Want What You’ve Got! (backwards)

backwards 3 The cover of Cosmopolitan magazine caught my eye as I waited my turn in the checkout line. A smiling Kim Kardashian was flanked by the words:

Get What You Want: The Man, The Money, The Baby.

Wait a minute! Do we have it all backwards – or does Kim? Is it possible that our Lenten refrain – Want What You’ve Got – is as opposed to Kim Kardashian’s mantra as it sounds?

I know that the way of Jesus is counter-cultural, but we can’t get much more opposite than this.

Permeating Jesus’ teachings is the revelation of a backwards Kingdom with an economic system based on the sharing of resources and the generous exchange of love. Unlike those who reign in Kim’s consumeristic economy – ruled by acquisition, competition and power – a successful Kingdom subject lives in polar opposition to the wiles of this world, sold out completely to the Gospel.

Hear Jesus on the subject, from Matthew 19:28 –

Jesus replied, “Yes, you have followed me. In the re-creation of the world, when the Son of Man will rule gloriously, you who have followed me will also rule, starting with the twelve tribes of Israel. And not only you, but anyone who sacrifices home, family, fields—whatever—because of me will get it all back a hundred times over, not to mention the considerable bonus of eternal life. This is the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first.”

In light of this month’s Cosmo cover story, don’t Jesus’ words sound exactly backwards?

My daughter babysits for good friends of ours whose boys are a constant source of laughter, insight and drama. One night at our house, one of them was decked out in clothing that was on backwards – tags in front. My daughter told him:

“No big deal, dude. Backwards is the new forwards.”

Later that night, after they had returned home, my daughter received a text message from their dad: “What did you tell my boys?”

“Um – I’m not sure. Why?” she responded tentatively.

When dressing for bed that night, the boys had intentionally put their PJs on backwards. When Dad pointed out their mistake, they boldly replied, “Well, Dad, backwards is the new forwards.”

Those kids were clothed backwards for months!

When we as believers choose to embrace the Kingdom of God as revealed by Jesus – when we are willing to live counter to the self-indulgent nature of the world – we may as well put our shirts on backwards because we aren’t going to fit in.

No matter how hard we may try to fly beneath the radar, backwards is the new forwards in the Kingdom of God.

Want more in God’s economy? Learn to live with less.

Want love in God’s economy? Learn to give yours away.

Want peace while navigating this confused and broken life? Leave the Cosmo girl worldview on the shelf where it belongs and Want What You’ve Got today!

Daily Questions: Who do you know that is living a backwards, Kingdom-focused life? What makes them different? In what ways do they stand out? Does the invitation to “get the man/money/baby that you want” have any appeal to you at all? How might you respond to this worldly solicitation? Other than putting your clothes on backwards, how might you embrace God’s Great Reversal today?

backwards 2

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Literal 4 Lent: The Best Teaching Ever Heard

(Click here for the Literal 4 Lent home page)

Several years ago I attended Youth Specialties’ National Youth Workers Convention in the fall. I always LOVE YS events, and this one was no exception, with speakers like Andy Stanley and Louie Giglio on the main stage. I was especially eager to hear Shane Claiborne speak – his message the year before had seriously rocked my world, so I was hungry to hear what he would have to say this time, as thousands of youth workers gathered to be inspired.

Shane took the stage and proceeded to do a couple of carnival tricks, including fire-eating, which was weird but not altogether unexpected (have you ever seen Shane?). Then he took out his Bible and began to read from the Gospel of Matthew – the Sermon on the Mount.

He read chapter 5. And chapter 6. And chapter 7.

Not a short text, yet I was ready for what was coming next – Shane’s unique way of looking at scripture that would certainly lead me into new understandings and applications of the Word.

That’s not exactly what happened. As Shane read the final verses of Matthew ch. 7, he looked out at the crowd of eager listeners and prayed:

“God, give us the courage to live it.”

And he walked off the stage. Talk OVER. Total, stunned silence fell over the room.

From my journal, dated Nov. 16, 2007: “I admit to entertaining the question, ‘is this… IT?’ Yet even as I asked myself the question, I couldn’t believe I was asking myself if Jesus’ greatest sermon – in His own words – was ‘all’ that Shane was going to share… but I did think it.”

Sitting in the silent company of thousands whose mental gymnastics had to be similar to my own, I was MOVED from disappointment to the realization that this man, who clearly had the full attention of everyone in the room, had just leveraged his influence to lift up the words of Jesus as GOSPEL… TRUTH.

