In my last post I wrote about the inevitability of change and the need for renewal. It’s not easy for most of us to accept that our future will look different than today or our hopeful predictions for tomorrow.
Still, I’ve known people who willfully chose to remain stuck in time – literally doing the same job, keeping the same schedule, even vacationing in the same place for years. Inevitably the time came when they got sick, their workplace moved, they retired, a loved one died or a subdivision was built behind them and they were compressed reluctantly into a new world they had never considered.
Rather than leaning into God’s promise to be with us no matter what comes, we often prefer to try to manipulate or reinvent God’s will to make it more predictable and palatable.
Propping up our shallow faith
Interesting how many of us will clamour for anything that might make our predictable faith meaningful. There are all sorts of celebrity grifters who are more than willing to sell their own brands guaranteed to bend God to do feel good miracles for us.
On our own we often believe that working prayer formulas or repeating Bible quotes on social media can magically move God to hear us – as if he isn’t always listening. Admit it, sometimes we design our prayers to manipulate him because we don’t want to face something, as if we know what his priorities should be.
But even in our daily actions I wonder why we ignore the most obvious, elemental teachings of Jesus, choosing instead to live with layers of our own gobbledy-gook priorities?
Much of mainstream Christianity seeks to escape some foundational Jesus stuff like:
- Jesus asked us to trust God in any and all circumstances;
- he warned against top-down leadership and required his disciples to be humble servants of all;
- he instructed us to love God and neighbours and welcome strangers;
- he demonstrated that the church is not an organization but a people;
- Jesus warned that money is almost always a problem;
- he avoided political power or opinion;
- he spent time with the ‘lowest’ in society: drunks, prostitutes, tax collectors, women, ethnic opponents, etc.
Jesus didn’t focus on health, wealth, success or comfort to attract or keep followers and, in fact, he asked them to leave everything behind and warned them it would be a difficult journey; he and his apostles died sacrificially.
The Sermon on the Mount?
Jesus’ famous sermon in Matthew is a blueprint for how Jesus people should live but do we teach mercy, meekness or peace making? How popular are sermons on: adultery in the mind; hating is killing; don’t get even; love your enemies and pray for them; give to the needy; pray quietly in private; rest in God without worry; build non-monetary investments, etc.?
He directed his followers to be servants and to live simply, yet we have churches and christian organizations that are relentlessly empire-building. There’s a stream of celebrity pastors who are repeatedly fingered not just for moral failings but more often for narcissism and abuse of power. Call me old fashioned but if Jesus was walking the earth today I don’t think he would live in a mansion, travel by limo or wear designer sneakers like these wonders on Instagram.
Jesus required his followers to be people of peace and love, yet how many evangelicals pay more attention to Christian ‘leaders’ like this guy (worth about $100 million) than Jesus’ explicit words and humble life?
Pat Robertson calls on the US military to take out Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro with a drone strike. pic.twitter.com/jqtdfxIEiJ
— Right Wing Watch (@RightWingWatch) April 4, 2019
I believe evangelicals are increasingly militant, politicized and willfully blind in order to get their own way. There is still strong evangelical approval for one of the most amoral, power-addicted presidents in history because he says raw things they secretly want to hear.
However I believe our responsibility is also to look inward. Where are my places of pride, power, anger, excess? It might just be me, but it feels like we offer lots of things to Jesus that he didn’t ask for and conveniently ignore the pure and simple essentials he quietly asks of us.
There can only be one reason for this: we don’t like Jesus’ way of doing things. Imagine. Christians who don’t prefer love or peace or patience or yielding or sacrifice or trust.
And it makes we wonder: Do Christians resent Jesus?
His ways aren’t convenient or easy. We would rather impress, gossip, fight, horde, win and have a religion that allows it all to be okay.
German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche spoke of strong willed people as having ‘master morality’ while those under them had ‘slave morality’. It was his observed opinion that Christians resented their slave morality under God. Hmmm.
The hero and founder of protestantism was Martin Luther who famously reflected that, ‘I hated that word, ‘the righteousness of God,’ by which I had been taught according to the custom and use of all teachers … [that] God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner.’ In other words, God expected him to be righteous, good, moral and he resented having to live under that weight.
Ultimately Luther came to the liberating, life-changing realization that the focus was not on acting righteously but rather to have faith in the One who is righteousness. He learned to simply trust and live in the goodness of God without needing to be perfect.
It might be true that all of life moves from order to disorder but we can rely on the solid core of Jesus’ principles which seem difficult at first but are the only way to well being and godly influence. When we choose His ways they become a feather-light burden rather than a heavy one.
Is your faith one of reluctance and deflection and self-satisfaction? Our challenge is to place ourselves exclusively under the teaching of Jesus, ask his Spirit to lead our thoughts and actions, and to only listen to friends in faith who humbly point us to Him.
Jesus’ words are true: the gate to death is wide and easy to pass through but the path to life is narrow and unpopular.