Obedience for Rebels

Shepherd_SheepI entered Christianity as a rebel. The better part of my adult life was doing the exact opposite of what I was taught to do. I am a free spirited person. I don’t like rules and structure. I believe in ordered chaos. I know that is weird. Here is what I mean; my house is messy but I know where everything is in the mess. When things are organized, as most people would define organized, I can’t find anything. If a person with an administrative gifting is a type A personality, then I would be type Z. A type A personality who doesn’t know Jesus would love to grab hold of me and teach me a little about organization, structure and following the rules. I would in turn take the example of structure and organization, tear it to shreds and walk away feeling quite satisfied while my type A counterpart would be very upset. I’ll do it my way, thank you very much!

When I heard that Christianity requires obedience it tweaked me. Could I love Jesus enough to become a rule follower? At least that is how I saw it in the moment. I believed that obedience was rule following. It was adhering to structure and being a follower. That is just not who I am. I imagine that many people who have not been raised a Christian hear stuff like this and end up running out of church saying “I am not signing up for obedience training!” Truly, me neither! I am not a dog! I am being asked to be a dog! Actually, there is no truth in that. Christians are not dogs. That being said, we are asked to be obedient. Out of love for God, we choose to be obedient.

How does a rebel like me become obedient? It is simple and complex all at the same time. First, I had to stop defining who I am outside of who God says I am. I have a new identity. I am now a child of God. How do we know we are children of God? A person who loves God, has put their trust in Christ, who does what is right, and loves their brothers and sisters in Christ are the children of God (See 1 John 3:10). I have been born again into a new life. Christ is now my life (Colossians 3:4).

The exchange between Simon Peter and Jesus in John 21 reveals what Jesus asks us all to do as his disciples. Jesus asks, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter responds “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” And Jesus tells Simon Peter to “feed my lambs.” This exchange happens three times. If we love Jesus, we will feed the lambs. Meaning if we love Jesus, we will love and care for others.

I have had to take the obedience thing in stride. It is easy to turn obedience into religion. That is not what obedience is. God doesn’t love us because we are obedient. We are obedient because we are secure in God’s love for us. The commands are this: “Love the Lord God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second one is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22:37-39).” Christianity is not about being obedient to the Old Testament Law. Christianity is not about fulfilling sacraments. It is about love. Galatians 5:14 says, “…the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Obedience is love. If you love, you are obedient. It is that simple.

 

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Forgiveness

This topic is a hard one. Forgiveness is a command; it is a central principle of the Christian lifestyle. Jesus went to the Cross so that we are fully forgiven. When we know in our heart and heads that we are forgiven, God asks us to pass it on. We must forgive others. Forgiveness, just like Christianity, is a daily thing. So what if we don’t forgive?

Unforgiveness is the beginning of the root of bitterness. As the root of bitterness grows, it becomes anger. It is the trap that I lived in for 20 years of my life. Unforgiveness and bitterness caused me emotional turmoil and physical pain. I truly believe that it caused severe migraines that would last for days, it caused screaming fits of rage and it caused adult onset acne. I took offense into the deepest parts of my heart and I held onto it like a comfy blanket. The best quote on unforgiveness I have ever heard is this: “…harboring unforgiveness is actually like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die; it just doesn’t work.” (pg 65, Living in Freedom Everyday, Highlands Small Groups, Church of the Highlands Birmingham, Alabama)

Before I came to know and love Jesus, I struggled with forgiveness. Even now, I still struggle.  I confess that I hold grudges. It takes me a long time to work through an offense. Even after I have forgiven from my heart, reconciliation is difficult for me. Learning to forgive from my heart has been a process. Loving myself was step one.

Jesus says in Matthew 22: 37 – “Love the Lord God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” The part that is most interesting to me is “as yourself.” Do you love yourself? If you love yourself, you are able to love God and love others. If you don’t love yourself, it is hard to have love for God and others. My first breakthrough in love was to love me. Because God loved me, made me, and forgave me, I found a way to forgive me and love me.

Learning to forgive others from the heart has been a process for me. These are lessons I have learned over time:

  • Offenses will come (Luke 17: 1-3) –Offense is something that goes against my personal moral compass. It may not go against God. When Jesus ministered to people, he rarely pointed out their sin (except the religious leaders). We are not to stand in the way of people committing sin. We are supposed to love them.
  • I need to have compassion on those who hurt me (Ephesians 4:32) – each and every person has a past, has been conditioned by circumstances in life and is learning the things of God at a different pace and willingness to surrender. Jesus had compassion on those who killed him by saying: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) A lot of the time people say or do things and just don’t know what they are doing.  I have looked back on some big fumbles in my life and I can truly say that at the time, I had no idea what I was doing.  I’ve had to forgive myself for those things.
  • Judging the words, behaviors, and motivations of others is simply not my job – it is God’s job. Matthew 7:1-2 says: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Verses 3-5 goes on to say that we must take the plank out of our own eye before we can take the speck out of another’s eye.
  • I need to guard my heart – I have a choice about taking the offense into my heart. Proverbs 4:23 “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything that you do flows from it.” Luke 7:45 says that “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” If we have unforgiveness or bitterness in our heart, our mouth will speak it out. Allowing offense into our hearts creates this: “A brother wronged is more unyielding than a fortified city; disputes are like barred gates of a citadel” Proverbs 18:19. Offense creates walls that can only be brought down by forgiveness from the heart.
  • If I am unforgiving, God will not forgive me. Matthew 5:15 “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

Recently, a pastor at my church said that we get a day to be angry about something. Yup, one day. After that day, we plant a root of bitterness. A picture came to my mind, I saw myself planting my own roots of anger and bitterness. God does not cause our anger or our hurts, I would even argue that He doesn’t “allow” them either (Saying God “allows” is like saying God plays with our lives as if He is playing chess, this dismisses human free will altogether).  People use their own free will to inflict hurt and pain on each other.  It is up to the Christian to forgive or hold onto the offense.  It is our own choice to grow the bitter root. Yikes. The grudges have to go. End of story.

Forgiveness does not mean that what happened is good and right. Forgiveness does not mean you must reconcile. It does not mean that you must continue in unhealthy relationships. I am not writing from a stand point where I am being abused. If you are being abused verbally or physically, it is important to know that forgiveness does not mean you must stay in that situation. Seek help immediately. The forgiveness piece is for you and your heart, for your own personal and spiritual freedom. Not for the abuser.

Peace and Love to you friend. May God’s forgiveness fill your heart with joy so that you may forgive others and love purely and completely in the name of Jesus. Amen.