Stick with me, this will be a bit convoluted for a bit (as I often am...Smile!). So I've been thinking a lot lately about how I often 'yammer away', as my youngest sister, RE, calls it, about 'walking/living in a manner worthy of the gospel," and how that's all well and good to say, but what, for crying out-loud, does it really mean in our day-to-day, putting-on-clothes, walking-out-the-door and dealing-with-real-people lives? People who, I might add, are not all that easy to deal with much of, or most of, the time? And what about what it means in our decision-making about what is right and wrong to do and be in our own lives?
So as I've been pondering this, kind of chewing on it, you might say, I was also re-reading Romans 12 the other day after writing about the first couple of verses, and it suddenly struck me (kind of like being hit by a tennis ball, really) that Paul kind of 'yammers away' about certain things over and over in his letters. So I thought I'd make a chart of these sections. An actual chart on graph paper and everything of these practical sections where Paul clearly tells us how, therefore, we should live, if we really take seriously everything we say we take seriously about Jesus Christ and His Kingdom and all that jazz. Romans 12, Ephesians 4, Philippians 2 and 4, Colossians 3, 1 Thessalonians 5, 2 Timothy 2 all made my chart. There are probably other sections, but these are the redundant ones.
And after making this chart I was utterly blown away. BLOWN away by his redundancy. But not just his redundancy but what he focuses on and how we so often get it wrong (at least I do, maybe I'm just talking in the mirror here, though I don't think so). And here's what I learned...
No, let me wait on that a bit while I tell you that I cogitated on it all day yesterday, meaning every hour to write this post, but didn't get to it. I can't really tell you why. E had the flu and I had to run to the store for 7-up and Saltines, but that wasn't the reason. I just had to let it simmer, I suppose. Then last night, SK called. In the course of our conversation, she told me that one of her roommates had broken up with her boyfriend because he has been quite disapproving of some of her choices. He feels that it's completely, utterly, always wrong for Christians to do certain things. Dress certain ways, drink, etc. SK and her roomies have some kind of "Hot Hawaiian Guys" calendar in their house that they find totally hilarious. This now-ex-boyfriend thinks it is causing them temptation. He has strict rules about what it means to be a Christian so is questioning SK's friend's true righteousness.
That's exactly what righteousness isn't, I told SK. I told her about my stumbling into making the chart about living in a manner worthy of the gospel and how illuminating it was. The common traits in each of these sections of scripture, the core qualities Paul always highlighted and never missed had absolutely nothing to do with what we shouldn't do. In fact, there's no whiff of judgment in the bunch. Looking down our noses at each other? Not for those who want to live like Christ. Here's what I discovered:
In all these sections, the two common themes are: joy and unity (or peace or harmony between us). The other repeating characteristics are prayer, love, patience, giving preference to each other, compassion, kindness and gentleness. I'm talking every single time, he includes at least three of these traits. The pointing fingers we do at other Christians? That's not walking in a manner worthy of Christ. The judgment about what churches do (or sing or don't sing), who is allowed to preach or let in the door? These are patently NOT giving preference to one another or considering others as more important than one's self. They are not living at peace with each other, and loving each other. We are to be devoted to one another. DEVOTED.
So then after talking to SK, I went to bed and had a dream that (of all crazy, unfathomable things) I was a landscape architect hired by an entire community to beautify their neighborhood. There was a big potluck/BBQ out on the street to welcome me and when I asked for a drink, a man put a bottle of beer into my hand. Then a little, oldish lady stuck her face right into mine and began to call me out for drinking as a Christian. And I calmly (in a much higher voice than I actually have, which is the way of dreams, right?) told her, "To walk in a manner worthy of Christ has nothing to do with what I put into my mouth buy what comes out of my heart. Am I loving to my neighbor? Do I live with joy among those He sets me among? Am I a bringer of peace to the world? By this the Kingdom is extended, and the world changed. Whether or not I drink this beer will do nothing to bring people to Christ. My living them as Christ among them will." The women with this little woman said, "She's telling the truth, Lucy. Your hard rules keep people from wanting to be like you. There's nothing in it for them." Lucy walked away, but a man who"d listened to our conversation said, "Wow, it'll be a wild ride with you in the neighborhood."
And that's the point, though it took a dream to tell me. We should be the wild ride among our neighbors, the most unexpected of all people, because we love that thoroughly, rejoice with them, hurt with them, are in it--no matter what IT is--with them.
With ourselves? That's a different matter. I do believe that God has standards, and that He tells us to "Be Holy as I am Holy." But...what that means is up to the Holy who dwells in you. The Holy Spirit, I mean, must (and will, if you let Him) reveal and work out holiness and righteousness in you. Living according to His nudges, pin-pricks and full-throttle pushes in us toward transformation. Toward others? Unity, joy, gentleness, compassion, and devotion. Love liberally.
It'll be a wild ride.