“…To Live a Faith That Is Authentic…” Part 1

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So, it’s weird being me.

I’ve been trying to figure out for the last three days how to write what I want to say here, and I think I’ve got it.  We’ll see.

It’s weird being me.  Is it weird being you?  It looks a lot easier, frankly, but I’m fully aware that’s from the outside, and the outside tells us almost nothing.

Let me define “weird”: sometimes, accomplishing simple tasks proves difficult for me.  Getting from here to there punctually, for example, occasionally (ahem) gives me trouble.  Things I need to keep track of, logistics, remembering certain details, like how many children I left home with and should therefore return with…  Okay, I exaggerate, but it feels that way.  Sometimes I bear down and try harder.  Other times I just shake my head and let it go.

That’s half of weird–normal life presents greater challenges for me than it appears to pose to many around me.  Not in the massive, I’m-addicted-and-my-life-is-crumbling sense, but in the “where the hell are my keys, again?!?” sense.

The other half of weird, for me, comes when I get messages like the one I received after my last blog post, the one on Resurrection.

“The most difficult part, for me, of being a Christian is other Christians. I will say that straight out. If I’m honest, I then have to ask if I am the most difficult part of being a Christian for some other people. I might be. Sometimes I don’t believe what they believe or speak like they speak.”

My friend quoted that from my last post, then wrote this:

Considering the above quote, I would mull over the converse as well. For some, the only thing keeping them from going full-blown, angry anti-theist (per Hitchens) is a solitary individual within the tradition of Jesus who is doing their best to live a faith that is authentic without being logic-phobic or politically compromised. I’m not even going to pretend I’m not writing about you.

When I talk about how God is strong in my weakness, that is no abstract concept to me.  I’ve tried to describe this before, being a life-changing human being who gets my legs tangled by simple stuff.  When I can remember to take my shortcomings with grace and my strengths unapologetically and with gratitude, it works pretty well.  But other times, I get stuck chewing on my faults the way you chew on the inside of your cheek after the dentist has numbed it, only to find out later you’ve made it a ragged, bloody mess.  And I don’t take seriously enough that God is working through me in people’s lives.  I don’t mean that I need to take myself more seriously, but that I must not brush off statements like this one above.

That’s my intro, my framing, if you will, of what I hope to say.  I can shrug and drag my tennis shoed toe in the dirt and say, “Oh, gee golly willikers, I’m not all that” in response to my friends statement.  But I think that’s a lie and dishonoring to God, so I’m not doing that.  If humility is an honest view of ourselves before God, then I can say, in humility, God uses me powerfully in some people’s lives.  Not everyone’s.  I’m an acquired, slightly off-beat taste, for sure.  But those lives are a big deal.  I  love those people, and I don’t come close to loving them as much as God does.  And I infer a few more people would fit in this subset.  Probably there are some other people who need to hear this.  If you know who they are, pass it on to them, okay?

Here we go.

There are some parts about Jesus that big sections of the church seem to miss.  I don’t know why.  I’m far from the first to point this out.  These seem like some of the most obvious things Jesus did and said, but…not to everyone, apparently.

Jesus came for the lost.  He didn’t come for the found.  He didn’t come to make the people already comfortable in church more comfortable.

Jesus came for the lost.  He didn’t come for the found.  He didn’t come to make the people already comfortable in church more comfortable.  He just didn’t.  He loves all the comfortable people in church–and probably tells them to get out more.  Not sure how that conversation is going.

Jesus offended people, a lot.  He offended the comfortable.  He offended the uptight.  He offended the people who thought that we needed to keep the rules more strictly.  None of us want to identify with the people Jesus offended, because we’ve figured out that they were on the wrong side.

But some of us still want to keep the rules more strictly.  And there are lots of arguments for why that would be a good idea.  However, it’s not what Jesus did.  He identified rules that screwed up people’s view of God and negated them.  He confronted rule-keeping that gave people the wrong idea of how God felt about them.  He didn’t do this lightly.  It wasn’t an aside he made.  He called the tight-assed rule keepers “children of hell” and “whitewashed tombs” (which, you might note, are stronger derogatives than “tight-assed”).  He meant those descriptions to urge change in the people he confronted.

Don’t start arguing in your head about which rules are good or how we need rules.  Yes, we do need rules.  Instead, ask yourself, which side of this argument with Jesus would I have been on?  If Jesus is having this argument now, in our context, which side am I on?  Which of our rules are life-smothering instead of life-giving?  Which make people children of hell instead of heaven?  Obviously, we don’t think any of our rules do that–but neither did they.   Their certainty didn’t make them any less wrong.

He said directly that he came for the margin-dwellers not the Joneses, for the misfits not the popular kids.

Jesus didn’t try to speak or act in a way that made the rule-keepers or the powers-that-be accept him.  He chose to hang out with the folks on the margins. He said directly that he came for the margin-dwellers not the Joneses, for the misfits not the popular kids.*  People from every class and group, even a few scribes and pharisees, loved him, but he directed his energy to those getting left out.  He called his followers to join him in loving the least, as society scored them.

