The Society Gap

A few days ago, I was having a conversation with my uncle in which he mentioned that Christians keep at an arms length away from society.  I started thinking about that comment.  It kept me up that night as I mulled it over.  For some reason, it didn’t quite sit right with me, but I wasn’t sure why.  And then I realized.

We talk about being “in the world, but not of the world,” based on Jesus’ words in John 17:14-17.  But I think we focus more on the latter half of that phrase — “not of” — more than we focus on the fact that we are, indeed, very much “in” the world, and I believe we are called to be right in the middle of society.

Why?

First, if we look at the life of Jesus, we find Him in all the places we would tend to avoid.  With Samaritans (Arabs?), tax collectors (crooked lawyers?), lepers (AIDS patients?), the demon-possessed (mentally ill?), and prostitutes.  Jesus didn’t keep an arms length away.  There was no society gap that His love didn’t cross, no barrier that wasn’t swept away by His indiscriminate tidal wave of compassion.

Second, we consider that we must separate ourselves from society in order to distinguish ourselves as upright, moral people.  But truthfully, Christians did not invent the society gap.  There are thousands of society gaps created by racists, sexists, politicians.  All of them want to separate themselves as wheat from the chaff.  Nobody wants to be associated with people groups that they consider in any way inferior; everyone is trying to make some sort of statement by their separatism.  People are very used to being excluded from various groups, and Christian separatism is no different to them.  We think we can make people change their behavior by not associating with them in any legitimate capacity until they conform, but it doesn’t work that way.  Instead, they simply think, “Another group who thinks they’re too good for me.  Whatever, I don’t need them.”  We want to be known by our reputations of high moral character — but Jesus said we would be known by our love.  Jesus wasn’t concerned with His reputation.  In fact, in many circles, He had a pretty crummy reputation, but He didn’t bother defending Himself to those who misjudged Him.  The outcasts who truly encountered Him were forever changed, and that was enough for Him.  It was worth the risk to His reputation.  You see, we think distancing ourselves from society will make us stand out, but it doesn’t, because everyone else thinks that as well.  Here’s the paradox: if we want to look different from the world, we have to plunge headfirst into it.

Why don’t we?

I think in a lot of ways, it’s far easier to distance ourselves from society than to wade through the gray areas of unconditional love.  You see, love is messy.  Really messy.  It gets into all these complicated issues of accepting people vs. condoning behavior, loving the sinner and hating the sin, etc., etc.

Do we throw a baby shower for a baby born out of wedlock?

Can we enjoy hanging out with an alcoholic?  Or do they have to be a project, a charity case?

How many times do we let someone mess up before they’re a lost cause and we cut them off?

I don’t necessarily have the answers to these questions.  They’re hard questions.  But I think we need to confront and work through the tough stuff instead of brushing it under the rug and pretending it’s not there.

Dean Barham from Woodmont Hills church of Christ once spoke on the parable of the sower, introducing a new twist I had never thought of before: the Sower didn’t plant His seed carefully.  He scattered it at random, without concern for what kind of ground it would land on.  It didn’t matter if it landed among the thorns.  It just mattered that He sowed it.  And it’s the same way with us.  We can’t be selective about who we love.  We’re not called to invest in the ones with the most potential.  Sometimes we just need to scatter the seed of Christ’s love without worrying about where it falls or how it’s received.  Really, isn’t that what unconditional love is all about anyway?  You can’t rein in the radical love of Christ.  Sometimes — no, all the time — we just need to let it spill out onto everyone around us, whether that’s buying a stranger’s lunch or being the only one to have compassion on the preacher who was fired for embezzling.  When justified scathing judgment is hemming him in, maybe a bit of unexpected, undeserved love is what will bring him to his knees.

Not only is it easier to distance ourselves, but it’s also a great deal safer.  As much as we talk about surrendering to God, I’m pretty sure that very few of us have actually surrendered our reputations.  A lot of it we excuse by saying, “I can’t be seen hanging out with this person because it will damage my witness!”  To you — and to myself, because I’m guilty too — I’ll say the following: first, that’s just an excuse.  That’s you wanting to be in control of what people think of you.  You say that you’re trying to protect Jesus’ reputation, but He didn’t care about protecting it, and He doesn’t need you to protect it.  Second, if you’re worried that people won’t be able to see a difference between you and the world, you’re probably not living right yourself.  If you’re all out for Jesus, it won’t matter who you hang out with.  They’ll see the difference.  They’ll know.

