Sunday, 16 October 2016

Just A Christian Thing

I was seventeen years old, and I knew what most of the words in the bible were.  I knew there was no church but ours, and that ours was not merely a church.  I knew that I needed our church to get a wife and children and raise them to be successful, decent, healthy people.  I knew that I definitely wasn't supposed to be able to connect with the others at school, and luckily, I couldn't.  I knew that I definitely was supposed to be able to connect to the others at church, but despite me, I couldn't. I knew what something was wrong with me and that I wasn't normal.  There was something.  School and church agreed about that. I knew that that something would keep me from ever finding true love with a wife, a home and children.  And I knew that what was wrong with me was me.   And I knew I couldn't bear to be anyone but myself.  It was like secretly being gay, only I was publicly being me instead.  And I knew that there was no place for me and no happy ending. And I knew that I wanted to be dead.

I didn't really want the responsibility of killing myself, but I knew that I didn't want the responsibility of trying to live the next day, carefully not fitting in at school and carefully fitting in at church.  And I knew that what I felt wasn't normal because I wasn't normal.  But I started to suspect that my reaction to everything was, itself, a normal reaction.  And that being ok with everything would not have been.   And I knew that no one was in control of everything. No one was there for people like me. No one could do anything. 

The doctor was from our church and he knew that there was nothing wrong with our church and so if I couldn't cope I obviously wasn't normal and needed pills.  I decided that I knew that I could not take pills, as I needed to sort out whatever it was, and not numb myself to it.  The psychiatrist I then went to knew that I should be partying and going to movies and non-church things.  I knew that I could never do that, and to do so would lose me my tenuous membership at my church, to match my lack of belonging at school.  And so I stopped seeing him, said I was fine now, and continued to want to be dead.  And I knew that no one was able to speak with me about any of it.  I knew that people had personas to carefully keep up, and that they needed to avoid any appearance of not being normal themselves.  And I knew that I had to get through it myself.  Me and God.  I knew He was supposed to be able to help. And so I dealt only with Him from then on.  I knew I couldn't trust anyone else. Not a single person.

And I knew that, if I got through it, with God's help, that I couldn't bear to think of others in my position, being alone.  I knew that there must be others, although I had never met any, or if I had, they had not identified themselves. I knew that I wanted to find such people and let them know that there were more of us. How many more? I pictured a miserable seventeen year old, likewise along, perhaps female, and knew I wanted to help her, and live together for the rest of our days.

And the years went by.  I endured not fitting in at church, to match my not fitting in to the world outside it.  I knew that I was who I was, and that there was strength in my design.  And I knew that that strength that had been built into me terrified people, and that any system that could not deal with someone who was only as slightly off-centre as me was weak.  Scared.  Flawed.  Lying.  Hiding things.  

And I learned that there seemed to be about as many people who could not fit in as could.  And I learned that many people get miserable and lost and disconnected.  And I listened to and spoke with many of them.

I didn't know there would be so many.  Of all ages, races, cultures and genders.  I didn't know that mainly only the female ones would and could think and talk and feel about these things openly, instead of drinking and making money and fighting with everyone and hoping to die without ever having to deal. I didn't know that some people were able to cry about it all, and that this helped them a bit.  

I didn't know that, as much as I had been raised to be, and naturally was, unable to fit in to the world around our church, that that world would accept us anyway.  I didn't know that there was, in human dealings, a small hope for a modicum of fairness and forgiveness and mercy.  I didn't know to stop looking for it in Christian circles.  I didn't know that I would be kicked out of my church entirely, along with almost every friend and relative I ever had.  And I didn't know that we would survive.  I didn't know that some of us would simply recreate the same environment we grew up in, only with us in charge.  I didn't know that others would find they quite enjoyed churches and groups very different from our own birth culture and would immerse themselves headlong into those. I didn't know that others would love Jesus but never really be happy at any church besides our own, but remain infinitely happier "going nowhere" than going to ours.

