I wrote about this topic a few months ago, but now I have more information from my sister Jane, who is younger and her memory is better than mine. She remembers watching “All in the Family,” a ground-breaking situational comedy in the ‘70s about prejudice in America. Jane reminded me, in more detail, of the one particular episode when Mike (a.k.a., “Meathead”) was sitting on the living room couch, putting on his socks and shoes. When Archie noticed how Mike put one sock and one shoe on one foot, and then put one sock and one shoe on his other foot, Archie totally freaked out. Archie said something this: “What do you think you’re doing? You can’t do that! You have to put both your socks on before you put on your shoes! That’s how everybody does it Meathead! What is the matter with you?!” Mike just couldn’t understand why Archie was making such a big deal about such a non-consequential matter as how to put on socks and shoes. Mike answered something like this: “I always put on my socks and shoes this way. Think about it. If there was a fire and we had run get out of the house quickly and it was raining outside, I would be able to hop on one foot and my feet would stay dry. Your feet wouldn’t.“ Archie was disgusted by Mike’s logic and retorted (and this is the part I must of suppressed from my memory): “Only a dumb ‘Polock’ would put his shoes and socks on that way!”
How do you put on your socks and shoes? Would you be willing to put them on a different way from how you usually put them on or would it totally freak you out and you wouldn’t be able to go through with it? My newly found friend, Mary Anne Evans (a.k.a. George Elliot), once said, “It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view.” I must admit that the rigidity in how Archie put on his socks and shoes is a humorous case of narrow-mindedness and obsessive-compulsive behavior, but we all know people who act that way. Sadly, I must admit, I have the tendency to be rigid in certain areas of my life. I have to do some things a certain way or my whole day is ruined. I know that Jesus is helping me with those areas in my life to let go of habits and routines that do not matter in the grand scheme of things. Believe it or not, my cerebral palsy helps me to be more “creative” in the ways I do things. For example, I cannot take off my coat one sleeve at a time because it is too difficult for me to do it that way, so I just pull my coat over my head. I can’t pour hot coffee very well (and I just can’t wait for someone to come and do it for me and they would not want me to), so I have my coffee maker by the sink and I pour my coffee in a travel mug that I place in the sink, in case I spill a little when I pour, and then I put the lid on the travel mug with a straw and travel to the livingroom to watch ESPN. This is the way I can pour my coffee and drink it to. I‘m a “happy camper.” Some have asked me how I can drink hot coffee through a straw. My answer is, “VERY CAREFULLY and with practice. That way, I get my coffee and nobody gets hurt. Now, getting back to feet:
Isaiah prophesied about “feet” that are totally foot-loose and fancy-free from all the man-made ritualistic “chains“ that bind: “How beautiful on the mountain are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’ Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy. When the LORD returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes” (Isaiah 52:7-8). Paul expands on this idea of feet that are set free to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel: “As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in Him [Jesus] will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard. And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ (Romans 10:11-15).
“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for the saints” (Ephesians 6:13-18).
Many people outside the Christian faith think of Christianity as very restrictive and Christians as being narrow-minded and rigid, unable to tolerate other points of view. In some cases, based on their limited exposure to Christianity and Christians, they have a very valid point. However, when I look at Jesus I see nothing but freedom, unconditional love, and grace. Jesus is constantly challenging me to broaden my point of view and He is expanding my way of thinking about things. I need only look as far as the “Sermon on the Mount” (“the Beatitudes“). In Matthew 5:3-12, He tells me who are the ones who are truly “blessed” or “happy” or, I might even say, “fulfilled.” Jesus says, it’s not the ones who are richly self-righteous and full of self-assurance that will see His kingdom, but “the poor in spirit”; it’s not those who haven’t got a clue how much they are missing out on the eternal by wanting the immediate pleasures of this life, but “those who mourn” over their sinfulness – they “will be comforted“; it’s not the bold and immodest, but the “meek” who “will inherit the earth“; it’s not those who believe they know IT all, but “those who hunger and thirst” to know God more intimately – “they will be filled“; it’s not those who seek revenge and get revenge, but the “merciful” who “will be shown mercy“; it’s not the sophisticated and worldly, but “the pure in heart” who “will see God“; it’s not the war mongers, but “the peacemakers“ who “will be called sons of God.” And, if that is not mind-blowing enough, Jesus tells me that I am “blessed” (‘happy” and even fulfilled) when I’m being insulted and persecuted and harassed, because when it is for Jesus’ sake and for the sake of Gospel, I will be greatly “rewarded in Heaven.” Instead of modeling my life after “success stories,” I will be “blessed and happy” (and fulfilled and victorious) when I follow the examples of the prophets and martyrs of the faith.