We also want to protect ourselves and our kids from the influence of the world.  With kids, I’m a little more understanding, because they’re like little sponges.  But if it’s about you, forget the fear and get your head in the game.  You might be introduced to some new ideas and difficult questions outside the security of your Christian bubble.  Good.  You can’t find truth if you never have to look for it, and you’ll never get answers if you never ask questions.  Being in the world turns theoretical discussions into practical ones and makes you think about why you believe what you believe.  It’s like being pushed out of the nest — it might be a little uncomfortable and a little scary, but that’s how you learn to fly.

What do we do about it?

Living in the world, in the gray areas, takes a lot of faith.  It’s not all black and white out there, and like I said, love can be really messy and really awkward.  So the first thing you have to do is rely heavily on Jesus.  You have to trust Him with your reputation and trust Him to guide you through the murky waters of messy love.  You have to feel your way through when to confront in love and when to let go in love, when to speak in love and when to be silent in love.

Pray a lot.  Love a lot.  Live a lot.  Read about the life of Jesus over and over.

See people as people, as beloved children of God.  We all have a common denominator; we’re all broken and we all need Jesus.  Some people may not be receptive right away, but they still need Him.  He loves them, and so should you.

He breathed the same life into that struggling addict that He breathed into you.

He counts the tears of the “slut” who cries herself to sleep trying to find acceptance.

He carefully formed each little finger and toe of baby Hitler.

No one is an accident.  No one is a mistake.

If nothing else, we must love people because they are His creation of whom He said, “It is good.”

And maybe as we start to strip away our own pride and complacency and see a lost, broken, hurting world, rather than a bad, sinful, malevolent world…

…maybe love and compassion will take over and the society gap will begin to close.

Ruled By Peace

About a month ago, on choir Sunday, I was eating breakfast in the consecration room between worship services and talking with one of the guitar players.  As we got to know each other, he said something that surprised me and really made me think.  Before he met Christ, he said, he was into playing heavy metal, but he gave it up because he felt like it was no longer compatible with his faith.  I asked why that was; couldn’t he begin writing songs with a positive message instead and reach out to the same demographic as before?  He shook his head. “Christian music is an entirely different genre altogether.  I don’t like it when artists take a worldly genre and try to slap a Christian label on it.  You see, even if I were to give Christian lyrics to my music, heavy metal is not Christian.  It’s angry music.  Not peaceful music.”

This idea intrigued me, but I didn’t think too much about it again until recently when I came across a couple of passages in Colossians and Ephesians.  I encourage you to read the whole section to better appreciate the context, but I will paraphrase below:

Colossians 3:5-15.  Rid yourself of anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language, because you have taken off your old self with its practices and put on the new self.  As God’s chosen people, clothe yourselves instead with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.

Ephesians 4:22-5:21. Put off your old self and be made new in the attitude of your minds.  Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs.  Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger. Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity.  Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.  Instead, be filled with the Spirit.

When I read that, I started thinking about it in big picture terms.  What characterizes a life of peace?  Let me add a little disclaimer that I don’t get offended or “judge” people who drink or swear.  Because honestly, when looking at these concepts, using euphemisms for swear words means the same thing; and I don’t think alcohol is necessarily wrong, but I think it can be, just like comforting yourself by overeating or numbing yourself by — I don’t know, compulsive shopping, or whatever it is you depend on instead of allowing yourself to be filled with the Spirit.

It’s not a matter of doing something wrong, but of having the wrong mindset.  Thinking about it in terms of what my guitarist friend said, I realized that the reason Paul condemns “filthy language” and “unwholesome talk” is because profanity is a language of anger, not of peace.  The same goes for yelling any kind of euphemism in anger.  It’s not the swearing that shouldn’t be there; it’s the attitude.  Likewise, he speaks against drunkenness because it often leads to debauchery.  We all know how the crazy parties go: blaring music, strangers hooking up with strangers, people puking all over the floor.  Later, it turns into hangovers and unproductivity.  At best, it’s an artificial way to relieve stress other than allowing the calming peace of the Spirit to rule your heart.  At worst, it’s disorder and confusion — not the fruit of the Spirit or the outward expression of His reign.

Those of you who think you’re golden because you don’t drink or curse, don’t consider yourself exempt from this.  Look a little deeper into your heart.  What are you ruled by?  Do you show evidence of the Spirit’s presence?  Or do you freak out when you’re late for work, or when your kids track in mud, or when anything else goes the slightest bit wrong that you can’t control?  Do you choose stress and anger?  Or do you choose peace?

