Let me tell you the story about the guy on Yahoo message boards who butted into the Buddhist community to witness to them about the Gospel. Guess what happened? The Buddhists hated him. He won many arguments and lost a few. Didn’t really make a difference. He didn’t make any friends, let alone convince someone to wonder how to get more of what he had. In fact, no one wanted what he had, regardless of what he was offering. He chalked it up to the persecution Jesus promised His own people should expect from the world. That was part of it. But it was part of it. The other part of it was that he treated the Buddhists in the conversation like he would cockroaches. So, persecution is a convenient biblical explanation for what happened. What the Buddhists on that message board didn’t know (maybe they did), was that the Christian evangelist was struggling with his own faith. Actually, he was struggling to have faith. Sometimes the struggle comes out when you have even convinced yourself there’s no struggle at all.
Now, let me tell you about the new Christian who took it upon himself to correct the pastor about his views about God’s gender. The pastor thought the idea of God having a gender seemed really strange and contrived…sort of like God having a mole. But the new Christian didn’t bother to understand what the pastor was saying. He just knew the topic matched exactly with the one in the apologetic book he was reading. Well, it really wasn’t. The more he tried to make the pastor’s view nicely fit the issue in the book, the more contentious the discussion became. Eventually, the pastor gave up and told the new Christian he held no ill will but didn’t want to converse any more about it. What the pastor probably began to pick up from the new Christian was more about what that young man was struggling with….which really wasn’t the pastor’s position about God’s proposed gender. The young man had his own demons, which reached out and touched the pastor several times during the exchange.
Both of these guys, as you probably have guessed, was me. Now, let me fall back into that mold of managing opinions long enough to qualify that I haven’t decided I’m a liberal Christian or an agnostic, for those overly worried about that. There’s too many other blogs about ‘former’ Christians or former evangelicals that read Kant or Hume…or Rob Bell, and repented of having an objective view of anything. That’s not me. My problem is that once I accepted Christ, I quickly latched on to the virtue of study and fellowship. What I failed to grasp, which was probably the entire point of accepting Christ, is to come to Him with all my mess and let Him help me heal. I wasn’t automatically perfect when I became a follower of Christ. Quite the opposite. I was still riddled with all the problems I had before I became a follower.
But, the environment I was in, particularly in church, really made coming clean with those struggles risky. I can’t say that about all my church experiences. In fact, the first church I ever joined would have been a great place to be transparent and find friends to help walk with me through them. I just wasn’t willing to show them weakness. After all, I felt that God had called me into full time ministry. Dealing with mess wasn’t an option for an ordained man of God. Of course, this reflected one of the problems I carried over into my Christian life…pride, self-deceit, etc. But, I figured if you could tie your excuse to a bible verse, it magically made it pure and without spot.
I had a lot to learn. So, after 20 years of this walk and a half century of hanging around, here’s a bit of what I have learned since then.
You can be right in the position you hold but wrong in the disposition in which you hold it.
In other words, if you believe the Bible is inerrant, great. But if you break up a friendship over it, you’ve probably missed a great deal of what all that inerrant stuff is telling you. Disposition is just as important as the position held. In other words, the Bible doesn’t just tell us to subscribe to the monthly Truth magazine and wear the bumper sticker on the family wagon. The Bible tells us that truth is a Person and that Person is calling us to follow Him and be transformed into someone like Him. That doesn’t just cover your easily recalled catachetical points. It also covers the reasons in your heart for recalling them and why. Jesus taught that out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. Many of those things are in the mind and the will before they become an act. Intent is prior to content. Whatever is in our hearts will come out. And, because we’re smart animals, we figure out ways to make it come out as respectable. That’s why causes are so useful.
Usually, causes are held and promoted to draw attention away from your own pain and mess.
