Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Christians, Friends, Witnesses

I have a lot of friends who aren't Christian. Yes, I have old friends from high school that I somewhat keep up with on Facebook. The people I see every week in my places of employment may or may not be Christians. There are people I have interacted with over many days and months and years who do not follow Christ. But when I say, "I have a lot of friends who aren't Christian," it is not even these people I am referring to.

The friends I am talking about are ones I have grown close to. I have grown up with some of them, playing games of imagination and creativity as children. We've hit puberty one after the other. Others, ones I met later in life, I still grew close to. My handful of guy pals and I have gone on many platonic dates. We have laughed and talked and shared what we believe about God, if we believe he exists (which I do). Each of these friends, some like family and some who literally are family, believes something different. One an atheist, the other somewhat New Age, discovering his own beliefs. One does not think Jesus is God, while another agrees, but embraces the Old Testament, the Torah. Another has never once told me what she has believed, even after I asked for a school assignment. I must keep their identities vague here, for their privacy. But I do want you to know that I deeply love them all.

There are portions of Scripture that I struggle with. I understand the passage in 2 Corithians that says not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers. I would not marry someone who did not share my convictions, for instance. But I have struggled with the implications that some Christians take from this verse when they take it to mean that we must stay as far away from unbelievers as possible.

"Not of This World," the out of context bumper stickers proclaim. They might as well sport decals on the backs of their SUVs and hatchbacks that say, "Join Us." Joooiiiin uuuuussss. Forget this world. It's going to hell in a handbasket, right? We're just jumping ship, while ya'll get....wait for it....Left Behind!!! Many people other than myself have seen the fallacy in this attitude that has been adopted by contemporary Christians. I'm probably not the first person who has expressed this to you.

But, what if...the facet of the world that has sullied us, the portion that has really defiled us, was...our insatiable desire to say to the world, "Screw you!" What if this attitude of jumping ship is, gasp, not from God? Not holy, divine, or inspired? Hmm.

Jesus has already overcome the world (John 16:33). We don't have to do it, because it's already been done, and done well. Maybe we can still remain unstained from the world yet, you know, live in it. Living involves loving, or at least it should. I know a God who leads me to those who respect me. Many times these people are not Christian. My friends and I, we are well aware that we are different. I have gotten to a maturity level where I know what I believe, can express it, and can listen and digest what the other person is saying, and I don't really think there is any defilement happening either way.

I think differently. I might love differently, too, I don't know. Maybe that's why I don't understand why more people aren't crossing religious boundaries to communicate, why Christians think they are well and good without getting to know anyone who doesn't already know Jesus.

Is it healthy for a Christian to only talk with non-Christians? Admittedly, no. Is it healthy to not talk to God? Definitely not. We should talk to God all the time. And finally, is it healthy to only talk to other Christians? I'd have to say a resounding no. Christians might just end up creating their own world, with all of its pitfalls, if they decided to get too cultish and only associate with each other. Obviously, church is a place for us to get to know each other and create a community. But why should we close our doors, our minds, and our hearts off? Why should we deny the existence of people who God has definitely created in his image?

My faith is stronger because of my relationships with my non-Christians friends. I have learned how to articulate what I believe and share the love of Christ in a way that has created not just a long line of stories of "that person I witnessed to" but true, real, genuine friendships. Because if Jesus did anything, it was love. He loved.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Choosing Love

There is some trouble inherent in having my lifestyle. Let me explain.

I am in a transitory state. I am leaving Raleigh at the end of June. I have thought about the limitations and challenges of that lack of permanence more than anyone else. This is my life, and I have chosen to embrace it rather than hating every step of the way. I have begun to view my past as a gift, and that is how I am choosing to view my present and my future, too.

As my boss says, I am more than a grown adult. I am a grown-a** adult. I've been through my share of terrible circumstances, and living in a new state temporarily does not even make the top 5 list of the most difficult things I have been through. This is like a vacation. Sort of. Working two different jobs, often in the same day, is not a vacation. But the stability, safety, independence and maturity that have accompanied this chapter in my life make preserving my well-being very easy. I can handle this.

I really appreciate all the people who actually acknowledge that I am a grown-a** adult and let me make my own decisions. Like my mom. She trusts me to make wise choices. My previously mentioned boss always says, before I head off to the bank, "Make good choices. And don't get herpes!" References to STD's aside, my boss has also made some observations about me. Like that I am an individual, and that I dance to the beat of my own drum. No one has ever told me that stuff so directly. I would much rather be different than look like everyone else.

But my alternative lifestyle can be difficult. I have been warned against getting too close to people while I am here. Specifically members of the opposite sex. Clearly I can't make any serious commitments outside of Romania. The thing is, I have realized this for years. I first wanted to be a career missionary in Romania when I was fourteen. That is almost a decade ago. I've had a loooot of time to think about all this. Somewhere along the way, I got tired of worrying about getting too close to people. I think Jesus could have had the same trouble. He began his ministry knowing he would be leaving earth about only three years later. Why did he grow so close to the disciples, then? Why did he bother forming close friendships with men and women? Why did he take these risks?

There is a tired old saying that it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. I think this is actually very accurate. Why risk a broken heart? Why not keep your distance from people? Why get too close to people you'll have to leave? Well, because love is better than fear. Love beats closing yourself off and it beats isolation. Love trumps easiness. I believe love is worth it. I have been hurt through such a variety of ways that saying good-bye doesn't terrify me anymore. It stills scares me, but it doesn't immobilize me. There is a kind of love in saying good-bye that you would never have known otherwise. It reminds me of sacrifice. It reminds me of the cross.

I hope my journey inspires people to really live, to take chances, to love fully and deeply and understand that pain is inevitable anyway and what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. I would rather choose what hurts me, and I choose love.