Friday, November 28, 2014

Undercover Christianity, or Let's Be Strangers in a Strange Land

I was looking through an edition of "US Magazine" at work today. Not my usual gig, but I was bored and the magazine was on the counter, so I picked it up and perused.

As I was idly scanning through the pages, I came across an small piece on Justin Beiber.  The title, naturally, caught my eye.

Being the wild Belieber that I am

Knowing next to nothing about Justin Bieber, other than some of his escapades I've heard about in the news, I read the short paragraph.  It mentions that Justin has been spending time with some pastor friends, wanting to "redevote himself to his faith" before recording his next album.  

I'm all for that, if that's what Justin desires.  A deeper faith is good for anyone, and I wish Justin the very best. Really.  This post is not about Justin Bieber, though.  Its about something deeper. 

A different source claims that Justin was not having a come-to-Jesus moment while cloistered with his pastoral friends, but that Justin has been a Christian for a long time, which I'm glad to hear, but also really isn't the point of this blog post. 

What mattered to me is what the source was quoted as saying:


"He has always been a loyal Christian, despite outward appearances."

I'm not talking about, or judging, Justin Bieber.  God alone is the judge of the human heart.  I wish Justin well, and hope he continues to have great success at whatever he chooses to do. 

What I'm concerned about is the sentiment conveyed by the "other source". There seems to be an assumption that one can be a "loyal" Christian without ever showing it.  The assumption seems to be that one can be "loyal" without being...... well....... loyal.   

Before I go further and we start hollering about how the "world" doesn't understand the Christian faith, let me also turn the spotlight back on the Christian world in which I live, because I think the church has deeply bought into this view as well. 

My churchgoing friends, have you ever heard the phrase "I'm not perfect, just forgiven!"?

Sure you have. Lots of times. We've all seen the bumper sticker on countless cars and countless memes.

Here's the deal though - Its the exact same same thing that the "other source" said above, just rephrased and repackaged for the church.  

Which brings me to my question: How can someone claim to be loyal to the King of Kings, and trust Him to save your eternal soul, but never really follow or adhere to any of his teachings or commands? 

Brian Zhand, a pastor and author who's books I enjoy, writes in his book "A Farewell to Mars":

"It’s not enough to believe in Jesus; we also have to believe in the Jesus way!"

Believing in Jesus is good.  Its a start.  Its the start! Its the beginning of salvation, and the beginning of our life in the Kingdom of God.  Its the acceptance of our Kingdom citizenship and adoption into the family of the King. Its stepping from death into life, and from darkness into light.

But like a citizen of any nation or kingdom, one needs not only to be "born" or "adopted" into the kingdom (as Jesus put it, being "born again"), but we also have to live and grow, and learn how to be good citizens of our nation or kingdom.

Being "born again" into the Kingdom of God is not an end to itself.  It is the very beginning of everything. We cannot simply stop at "born-again". We have to begin to learn and live "the Jesus way" of life.

But when we say "I'm not perfect, just forgiven", we're tipping our hands to the fact that we don't actually think its very important to live the "Jesus way".  In other words, what we're really saying is:

"I don't need to do what Jesus said about living in this life. I'm saved for the afterlife, so I'm good.  And don't judge me on my behavior, because it really doesn't matter. I've got my ticket to heaven, that's enough."

To quote Brian Zhand again,

"Jesus is not a heavenly conductor handing out tickets to heaven. Jesus is the carpenter who repairs, renovates, and restores God’s good world.”

Being "saved" is not first and foremost about a "ticket to heaven" or, as we've all probably heard, a "get out of hell free card". 

Being saved is about removing the veil that blinds us to the already existent truth of what God has done through Jesus  - the "Good News" that we are told to go and proclaim:

God Almighty, who manifested Himself on earth in very real flesh and bone in a man called Jesus, gave Himself as a ransom to purchase our freedom from slavery to sin and self-destruction. Through the resurrection He destroyed the chains that bind us to death, and showed humanity the path to full, real, and eternal life. He once and for all rebuked the accuser who lies to us and tells us we are not good enough or worthy enough or loved enough by the King of Kings, the very King of Kings who personally demonstrated that yes, He indeed thinks us very worthy of His love, and showed exactly how worthy by dying a death on a cross.
The banquet table of the King is laden with food, the doors to His hall are wide open, and the King calls everyone to come and have a seat at the table, share in His generosity, and eat! 