I didn't know we'd talk, a bunch of us, using computers, some of which we carried around in our pockets.  I didn't know that everybody would be allowed to talk, even if some of us were women and most of us were excommunicated and shunned, forever deemed church defects, rejects and trouble to allow into the midst.  I didn't know many of us would share and connect on screens and never meet up in the same room.  I didn't know there'd be so many suicides.  I didn't know there'd be so much addiction.  I didn't know there'd be so many divorces.  I didn't know that the things the church folks did to us, we'd generally go on to do to everyone around us.  I didn't know the church knew everything all along and didn't care and wouldn't ever openly talk about change, forgiveness of reconciliation.  I didn't know there'd be joy possible anyway.

I didn't know I'd meet the hypocrisy, the enforced cheerfulness, the blindly-trumpeted flawed utopian dogma, the need to seem normal and ok at all times, at the workplace, on the street and everywhere else.  

I thought that was just a Christian thing.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Sunday Morning Sermon on Atheists OutChristianing Christians

All those people who live lives characterized by weakness and lack of integrity, without having any knowledge of the bible, will also reach the end of their days and die, having had no knowledge of the bible to guide them. But all who have walked paths of weakness and lack of integrity with full knowledge of the bible will be assessed according to what the bible tried to say to them. 

For it is not the believers of the message of Jesus who are acting well as far as God is concerned, but the livers of the message of Jesus who are acting well. For when atheists, who do not have the bible, just naturally do what the bible teaches, and act well, they are a bible to themselves, even though they do not have the bible. They show that the message of the bible is written on their hearts, while their conscience also weighs in, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or excuse them whenever God assesses the inner essence of men through his judge Christ Jesus.

You call yourself a Christian and claim to rely on the message of the bible and claim identity in Jesus Christ and to know his message and to support what is Christian, because you are instructed from the bible. You are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the bible the embodiment of knowledge and truth.

You then who teach others, why have you not taken the time to teach yourself? While you preach against shadiness and insincerity, are you yourself shady or insincere? You who say that one must not condone adultery, do you condone adultery by appointing adulterers to have the rule over you? You who insist that all fetuses be allowed to grow into children because all life is sacred, do you then resist contributing any money toward the health care of these same children to preserve their lives once they have been born? You who demand freedom of religious expression, do you seek to rob atheists and Muslims and Buddhists of the right to practice their own world views, and to live completely free from yours? 

You who claim to find your personal identity in the message of the bible? You folks are dishonoring God by not living in the spirit of its message. And now the name of Jesus Christ is a joke and a curse among the atheists because of you. The word “Christian” now means “self-serving, hypocritical bigot” to many people.

Now, a Christian upbringing certainly is of value if you live according to the message of Jesus, but if you live in a way Jesus never would have, showing none of his heart, your Christian upbringing becomes atheism. And, if a man who is an atheist lives according to the message of Jesus, will not his atheism function as Christianity? Then he who was never raised Christian yet lives in a way that is very compatible with the message of Jesus? He will rightly condemn you who went to Sunday school as a child but grew up to become people who do not have the heart of Jesus. 

It doesn’t make one a Christian to merely try to seem like one outwardly, nor is Christian upbringing only an outward and physical thing that has to do with attendance at church, one’s lifestyle and how one votes. No, a Christian is one inwardly, and Christianity is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not achievable through doctrine, lifestyle restrictions or political positions. A true Christian’s standard of excellence and decency is not set by his fellow churchgoers, but by God.

Then what is the point of being a Christian? Is there any value in a Christian upbringing? It is valuable in every way. To begin with, Christians were entrusted with the New Testament, which contains messages from God about real things. What if many Christians live according to a new church culture they have invented which has little to do with the New Testament and the messages in it? Does their church culture nullify the efforts of God to reach out to human beings and help them sort out their lives? By no means! God would still be telling the truth even if every single Christian were a compulsive liar. (So tell the truth.) It is written,

“That you may be justified by your words,
and win the case when you are accused of anything.”

