His Truth Will Set You Free

Listen to what Jesus says; “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)


Unfamiliar Territory

I have recently been venturing into unfamiliar territory; an atheist blog. I followed a link to an interesting looking post on the site. The post was about Jesus and indeed presented an out of the ordinary perspective. So I decided to submit a comment, where I made it clear I am Christian. I didn’t disagree with the assertions of the author; I just made an observation about Jesus’ purpose while on earth. Thus began a thread which has now exceeded 26 comments.

I seemed to become a target for the other readers of the atheist blog. Even though these readers know nothing about me, other than I’m a Christian, some of them proceeded to accuse me of being dishonest, insincere, gullible (they may be right with this one), a lair, and a slippery fellow.

My initial urge was to lash back at them. It would have been easy, since as it seemed to me, their arguments, statements and claims were illogical, and full of holes. But thanks to Jesus and His presence in my life, I resisted the temptation. I also found help in a new little phase I came across on another blog: What Would Jesus Have Me Do? (find it here)

The comment thread then became a learning experience for me; a lesson in patience, humility, and anger management. And I learned a lot about myself. For example…

The other people on the comment thread, who were so tempting me to verbally explode – I was once a lot like them. For about ten years of my life, I was an atheist, though I never considered myself a “radical” atheist. Yet I found myself uncomfortable around Christians. I was afraid they might try to convert me. I also held a low opinion of Christians; they appeared weak to me. I basically thought they were all weird.

Consequently, a shock came to me as I read the harsh and uncivil remarks directed at me and my comments; I grew to easily see myself making the same remarks, back when I shared their beliefs. I used to be as insensitive as they appeared to be. In fact, I might have been worse, for all of them seemed rather intelligent by how well they wrote, and they utilized words very cleverly. I believe I would have been clumsier with my words, and therefore harsher still in spewing venom towards my target.

In the course of the comment thread, I frequently went to my bible, looking for guidance, and this is what I found:

“But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” (Matthew 5:11)

I found it actually easy to sincerely care for my enemies, once I realized I had once been one of them. Maybe we cannot always see ourselves in our enemies, but we should be able to find some reason to love and pray for them. And if for no other reason, than do it for yourself; for you will be blessed.

What is the benefit of not fighting back, yet accepting the persecution? What is the benefit of sincerely caring for our enemies? I see two: I know that I felt better and more at peace than I would have if I had lashed out. I also know that I was a better representative for Jesus. One of my prayers throughout the experience was that the readers of the atheist blog would not see in me, an ugly Christian. I wanted them to see Jesus, through me. And I wanted to do it without preaching.

Only God knows how well I held up in the unfamiliar territory. But I know I’m better for the experience. And perhaps God was glorified.

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Jamie’s Lessons in Humility and Love

As I came out of the restaurant, he was walking by. It wasn’t at first obvious to me that he was homeless, though he pulled on a small cart carrying all his belongings – I can be dense sometimes. He paused and said something about how tough life is. I now feel ashamed that I required him to speak first, but at least I responded, and we were soon talking freely. Jamie likes to talk, quite a lot as I presently discovered.

Jamie is an alcoholic – he told me all about it. When he asked me for money and I declined, he understood my resistance and pointed out that most people like him would spend it on drugs or alcohol anyway. Jamie is 50 years old and he’s been drinking for 38 years.

Jamie is incredibly humble and honest about his situation. He told me about waking up that morning, covered in dirt, leaves, vomit and urine-soaked pants, in some weeds behind a church; the ragged end to a 3-day drinking binge (yet by the time we met, he had been to the mission where he got cleaned up and was given a new set of cloths).

Jamie told me about the mission that feeds the homeless old food that makes him sick and gives him diarrhea. And he told me about how he loves Jesus.

Jamie mentioned he really wanted a radio. I was very resistant at first, but I finally said I’d be willing to buy him one if there was a store near by (thank you Lord for Jamie’s persistence). The idea of giving a homeless person a ride in my nice, clean minivan did not appeal to me, as Jamie asked if I had a car nearby. I finally relented, again, and we loaded Jamie’s cart of belongings into the back of the van.

We talked about Jesus and God. Jamie’s knowledge and memorization of scripture was amazing. I think he knows far more than I about Gods word. And he kept giving God credit for the blessings in his life, like actually waking up alive that morning, after his 3-day binge.

