America, Forgiveness, friendship, Spiritual Growth, Surviving Adultery and Divorce

An Extravagant Response

How is a Christian to respond?

This week, videos surfaced of students from a University of Oklahoma fraternity singing sickening, racially-motivated lyrics. The racial slurs were painful to hear, and the video should offend everyone who sees it. Racial tensions in our country are at an all-time high, at least in my lifetime. To add fuel to the fire in such a manner only deepens the divide.

I recently learned that a friend of mine is a lesbian. She married her partner here in Oklahoma after the courts struck down the ban on same-sex marriages. I’ve known her for years, and I have often wondered if she was a lesbian. However, I never inquired and she never shared. Perhaps she didn’t share because she was afraid that I, as a Christian, might reject her.

Some time ago, yet another friend of mine got into some legal trouble. He was going through a very difficult period in his life, and he made some poor choices. Those choices are completely out of character for him, and yet he is still paying the consequences of his decision. He lives in fear of judgment and condemnation.

In some very, very small way, I can understand how it feels to be rejected for sin. Since I began openly sharing about my divorce, I receive some extremely hurtful and condemning comments and emails from Christians. I am reminded frequently that divorce is a sin, that God hates divorce. I am told that I need to seek reconciliation with my ex-husband regardless of the circumstances surrounding my divorce. I am told that if I remarry, I will be living in adultery and condemned to hell.

However, as I study scripture, I find myself asking how Christ would respond to these situations.

To the Samaritan woman at the well, he acknowledged her worth despite her race and gender (John 4). He offered her living water.

To the woman caught in adultery, Christ extended mercy and gave the exhortation, “Go and sin no more,” (John 8). He told her accusers to look at their own sin, first.

To Zacchaeus, the tax collector, Jesus went to his house for fellowship (Luke 19). His love brought about true change in the life of a sinner.

To the sinful woman who anointed his feet with expensive perfume and wiped them with her hair, he forgave her sins (Luke 7). Because her sins were many, she had a tremendous debt of gratitude for the forgiveness extended to her.

But to the hypocrites, those who pray publicly and loudly, making a show of their superior spirituality, Christ said they had received their reward in full (Matthew 6). He reserved his harshest words for those who felt compelled to point out the sins and shortcomings of others.

How often does God extend grace and mercy to me in the midst of my poor choices? How often do I fall at the feet of Jesus in gratitude for the debt of sin he has canceled for me? How often does he fellowship with me despite my status as a lowly sinner?

And yet, so often I let my pride get in the way of people. My first response to another’s sin is often one of self-righteousness indignation. How could that person do something so awful?

And then, if I choose to hear him, I hear the whisper of the Holy Spirit reminding me of my own sin. Perhaps it’s my own poor choices when my life fell apart. Perhaps it’s my own pride that blinds me to my sin while keeping me focused on the sins of others. Perhaps it’s my daily failures to walk in total and complete obedience to my Savior, to live completely abandoned to the one who died for me.

How, then, should we respond to sin?  I would argue that we should respond with extravagant love! We should seek reconciliation with those who feel rejected and condemned. We should love unashamedly those walking counter to scripture. We should allow mercy and grace to pour through our lives to those dealing with the consequences of sin. We should remember that it is only by God’s grace that we are where we are today.

Throughout scripture, we find passages exhorting us to love:

 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

Did you catch that? It is our love that will show others we belong to Christ! It’s not how much scripture we know. It’s not how well we can exegete Greek. And it’s certainly not how well we can point out others’ sins. It is our love for others that will set us apart.

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. Colossians 3:12-14

Above all else we must put on love. It’s not optional. It’s not just a suggestion. It’s not just a portion of our Christian wardrobe. It is the most essential part of our wardrobe. Love is the one thing we must never forget. It binds us in unity, showing a lost world that there is a better way.

What if we were all keenly aware of our own sins, of our own failures, of our own need for grace and forgiveness? Would it make us more compassionate with others? Would it remind us of how great the price paid for our own sins? Would it make us put down our stones of judgment and condemnation? Would we learn to make allowance for each other’s fault if we allowed ourselves to live in constant recognition of our own sins?

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.  If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Gifts and prophecies are great. The spiritual gifts are essential. Understanding great truths about God is a blessing. And yet, without love, all these things amount to nothing. They are rubbish in the sight of God if we choose not to love.

How, then, should a Christian respond to racism? To homosexuality? To poor choices? To divorce?

