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To the one who carried Christ

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Sometimes I wonder what you thought when he told you —

when he delivered the news that would alter your life.

 

“How can this happen?” is all that you asked.

A question of logistics, no hint of disbelief.

 

Sometimes I wonder if you silently protested,

questioning why you were part of God’s plan.

 

“May it happen just as you’ve said — ”

words of submission, no trace of dissent.

 

Sometimes I wonder if you cried that night,

mourning the loss of the girl you had been.

 

“I am the Lord’s servant.”

A statement given without hesitation.

 

Sometimes I wonder how it felt to be pregnant.

To carry the hope of the world inside.

 

“My spirit rejoices in God my savior — ”

Exclamations overflowing with joy.

 

Sometimes I wonder if you knew the weight—

the gravity of these events.

 

“And a sword will pierce your very soul.”

Words you heard

and held

in your heart.

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Written by liferenewed

December 26, 2010 at 2:11 am

Posted in Christianity, Jesus, Poetry

Living under a curse

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Finding freedom by embracing imperfection

Every morning begins with a stare down between me and my arch enemy. I look in the mirror, sizing up my body as if I expect that seven hours of sleep will have caused pounds to evaporate and muscles to emerge. It’s on, I think, an obvious giveaway that I haven’t left the dream world. We’re really not lookin’ so bad. I try to comfort myself with the reminder that it’s been worse. A lot worse. Oh yeah, retorts my body. Just hop on the scale. Its been better too—you’ve been better. My enemy doesn’t even have to deliver that final jab—the one that cuts the deepest. I do that all on my own.

It’s a clever enemy who can turn you against yourself. And my enemy has all sorts of tools for doing that. Scales and mirrors are some of the most effective. But when those aren’t handy, there’s a million other ways of engaging me in the fight. Comparison’s a classic, because it doesn’t take much. It’s subjective. And if I’m not paying attention, pretty soon I’m not just telling myself that I could be better, I’m also beginning to believe that I’m inferior to everyone around me.

Couple this with years of insecurity, and for perfectionist control freaks like myself, it’s a dangerous concoction. I can change this. I can prove myself. And until I do, what’s my worth? How can I even live with myself? It’s shameful to see such thoughts in writing, but these are the lies my enemy gets me to tell myself.

Trapped in this deception, I enter the fight. I count calories. I beat my body up at the gym. I listen to the voice and step on the scale every morning — knowing what it will say before I even get on. I do this for reassurance —reassurance that my enemy isn’t gaining ground, reassurance that even if I’m not winning, at least I haven’t given up on the battle. But the irony is that the more I engage in the fighting, the more I become a slave to the enemy, to my physical body, to perfection. As I begin to buy into this belief that I can conquer and control my body—that I can beat it into submission, I enter a battle I can never win. For as long as I live on earth, I will remain imperfect.

This is something the apostle Paul understood well. In Romans, he says that believers groan with the rest of creation because we “long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering.” Though I doubt Paul was thinking about the mirror or scale when he wrote this, he is acknowledging a reality that I’d be wise to take to heart. This First Century male who knew nothing of American culture or female body image pressure understood my struggle because he recognized the fact that we are all trapped in imperfect, broken bodies. And these bodies serve as daily reminders of our sinful nature. Creation groans because it’s under a curse. Likewise, my body has been cursed — marked as fallen. Imperfect.

Paul’s perspective sheds a new light my daily battle with my body. No matter how hard I try to beat it into submission, it will always — until the return of Christ — be under the curse of sin. Furthermore, my attempts to reach perfection are only evidence that I am trying on my own, to obtain something that can only come from God. As Paul puts it: “We [believers] wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us … the new bodies he has promised us” (Romans 8:23).

This is a perfect reminder that the real battle is not the one waged in the gym and determined by the scale. The real battle is spiritual, and the battle with my body is simply a far too effective ploy the enemy of God uses to distract me from the fight against, “the spiritual forces of evil.”

As Paul points out, we will all be trapped in these sub-par bodies until the return of Christ. And I think some of the frustration Paul expresses comes from the fact that this means we will have to continue fighting evidence of the curse — sickness, death, physical deformities — until Christ does indeed deliver the new bodies he has promised.