When you accept Christ, you get this Holy Spirit that dwells within you. It’s great from the standpoint that you have this life at the core of your existence that wasn’t there before. The not so fun part is having to come to terms with the carry-over mess He wants you to start dealing with or the healing you need to receive from Him. The reason I would champion a cause…the real motivation behind it…was to take attention off of what I considered a hopeless mess. I would literally go looking for a fight (in the proverbial sense). Why? Because I felt studied up enough to convince people who were sorely mistaken? Not really. It was to take attention off of me and put it on to someone else for a change. The cause, itself, wasn’t a bad cause. My motivation behind it was. Keep in mind what Jesus said to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:15, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.” The law wasn’t the issue. It was the motivation of the messenger. That has been me too many times. But I am in great company, especially during a destructive election year like this one. Today’s causes are really no different.
Trying to control people and manage outcomes, particularly over causes, is a part of the sinful nature, even if it’s for a Kingdom concern.
Matthew 5:33-37 deals directly with this. You don’t have control over anyone else. You don’t have control even over making one, single hair on your head white or black. Control is an illusion. In context with the rest of chapter 5, particularly verses before it, managing outcomes and controlling outcomes is the primary causes behind anger, contempt and lust. People aren’t going to think like you. They aren’t going to agree with you about everything. They’re not going to like the Beatles, as nutty as that sounds. Can you deal with it? What I mean is, can you still be friends and agree to disagree? If you can’t, then you’re the problem, not them. I can say that from what I am embarrassed to say is too much experience on the matter.
Our problems aren’t really intellectual. They’re spiritual.
There are spiritual truths, no doubt. But as Paul write in 1 Corinthians that the man or woman without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him/her, and he/she cannot understand them because they are spiritually discerned. For people who have no interest in spiritual things, practically none of this will be of much use. But even for followers of Jesus, this can be like a hangover. Our sinful nature is one of attack and withdraw. We do one or the other as a result of trying to avoid getting hurt or to get what we want. When we get hurt, we learn to adjust to the pain and figure out a way to protect ourselves from that ever happening to us again. And, when the Spirit enters into the picture to walk with us through it, it seems so crazy or irresponsible to eliminate those strategies. What if we get hurt again? When we champion a cause, we conjure up those defense mechanisms from our past hurt. A good argument won’t be of much help. The only thing that helps is love…not the kind of ‘love’ of only hanging around with someone until they change their mind and then moving on once they agree with you. That’s not love. I’m talking about being a friend and walking with them even if they never agree with you…even if it’s what you consider a very important cause. But by walking with them, you earn their respect. And if the issue does come up, it won’t be in a tightly controlled debate environment. It will be over a lunch, or on a long drive, and it will be uncomfortable. But you can have it because you and the other person know there’s a foundation there that can survive it. Truth need not fear evidence and will always be vindicated. You don’t break the truth, you break yourself upon it. Who knows? You may find out your were wrong about some things. God forbid! But without love, truth is off topic. Think about how Jesus dealt with the woman at the well, Zacchaeus, the adulterous woman, etc. He loved them where they were. He didn’t compromise truth. But part of truth was that He loved them as they were, not as they were supposed to be. Learning how to love like Jesus loved is as much a part of this walk as is the catechetical power points.
Our culture isn’t going to be made great or become stronger together from a politician or ideology. Only Jesus and His Kingdom can transform us.
When you take millions like me in my own story, you get a people who are in denial about their own mess and pain, looking for a savior or some cause to take the attention off of them and on to some power politic. And guess what happens if we win? Nothing. We’re still wallowing in the same pain and mess we were beforehand. Except, now, we’re empty because we won and don’t know what to do with ourselves now. Sometimes the emptiest moments in your life are when you achieved that which you thought would deliver the ultimate for you, and it lets you down. That’s the quiet desperation of the winner’s plight. At least if you lose, the battle for the cause continues on, after a good wound-licking. The cycle continues. No one overcomes their demons. No one finds freedom, deliverance or healing of the past hurts. We just stay entrenched in our causes, throw some salt over the shoulder and pick up our trash can lid again. So, regardless of your cause, outside of the Kingdom, it’s probably a mask. Listen to His words:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.” Matthew 11:28-30
Sometimes our cause simply isn’t really a good one to champion. Sometimes it is. Either way, our cause with Christ is the most important. If we can’t put down our weapons, distractions and evasions and go to Him with all we have, then how can we ever expect any cause to be of any hope? It’s an easy yoke. The fear not to do this is unfounded. I can also tell you this from experience as well.