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Loving All the Wrong People: An Exercise in Faith

If you read your Bible carefully and attend the right church for a few years, you just might be in danger of thinking you are right. If you attend Revelation Seminars and carefully consider all the hidden nuances of all those beasts, then you might be precipitously close to imagining yourself to be right. If you sit on a conference committee or you are a member of a local church board, then you might very well be flirting with the edges of claiming to be correct. If you have a large sum of money in the bank and have a membership to the right golf resort, then you might be dangerously close to perceiving yourself to be right.

Living the Christian faith while believing ourselves to be right is not as easy as it sounds. Implicit in the declaration of being right requires a necessity to conclude that other people are wrong. Thinking we are right is not always a happy place to be. Some of us take the building blocks of being right and construct an impenetrable wall of personal beliefs that completely isolate us from other people.

Imagine yourself riding in a bus with a group of tourists visiting some historic sites near your hometown. In this hypothetical situation the bus driver announces to everyone his intended destination. As the bus rolls to a stop, you observe that the driver puts on the left blinker. “No," you think to yourself. “If the driver turns left, this bus and all the people in it will wind up on a dirt road that ends in a mud bog.” After warning the driver about the dead end road, you are completely surprised when he turns left anyway. And now you settle in for another conversation with your constant companion, Human Nature.

Human Nature leans in and whispers. “Hey, did you notice the bus driver is a Mexican? You know what they say about the Mexicans, right? Most of them are criminals. They come here with no money and no education and just expect us to take care of them. Somebody needs to just stop them at the border. Am I right? Oh, and did you get a look at some of the other people on this bus? What a collection of losers, do you know what I mean? Well, my whole afternoon is ruined. I had plans you know; well, technically I guess I’m with you no matter what, but I still had plans.”

You pretend not to be listening, but that doesn’t stop Human Nature. He leans in even closer. “You know what really gets me about this situation is that you ARE right. Did you hear that lady tell everyone how this road looks just fine? Well, I’ve got news for her. I am working on my, ‘I told you so’ speech as we speak.”

You get out your iPhone and start scrolling through Facebook for the fifth time today. “You know something, Mr. Human Nature? You are no fun to be around. You’re always negative, always criticizing everyone. I would be much happier if I didn’t have to deal with you all the time.”

Human Nature just laughs. “Yeah, but here’s the thing. You and I are inseparable, and we better learn to make the best of it. Most of the time you agree with me, so we just have to muddle along together.”

Such is the plight of mere mortals struggling along in a world of sin. For those of us who always believe we are right, the pathway is even harder. Holding other travelers in contempt is a lonely, thankless job.

Can you imagine what it must have been like for Jesus to come into a world completely out of harmony with God? He was no doubt tempted to regard sinners with disdain. Satan was hard at work, but Jesus and His Heavenly Father were not going to be defeated. Jesus came to this earth to solve the sin problem once and for all. The Scriptures are almost completely silent on the childhood of our Savior, except to say, "He grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man." There is little question that Mary and Joseph taught Him from the traditions of Judaism, but that does not account for what Jesus knew about the writings of the ancient prophets. When Jesus taught in the temple at a very young age, the priests were astounded at His knowledge of the sacred texts. "How could this child know these things, for he has not been schooled?"

I think the answer becomes clear when Jesus steps onto the world stage down on the banks of the Jordan River. The voice of John the Baptist rings true when he declares to his followers, "Behold, the Lamb of God—." Jesus knew the Father. He did not walk into this world as other men. Slowly and certainly, His Heavenly Father prepared Him for His mission. Jesus saw the devastation of sin and sorrow all around Him. Destined to suffer the consequences for every sin committed by the human race, the innocent Lamb of God set out to turn this world upside down.

By earthly standards it comes as a complete surprise how Jesus accomplishes His mission. Claiming to be the Deliverer, even more, the Messiah, Jesus presents Himself in the world with only a handful of men at his side. He has no army. He has no political clout. Instead, Jesus sets out to take on a planet bent on rebellion by offering healing, kindness, and compassion. Even His disciples must have been skeptical about Christ’s methods. How can you change the world by changing water into wine or restoring sight to a blind man? How can you take on the principalities of darkness by showing love and compassion to all of the wrong people?

I believe Christians today have lost touch with the very Man they claim to follow. The crowds clamor for raucous rhetoric designed to divide America. Christians seem to accept the hypocrisy of harsh, unseemly language designed to belittle and degrade those who come from disadvantaged circumstances while at the same time claiming to follow Jesus. There are a few Christians who are quietly looking for ways to show love and compassion for fellow travelers while the majority of Christians seem content to get on the bandwagons full of hate and intolerance.

As it turns out, being right in a world of sin is not the whole story. We can be right about a day of worship or what happens when you die, only to discover that we have completely lost touch with Jesus. We can be right about the mark of the beast, and at the same time, completely turn our backs to the humble, gentle teachings of our Savior.

On January 20, 2018, Franklin Graham did an interview with MSNBC in which he stated that America has a sin problem. When Alex Witt pressed him on how he can decry the sins of America while at the same time making excuses for political leaders who are obviously out of harmony with biblical teachings, he was dismissive of those faults and cited the rise in the stock market and the defeat of ISIS as an offset for any wrongdoing by political leaders.

Many Christians seem to willingly rationalize almost ANY negative actions of politicians who align themselves with their righteous cause. I believe it is possible to be right about abortion and right about who gets a tax cut and still fall very short of following Jesus. Thinking ourselves to be right is often the very thing that stands in our way of fulfilling God’s purpose for us.

While riding the bus down that beautiful road headed for the mud, we have a choice to make. We can point our fellow travelers to the true character of our Savior, or we can systematically alienate those who disagree with our opinions.

On that fateful Friday, oh so long ago, a thief hangs on a cross next to the King of kings. He sees the Majesty of heaven wearing a crown of derision placed there by a frenzied crowd of hate mongers. All of a sudden, a surge of emotion wells up in his heart. He turns to Jesus and asks, “Lord, remember me—, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”   

Without hesitation our Savior answers, “I tell you this day, you will be with me in paradise.” There are no words to describe this kind of love. At the last hour, Jesus adds one more struggling traveler to His kingdom.

Suffering from the weight of sin, Jesus bows His head and declares once and for all, “It is finished!” On this day, our Lord reconciles the whole world to Himself. Christ wins the battle with unmitigated love. He dies for the rich and the poor. He dies for people in every walk of life. He dies for all the wrong people; even for those we cannot seem to accept. 

 

Leroy Sykes lives and writes from Alabama.

Photo by Bailey Hall on Unsplash

 

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