I was moved – to tears. “I am at once convicted and motivated; mortified and passionate; confused and crystal clear.”

The way this sermon of Jesus ends is the way I have chosen to begin the season of Lent, as it is ushered in today, on Ash Wednesday. Jesus makes it clear that His words are not just something to add to our collection of wise sayings, to be pulled out and comforted with in times of need. No, what Jesus says is something that I most desperately need to hear, and I suspect that you do, too.

“‘These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit – but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock. But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.’ When Jesus concluded his address, the crowd burst into applause. They had never heard teaching like this. It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying – quite a contrast to their religion teachers! This was the best teaching they had ever heard.” Matthew 7:24-29 (The Message)

THIS was the BEST TEACHING they had ever heard. Because Jesus wasn’t just telling them what to do – He was showing them.

What if Jesus meant for us to do the same?

What if Jesus was serious when He said that the role of Bible study is to work the Word into the living of our lives?

What if He meant for us to take His teachings literally?

During this Lenten season that begins today and runs through Easter morning, I invite you to join me in asking, “What if?

Pink Shoes Ministries is going to experiment with being Literal 4 Lent.

Each week day during the 40 days of Lent we will be considering the literal application of the teachings of Jesus and their potential impact on our lives, our families, our churches and communities. We’ll take a daily look at the red letters in the Gospels, making the Word our primary text for this season of the church year – this Way of the Cross.

Each week day, here at Pink Shoes Ministries on wordpress.com, we will consider THE WORD (a teaching from Jesus’ ministry) and THE APP (how we might live it – today). On the weekends we will rest and consider the impact of this experiment in Kingdom living, taking note of what the Word has done as we gave it hands and feet and took it into our world.

What if people listened to what we have to say and responded, “It’s apparent that they are living everything they are saying – quite a contrast to the typical religious crowd.”

Let’s DO IT! Let’s pray for the boldness and the courage to LIVE the best teaching ever heard for the next 40 days – and see what happens!

It won’t be easy, but it’ll be worth it. It’ll be counter-cultural, but it will also be counter to the passive Christianity that appears to have its roots somewhere other than in the teachings of Jesus the Christ.

I realize that we are all over the place when it comes to our interpretation of scripture, but won’t it be an unprecedented undertaking to be Literal 4 Lent?!

In November, 2007 as I sat silent in the crowd, this prayer rose in my heart. May it rise in your heart, too, as we follow Jesus into a life LIVED for the glory of God…

“I am eager for what YOU will do NEXT, God! Bring it. I am ready.

I am yours.”

Click to return to the Literal 4 Lent menu.

Literal 4 Lent: The Best Teaching Ever Heard

(Click here for the Literal 4 Lent home page)

Several years ago I attended Youth Specialties’ National Youth Workers Convention in the fall. I always LOVE YS events, and this one was no exception, with speakers like Andy Stanley and Louie Giglio on the main stage. I was especially eager to hear Shane Claiborne speak – his message the year before had seriously rocked my world, so I was hungry to hear what he would have to say this time, as thousands of youth workers gathered to be inspired.

Shane took the stage and proceeded to do a couple of carnival tricks, including fire-eating, which was weird but not altogether unexpected (have you ever seen Shane?). Then he took out his Bible and began to read from the Gospel of Matthew – the Sermon on the Mount.

He read chapter 5. And chapter 6. And chapter 7.

Not a short text, yet I was ready for what was coming next – Shane’s unique way of looking at scripture that would certainly lead me into new understandings and applications of the Word.

That’s not exactly what happened. As Shane read the final verses of Matthew ch. 7, he looked out at the crowd of eager listeners and prayed:

“God, give us the courage to live it.”

And he walked off the stage. Talk OVER. Total, stunned silence fell over the room.

From my journal, dated Nov. 16, 2007: “I admit to entertaining the question, ‘is this… IT?’ Yet even as I asked myself the question, I couldn’t believe I was asking myself if Jesus’ greatest sermon – in His own words – was ‘all’ that Shane was going to share… but I did think it.”

Sitting in the silent company of thousands whose mental gymnastics had to be similar to my own, I was MOVED from disappointment to the realization that this man, who clearly had the full attention of everyone in the room, had just leveraged his influence to lift up the words of Jesus as GOSPEL… TRUTH.