But the good news in Paul’s message is that even while we wait for those new bodies, we are under no obligation to try and obtain perfection. The promise of Christ means that we have been set free from all attempts to prove our worth. We can surrender to the battles that are enslaving us — the battles that are distracting us from our true identity in Christ. Paul states this plainly when he tells us, “you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s spirit when he adopted you as his own children” (Romans 8:15). And that’s the key to surrendering the battle of perfection and finding freedom—recognizing that God has called us his children. When our identity lies in the fact that he has claimed us as his, we no longer feel the need to prove ourselves, because our worth lies in him.

So I’m challenging myself to surrender the battle for perfection. When I look in the mirror I will still see my fallen, broken, imperfect body. But I should also see something else — a child of God. No matter what mirrors or scales say, that’s my true identity, because it’s the one that matters most.  And I’m challenging myself let my imperfections remind me of my sinful nature. Remembering that we live under a curse is powerful, because it thrusts us into the perfect posture to accept God’s grace and it’s when we’re  in this place that he looks at us and calls us his children.

Written by liferenewed

October 13, 2010 at 5:03 am

Discovering our role in God’s narrative

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Why Elizabeth Bennett shouldn’t write stories

Few weeks ago, a friend asked me to describe who God had made me to be using only one or two words at a time. I started to answer and then paused, realizing that the words about to come out of my mouth had more to do with what I did, who I thought I was, and who I wanted to be than they did with anything God has said about me. Who had God made me to be? I sat in silence for a moment, halfway hoping that I would have some sort of breakthrough — that the heavens would open and a jet would fly through the clouds, writing the answer in the sky. Okay, I didn’t exactly wish that, but I wouldn’t have been opposed to the idea. In fact, it would have been nice, because I knew this question was digging at the core of my identity, and I didn’t want the shovel to come up empty.

Identity is something that is hard to get at. Swayed by popular culture, many of us look to things like status, relationships, and material possessions to define who we are. Yet these identities eventually prove themselves to be false and temporary, like outfits we wear for a time but eventually outgrow or get bored of. The thrill that comes from applause or attention only lasts so long and before we know it, we are searching for a new wardrobe. My suspicion is that most of us have closets full of discarded outfits that we hold on to, telling ourselves that in a pinch they could still define us, even if they don’t actually fit anymore.

Most of us do this without recognizing that it is part of an identity search, because this behavior is ingrained in our nature. If I had to explain the concept of identity to someone who had never heard the word, I would say that it is how humans describe the need each of us has to be known and accepted as individuals. I would tell him that identity refers to the longing we have to distinguish ourselves from others in an attempt to say “I matter.” And I bet anything that even though he had never heard the word, he would quickly grasp the concept because the desire to have a unique identity is an innate part of being human.

That brings me back to the question posed by my friend. When she asked me who God made me to be, she tapped into this desire while also acknowledging why that desire exists in the first place. If you don’t believe that God created you or doubt that he has a purpose for your life, I would challenge you to take a look at the failed identity searches in your life and the lives of those around you. Ask yourself why it is that nothing provides a satisfactory answer to the question “who am I?” For me, this leads to no other conclusion than that I had to be created for something more. My search for identity and meaning is in part, a search for something greater than myself. When I read the Bible, I find it explains what I see going on around me and provides answers for how to deal with the void we all struggle to fill.

Because God created us, it’s impossible to truly answer to the question of identity without first understanding that we were created to be a part of God’s story. God’s narrative gives context to our character development. Trying to identify ourselves outside of this would be like plopping Elizabeth Bennet into the story of Robinson Crusoe and asking her to figure out her role. This impossible task would only leave a disoriented Liz frustrated and confused. No matter what she did to make herself comfortable or how hard she tried to fit in, she would always feel out of place. There is no role that Miss Bennet could assume in Crusoe’s story that would leave her completely satisfied, because she was made for something different.

The same is true in our lives. When we try to enter a story that is not God’s story, we are jumping into the pages of the wrong narrative. We can put on all the costumes and try out all the roles we want, but we will always feel a longing for something different — something more.

