You may have noticed in my writings that I seldom talk about beliefs, even though I am a Christian. What I write about is the relationship with God, about how do you, how do I, translate our beliefs into a life that echoes Jesus’ relationship with his Abba, the closeness of that relationship? I am most interested in what stands between us and God and how we come to live the life that bestows on us the gifts of peace, love, joy and all the fruit of the Spirit—the sure sign that we are resting in God, that we have a relationship that is trusting and dependent and loving. How do we live at peace, with love, joy, forbearance, goodness, kindness self-control? [Galatians 5:22] It’s not because of anything that we’ve done to deserve or acquire these traits but because we have put ourselves in the hands of Love and Love has transformed us from the inside out, through the relationship we have with God, with Christ, Jesus or with the Holy Spirit—however you experience the Divine, the Creator, the Sustainer of us all.
I actually am not very interested in what you believe about Jesus or God, but I am very curious about your relationship to God and about how close it is. I am a spiritual director who sits with others in the presence of the Holy Spirit and tries with the other person to discern what God is saying in their lives, in their challenges and joys. I support people in opening up their lives to the Lord who would lead them, challenge them, sustain them and love them.
Within Christianity there are thousands of interpretations about what Jesus’ words, Paul’s teachings and the Old Testament mean. We could argue endlessly about their import and sense, but I am a whole church of Christ kind of person and believe that we should set aside our differences in order to come into a deep relationship with God. And when we do that, we respect and love and support and embrace every other Christian as a follower of God. We give up the preoccupation with being right which actually comes between us and God, because it places our focus on our opinions and beliefs, not on God himself. When we can give up having to have the “right” beliefs, then we take that same love and shower it on the people of the world whether they are Christian or not, because that is what Jesus taught most of all– that we are to love God with all of ourselves—and by extension all he created—and our neighbor as ourselves.
The centrality of our love for God and neighbor is what Jesus taught and what he modeled. Did he only talk to and heal Jews? No. He met Romans and Samaritans and the rejects of his society—the blind and the lame. He talked to women and tax collectors, the down-trodden and the rich. Did he let the differences between the Samaritans and the Jews stop him? Did he tell the Samaritan woman she had to convert to Judaism? No!
We Christians have emphasized our differences for far too long. Do you know that world-wide there are some 40,000 denominations of Christianity? 40,000 interpretations of one source, the Bible! We need to celebrate what we have in common and let go of the differences. We serve our own needs when we don’t embrace our fellow Christians and all of mankind. When we insist that another agree with our interpretation before we will embrace him or spend time with her, our beliefs are divisive. Our insistence on them serves our own needs, but does it serve the Gospel?
I really want to emphasize here that when we insist that we have the right beliefs about Jesus as opposed to anyone else’s, we are misusing the Gospel for our own purposes. Which of us is competent to say that God doesn’t delight in the forty thousand interpretations? That would certainly be another echo of the incredible variety that he created in the plant and animal kingdoms: 250,000 species of beetles, 12,000 species of ferns, 119,000 of flies, 20,000 species of butterflies, 600 of oaks, 130 of cypress, just to name a few. When we claim we have the only right interpretation, we are playing God, not serving him. Where is the humility in that?
The hymn, “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love,” really resonates with me. When we Christians are known most of all for being loving, I think we will be radiating Jesus’ teachings. When we can embrace all people and their beliefs, we will be loving them. When we accept them where they are and don’t preach at them, I think that the church’s membership will begin to rebound, as we radiate God’s love and embrace. When we not only preach God’s love, but live it in everything we do, then we are serving the Gospel. I think that’s what was so attractive about Jesus—that he was Love and loving. With his help we can be love and loving, too, towards everyone!
Questions to ponder over the week: Do I treat everyone as a beloved child of God, one created by him? How can I step into a broader acceptance of other people, other views and interpretations of Christianity? What is God calling me to express for him, am I to be his hands and feet and voice in this world? Am I willing to go beyond my own preferences and needs and serve the Gospel?