Common English Bible (CEB)
9 Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. 10 Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. 11 Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! 12 Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. 14 Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. 16 Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. 17Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good.
18 If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people. 19 Don’t try to get revenge for yourselves, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. It is written, Revenge belongs to me; I will pay it back, says the Lord.[a] 20 Instead, If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. By doing this, you will pile burning coals of fire upon his head.[b] 21 Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good.
I haven’t talked about living in Jesusland in a while, so I think I’ll try and explore it a bit more.
For those just tuning in, I live in Dallas during the week, and Canton, TX, during the weekends, at least until the summer. What that means, is I live in the heart of the Bible Belt, or Jesusland as I like to call it. It’s a peculiar place, to say the least. In reading about culture and religious doctrines, organization and practices, what’s distinctive about the Southeastern end of the US is our predominantly evangelical-Christian culture. While there is diversity abundant in the places I live, the diversity is not nearly as evident or as powerful a force as in other places in the country.
Which can be problematic, especially when you get to parts of the Bible like this one here.
I have a love/hate relationship with Paul the Apostle. Sometimes he’s awesome, brilliant, insightful, etc. Other times he just flat annoying and full of himself. This part though? I agree with him, and in the process he becomes annoying because I see so little of this ethic in our churches at large, and certainly not in our Jesusland culture.
Paul tells us to “love without pretending.” I see the most violent hatred glossed over by a sincere love of God all the time. Paul tells us to “love each other like a family.” Am I loving my neighbor when I fail to even look in the eye a homeless person as I drive by? Am I treating them as a brother, sister, mother, father? Or as a thing to ignored, not a person? I’m guilty of this so much it’s not even funny. I have to force myself to acknowledge them and recognize their humanity. When you do that, you begin to see things through the love lens.
Paul tells us to be enthusiastic, on fire with the spirit. Oh, their’s no shortage of enthusiasm down here, but it’s often to the point where enthusiasm is colored by not love but self-aggrandizement and pride. There’s certainly no “honoring one another” in this enthusiasm. I have yet to meet too many people who would openly welcome a stranger into their home, let alone their neighborhood.
We sure as heck don’t consider everyone an equal, nor do we identify with people who have no status. We say we love God on out of one end of our mouth, and wish evil upon everyone else who doesn’t look/think/act/have money like we do out of the other. We obviously haven’t lived in peace with everyone else; Dallas has one of the highest crime rates in the country, despite the presence of church on almost every street.
I think what we’ve forgotten most of all is to defeat evil not with evil, but with good.
The truth is, I’m as much of a product of this culture as anybody else. As I read this exhortation of goodness, I wind up counting it as a litany of sins, things I’ve failed at as a Christian.
Do you know what has encouraged me though? Living and working in my little church in Canton. (yes, I’m going to gush, just sit down and take it.)
The day I moved there, 3 people from the church showed up to move me there from my apartment in Dallas. When we arrived in Canton, I was greeted by an army of church members ready to unload the U-haul. I was done moving in by noon. That night, there was a church family dinner, where I was welcomed with open arms and delicious home-cooked food.
The blessings have not stopped since. From taking care of our environment by picking up trash, to visiting the sick, to donating to the fire department and the home for abused children, to doing Relay for Life, to everything else we do, I have been blessed.
I’m finally at a church that best resembles this Romans 12 passage, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have things to work on. We’re always moving on to perfection. We’ve all got flaws that we need to be healed of. That’s the work of Christ in our lives that continually works on us, and makes us holier.
Where was I? Oh, yeah, Jesusland.
You see, as much as I rag on Jesusland and the self-absorbed materialistic and myopic practices dominant in the culture, I know for a fact there are just as many churches that are just like my little church. I know there are those who are loving, who treat each other as family, who regard others as equals, and identify with those with no status. I see people truly on fire with the spirit, and seek only to glorify God by regarding even the stranger as family.
We aren’t going to change Jesusland culture overnight. It takes time. Most of all it takes overcoming evil with good. It takes a prophetic voice. It takes love, and patience, and compassion.
It’ll take a miracle to fix it. But that’s kind of the way that love works, isn’t it?