I was moved – to tears. “I am at once convicted and motivated; mortified and passionate; confused and crystal clear.”

The way this sermon of Jesus ends is the way I have chosen to begin the season of Lent, as it is ushered in today, on Ash Wednesday. Jesus makes it clear that His words are not just something to add to our collection of wise sayings, to be pulled out and comforted with in times of need. No, what Jesus says is something that I most desperately need to hear, and I suspect that you do, too.

“‘These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit – but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock. But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.’ When Jesus concluded his address, the crowd burst into applause. They had never heard teaching like this. It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying – quite a contrast to their religion teachers! This was the best teaching they had ever heard.” Matthew 7:24-29 (The Message)

THIS was the BEST TEACHING they had ever heard. Because Jesus wasn’t just telling them what to do – He was showing them.

What if Jesus meant for us to do the same?

What if Jesus was serious when He said that the role of Bible study is to work the Word into the living of our lives?

What if He meant for us to take His teachings literally?

During this Lenten season that begins today and runs through Easter morning, I invite you to join me in asking, “What if?

Pink Shoes Ministries is going to experiment with being Literal 4 Lent.

Each week day during the 40 days of Lent we will be considering the literal application of the teachings of Jesus and their potential impact on our lives, our families, our churches and communities. We’ll take a daily look at the red letters in the Gospels, making the Word our primary text for this season of the church year – this Way of the Cross.

Each week day, here at Pink Shoes Ministries on wordpress.com, we will consider THE WORD (a teaching from Jesus’ ministry) and THE APP (how we might live it – today). On the weekends we will rest and consider the impact of this experiment in Kingdom living, taking note of what the Word has done as we gave it hands and feet and took it into our world.

What if people listened to what we have to say and responded, “It’s apparent that they are living everything they are saying – quite a contrast to the typical religious crowd.”

Let’s DO IT! Let’s pray for the boldness and the courage to LIVE the best teaching ever heard for the next 40 days – and see what happens!

It won’t be easy, but it’ll be worth it. It’ll be counter-cultural, but it will also be counter to the passive Christianity that appears to have its roots somewhere other than in the teachings of Jesus the Christ.

I realize that we are all over the place when it comes to our interpretation of scripture, but won’t it be an unprecedented undertaking to be Literal 4 Lent?!

In November, 2007 as I sat silent in the crowd, this prayer rose in my heart. May it rise in your heart, too, as we follow Jesus into a life LIVED for the glory of God…

“I am eager for what YOU will do NEXT, God! Bring it. I am ready.

I am yours.”

Click to return to the Literal 4 Lent menu.

Face to Face L4L.11

Girl With Striped Fingernails Covering Face

Image by Pink Sherbet Photography via FlickrThe WORD

The WORD

“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If that person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17 (NLT)

I don’t know about you, but I definitely need to hear this again.

“If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him – work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.” (The Message)

If I’m honest, this is not the way I usually handle conflict. A literal interpretation of these words from Jesus would mean doing an about-face from my current default mechanism for conflict resolution. It’s not that I disagree with Jesus or think that His way isn’t the best way; it’s just that I’m so stuck in mine.

What is Jesus’ way when it comes to responding to awkward and painful relationship issues? This text deals specifically with how a believer is to respond when offended, hurt or disrespected by a brother or sister in the faith. Can I just say, to get it off of my chest, that nothing makes my heart hurt more than the unchecked emotions and unbridled tongues of those whose rulebook includes basically two entries:

  1. LOVE the Lord your God with everything you’ve got.
  2. LOVE everyone around you as you love yourself.

How CAN we say we subscribe to the first if we don’t also practice the latter?

The APP

The only way to carry out these words of Jesus is to take ALL conflict face to face.

Our response to the pain inflicted by friends and family in the church must first be one-on-one. Face to face. This is Jesus’ way – the way He’s calling us to walk – and yet we often choose to do something like this instead:

Match their argumentative or hurtful posture with a like-minded response.

Talk with a different friend (or friends) about the situation first.

Send an email, make a phone call, write a memo, send a text.

Build a wall of silence and keep your distance.

Unless we seek out the one whose words or actions have hurt us and do the difficult and often painful work of sitting down and addressing what has happened, we fail to honor Jesus’ teaching. In addition, by adding our murmurs to the rumor mill, we end up contributing gossip rather than grace; tearing down the community rather than building it up.