Jesus does not stop there. Jesus also challenges His first disciples and us to think differently from the popular belief system in biblical times and also in our times (As Ecclesiastes 1:9b says, “…there is nothing new under the sun”) : “You have heard that it said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:21-22).
Jesus tells me that if I am angry at a brother or sister in Christ, it is just the same as if I committed murder in His eyes. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we must not stay angry with each other, but we must forgive each other for Christ’s sake and for the sake of His Gospel. In the teaching of the two men who owed money, in Luke7:40-43, Jesus was teaching Simon about the benefits of realizing one’s own sinfulness. He was talking to Simon about this at the same time a “sinful” woman was washing His feet (Luke 7:36-50). Simon recognized that the man who “had the bigger debt canceled” would love the man who canceled his debt more than the one who only owed him a little money (v. 43). In the same way, Jesus said, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much. But he who has forgiven little, loves little” (v. 47).
The truth of the matter is I am a sinful person and Jesus has canceled my humongous debt and has forgiven me of my many sins. When I realize how much I have been forgiven, how can I not love Jesus enough to forgive others in the same way? Romans 12:17-18 teaches, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you [Lydia], live at peace with everyone.” Ephesians 4:29-32 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Jesus tells me, “Do not stay angry, but forgive your brother or sister. Do not get even, but encourage your brother or sister in the Lord. Do not hold a grudge, but forgive and forget as I have forgiven you [Lydia] and you can count on this – I will never bring up your sin ever again.” “…He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:10-14).
Jesus does not only want us to forgive our brothers and sisters in the Lord: “You have heard that it was said, ’Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you…You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get” (Matthew 5:38-43a).
If we can’t love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, how can we show the love of Christ to our neighbors and even to those who oppose everything that has to do with Christianity. The Scriptures verses above, as I read them, are talking about sacrificial love. In loving others, our brothers and sisters in Christ and also those outside the faith, it requires the giving up of our rights for the sake of the Gospel. This is such a foreign concept to today’s world. We are so into making sure our rights are not taken away from us. However, if we fight for the rights of others who cannot fight for themselves and go to battle to make sure that all human beings have the same human rights, this is a very good thing. Jesus and the Gospel are all about human equality and justice for all. In Matthew 7:12 Jesus gives us the “Golden Rule”: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus talks about “The Sheep and the Goats.” Jesus talks about feeding the hungry, giving water to those who are thirsty, welcoming the stranger, giving clothing to those who need something to wear, visiting the sick and those who are in prison. And in two of the most radical statements in all of Scripture, in my humble opinion, Jesus says that The King replies to the Sheep, “…I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for Me,” and to the Goats, He says, “…I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me” (Matthew 25:40, 45).
If we cannot love our brothers and sisters in Christ in our churches and forgive each other and move on, how can our feet be “fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15)? And if we cannot love each other, how can we love God? I John 4:19-21 reads, “We love because He first love us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And He has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
Many churches in New England have been going through extremely difficult times. Disagreements over theological minutia and semantics have resulted in many hurt, angry and/or confused feelings within the churches. As a result, pastors have left or have been asked to leave, churches have split or people have stopped going to church all together. What is happening is very confusing and very mind-boggling. How in the world did this happen?
I believe God wants His best for His body of Christ in New England. I do not know what God is going to do with all this mess. I only know that He is in control and He will finish the work He has started in the churches in New England . It is His work and not anyone else’s. We are His instruments; His disciples; His feet to carry His Gospel. What He wants from me and all of us is to forgive each other, love each other, and love and trust Him. He also wants all of us to learn from our mistakes. This will involve sacrificing how we may want things done. It will involve dying to self, and enduring a little pain and suffering (“little” compared to the suffering of missionaries outside of the U.S.) along the way. Many of us are hurting because we have seen beloved pastors leave. We will miss them. Many of us are hurting because we have seen our brothers and sisters leave our fellowships, many of whom we have known for years. It is painful and it really hurts to lose relationships with people we love and respect and hold so dear and consider as family. It has broken my heart to see my “family members” leave the church I have attended for thirty-eight years. Now, I am asking myself, do I leave too or is it worth it to stay and ride out the tumultuous “storm” my church is going throuh? Is it worth it for the Gospel? My answer is “Yes.” At the same time, I cannot judge those who have left.
