When I started out in ministry about fifteen years ago, I was still Catholic. I also wasn’t a very nice person. I was sociable, but judgmental. By my nature, I am serious and intense to the point of being grave. I like to think, to figure, to analyze. Yes, that is part of what makes me a good apostle – but at the time, I was so out of balance, I wasn’t much good to anybody. After I was born again, I was still much of the same way: serious, austere, judgmental, perhaps even argumentative at times. Much of my conversion to the faith of the Lord came about through my intellect rather than my emotions, and so I figured everyone reasoned that way. I thought I would make such incredible arguments, people would HAVE to want to become Christian. That means I spent a lot of time fighting with people over this doctrine or that, insistent I was right, and damning people to hell who dared to disagree with me. After all, I had Bible verses! I had answers for everything! They were just ignorant. I lived frustrated and angry…because I KNEW I had to be right.
One day God spoke to me, clear as day: “Lee Ann, people aren’t saved because they agree with you. They are saved because of their relationship with Me.”
I cried for three days. I couldn’t believe God would speak to me like that. Here I was, trying to be in the ministry He said I was supposed to be in, and He tells me I am doing it all wrong. Part of me was mad at God. Another part of me was mad at everyone else, because I figured if they would have just cooperated, God wouldn’t be having this conversation with me. The other part of me was mad because I didn’t want to think I was wrong about something.
In hindsight, God was beginning to teach me an important principle: He was teaching me the foundations to becoming all things to all people. This first realization was my first break with the law I’d lived by my whole life, and my tears were just as much about that as they were about the chastisement I was experiencing. I was born again, but I lived by the law. I lived according to strict outward codes of so-called holiness and adhered to the doctrines of men. I struggled with my identity as a woman. I struggled in my relationships. I struggled with my leaders and I struggled within myself. I didn’t like who I was, because I didn’t know who I was in Christ. I didn’t understand who God was calling me to be, or who He was asking me to be. I didn’t understand, and I was struggling…because I like to understand. I was hardened, thinking holiness meant I had to be hard, unfeeling, uncaring, and uncompassionate.
Over the next several years, God dealt with me about myself, and about the concepts we hold so dear in the church because we simply do not want to let go. I experienced different religious services. I lobbied for women’s issues, and dealt with politics. I sat with the women who contemplated abortion or who felt they had no other option at some point in time. I worked with and alongside the gay community, educating about HIV/AIDS because the church didn’t want to touch it. I moderated the discussions about sex among women who were afraid to talk about it to anyone, even their husbands. I sat in the room with client after client, having to ask personal questions about their intimate lives, while doing HIV testing to assess risk. I saw a side of divorce that we don’t consider in the church, as many push against divorce, thereby pushing the agenda of bad marriage. I worked with women inmates and women in halfway houses. I did literacy training. I held the hand of the woman who struggled with infertility. I watched the battered woman go back to her abuser, even becoming that battered woman multiple times throughout my adult life. I talked to the soldier with PTSD so severe, he couldn’t talk about what he saw in combat, now nearly 30 years later. Over the years, I have watched people struggle, seeking, and hoping for answers, waiting for someone to come along who would not judge them, but instead, would reach out their hand and provide them with the love and support they need.
