In John 20: 6-7 (NIV) it tells us of the account of Jesus’ resurrection. It says, “He,” meaning Peter, “Saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen.”
As followers of Jesus, we receive His glory in exchange for our grave clothes. The grave clothes are in the empty tomb to represent our old self that was crucified with Christ (Romans 6:6). Jesus didn’t take the old clothes with Him and neither should we!
One of the primary reasons that we do not enjoy the Christian life is because we are still carrying around the baggage associated with the old way of living. Either we cannot or will not give up the baggage. Sometimes, we are addicted to a victim mentality and we are scared of what might happen when we give it up. We can allow our wounds and scars to define us. It is impossible to be a new creation as long as we hold on to the old.
How did Jesus take off the old? Scripture records that the head cloth was carefully folded in the grave indicating that it was not removed in an erratic fashion; rather, it was removed intentionally and methodically. Likewise, we need to allow Jesus to remove our grave clothes in the same manner (Ephesians 4:22-32). We may be a mess, but Jesus can handle it! We just need to let Him work in our lives and daily make a decision to take off the old and put on the new. Rome was not built in a day, and we will not be straightened out in a day. But, thank God that as long as we are on our way, God sees the finished product!
2 Corinthians 5:21 (NIV): “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” No longer are we wearing our old clothes, but we are clothed with Christ. So God no longer says when He looks at us, “Oh, look at that mess.” Rather, He says, “Look at my Son, Jesus.” We’re clothed in Christ! Remember, your past does not define you- Jesus defines you!
The question that I continually face is “Am I willing to lay down my life so that others may live?” This is a terribly haunting and troubling question. What does it really mean to lay down one’s life? Is it just a matter of giving up a heartbeat for another, or is it also allowing one’s heart to break, so that others may live? I tend to think it is to be willing for both to happen, not only for our friends, but also for our enemies. The death of Jesus represents both concepts in regards to laying down one’s life. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
In 2013, God sent me two treks to begin to show me what this means. He sent me to Kenya to look into the eyes of the orphaned, and He sent me to our streets to look through the eyes of the homeless. Through these experiences, He broke my heart. He showed me how apart from His grace, that I too am spiritually orphaned and homeless. He then called me to give more of my life “so that others may live.”
Recently, I was led to the story of Esther, who was a Jewish queen of the Persian King Ahasuerus. She was out of place, and living between two different worlds—of the Jews and the Persians. Her uncle, Mordecai, informed Esther of a decree that would exterminate the Jews. Esther was reluctant to speak because of her fear of the King, but Mordecai replied to her: “Do not think to yourself that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (4:13-14). I believe I was led to this passage because I am frequently concerned about things, and yet, I do not speak up.
I am concerned that we as a corporate “Church” are shutting the “door of the kingdom of heaven in people's faces” (Matthew 23:13). The church is quick to recite John 3:16, but neglects to understand the amazing teaching found in the next verse: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” This verse is further illuminated in John 12:32, when Jesus says: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Notice that the message of God’s son is not condemnation, but acceptance for everyone! The Church, which bears the name of Christ, must share in dispensing the amazing grace and unconditional love that He demonstrated in His life, teachings, and death.
The love of Jesus is incarnational and we are called to model it! Incarnational love means that we model the spirit of Christ as found in Philippians 2:1-11, and engage in the ministry described in Luke 4:18-19: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Jesus did wait for people to come to Him, but He came to us! He came not to condemn, but to love and to show us the Father. He came to heal us and to sanctify us! Jesus tells us:"Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." Jesus came to tear down “the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:14), and to “reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (Col. 1:20). And, Paul exhorts us to be Christ’s ambassadors as we continue in the similar ministry of reconciliation! (2 Cor. 5:20).
For most of my life, I have always been “controversial” in my opinions, beliefs, and advocacy. But, I have a confession…I don’t like being controversial. My preference would be to live the “simple life” in quiet and out of the public eye. One of the main reasons is that people scare me, not because I have social anxiety, but the behaviors and words of people are many times more harmful, then they are comforting.
Just this morning I awoke to a Facebook comment that told me: “May God have mercy on your soul” (Basically telling me that I am going to Hell). This message was from a “Christian” sister who insists that she does not need help interpreting the Bible, she just needs to read it and believe it. The irony is that both Jesus, the Son of God, and the Apostle Paul state that sacrificial love is the key (Matthew 22:40) and fulfillment to the law (Romans 13:10). And so the condemnation that I received for the purpose of defending the faith, actually ran counter to the core message of the Bible: LOVE.
My response to her was, “Thank you for the prayers! May God bless you.”
This individual was not the first, and (sigh) she will not be the last. I wish it was so easy to dismiss the criticism and judgments of others, but the truth is—IT HURTS! We all desire to be loved and accepted, and people always come up short on the love and acceptance end.
So, do I retreat? Nope. Why? Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it best:
“Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. 'The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared' (Luther).” From Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community
The enemies of Jesus were the religious…but He sacrificially loved them and loves us—to the very end. If we are followers of Jesus, then we must follow His example of sacrificial love, even for our enemies.
We must also practice self-love because we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). How do we practice self-love? We practice is by basking in the Father’s unconditional love for us!
When I am condemned, shunned, criticized, mocked or scorned, I choose to remember that I am never alone and I am loved beyond comprehension. Meditating on these verses help:
“31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”[j] 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k]neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8)
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)
“Who are you to condemn someone else's servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord's help, they will stand and receive his approval.” (Romans 14:4)
Psalm 91- Read Here
I also turn on some good music that feeds my soul. I really appreciate Matt Maher’s “Your Love Defends Me.”