The other day, I came across this post by Joanne Kraft that neatly tied up the package of my wandering thoughts and put a bow on top.  You can read it here. In the post, she talks about how her home and family have always been surrendered to the Spirit, and people can literally feel His presence in the place that they have dedicated to Christ’s rule.  I teared up as I read it, remembering how every week that I worked at Deer Run, on Sunday afternoons before the kids came, I would walk around my cabin touching every bed frame and praying over the cabin, asking God to bless it as a safe space and inviting His peace to rule there.

And thinking through all of these things, I want to live a life of peace wherever I go and wherever I settle down.  I want to create a home where, in the midst of the chaos and disorder of this broken world, broken people can tangibly experience the spiritual rest and calm that Christ offers.  A home where no voices are raised in anger, where stress is cast away and confusion has no place.  A home that is ruled by peace.

Fire Fall Down

On Monday we did the climbing tower. I was fairly confident at first and started up fast, thinking, “Oh, I got this.” But halfway up I hit a point where I couldn’t find anywhere to balance. All the rocks around me were too small to stand on, and by that point I was starting to realize that I’m not nearly as strong as I thought I was. And I also learned that I’m really not good at admitting defeat. I couldn’t make it to the top, and it felt like a huge failure. It temporarily erased the confidence that I had built up over the last few days, and I felt like it cancelled out all my other accomplishments that I had been so proud of before. When I got back to the cabin to shower before dinner, I just sat down in the corner of the shower and cried. I was embarrassed that I couldn’t do it, and then I was embarrassed that I was embarrassed and was making such a huge deal out of it.

Mrs. Sharon (Mom) led a powerful devotional that night, and I felt like every word of it was spoken straight to me. She talked about how we try to self-generate the qualities that we think we need, but we can’t equip ourselves. She asked the group what are some things that we fear, and Mr. Fred answered, “Being unable to do things we think we should be able to do.” That had been so me at the climbing tower. I knew I should be able to climb to the top, and it made me so angry that I couldn’t. We talked about 2nd Corinthians 12:9-10, which I had written in my journal the night before I left for camp. “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me…For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

“The weaker the instrument,” Mom summarized, “the more clearly God’s grace shines through.”

Then we had a time of individual contemplative prayer in which Mom read/imagined us through letting go of whatever we were holding. By this point, I couldn’t hold in the tears anymore, and they dropped steadily onto my lap. She had us write down what it was we were giving to Christ. I’ll write that here, but I’ll also add how He responded to me:

I’m holding everything I need to prove. It’s a long list. It’s heavy. I’m tired of carrying it with me. He takes it from me and we begin to talk. He asks why I was so upset about not making it to the top of the climbing tower, and I answer that I want to be strong and self-sufficient. He takes it from me and responds, “But this way, I can be strong for you.”

We all went outside with our pieces of paper to where there was a fire waiting. One by one we crumpled them and threw them in the fire, and sat around the circle watching them burn. Caleb was playing his guitar and singing “Let Fire Fall.” After we repeated those words a few times, building up to the climax of the bridge, Caleb started playing louder and more intensely, and raised the song an octave from its soothing tempo into a passionate cry – and as soon as his voice rang out, there was a quick burst of flame as the fire sparked loudly. The timing was too perfect for coincidence. We all knew it was something else. And it was one of the most amazing, powerful things I have ever witnessed God do.

Published in: on June 2, 2012 at 10:33 am  Comments (1)  
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Confessions of a Creature of Habit: Rich Girl (Selfish Girl?)

Don’t let the title mislead you. I’m a college student, after all. I don’t own a Porsche. But by the world’s standards, I’m rich. And so are you.

The nagging on my heart has been constant, continual. The gentle reminders from God: “Daughter, you have yet to surrender everything.”

“God, I have!” I want to say. “I’ve given you my plans. I’ve changed my major. I’ve even turned my love life over to You. Do You think it’s easy being single and not knowing what I’m going to do with my life?”

Yeah, that doesn’t fly.

Because there’s one area of my life I just can’t surrender.

Money.

Yeah.

“God, I seriously can’t give that up. Especially if I do end up single forever. I have to be able to support myself.”

I never thought I was a materialistic person. For real. I value people more than money, right? Until I started wondering if Jesus really was exaggerating when he told the rich man to sell all he had and give to the poor.

Books like Crazy Love and Radical really don’t make you feel good about your economic status. It’s hard to stomach. I’ve wrestled with it for months.

You see, my possessions are the one safety net I have left. Because it’s true, I have pretty much forfeited my life’s road map and my relationships to God.

And so that leaves me. Me and my image. Me and my stuff.

And I buy a lot of stuff.

