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Friday, May 18, 2018

But I Still Feel Like an Anomaly, and It Hurts

(You might want to read “Ann O’Malley, Anomaly” and “Anomaly No More” before reading this post.)

The separation continues

    So I’m a Christian. So I belong to God, to His family. I fit in. I’m part of His crowd. Forever. Nothing can change that. So why do I still feel like an anomaly when I’m with other Christians? Wasn’t that whole anomaly thing supposed to end when I came to Christ?

    The bad news is that it doesn’t end. We’re still fallen human beings, even when we’re saved. We’ll experience separation from others, even other believers, until we’re with Jesus.

The healing begins

    The good news is twofold. First, after 45 years as a believer involved in both Christian and secular groups, I’ve found greater acceptance, greater fellowship, greater love among Christians than in any other group. Where the Holy Spirit dwells, this is the natural outcome. I know there are some people who’ve had very negative experiences within the church, who’ve been rejected by those who should support them, who’ve felt hated by those who should love them. That’s one of the issues that I’m trying to address in this blog. The church could and should do a better job of expressing God’s love for those who are hurting. But overall, in general, for the most part, I’ve seen greater acceptance and love, greater fruit of the Spirit within the Christian family than in any other group.

    That’s not to say that every individual Christian is more Christlike in this area than every individual nonbeliever. There are some very kind and generous and loving people who do not (yet) believe in Jesus as the Son of God and Savior. There are some Christians who fail to demonstrate God’s character in their treatment of others. My observation pertains only to groups in general, and I know it’s limited by my limited experience. But I find it encouraging to be able to say that I see a definite difference, as there should be, between believers as a group and the world as a whole.

    I once knew a Christian boy I’ll call Phil who was in junior high school. He had a big heart for others, and was disturbed by the lack of love that he saw among his Christian friends. They weren’t as accepting as they should be of those who were different from them. Didn’t Jesus say to love both your neighbor (Matthew 19:19) and your enemy (Matthew 5:44)? Phil didn’t see much of that going on.

    He was a friendly kind of guy and quickly got to know other boys in each of his classes. Christians, kids of other faiths or no faith, athletes, nerds, the well-behaved, the ones who were generally in trouble or who struggled to learn new material. He could get along with almost anyone and appreciate them just the way they were.

    One of his new friends was on the radical side. Spiked hair, attitude. But very smart. Phil got the impression that Spike and his crowd were more accepting of others than Phil’s Christian acquaintances were. They had some interesting conversations. Phil wasn’t buying into the radical stuff, but he had a certain respect for this group.

    One time, Spike invited Phil to hang out at the mall with him and his buddies on a Saturday evening. In spite of their apprehensions, Phil’s parents agreed to drop him off and pick him up. As far as they could tell, everything went fine. No emergency phone calls. No police officers knocking on their door.

    When they went back to the mall and Phil got in the car, he had a whole new perspective on the radical crowd. They weren’t as nonjudgmental as he’d thought. He’d had the gall to turn down the cigarette that they offered him. They taunted him for it and made fun of all the other mall-goers. After less than an hour of hanging out with them, Phil had run into a different set of friends and decided to spend the rest of the evening with those boys instead.

    There are plenty of groups that talk the talk of acceptance, tolerance, peaceful co-existence. But once you get to know them, once you hang out with them at the mall, you almost always find that they have their own ideas about what’s acceptable and what will be tolerated. When you voice your disagreement with their standards, when you politely turn down a cigarette that you’re supposed to accept, the group as a whole is no longer so accepting and tolerant. It’s normal.  It takes the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome this natural tendency of fallen humanity.

Making a difference

    Which leads to the second half of the good news: I can be part of the solution. I have the Holy Spirit within me. Therefore I can be growing in the fruit of that Spirit: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). I can treat others as I want to be treated (Luke 6:31), with patience and kindness and gentleness. I can help reduce that sense of anomaly, that feeling of being weird, of not fitting in, of not being a part of the crowd, whether I’m at home or at work or at the mall, whether I’m with a fellow believer or an atheist or someone of another faith. I can make a difference.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Anomaly No More

(You might want to check out my first post before reading this one.)

Fitting in

    It hurts to be an anomaly. There’s so much pressure today to keep up with what’s trending. Forget what’s important or what’s meaningful. What’s trending is more crucial to our lives, more significant, more urgent. The unspoken message: if you’re not up on the latest trend, you’re an anomaly. You’re on the outside. You don’t fit in. And that’s bad.

    But isn’t every one of us an anomaly to some degree? Won’t I always feel different in one way or another from every single person around me, even when I follow all the latest trends? How do I cope with this?

The bad news

    When I look to God’s Word I find bad news. In Genesis chapter 3 Adam and Eve defied an express command from God and ate the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Several things happened as a result, but they all relate to God’s statement, “When you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Sometimes the Bible uses the word “die” to symbolize separation. Adam and Eve didn’t physically die the moment they ate the fruit. But they instantly experienced separation.

    They “made coverings for themselves” (3:7). Separation from each other. “They hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (3:8). Separation from God. The man blamed the woman (3:12). Separation from each other. The woman blamed the serpent (3:13). Separation from personal responsibility, from self. They were banished from the garden of Eden (3:23). Separation from paradise.

    Sadly, the Fall resulted in humans becoming separated from all that had been most precious to them, including each other. Adam became an anomaly to Eve. Eve became an anomaly to Adam. The pain began. And it will continue until this world ends. We will always feel like anomalies in regard to our human relationships.

The good news

    But I also find good news in God’s Word. In spite of being separated from the presence of God, in spite of the inability of sinful man to have a relationship with God, no one is separated from the love of God, the love that provides a way back to fellowship with Him. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. . . . We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:9-10, 19). “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

    While we were in such a state that there was no way we could live up to God’s righteous standards, Christ died for us. This is so freeing. God loves you just the way you are. You can come to Him without having to clean up your act first. You can come to Him with all your doubts and fears and anger and bitterness. Jesus loves you so much that He offers His own blood to cover your sin even while you’re enjoying those sins, even when you’re shaking your fist in His face, even before you begin to regret the brokenness and separation that sin brings in its wake. Even when you’re His enemy. The ultimate demonstration of how to love your enemies (Matthew 5:44).

    God’s desire is that no one will feel anomalous or left out in relation to Him. “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4). “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). He wants everyone to be saved. He wants everyone to belong.

    When you come to Him, when you recognize your inability to be worthy to stand before a perfect and righteous God, when you accept His free gift of forgiveness through the sacrifice and resurrection of His Son, you can leave your sense of anomaly behind. You now belong to Him and are a part of His family, as fully acceptable to Him as the most saintly people in the Bible.