Tonight, as I sit with my husband and dear friends, enjoying a delicious steak dinner that we cooked on the grill, I am struck with the thought that 238 years ago, America secured its hard-won independence. For some reason when I think of the American Revolution, I always think of Valley Forge, how the men were freezing cold, their feet were frostbitten and bleeding. Somehow despite those horrific conditions, George Washington encouraged them onward. One day, when I get to heaven, I want to personally thank those men for not giving up on me. Because of them, I am able to enjoy days like today – swimming in the sun, good food and great friends in a land that is built on the principles of freedom and democracy. It is precious to me. Those lives and their sacrifices are precious to me. Certainly I am not naive. In fact, I am poignantly aware that our great country is currently facing staggeringly serious issues. But for today, July 4 2014, I am especially grateful for the freedoms I enjoy here.
I love the fact that many of the founding fathers were Christians and recognize that a true democracy calls for some sort of morality for it to truly work. However, as our nation grows and morphs and includes such a vast and beautiful diversity of people groups and ideologies, I am struck by the fact that no matter what happens to our government and country, I belong to a much greater kingdom that does not depend on this earth.
God is love and He loves us unconditionally. Jesus died on the cross and forgave the whole world of sin. Even those not of a Christian persuasion. But the amazing thing is that He allows us to choose whether we accept that love or not. Nothing can compare to the kind of pure love God has for us. He will let us run away, live the most rebellious lifestyle for as many years as we decide to, misunderstand His character and the things He said, and still have outstretched arms extended to us saying “I love you with an everlasting love.” We get to choose. Not whether or not He loves us, but whether or not we want to participate in a loving relationship with Him. To me, that is why there were two trees in the Garden of Eden. We got to choose. He did not want robots or puppets. We humans were special. In fact, we were the very pinnacle of His creation. If He MADE us love Him, it would somehow cheapen love’s value. Instead if we are given the freedom to NOT love Him, and then turn and choose TO love him, then there is true love (on both sides of the relationship). And it’s also why there is an unfair world out there, because as long as we can choose, our world becomes out of balance, and not as God gifted it to us in the beginning.
It is not lost on me that when Jesus died on the cross 2,000 years ago, he did not die to make Israel a Christian nation. His agenda was never political. Instead, he died to give me something much greater than a Christian country. He actually died so I could inhabit the Kingdom of Heaven, a realm outside of our earth realm. It is something more than “America.” It exists from the inside out. He died so that we would have the ability to live in any nation, under any government, and still be “heart free.” The truth is that Christianity cannot be legislated. When you try to do this, it becomes something other than Jesus meant it to be. Christianity must come from the heart. It cannot be forced on you from the outside. If it is, it will not be authentic. It will not produce a true heart change. Without a heart change, the new Christian will find it impossible to maintain a life of love and freedom. History shows us that the compelling of people to Christianity does not produce true Christians or true change in the world. The reason it fails is that perfect love does not operate out of fear or hate or manipulation. Jesus never meant to bring us another “religion,” but actually something far greater: the possibility of an intimate and love-filled relationship with the God and Creator of the Universe (someone he called “Daddy” and invited us to do as well – at the time, a terribly outrageous idea).
It makes sense to me that God would want us to freely choose Him back, freely engage Him in a personal way, because when you do, our perspective and life changes in a profound way – life becomes so worth living and so worth enjoying. What I hear many of my liberal friends resisting is actually the inauthentic restriction of dead religion. This is how they are seeing Christianity demonstrated today. They are calling it out as they sense the binding of legalism and they want no part of it. I can’t blame them, but I do so want them to know that that is not what Jesus died to give us. He died to give us the ability to love and cherish one another in diversity and within all sorts of persuasions.
What I see many of my dear conservative friends doing is wringing their hands over the downward spiral of immorality in our country and world. To the world, spiritual truths do not make sense. They cannot be held to a standard that they can’t uphold. The law was never meant to create change in people. It merely showed a standard and never helped people achieve that standard. If that method had been working for Israel, then Jesus never had to come. Instead He brought to us a NEW and BETTER covenant that extended grace and kindness to us WHILE WE WERE YET SINNERS. He did not wait for us to clean up our act. He drew us to himself by LOVING us. We have the opportunity to act as Christ did – to be the “bigger” people in our country, not utilizing the very same methods of the world – control and hate and fear.
Today, when I see Christians trying to legislate morality, I think “I understand what you are hoping to accomplish, but this will not work.” People who do not have a genuine heart change will never understand. There must be freedom to choose AGAINST God in order for the choice FOR God to be genuine and authentic and have meaning.
God’s love for us is an outrageous risk. It is an unconditional love that does not control. Does not manipulate. Does not require that we return it nor allow us to do anything to earn it. It is in essence the most outrageous thing on this planet. Despite His wooing us and His free gift of forgiveness and His enormous capacity to lovingly care for us, we are quite free to reject it. We are, in fact, quite free to break his heart. This is outrageous!
I heard a story tonight about the moment when John Adams was sworn in as the second president of the United States and George Washington got up and left the room. It was this incredibly unique moment when power peaceably changed hands. Our nation’s first peaceful transfer of power actually succeeded as the world looked on. There was no coup or retaliation. One man, instead of giving in to the seductive temptation of power, humbly walked away from it. At the time, there was a faction of people who loved him and wanted him to become king and yet he willingly walked away for what he believed was the good of his county.
It is powerful to me, because it reflects an understanding of what Jesus did for us. For our good. To help us be an incredible people. He knew we would not be perfect, but felt it was still so worth it. Love does not shove itself on people, it respects, it is kind, it is hopeful, it keeps no record of wrongs. It is gracious. And in a day when hate seems to be the new normal in conversations about our government, homosexuality, abortion, religion, and even Grace itself, I believe the only solution is to take that same Outrageous Risk of Love.
I think I must come to this conclusion: Am I willing to trust that God’s love is big enough and powerful enough to heal even a land where many people are rejecting Him? Is the same Love that drew me out of sinful self-centeredness truly capable of drawing others who look and act just as hopelessly as I once did? And is His love big enough to transform his own people to be able to love others like He does, without condemnation? Or do I have to help Him out with my own version of control and/or belittling people into believing my way? There can be no agenda in LOVE. I owe no man anything except the debt of LOVE (see Romans 13:8).
God’s unconditional love is never passive. I, in no way, mean to imply we do not talk about our concerns or take action in ways that may be misconstrued by others. It is the quality or motive behind those words and actions that will convey love and respect and an resounding refusal to give up hope.
I know this may sound ridiculously simplistic to some of you. To you I would say, it absolutely IS ridiculous if you have not experienced the utterly outrageous love of God. Once you do, you will see it with crystal clarity. Love can and does move mountains. If you recognize that you do not have the kind of love in you that allows you to unconditionally love your neighbor as yourself (whether he is different from you in culture, race, religion, gender, sexual persuasion, IQ, ideology). If you do not know how to love others, all you need to do is ask Him. He is the one who can pour into you the only kind of love that is effective. His. Unconditional. Love. It is the only thing that will work. Not natural human love. Not hating someone into changing their minds, not having an agenda or an expectation, or feeling like you have to convince someone else of God’s existence. Only God can do that. But we can extend His love into our situations, into our friendships, and even into our Facebook posts. We can sow grace where there seems to be no reception. It can be unnerving to take such a risk. It may seem to have no effect. Or the opposite effect. We might be misunderstood. Our words, which were meant to show grace and love, can be used against us. I know and feel that terrible risk. Yet the Love of God is so very worth it. It might actually produce a changed heart. Jesus took that risk. His risk was so worth it in my eyes.