I try to buy clothes on sale, or at the thrift store. But even so I don’t need half — or even more than half — of what I have. They won’t even all fit in my drawers. It’s ridiculous. But still I “need” more, more, more: oh, this shirt is so cute, I “have” to have it. I don’t have a scarf in this color yet. The heels on my white shoes aren’t high enough, I need a more awesome pair. All these silly justifications.

I try to be thrifty with makeup, too. I find the best quality for the lowest price and use coupons. But even so, the contents of my makeup bag is worth an astounding $75. That doesn’t even count shower products and nail polish.

(This is getting embarrassing.)

Tonight I spent $8 on a stick of purple eyeliner. Why? To look awesome.

Yeah. So that I will have awesome purple eyelids while kids go to bed hungry.

(It seemed reasonable at the time…)

The system disgusts me.

Wait, no…I guess I disgust me.

BUT. I have a plan. An experiment, really.

From now till the end of February, I am going to see just how little I can buy for myself. No clothes. No “fun makeup.” No unnecessary food. No books. Not even mp3 downloads. Pretty much, if it appeals to me, I’m going to avoid it at all costs (no pun intended). Starting…now.

Here goes.

Better go write that check for church tomorrow that I’ve been putting off. I’ll delay the sparkly blue eyeliner instead.

Published in: on January 22, 2012 at 3:14 am  Leave a Comment  
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Then I’ll Wait

“Will you accept my blessings?”

“Yes, Lord, gladly.”

“No matter what it takes?”

“Yes, Lord…maybe.”

“Will you endure pain if it leads to blessing?”

“Y-yes, Lord, I’ll try.”

“Will you wait out a broken heart and face countless lonely nights of tears?”

“Lord, I don’t know if I can.”

“My child, why are you crying?”

“Oh God…because it’s so hard to want what you want.”

“Will you wait?”

“Will you wait with me?”

“Always.”

“Then I’ll wait. I’ll wait through the tears and the heartache. If you’ll stay with me, Lord, no matter what it takes, I will wait.”

Published in: on May 6, 2011 at 5:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Raw and Unpolished Confession

Most of the “Confessions of a Creature of Habit” notes that I write have been carefully and eloquently worded to make them sound a little more acceptable. Yeah, they give glimpses into the struggles of my spiritual life, but in their revised form they can hardly be considered legit confessions. It’s rare that my pride willingly lets people see the less-than-perfect part of me, but God put this on my heart to post. So here’s a raw and unpolished confession, straight from the pages of my journal, dated November 5, 2010.

“Honestly, God, you’re not all I want. I desperately want that to be true. I want to be in a place where I can say truthfully that you’re all I need. But I’m just not there yet. Could I pray for you to take away [the things I care about] so I could no longer even pretend to have security? No, Lord, I couldn’t. I’m clinging to an imitation because I want so badly to feel the real thing. I know it’s pitiful. Yet here I am, doing it anyway.”

I remember the pain I felt as I penned that entry and the struggle to relinquish what I wanted most. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t let go. I was on my knees crying and trying to pray, and all that would come out was, “You’re not enough.”

I wrote that half a year ago to the day. Looking back now, I can hardly believe the changes God has worked in my heart over the past six months. Where before there was stubbornness and rebellion, now there is a quiet surrender and a willingness to wait. The desperate desire to have things my way has been replaced with a desire to see the revealing of His perfect plan.

Do I still become frustrated and get ahead of myself sometimes? Oh yeah. Do I still rely a little too much on finding security in others? Definitely. But I’ve come to a place where I can say that He alone is enough — and mean it.

Published in: on May 5, 2011 at 1:51 am  Comments (1)  
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Untamed Spirit

I cannot be tamed; my restless heart, ever wandering, cannot be tied down.  I am independent; you will find that the tighter you hold onto me, the more easily I slip away, like sand through clenched fingers.  I am difficult to handle; if you try to tighten my reins, I will take the bit in my teeth and jerk them from your hands, leaving a painful rope burn across your palm (sorry, guys, that’s just the way I am…lol).

 Once free, I live with abandon.  I constantly reach for what is beyond my grasp; my eyes search the horizon for what lies just out of sight.  It is this compelling desire to find something more that drives me onward, unpredictable as the wind and just as free, unbound by human expectations. 

My heart surrenders only to one, for He has not bound me.  He does not attempt to control me nor to crush my spirit; neither does He grovel and place himself beneath me.  He leads me with strength, and I willingly follow without compromising my passion and my freedom.  My wild and unbridled heart finds rest in Him; it is this very submission that gives wings to my untamed spirit.

Dia tou Christou — through Christ.

Published in: on April 9, 2011 at 3:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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