I really believe that the majority of conflict could be resolved by simply adopting this face to face approach and choosing to take our feelings and concerns directly to the source. It’s counterintuitive, really, to respond in any other way, yet we do it all the time in both our personal lives and corporate settings.

The side-effects of taking Jesus’ advice and going to the source of relational conflict are absolutely worth paying attention to:

No one else gets dragged into a fixable situation, which goes a long way to preserve the peace in a community.

The name of the person you’re at odds with is less likely to be dragged through the mud, protecting their reputation among the people.

YOUR name and reputation are protected, too, because you chose to tackle the issue, not the person.

Most people will ultimately feel valued by your choice to approach them first, giving them and their behavior the benefit of the doubt.

Handling conflict in this way allows for the possibility of a friendship to grow. Any other method stifles future friendly contact.

If being Literal 4 Lent is appealing to you, then we’ve got our work cut out for us! There is more here, in Matthew 18:15-17, for us to learn – we will come back to this text again.

For now, make face to face your mantra and pay attention… to how it changes you.

Click here to return to the Literal 4 Lent menu.

As-Is L4L.06

The WORD

Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with such scum?’ When Jesus heard this, he said, ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do.’” Matthew 9:10-12 (New Living Translation)

Again…

Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. ‘What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riff-raff?’ Jesus, overhearing, shot back, ‘Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick?’” Matthew 9:10-12 (The Message)

I’ve been reading John Ortberg’s book, “Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them,” and this text from Matthew resonates with Ortberg’s sentiment that Everybody’s Weird.

“This is such a fundamental insight,” Ortberg tells us, that it’s as if each of us comes with an “As-Is” tag bargain basement, clearance rack, non-refundable… “As-Is.” And, “because we know in our hearts that this is not the way we’re supposed to be, we try to hide our weirdness. Every one of us pretends to be healthier and kinder than we really are; we all engage in what might be called ‘depravity management.’”

If Ortberg is right, then there is no one outside of Jesus’ reach, no one who isn’t eligible to receive the medicinal treatments of the Savior. In light of the Matthew 9 text, this would mean that not even the self-righteous, snobbical Pharisees are beyond hope of healing, no matter how desperately they might try to cover up their ailments.

Every last one of us is weird, flawed, slightly irregular, sick. Sick, and in need of a doctor who specializes in our unique area of what’s-gone-wrong. The joy of today’s Word is that THIS is WHY Jesus came!

The APP

Jesus called a low-life tax collector to be one of His followers. One of His inner circle. One of His friends.

Jesus regularly ate meals with those who had been publicly labeled “As-Is,” unlike most of us who look pretty darn healthy on the surface, but whose family and close friends could tell you otherwise. With or without the stamp of disapproval, we all fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

We’re all in the same, sinking boat unless Jesus rescues us.

Today’s application piece is going to be challenging for us, especially for those of us whose lines are clearly drawn in the sand. It’s time that we, as followers of this Jesus who enjoyed the company of those whose lives were colored outside of the lines, learn to embrace our own “As-Is” identity as a way to bridge the chasm between the haves and the have-nots, the sick and the healthy, the outcasts and the in-crowd.

We simply cannot embrace the whole of another, flaws and all, until we have recognized and learned to love ourselves (flaws and all).

Jesus came for the sick, and it’s time we own up to the fact that we aren’t well without Him.

On our own, we’re a colossal mess.

Such a realization lays us low and minimizes the differences we love to perpetuate between people, between classes, between those with status and those without. Maybe today’s App for you is to be laid low, humbled before the Great Physician.

For the rest of us, a literal interpretation of this short text calls for a new direction in ministry. My Pastor made the observation that he isn’t excited about growth in the church when the majority of new members have transferred in from other ‘flocks.’ What gets his heart pumping and our collective adrenaline flowing is when people make their way to the Body of Christ by way of the hospital gurney – sick souls who have finally found the source of their eventual healing.

If we are to continue Jesus’ ministry in this world, it is imperative that we sit down to meals with society’s ailing members and rub elbows with those who exist outside our social and political lines. In Jesus’ day, that would be the tax collectors and prostitutes. Today, for you and me, the door is wide open and the need is intense. You can fill in your own blank, but if you’ve been healed by the One Who came to save, then you have a ministry among others in need of saving.

Look around you as you live your life today.

Whose “As-Is” tag is showing?

