Do You Really Mean It?

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. -Paul in his letter to the church in Rome

There’s a popular phrase “Fake it until you make it” that has been around for awhile. It implies that we should act like we are confident and successful until we can actually see it happen in reality. Somehow our attitude affects what can manifest into reality and while I’m not going to get into the finer points of that argument, it does seem to be popular.

We are, no doubt, are very self- centered culture these days. We want to appear as if we are successful and have it all together. We are only our “real” selves when we are with those closest to us, most likely our closest friends and our families. To the rest of the world, we put forth the image of what we want them to see. Our selfie shots and posts on social media are carefully filtered and selected to help us appear to be perfect. We know, or at least would should realize, that these will be around for awhile for everyone to see so we have to be selective.

Often, we use these platforms to feed our own longing for approval and the need to be right. And sometimes our need for love. We all enjoy the nice comments from social media and the little heart emojies. It makes us feel loved, appreciated and accepted.

But when we take the filters away. Who are we really? Do we know how to be real? Can we let others see our true selves? Can we love others authentically? Or do we attempt to show love towards others from our filtered selves? Are we fakes?

In the southern US where I live, there is a saying that conveys falsehood, yet to the visitor, might sound very nice. “Bless your heart” might sound nice, but it really translates to “What are you thinking? Are you crazy?” There are a few other translations I could add, but they wouldn’t be appropriate in this forum, so I’ll leave it to your own imagination. So, it is a way to say something nice, without really meaning it. It is not blessing anyone’s heart. It is not a compliment.

Last week, in the blog What Christians Get Wrong, I wrote about the tendency of faith people to argue their faith with those who do not share the same beliefs. It was one of many ideas that Christians sometimes get “wrong”. Today I would add insincerity.

The apostle Paul wrote much of the New Testament. His letters to the fledgling churches offered so much advice to those Jesus followers that we still read and study his words. If you have the time, consider reading the entire letter Paul wrote to the Romans, that is the early church in Rome, not the government. You’ll find that it is just as applicable today as it was in the first century. Chapter 12 offers quite a list for believers on how they should act towards each other and to those outside their church group.

Commentators, who study this letter in its original language- Greek, often find verse 9 an important shift in the writing style. They suggest it is a heading for a list to follow. Like, “Here is what real, true love should look like; list to follow” It also implied that it was a close love, like a family kind of love. A sincere, be yourself, no one to impress here, kind of love. Not the fake it ’til you make it, or bless your heart. Just real. Authentic. Not for any personal approval or to fill our own empty love tank.

I think, that sometimes Christians like to skip over the passage and get to the hate what is evil part, to justify their judgmental attitudes towards others. Paul is really speaking to the individual as a member of the larger body of believers there. Not hating others, but more of a personal accountability. The imperative to cling to what was good, also implied this close, family connection. Love that is sincere hates the evil in the world, but holds on to the good. It does not hate people, but the evil that is present. If you continue reading the rest of the passage all the way to its end in verse 21, you can fully understand what Paul is trying to tell the Christians about sincere love and what it looks like. Words like harmony, humility, peace, sharing, rejoicing, mourning with others, joy, honor, patience,faithfulness, humbleness over being conceited, providing water to the thirsty, and doing good all appear as instructions on how to love authentically, sincerely.

Many might think of 1 Corinthians 13 as the “Love” chapter in the bible, but I think Romans 12 really gives us a real good idea of what sincere love should look like. I encourage you to read it, and let me know if you agree on this point. – God Bless you- Nancy

Road Work

A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. -Isaiah 40:3, NIV

I remember vividly the first time our daughter drove us up the mountain near her university. At the top was a beautiful vantage point to look out over the valley below and even the smaller mountains that were around were dwarfed by this much taller peak.

The views were breathtaking, but that wasn’t the only thing taking my breath away… you see the road up to the top was anything but a peaceful drive on a country road. There were steep inclines and multiple switch backs with no guardrails, nope, nothing but a hundred foot drop on the side. Driving down was even more exciting as she had to shift down the car to prevent from using her brakes too often and having them overheat.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved seeing the views from the top, but I just don’t like the the winding roads to get there. Why can’t there just be a more direct route? Too steep probably, I get it.

Lately God has been impressing upon me those straight paths Isaiah talks about, like from the verse above. We find it also in all four gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It of course is speaking (in Isaiah) prophetically of John the Baptist, who was he “voice of one crying our in the desert”. His mission was to announce Jesus coming as the Messiah. His message was one of repentance and baptism.

Those who came out to the wilderness to hear him speak were a mixed group. Some were looking for more in their own spiritual life, and others were curious, in particular members of the Jewish religious leadership who had heard that his preaching was having a big impact on people, probably much bigger than their impact with their long list of do’s and don’t s that held the people in bondage and without hope that they could ever be good enough for God. People were responding more to John then them. They probably were getting a bit jealous.

They questioned John about his purpose and mission and this is when he quoted from the book of Isaiah. Matthew’s gospel gives the reader a bit of more insight into John’s view of his mission and it wasn’t very kind to the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 3:7-10). They were very religious, but had no fruit to show a true heart that had repented. They were a hindrance to the people when they should have been leading them towards a closer relationship with God.

There are still many hindrances today, to a closer relationship with God, like religion, bad experiences with church and church people, doubts, fears, pride, and maybe over rationalizing, for a few examples. I’m sure if we got together, we could all add to that list. These rough roads to belief in God or trusting God more, if we are already believers, sometimes keep us from knowing God in a more personal way.

It’s like that windy mountain road. It’s rough and we just want to turn back sometimes. It can be scary to place our faith in God. We look around and see the potential drop offs – like maybe people will think we are weird, or worse, our friends will leave us. Family might think we are crazy for starting this journey of faith.

Or maybe we have been so hurt before, we already know its difficult, because we tried to start up the mountain, but turned around. We are still licking our wounds from the hurtful things that church people said to us, or worse, did to us. We don’t believe we can do that again, I mean what if we get hurt again?

John would have liked to talk with you I bet, see he knew the religious leaders did not have fruit, he called them out on it. He called them snakes. John was not teaching another religious way, but what he was proclaiming was a new way- the kingdom of God way. Jesus’ way. The way people should be, repentant of their sins, and turning away from them to produce good fruit. He describes this good fruit in Luke’s gospel chapter 3 verses ten through sixteen. Sharing, treating others fairly, not for dishonest gain, in others words, loving your neighbor as yourself would demonstrate your love for God. A life that realizes they have sinned against God and no amount of religion fixes that, except trusting in Jesus as the payment. Nothing more, nothing less. This is what changes a man (or woman or child). Followers of Jesus are not perfect, we still need work, but God works on us and helps to smooth those rough places in our lives. He directs our path and keeps us going on this journey of faith. Will you allow Him to make those straight paths in your life? Start the journey and let Him drive the car. God Bless You – Nancy