Recognizing that we are part of God’s story is freeing because it means that we don’t have to seek status, relationships, or material possessions to feel that we matter. We are unique and important because God created us. He wants us to be part of the narrative he is writing with all of creation.

This means that we must be willing to let him do the writing. Imagine if Elizabeth Bennett, correctly positioned within Pride and Prejudice, suddenly decided that she could write a better story that Jane Austin. I know it’s a bit of a stretch, but even if you dislike Austin’s novels, just humor me for a moment. If Liz wrote the story she may be unable to see anyone in her family marrying above their social class, and her assumptions and prejudices would likely prevent her from ending up with Mr. Darcy. But Austin was able to imagine better things for her characters than Liz could ever have dreamed for herself.

With that in mind, think about how big God’s point of view is. As the grand author of life, he sees what we cannot and his imagination for us is unlimited. Nevertheless, we still try to control the direction of the narrative. Doing so is simply another way we grasp at identities that will fail to satisfy.  This is what I was doing when I started to answer my friend’s question by thinking about who I wanted to be. I was telling my story, not God’s.

I think the most genuine and effective way to seek an identity is to let go of all the outfits and costumes — to empty the closet of who we think we are and make room for what God has to say about us. This is a beautiful thing because it means first off that we are acknowledging what story we are made to be a part of and then allowing the author to do the writing, rather than trying to take the pen.

This is the journey I’m on — learning what it means to let God tell me who he made me to be. And I’m thankful that God has the grace to let it be a journey. He knows that surrender is a process. While I continually struggle to let go of my false identities, he has already called me his child and is simply inviting me to walk in his story. It’s an invitation I choose to accept every day.

Written by liferenewed

May 19, 2010 at 4:53 am

Posted in Life lessons, Theology

How God uses suffering

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Or, the blog you’ll never read

The last time I had a blog post ready to publish was a month and a half ago. I’d written about suffering and how God’s view of our struggles is so much more complete than our own. I talked about how we see only a portion of what is really a grand landscape in which God is weaving a masterful story. The post used some great imagery and was rather poetic. But you will never get to read it.

I finished the writing late on a Wednesday night. I was tired, and the perfectionist in me wasn’t confident that the blog was quite ready to publish. Carefully saving the changes in a Word doc, as I do with all my blogs, I decided that I would wait until the following evening and give it one more read-through before sending it live.

On Thursday, I got off of work early. I went to the gym, ran a few errands, and then headed home to pay some bills and post my blog before a meeting that evening. But when I got home, I found my parents surveying the damage caused by burglars, who had broken in through the bedroom window, ransacked the place, and taken anything of value they could get their hands on—including my laptop. The blog that was all but ready to post was gone, along with a handful of other documents that I had yet to create backups for.

It seems ironic when you think about it, that the day after I write a blog on suffering, my house would be broken into. But I think it’s more than irony. I think that there is something bigger going on. Earlier in the year, I memorized James 1, which begins with a theme that is common throughout the epistles:

When troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy, for you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow. For when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

The morning after the break-in I was reminded of this verse while blow drying my hair. Later, I asked my dad if he was rejoicing. “Rejoicing?” he asked, as if he wasn’t sure he’d heard me right. None of us had slept well and after five hours of restless tossing and turning, finding joy isn’t usually the first thing on the agenda. “Yes,” I replied. “God is growing us.”

In his sovereignty, God determined that rather than posting a blog about suffering, it was more important that I learn something about it. I’m not trying to suggest that God caused this to happen—that would go against his character—but I do believe that he is using it to make me more like himself. And if that’s the case, it’s ultimately an answer to prayer.

The blog on suffering was prompted by several weeks of watching close friends battle giants. Relationship issues, loneliness, family dysfunctions, and a host of other problems were threatening to steal the joy and even the faith of those I care for. I stated in that blog what I’ve told many of these friends: that though the enemy intends these things for evil, God will use them for good; that even though it may be hard to imagine things changing, countless examples in the Bible testify that we can have faith in a God who is ultimately creating a beautiful picture with our lives.