A Christian should respond with love. With extravagant love. With love that could only come from the one who is love himself.

I pray that I will have opportunity to show that the color of one’s skin is irrelevant to me. My care and concern for my friend who is a lesbian will not change. I will continue to love her with the love of God. My friend paying consequences for poor choices will know that I see the situation through the eyes of grace, as an opportunity to have a greater understanding of God’s love and forgiveness. I pray that others will look beyond the divorce attached to my name and see that the worst thing this world has given me has been the greatest motivator to draw closer to Christ. To God be the glory in all things!

I pray that we, as Christians, will be so busy examining our own hearts that we don’t have time to pick at the speck in others’ eyes. I pray that we, as Christians, will understand that the first and greatest commandment is to love God and the second is to love others. I pray that we, as Christians, will spend so much time looking for opportunities to shower others with extravagant love and grace that the world will step up and take notice.

I pray that we, as Christians, will become known for our love in all circumstances.

 

 

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28 thoughts on “An Extravagant Response”

  1. We are still called to speak the truth in love. We shouldn’t enable or encourage sin. Jesus says to help remove the speck. Maybe it’s to help overcome a sin that we had a problem with, ie the log. Whatever the case, a speck could only be removed if the person trusted us, and we carefully, expertly removed it. Build relationships in love, but don’t water down the truth. It’s loving to tell someone they are sinning if you do it without judgment and condemnation. It’s a fine line for sure.

    1. Yes, that is true. But, I think like Jesus, we need to look beyond the outer appearance and actions and see the heart. We absolutely have to deal with the log in our eye long before we deal with the speck in someone else’s. More often than not, people are very aware of their sins. They are far less aware of our love for them.

    2. I am wondering why Jesus said only those whose divorce was broken due to infidelity should remarry. It’s my case but not the man I have grown to love over the past 2 years. I thought I was doing right by making sure he was a Christian. It didn’t cross my mind to see if his divorce was biblical before I fell in love with him. Now I have no clue what to do.

      1. Oh, Millie! There are legalistic people out there! Don’t worry about them! God’s grace is greater than all of our sins. I don’t believe that God teaches remarriage is completely wrong. There is a legalistic, strict interpretation that says that. There is so much more to be considered when interpreting the Bible. You can’t take one, two, or three verses out of the entire Bible and use them to force people into a very narrow, legalistic view. Ironically, one of the scriptures used (Romans 7, I believe) is in the context of setting us free from the law!

        I used the story of David in my crosswalk article. David and Bathsheba had an affair. David had Bathsheba’s husband murdered so they could get married. Despite adultery and murder, God blessed the union. Solomon was the wisest man ever to live, king of Israel, and an ancestor of Christ. Sounds to me like God’s grace was great!

        You must spend time with Jesus. Let him lead you into the future he has. Seek wise, biblical counsel. Walk forward with your head held high!

        Has he repented of his past sins? Then he is brand new in Christ! Enjoy the blessings of the beautiful future God has for you!

  2. Yes thanks. But if The Lord Jesus told the woman taken in adultery to “Go, and sin no more”, and The Lord certainly loved and loves her, then is it not loving on our part to do likewise to our friends, such as your lesbian friend? In fact, are we not being cruel and condoning if we do not remind them to “sin no more”? And if so, how can we turn around and preach “love” to them? God is love, and He is also God of righteousness and justice. Please you need to plead with your lesbian friend to REPENT toward God by desisting from the wicked lesbian lifestyle and accept the gift of Christ for freedom from sin.

    1. But you can’t preach repentance until you have gained an audience through love. Therefore, in God’s time and through his leading, those words can be spoken. In all truth, I believe she KNOWS her sin.

    2. Fidez,

      I think Billy Graham said it best when asked about confronting LGBT people about their being LGBT: “It’s God’s job to judge, the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, and my job to love.”

      As highlighted in this post, the only way the world will ever know that we follow Jesus is by the love with which we treat others. Our telling someone to “sin no more” (especially when each one of us has our own sin problems) is setting up a hypocritical posture of “I’m right and you’re wrong” and never works.

      If you’re interested in reaching out to the LGBT community, maybe you’d like to read Andrew Marin’s “Love Is An Orientation.” Putting a face on homosexuality and other gender variances is the best approach to loving someone who is different than we are. If we truly care, we will want to know their stories; once we know their stories, we will be convinced of the truth of the Billy Graham statement shared above.

