Faith, Grace, Life

On Not Being Spat Out

Cliff by Zach Werner on flickr with text added

My toddler’s behaviour has epitomized the ‘terrible two’s lately.  He (D) is climbing too high; ignoring instructions; disobeying rules; and just generally pushing the boundaries with everything.  At the same time, he is SO affectionate and so funny and so totally loveable (speaking with absolute bias, of course) that we think him adorable even while he’s challenging our patience.

Because D is a sly button-presser, I have to keep an eagle eye out when he’s in the kitchen to avoid an unwanted extra dishwasher cycle.  And because he’s fascinated with dipping his hands into cups, I have to keep hot drinks well out of reach.

One of my sisters-in-law visited for tea the other day, and D hovered next to her teacup.  It was no longer hot enough to burn, but I did want to avoid any mess and embarrassment.  I warned him, “No touching!  Keep your hands out!”

And he obeyed.

He didn’t touch.

Instead, he leaned forward and, with expert aim, he spat an entire mouthful of milk right into her teacup.

My sister-in-law was the mirror of me as we simultaneously clapped our hands over our mouths, eyes wide in disbelief.  But as the shock wore off, our shoulders started to shake.  What could we do but laugh?

The thing is, D wasn’t spitting because he didn’t want his milk.  He was spitting to see what would happen (and I made sure to explain later that we can spit in the sink when we brush our teeth, but it’s NOT OKAY to spit in people’s tea!).

Recently I read an article that reminded me of a verse in the Bible that talks about not being spat out.  The spitting in this case is a sign of God’s disgust with wishy-washy faith:

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”

-Revelation 3:15-17

In his commentary, Matthew Henry expounds on these verses thus:

Lukewarmness or indifference in religion is the worst temper in the world. If religion is a real thing, it is the most excellent thing, and therefore we should be in good earnest in it; if it is not a real thing, it is the vilest imposture, and we should be earnest against it. If religion is worth anything, it is worth everything; an indifference here is inexcusable: Why halt you between two opinions? If God be God, follow him; if Baal (be God), follow him. Here is no room for neutrality.

In short, we are to take a stand for what we believe in.  (And this is what the article I read was talking about.)  But how do we take a stand in a way that is honouring to all aspects of God – how do we respect his law and demonstrate his love?

It’s easy to see what not to do.

Westboro Baptist Church and its followers stand for the law and ignore the love.  They’ve obviously got it wrong.  On the other end of the spectrum you have the churches who preach that love is all that matters, and they ignore the law.  This is wrong, too.

Both are unbalanced views, and both are unbiblical.

What does being a Christian require of us?  We have to look to Jesus for the answer.

Jesus didn’t ostracize those living outside the bounds set by God’s commands – he didn’t get up on a pedestal and just denounce, denounce, denounce.  He didn’t try to motivate people to change by warning them that they were going to go to hell if they didn’t.  Jesus didn’t spew hate and he didn’t withhold his love from those deemed unworthy under the law.

He also didn’t endorse the views of the lost – he didn’t discount the error of their ways; he didn’t go up to the woman at the well and say, “Well, your husband was probably a lout and impossible to live with!  He practically drove you into the arms of that other man!”  He didn’t say, “Zacchaeus, you probably had very good reasons for collecting extra taxes to fill your personal coffers, and I’m not going to judge you for that.”

Instead, Jesus walked alongside sinners.  He loved them.  He spoke Truth to them.  He didn’t wait for them to change their ways or behave perfectly or even to confess God as Lord of their own lives before he gave them his attention and offered them his grace.  He healed and he restored.  And he told those newly-minted whole people – those sinners he had healed from their brokenness – “Follow me;” “Go and sin no more;”; “”Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.“.  He didn’t say, “Don’t go changing, now!”

The Truth is that God’s love changes us.

There once lived a man called Saul.  Or perhaps that should more correctly read, there twice lived a man called Saul – because once Saul had encountered Christ he was a different man.  Saul was a Jew, and a conscientious one at that.  His job, in fact, was in rooting out blasphemers and heretics; and his focus was on a new sect that had recently cropped up: followers of Jesus, also known as ‘Christ’.  As far as Saul could see, this was a dangerous new philosophy that needed to be stamped out through swift and severe action – and he was doing his level best to ensure that these followers of Christ were stopped before they could spread their messianic views any further.  He was dogged, determined – and devout.

And then he met Jesus on the road to Damascus.

The Saul (henceforth known as Paul) who emerged from that encounter was just as dogged, determined, and devout.  But his focus had shifted 180 degrees.  Now, instead of working to cease the spread of Christianity, he aimed to increase it.  He moved from persecuting Christians to proclaiming Christ as Lord.  Why?  Because God’s love – in the form of Jesus Christ – had changed him.