I also talked about one of my favorite places to walk—a trail around a golf course just a few miles from my home. The path loops down by the water, providing a close-up view of the ever-changing waterfront. Here, the winds seem to overtake the ocean, and the shadow of the Olympic Mountains makes everything seem small and insignificant. Occasionally, a train lumbers past, blurring the scenery with faded yellow boxcars. I talked about how—from this vantage point—it’s easy to focus on just one thing—the vastness of the mountain, the threat of the wind, or the whir of the train cars that block the view of the horizon. But when you loop back up to the top of the hill, you see the entire scene from a completely different perspective. From here, it becomes clear that in overall picture, the mountains aren’t really so large and overwhelming, the storm that pounds the shore will soon be followed by softer waves, and the distraction of the train will only last for a short while. I like to think of this as the view that God has of our lives. He knows that the suffering we are overwhelmed by and the struggles that block our view are only temporary. And what’s more, they are necessary to make the pictures of our lives beautiful and complete.

And this is why he tells us to rejoice. The struggles I’ve been facing in regards to the break-in pale in comparison to those many of my friends are up against. Nevertheless, God has used them to teach me some things about trusting him and about what it means to affirm his goodness.

The worst thing about the break-in was the feeling of violation. Shortly after it happened, I remember thinking that of all the things the burglars took, I missed my sense of security the most. I’d been living with this false idea that doors and windows and locks could keep me safe from outside evils. I’d believed that nothing like this would ever happen to me. When it did, my sense of security was revealed to be false. That in which I placed my trust had failed. As I thought of ways to make my home more secure and realized that nothing I could do would ever give me a 100-percent safety guarantee, I realized there was only one way to find peace. I could live in fear or I could choose to trust God—to find my security in him. The security that he offers is something that no one can take away.

Because I’d just been blogging about God using suffering in our lives for good, one of the questions I was faced with when this happened was whether or not I could trust that God had a plan. And so, almost immediately, I stopped and prayed. I prayed for the robbers, that God would do a work in their hearts, and I prayed that ultimately, God would take something birthed out of ill intent and use it for his purposes. And he has. The most visible evidence of this comes with the relationships we are beginning to build with our neighbors. For the most part, people in our neighborhood have kept to themselves. But this event forced us to reach out, if only to let them know what happened. And that served as a bridge that I hope to cross many more times, a bridge that I believe God can use to allow me to carry his love to those he has placed me in a neighborhood with.

Affirming God’s goodness means recognizing his hand in the midst of things that don’t make sense. Evil never makes sense. Pain never makes sense. And while God does not cause these things, for those who trust him, his hand is always present in the midst of them. Because God is good we can trust that our struggles are just one part of the overall picture he is creating with our lives. And these struggles will allow for a vibrant, more complete landscape. So, I rejoice. I rejoice because God is changing my heart. He’s drawing me into a closer relationship with him and ultimately, preparing me to better respond when even bigger challenges arise in the future.

Written by liferenewed

May 4, 2010 at 8:26 pm

Celebrating peace

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Why I’m rejecting mainstream Christmas

I love Christmas. Though I cringe at cheap sentimentality, there is a sentimental chord in me that is easily struck during the holiday season. I love singing Christmas songs and watching old classic movies. I love drinking coffee and tea out of red Starbucks cups. I love making gingerbread men and hanging old crusty ornaments on the Christmas tree. I even love waking up early to sit in the living room all disheveled, watching my family dump out stockings full of silly things like toothbrushes and oranges. But in recent years, as I’ve begun to spend more time reflecting on the holiday and taken the time to question the traditions many of us hold dear, I’ve found myself feeling like somewhat of a Grinch.

It’s not that I have a heart that’s two sizes too small or that I’m against a good, jolly Whoville celebration. In fact, I think the idea of celebration is right-on. It’s vital that we pause from the monotony that defines our lives and take time to remember that we were made for peace, not chaos. That’s what celebration is supposed to be about. For Christians, celebration—particularly the celebration of Christmas—is a reminder that we are part of a larger narrative. The story that you and I live is incomplete without the story of the virgin birth; it is incomplete without recognition of the fact that we were made to live in the peace the Christ child came to bring. Because of this reality, we are part of a grand story, and we each have a role as an agent of peace—we have been entrusted to live out the peace of Christ in a broken world.