      1. Thank you! What a beautiful statement. As usual, when I write about love and grace and divorce, there’s always an outpouring of comments opposing me, claiming that I’m watering down the gospel and ignoring the true dictates of scripture. It’s that judgement and condemnation that pushes others AWAY from Christ. My heart is saddened by those who think they have searched the scripture and found the one true interpretation and it is their job to force their (human) interpretation on others. Perhaps one day, when I get to heaven, God will tell me that my interpretation was wrong. But, I know I have searched my heart and reached my conclusions by listening to the Holy Spirit. I would much rather be found guilty of erring on the side of love and grace–against which there is no law–than to be found guilty of judgement and condemnation. You are so right. We must put a face on those who are different. We must love. The Holy Spirit comes to convict and correct. It is Satan who comes to condemn.

      2. This may also offer a different perspective: Last year, “Prodigal Magazine” ran an article by Sammy Adebiyi in which he was asked, “How can I love someone who I believe is living in sin? How do you love someone whose actions or behaviors you find unacceptable?” In reply he shared something written by C.S. Lewis that should give us all pause for thought:

        “There is someone I love even though I don’t approve of what he does. There is someone I accept though some of his thoughts and actions revolt me. There is someone I forgive though he hurts the people I love the most. That person is … ME.”

        Adebiyi closed with this profound statement:

        “I want LGBT people to know Jesus more than I want them to know my theological position.”

        Amen and Amen.

      3. Yes! Yes! Yes! We are more like Pharisees than any of us want to admit! My first thoughts when I found out about my friend who had made poor choices were thoughts of self-righteous indignation. I hate to admit it, but it is true. The Holy Spirit so quickly and gently reminded me of my own sin. I had to immediately repent of my pride–one of the most deadly and dangerous sins. Why…why…can’t we just love!

  3. You are an amazing writer and and what a blessing! Thank you for sharing. I really enjoy reading your words! Who am I to judge anyone?! You love the person, not the sin. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. I too believe we need to lift one another up in love. For love covers a multitude of sin. I don’t believe that to be “watered down”. Forgiveness is key! Glory to God!

    1. Thank you, Jana! So glad to have you on this journey. In our culture, Christians are often represented in the media by hate groups such as Westboro “Church.” How would the world view us if we were more about extravagant love and grace than condemnation? Love is what changes the world!

  4. This morning I awoke with tears in my eyes. My precious son and I have been going through the bitter ordeal of a divorce since the day after his 13th birthday (4 years ago), when his dad first threatened divorce. After a long, drawn-out battle, my spouse and I are supposed to go to Final Orders in August, right before our 30th wedding anniversary. I still love my husband, who intiated a legal separation. My lawyer advised me to counter with divorce, since my husband showed no willinglyness for counseling, mediation, or reconciliation. (We’d already gone to over a dozen counselors during the course of our years together.) Most of our Christian friends have stood with my husband, even though he quit a 6-figure job so he wouldn’t have to pay the court ordered child support, maintenance or mortgage under Temporary Orders. I lost our home, and my son and I now live in a rental house. After months of searching, I got a part time for minimum wage and have worked my way up to $11.50 per hour, but it is still not enough to survive without food assistance and Medicaid. This mornings tears flowed because I am lonely. I’ve heard all the condemning words from well-meaning Christians. From my honeymoon night on, my marrriage was emotionally, spiritually and verbally abusive, but no one saw it. My husband was, and still is, a pillar in the Christian community. I feel like an outcast. Divorce is something I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy! Sadly, I would have stayed in an abusive marriage, if he hadn’t left me. Now I am trying to find God’s plan for my life. Today your words brought healing and comfort. Thank you.

    1. Oh, Beth! The tears sting my eyes as I read your story! I am so sorry! And, you are the very reason I put pen to paper, the reason I pour out my heart and make myself vulnerable on a grand scale. You are the one I want to physically reach out and hug, the one I want to pour out the Savior’s love and grace upon. Like you, my marriage was ugly (even though I once thought it was good). It was emotionally, verbally, and spiritually abusive. I couldn’t see it while I was in it. I just wanted to be the loving, faithful, submissive wife God called me to be. Now that I am free, I recognize it for what it was. My kids recognize the truth of what our lives once were. Even the child support issue…had that discussion last night. My ex has found ways to avoid paying a decent amount of support to me while I raise our three kids alone. I get it. The only difference is that because of our position (pastor) and the public way in which his adultery was exposed, my reputation is in tact. I agree. I wouldn’t wish the pain on anyone, regardless of how much I despise them. I am glad that my words could minister to you today. I pray that the Great I Am will provide for your every need, heal your every hurt. I pray that he will give you the abundant life he called you too. I pray that he will get you on your feet again for good (1 Peter 5:10). God bless!!