He was transformed.

Almost every time Jesus exhorts his believers to ‘come, follow me’, he precedes that invitation with an instruction about what they need to release in order to do so.

In Saul/Paul’s case, he had to let go of all of his preconceived ideas about Jesus and followers of Christ.  He had turn his back on convictions he had carried through to death (not his, but those of so many believers), and turn towards a new conviction of the truth of Jesus’s resurrection (which he also carried through to death – this time, to his own eventual martyrdom).

Jesus knew that the young man was willing to abide by the law but not by the love – the young man’s heart wasn’t in it because he was unwilling to give up his home comforts for the promise of God’s reward.

  • Jesus called Peter to step out in faith – literally – and join him in stormy seas.

“‘Come,’ he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.”

Peter had to leave the boat.  He had to trust in Jesus’s ability to literally support him – and, when he believed, his faith provided a firm foundation for his feet.

Take my yoke upon you.  Faith can be a burden; but in Christ’s strength we are more than fit to carry that burden.  We are called to release our need to be in control over our lives and give up this freedom to accept the Freedom that is in Christ Jesus.

We are changed by faith.

The world at large doesn’t know this truth.  In an age where everything is relative, personal choice is king.  Further, there is an expectation that whatever those personal choices are, they are right.  And good.  And uncontestable.  There is a pervasive sense of this supremacy of personal choice and of the idea that if anyone doesn’t agree with someone else’s personal choice he is being hateful.  According to this new line of thinking, if I don’t support a woman’s ‘right to choose’ or hang a rainbow flag out my window then I must be passing judgement on everyone else, no matter how vehemently I deny it – and no matter how much I love the woman who has to make an impossible choice and the ones who endure hate because of their sexual orientation.  The world tells us that we have to agree with everyone in order to love them, but that is a fallacy.

I parent differently from how some of my friends parent – don’t we all, by necessity, make choices based on our own situations, our own research, and our own instincts??  If I choose not to let my kids ‘cry it out’ does that necessarily mean that I stand in judgement of my exhausted friend who chooses to try that approach in order to save her sanity?  If I believe that a meatless diet is healthiest for my family, does that mean that I hate those families who aren’t vegetarian or vegan??

No.  Not at all; disagreeing does not equal disliking.  Lack of assent does not equal lack of love or respect.  Believing that faith necessitates change doesn’t equal hypocrisy, even when it’s a belief held by a still-imperfect person.

Jesus loves sinners in spite of their sin (in spite of our sin).  We love others because Christ first loved us – not because they are married or single; gay or straight; religious or secular; or carnivorous or vegan, but in spite of those designations.  I love my friends in spite of their agreement or disagreement with my beliefs, and regardless of my agreement or disagreement with theirs.

But because of these differences, I have – at times – muzzled myself.  I have erred on the side of caution in sharing my views for fear of appearing unloving; because in this world, disagreement is taken for hatred.

I wonder, though, how much this is deference on my part – and how much it is cowardice.

A short while after I read Matt Walsh’s rousing exhortation to Christians to stand up and be counted, I read an article that cut me to the core.  This article, written by Ann Voskamp after a trip to Iraq to meet displaced women and children, is a raw and powerful portrait of the destruction wrought by Isis (and perpetuated, I fear, by the indifference of so many in the rest of the world).

Persecution is happening now.  Discrimination is happening today.  Prejudice is happening alwaysMothers are having to choose which children to bring and which to leave behindCan you imagine??

The world tells me that I am unloving if I disagree with someone.  But how loving is it that we ignore the slaughter of Christians in other parts of the world and the displacement of so many?  How loving is it to ignore the enslavement of their children?  There is a modern-day holocaust going on in the Middle East, and we are tip-toeing around for fear of offending*.

We are (correctly) outraged at the description of events in WW II – the idea that so many people sat idly by while Hitler moved brutally forward with his plan to exterminate Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and anyone else who didn’t fit into his ideal.  And yet we ourselves sit timidly by as a slaughter takes place a continent removed from us.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

And so I am not going to ‘do nothing’.  I am not going to be lukewarm.

Law and love are both central to living as Christ lived, and I cannot apologize for that.  Jesus honoured the Sabbath, but he also healed on the Sabbath.  Jesus embraced sinners, but he also expected sinners to release their sin in order to follow him.

It is not loving to pretend that we sinners are just okey-dokey if we keep sinning wilfully.  “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Finding faith has to be the catalyst to change.

