Friday, April 5, 2013

Dirty Words Part 2 - The "S-Word"

Dirty words in the Christian circles - the "F-Word" is fear, but what is the "S-Word"? The word so many of us resist confessing to be a part of the Christian walk? 

It's Struggle.

No "good Christian" likes to admit how difficult the "Walk of Faith" can be.  I have heard time and time again the evangelistic message turned into the offer of a quick fix for all of life's difficulties, and I think when we present the gospel in that way, we do everyone a HUGE disservice.

First of all, those who "come to Jesus" under the delusion that afterwards all of life will go well is unfortunate.  It's been my experience that although there can be a huge sense of relief (grace is a wonderful reliever of guilt) and even a new infusion of hope into one's circumstances, the struggles in life often, OFTEN, reach an entirely new level. 

I think this sort of circumstance is described by Jesus, Himself, when he shared the parable of the seeds:

Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth;
and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth.
But when the sun was up they were scorched,
and because they had no root they withered away.
And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them.
Matthew 13: 5-7

It's sad to me when the disappointment and difficulty that becoming a Christian isn't a cure all leads to the stumble and fall of new believers.  They see other Christians through the misconception that they don't struggle in their Christian walks.  Granted, the "life is hard" message isn't necessarily going to bring the people in droves, but at least those who come will come with realistic expectations.

The Christians themselves, they're the next ones who are really suffering under the inability to confess the struggle of the Christian walk.  Too many make the same mistake as the new believers, because of the lack of transparency and the willingness to say we're struggling, those of us who are assume we are the only ones.  I can look at the pretty pastor's wife who is always dressed to the nines, whose children are always polite, neatly clothed, everyone always getting along, always remembering every "please" and "thank you," and my fight to get my three kids to church and had to referee the entire way there, all of a sudden think I'm a failure as a Christian. And rather than reaching out or seeking help, I worry about my own issues and hide the struggle trying to put on a happy face.  That's never a solution to a difficult struggle.

The truth is, ALL Christians struggle.  Whether it's with temptation, disappointment, discipline, focus of faith, all of us, ALL of us at one point or another find ourselves in the struggle, and far too many of us refuse to be open and transparent about it.  (1) because a lot of us really believe we are the only ones; and (2) we are afraid with openly looking for a solution will be harder than living bound by the problem.

The fact is being a Christ follower is hard, REALLY HARD.  That's a huge reason why God didn't call us to make that walk alone on our own.  Fellowship with other believers is key, but we as Christians need open, honest, transparent, REAL relationship where we can WITHOUT FEAR OF REJECTION share when we are having a hard time.  Whether it is with temptation to sin, or to have faith to hold on, whatever it is, God called us to do it in community - praying for each other, relating to one another, encouraging one another in Christ and in His Word.

There is power in one Christian confessing to another, "I struggle with lust," (as an example.)  And when the response is, "I understand," or "I've been there, and here's what helped me..."  It gives the power to bring hope to a hopeless situation from the perspective of the one who is bound. 

The truth is, God says His followers are "more than conquerors in Christ Jesus."  What is it we are conquering?  The struggle!  We want to claim the victory of the conquest but somehow disown the struggle, the two things cannot be mutually exclusive, so why should we be so opposed to admitting it? 

I said recently I wanted to belong a church called "The Fellowship of Broken People."  The fact is, it's an accurate name for any true church on the planet, but I would love to see us as believers confess that it's what we are rather than always trying to put on the "good show" of wholeness and propriety that intimidates both the lost and the believer who really knows what it is to struggle.  Instead of trying to blend in, this is the kind of church where TRUE ministry has the capacity to happen.  It's not a tyranny of the the best actors, but rather a place where arm in arm, hand in hand we Christians can muddle through this life together, moving "from faith to faith."  Each of us living out the cycle of battle, struggle to victory, it's circular.  And when we live in the open honest community, we are able to lift one another up - mourning with those who mourn, rejoicing with those who rejoice just the way the Bible tells us to.

There's an old bumper sticker I recall in the early days of my Christian walk; it said, "I'm not perfect, just forgiven." Such truth!  Maybe if we could own it, the lack of personal perfection, and even that it isn't going to be found (in this life) in following Christ- maybe we would draw more people to us rather than run them off.  And maybe more Christians would find the strength to overcome their battles rather than just suffer under them.

That's just the thought of this struggling, broken Christian anyway. What do you think?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Dirty Words Part 1 - The "F-Word"

I woke up this morning and quickly found myself feeling stressed and overwhelmed.  I have a list of "to do's" that I am dreading, and if they don't go well and get done properly, well, at worst I could have a real crisis on my hands.  As I lay in bed wishing I could just stay there all day and sleep my way through it, a good strong fear settled in.

As I was driving to work, I thought about the fear that was riding shotgun with me there. It made me think of how often I have heard people in the church say "Fear is the opposite of faith." And I thought about the guilt and condemnation that Christian cliche brings with it.  Then I thought about how many times I wanted to call "bullshit" when I heard it said. Excuse my language, but "hogwash" doesn't quite capture the intensity behind my feeling on this matter.  "Fear" isn't the "F Word" of the Christian faith.

Yes, the Bible tells us 365 times "Fear not."  But, it occurs to me, maybe it has to be said enough times it could be repeated daily throughout the year, it's not because we Christians AREN'T afraid, but it's because we ARE.

But my fear doesn't cancel out my faith.  Quite the contrary, it's when I am pressing through my fear that my faith is being exercised the most. I'm not saying there is any sort of wisdom in embracing our fear - I for one would prefer to break it off completely with my dark companion, but I don't believe there is any value in denying it. 

Fear isn't all bad.  Fear of getting burned keeps me from sticking my hand in a fire.  Fear of the IRS keeps me filing my taxes every year. Fear of a car accident keeps me driving within the posted speed limits on the road.  I even use fear in my parenting to teach my children to make wise choices.  For goodness sake's the Bible even says it;s the FEAR of God that is the beginning of wisdom!  And if THAT doesn't prove that fear and faith can actually have a valuable relationship, then I don't know what does!

There is a lot to fear in this world, if you are a parent the reasons to fear seem to increase exponentially.

A favorite "anti-fear" verse comes from the 4th chapter of Philippians. (v.6) "Be anxious for nothing..." Paul said.  And someone somewhere along the line turned it into the same kind of command as "Do not murder" or "Don't commit adultery."  And then they threw the emotional response of fear into the same "sin pile" as stealing money from somebody else's wallet. Next thing you know you've got good Christian folks walking around feeling like failures because they think their fear means they have no faith.

A good place to start would be for the "No fear! Christians" to learn, memorize and repeat the rest of Paul's admonition to not be anxious in life. "...but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God..."  The fear (anxiety) isn't considered the antithesis for faith, but rather it's to be a catalyst for it.

Fear is a warning signal that something is amiss. It could legitimately be something clearly defined like the "burn" of a fire, or consequence of an action, or it could be something INTERNAL, a warning singal about the heart and mind, and where they are that they don't belong, i.e., dwelling on life's worst case scenarios, or stepping carelessly toward faith's true opposite, unbelief. 

Fear isn't something that defines us, or our faith, but rather it is something that demands a response and needs to be addressed in our lives. It certainly isn't something that we ought to allow, or worse condemn, us as bad Christians, weak in our faith.  Instead, stand up to the fear, grab hold of the Lord, face it WITH Him, and you just might find it proves to you that your faith is actually that much stronger than you ever even dared to imagine!