Can You Pass God's Love Test?

by: Rachel Miller


Jesus was busily turning the world of His day upside down. He hung with a "bad" crowd, did things that seemed to go against the Scriptures and often acted as though He was God. None of this endeared Him to the religious leaders of the day. They engaged in many verbal battles -- the leaders trying to trap Him into saying something outrageous, and Jesus calling them hypocrites for their pious external actions that masked an unappealing interior. Another attempt to trip Him up occurred after a teaching session when they asked Jesus what was the most important commandment. They hoped that His answer would get Him in trouble, but His reply left them with no rebuttal, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." Matthew 22:37-40.

Those words seem straightforward enough that no interpreter is needed. Love God. Love your neighbor. Do those things and you'll find that you are doing the others. Versions of that simple message appear repeatedly throughout the Bible. No legalism, just practical Christianity applied to our everyday actions.

Some people view love as the bond between husband and wife; others as the affection shown between family members. Some see it in the broader sense of caring for our Christian bothers and sisters as part of our extended family. While it is important to demonstrate love in each of these situations, God's intention is not to specify a limited group of people to love. His challenge is to love everyone just as He does. God didn't send His Son for a chosen few but to draw everyone, including sinners, to Him. Actually, the only reason for sending Him was because of our sins.

Most of us love our spouse, family members and even other church members, but loving those who aren't close to us proves more difficult. The good Samaritan story is an excellent example. A group of thieves stripped a man, beat him severely and left him to die. A priest and a socially prominent man both walked by and offered no aid. Finally a Samaritan, considered an outcast by society, stopped and felt compassion for the man. He cleaned up his wounds, took him to an inn, cared for him and left money for continued help in his recovery. Jesus said that we should show similar mercy even to those we might not recognize as neighbors.

Religious issues were a major struggle for me until I had a spiritual encounter that made God tangible to me. Then I started going to church, reading the Bible and attending fellowship groups because I wanted to, not because I had to. After a period of positive spiritual growth I began to change almost imperceptibly. I learned Biblical quotes to fit every situation. I became very self-righteous and found myself using those quotes to condemn the actions of anyone who didn't put God first. Everything was either black or white; there were no gray areas. I was right with God and could see clearly how others were not. I was beginning to believe that I had all the answers.

One Sunday our pastor discussed a couple who came to him for help. They were caught up in a sinful situation and sought his counsel. The pastor told them that until they repented and got right with God there was nothing he could do for them. The couple left with their issues unresolved, and I cheered the pastor's stand.

At church I learned that we were all sinners, but it was implied that our sins weren't as bad as those of others. I found myself thinking; of course I'm a sinner, but I don't do any really bad things. Others are alcoholics, drug addicts, criminals and wife beaters. Their sins are repulsive and worthy of condemnation. My sins are minor and of no concern.

I also heard that we don't hate the sinner; we hate the sin. Although that approach sounded good in theory, I found it virtually impossible to make that distinction and ended up vigorously condemning sinners.

Even with all of this reinforcement, my new coat of self-righteousness didn't fit well. No matter how I tried to justify my actions, I couldn't sleep peacefully. One day I was mindlessly saying the Our Father when a booming voice climbed into my head and shouted at me, "And forgive us our debts, just as we forgive our debtors." Ouch! I was asking God to forgive my sins in the same manner that I forgive the sins of others. Did I really mean that? When the magnitude of those words soaked in, I was scared and began some serious worrying about my intolerance.

A few months later I read a magazine article that demolished the remnants of my neat little black and white world. It was a true story of a woman whose child was born with a multitude of physical problems. The baby was in and out of hospitals for one surgery after another for the first year of its life. The mother had taken up residence in the hospital room so she could comfort her child. After a particularly difficult and painful surgery the doctor explained that it had been ineffective. The problem had persisted, and they would have to operate again when the child regained its strength. The doctor held out little hope that the series of problems would ever be resolved.

In the middle of the night the child awoke and cried softly in obvious pain. The mother cradled her child in her arms and rocked and sang to him while she sobbed. With over a year of continuous treatments and no hope for improvement, grief for her poor child overwhelmed her. Finally, with great clarity, she realized that she could not put her child through any more torture. She picked up a pillow, placed it over his head and pressed down while she cried. Her child was finally at peace.

Every spiritual principle said that her action was wrong, yet instead of feeling angry, all I could do was cry. The pain and suffering of the mother and child were incredibly intense, and I had only read about them in a story. How could I possibly condemn or judge her? What would I have done if it was my child? I couldn't answer. I couldn't even imagine her experience. All I could feel was love and compassion. I wanted to reach out and comfort her.

From then on I could no longer sit in judgment of others. Everywhere I looked, I found painfully clear messages with my name on them. We are all guilty, became I am guilty. No one is righteous, became I am not righteous. It said that God will judge everyone, and He is perfectly capable of doing that without my help. He tells me to worry about my own shortcomings not those of others.

Jesus loved tax collectors, prostitutes and poor people. His love for society's outcasts helped me to understand that God loved everyone, including me. He loved me enough that He sent His only Son to cleanse me of my sins. He didn't condemn me for my sins, not even the ones I continued to commit after I accepted Him. He kept on forgiving me. Since He did that for me, how could I do less for others. I felt terribly ashamed. I realized that what God wanted most from me was to have my heart filled with love for every member of His creation.

I also realized that I needed others to love me as I am, not as I tried to appear. Outwardly I was an upstanding member of the congregation. I came to church regularly and actively participated. I tithed. I attended Bible study groups. I treated other members of the congregation with dignity and respect. Inside; however, there was something that I had kept carefully hidden.

What would your reaction be if I told you that I am a transvestite or cross- dresser? For some, the first reaction would be to look for a Biblical prohibition and use it to condemn me. That's what I used to do. There is one verse that might be used in this case, but it takes stretching and twisting to force it to fit and requires ignoring adjacent verses to avoid self- incrimination. However, for some that's all the justification that would be needed to slam the door.

In Religious Legalism Meets Cross-dressing I mounted a strong argument in defense of cross- dressing and, since no one refuted it, I could even claim victory. But Jesus taught us to turn away from a legalistic approach. So, for now, I want you to assume that cross-dressing is sinful. Given that assumption, how should a Christian, a follower of Christ, respond to a cross-dresser such as myself? Are you to condemn me or love me?

This is an open book test, so to find the answer, read the Gospels where Jesus' words and actions are recorded. There are even versions that show His words in red for easy recognition. As you read, notice how often He talked about love. Notice how He treated sinners. After digesting the Gospels, the key question to ask yourself is -- Can you pass God's love test and love others as He loves you?


Note: Philip Yancey's incredible book, What's So Amazing About Grace? convinced me that grace is the ingredient that will enable us to love those we consider unlovable. He said, "Grace is the church's great distinctive. It's the one thing the world cannot duplicate, and the one thing it craves above all else -- for only grace can bring hope and transformation to a jaded world." He sees legalism as the greatest threat to grace and envisions churches as places where grace is "on tap" and readily available to everyone who needs it. Isn't that what Jesus would do?


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Websites:

Grace & Lace Newsletter

International Foundation for Gender Education

Rachel Miller


Books:

What's So Amazing About Grace?

by Philip Yancey


Life of the Beloved : Spiritual Living in a Secular World

by Henri J. M. Nouwen



Also In This Issue:

Love's Hard Lessons

Ordaining Gay and Lesbian Priests in Norway

An Open Letter to my Brothers






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