Tempting as it may be to tuck it in, smile awkwardly instead and remember that this is who Jesus’ heart beats for.

If you can’t hear it, grab a stethoscope and try again.

Click here to return to the Literal 4 Lent menu.

Hoop Jumping L4L.02

Hoop jumping

Image by Oliphant via FlickrThe WORD

The WORD

“Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem. They asked him, “Why don’t your followers obey the unwritten laws which have been handed down to us? They don’t wash their hands before they eat.”

Jesus answered, “And why do you refuse to obey God’s command so that you can follow your own teachings? God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Anyone who says cruel things to his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say a person can tell his father or mother, ‘I have something I could use to help you, but I have given it to God already.’ You teach that person not to honor his father or his mother. You rejected what God said for the sake of your own rules.

You are hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he said about you: ‘These people show honor to me with words, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is worthless. The things they teach are nothing but human rules.’” Matthew 15:1-9 (New Century Version)

Remember that one of the disciplines we’re working to develop during Lent is listeninglistening to JESUS as He speaks into our lives from His Word. Go ahead – read it again (feel free to read it from your favorite translation – here’s a link to many different versions if you’d like to give a new one a try: Matthew 15:1 at Blue Letter Bible).

Initially, I thought we’d just ease our way into Jesus’ world, Jesus’ thoughts and Jesus’ agendas. Start with the easy stuff and progressively get to His more challenging teachings, maybe as we get closer to Easter. Break ourselves in slowly. But, good grief! There IS NO ‘EASY’ when it comes to what Jesus had to say! These are fighting words spoken to the keepers of the Law. Fighting words that could get a prophet killed; the Messiah crucified.

Jesus has, in these few sentences, accused the leaders of the church of passing off their ‘traditions’ as Gospel. The Jewish hand washing rituals that were spoken of by the Pharisees and Law teachers were not something that God had taught them to do. Jesus says that they are teaching man-made ideas as commands from God, passing off their rituals as God’s ways. This was an especially brazen act in Jesus’ day, when the average Jewish devotee did not have his/her own copy of the Holy Scriptures. What Jesus is saying is that the leaders of the church were taking advantage of the people, furthering their own agendas by failing to distinguish them from the actual teachings contained in the Word of God.

The horror! No wonder Jesus called them hypocrites – a word that meant ‘actor’ or ‘pretender.’ ‘Poser’ is what we might say today. People whose perceived authority enables them to misuse their power, mislead the innocent and make it harder than necessary to walk in the ways of our God.

Amazing. That NEVER HAPPENS TODAY! (?)

The APP

A lot of us know a lot about the Bible. A lot of us have read much of the Bible for ourselves over the years. But a lot of us have not, and we’re taking for granted the sincerity of our faith-leaders when we base our belief and understanding of God on their say-so; on second-hand information.

The APP for today isn’t easy. (Neither was yesterday’s, by the way.) In order to apply these words of Jesus to our own lives, we have to be ready to make it personal. By that, I mean that we have to be ready to study God’s Word for ourselves, taking responsibility for what we’re learning.

The modern day church has created – perhaps inadvertently – a generation of couch potato Christians. Worshippers who are really just groupies, looking for the best show on Sunday morning. Followers who are out to have their ‘ears tickled’ by teachers and leaders who are still passing off their traditions and agendas as Gospel truth.

Much of today’s church, like the church at the time of Jesus, requires a whole lot of hoop jumping that is not biblical, and many of us are so entrenched that we aren’t even aware that such a thing is going on.

This isn’t right. Jesus said so.

To take this text literally, I believe we’re being called to ask the burning questions that are already floating to the surface as the Spirit stirs the pot…

Why do we do (this) in our worship?

What are the roots of our faith practices and traditions? Are they scriptural?

If something feels heavy and burdensome, isn’t that a clue that someone other than God is putting that thing on me?

I don’t know about you, but I sure want to be able to tell the difference between God’s ways and His best for me and the hoop jumping that goes on when we buy into the hidden (and not-so-hidden) agendas of those whose traditions are more sacred than the Word itself. This is not to say that all church leaders and teachers are like the hypocritical Pharisees and Law-keepers that Jesus refers to – there are beautiful shepherd-leaders and Spirit-filled teachers in every denomination and non-denomination today. But how will we know that what we’re being taught by others is a sincere, Spirit-led interpretation of the Word if we don’t compare what we’re hearing to the Word itself?