This is Good News! Much more than just "be saved and go to heaven". Jesus didn't just come to save us, he came to lead us out of this "world" into the Kingdom of God.  Jesus calls us to come and work beside Him, to make His Kingdom a reality!

Brian Zhand again:

"Salvation is a restoration project, not an evacuation project! Or as Thomas Merton put it, “Eschatology is not an invitation to escape into a private heaven: it is a call to transfigure the evil and stricken world.”

When Jesus says "follow me" He's not talking about following Him to heaven, but following Him in this life. How could I expect my King to ask me to do anything else?

So, I put it to you - how can one be a "loyal Christian" with little outward appearance? I submit, one cannot.

Being a "loyal American" is much more than just being "born in the USA".  Its upholding and obeying the laws, adhering to the principals, and supporting the ideals that provide the foundation for the American culture and nation.  You cannot be "loyal" and act in opposition to the fundamental core values that hold the nation together.  You can discuss what those core values are, how they apply, and what direction the nation should take, but you cannot act in opposition to the core beliefs and values that you supposedly support and still be considered "loyal".

The same goes for any citizen of any nation, and especially for a citizen in the Kingdom of God. One cannot continue to act and behave in ways contradictory to the core values of the Kingdom and still be called "loyal".  Sure, you can call yourself a citizen, but to be "loyal" one must be faithful to the core values that form the foundation of the Kingdom.

I just don't think very many Christians trust Jesus' ideas about how to live this life.  Zhand again:

“..... while we believe in Jesus as Savior of the private soul, we remain largely unconvinced about his ideas for saving the world.” 

I don't believe most Christians really think Jesus can save this world.  We trust him to take us to heaven, but not so much to guide us here.  His way is tough, after all.  Jesus promises all sorts of "persecution" and no promise of "ease".

One more Zhand quote to make my point.

“The appropriate response to this gospel proclamation is to rethink everything in the light of the risen and ascended Christ and live accordingly. We rethink our lives (which is what it means to repent) not so we can escape a doomed planet, but in order to participate in God’s design to redeem the human person and renovate human society in Christ. Salvation is a restoration project, not an evacuation project!”

My friends, the call to follow Jesus is not a call to simply walk down an aisle or say a "sinner's prayer" to accept Jesus into your heart. Sometimes that's a good place to start, but I would go so far as to say there are a great number of people who have been born-again by the Spirit and now live as productive citizens in the Kingdom of God, following Jesus with all their strength, who have never walked down the aisle or prayed a traditional "sinner's prayer".

I would also go so far as to say there are many who have walked down the aisle, made a "confession of faith", and prayed the "sinner's prayer", and have had almost nothing to do with following Jesus since.

Repentance and surrender are so much more complex than that. We rethink our entire lives in order to participate in God's design.  When we do that, we begin to become "loyal Christians", who's lives glow outwardly with the inward light of God's love.  We become salt and light.  We become ambassadors of the Kingdom.  We become soldiers in the Army of God, fighting the battles God's way, the Jesus way.

So I challenge you, dear reader. Don't be a Christian that someone has to defend by saying, "He has always been a loyal Christian, despite outward appearances."  

Instead, allow yourself to rethink your relationship with Jesus, and what it means to "follow" Him. Allow yourself to learn new things, and be intentional about learning and changing your habits, not to gain favor with God, but because that's how restoration and the rescue of the world and its people begin. The Apostle Paul put it this way: 

"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:2)

Jesus wants us to learn His way, to follow his steps, and to be all about bringing His Kingdom to fruition in this world! Right here, right now, Jesus wants us to take his teachings and put them to work, to live them out!

Jesus put it this way:

"Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me." (John 14:23-27)

When American's travel around the world, they are almost always recognized by how they talk and behave.  When foreigners come to our country, its often easy to tell because they seem out of place, and unfamiliar with our customs.

That is how it should be with citizens of the Kingdom of God.  We should seem like foreigners, behaving like citizens of a foreign land, observing the culture and laws of our homeland.

There are no undercover Christians in the Kingdom.  Let your light shine. Trust Jesus' ideas to save this world, and be a part of the work!

(Author's note: this is not about casting guilt over not being a "good enough"
Christian.  Its about examining our hearts to see where our loyalty really lies.)