It is not a very popular verse now-a-days, but Jesus did say, in Matthew 16:24-25 “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Jesus said this to His 1st Century disciples and He is saying the same thing to us, His 21st Century disciples. Jesus calls His disciples to be unselfish and ready to suffer for Him; for the sake of the Gospel. Anne Evans (a.k.a. George Eliot) said this about selfishness: “Selfish – a subject readily passed by those who have never tested their own power of sacrifice.” And she said this about pain and compassion: “For pain must enter into its glorified life of memory before it can turn into compassion.”
I believe God will use the struggles and pain we are experiencing in our churches to make our love for Him stronger and our compassion for each other and the world around us deeper and devoid of finding fault. My prayer is for the roots of my church to be like the roots of a grapevine. Using my limited knowledge of viticulture, I can tell you that vines that “have it made in the shade” and have the right amount of sun, soil nutrients and water produce a lot of grapes that make lousy wine. But, the vines that have to struggle to find the nutrients and water they need to stay alive, dig deep into the ground with their roots until they find what they need. The grapevines with deep roots produce fewer grapes, but the grapes are bursting with juice filled with sugar. Even though these grapevines look half-dead to the person who doesn’t know better, these grapes produce the best wine.
When I think of my church, I think of strong roots that had to dig deep into the soil to find nourishment in Christ and His Word. I think of all the struggles we have gone through, and yet God keeps us standing and growing and producing fruit. Like the skillful hand of the vintner, God prunes us, not to harm us, but to make us stronger and better. Not only does the grapevine have to struggle to produce juicy succulent grapes, the older the vine the better wine it makes from its grapes. When I think of the history of my church, I think of the elderly Pastor and how he bathed the church with prayer. I think of the man with learning limitations, also an older man whose love for the Lord had no limits. He faithfully attended Sunday School and Church. Even when he needed to live in a nursing home, no illness would stop him from attending Chapel Services. This elderly saint left money in his will for the church to purchase a new sound system. I also think of a woman who was so filled with enthusiasm and love for the Lord and how she greeted me so warmly during my first visit to Vespers. I think of all the godly women and men of my church who were such examples to me of what it meant to live for Jesus, who are now in nursing homes or have gone Home to be with the Lord. All these elderly saints played such an important part in the nurture and growth of my church. I also know there were a few “bad apples (or grapes)” in our history, but they cannot overshadow the “Gold Medal Vintages” that God so richly blessed us with, through His grace. (The best way to stomp grapes to make wine is with the feet.)
In his sermon, a visiting Pastor said two things that have stuck in my brain. He said, “Suffering is not a philosophical problem to be solved by God (We do that.), but an instrument God uses to vanquish evil.” That was such a good word for me to hear. I do not have to understand and explain everything about my suffering. All I have to do is wait and watch how the Lord will use my suffering to vanquish the very evil that wants to eat me for lunch. The other thing he said that somehow stuck in my “Rubbermaid-colander” brain is this: He talked about a “hope and faith which animates one’s life.” I never heard it put that way, but his words painted a picture in my mind. My hope and faith in Jesus Christ is to be the adrenalin-producing energy which animates my life; makes me come alive and filled with enthusiasm. Jesus is the one who keeps me going, gives me energy and the excitement that get’s me up in the morning to see what He is going to do next.
How did you put on your socks and shoes this morning. It really doesn’t matter how you did it, or even the kind of socks (mine are usually red) and shoes you wear, as long you (and I) are getting our feet ready to share the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
As long as I’m on the subject of socks and shoes and feet, there is a famous American Indian saying about moccasins. It goes something like this: “Before you pass judgment on someone, you need to walk two miles in his/her moccasins.” Jesus says it this way, in Matthew 7:1-4: “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. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, there are no easy answers to why churches get into the messes they get into. Why do disagreements arise? Why, before you know it, pastors and elders and church members have irreconcilable differences that make them leave and cause splits? The answers do not come from finding fault or from our anger or from our judging others. The answers come from God when we are able to forgive others as Christ has forgiven us. The answers come from God when we love each other as Christ loves us. The answers come from God when we accept each other’s differences and uniqueness as God-given gifts that will enrich our church body. The answers come from God when we no longer think there is only one way to do things – “My-Way-or-the-Highway” type thinking. The answers come from God when we embrace each other’s differences and become one body in Christ.
“Finally, brothers [and sisters], whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).