Growing Your Spiritual Garden
"Therefore, God's chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so must also forgive." (Colossians 3: 12-13)
I recently asked a Buddhist friend to speak to the students in my World Religion class. After some hesitation, he agreed. During the presentation, my friend acknowledged that he was afraid to speak openly about Buddhism because he was in fear of retaliation--from Christians.
After he departed, the students and I discussed his comments. My students are all members of the Christian faith community and they all wanted to know why my friend felt fear. Why was he afraid of Christianity?
What an excellent question to ponder! Why should anyone fear a Christian? After all, we have received a mandate from Christ to love one another. The letters of Paul encourage us to live in peace, to show compassion, and to offer forgiveness and acceptance. Therefore, if people are afraid of Christians, we must start to ask some very important questions concerning our interpretation of Christ's message.
We are called to be Christ's witnesses on earth. Therefore, our ultimate goal is to help people come to know the real Christ. Think about the lives that Christ touched when he walked this earth. Did Christ force people to follow him? Did he refuse to associate with others because of their chosen lifestyles? Did Christ make others feel like social outcasts?
I think we know the answers to these questions, yet we still seem to alienate others. This alienation is dangerous because, in the end, our actions keep people away from Christ. I often envision Christ standing before the world with outstretched arms. Then I see people standing in front of Christ only allowing a select few to enter into his presence. When we refuse to accept others because they do not look or believe like we do, we are (in effect) keeping others from Christ.
Cultivating acceptance is important to the growth of our spiritual gardens. Acceptance opens our hearts to others. We begin to see each and every individual as a child of God. After all, we are all made in the image of God. In addition, Christ did not die for only a select few of people; he died for all people. Therefore, Christ died for the Hindu, the Buddhist, the Jew, the Christian, the Sikh, the Jain, the Muslim, and members of all religions. Christ even died for the athiest. Christ's death on the cross exemplifies true acceptance. Out of love, he gave his life for the people that rejected him in the present and in the future.
The only way that an individual can come to know the real Christ is to be introduced to the real Christ. When people look at Christians, they should see the real Christ. What kind of Christ do people see in you? Do they encounter love? Do they encounter compassion? Do they encounter acceptance? If so, then they encounter Christ.