Thursday, August 26, 2010

When there's real reason for shame (part 2)

Gay people aren't the only ones who feel shame, of course. But being Gay, in and of itself, isn't a real reason for shame.  

Being a crappy Christian is.

I talked in part 1 about one big way to be a crappy Christian: not making decisions like Jesus did. That means believing we're following Christ, when it's actually the devil's values, the devil's temptations, and the devil's way of doing things that are most evident in our religious and secular lives.

And to one extent or another, we're all guilty of this. It's one of those things that come from being part of a fallen race, one completely and utterly loved by God all the way down to the smallest, most insignificant individual - but one that just can't stop being just a little more impressed with what we can do than what God can do.

Think I'm exaggerating? Well, consider this one example.

Matthew tells us that after Jesus defeated the devil in the wilderness, he went out and started choosing His first disciples. All of the Gospel writers tell us that He choose leaders for His church from among the working poor (like Peter, the fisherman), social outcasts (like Matthew, the tax collector), and the alienated (like Simon, the zealot / revolutionary) of that time.

But that's not what we do, is it? Nope. When we choose who will lead our churches, or run our denominations, or speak in our assemblies, we choose people who:
  • were able (financially and culturally) to attend college, 
  • have degrees in psychology, theology, music, church administration, and the like, 
  • are trained, professional, and entertaining speakers,
  • have a natural impulse to take charge and lead/push others, 
  • enjoy official titles, garb, positions, and manners, and
  • are mainstream enough in their politics and such to have been accepted for ordination by an official religious group.
Indeed, our way of recognizing and accepting church leaders has absolutely nothing to do with the way that Jesus or the early church recognized and accepted church leaders. In fact, our way of choosing church leaders looks exactly like the world's (and therefore the devil's) way of choosing business and political leaders.

But that's ok, we tell ourselves, because the world is different now. We do it better now. We're more advanced / enlightened / intelligent than they were 2,000 years ago. We want to make sure we get it right.

Sorry - but that's a real big crock. Jesus chose people who fit God's plan. In Jesus' name we choose people who fit our plan, and then call it God's plan.

Not the same!

There was a reason for Jesus' plan. And as long as we are more impressed with our way of doing things than with God's way of doing things, then we will continue to get the half-baked, only-nice-on-the-surface results of our plan.

Even worse, people outside the church -- people desperately loved by God and needing to see His real work in who we are and what we do -- will continue to see us for the religious bozos that we truly are: saying we're one thing, while being completely something else; claiming to represent God while trashing His image.

And that is a real reason for shame.

So, how do we avoid this way of being a crappy Christian?

Well, for starters, we start taking Jesus and His way of doing things seriously. Not the fake "seriously" of mainstream churches (whether conservative, liberal, straight, Gay, pentecostal, evangelical, charismatic, fundamentalist, non-denominational, or something else), that are really just a Jesus-coated version of the devil's world. Because Jesus truly did mean it when He chose "down", instead of "up", on the human scale. He once said, for example:
"I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight."  [Matthew 11:25-26]
If we are taking Jesus seriously, that means taking passages like this seriously, and not just finding ways to discount or distort what He said. 

We also need to find out why Jesus choose "down", even though it makes more sense to us human beings to choose "up". We need to understand God's purpose in all this. Paul helps us out a bit with that:
"..the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, 'Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.'" [1 Corinthians 1:25-31]
So, why does Jesus choose "down"? Because we human beings get too proud of ourselves and our way of doing things (even the first disciples made this mistake, until Jesus reminded them God's way is not the human way.)

And when we get too pleased with ourselves, we start taking the shortcuts the devil is always happy to help us with, as when we start imagining that we're "better" than the early Christians, far more knowledgeable about God's way of doing things than the people who learned firsthand from Jesus for three years -- and remaining this "humbly" arrogant even though those "backward" early Christians turned more and more people into Christians, while we continue to turn thousands upon thousands of people away from Christ.

The first step away from being a crappy Christian is to stop being proud of the gold we think we or our church is producing, while we can barely breathe in the stink of our own garbage (much less sell it to others).

It's to start taking Jesus as seriously as we claim to. 

The early Christians -- the ones that really loved God -- learned that.

We can too.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

When there's real reason for shame (part 1)

I'm continuing in my read through Matthew, and I'm here at Matthew 4. What's going in Matthew 4? Well, first Jesus, newly baptized, goes into the wilderness and is tempted by the devil. And then, having passed the test, Jesus begins to call up His first disciples.

Here's what came to me in reading the first part of this chapter, this time.

Ancient people's often believed that the devil lived in the wilderness. We can certainly understand that while out there, Jesus - the man of flesh and blood - was far beyond anyone's help, far beyond the law, should someone set on Him. Scary enough, but when it was the devil himself (and not just some run of the mill robber) getting in His face, for this trial not even the angels came to help Him. No, Jesus was on His own.

And that fits, doesn't it? One of Jesus' tasks on this earth was to do -- sometimes literally, and sometimes symbolically -- what we human beings have proven through Old Testament, New Testament, and into the modern age that we can't do for ourselves. In this case, Jesus the man goes into the wilderness for forty days, just like the ancient Israelites were in the desert for forty years. He's tempted just like they were -- but He succeeds where they failed miserably. There is symbolism here, to be sure, but there's real world too: Jesus, the human being, takes on the devil - and wins.