And this is where I get all Grinchy about Christma
s. I find myself wanting to reject all that Christmas has come to stand for, because in modern-day America, this holiday is anything but peaceful. And in many households, it’s far from celebratory. I don’t think I need to go into details. You’ve seen the chaos in your own lives and witnessed your neighbors and coworkers on the verge of breakdown. We think we are celebrating, but when Christmas is over, we are left exhausted and empty. The things we thought would bring us joy—be they parties, gifts, or traditions—ultimately fail to satisfy. We work hard to make Christmas perfect, but it never really is.

Ironically, the answer to truly celebrating at Christmas time comes in actually embracing that which we work so hard to forget during this season—our imperfections; the fact that, on our own, we will never have peace or satisfaction. Inviting this reality into our holiday season allows us to acknowledge the role that the grander narrative of Christ’s love plays in our lives, and it frees us from the oppressive ways the world tries to celebrate the season. Let’s face it, the pressure to give and receive the perfect gift is burdensome, and the anticipation that often accompanies this holiday can leave us trusting in the world’s system for joy and hope, rather than relying on the Prince of Peace.

To live as agents of Christ’s peace, we must reject the mainstream approach to Christmas. And I’m not referring simply to the “worldly” approach. I’m talking about stepping back and examining the way in which we as Christians celebrate the holiday season. We talk about the true “reason for the season,” but often, we celebrate like everyone else—maxing out our credit cards, worrying about who we should give to, and hoping that Santa won’t forget us. I’m suggesting more than a simple shift in rhetoric, something deeper than making sure we say “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays.” I’m suggesting that we, as Christians, use the way we live and celebrate to tell the world a different story—a story that speaks of peace rather than chaos, of love rather than greed.

There are many ways to do this at Christmas time. My church is participating in Advent Conspiracy, which encourages Christians to redistribute Christmas funds by donating the money they would have spent on gifts to building wells in Africa. This is powerful on several levels. For one thing, it allows us to give creative and relational gifts to our friends and family members that are often more meaningful than anything we would have purchased. It also allows us to give something to Jesus, the one who told us that what we do for the least of these, we have done for him. What a powerful way to spread the message of peace.

I recognize that its Christmas Eve already, and you’ve likely purchased your gifts. Nevertheless, it is not too late to celebrate differently. Be creative, think of ways that you can spread the message of Christ’s peace this season. Give of your time. Do a favor for each of your family members on Christmas day. Focus on putting the needs of others before your own. Truly recognize—with your heart, not just your words—that joy and satisfaction do not come from receiving gifts or pulling off the perfect holiday meal. Read the Christmas story and let its truth sink deep into your heart. Embrace the fact that you are part of a grand, beautiful narrative.

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called; Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

Written by liferenewed

December 24, 2009 at 8:42 pm

Leaving Christianity for Christ

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Why it’s hard to be a Christ follower in a country full of Christians

I feel somewhat guilty confessing that I don’t like to call myself a Christian. All my Sunday school training warns me against rejecting this title and simultaneously, betraying Christ. Yet, as I study the message of Christ in the gospels and look at what the word Christian has come to mean in present day America, my desire to disassociate from this term only grows stronger.

In a country where some 75 percent of the population claims to be Christian, the word has become ambiguous at best. Many individuals proudly flaunt the title, using it to back their cause, advance their political agenda, vouch for their personal character, or ease their conscious. But originally, the term—which literally means “little Christ” or “Christ follower”—was not an adjective that one would claim for himself, as if he were adding another badge to his identity sash. Rather, it was a noun bestowed upon a group of counter-cultural radicals who followed the teachings of Jesus. In other words, it was actions, and not self-professed labels, that made individuals Christians. When outsiders looked at those who were following Christ, they recognized that these “Jesus people” responded to the world differently than others around them did. Christian, then, was a noun referring to a person or group of people who sought to shape their lives after Jesus Christ. But, as Rob Bell points out in his book Velvet Elvis, we have made this word an adjective—a term we can attach to almost anything in order to feel as if that thing—or person—has God’s approval. Doing so has cheapened the term and only contributed to the confusion that is Christianity.

