Updated: Jul 13, 2020
The state of humanity has put me in a funk these past few weeks. I feel an urgency like never before, though I’m struggling to find words which reside in love and truth that will actually resonate with people. Our world is looking for change and for justice. Ironically, there’s a Truth which provides those very things, and yet it’s glanced over, reviled, or reduced to nothing in the face of political or social movements. But, it’s so simple. If you want the world to change, you have to start with yourself first. Turn towards the only good, holy and righteous thing in this life and choose to follow Him. Then take that transformative power and be the change you want to see in the world. Speak the words of TRUTH when everyone is busy speaking their own truths. Be LOVE when everyone is consumed with hate. Live in GRACE when others choose to live in offense. Put others before yourself. And pave a way for Christ.
THE SEARCH FOR JUSTICE
It’s incredibly hard to watch the news or peruse social media without seeing offensive, disheartening, conspiratorial, or political rhetoric. Can we all just agree that we are divided? The irony is, both sides are using their ideals to fight for justice. The major problem we’re facing is not the denial that injustice exists, but rather the utter disagreement on the means with which justice is realized.
God’s truth is the only righteous pursuit of justice. We have all fallen short. We have all made mistakes and hurt others. Every single person has held envy, hatred, greed, pride, and every other sin in their heart. Most of us act on at least one or another. Some of us are held in their imprisonment, even if not convicted by law.
Jesus says in Matthew 5:21-26 (NLT), “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell. So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God. When you are on the way to court with your adversary, settle your differences quickly. Otherwise, your accuser may hand you over to the judge, who will hand you over to an officer, and you will be thrown into prison. And if that happens, you surely won’t be free again until you have paid the last penny.”
Jesus holds us to a more exacting measure than the law. Even our thoughts convict us of the crime. It’s no mystery our thoughts become our words, which become our actions, when repeated enough become our habits which define who we are. Our thoughts give us insight into our hearts; the very root of the issues we face.
If we have anger in our hearts, it’s the same as being a murderer. If we have lust, we’re adulterers. By this standard, we have all committed crimes. We’re all found guilty of offense. Seriously consider the weight of every sin you’ve committed and inspect your own heart before you call out the crimes of others.
Jesus lived a perfect and sinless life. He became a servant to liars, thieves, adulterers, and murderers, the lame and the lepers. He humbled himself. He obeyed God to the point of death, and beyond, allowing sinners and unjust men to nail him to a cross. He didn’t call out every person for their hypocrisy. He willingly walked to his death to pave the way of reconciliation to the Father.
Before Christ, we had a debt no man could possibly pay, we needed an atonement no animal sacrifice could permanently restore. He sacrificed himself so that the penalties of our offenses could be paid. He ultimately conquered sin, the cause of the great divide between God and man, the cause of death itself, as witnessed by His resurrection.
By faith and repentance, we’re forgiven. We’re then tasked with the responsibility of forgiveness in our own lives. “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” - Matthew 6:14-15 (NLT). See what happens to the unforgiving debtor in Matthew 18 starting at the 21st verse. If you do not forgive, you will be required to pay your own debt, even the reconciled debt paid on the cross.
Picture yourself as the thief on the cross next to Jesus. You’ve done terrible things, which eventually led to being convicted of a crime; the penalty was death. Your life is coming to a close, and with it, the hope of ever seeing another sunset, of being kissed again, or enjoying your absolute favorite food. It’s all gone. Only anguish and the fear of meeting a righteous and just God is left. Then you look to this man who did nothing wrong. The sign “King of the Jews” hangs above his head, and a small group of people are weeping from a distance. You realize the Son of God is right next to you. You think of all your suffering and the suffering you caused, which lead you to this exact moment. You were placed face to face with Jesus for this reason. He knew your heart before you did, and that you would be led to repentance.
And so it is with every lost sheep looking for its Shepard.
1 John 5:11-12 (NLT), “And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life."
You have been forgiven for so much. By holding onto any slights, you make light of the forgiveness you’ve been given. Instead of harboring our offense and promoting hatred and violence, inherently creating more chaos and destruction, Jesus calls us to be reconciled. It’s a step beyond the choice to forgive. It’s an action to prove the offense is forgiven and to correct a wrong. It’s awakening others out of the blindness of their current (spiritual) heart conditions by being courageous enough to reflect the reality in love and humility.
If we don’t forgive, offense consumes us. We are held captive to feelings of anger, betrayal, bitterness and a false sense of helplessness. If we forgive and do not reconcile with the offender, nothing will stop the offense from happening again. That person’s heart condition is still buried in ignorance.
How do we combat hate? Overcome offense, open a dialogue, and fight it with undeserved grace.
BE THE CHANGE
Jesus is the prime example of overcoming offense. He let himself be taken prisoner by hypocrites. He willingly walked to the cross. He let his hands be pierced. He let the weight of each and every offense ever committed to weigh him down, under the burden of the cross. He completely obeyed the Father for our sake, despite our scorn. After three days He returned, literally going to hell and back, proving His words were true. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
David did not forsake Saul, the Lord’s anointed, despite Saul’s multiple attempts to murder him. Peter overcame his own offense of denying Jesus, chose to suffer for the cause of Christ, and was crucified upside down. Paul caused the sufferings of many by hunting the early followers of Christ. Once he encountered Christ and became a follower himself, he was imprisoned, flogged, beaten, stoned and finally beheaded for preaching the gospel.