Broken folks.  Messy people.  Losers.

Jesus refused to buy in to the world’s system of value.  All those lepers and demoniacs and blind beggars and Samaritan women, they were losers to the establishment.  Jesus got called names because he went to the lowlifes’ feasts and drank wine right alongside them. He loved being with them.  He loved them.

Here’s my conclusion:  We need more Jesus followers who make the outside folks comfortable and the insiders uncomfortable.

I’m not that great at it, but we all have people whom we can reach.  There are people who will hear about God’s love from me who would never listen to you, and vice-versa.  And there are others who will listen to these marginalized folks who would never listen to either you or me.  We need to welcome people who don’t look or act or talk or sin like us, because a)God wants them, too, and b)they can relate with people we can never begin to connect with.

As I was talking with my friend, he said this to me:  “For some people, the love they receive from you may be the ONLY ‘love of God’ they will know in this life. For a few, there is no god to love them, but if there was one, they would want the grace they receive from you (not the condemnation and conditional affection they’ve received from so many others).”

He’s talking about people’s beliefs, not about their objective reality, but we have to know this is true.  When we’re in a community and experience love and support–albeit imperfect–all the time, it’s hard to grasp that someone else’s only experience of “God’s love” would be the negative things they read about Christians…and you.

When the values of our culture or the values of our political party or the values of our company or our family or our sub-culture or our friends, peers, or boy scout troupe conflict with the values of Jesus, we have big choices to make.  Here’s the first one:  we can admit to this conflict, or we can deny it.  If we deny it, there are so many variations on the theme of denial available to us.  We can point our fingers at others and compare and tell ourselves how much better we are than those losers (cough, cough).  We can give ourselves permission to fall short in this one area because we’re doing so well everywhere else and label that “grace.”  We can pick and choose which verses we take seriously and ignore, or reinterpret the rest to make our theology support our lifestyle.  We can decide that Jesus taught a personal theology but that national issues do not work the same way.  And we can–following the time-honored and noble tradition–let the ends justify the means.

You know how no one is actually influenced by advertising (certainly not us!), yet advertisers will spend an estimated $200 billion in the US and $600 billion worldwide?**  Somebody is wrong.  I have to guess it’s not the folks spending billions of dollars.

In the same way, non-Christians first identify Christians as “hypocrites.”  That’s the first description to spring to their lips about us.  But none of us are hypocrites.

None of us claim to follow Jesus but turn a blind eye to the things he teaches that don’t fit for us.

When I’m talking with non-Christians, or with Christians who have been wounded in church and/or by other Christians (the latter is pretty frequent), I tell them that it’s no surprise we screw up.  We are the gathered sinners!  Of course we screw up.

But we can’t be excusing ourselves.

The truth is, we are hypocrites, and we have to repent every time we see hypocrisy in ourselves.

The truth is, we are hypocrites, and we have to repent every time we see hypocrisy in ourselves.  Our greatest danger comes when our community, of whichever sort I listed above, reinforces and joins in to excuse this hypocrisy.  When people try to speak out against it?  Well, you know the traditional response to prophets.

Everyone doesn’t have to talk the same.  Or look the same.  Or dress the same.  Or act the same.  Or–wait for it–believe the same.  We need to have core beliefs of salvation in common, but that’s a tiny little circle, in my opinion.  After that, it’s all grace and diversity.***  We’re the BODY of Christ.  We’re all different parts.  We’re designed and created to function together–complementary to one another–but not the same, not identical parts.  If some of us like things that offend you–you don’t need to fix that for us.  Unless we’ve scuttled your faith (which would be a tragedy), then pray for us and leave us to God.

Or, better yet, jump in.  Help the Body of Christ become more diverse.  Explode out of the box.  Let your thoughts, your words, your actions, your politics, your art, your LIFE reflect the beauty and grace of God in ways that nobody else does, because you can do that.  You don’t have to fit in.  Fitting in, it turns out, is neither a fruit of the spirit nor a commandment of discipleship.  The opposite, though, might be.  “Go, make disciples.”  Get out of the box.  Get out of the comfy seat.  Reject the pressure to conform.  Stop enforcing the rules that snuff out life, or sitting there silently and uncomfortably wondering why somebody doesn’t put a stop to all this rule-mongering.  Follow your calling!  Figure out where your passion intersects with the world’s needs and run there!  Jesus has some great ideas how to turn the world upside down through your life.

And it can be weird to be you, too.

 

 

*”When Jesus heard this, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.'”  Jesus did come for you if you are a popular kid or trying to be as rich as your neighbors, but you’ll only figure that out if you recognize your need, instead of trying to satisfy it with popularity or wealth.

**Wait, One-third of advertising money is spent in the US?  That should be terrifying.

***Please don’t act like “diversity” is a dirty word.  God loves diversity!  Look around.

 

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