Nobody want’s to be the outcast or the reject. Even people who seem like they want to be the outcast and rejects do so because at some level they want to be approved for their non-conformity. Man is a social creature and as a result we seek the approval and respect of others. It is for this reason that peer pressure works. The reason Fad’s catch on is because once we see people doing something we instinctively want to be a part of it.
The problem is that this desire has seeped its way into Christianity and made us lose sight of the fact that our religion is strange and radical. I already wrote on this phenomenon earlier, but I completely failed to mention why so many Christians have settled for the bland Andy Griffith Show Christianity that is so popular in America today. The problem is that we really don’t want to be persecuted.
Now I should clarify that only a sadist wants to be persecuted. I’m not saying we should go out of our way to try to get people to persecute us, but at the same time we can’t be afraid of it so much so that we censor and edit what we believe.
“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” – 1 Timothy 3:12-13
In Paul’s letter to Timothy he tells his young apostle in training that everyone who want’s to live a life in Christ will be persecuted. To rephrase, if you aren’t getting at least some persecution then you are probably not doing it right. Harsh I know, but don’t get mad at me… if anything get mad at Paul. While you’re at it, get mad at Jesus too:
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:10-12
Jesus didn’t come to bring peace (contrary to popular belief) and in fact he pretty much guaranteed that if you really try to follow in his footsteps you will persecuted.
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” – John 15:18-20
There is a big trend in Christianity to try to paint Jesus as a peaceful, loving, desert hippie that just wanted us to love each other. While Jesus did say that peace-makers are blessed, and that we should love our fellow man more than ourselves, he also said a lot of things that pissed a lot of people off. Jesus had rocks thrown at him multiple times while he was preaching (John 8:59), one time people tried to throw him off a cliff (Luke 4:28-30), and then of course there was the crucifixion that we are all familiar with.
Jesus offended a lot of people by what he was saying. He was not a very tolerant person. Sure he loved sinners, but he was never awkwardly trying to avoid talking about sin because he was afraid of what people would think about him. The early Christians realized that it is far more loving to call our sin and offer repentance and redemption than to spare feelings and tolerate people right into hell. If you love someone you have to hate what hurts them and does them harm. If you really and truly love someone you have to hate their sin, just as you hate your own.
I guess what I’m getting at is we have got to stop censoring our faith. We can’t get in the habit of avoiding tough truths in order to spare feelings or because we are afraid of what people will think. You shouldn’t be out to impress people, you should be out to serve God. If Christianity is true, then it is real and radical. If you preach what Christ preached and walk like Christ walked then you will be persecuted. That might just mean you are verbally shamed and abused. That might mean something more severe. Christianity should never fit comfortably into our culture because it is counter cultural and counter world at it’s very core. We either have to embrace the fact that Jesus actually meant what he said, or we can just keep on being once a week comfy social clubs that I see all over the place.
I’m not the type of person who would say that I am a lover of poetry. I only own two books of poems and they are both by the same author. I can talk to you about maybe a handful of poems that I love, and I might even be able to tell you who wrote them. I can recite three poems from memory. I’ve written maybe twenty poems in my life, and I’ve only held onto four of them. All of this is just to say that my knowledge of poetry is unremarkable.
Still there is something about certain poems that really grips my soul. The one poet who has been able to do this more than any other is Buddy Wakefield. The two books of poetry I mentioned earlier are “Gentleman Practice” and “Live for A Living” and both of them are collections of Buddy’s work. The poem I wanted to share is definitely a contender for my favorite poem. It might not really hold a candle to Keats or Shakespeare, but it speaks to me and I think that is what poetry is supposed to do.
I have to warn you, This video contains some strong language:
I can’t hear or read this poem and not be moved. I have no idea if this poem is based on true events, but coming from someone who has lived in plenty of small do-nothing towns, I can tell you that this story is very much true for very many people. It really humanizes the person that I know I have passed by hundreds of times without taking notice. It forces me to stop and realize that that lady behind the gas station counter is a real person. It forces me to stop and realize that that lady at waffle house, or that man on the street corner, or that mean junkie who yelled at me under a bridge…. that these are all people.
These are human beings that for whatever reason, be it their fault or by circumstances they can’t control, have found themselves at the short end of the stick. It reminds me that underneath all the ugliness of life and sin there are human beings that were created by God and loved by God.
It also reminds me that each person I come across is more than what I make them out to be. In one of the most sobering passages of scripture Jesus tells his fellow men that the way they treat others has real and eternal significance. He reminds them that they are to love their fellow human beings as if it were Christ himself in need of help.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
– Matthew 25:31-46
Let’s try to remember this as we go about those day to day interactions with people who we so rarely give a second thought to. They are love children of God and they are to be loved and honored as if they were Christ himself.