One day, while on the phone with someone who openly lives a life many in the church would disapprove of, I silently asked God why I was having this conversation. He said to me, “I am teaching you to become all things to all people.” I didn’t see the power in this statement at the time, but I see it now. God was quoting His Word: “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23, NIV)
The experiences I have had, in advocacy, education, and ministry, have taught me powerfully on God’s precept of reconciliation and restoration. Apostles especially are called to act as ministers of reconciliation. We cannot operate in this ministry if we are so hung up on a hardened concept of faith that we can’t reach out to everyone. God was teaching me, and continues to teach me, how I can reach out to people so that they might become reconciled to God, wherever they may be on that issue in their lives. This is a work that is for the sake of the Gospel – it is not contrary to it. Loving people doesn’t mean we believe everything they do is right. It doesn’t change what God has called sin, nor does it minimize it. What it does do is helps people to know that everything they have done does not have to be the end for them. It also helps us to consider our own selves and what God has brought us from, causing us to be humble instead of arrogant, using holiness as an excuse to abuse others. So much rhetoric in today’s church condemns people for things that we ourselves are just as guilty of, only in different ways. Maybe you did not have an abortion in your day or you never struggled with same sex attraction, but I will venture you did gossip about someone, killing their reputation, and that you have united yourself to something idolatrous at some point, thereby creating an unholy union. If I say that, people say “Well, apostle, you don’t understand what I went through.” That’s true – and you don’t know what someone else went through, so stop judging them. Throwing the book at people over a few rhetorical issues isn’t getting us anywhere. It is not a witness, and it is not productive. It is not becoming all things to all men – becoming a servant – becoming a solution instead of a problem – it is a deterrent to the Word.
Holiness is not a judgment: it is an assessment of ourselves. We talk about it all the time because the church wants to see an exterior of what it used to be. We can’t be that now because the exterior never was. Throughout history, those leading the church and those in the church have struggled with the same issues we see today. Some of the biggest names in church history had the worst struggles with drug addiction, adultery, sleeping around, family issues, and the like. Some of them overcame those issues, but many of them did not. There are those in history who would find some of the modern concepts of holiness absurd and ridiculous. God is calling us to get real and get it together so we can help someone out, to become all things to all people. Stop the nonsense, stop imposing our perspectives on others, stop the “right fight,” and start being productive. Holiness puts the burden on us – not on everyone else – to do what we know is right. It raises our standard, not the standards of the secular world or government. Instead of looking at everyone else, holiness stands to make us examine ourselves and the areas where we do not measure up in the pursuit that we will seek out God and walk with Him all the more.
We are holding on to stubborn pride in today’s church and it is hurting our ability to minister and reach out. I understand a desire to stand for principle and to uphold holiness, but I also see the Word of God as a collection of divine precepts that encourage us to find a middle ground on its presented issues. Holiness, compassion, and love are not opposites. On the contrary, if we are living according to holiness, we will live in love. If we get so obsessed with holiness that it’s all we think about, we get so hung up on rules and regulations that we lose sight of why God calls us to be a set apart people in this world. Too much preoccupation with holiness leads to self-righteousness, which leads us straight into rules, which leads us straight into legalism. Too much preoccupation with misguided love leads us into absurdities and abhorrent doctrines. We need to find the balance between the two: between love and holiness, compassion and principle. Holiness shows people the way, while love draws to the truth. In holiness we live as God calls, and in love, we become what we need to become to draw them to God’s truth.
I will allow nothing to stop me from reaching out in the Gospel. If I am in a legalistic setting, I will wear a long skirt, I will put on a wig, I won’t wear make-up, I will use the King James Version of the Bible, I won’t wear pants, I won’t talk pop culture in my message, I’ll sing the old songs of the church, and I will make sure my secular ring tone does not go off in the church building. If I am in a setting where people need love, I will not let the fact that someone had an abortion or a pregnancy out of wedlock, is gay, is HIV positive, is or has been in prison, is a battered woman, or has a struggle in their lives stop me from reaching out to them in love. I will be what is needed at that moment, in that time, to that person, that human being created in God’s image despite the course their lives, actions, and ways may have taken them. If they need a hug, they will get a hug. If they need a listening ear, they will get a listening ear. If they need a solution to their situation, I will be their solution. I will be all things to all people. It doesn’t mean I agree with them, or will do the things that they do – but it does mean that I will not let a fear of compromise stop me from being the only living epistle these people may ever know. It’s not compromise to live in God’s love. It’s just becoming all things to all people, that I may save some. People, let’s get past our issues, so we can help people resolve theirs.
“The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” – Jeremiah 31:3 (KJV)
(c) 2012 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.