Monday, March 27, 2006

Move outta the way!


Not too long ago, a Catholic co-worker of mine bursted in my office (without knocking, by the way), almost to the point of tears. Apparently, she was "disturbed" by some artwork in our University gallery which -- depending on how you look at -- could have been offensive to Christians. The artwork had a cross that was submerged in a bowl of urine. According to the atrist, this piece was created to capture the humanity of Jesus while He was dying; suggesting that He may have either urinated or deficated while on the cross. Despite a pretty reasonable explanation from the artist, this co-worker of mine was beside herself. She declared how fed up she was with Christians being "persecuted" and that she "wasn't going to take it anymore". Despite my best effort to calm her down, in Christian love, she fell deaf to everything I was trying to say. She just couldn't seem to realize that she was doing the type of fighting that Jesus doesn't need. Let me explain...

First off, have you ever noticed how hard it is to talk to really religious people like this? You know...the ones who are so hung-up on their system of beliefs. Most often, it's difficult (seemingly impossible) to talk to people whose idea of right and wrong is limited to their own beliefs.

What I've started to notice with many Christians is that we've become too caught up in practices, rituals and customs; without placing any emphasis on doctrine and, most importantly, the love of Christ. We find comfort in hangin' out in our 'invisi-square', where everything is safe, secure, unquestioned, and familar. For the record: this cultural phenomenon is not unique to the church. This happens just about everywhere. However, as Christians with a higher calling, we need make sure that our beliefs, norms, and agendas don't get in God's way.

The Bible illustrates that even Paul adjusted his thought process once he realized that he was inteferring with God. At one point in his life, he really believed that he was called to silence the people who were following this 'Jesus' guy. He was merely defending God from (what he thought) were some radicalize messages from this dude claiming to be the Messiah. The truth is: Paul wasn't really that bad of a guy. He simplied governed himself by what he thought was right. But once Paul had a Close Encounter of the Third Kind with Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was never the same.

As followers of Christ, we need to share in a similar experience. We must be careful in examining the beliefs and values that we hold so sacred. There is a strong possibility that we could be wrong about them. And we all know how much people hate to be wrong, don't we?

The Gospel reminds us about how much difficulty Jesus had talking to the religioius folks of His day. They were so focused on rules, customs, norms, and rituals that they often lost sight of the 'Big Picture'. They made it a habit of challenging Jesus on everything. Even when they thought that they were going to bat for God, the reality was they were only defending their beliefs about God and His law.

But here's a shocker: God doesn’t need us to come to His defense. Nor does Jesus.

In fact, if you remember when Jesus was getting arrested, Peter tried to save Jesus by cutting off the soldier's ear...only to have Jesus tell him to go sit down somewhere. Peter was only getting in Jesus' way.

Doesn't that seem to be the story of the church today? I mean, you've got people who grab their swords every Sunday in an effort to defend Jesus. They try to cut down and kill anybody or anything that they feel poses a threat to Him. But what they usually don't realize is that they're not defending Jesus. They're defending their beliefs of Jesus. I can just see Him telling us to "Put away our swords. Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword."

In a nutshell, I think that Jesus is telling us to get out of His way.

- ACL

10 "Insiders" spoke their mind. Join in...:

kc said...

I know what you mean when you say that we don't consider really having a relationship with Jesus because we're far too busy being religious. I often observe people who claim to love Jesus in their everyday lives and you know what - if they love Jesus like they love other people, Jesus ain't gettin much from them.

Sad.

I want to know what real love looks like - not "right" love.

joanne said...

Andre,

Though you and I have had our share of disagreements, I really love this post. I especially love the spirit behind your words and the understanding of grace apparent in what you say. It's amazing how many hidden toxic messages come wrapped in religious language and good intentions.

Thanks for this one!

joel said...

Man, you're writing some excellent stuff these days! On "real or right" I've done a post on "truth and blogging" a couple of days ago.

Really appreciate the grace in your postings.
Blessings

Diane said...

Andre,
I think you hit the nail on the head when you said "religious" people. Devout Muslims are religious. Hindus are religious. Anybody with a strong belief and commitment to a schedule of repeated ceremonies and rituals is religious about that activity, for lack of a better descriptive term. The Jews under the old Law washed their hands religiously. To be "religious" is to observe or do an action in a repetitive manner. If you drive through McDonalds every morning on the way to work, you are religious about that. But do you want to stake the destination of your immortal soul on the fact that you visit McDonald's religiously?

I am Southern Baptist, and we have our share of customs and practises, apart from the ones set down in the Bible, which we observe. But, we are slowly moving away from some of the traditions to a more open form of worship. I personally try to compare what is happening to the Bible's doctrine on the subject at hand, and go from there. I might be offended by something because I was raised and taught a certain way, but if the Bible doesn't speak against it, I am the one with the problem, and I need to adjust.
Not to offend anyone at all, but I was raised that it was improper to wear shorts to church, or short skirts. All the Bible says on the subject is that we are to dress decently. My idea of decently and others' ideas of decently sometimes differ greatly. I have come to the conclusion that those people need to be in church, however they are dressed, and it is God's place to judge and convict them if they are in the wrong, not mine.