As Christians, when we have Jesus' power behind us, we can also win against the devil. But we have to actually want to do that, for it to happen. Unfortunately, while continuing to believe ourselves going along with Jesus, Christians often follow along after the devil, and don't even realize it.

In Matthew 4, for example. Jesus was hungry. And the devil tempted Him to use God's power to take care of that hunger. Jesus refused. He chose to remain hungry and wait for God's power to accomplish God's will, and not the devil's will.

But what do we Christians often do? We also get hungry - for more money, for better cars, for better things, and more. And, we tell ourselves, it makes sense that God our Father would want to always take care of our comforts and concerns, right? So the devil whispers in our ear: "If you are a child of God, use the Power of Jesus to get you want you want!"

And too often we say "Amen!" -- and we often get that money, that car, that thing.

But, who do we think, then, is really fulfilling that prayer? 

Another example. The devil took Jesus to the pinnacle of religion, and tempted Him to prove God wouldn't let Him fall.Jesus refused. But to our minds, in a lot of ways what the devil proposed doesn't sound like such a bad thing. We want assurance that God cares for and protects us. So the devil whispers in our ear: "Rest assured in your solid position in the church and/or as a child of God! Go ahead and do what you will - God won't let you fall!"

And far too often, we cry "Amen!" -- and we are protected from being found out when we've lied, cheated, fornicated, committed adultery, gossiped, power-played, and so on.

But just who do we think is protecting us in that position? 

One more example. The devil took Jesus to the highest place in the world - and here the devil gave away his true evil design. Here the devil offered Jesus what belongs to the devil -- "..all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.." -- if only Jesus would bow down to and worship him.

We know that in the end everything belongs to God, but here the Bible tells us that for now the devil is allowed to own the world's power and place, and all the wonderful things that go with power and place. The Bible also tells us here that the devil is allowed to offer those things -- and he does so to those who bow to him, and who worship him. 

When the devil offered these worldly things to Jesus, Jesus refused. But the devil whispers in our ear: "Go ahead! God wouldn't have put you in a place of ease in the world if you didn't deserve it! And think of all the good things you can do with your power and position!" And too often we Christians praise Jesus with our lips as we kneel to the devil, taking on whatever power and position we can get our hands on. All, we claim, "for the glory of God", of course!

It isn't hard to understand that only a remnant of those who believe themselves to be God's people will actually be saved, because when we truly look in real repentance, ashamed of our greed and gluttony and self-service, we can't help but realize that it's we who choose to go with something besides God. Too often, we Christians want to have it both ways:
  • We want to be saved by Jesus, and to claim Him as our own
  • But we also want just a little bit more (sometimes a lot more) what the devil has in hand.
And that just can't be.

But that want is  part of our fallen human nature, isn't it? To keep hearing that whispering devil -- and keep falling for his garbage -- over and over again, until at last we tell him to truly take a hike - and we really mean it.

But what does that look like, when we Christians are truly following Jesus and no longer being part-time devil-worshippers?

It looks exactly like what Jesus says it does, in the Bible. It looks, for example, like turning the other cheek, instead of going off to war.It means things like doing good deeds in secret, instead of making sure everyone can see how righteous we are.

And it means taking Jesus - literally - at His word. Even when it hurts. Even when it costs. Even when it doesn't make sense (now).

It means really, truly, being a Christian.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Good for you, Anne Rice

Here's a comment I added to another blog regarding Anne Rice and her recent decision to abandon "church" and go with Jesus, instead:
I've also tried and failed on several occasions, in the conservative and liberal versions of both Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, to be a part of what's called "the Church" by human beings. I've walked away from church, and thought I had to walk away from Jesus.
 That's an error, if not an outright lie.
 Even the Bible itself warns that most of us are going to get it completely wrong -- unless we are willing to follow Jesus, and not each other, not ourselves. The Bible itself tells us that most people who say they are God's People will even go so far as doing God's work -- and still not have Jesus' heart.
It's still possible to be a Christian, and not be the anti's. It's still possible to get it right, and actually be a good thing in the world, and not just another spout for evil. But the trick is to stick with Jesus, just as Anne Rice and so many of us are now learning each day.
Good for you, Anne! You're on the narrow path. And that's a good thing!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Upside-down and backwards

My Bible reading has brought me once again to the start of the New Testament, and I sat down to read Matthew 1 and 2 again.

It amazes me how far off we human beings often are in recognizing and following God's real plan and His real work. And among the greatest and most unlearned truths of the Bible is that those who claim most loudly to know, trumpet, and guard God's Truth are most likely to not only be the furthest from it, but also actively at work against it. 

Matthew reminded me of that this morning while I read that "boring" list of Jesus' ancestors, and what happened to and around Mary and Joseph, before Jesus was born. And it came to me all over again:
  • God really does have everything already planned out. He always has, and always will. If something is a surprise, it's only to us - not to Him.
  • God really does do things His own way - even when it makes no sense to us at all, and even when it violates human laws or goes against human authority. 
  • God's actions in the world often provoke evil reactions like angry confusion, vengeful hatred, repressive attempts at more control, and even mass murder among those - both religious and non-religious - who put themselves and their own will and understanding before God's. 
  • God invites people that "Good Religious People" chase away or block from "His" churches and temples, because His real places and power human beings can't control.
  • To keep doing God's will, and acting only within His parameters, sometimes we ourselves have to act outside of what's legal, comfortable, or smart according to human values and rules, just to keep from participating in evil ourselves.
What does Matthew's introduction to Jesus speak to you?