      1. Thank you, Dena, for your kind words to me yesterday. I was feeling so lonely that I goggled Christian divorce and discovered your blog. So, you were a pastors wife? I was married to a famous Christian. He still is. He was never happy in our marriage, so he presented me as “the thorn in his side” that he had to endure to produce the excellent work he did for the kingdom. Because his work was so fruitful and highly revered, others saw me as the poor man’s problem. They never saw the abuse that went on behind closed doors. Even pastors and Christian counselors told me to just keep loving him, submit, and respect my husband in a quiet and chaste way . . . and eventually, he would love me. No, after over 25 years, he left me! Now I am trying to start over as an older woman, trying to get full time employment in a world that is totally different from the last time I was employed outside the home. Now employers only want to hire part time employees, so they don’t have to pay health benefits. I am an older mom, too, since I suffered multiple miscarriages throughout my marriage, then finally gave birth to my one and only son at
        the age of 43! He is a talented junior in high school, spreading his wings, and busy with his friends, so I feel like I am losing him, also. Although that means I did my job well, it still hurts and adds to my loneliness. I have always kept a journal and have been writing my story to several years now. Since the divorce has dragged on without resolve, though, it’s hard to have any resolution to my story. I keep journaling the journey and the things God is showing me about His love, myself, my marriage, and condemnation within the church. I can write for hours, without even realizing how much time has passed. I’m also an artist, so I paint things that make me feel good. Still, the loneliness is sometimes overwhelming. I worship and spend time with God, read the Scriptures, pray, and attend church regularly. I keep busy working retail 20 hours per week, spending time with my son, and serving a couple days at a charter school for troubled teens (bi-polar, broken homes, drugs, LGBT, etc.) where I offer art therapy, love, and acceptance. As I told you, most of our Christian friends abandoned me to support my famous husband. I am an outcast, so I can relate to the teens’ feelings. Still, for the first time in my life, the Holy Spirit has revealed his “delight” in me. That has brought me so much comfort and healing. I really just want to love God more and become more Christlike. Do you have any suggestions for me on my journey?

      2. I am so, so sorry the Christian community has failed you so badly. I recently wrote about Abigail and Nabal. The story hit me hard because it is such a reflection of what my life was. I am so sorry that your husband was able to hide the truth so well, to live the lie so well. When you are dealing with a sick person, they will never learn to love because they don’t know love…only lust. Galatians 5 lists the work of the flesh. In The Message, it includes “an impotence to love and be loved.” That sums up my ex-husband. He has such a hatred of self, such insecurity, that there is an intense self-focus. He cannot see nor think beyond himself. Your husband’s attitudes may stem from pride rather than insecurity, but it sounds as if the out-workings are the same. I now realize that by loving, submitting, respecting (although he didn’t recognize this), I was actually enabling him to continue in his ways.

        It is obvious from your service that your heart is in the right place. I told my oldest son this week that one thing that brings me peace is that he and his siblings will ALWAYS know who sacrificed everything for them. They will always know that my life was about them, their needs. They will always know that when it came down to me or them, they were going to win.

        I would absolutely LOVE to continue this conversation with you…perhaps offline. Would you email me at denasdevos@yahoo.com? Perhaps there I could give you my phone number and we could really talk. Every story I hear grips my heart, but there’s a special bond with other ministry spouses. Please know you are in my prayers!

  5. I just want to say thank you. The gift God has given you of putting words to your experience and feelings has blessed me today. I have been a divorced and active Christian for 15 years. What you have written has been my experience too. God has continued to pursue me even when I want to give up amidst the judgement and condemnation of the Christian church family. My search through His word has shown me the same as you have found….a completely different attitude than my Christian brothers and sisters. An attitude of love and grace. Thank you!

    1. Thank you, Christina! I want to stand and support those who believe they are supposed to pray for reconciliation. I also want the world to know that a human interpretation is not infallible. Where would we be without the extravagant love and grace that Christ gave us all!

