Brave Enough to be Different

Including today’s post, I have fifteen more posts to write before I am done blogging through the book 100 Days to Brave. It’s been an interesting journey. It’s been an educational journey. It’s been a journey full of sadness and of joy. And it’s been a journey where I’ve learned about myself and my faith. Today’s post has been on my mind for a few days, and it’s almost a relief to get the words out of my brain and onto the screen. Be patient with me. It might not make sense at first, but I promise, I will pull it all together by the end.

I heard a story a few weeks ago. Someone was telling me how they didn’t like to talk about what they were interested in because no one around them was interested in it. They thought Jesus might think they were rude  if they weren’t focused on their friends’ interests and concerns. My first thought was, ‘Wow! This person really gets it. They could be the poster child for teaching others what it means when Scripture says we’re supposed to deny ourselves.’ Just as I was recovering from this thought though and from what I thought this person could teach me, they said something that struck  me. They were lonely. Now, I’m not saying they didn’t have anything at all in common with this group of people. They share the same faith; they share some similar interests; they like spending time together. But, it wasn’t enough for this person not to feel lonely. They even told me they were looking forward to branching out in the next few months and meeting other people who shared their interests.

This got me thinking because I’ve often felt this way in a group of people. Lonely. Odd. Weird. Different. We all come at faith and denial of self differently because, well, we are different. God made each of us differently. But, is there such a thing as being too different in the church to be accepted for who we are as a person? Should we have to deny ourselves completely to be accepted? There shouldn’t be a thing as being too different, but sadly enough, I think there is. Some differences are okay, but when the differences get to be noticeable, rejection happens. We are uncomfortable with what we don’t understand so we avoid it.

I think about the differences that are noticeable and the ones that are not so noticeable. I think about the ones I know who have left the church because they were too different and not accepted because of it. I think about the ones who don’t come that often because they haven’t been able to connect with others because of their differences. And I think about those of us who make the effort week after week though we are lonely within the crowd and not even sure we are making a difference by being there. (That would be me.) My mind wants to understand why this happens, but I don’t think I’ll know for sure until I see Jesus.

So, what does all this have to do with denial of self and being brave enough to be different? First, I get the part about not being selfish. I Timothy 6:18-19 says, “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” God doesn’t want us to be selfish. I agree with this and embrace it, but it’s not what I’m trying to say.

Scripture also gives us several examples of putting off our old self and sinful nature. From Ephesians 4:22-24, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Of course, I agree with this. We’re supposed to put off our sinful natures each and every day so we can become more like God. We won’t be totally successful until our journey here is done, but we’re supposed to keep trying anyway. I also embrace this, but it’s not what I’m trying to say either.

I guess what I mean is deny ourselves and embrace our differences. The church should make sure all know they are welcome. Race, gender, physical illness (Even the ones that can’t be seen.), mental illness (Those definitely can’t be seen.), financial status, marital status, occupation, age, different interests–none of those things that make us different should manner. None of them!  We should embrace Jesus and embrace what all of us bring to the table. But until that happens, I will be brave enough to be different out loud so that others will know they aren’t alone.

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

 

The Least of These

Anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time is familiar with the phrase I chose for today’s blog post title. They are words Jesus actually spoke in Scripture. The least of these. We read the words and tell ourselves we help the people rejected by society or rejected by church society, but more often than not, we really don’t. We get so busy and caught up in our own lives that we forget people who are alone or the people who are carrying burdens way too heavy for the rest of us to think about. We go to our jobs, spend time with our spouses, and parent our children–all of which are good things, but aren’t part of the business God wants us to be about.

Before I go any further, let me quote the Scripture so you can see the words. From Matthew 25:34-40: “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'”

This Scripture goes on to say that those who did not do these things for the least of these would go on to eternal punishment while those who did would go to eternal life.

Now, I’m not trying to say we have a work-based faith. Far from it. The verses that are featured in this blog are just as true today as they were yesterday and as they will be tomorrow. God prepared us through grace to do these good works–not before we are saved, but after as it says in Ephesians 2:10. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

These words of Jesus did get me to thinking though. How tolerant are we of the least of these in our churches? Oh, we’ll go out and help them. We’ll feed the homeless, volunteer in a pregnancy crisis center, give someone a place to stay, or visit the hospital. But, how tolerant are we of the people who think differently or who are the least of these in our churches? Are we tolerant of the person who appears poorer than us? How about the person who walks in alone? How about the person who is a different race or gender than us? There can be an element of shame involved among those of us who are different. Don’t believe me? Let me go through some examples.

How about the statistic that the Sunday morning worship hour is the most segregated hour in America? This statistic was first quoted by Martin Luther King, Jr. whose life we celebrate today in the United States. Ashamedly, so many years later, a poll finds that 86 percent of church congregations are composed of mainly one racial group. (LifeWay Research). We want to worship with people who look like us and have no interest in changing it. Reading those statistics brought me to tears.

What about differences that can’t be seen? I have a friend who runs a ministry to people whose career is not desirous in our churches. She invited some of these people to come to a particular church. At first, it was all right, but then their career became known, and she was asked not to bring them back. It’s not like they had dressed for their career to come to church. They were wearing clothes like the rest of us wear. But, people were still uncomfortable enough to not want them there. I’m pretty sure Jesus cried when that happened, and I did too. Another lost opportunity to bring people to Jesus.

Now, to bring the differences a little bit closer to home. I had a relative in the 1960’s who became a widow with the early death of her husband. She became different from the other people in her church. Different enough that people didn’t know what to do or say, and her family was left by the wayside. That abandonment traveled across the generations, made it so I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, and still affects me today. Yes, things have changed for women in a lot of ways, but if a woman wants to serve in a church and is not married, she is relegated to serving with other women or with children. What happens when a woman is called to more than that like I think I am? I believe Jesus expects a woman to fulfill her calling whether she is called to something in the church that is traditional for women or something that is not so traditional.

There are also differences in thought, differences in how we think things should be done in our churches, and differences in sins committed as well as many different ways we can be the least of these. In other words, we are all different people who don’t fit the mold some churches say we should fit in. It’s almost a relief to type these words. God made us all differently, and we need to reflect that in our churches as we minister to the least of these. I pray that God gives us the courage to break out of the molds we have set for ourselves and bring more people to a saving relationship with Him.

God’s blessings on you all today!