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(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

What of the lost sheep who have acted as wolves in sheeps’ clothing? Who have caused us or others harm?

Yesterday a birthday passed for someone who has strayed far from his fold. Someone whose online messages state he is lost but who is not yet willing to turn to the Shepherd. Someone who has committed thefts, large and small, against his closest family members who now must maintain security systems to keep him out. Someone whose words so often turn out to be false. Someone for whom others have taken up the responsibility of raising his children. Someone who was given chance after chance to change his ways and do right, but who, so far, has not chosen to face the truth that much of what he is reaping is what he has sown.

So easy for me (and others more closely) affected by his actions to wish that he eat of the bitter fruits he has planted. To want retribution not resolution.

And, yet, what of those parables of the Lost Sheep, the Prodigal Son, the Workers in the Vineyard, etc. am I choosing to ignore? That nothing is impossible with a God who sent his son to save you, me, men who steal from their grandmothers and mothers, murderers, those who persecute the faithful, those who wish others to lie in the beds they’ve made—anyone who commits crimes against God and fellow humans—which is all of us.

How can I act as if I deserve grace any more than he does? Grace is always undeserved—that is the nature of grace. If God’s grace is sufficient, then it is sufficient for all, not just for those whom we judge to have not strayed quite as far others.

Shame on me for not believing that where there is God there is hope, no matter how much hurt a person has sown in this world. This man is a child of God and a child of his mother, who still longs deeply in her heart for his redemption—with God and with family.

At the same time, there is real reason for creating boundaries. Just because God says all are welcome at His table does not mean we need to extend that welcome to our tables while the actions and hearts have yet to change.

But what of my actions and heart also needs to change to be fully welcome at God’s table? If vengeance is God’s, then isn’t my job instead to pray without ceasing and to open my heart to the possibility that no matter the seeds that have been planted so far, that there is still time for a harvest that will bear good fruit?

Earlier this year Pope Francis declared a Holy Year of Mercy—a Jubilee—reminding us that “no one can be excluded from the mercy of God. . . .” No one—not even the lost sheep who have harmed us. Come, Lord Jesus, come.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
John 3:16-17, NIV

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

The week before I got sick, I was just too busy to write. My brother Scott was coming with his family: his wife Lori, his son and his wife, and another son’s children (four boys eight and under!) whom Scott and Lori are raising. To say that we had a lot of preparation to do before Thanksgiving was an understatement— we have enough trouble keeping the house orderly enough to be guest-friendly for adults, let alone for children.

Nonetheless, when all the busyness was said and done, we were really thankful to see our relatives for Thanksgiving. Scott and Lori have taken on the everyday care of these boys and do a great job with them despite the challenges of raising such young children when they themselves are in their fifth decades.

During the week of their visit to our house, we also wanted to bring the family to see our daughter who had to cut out early from her college break to go back to work Black Friday—oh, let’s just call it Black Thanksgiving since she had to start working at 5:00 p.m. that day. Plus, the boys were quite excited to visit her at her workplace, which is still a magical place for them. So it was that we all found ourselves dodging shopping carts at ToysRUs on the real Black Friday—and four little boys found themselves enjoying the outing even if the adults in the party were a little less excited.

Afterwards we all went out for a meal—no small task with eight adults and four boys. Since the weather was unseasonably warm, next we were able to take a post-dinner stroll through the nearby pedestrian mall, decorated with its twinkling holiday lights.

That’s when we saw him, standing on his soapbox outside a bar. His sign read: You deserve to go to Hell.

I wanted to call out to him, “Exactly—we all do. That’s why Jesus came—to take away all our sins.”

However, as Lori said later, it’s often pointless to get into a debate with people who think that way. Still, there he was talking deep into his belief that he had to scare people to Jesus—that the people inside drinking on a Friday night were obviously sinners who were just plain lost. Of course the smokers who came outside from the bar were having a good time needling him, unaware that they really did need Jesus’ love—for all their sins. But they weren’t hearing anything about love. In college towns, evangelists like this man tend to focus on sins surrounding sex and drunkenness, but not on sins about treating others unkindly.

In the Bible, who is most often at the receiving end of Jesus’ angry outbursts? The uptight “rules people” who do not show kindness in their dealings with people. Yes, Jesus hung out with the sinners—maybe also outside the watering holes of the day—but based on everything else I’ve read about Him, I have to believe He showed them why they should want to change through giving his love.

