by Deborah Rampona Oliver
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I'm currently involved in a messy family relationship which is certainly something that most of us can relate to. I am angered by the lack of righteousness in this situation on the part of people who are purported followers of Christ. When sin is perpetuated, glossed over, and deemed holy it dishonors God. I struggle watching the dynamics of a family that seems to have lost sight of who God is. It truly breaks my heart and I can only imagine what 'the world' is seeing and what their conclusions about Christians are.
When Christians get into what I call 'the Holy Huddle' they turn their backs toward others and deny access to those who are in need of Christ's touch. We withhold all that God has given us. And not just what he has given us, but expressly given us for the purpose of sharing His blessings with others in His name. Although this happens in society and families at large, I am particularly concerned about this in the Christian community, because we are supposed to be holders of the truth.
What do we withhold from others? First and foremost we often deny seekers access to friendship and acceptance. Acceptance of a person denies them the comfort, grace, mercy, friendship that Christ himself offers. I can remember being the new kid in eighth grade. Finding a table of people to join for lunch in the cafeteria was terrifying! Would I be rejected? In that same way, Christians often label others as either acceptable of receiving or unacceptable. We, like the Pharisees and Sadducees get all tangled up in what we think God's will is and lose sight of God himself. We hurt people and wound already wounded souls whether intentionally or unintentionally. In action or lack of action, we fall into the deep crevice that exists between what is 'right' and what is 'righteous.'
Why is it that we withhold ourselves? Sometimes, it is a false sense of superiority. I once attended a church where the Pastor's wife felt that persons not raised in "Christian" homes began the world as "damaged goods"-those are her exact words! I think the point that Christ makes is that we are all de facto damaged goods. It is inherent in human nature, regardless of how one was raised! I'll never forget having to think about whom I should invite to church knowing that they might feel the sting of her rejection. I once brought a friend struggling with alcoholism and was mortified and ashamed by my own church. He couldn't have been any less welcome and all of my apologies could never change or undo how he was treated.
Sometimes, we refuse to extend God's grace to others because we are keeping a record of past hurts and wrongs. I can say that I am very careful about whom I allow into my emotional space. A long history of toxic relationships prevents me from fully exposing my underbelly. In the past I can attest to the fact that I denied them any understanding or any validation because I was keeping score. I am slowly learning to balance validating their hurts. I must acknowledge that I actively sought to deny them the forgiveness I am required to give all because of my own warped sense of what was 'the right thing to do." Who am I to think that I can mete out God's justice?
Finally, I think that some people do not 'need' or perceive a 'need' for other people in their lives. Maybe they grew up with all the friends they needed and don't care to make themselves available to others. As a military wife, I can say that those moments have been painful to me! Women of faith will literally say, "Oh yeah, we don't like to make friends with military wives, because you all move all of the time." Ouch! Life is lonely enough without the body of Christ ignoring you. Other people are more introverted and don't want to engage anyone. But that is not following the example that Christ gave us.
I ask myself, what is it that God has denied us? The answer is simple; He has denied us absolutely nothing. He offers us love, forgiveness, and even LIFE through his own son Jesus. Amazing! It is profound that the only perfect being who was and is made himself human and vulnerable for us. He allowed himself to be shunned so that we might not be.
Gosh, I need to be doing a better job! We, as Christians, need to be doing a better job! I am convicted that we need to share the truth in love with one another when we see members of the body of Christ denying access to the foot of the cross. There is truly nothing more destructive to ourselves and to others than to deny them the community of Christ and the love that he offers. We aren't perfect or more deserving than anyone else. As my friend Bob Riggles says, "I am just one hungry man telling other hungry people where they can find some food." We are standing at an All You Can Eat buffet of food and clogging up the line as though there will not be enough to go around. There is enough! God is enough! We must give freely to receive freely.
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