But if our missteps, lack of integrity and strength of character serve to showcase the excellence of God, what shall we say? That God is unfair to get frustrated with how flawed and messed up we are? (I speak simple-mindedly, as if God were merely a human being.) By no means! For if God had to simply accept dishonesty, exploitation and weakness and treat them exactly the same as he treated honesty and excellence, how then could he assess and heal the world? He would have to “tolerate” it and leave it messed up. 

But if even against the backdrop of my two-faced, mean-spirited insincerity God's truth rings out and makes it clear who he really is, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? Aren’t I doing good by making God look better than me? And shouldn’t we all occasionally do shady things to try to make the world a fairer place?  Well, some people correctly notice us doing that and have a problem with it. Their criticism is fair. 

What then? Are we Christians doing any better than anyone else in the world today? Than the Muslims, atheists and Sikhs? No, we aren’t. Not at all. For I have already made the point that all, both Christians and atheists, live daily lives characterized by weakness, corruption, jealousy, exploitation and darkness, as it is written about all of us human beings, right through the bible:

“None is excellent, no, not one; no one truly understands; no one looks for what God intended for human beings and for the planet.
All have wandered from the path; together they have become corrupt; no one truly lives decently, not even one.”

“Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive and manipulate one another.”

"The venom of rattlesnakes is under their lips.”

“Their mouth is full of ill-wishes and resentment.”

“Their hands are quick to backstab others; when they leave a room they leave misery and chaos behind them, and they have never understood the way of peace.”

“They do not value God as they go about their day.”

Now we know that whatever the bible says, its audience is those who value the bible.  And it works toward reaching the point where no one in the world will be left with anything further to say, and the whole thing will be held accountable to God and his standards for love, fairness, excellence and honesty. For by obeying rules in the bible no human being will ever be justified in God’s sight, since through the bible comes a deep knowledge of our flaws and the fact that we need Jesus, and not just some handy rules to follow.

But now the excellence of God has been shown entirely outside of the pages of the bible, although the bible talks about it too — the excellence of God is seen through what happens when any human being places hope, faith and trust in Jesus Christ and what he wants to do for all who accept him. We ourselves, as well as God the father, and his son Jesus Christ, all alike exist outside the pages of the very bible which speaks the truth about all of us. 

For there is no distinction: all have sinned and have fallen short of God’s standards, and are therefore only justified by his grace as a gift, through the rehabilitation that is in Christ Jesus, whom God sent out to pay for our recovery in the coin of his blood, so that we could receive this gift by faith. This sending of his son to die for us was to show God's excellence and fairness, because in his divine forgiveness and generosity he had passed over our flawed lives and how messed up we still are. It was to show God’s decency, to those of us living in 2016, so that he might be known to be just and the justifier of anyone who has faith in his son, Jesus, who came and died to excuse and salvage us.

Then what role do our careful Christian lifestyles play in being accepted by God? Simply put: they do not count at all. By what kind of life path are we reconciled to God? By a careful Christian lifestyle? No, but by a lifestyle of faith, reaching out after Jesus Christ, person to person. For we believe that one is justified by faith in the real person Jesus Christ, quite apart from all concerns as to rule-following and bible teaching. 

Or, is God the god of bible-believing churchgoers only? Is he not the god of the regular folks also?
Yes, he is the god of the regular folks also, since there is only one God for all of us— one God who will justify the Christians by faith, and everyone else through faith too, in exactly the same way.
Do we then throw out the bible because of this faith in Christ it presents to us as our only option? By no means! On the contrary, we elevate the bible by investing our heart in what it has to say.

(after having been "corrected" as to the thoughts in this piece, and accused of "over complicating" things and of showing off and spewing rhetoric, I have had to point out that I am simply paraphrasing the majority of Romans 2 and 3 and so they are accusing the Apostle Paul of these things, really.  His name is Paul, and this is between y'all.)