I attended my first show choir competition over the weekend. As I sat and watched my daughter amongst the sea of yellow dresses, I was overcome by salty tears streaming down my cheeks. While I was definitely a proud momma experiencing a passion for the stage through my child, I was shaken to the core, taken aback by the theme of so many of the performances.
The youth on the stage were dancing and singing anthems of empowerment, encouragement, and love. The students in the auditorium cheered their peers on regardless of which school they were from. And they were LOUD. I imagine every single student left that stage ready to take on the world and to support others in their pursuits.
As I watched the other schools perform, I began to evaluate my emotional response to this whole experience. While I'm sure some of my reaction was simply that of a proud Momma, there was also a longing coming to the forefront of my heart. A longing to feel encouraged and to encourage others; to empower and be empowered; to love and to be loved.
Messages of empowerment and encouragement flood our social media streams, but often the reality of those messages escape our day to day. We're often very good at talking the talk, but our walk is a little crooked and unstable.
Awhile ago I left a women's bible study group feeling just this way. When our conversation evolved into one of criticism and condemnation towards another group of women, my heart dropped into the pit of my stomach. Here, we were presented with an opportunity to love unceasingly but instead some of those present chose to belittle and pass judgement. I left feeling confused and overwhelmingly concerned about the heart of our churches. If I, as a Christian woman, a wife to a pastor, could leave a bible study feeling rejected and broken; how would someone outside the church feel?
In the book of John, Chapter 15, Jesus is addressing his disciples. As Jesus uses the vine and the branches to help the disciples understand the pruning process that all Christians must endure, he commands his disciples to do one thing - to love each other as He has loved them.
The disciples weren't limited to loving each other though, just as we as Christians aren't limited to loving other Christians. We are called to love EVERYONE - the broken, the addicted, the lost, the lonely, the self-righteous know-it-all who sits at the end of the pew - EVERYONE.
Beyond simply loving (although, is love really a simple thing?), we should be a people of encouragement when others are downtrodden and empowerment when others are feeling defeated. The culture of the church, both inside and out, must be one of elevation.
American Christianity has become a religion of exclusivity instead of a path to forgiveness and righteousness. -Click to tweet.
American Christianity has become a religion of exclusivity instead of a path to forgiveness. Christianity isn't about shaming and belittling, it's about breaking chains. It's about the freedom offered through Christ's excruciating death upon that cross. Yet, many of those in attendance every Sunday use their status as a Christian to condemn and bring judgement down upon the masses.
To those I ask, what will you say when you meet Jesus face-to-face? What excuse will you give him when he tells you he trusted His sons and daughters to you; that he sent them to you for shelter and food and you turned them away, citing some verse taken completely out of context in order to serve your greater purpose?
We see the masses turning away and rejecting the church while continuing to seek the peace that comes only from Christ. Our churches are no longer a place of safety and refuge but instead a place known for rejection and judgement - a home for the self-righteous instead of the righteous. The masses aren't rejecting Christ; they're rejecting Christians.
Sweet Friends, we've been stuck for too long. It's time to break the cycle of judgement and shaming and declare the freedom to love as we have been commanded. It's time to love, encourage, and empower not only those within the church walls, but perhaps even more so, those outside of them.
It's time to love unceasingly.