The bottom line is, I think, the difference between man's ritual, and God's doctrine. Each person needs to judge whether a particular situation falls under man's ritual, or God's doctrine, and adjust their actions and beliefs accordingly.

Whew!!! I didn't know when I started this comment that it was going to turn into a book!

Good post, Andre, and thanks for making me think about my convictions in this area. :)
God Bless.

Andre said...

@ kc: "I want to know what real love looks like - not 'right' love".

Well put! I've always thought that the practice of religion should be a manifestation of the love we have for Christ; not a condition of it.

@ Joanne: Despite our disagreements (usually more frequently than not...), I really appreaciate you. I'm happy to know that you're always willing to hear my argument (TRULY hear it), and then respond to it. You'd be suprised at how many people hear one word or one line and take off with it...without trying to decipher what was said. Thank you!

@ Joel: Do u have a new blog? The only one I've visited is a little out of date. I'm interested in reading your stuff.

@ Diane: I've always been amazed at how non-Biblical practices became so prevalent in the church. Like your church, certain attire (i.e. shorts/earrings for men and pants for women) were considered 'inappropriate', our church services followed the same routine (very seldomly without deviation), and service was usually restricted to the 'rules' of the church. What disturbed me about the whole thing was that we used these non-Biblical rules as a form of control and a call for assimilation for "outsiders". These outsides needed to do things OUR way. Simply put: we started to place too many terms and conditions on being a Christian.

Yes, I pardon devoutly religious folks for doing things "from the head" and not from the heart. But, at what point do I hold them accountable for not knowing any better? When do we say "ENOUGH" to all of this Christian brow-beating that we do to others?

I have to fight with myself DAILY to maintain my committment to Christ and His commandments of spreading His love, while also refusing to impose rules and conditions on outsiders. Why can't everyone else? It's not as if I follow a different Christ as the next so-called Christian.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. You bless me more and more...

djg said...

People who make an issue where there is no issue make me sick! They reminded of the Pharisees, who watched Jesus to see if He would do a miracle on the Sabbath.

No matter how wonderful the miracle, they never got the significance of it because they were too caught up in and blinded by their legalism. Instead of realizing that someone here is expressing the reality of the Christian walk, religious ppl, like the Pharisees, are hung up on what's right and wrong. Sad.

People need to spend less time jagging-off with their religious rules and regulations, and spend more time listening to God.

The Bible doesn't say that the world will know Jesus is the Son of God because we don't say certain Words. It says they will know it when we are one (John 17:20-23).

Not to mention that Jesus said, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone" (John 8:7) (not that we're even discussing "sin"...)

josh said...

I've got a question for you. What about those stories you hear of people who stand up for Jesus and getting shot because of it? Like with Columbine? Does that mean it isn't God's will to object to people who insist Him, if neither God nor Jesus need be defended?

Andre said...

@ djg: I couldn't put it better myself! Thanks for your insight. Welcome back, by the way...

@ josh: I'll answer your question with a question of my own: why would we need to defend Jesus?
Don't get me wrong, I feel like it's important to stand on Jesus' side in all that we do. But I think we get too caught up in "defending" Jesus when he doesn't really need it. The examples I used with Saul (Paul) and Peter show us how Jesus responded to man's 'defense' even when He didn't defend Himself.

I think most of our defensiveness is more related to our pride and ego. Perhaps the need to defend is a good indication that I am not following Jesus but rather defending MY beliefs about Jesus.

lorna said...

Andre,

I've recently been reading parts of "Searching for God Knows What," by Donald Miller, and read something really similar. The idea struck me then, and it still does now -- you're absolutely right.

Now, what does it take for me to find a fellowship of people who also want to follow Jesus rather than being religious? It just seems that here in the South, being a Christian is synonymous with being a Dobson-following rightwinger.

Sigh...I'd really like to take my daughter to church, but it's even more important to me to shelter her from religiosity.

Andre said...

Hi Lorna. Great to hear from you again.

Wow! I'm blown away by your comments. Thank you for blessing me. I want to especially thank you for your honesty. Coming to this type of revelation is not always easy; especially when you haven't been raised to do that type of thinking. To me, it takes a lot of courage to question yourself, especially when it comes to following Christ.

Secondly, I can't say that I've read that book. But it sounds like it's worth exploring. I read some of "Blue Like Jazz" a few years ago when it first came out. I thought it was pretty good, at least as far as I got. I think that he's a really talented writer.

Getting back to your main point: It saddens me (seriously) to hear you say that you can't find a community who wants to follow Jesus instead of doing the "church" thing. I think that I feel worse for the lost among us. Sometimes we provide unncessary obstacles for believers and unbelievers alike. Truth be told: I think there are many folks who feel like you. I've been one of 'em...