  6. Dena… Amazing post. I truly understand. I am that women at the well. Finding a church ‘family’ that will accept me when they know the whole story is difficult. I feel condemned and like an outsider all the time. God reminded me frequently, and for quite a few years, to write the story. It took a long time to get the first draft on paper, and only by the grace of God, who sent a complete stranger – now good friend, could I manage to find the strength to do it. Now, the story is published and available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. But I’m afraid to let anyone at church know about it! A few weeks ago I gave a copy to a deacon at a church where my husband and I attend a bible course. The deacon graciously enthused that “It’s a powerful, powerful story!” But when I asked him if it would be advisable to tell people whom I associate with at church about the book he stopped, thought a bit and gingerly suggested it would be difficult to say, because “There is no perfect church, and there will be those who won’t understand.” Like you, I have a story of God’s grace… but we cannot share it with our brothers and sisters in Christ because they will not receive it!
    I’m making a trip to my house many states away from where my husband and I now live, to work on the house for rent or sale. I’ll stop at a “new” church on Monday night to attend class for that (satellite) bible class. It’s a crying shame that it even crosses my mind to give a copy of my book to someone at that church just to see what their reaction will be the following Wednesday or Sunday, so I can determine if the church will accept me in the event we should ever move back to the area…
    Thank you for your story. Thank you for reminding me that I am loved by God, even if not by his supposed children… Yes, we must speak the truth in love to those who are living in sin – I hate the way that phrase is bandied about by self-righteous ‘Christians’ – and point our friends to Christ for forgiveness and the ability to walk away from sin; but when sin is the most important thing, and not grace, mercy and love we have missed the whole point!

    1. Oh! The tears sting my eyes to know that your story is hidden! Yes… I receive ugly, hurtful, condemning words. The sting can be deep. But, I constantly remind myself that I live for an audience of One, and only his opinion matters. I am approved. I am redeemed. That is all that matters.

      I lived the “perfect” life by all accounts. I have actively sought God from the age of 6. I married the one I KNOW God called me to marry. I served in ministry.

      When it all crashed around me, I was angry. I determined to live life on my terms, not God’s. I went down an ugly path.

      But, he pursued me relentlessly. He fought for my heart. He showed me that at the core of my being I am his. As ugly as that period of my life was, I don’t regret it. For the first time in my life, I have a glimpse of how much he loves me. And, for the first time in my life, I understand that EVEN I need his forgiveness. My pride had always blinded me to my true heart condition.

      As difficult as it is, don’t hide your story because of guilt and condemnation! Let the world know the power of his redeeming love! God gave you a story for a reason…because someone needs to hear it!

      I would love to read it… Even share it anonymously if that’s how it needs to be done. Sweet friend… There is love and acceptance!

  7. Hi again Dena,

    Thanks for your kind words, and interest in my book. Share it however you want. As you said – and has been said before, by people outside my church family – God gave me this sotry for a reason…because someone needs to hear it! Thanks for sharing

    Watchin God Book One: Listed Alphabetically, The Prodigal Daughter
    http://www.xulonpress.com/bookstore/bookdetail.php?PB_ISBN=9781498425780&HC_ISBN

    http://www.nook.com/gb/ebooks/watchin-by-n-c-carlson/2940149981076

    The first 3.5 chapters are on my blog. http://itsomuchfunwatchingod.blogspot.com/p/blog-page_14.html

  8. i loved growing up in a church family and anticipated the same for my kids. However our precious son was a delight to us, but even as a 3 yr old, we were concerned about his sexuality. That started the secret keeping for church and family. That was a time that I knew those 6 clobber verses had nothing to do with this sweet, funny kid. So we were secret keepers
    As I read the heartache of each person, I am wondering if we had a bible class called secret keeping, how many would show up?
    I appreciate that hard journeys teach us grace.

    1. We, as Christians, have got to stop hiding behind our masks. Authenticity is the key to drawing others to God. Letting others see that we hurt, we have problems, we are messed up. And yet, in spite of our problems, we have the strength to get through the trials. Our God is big enough to carry us through, to take all the ugly parts of life and make them into something beautiful. We have got to show a lost world that his grace is more than enough.

  9. Thank you, Dana, for clearing up the discombobulated ideas about how God sees divorce. I’m a divorcee’ betrayed by abandonment, and you have cleared the foggiest for my fiancé and I. I wholeheartedly agree that showing others love despite who or what they are and their circumstances will allow them to see the Christ in us. Again, thank you.

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