There were other stories Jamie told, where he again praised God for the blessings in his life – like still being alive even though he’s been vomiting up blood lately; and still being alive even after he called a bunch of black youth “nigger” while he was so drunk he didn’t know what he was doing; or still being alive after getting extremely drunk and waking up to find himself literally hanging over the edge of a short cliff, over a stream. I don’t know if Jamie recognizes that God might be keeping him alive for a reason, but he does recognize that it’s God who’s keeping him alive. And he never hesitates with the words of praise.

Jamie appeared to talk with strength when he talked about Jesus. Jamie was about as low as you can go, but he still had a firm hold on Jesus, and he drew strength from his faith in Jesus.

After buying the radio and batteries, I was beginning to warm up to my task. I was getting much more relaxed around Jamie, almost feeling like buddies. I asked Jamie where he wanted to go next. We then headed toward another mission-type place where Jamie could see some friends, and maybe get some free cloths.

Jamie was much more generous than people like me who actually have stuff to give away. He offered to give me some brand new gloves that someone had given him. This reminded me of what Jesus said about the poor woman who gave her only two pennies to the temple. She who had nothing gave more than the richest. Jamie and I talked about that story.

We sat in the van, parked at the mission, and talked for probably 30 minutes. Jamie told a lot of the same stories over again. Before I left, we prayed together. Jamie asked for forgiveness of his selfishness – he sees it’s selfishness that’s keeping him drinking and on the streets; selfishness that’s keeping him from changing his ways. This man who has nothing sees selfishness as one of his biggest sins. How much more selfish are we?

Jamie helped me be a little less selfish and a little more loving. But I have a long, long way to go to get up to Jamie’s level. Jamie taught me a lot that day. Though he may think that he benefited most from our encounter, I would disagree.

Jamie and I spent an hour and a half together. In looking back at the encounter, there were so many times when I didn’t live up to God’s expectations: I resisted buying him food and the radio; I resisted giving him a ride in the van; I didn’t give him a hug when we parted; I didn’t offer to actively help him to get into some form of rehab; and there’s more if I look.

In looking at my experience with Jamie, what might Jesus say to me? Perhaps, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)

… and to Jamie?

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven… Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:3, 5)

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New Orleans Freak Show?

Today, on our regular Saturday morning phone call, my mom told me a story about some friends of hers who recently took a trip to New Orleans. While there, they looked into taking a tour of one of the more hurricane-devastated areas. At the tour office they witnessed a bus returning from such a tour, accompanied by two police cars and I believe one or two motorcycle police. Was this tour going into some kind of war zone? My mom’s friends quickly gave up on the tour idea.

What broke my heart about this story was not the apparent need for police to make sure the tour bus made it back safely, but the idea of the tour itself. Are the ravaged areas of New Orleans some sort of circus freak show, where people find some morbid sense of entertainment by seeing sights they could barely imaging? I hope the motives are nobler than that.

I wonder; what would Jesus have done if faced with the reality of the destruction left by Hurricane Katrina? Would He have opted for the tour bus ride? What follows is a message of the truth of the compassion of Jesus Christ.

There is a story in the gospel of Luke, about a man suffering from leprosy. Who knows how long he’d had the disease, but we know from historical accounts that those who were afflicted with leprosy were considered total outcasts. They were not allowed contact with other people, except for those with the same affliction. There was a fear that a mere touch would serve to transmit the disease. And so this man, covered with the soars of the nerve-killing illness, had not touched or been touched by another human being for perhaps several years. He had not been hugged, no hand had touched his, no arm had gone around his shoulders in a moment of comfort.

Until Jesus came along. “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” The man had the faith, yet his sense of kindness in others had been lost in the years of isolation. “…if you are willing”; he doubted not Jesus’ ability, only His willingness to be kind. It had been that long since this man had experienced a compassionate act. What did Jesus do next? We know from other stories that He could have healed him right off. Yet Jesus did something better. He first gave the man what he needed most. Out of love and compassion, “Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.” For the first time in perhaps years, another person reached out and touched this lonely, leprous human being.

I suspect that was not at all what the man expected. And in the midst of the emotion that may have begun to well up inside of him, Jesus then said, “I am willing. Be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him.

This is a story about the truth of the compassion of Jesus Christ. We would all do well to take it to heart and follow Jesus’ lead. When confronted with need, don’t just stare; reach out and give a hand.

Please read this story for yourself, in Luke chapter 5, verses 12-16.