Originally, Christianity wasn’t a religion. It wasn’t about rules or legalism. It wasn’t really even about a ticket to heaven. It was about loving people the way that Christ loved them. After all, it was Jesus who condemned the piety of religious leaders and said that true religion is caring for orphans and widows. But as the church spread, there are places in which Christianity became twisted into a religion of rules and judgment—many of the things Jesus condemned his contemporary religious leaders for. I say this not to sound cynical or dismiss the Church altogether–there are places in which the Church is thriving and truly living out the call of Christ. But there are also places in which the Church has misused the Christian label, and unfortunately, marred the name of Christ.

Consider the experience of author Erik Reece. Erik’s grandfather and father were both Baptist preachers, and Erik was raised under the umbrella of strict fundamentalist Christianity.
Erik’s experience of what it means to be a Christian was shaped by his grandfather’s dualistic rejection of earthy pleasures and countless “hellfire” sermons, designed to inflict guilt. Today, Erik is still jaded toward Christianity. In a NPR interview discussing his book, An American Gospel, which chronicles his rejection of the church and quest for spiritual guidance, Erik recalls asking the question, “what is left of Christianity when you remove the fear?” In the interview, Erik simply lets the question hang. His silence says it all. Erik experienced Christianity as a religion of fear, rather than a relationship of love.

Eric’s experience showcases one reason that I’m reluctant to call myself a Christian. When someone asks me if I wear this title, I don’t know what Christian means to him. I don’t know if he’s experienced the Jesus of the gospels—whom I hope is shaping me to be like himself—or a Jesus who has been shaped by the ideals and desires of men and institutions, who are always bound to fail.

The other reason that I hesitate to call myself a Christian has to do with the way in which Christianity has been watered-down by American ideals. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful to live in a country where I am free to worship as I please, but I often wonder if America’s obsession with God has simply made it easy for us to call ourselves Christians without really understanding what it means to follow Christ. There are circles in which being a Christian is just about as American as apple pie and baseball. Anyone who doubts this need only to listen to his local country music station for an hour or so. To many, love of God and love of America are practically synonymous. Take for example a new and frightening book known as The American Patriot’s Bible. The book, “intersects the teachings of the Bible with the history of the United States,” as if somehow, the founding of our country were ordained enough to now be included in the sacred texts. This is disturbing on many levels. Greg Boyd does an excellent job of fleshing them out in his review.

The words God bless America roll off our tongues so quickly that we rarely stop to question if the things America is doing are worthy of God’s blessing. And when the blessing of God is so imbedded in the rhetoric of our country, it becomes easy to buy into a belief that America is somehow God’s chosen land—his ally and beacon of light to the world. But this type of thinking isn’t only wrong; it’s dangerous.

For one thing, it makes it easier to dismiss, forget about, or even begin to hate our brothers and sisters around the world, be they those who live in other countries or those who simply don’t “fit” with our idea of American. This dismissal of the other not only compromises our witness, but it blatantly disregards the teachings of Christ. One current example of this is the way in which many have approached our nation’s recent wars. As our country waged these “holy wars” in the name of God, many Christians seemed to forget that the leader we claim to follow instructed us to love our enemies and lay down our swords. The teachings of Christ were conveniently forgotten so that we could claim he backs our cause. As war shatters and destroys the lives of innocent people, do we take time to pray for them in our churches, or are we too busy asking God to protect America and preserve our way of life?

I’m concerned about the message that is sent by things like the American Patriots Bible because it seems to suggest that God is strongly united with the beliefs of this country. Yet when I look at America, I see an economy based on greed, a cultural mentality of individualism, and a dangerous national pride. Historically speaking, it’s nothing new for nations to grow corrupt and proud. Just look at Rome. But when this happens, it is the place of the Christian Church to live in a countercultural manner—to be in the country but not of the established order. And again, I don’t want to generalize the Church, but plenty of congregations and individuals wear the Christian label while also pledging allegiance to man and the gods of America. I’m not trying to point the finger but rather, to share something that God has and is convicting me of. It’s an easy trap to fall into, because in this nation, Christianity has been defined by American culture and politics. And many go astray because they fail to realize or don’t want to believe that American culture and politics were not defined by Christ. If this were the case, we would see a country more welcoming to foreigners, less hasty to go to war, and more willing to share our resources.

Recognizing that western or American “Christianity” actually does more to hurt than uplift the name of Christ puts true Jesus followers in a difficult place. Because if we are going to truly follow Jesus, we are going to have to reject the Christian title and what it has come to stand for. Donald Miller—an brilliant man whose books I highly recommend—said in a recent post on his blog, “I’ve actually had people come up to me [after speaking events] and say they thought I was about to renounce my faith, which in ways, I actually do. At least my faith in whatever has become of Christianity.” I don’t know about you, but I’d like to join Miller. I’d like to reject fundamentalist Christianity experienced by individuals like Erik Reece. And I’d like to reject the Christianity that wreaks of American ideals. Turning Christianity into a dualistic religion of regulations and rules only puts God in a box and stifles the gift of freedom Christ came to offer. And marrying God and country leads to an extreme conflict of loyalties—especially when the values of our country clash with the teachings of Christ. And believe me, they do and will.

So what are we to do as true Christ followers when we come to the place where we can no longer call ourselves Christians? When we realize that the religious order around us has strayed from the teachings of the one they set out to follow? The answer is simple to understand but hard to execute. Live differently. Live like Christ. Become less concerned with titles, labels, and rules, and begin to focus on actions and the motivation behind them, which should always be love. The term Christian arose because of a group of people who lived radically differently. Their actions necessitated the term. If we begin to truly follow the call of Christ—which is more radical than many mainstream Christians want to believe—it may just happen that people won’t know what to call us because we won’t look like any Christians they have ever known. And this will be a good thing, because it will give us the opportunity to point back to Christ, who has been hidden behind dualism, legalism, and national pride.

How do we do this? It’s a process of submitting our hearts to Christ, and it’s something I for one am still learning to do. But if we want to know what Christ expects of his followers, a perfect starting place is the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew five, where Jesus clearly lays out what it means to be part of his kingdom. From there, the Gospels give us a good idea of how to fashion our lives after Christ. And the epistles show us what this looked like for the early Christians—those I talked about earlier whose actions birthed the title. And when it comes down to it, “they will know we are Christians (individuals who follow Christ) by our love”—not by the rules we follow or the nation we live in.

I write this as a confession of my own imperfection. I write it to be honest about the things God has convicted me of and as a challenge to myself to live up to his call. At times I’ve fallen into the trap of focusing on rules—of thinking of Christianity as a religion rather than a relationship. And I’ve been guilty of misguided allegiances. Though I’m ashamed to admit it, I’ve found myself buying into mainstream American Christianity. But admitting these failures is the perfect starting place, for following Christ begins with acknowledging our need for forgiveness and grace. And for me, it feels like getting saved all over again. It feels like getting saved from a watered-down Westernized version of Christianity to discover that all the while, Christ had something bigger and more freeing than I could ever have imagined.

Moving from the place of accepting God’s grace to actually taking up his call is not easy. We will be misunderstood. We may feel or be treated as if we are rebelling. It’s frightening to let go of the framework through which you have always viewed life. And it’s scary to tell an institution that they seem to be failing to follow the leader they claim to serve. But when others point the finger at us and accuse us of rejecting our faith, we can rest assured that we are in good company. Early Christians faced this exact same type of persecution. The established religious order did not understand them. I’m not suggesting rejecting the Church or rebelling whenever we don’t like what they are teaching, but I am suggesting that we put the framework we’ve been given from the Church up next to the framework of Christ. If the two don’t match, then it is our responsibility to live lives that show the Church, and the world, what it looks like to serve Christ, even if it means that we can no longer call ourselves Christians.

