This week, as many know, I am back to one of my favorite places in the world… each year, my family makes the 15 hour journey to the most magical place on earth, and no, I’m not talking Disneyland. We head to Dauphin Island, Alabama, a tiny island in the Gulf of Mexico, boasting it’s laid-back lifestyle and white sand beaches. And trust me, it is worth the 15 hours. We don’t just travel by ourselves, either. My parents, my son, my brother, my grandmother, her sisters, their husbands, sometimes cousins, and even one of our exchange students make the journey with us.
The island is only half a mile wide at it’s widest point (meaning you can see both sides of the island on the upper floor of a condo, or even when standing on the balcony of one of the many beach houses in the area), and two miles long. This tiny island is home to many people, wildlife, businesses, and homes, as well as four churches (Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal, and Catholic).
This morning, half of our group made the way to church. The other half didn’t. I just want to be clear here. I love church. I love my faith. I love God. I love everything he has given us. I think it is very important to find a church family, and just as important to attend church regularly and be in community with your church family. I think it is sometimes good to visit other churches and connect with Chrsitians outside of your church family. I believe in God, in my church’s statements of faith, in my personal statement of faith, and in God’s love for me.
I also believe that it’s okay if, while on vacation, I choose not to go to church. I think it’s great that half of the group I’m traveling with went to church, but I also think that God will still love me if I don’t go to a formal church service.
Instead of going to church, I chose to meditate on the beauty that God has laid in front of me. After all, I am in one of the most peaceful, beautiful, incredible places in the world, and I think it would be a shame, and possibly even a sin, not to pay attention to the beauty that God has set right in front of me. I also think that if, instead of focusing on God’s Word in church this morning, I’d be more concerned, mentally, with when I would get to the beach, then perhaps it is best I skipped the middle man and got right down to the beach where I could actively praise God in what he created for me.
Today, I want to write to you guys some messages about what I meditated on. There are two parts… Truths (things I know), and Thoughts (things I believe).
Truth: God created the earth. (Genesis 1:1)
Truth: God created land to separate the waters. (Genesis 1:9-10)
Truth: God made humankind in his image, and we reflect him. (Genesis 1:26-27)
Truth: God knew that what he made was a good creation. (Genesis 1:31)
Truth: God wants us to take care of what he created, and expected us to be good stewards of the creation he has given us. (Genesis 2:15)
Truth: God also gave us boundaries. (Genesis 2:17)
Truth: Sometimes, we sin against God (Genesis 3:13) and we place blame on others for our sinfulness (Genesis 3:12).
Truth: God wants us to be HOLY. (Leviticus 11:44)
Truth: God wants us to have abundant life. (John 10:10)
Truth: The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown commentary says that John 10:10 is not merely to preserve life, but to impart life, to GIVE life. Not only that, but God wants to communicate that life to us in “rich and unfailing exuberance!”
Truth: God wants us to love each other as we love ourselves. (Mark 12:30-31)
Thought: We, as Christians, sometimes over-church. That’s not to say that we over-Jesus. We just over-church. Theological discussion? Add church. Political debate? Add church. Protest? Add church. As I mentioned above, I love church. I love my church family, I love my pastor, I love the message he delivers, I love the messages and great faith that I get from the members of the church I attend. I love being a part of that church family, and I love the way it has strengthened and encouraged my faith. But when I start to use that faith not as a shield, as a way to protect myself from the horrors this world can sometimes bring, as a way to be in the world but not of it, and instead use my faith as a battle axe, something to slay and judge people by, something to chop off people’s arguments and thoughts at the knees, I’m using my faith wrong.
God asked me to love you. Not to tell you what you’re doing wrong, not to judge you, not to hurt you. He asked me to love you. Jesus spent his time with people who were less than savory sometimes, including prostitutes, sinners, evil-doers, possessed people, all kinds of people. He also surrounded himself with believers. There was a balance. You can’t bring people to Jesus if you don’t step out in faith and get to know people who don’t know Jesus, or know him but don’t quite want him. But you also can’t have support in your faith if you only hang out with people who don’t know Jesus or aren’t quite ready to want Jesus in their lives. You need balance… you need people who need Jesus, and people who have him.
How many times have you seen someone hold up a sign saying “God hates ____.” “You are a sinner!” and other harsh shouts? Do you think someone who sees one of those signs is going to say “Oh my gosh… you’re right. I’m sorry, I’ll stop doing this sinful thing and instead turn to Jesus, hug a Christian, and hold up a sign?”
How about this? Instead of holding up that sign, telling people they’re sinning like that, what if I buy them a cup of coffee? What if I treat them like the creation of God that they are? Because just because they’ve turned away from God for whatever they’re doing (and don’t say you’ve never done that, don’t say you’ve never sinned, because the Bible says we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God), they are still his creation. And I am going to do what God commanded me, and show them that love that God shows me each and every day.
I will pray for them. I will show them respect, and, when they ask me why I love them instead of standing out front with a protest sign, I’m going to tell them that, while I don’t agree with whatever it is that they’re doing, I recognize that God created them, and that God loves them, and that I love them, too.
Which do you think will get through to them? Using my faith as a shield, to protect me from the ways of the world, or as an axe, to slice through the sin that everyone else is doing?
Thought: God wants me to seek Him. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I need to seek him in church. It just means I need to seek him. If I’m better at seeking him and meditating on his word by sitting on the beach this morning, instead of sitting in a pew, I think that’s okay. I think God just wants me to be close to him, even if I didn’t go to church today. I also think that God is excited to see the people in my travel group that went to church today, sitting in church. I think he loves them, and I think he loves me. I think that no matter where I worship him this morning, as long as I’m worshipping, He is going to be pleased.
Take-away: I want to challenge you today to find some time, whether it is in a church pew, or on a beach, or in your favorite recliner sipping tea, or in your bed, or in the car, to praise God. I want to challenge you to thank him for the creations he has given us, for the world that he made, for the life he breathed into us, for the sin he is wiping away, for the way he makes us new.
Take-away: I also challenge you to find someone who you may not agree with, politically, morally, religiously, whatever, someone you don’t agree with, and I want you to take them to coffee, or invite them over for lunch, or for a walk. You don’t even have to talk about your faith. You just have to show them love, listen to them, have a conversation. Don’t feel the need to circle it back to your faith– your faith will radiate through. You may make it through a whole coffee without bringing up your Christianity, but I bet one, two, five coffees down the road, you’ll have that talk. Trust me.
Take-away: Love yourself today. Make a list of things you love about you. After all, if you’re supposed to love your neighbor as you love yourself, but you don’t take time to love yourself, then how are you supposed to love your neighbor?
I hope all of my blog readers have a wonderful Sunday filled with peace, with rest, and with hope for a new week ahead. I know I will, because after all, who could look at the incredible view God has made for me on this beautiful beach, and not feel his love, peace, and presence?