The important thing is to remember that we are not defined by the opinion of others, but only by the Father. The Father loves us with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3) and that we are the apple of His eye (Zechariah 2:8).
Always remember, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). Trust that God’s love is big enough for you and your enemies.
As a final note, allow me to address those who like to shun others in the name of Jesus, the Bible, or your religion: STOP.
Jesus, the Word made flesh, says these are the GREATEST commandments:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
Jesus adds to these commandments: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). There is no scholarly debate on these verses!
Further there are no debates on the following that expound upon the themes of love, grace, and redemption in the community:
We can disagree on interpretations of scripture, but we must remember to Major on the Major and Minor on the Minor. As the old saying reminds us: “In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity.” Love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10; Galatians 5:14).
THE WORD made FLESH in JESUS said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
And, when the Pharisees attempted to get Jesus to condemn the woman caught in the act of adultery, He said: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her”… Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:1-11).
When we stand before the judgment seat of God, I do not think He will ask us “Why did you love too many people?” or “Why did you let so many people in My Church?” Rather, the words of Jesus may echo in the time of judgment when we may hear:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to… Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (Matthew 23:13, 23-24)
God doesn’t want us to pull from His garden of souls, He just wants us to water them with love (Matthew 13:24-30).
David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. "I cannot go in these," he said to Saul, "because I am not used to them." So he took them off. – 1 Samuel 17:39
Growing up and even today, I always appreciate the story of the young David, before he became king. The youngest of his siblings, David wasn’t even considered by his father, Jesse, as one who might be anointed king over Israel. Indeed, the prophet Samuel when looking at the other brothers was initially inclined to anoint one who seemed like the natural fit, but God had other intentions. In 1 Samuel 16:7 we read, “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” And so, Samuel asks Jesse if there is another son and he summons David who is anointed King.
One of the greatest lessons that I have learned about God through the process of accepting myself, with all of my paradoxes, is how God's grace is so AMAZING. Just as God did with David, so he does with each of us—He looks at our hearts, our character, and our truest selves. In speaking to the prophet Jeremiah, God says: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). God knows us, loves us, and has a plan for us. Learning to accept this profound reality is essential in understanding who we truly are. It also requires us to unlearn what we have thought about ourselves for so long.
A sociologist name Charles Cooley formulated the concept of the “looking glass self.” In layman’s terms, it basically posits that our identity is shaped by what we think the most important person(s) in our lives think about us. Throughout our lives, we have many important people: parents, family, and friends. Also, sometimes we make people important, who really are not in the long run. Nonetheless, our thoughts and feelings about the perception of others about ourselves shape how we see ourselves and ultimately who we become. Proverbs 23:7 (KJV) states, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Unfortunately, our thinking is not always our own and is not shaped by the one who truly matters—God. We take on the perceptions of others and call it 'truth', without ever examining whether it is the right fit, or truth, for us.
In 1 Samuel 17, we see that the Israelites are being tormented by Goliath. Day and night he is demeaning them and they begin to see themselves as he calls it. They buy into the deception and they are afraid. In verse 16, David enters on to the scene
and cannot believe what he is seeing and hearing, not from Goliath, but from his fellow Israelites. And so, David steps forward to take on Goliath. David was armed with a God-given identity and the assurance that came with it, but immediately his fellow countrymen tried to dissuade him from going out to challenge Goliath. Then in verses 38-39, King Saul gets David to put on his personal armor, but it did not fit David. Instead, he went out dressed like the shepherd boy that he was and brought down Goliath with five smooth stones.
David knew who he was because it was just confirmed by the prophet one chapter earlier. He had a God-given identity and because of that he knew what fit him and what did not. He did not succumb to the temptation to fit in with the others, rather he embraced his uniqueness and shed the hand-me-down armor of those were too afraid to fight for themselves. Of course, David had to ultimately wait for 20 years before finally becoming king of Israel. Perhaps this was necessary to truly learn his God-given identity and to embrace it, so that he would truly be “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22).
How many times are we like David with others trying to impose their identities upon us? How many time are we unlike David and willingly accept those identities because we want to fit in or it is simply easier? For so many years, my identity was based on trying to make other people happy and it came at a great expense because it didn’t make any of us happy. Most people are uncomfortable in their own “armor” to even think about your “armor.” As I tell people often, no one is thinking about you as often as you are thinking about yourself.
Above is a clip from the movie, "Love, Simon." In the scene, the mother is played by Jennifer Garner, and she affirms her son's identity after he came out to his family as gay. She tells him, "As soon as you came out, you said, “Mom, I’m still me.” I need you to hear this. You are still you, Simon. You are still the same son who I love to tease, and who your father depends on for just about everything. And you’re the same brother who always complements his sister on her food, even when it sucks. But you get to exhale now, Simon. You get to be more you than you have been in, in a very long time. You deserve everything you want."
I truly believe this is a message that God wants ALL of us to hear: "You are still YOU...you are still the same child that I love" and He wants us to be the best version of ourselves because He thinks we are AWESOME! Don't let anyone tell you that you are not.
Learning to be comfortable in your own skin is difficult. Simon states it pretty succulently in the movie, "Who you are to the world is pretty terrifying because what if the world doesn’t like you?"
Just remember: The world didn't accept Jesus--but He is still the King. The world does not get to define YOU and the world does NOT have the last word!
Dr. Rob Weinstein is an Associate Professor of Business Studies/ Chair of Human Resource Management Studies. He is the Founder and President of the M25 Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to ending homelessness in Cumberland County, NJ. He is also the Founding Pastor of Bethany Grace Community Church in Bridgeton, NJ.
In addition, my thoughts and opinions change from time to time I consider this a necessary consequence of having an open mind.
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