reward your efforts and help you with the rest.
"We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love everyone of you has for each other is increasing." (2 Thessalonians 1:3,NIV)
Remember, God looks for the treasure in people. It is that treasure that we must also dig for. In doing so we will build up the kingdom and increase its borders!
"FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD THAT HE GAVE HIS ONE AND ONLY SON THAT WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM SHALL NOT PERISH, BUT HAVE ETERNAL LIFE." (John 3:16, NIV)
I love you guys,