They didn’t give up in the face of persecution. They believed wholeheartedly in the redeeming power of the gospel and the sovereignty of God. They learned obedience through their suffering. They loved others more than themselves. In doing so, they led countless others to Christ.
If you run from the hardships in life, you will not grow. Each dry, deserted valley you walk through strengthens you. Each fire refines you; surfacing every impure motive. Every storm you face tests your trust to see whether you’ll rise above the waves or sink in oceans deep. Your suffering is analogous to Christ overcoming His suffering on the cross. Don’t look at the offense. Look at the coming glory.
If you want the world to change, first work on yourself. What’s the state of your heart?
If you can’t tell, check your words. “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.” - Luke 6:45 (NLT). Put a guard over your mouth to ensure every word you speak is true, is kind and is necessary.
Words give insight, but actions speak louder than words. “Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.”- 1 John 3:18 (NLT). Hurting people hurt people- instead of brushing them off, show them the love they need the most. Lend a hand up to someone in need. One small act of kindness can multiply in ways you can’t even imagine. What are you doing to help the poor, marginalized or less fortunate?
Look at the results of your actions. “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire.” - Matthew 7:16-19 (NLT). What are you producing? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are the only good fruits. These are evidence the Holy Spirit is living and moving in our hearts.
We each have a figurative door into our hearts. What are you allowing in? What are you letting lead your life? You can either let the sins of this world reign over your life, or you can let in the Gentleman standing and knocking at your door, waiting for you to open it for Him. Revelation 3:20 (NLT), “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” The Father even has a door to His Kingdom. “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” - Matthew 7:13-14 (NLT).
"Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living." - Romans 6:16 (NLT).
Once you’ve checked yourself, work on laying down each offense. That means every, little one. Don’t let them weigh on you. Do you want to be “right” or do you want to be righteous? Reach out to the offender in grace, love and truth. That’s what Christ did on the cross. That’s what we're all called to do in every situation and circumstance. If you let offense fester and affect your own heart and future relationships, you're hurting yourself and allowing further divide.
This is more than skimming the surface of the issue, i.e. putting a band-aid on a gaping wound. This goes down deep, to the heart. The things people say and do don’t have anything to do with you. It has to do with their own heart. Does it still hurt? Yeah! But it's not about you!
They need a change of heart. And who’s going to do it? The truth is, people are likely blinded to their own sins. That means when someone offends you, the only person remotely qualified to approach that person is you. I say remotely because if you’re angry and self-righteous about it, there is no way that person is going to hear you. That person will immediately be defensive if you come in guns blazing. The only way to be heard is if you approach that person in humility and love. Be a reflection of Jesus so that they see Him, not you. If you can’t do it, then work on your heart until you can. Allow the Holy Spirit to work in you and through you. Pray for their eyes to be opened and to bind darkness. You won’t be able to have meaningful conversations with every stranger that says or does something vile, but your response can have an impact.
People will not hear the message until it rings true. People will not see the message until they’re unblinded. I’m hoping you will hear and see the truth in this message so that YOU will be the one to overcome offense and heal someone’s heart through faith in and relationship with Christ. You can’t wait on someone else to fix the problem right before you. In essence, you can’t expect the spiritually deaf or blind to fix a problem they can’t see or hear. If you see or hear the problem, then take that as a sign that God has placed this problem in your path for you to fix.
We cannot rely on others to fix what we can do ourselves. Take responsibility. Rise up in love. Stop the hate. Be the change. Stand firm, even when no one else is.
John the Baptist had the right idea. “He (Jesus) must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” - John 3:30 (NLT). What are your priorities in life? Culture tells you to “treat yo self” and to seek self-gratification. “Me, myself, and I” is considered to be more self-care than selfish. As someone who experienced anxiety and depression, I’m fully aware of the necessity of self-care. There is a difference between filling yourself up in order to flow into others and just endlessly consuming. It’s easy to put yourself before God. It takes work to serve Him and others before yourself.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.’” - Matthew 16:24 (NLT). Let your life be a testament to the power of the gospel. Let your light shine for others to see. Let your mercy be the conduit for change. “And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” - Colossians 3:17 (NLT).
Ensure your words and your actions are true to Jesus. Christ didn’t hate. Christ didn’t judge. He didn’t spew venom at people for their race, gender or physical disability. He reserved his righteous anger for the religious, so-called pious, Pharisees and Sadducees that did more harm than good by leading people away from the heart of God. Every single word Christ uttered was in love. Every single act was done with compassion. Show the world CHRIST and only CHRIST, not your religion, not your judgement, and definitely not your sin, which is still a daily battle while you’re in the world.
I recently heard it said peaceMAKERS are greater than peaceKEEPERS. Even if you are for peace, if you sit idle while others burn our cities and scream hate to people they don’t even know to further an agenda, it accomplishes nothing. "Canceling" everything we don't agree with stifles our growth and ability to overcome challenges. Pretending hate isn’t there by avoiding it on social media doesn’t resolve the issue. It’s going to take more than a boycott to solve.
Instead, bring light to the darkness. Express the need to support, or actually support, causes that do the groundwork in communities, fight injustice and counteract hate. We need to bridge the gap between us. Fight the root cause through love, peace and mercy.
Speak kindness. Open dialogues and build relationships. Have grace.
Take action. How are you using your hands? Are you a keyboard warrior, voicing opinions that divide us? Or are you serving by being the one to reach out, inviting others into your home, showing compassion, or praying for those who offend you?
Find ways to be a peacemaker in your community.
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