As our large family group walked by on our way elsewhere, the man shouted out and pointed at one of the children saying, “You see that young child there—he’s as innocent as the day he was born.”

Please don’t take this the wrong way, but though my sister-in-law loves and serves God, she muttered, “You don’t know him.” This is not because this child or any other of the children “deserves to go to Hell” on his own merits—it is because we are all born wanting to do our own thing versus wanting to do God’s—or other authority figures’—things.

It’s not just guys drinking at a bar or men and women looking for a quick hook-up. It’s also the three-year-old who throws the fit because he isn’t in the mood for bed yet or the four-year-old who keeps touching everything he has been told not to touch or the five-year-old “innocent” child who would just rather not do what his family (that old “honor your mother or father” thing—or honor those who are raising you) asks him to do or the eight-year-old who pulls out the game he was told to put away. But it’s also you and I when we speed up to cut off other drivers or when we speak rudely to customer service people.

There are so many sins—big and little—we all do throughout our lives. I’m sinning by not even wanting to debate this man who loves God because I don’t seem to think God is big enough to make it a worthwhile conversation. Even when we’re mostly doing the right things in God’s eyes, there are still sins we commit. To ignore God’s will—even if His will is simply for us to respect people, both those we love and those whose actions have not earned our respect—is to deserve to go to Hell.

For mere humans it is impossible ever to deserve to go to Heaven—and that’s why God gave us Jesus. I personally can’t say if those guys from the bar or the street preacher or those precious (though still imperfect) children nor you nor I will ever make it to Heaven, but it’s also not up to me to say. All know is sometimes we don’t get what we deserve and sometimes we get way more than we deserve—and when it comes to Heaven and Hell, that’s called mercy—the mercy that comes through Christ.

Not a one of us walking by the sign-hoisting man deserved perfect love, not even the three-year-old, and, yet, I believe Jesus gives it to us anyway. Because of that kind of love, people do really tough things—such as raising someone else’s children or walking away when someone’s behavior deserves a wrathful response or even by making a decision to treat their bodies more like the temples God created. You can wave your signs in the air and condemn everyone who walks by but I choose to see the Christ within.

This Thanksgiving I was very much grateful for good times with family and friends—but even more grateful for the kind of mercy Jesus bought for me for which I am not prepared and that which I most definitely do not deserve.

Thank God—really.

(c) 2010

(c) 2010

God loves you, you know, even if the late Fred Phelps (Westboro Baptist) said, “You’re not going to get nowhere (sic) with that slop that ‘God loves you.’ That’s a diabolical lie from hell without biblical warrant.”

No, the diabolical lie is that God propagates hate. Of course, there’s biblical warrant for saying God loves you. But like everyone else amongst us, Phelps was prone to pick the passages in the Bible he preferred over those he didn’t. I’m just as guilty as he is in that one, but I choose to fall on the side of the “slop” about love.

No matter how much hate Phelps spread in this world, God still loved him. Not for what he did, but for who he was—a child of God. Phelps did more to promote God’s love than he knew by bringing us together to denounce the Westboro message of hate. All sorts of people who couldn’t agree on faith issues could agree that Phelps and his group were going about the message all wrong. His idea of promoting what was “right” in God’s eyes meant any way to promote his insight into God’s message worked, including the collateral damage of harming innocents to shock us (as individuals, people, nations, the world) into accepting the truth as he saw it.

But most of us did not buy into his terroristic methods. People, often with nothing more in common than an aversion to hate, came together to hold hands and form a chain of love against the unchained hate of Westboro Baptist.

Unlike what Fred Phelps did, God doesn’t name call. He also doesn’t elevate one sin over another. Sin is simply anything that gets in the way of us and God.

And when it comes to that sort of sin, we’re all as guilty as Fred Phelps, whether or not we separate ourselves from God by knowingly turning from him, by not putting him at the center of our lives, or by arrogantly believing we know exactly how God believes and that he has called us to be his enforcers.

The truth is, not a one of us is good enough to be saved by God. But our God is a God of love. He longs for our hearts to be turned to him and longs to take our sins, any sins no matter how heinous.

That means anyone can be saved until his or her last breath. You and I should be glad that God is God. Fred Phelps, Ted Bundy, me, you, whomever—we all need his mercy and forgiveness.

For God so loved the world that he gave us his son so that we could be free to love others and let God worry about the final details. So get out there and never stop promoting that slop about God and his love.

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(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert