Faking it?

December 14, 2015

Years ago I attended a “Christian rock concert” with a number of folks. Two people in particular stand out in my memory. They were really into it! They danced, they yelled, they sang. I hate to admit this but the music was a little too… um… LOUD for me. I know, I know… I’m growing into a curmudgeon. Ask Ellen and she’ll likely tell you that I am related to Scrooge in some way. I’m not normally demonstrative when it comes to public entertainment. I’ll clap along but don’t ask me to get up and sway or throw my arms into the air in exultation. If I like the music and it moves me… well, I can feel it internally. Or maybe my emotions are totally repressed… not sure which.

ANYWAY, the reason I point that out is this: The two folks I mentioned, the ones who were so verbal about their faith and their appreciation about the “Christian” music… Well, they are nowhere in their faith today. To my knowledge neither attends church anywhere. Neither is involved in any small group, or home group. Neither confesses faith in a way that might be recognizable to most Christians. Do you know what I mean? So here’s my question: Was it real? I mean their whole faith thing… was it real? Were they really worshipping Jesus? Were they really immersed in the Spirit? Were their lives being transformed?

Romans 12:2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Naturally this dilemma doesn’t just apply to the two folks I mentioned above. No doubt there are some reading this today who were VERY excited about their faith at one time. They attended Christian events, were a part of a regular Bible study, prayed, read their Bibles, maybe even took part in some ministry. But now? Well outside of maybe a cursory involvement in a church on Sunday mornings… Nothing. What happened? Was it real before? Was it?

I can’t tell you how many young folks I have witnessed over the years who have gone away to a Christian retreat or summer camp where they had an experience with God that seemed very real and powerful. But literally within hours of leaving the venue they were back to where they had been. No God, no faith. Was it real? What was it?
Back in the late 60’s and through the 70’s and into the 80’s there was a large movement of folks in our country who became/claimed to be “born again.” They were actively involved in churches and spoke regularly of Jesus and what he meant in their lives. Some of them went so far as to say that “born again Christians” were the only authentic ones, and yet, so many of those folks have fallen away from the faith. And whatever they had has not transmitted to their children. What happened? Was it real? Was it authentic? And if it was, it was “real” and “authentic” what? Was it Jesus? Or was it folks being driven by emotion and getting swept up into a movement?

I find myself confused by all of this for this reason, if we actually meet the Lord of the Universe, can we just walk away? Can we say that knowing Jesus was fun and Holy while it lasted but it doesn’t mean anything any longer? Seriously… can we?

I suggested in church a couple of weeks ago my assessment on why people do not find themselves involved in church or “organized religion.” I think it’s pretty simple. Folks do not come to church because they do not find God there. Think about it. If we had a real sense of meeting God there, I suspect we would go back. And tragically, church people have settled for something less than that for years, decades, centuries; going to church regularly and not meeting God. Don’t get me wrong. We might sing the hymns with gusto; listen to the minister drone on in prayer; be faithfully attentive to the brilliant sermons, and yet not meet God.

I know one thing… God hates it when we go through the motions of worship but don’t pour our hearts and souls into knowing Him. Amos quotes God in chapter 5:21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.”

Richard Rohr a Franciscan Friar said two things that we need to hear: “Many American congregations [are] in effect paying their ministers to protect them from the real God” and that “religion is one of the safest places to hide from God.”

Personally, I find those comments to be a little scary. I know that only about 1/10 of an iceberg is above the surface of the water. I wonder what fraction of our souls are really willing to seek after God on Sunday mornings. Or any other time for that matter. And what fraction is hiding under the surface totally removed from God.

Serious question; do you regularly meet God at your church? Or do the things and the people leading the service do more to distract you than direct you? Or have you never really met God in church and wouldn’t know what it looked like if you did? Yeah, I hear you.

If we do not meet God, it’s not because He’s the one hiding.




December 8, 2015

I have a pastor friend who is of the opinion that ministers should never show or talk about weakness and sin in their own lives. I think his basic idea is that we ought to be models of how to deal with all things “Christian.” There is a part of me that would like to be that person. I would like to be a “super-Christian;” always knowing what to say and what to do; never allowing sin to get the best of me; not allowing my brokenness to be visible; always maturing in the faith and moving toward Jesus. Yep, I would like to be that person… sometimes… and then there are most days. There are the days when I know myself all too well; the days when I wonder if Jesus really had me and others like me in mind when he died for sin. Or was He really thinking about so many others whom I admire and try to emulate?

Occasionally I have those moments when past events come into my memory that cause bile to rise up in my throat. Severe injustices that were done to me or to my children come to mind. Often by people (too often adults) who really should have known better; people who had their own selfish agenda in mind and didn’t care if they were placing lifelong PAINFUL memories into the minds of children or young adults. I don’t know if you know what I mean… do you?

Usually these thoughts come to me at a time of weakness… particularly spiritual weakness. It doesn’t often take much to get me there… getting blindsided by criticism does it. Watching people I love get hurt over and over again does it. Being tired and emotionally worn out does it. Again, do you know what I mean? Sometimes when these old circumstances (or new ones) fire up the memory banks, I can get downright ANGRY! I know that anger is not a sin (necessarily). And I am reminded that Jesus himself got really ANGRY on occasion; angry because of injustice and angry because the religious leaders of the day were misleading or taking advantage of “the people.” The very people they should have been guiding and caring for, they were leading down paths of destruction! (One of the big fears of my life, I should add.)
It’s interesting to note that the following story is one of only a few that is mentioned in all four gospels.

Matthew 21:
12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”

I have had many people yell at me over the years but what must it be like to have Jesus screaming in your face as in Matthew 23?

Matthew 23:13f:

13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. [14] 

15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

16 “Woe to you, blind guides! Etc…

All of this and yet I am stuck with this dilemma: It’s okay on occasion to get angry particularly about wickedness and sin, but what do we/I do with that anger? I mean, if it’s 40 years later and I’m still struggling, is that sinful? I suspect it has something to do with forgiveness, don’t you?

I find that forgiveness is one of the GREAT dilemmas in the Christian faith. Most of us say or think we have some sense of how it works or what it is but I suspect we do not… not for a minute… or a second. And I also think that many of us might say that we “forgive” people readily or regularly. Really?!?! I imagine we might be deluding ourselves when we say that.

Here is my reality. (Does this sound familiar to you?) I had no models in my life growing up of “forgiving” people. Do you know what I mean? I have no memory of ANYONE about whom I could say, “They were people who were known for their ability to forgive others.” Don’t get me wrong; there may have been people I knew who forgave others, but no one who was “noted” for it. The opposite quality however, was in abundance. I could make lists of names of folks who harbored anger, bitterness, and loathing in their hearts and minds toward others… for decades and for many until their last breath! It negatively affected their lives, their children’s lives, and the lives of others they claimed to love. Maybe this was just my experience and you have no idea what I’m talking about. If so you are blessed!

If leading people astray is one of my great “fears” then the following passage “HAUNTS” me.

Matthew 6:15: But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

I believe fully in God’s grace. That it is not “earned” but it is “bestowed” out of God’s abundance of love. That being said, we do have a responsibility to live lives pleasing to God and within the confines of His desires for us. Do you know this passage from Philippians?

Philippians 2:12: Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,

I’m working on this forgiveness and anger thing… It’s pretty scary… and I’m trembling.

Yours in Christ,

Bill L.