“Jesus Christ did not say ‘Go into all the world and tell the world that it is quite right’.”

– C.S. Lewis

If I water down my beliefs to make someone else feel better, how is that loving?  I don’t tell my kids, It’s OK if you don’t want to wear your seatbelt, ‘cause I know it’s restrictive and uncomfortable… – I tell them, I want you to be safe, and this is how you keep safe.

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” – Proverbs 14:12

So this is what I believe:

I believe that God is sufficient for all of us, to fill every one of our needs.  Therefore I don’t need to apologize about my beliefs to the unmarried friend living with her boyfriend so that she’ll feel OK about her decision, because ‘after all, doesn’t God just want us all to be happy?” No because the truth is, God wants us to be fulfilled – and He is the one who can accomplish that. 

I am not writing this to stand up and denounce, denounce, denounce.  I am not trying to point out the splinter in someone else’s eye whilst ignoring the log in my own.  I don’t believe that there are shades of sin – there’s sin on one side (the result of which is separation from God), and there’s forgiveness on the other (in which we are reconciled to God through Christ’s sacrifice) – and I also don’t believe that watering down the Truth to make it more palatable is a kindness.  The truth is that we have all sinned, and we all fall short of the glory of God – and that’s where his grace steps in.  His sacrifice – like his love – is complete, and it demands action on our part.

What do we do, then?  Keep the law, and share the love.

I will not stand up and shout out against people I love, no matter whether or not I agree with them.  But I will stand up and be counted.  I will risk discomfort and even (‘though I cringe at the idea), being ‘unfriended’.  I will do my best to speak Truth into the lie of an untransformational salvation.  I will not accuse, but I also will not apologize.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

– Romans 6:1-4

Here I am, Lord.  Count me in.  I will honour your sacrifice, Jesus, and the sacrifice made by countless Christians around the world to this day who have been willing to die for these beliefs we share; I will honour you by speaking Truth, upholding your law, and sharing your love.

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My little D wasn’t spitting because he didn’t like what he tasted – he was just testing the boundaries of propriety.  But I’m not going to allow the boundaries of propriety to dictate to me so much that *I* am in danger of being spat out.

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*For the record, Isis is radical and not representative of Islam in general, and I know this.  I have beloved friends who are Muslim; by no means am I condoning hatred towards followers of that religion.  I do understand that there is a point at which our faiths divide, and that is OK.  I don’t have to agree with them to love them.

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Faith, Grace

Sorry about the Crusades!

Knight by Scott Mucci on flickr

 

So, I was having a theological conversation with a friend the other day, and the Crusades came up.  As they do.

My friend basically said what I’ve heard said many times before:  with those terrible Crusades and the other atrocities committed in God’s name over the past couple of millennia, Christians have a lot to answer for.  If you look at the history of the Church, it really seems as if they (we) have historically done more harm than good.

And she was right, to a point.  I mean, there are lots of examples of how the Church has messed up.  There are lots of examples of how Christians as individuals (and the Church as an organization) have caused hurt.  And without being flippant about it, these harms are absolutely regrettable.  The Church has had something of an ignoble history at times, and plenty of wrong has been committed (erroneously) in the name of God. (This is true of other religions as well, but for now let’s just deal with Christianity.)

Conversations like this one kind of make me feel like making some sort of apology – and I struggle to offer something adequately meaningful and eloquent, but usually the best I can do is, “Yeah, ummm… Sorry about the Crusades!” and feebly add something about people not knowing any better back then and ignorance breeding contempt for those who think differently from ourselves…

But I guess I just don’t always understand why it is that these things do always come up in discussions about why people aren’t into church or Christianity or God.

I mean, if you were to turn it around and look at another group of people with a different history, for example, I think that we’d all consider mentioning such a thing to be rather ludicrous.  Do we go to Germany, for instance, and harass our shopkeepers and tour guides about the atrocities committed under Nazism?  Do we place an order at our local Japanese restaurant for the sashimi special and an apology for the horrors of their POW camps?  When we visit the US, do we return their friendly “How’re y’all doin’?” with an interrogation about their shameful part in the slave trade?

Well, of course not.  We would hardly foster a peaceful society if we held grudges against people for the sins of their forefathers in this way, would we?  And besides, to even mention it would be to reveal our ignorance of both their ancestors’ place in those histories and their own particular values and beliefs.  Because what we know of their history still doesn’t tell us much about who they are now and what they stand for.

Which brings us back to the way in which Christians today often stand accused – and condemned – by our neighbours for wrongs which we neither approve of nor participate in.  I can’t help but think that these accusations belie the truth of the ‘here and now and in this case’.  It seems as if this particular criticism of Christianity might just stem from ignorance.