Today the Washington Post published an interview with Russell Moore (head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission) which can be read here. The interview touched on everything from the Zimmerman trial to Religious Liberty for Muslims. One part that really stood out for me though was when Moore essentially said good riddance to the typical Andy Griffith small town Christianity that a lot of the SBC’s base is built on.
“When it comes to people who say they have “no religion”, in some ways that is the collapse of Bible Belt America, of this sense of Christianity as being something that is part of a normal American life. In some areas of the country, it meant someone was a good citizen by being part of a church. That is collapsing, and as an evangelical Christian, I say good riddance to that.”
– Russel Moore
I almost fell out of my seat when I read this. Not because Moore is wrong, but because I was shocked that Moore was going on record as saying this. For years the Southern Baptist Convention has been probably the biggest advocate of “Bible Belt America.” How can Moore just blatantly dismiss his core demographic so easily.
“I don’t think that sort of American dream plus Jesus represented biblical Christianity at all and in many ways hindered it and the advance of the Gospel, which is dependent upon the freakishness of Christianity. We’re saying some things that are extraordinary — that a dead man has come back to life! That reconciliation with God is possible through forgiveness of sins. Those things aren’t just the application of moral American life. The “Veggie Tales” phenomenon in evangelicalism, the taking Bible characters and making cartoons out of them and teaching moral lessons from those things really represented a lot of what was happening in Bible Belt Christianity that I think was bloodless and Gospel-free in many ways. That’s changing so you don’t have nominal young Christian church members who are going to church because they think this is what’s good for their families or their businesses or to find a spouse or to make partner at the law firm. Those days are over.”
– Russell Moore
I’ll admit I was practically cheering the first time I read that. I think Moore hits the nail on the head and in a big way. It’s pretty refreshing to actually hear someone from the SBC admit the simple truth that Christians are weird! We aren’t just a social club of conservative busy bodies who tell each other happy tales that teach good moral lessons when we aren’t having a pot luck or meet and greet. We are (or rather should be) a radical rag-tag bunch of self proclaimed sinners who believe they have been washed clean in the blood of the Son of God.
We believe in more than Brady Bunch and Andy Griffith style life lessons. We believe in miracles, resurrection, sin, and a coming judgement. We believe in repentance, mercy, and forgiveness. We believe in a God who died and rose again, who defeated death and sin by becoming sin and dying on our part. We are (or rather should be) a strong and radical force for evangelism and revival. We should be a force for social justice and for renewal. We should be so much more than what we have settled for. We have good news that is bringing life and light to a dark and dying world.
Maybe it’s time to put the Veggie Tales Christianity away and start living like we actually believe what we preach. We aren’t meant to fit into normal society. From the beginning, Christians were meant to stick out like a sore thumb. We aren’t supposed to look like the world, we don’t belong and we never will if we actually try to live like Jesus commanded us to. I’m with Dr. Moore on this one, it’s time to stop living like what we believe isn’t strange. It’s time to stop living like what we believe isn’t radical, miraculous, and life changing. If you are a Christian then you are a freak, but that’s a good thing. Jesus was too. Embrace it!
This is going to be a short post, but I thought it was worth sharing. Today I started re-reading the “Gospel of Luke” and something stood out to me in the first few pages.
The account begins with two big announcements. The angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah first and tells him that he will have a son to be named John. After Zechariah manages to calm his nerves from the shock of seeing an Angel in the temple he says the following:
“How can I be sure of this? I am and old man and my wife is well along in years?” – Luke 1:18
The answer he got is kind of humorous:
“I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.” – Luke 1:19
Because Zechariah doubted he was not allowed to speak words until the time the baby was born.
The next big event is almost exactly the same situation, but with totally different results. Gabriel appears again, this time to a young virgin named Mary, and tells her she too will have a son. Gabriel reveals many wondrous things that will be said and done by this child and he instructs Mary that his name is to be Jesus.
Mary responds in a way that at first glance seems a lot like Zachariah’s reaction. After overcoming the fright that angels seem to cause in people she responds by saying:
“How will this be, since I am a virgin?” – Luke 1:34
Mary’s question, however isn’t met with any punishment or penance. She just get’s a pretty straight to the point answer.
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” – Luke 1:35
So what is the big deal? Why does Zechariah get the punished and Mary just has her question answered? Well I think there is a subtle, but important difference to note in the two questions. Zechariah wanted to know how he could be sure God would act. Mary knew God would keep his word, she only wished to know how he would keep his promises.
Zechariah, though he was a high priest, saw an impossible obstacle and wondered if God could move it. Mary, though she was young, saw an impossible obstacle and wondered how god would move it.
We should all strive to be more like Mary in our faith.