More than ‘being a nice person’

acceptHow do you treat those who are ‘other?’  Humans tend to gather in groups of people who are like themselves and, in the darker part of our beings, are often tempted to discriminate, to create ways to favor our own interests, and even to demonize those with who we have difference. We teach our little ones to be nice but even children on the playground sort themselves into groups, choosing who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out.’  Americans make much of being a society without a nobility, a nation of opportunity, and I am deeply grateful for that ideal, but must ask us to think if we really live it?

Let me be personal – are you a person who accepts others? Do you go beyond just being politely nice to those who are different, to a real acceptance that sees the God-created value of each one? It’s not an easy question.  I confess, sadly, I too often find myself finding a reason to stand apart from the ‘other,’ hear myself saying words that judge, unintentionally perhaps; but none-the-less building a wall instead of a bridge! Any intentions I may have to be kind are overcome by the natural tendency to love Self. That is why I need the Savior and the Spirit of God. He finds me where I am and move towards His calling.

Christians should be on the forefront of creating acceptance for we are called by God to build bridges between people who are separated by race, sex, status, and religion. This is a spiritual issue, not merely a social or political one. When we are made alive to God by new birth, when the Spirit restores us to our Father, we gain a new sense of identity. It is not shaped by our nation, our race, our sex, our education, or social status.  We are ‘children of God.’

John tells us that God lavishes His love on us, a transformational experience, and we become loving. In the 3rd chapter of his first letter, he make a lengthy case for this new kind of relationship with others. His words offer us no shelter for our old ways. “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.” (1 John 3:14-15, NIV)

Paul says that we go beyond religious regulation and we experience renewal, from the heart outward. Writing to the church in Galatia (and to us) he says that this renewal shows in a new community that not created of people who look and act the same ways, but by people who are God’s children. “For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.” (Galatians 3:26-29, NLT)  Abraham, by calling and faith, is considered the father of the faithful. One need not be his physical descendant to enjoy inclusion in God’s promise to him.  “In Christ” we are called into the family, all other distinctions eclipsed by this gift of grace!

Today America remembers Martin Luther King, Jr.,  the Baptist minister, who became the nation’s conscience, gifted by God with a voice that spoke to our persistent sin of racism and inequality. I pray that we will not see his message as one only for government and public policy, though it was aimed to change those things.

May we, who are God’s children through faith in His Son, understand that we, by our spiritual calling, should be the voice of the powerless, the defender of the weak, those who hold out a hand to all without regard to those things that naturally would divide us. Let our prayer be not just to be ‘nice people,’ but to be transformed people, changed by love that is deep and strong, that pushes fear from our minds and hearts, and replaces it with the serenity that God alone can offer us in this turbulent world – for Jesus’ sake.

Here is a word from the Word. “Showing partiality is never good, yet some will do wrong for a mere piece of bread.” (Proverbs 28:21, NLT) “For God does not show favoritism.” (Romans 2:11, NLT)

Lord, make us like You, without favorites, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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