Woke up in a contemplative frame of mind this morning. I can only focus on externals for so long before I get that old urge to dive deep again. There has been something my mind has been ruminating upon for a few weeks now. Probably due to the fact that we navigated through some pretty significant life passages here recently, and find ourselves having made it to the “other side” more or less unscathed. I tend to hang out in the murky depths anyway, but certain life passages just tend to call for taking stock.
By nature, when I was young, I was fairly reserved, but not so in my affections. I loved the way most children do, unhindered, unbound, un-jaded. I was always more self-conscious than others seemed to be. I struggled to feel that I measured up to the same worth and standard of other kids, which served to give me eyes to see those who were at a disadvantage, a heart to encourage the underdogs, and leave me overall, less easily impressed with anyone who tends to garner excessive praise and admiration.
To those who were endowed with more, I felt neither envy nor resentment. I just accepted that people were differently privileged.
But when I got older, beyond “high school dynamics”, I began to see that these differences in background, opportunity, and perspective, really played a role in how a person presented themselves, as well as how they were both perceived, and received by others.
So I looked around, noticed who seemed successful within the scope of my still rather limited little world, and began to assemble my own “bag of tricks” from which to draw in order to assimilate. It worked very well. We all do that in our early years of adulthood, we “try on ” new ways of thinking and being as we discover that outside our family of origin, there are countless “other” ways of being and thinking. Over time, by trial and error, I learned what of these things was “really me” and discarded anything that wasn’t a good fit. Your twenties is normally the stage of life of “coming into your self”. But for me, like with most things, it took a little longer for me to find my own ground.
It is not much different in our walk with the Lord. Little babies learn my mimicking. Young adults do the same thing on a bigger and maybe more liberal scale, but with the same purpose of discovery and growth and maturation, and so do Christians. I am not talking about cobbling together your own brand of Christianity. But it can take some time to sort out what is authentic and what is counterfeit, as you delve into the Word for yourself.
I continued to be a loving and accepting sort of person into my young adulthood, managing to remain true to my own convictions but to also be gracious to others of differing stripes. I was pretty much unassuming, but also unpretentious. And yes, uninitiated, really.
Until the day came when I met with a force that entered my life with the sole intent to exploit my uninitiated state. You know, evil thrives on the death of innocence. Unfortunately, in this fallen world the passage from naïveté to knowledge is inevitable and with it comes a certain grievous loss.
It can be extremely painful for some. It was for me. Perhaps less so for others, I can’t really know, because I am merely me! The earlier in life this passing over from ignorance to knowledge of good and of evil comes, the more damaging it can be. I am thankful that I was technically an adult, though just barely. Still, it was early enough to set me back.
Where I’d never been bold to start out with, now wounded, I staggered up to continue the task of trying to find my place in this world. I learned to project a confidence I never felt, and pulled it off so well that I even managed to fool myself sometimes. But in very short order I grew very tired of the charade and decided, especially after the pain, that from there on out, I’d rather have whatever life came by being authentic, than the life I might be able attain by ostensibly being “more” or “other” than what I was.
Because I’d tried having that “front” at one time, I learned to see beneath the masks of others, and truth is, not everyone appreciates being seen-through. Frankly all I ever wanted was to be myself and have others accept and love me that way. Some people appreciate this attribute. They, like me, value the liberty of being known and loved “as is”. But some are averse to all scrutiny and frantically scramble to reinforce the façade at all costs.
Those are the people I have a hard time “being there for” anymore. Because beyond the age of 22 or so, no one is fooled anyway. It becomes a polite homage to delusion sort of like the emperor with no clothes. Really. It seems sad to me, those who, when given the chance to embrace their imperfection and fallibility, choose the illusion anyway. You’ve met them. Former cheerleaders and homecoming queens who have so many facelifts that their visage becomes a grotesque caricature of the their previous “beauty”. The mother of teens who still shops in the Misses department. The guys who get hair plugs and stay in debt for the sake of looking like they “made good”.