Here’s my ‘here and now and in this case’:

I can’t remember a church AGM in which we voted (and we always vote – we’re very democratic that way) to send out a horde to beat the enlightenment into another group of people…

We do support missionaries – most of whom work in difficult and even dangerous situations – in their work of caring for and providing hope to the marginalized of society.  There are prison ministries, charities dedicated to rescuing enslaved women and children, and many other humanitarian efforts being supported by our churches and the Christians therein.  But the care and assistance offered to these recipients is not dependent upon their faith or conversion to faith.  Modern-day Christians – by and large – are not in the business of coercion.

I don’t remember a sermon in which the pastor exhorted us to march along to a different place of worship and set fire to it – nor even, for that matter, to say something inflammatory or rude to someone professing another faith.

Religious intolerance is not preached from the pulpit; indeed, we endeavour to forge amicable relations with our community at large, irrespective of their faith and cultural traditions.  We provide opportunities for our neighbours to learn and grow alongside us with resources such as The Marriage Course and parenting workshops, without any expectation of using those meetings to evangelise to those on our periphery.

I’d struggle to recall a conversation with my fellow church-goers in which we discussed the difficulties/sins/hurts of another person with anything but grace and concern; in fact, generally speaking I’ve found that practicing, mature Christians abhor anything like gossip or slander.  We’re more likely to talk about books we’ve read, items on the news, or funny things our kids have done that week.

Many of us are intentionally raising those kids, too, to be loving, conscientious, and respectful citizens.  My Christian friends and I try to value and instruct our children and cherish our families.  We try to model ‘servanthood’ in caring unselfishly for those around us.  Try – we try, because we are just as human and imperfect as everyone else.

Most of us are rather reluctant or even unwilling to proselytise to our friends and neighbours, let alone to go knocking on doors or handing out tracts in order to do so.

I don’t think that we as a group (excepting Westboro and the like) tend to be vehement and hateful or to preach ‘at’ people; and generally I’d say that we tend to err on the side of not causing hurt or offense more often than not – sometimes, perhaps, to the detriment of being true to our own faith and the practice thereof.

I’m not saying all this to convince anyone that we Christians, as a group or as individuals, are particularly virtuous.  It’s just that I’m not actually sure that we’re doing as badly (for the most part) as people outside the church think we’re doing.  And I certainly hope that we’re generally doing a better job than some of our religious forefathers seem to have done.

It must be said, too, that although there are definitely shameful portions of the Church’s history, there have also been plenty of noble practitioners of our faith and churches that have striven (and succeeded modestly in doing so) to love as Christ loved and serve their fellow man with humility and grace.  There are great examples of modern-day Christians who earnestly seek to ‘seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with [our] Lord’ as well.  Just look at people like Jen Hatmaker and Ann Voskamp, for instance; the first has a passionate heart for social justice (if you do, too, read her book 7 – it will change.your.life.) and the second has an amazing gift for finding the grace in the everyday.  There are plenty of others, as well, who are living out their faith in love and humility.  Some of them are funny, even.  Go figure.

And we must not forget the ‘author and perfecter of our faith’, Jesus himself, who demonstrated such love for even his enemies that he died a shameful, painful death to provide for them the same salvation he offers to those who love him.  He – who exhorted his followers to feed the hungry, to treat people equally, and to be quick to forgive those who’ve wronged them – set the standard to which confessing Christians should all be striving.  Most of the Christians I know do their best to represent Christ well in the world – but ultimately, if you want to find out about true Christianity, you should look first to Christ himself; everyone else is but an imperfect reflection of Him.

My point is this (Finally! you’re thinking…):  if the news/internet or a bad experience has informed your perspective on Christianity as a whole, consider looking to the Bible to see if you think it’s really about what they think it’s about.  Because as far as I’m concerned, love matters most; and present actions speak louder than past transgressions – Christianity, after all, is a religion based on grace.

I guess I’m just saying that, for some people, the ‘here and now and in this case’ of Christian faith counts for nothing against the backdrop of history –  but I would encourage those people to look further than their preconceptions before they make up their minds.  So, sorry about the Crusades, but now can we put prejudice aside and look at what Christianity is really all about?

 

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

-1 Corinthians 13

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NB  You’ll see that there are lots of hyperlinks in this post; this is just my attempt to give some references towards my points.  It is by no means exhaustive, and I am not a theological scholar – I am just another imperfect practitioner of this faith.  Thank you for reading – even if you know nothing else about Christianity, I pray that you would know God’s great love for you, just as you are today.

 

 

 

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