I have been a church girl my entire life. My parents valued faith. They have served in a local church throughout their lives and they raised my brother and me to do the same. I am incredibly grateful for my upbringing and for my church family. I can’t imagine doing life without all of the people God has brought into my life through church. I believe wholeheartedly in the assembling of fellow believers, so I do not want to be misunderstood as being critical of church in any way. I love the church and know that God does too. But, because the church is made up of imperfect people (including me), we don’t always get it right and there is always space to do better.
I am coming to understand more and more in recent days that faith really is a growth process. Scripture tells us that we come to faith like a child and then through spiritual disciplines we grow into mature believers over time. Growth occurs at various rates and growth in some seasons is rapid, while in others it is slow. Faith is very personal and no, two faith experiences look the same. As I have become an adult and then raised my own children to adulthood who are now growing in faith apart from the influence of their parents, God has really changed my heart about some of the legalistic tendencies towards which I heavily leaned at a younger age. I’m beginning to realize that I have really messed up some encounters with both believers and unbelievers and have allowed fear of people who are different from me or who may believe differently from me, keep me from loving others in the way Christ has called us to love. What is actually fear of the unknown has instead become judgment or bias in my heart because of the differences. Although there has been growth over time in some areas of our society, I think we can all agree that we are very divided people and perhaps more than ever we are quite vocal about our division. Sometimes it is the voice of the church that seems to be yelling the loudest. Some fellow believers are so angry they spew hate without even being aware of it. Yet Jesus clearly came for reconciliation and to bring together the divide. He came for Jews and for Gentiles. He came for men and for women. He came for the young and the old, the poor and the rich, red, yellow, black and white. But most importantly, he came for sinners….of which I am the greatest one (1 Timothy 1:15). So, why do we as people who call ourselves Christians (translated “followers of Christ”) often lead the charge in segregating ourselves from those we believe are not as righteous as we are?
As I’ve given so much thought to this idea in the last year, wanting to be part of the solution and not the problem, my daily scripture readings this week have caused me to ponder even more. In Matthew we are told of two parables that Jesus shared:
Matthew 13:24-30 The Message (MSG)
24-26 He told another story. “God’s kingdom is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. That night, while his hired men were asleep, his enemy sowed thistles all through the wheat and slipped away before dawn. When the first green shoots appeared and the grain began to form, the thistles showed up, too.
27 “The farmhands came to the farmer and said, ‘Master, that was clean seed you planted, wasn’t it? Where did these thistles come from?’
28 “He answered, ‘Some enemy did this.’
“The farmhands asked, ‘Should we weed out the thistles?’
29-30 “He said, ‘No, if you weed the thistles, you’ll pull up the wheat, too. Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I’ll instruct the harvesters to pull up the thistles and tie them in bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat and put it in the barn.’”
Matthew 13:47-50 The Message (MSG)
47-50 “Or, God’s kingdom is like a fishnet cast into the sea, catching all kinds of fish. When it is full, it is hauled onto the beach. The good fish are picked out and put in a tub; those unfit to eat are thrown away. That’s how it will be when the curtain comes down on history. The angels will come and cull the bad fish and throw them in the garbage. There will be a lot of desperate complaining, but it won’t do any good.”
I’m not a theologian, but thankfully Jesus translates his own parables.
Matthew 13:37-43 The Message (MSG)
37-39 So he explained. “The farmer who sows the pure seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the pure seeds are subjects of the kingdom, the thistles are subjects of the Devil, and the enemy who sows them is the Devil. The harvest is the end of the age, the curtain of history. The harvest hands are angels.
40-43 “The picture of thistles pulled up and burned is a scene from the final act. The Son of Man will send his angels, weed out the thistles from his kingdom, pitch them in the trash, and be done with them. They are going to complain to high heaven, but nobody is going to listen. At the same time, ripe, holy lives will mature and adorn the kingdom of their Father.”
These are the things that stand out to me in these parables:
1) Good and evil are very real.
2) Heaven and hell are very real.
3) We have an enemy, but it is not other people.
4) Good and evil must co-exist and grow together until the appointed time.
5) We can grow ripe, holy lives despite the evil
6) It is not and will never be our job to sort the good from the evil. That role belongs to angels at the direction of God.
I fear that some of us may think we’re wheat, when we are actually living like the thistles. Or perhaps we think we’re the good fish, when in reality we would be tossed in to the garbage. Some of us think we are called to do the sifting or the sorting. You see that in each story He says, “there will be desperate complaining, but it won’t do any good.” People who desperately complain typically believe they’ve been wronged in some way or that some injustice has been done. They aren’t usually people who are self-aware and want the right thing to happen even if it isn’t beneficial to them.
Scripture is full of confusing, often open for interpretation messages. But one thing is very clear. When Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment, He didn’t hesitate.
“Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?”
37-40 Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”
Religion has gotten in the way of Jesus since He came to earth because we are people doing the best we can to understand something so much bigger than ourselves and we often try to humanize God in the process. We will continue to make mistakes in our efforts to live holy lives that honor God from a human perspective. But I’d like to challenge you, as I’ve been challenging myself in recent days, to ask God to let you see others as He sees them, particularly those who are very different from you in some way. I want to be someone who helps build bridges in my own circle of influence and I want to be open to learning about what others believe without fear that my salvation is in jeopardy if I spend time with those who may do things differently. I want to let go of the legalistic tendencies that only separate me from others rather than bring us together. I am so moved by the younger generation of believers and their desire to simply point others to Jesus and let Him do the rest. I have heard it said from many of them, “When someone falls in love with Jesus, the other stuff just works itself out”.
Religion isn’t simple. Love isn’t simple. Life isn’t simple. But falling in love with Jesus is. And He’s already taken care of the rest. Love because He first loved us. Love God and love others….and let Him sort out the wheat and the fish. May He find me holy on harvest day.