I was walking in the woods one early fall day a few years ago when I came upon a group of green trees surrounding a small maple ablaze in red.
Flash forward to this past July. The maple tree on our front lawn was still showing the red blush of its early spring leaves, even though summer was well under way. I did a little research and am proud to say I learned something. We had so much rain and cold from May through July, there hadn’t been enough sunlight to produce the abundance of chlorophyll that masks the original leaf color with the monochromatic green of summer.
I’d always thought a frost was necessary for the leaves to start turning in the fall; come to find out, it’s largely because of a lack of sunlight. As the days shorten, the production of chlorophyll drops and the leaf’s true color once more is revealed.
So the little red tree in the green thicket wasn’t the overachiever I’d thought it to be; it merely had been deprived of sunlight by its taller relatives. But it reminded me of 2nd Corinthians 6:17, “come out from among them, and be ye separate … .”
That particular verse was written to encourage believers to remove themselves from the world and all its corrupting influences. Is this a realistic command?
Consider Solomon. God gave him wisdom and knowledge, riches, wealth and honor. But somewhere along the way he bought into the entitlement attitude: “[w]hatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them … .” (Ecclesiastes 2:10). He knew what was right, but in the end he sacrificed his wisdom and knowledge, gradually turning “his heart after other gods” (1st Kings 11:4).
Is it possible for a believer today to live in the world, and not be affected by the world? First John 2:15 warns “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” So how does a believer keep the ministry of showing Christ’s love to the world while remaining apart from the world’s influences?
In John 17:14-15, Jesus prayed for us: “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.”
The evil one would have us believe truth in order to swallow the lie: the truth is that God loves everyone; the lie is it doesn’t matter what we do, because a truly loving God won’t condemn anyone to hell. It sounds all warm and fuzzy, but what’s wrong with this mindset? It’s human thinking, not God thinking. Realistically speaking, if you don’t want to spend time with Jesus here on Earth, he’s certainly not going to force himself upon you in eternity.
The scary thing is, in their efforts to keep people from feeling uncomfortable about sin in their lives, more and more churches are adopting a watered-down message of love and tolerance, good feelings and good works, often to the exclusion of the One who IS love — Jesus Christ. Are we willing to sacrifice the truth in order to entertain and not offend?
What would Jesus do? He never minced words when it came to the truth, because he IS the truth. And, as his followers, he expects — commands, even — that we stay true to his word.
The world would have us believe that love and tolerance conquer all and create equality. But even in the most loving of relationships, we all bring human emotions of anger, impatience, pride and selfishness. No amount of legislation can alter that. And we can’t rewrite the Word of God in order to feel better about ourselves; that’s why it’s the WORD OF GOD, written for our learning (Romans 15:4). You have probably seen the bumper sticker that reads, What part of ‘thou shalt not …’ don’t you understand?
So where do we draw the line? We can start by taking a stand for traditional marriage and voting yes in the upcoming referendum. Not because I say so, but because God says so in Genesis 2:24, “Therefore a man shall … be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” This isn’t an act of hatred or intolerance, rather it’s holding fast to Divine Decree.
Whenever there’s doubt about where a Christian should stand, always go with the Word of God; for the believer it should be the natural choice.
Just as the red tree stood out in the forest of green, we, as followers and imitators of Christ, must stand out from the crowd. How? By remaining true to God’s Word, speaking the truth in love, loving the sinner (and we’re all sinners) but hating the sin (and we all sin — 1st John 1:9 takes care of that issue), and speaking up for what’s right, even when the world says otherwise.
It’s all about choice. Joshua said, “[c]hoose you this day whom you will serve … but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15). Peter clinched it in Acts 5:29, “We ought to obey God rather than men.”
It’s your choice.
Brenda J. Norris is assistant Sunday school leader and choir director at the West Lubec Methodist Church. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.