Written by liferenewed

October 19, 2009 at 8:47 pm

Hugging God

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When I was 7-years-old, I tried to hug God. I remember the night very distinctly. I was lying in the top bunk, staring at the plastic, glow-in-the-dark stars and planets suspended from the ceiling, my little childlike heart overwhelmed with love. God felt close, and suddenly, I wanted nothing more than to give him a hug.

There’s something beautiful about how little it takes for children to feel secure
. The enthusiasm with which they give and receive love is astonishing. For me at 7, simply knowing that God was my friend was enough. I loved him because I knew he loved me and it was that simple. And since a hug was the best way I knew how to express my love, I grabbed my large, brown teddy bear and squeezed him as tightly as I could. “That was for you God,” I whispered silently, confident that heard me.

Even at the time, I knew the idea was a bit silly, but that didn’t matter. In my imagination, the plastic stars on my ceiling represented the real sky, and God was just above them, watching and smiling as I hugged him through the medium of my teddy bear, pleased to know that I felt his love.

And that’s how simple loving God was
—as simple as hugging a teddy bear; as simple as trusting that he knew my heart; and as simple as remembering that he was always there. I never questioned God’s love for me, and I never really questioned what it meant to follow Jesus. It simply meant that even though I was the one who hung the stars and planets from my ceiling, he was the one who was in control. And I was okay with that. It was enough to know that he loved me. But things didn’t stay that way.

There comes a point as we age when the simplicity of love—the ability to trust without asking questions—is replaced by a desire to analyze, understand, and control. It happens to each of us for different reasons, but when this change takes place, it’s suddenly easy to see why Jesus said we must all come to him as children.

You see, as I left the world of teddy bears and plastic stars for a world of uncertain realities, the innocence of simply wanting to hug God was replaced with a desire to analyze him. Seeking to understand God is not all bad, but it does have its dangers. God is mysterious; we will never understand him in his entirety. When we begin to demand an explanation for everything, we are abandoning trust. And the moment we let go of trust, we leave the door open for another desire to sneak in—the desire to control.

We would be far better off simply trying to get to know God
—acknowledging that there are ways in which he will always be mysterious, while still seeking to learn his heart. But this requires surrendering control. And the more complicated life becomes the harder that is to do. After all, if I hung the stars in my personal sky, shouldn’t I be able to decide what happens to them?

The desire to analyze is often accompanied by the ability to rationalize
. The more we think we understand God, the easier it is to rationalize why we should have control. But often, when we think we understand God, all that we really understand is what we have made him out to be—a God of our own design, who we can wrap our little minds around. This is again, an attempt at control. And when we are trying to control God, we lose sight of both the love and trust that accompany the childlike heart Christ calls us to have.

I don’t remember the last time I felt like hugging God
. I love him. But lately, I’ve found it harder to approach him with the openness I did that night when I was 7. I think I’m afraid that he’ll ask me to surrender control. I’m afraid of trust, because it means admitting that I don’t have all the answers. It means recognizing that I can’t run my life.

But it’s exactly that kind of surrender that produces the relationship of openness I had with God as a child. Loving God will produce a desire to trust, a desire to let go of my feeble attempts to control my life. But love cannot be manufactured. I may want to love God, but I still have to reckon with my sinful nature that conflicts with this desire.

And that’s where hugging God even when we don’t feel like it comes in
. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says, “If you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.” His advice to one struggling to love God is to do the things one would do if he were in love with God. While most of us would not go around trying to hug God, this image can come to represent almost anything. If hugging God is how you would express your love, then do so. If love for God would compel you to spend more time with him, then that is what you should do.

In a way, it is different for everyone, but there are also ways in which it is the same. If you know love produces a desire to surrender control, to approach God with trust, then don’t wait until you feel the love. Hug god now. Elsewhere, Lewis states, “I cannot learn to love God except by learning to obey him.” When we do what God has called us to do, love will follow. So obey now. Trust today. Surrender control this moment. Hug God even when you don’t feel like it. Love will follow.

Written by liferenewed

August 9, 2009 at 8:50 pm