Today’s APP could be aptly titled: Wake Up and Smell the Coffee. And Read the Bible. And Know What It Says.

Some of us have been spiritually bullied long enough. We’re tired of jumping through hoops of tradition, empty ritual and shallow words.

Today, pick up your Bible.

Pick up your Bible, and READ.

And this weekend, READ and REST. I’ll see you back here on Monday, as we continue to experiment with being Literal 4 Lent.

Click here to return to the Literal 4 Lent menu.

It Gets Better… REALLY?

i choose love

Image by libby lynn via Flickr

My husband and I had just finished loading up my little Nissan Cube with groceries the other day when a man passing by commented to his friend as my husband got into the driver’s seat, not so much under his breath, “he’s gay.”

(Not the word he used.)

A friend told me about a church staff member who, in casual conversation, told her (a new church member) that their congregation was great, but she’d better watch out because “if they have their way, this church will be full of gays.”

(Not the word he used.)

 

Random strangers.

Specific church leaders.

Teenage bullies.

It’s hard to tell the difference sometimes.

 

The recent “It Gets Better” campaign on YouTube features celebrities and leaders, like President Obama and ELCA Bishop Mark Hanson, encouraging bullied teens with the sentiment that life for those who are different somehow “gets better” with age.

 REALLY?

As much as I want to believe the inspirational video clips, and as much as I would love to see teenagers turn the other cheek in hopes that one day the bullies will grow up and repent, I don’t have to look very far from my front doorstep to see that adults are setting the bar pretty low when it comes to respect for the dignity and humanity of others.

Sometimes teenage bullies just get taller, drive more expensive cars and buy houses in the suburbs.

What’s a follower of Jesus to do?

Some of us choose silence.

That’s what the “goats” in Jesus’ sorting sermon did. It’s not that they were the bullies, but that they did nothing (Matthew 25:41-46):

“Then he will turn to the “goats,” the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because – I was hungry and you gave me no meal. I was thirsty and you gave me no drink. I was homeless and you gave me no bed. I was shivering and you gave me no clothes. Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’

Then these goats are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’

He will answer them. ‘I’m telling the solemn truth. Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me – you failed to do it to me.’”

Some of us choose a side.

That’s what the apostles in the early church did when Peter extended the grace of God to the unclean outsiders, sharing the Gospel with them and watching as the Holy Spirit showed up (Acts 11:1-3):

“The news traveled fast and in no time the leaders and friends back in Jerusalem heard about it – heard that the non-Jewish “outsiders” were now “in.” When Peter got back to Jerusalem, some of his old associates, concerned about circumcision, called him on the carpet: “What do you think you’re doing rubbing shoulders with that crowd, eating what is prohibited and ruining our good name?”

Some of us have no choice.

That’s what happens when a believer sells out to the indwelling Spirit of God. The way that seems right to me only leads to death (Proverbs 16:25 and 14:12), but Jesus has made it abundantly clear which way IS RIGHT for me:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40

When it comes right down to it, there’s no denying that for Jesus, it’s all about LOVE. When I follow Jesus, it follows that the defining characteristic of my every word and action will be…

Love for my God.

Love for my family.

Love for my friends.

Love for the rude and insulting.

Love for the cruel and the angry.

Love for the overlooked and ignored.

Love for the outsider.

Maybe it doesn’t really get better for those of us who are different, who don’t fit in. But maybe it can seem better over time, because the more we’re exposed to the fiery darts of the haters, the thicker our skin becomes. The lower our expectations are. The less surprised we allow ourselves to be by the looks and the whispers and the fingers that point.

Maybe it’s time we stop blaming teenagers for the failure of our families, our churches, our communities and our world to set the standard of care for others at least as high as the standard of care we expect for ourselves.

The words of Isaiah chapter 61 scream to be heard by Christians whose fingers have been stuck in their ears far too long:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…”

As  followers of the One who was bullied to death, may we also rise again, pick up our crosses and shoulder the burden of our loving God:

“… to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

Church! We can do better than “It Gets Better.” We can be more than just a talking head.

Bullies may wield a big stick and words intended to wound, but isn’t that what we’ve come to expect from this world? I’m tired of cowering in the shadows, afraid of catching the bully’s eye!

You may choose silence.

You may choose to pick a side.

But from this day forward, I MUST CHOOSE LOVE.