I don’t get it. What good is meaningless inter-course between two contrived alter-egos? Where what is real in you stays home, while the face you present to the world bears no actual resemblance to who you really are?
I realized eventually (in my thirties and forties) that in the case of most of those whom I called my friends, I’d never really even met the real person underneath.
And not only are they not being real, but their interests and pursuits seem as superficial as their persona. I am not talking about lost people who don’t know any better. These are professing Christians.
I have been told, in every stage of my life, by a vast variety of folks, that “there is something different about you” and even as a non-conformist, I never bought it. Until now. Now that I’m nearly 50, I can no longer deny that not only am I different, but I’m practically an alien. Or maybe just a throwback from a prior generation, somehow born “after my time”. I don’t know. All I know is it seems like you’re supposed to grow up and put away certain things, and I don’t see that happening these days. Again, not just in the world. In Christianity (so-called).
There are 4 categories of these professing Christians, in my experience. Those who practice a “form of Godliness but deny the power thereof”, in other words, they “do church” whether it is the gormless empty emergent type, or the hollow tradition-filled type that pays lip-service but has no bearing outside of Sunday Morning. Then there is the “do-gooder” bunch who have fooled themselves into thinking they stand apart due to their good works “above reproach” bearing. So removed in “separation” are they, that they have no impact, but by golly, they are there every time the doors open, they’ve memorized scripture, they give ten percent plus missions, they shake the hand of every person who comes in the door and will gladly proclaim (at least in a room of like-minded people) that they stand against homosexuality, (though somehow they never got around to actually sharing their faith with a gay person, since they live a life so removed from any that never the twain shall meet anyway).
And then there is the person who never tried to be something he was not, never claimed to be “good”, knows he is a sinner, saved by grace alone, who quietly lives his imperfect life while never doubting in his heart that he is deserving of hell, but will never go there, because thankfully God saw fit to offer him salvation anyway. Did he fulfill the great commission in his life? Probably not. But did he, in his fumbling way, share what he understands about sin, and forgiveness and Christ’s atoning death on the cross with those whom God put into his path? Yes. Did he “follow-up”? Disciple them? Hound them to see if they went to church and made something of themselves “for Jesus”? No. Did Jesus? He hung out with the dregs of society, as I recall. He laid all the cards on the table, and let the chips fall where they may.
“You only go around once in life” goes the oft-repeated refrain. Church people are as bad about holding up their heroes and ideals as anyone. As if failure to be D. L. Moody constitutes a wasted life. There is nothing in the world wrong with achievement, but a simple life, simply lived, can be just as powerful and influential, especially in this upside-down world.
How about this one: “Now, you can’t out-give God. I gave him my last hundred bucks and why that very day, He gave it right back to me”. How is that really any different from the prosperity gospel? It is cloaked in the “righteousness” of seeking the gifts of God for the sanctified purpose of giving them back, but how is it that though we are no longer under the law of the old testament in other things, we are still bound by that ten percent God required of Israel?
What, then is their response to the young family who has given all their savings with the sincere conviction that in God’s hands the small amount they’ve been able to save will be multiplied like the loaves and fishes, and the only “repayment” has been a 10 percent drop in his salary this year, an expensive surgery and another slew of bills? True, God is more than capable of blessing the family by making them even more dependent upon His own provision, and even though the scripture says “Give and it will be given unto you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over” and “with the measure you use, it will be measured unto you”, there is absolutely no guarantee that what is measured back to you will come in the form of a financial blessing.
Pride takes many forms. One Christian can a.) take great proud in their “humble pursuit of righteousness” while their fellow Christian b.) un-apologetically pursues excellence, successes and accolades (doing all heartily as unto the Lord) in the secular realm and I am not convinced that Christian “A” is any less disingenuous than Christian “B”. Some Christians pride themselves that they never drink alcohol and they don’t dance, that they are pleasant, always smiling, “so people will know that the Christian life is the good life”, when in truth Jesus’ first miracle turned water into wine at Cana, David, the “man after God’s own heart” danced before the Lord, and “Thou Shalt Not Frown” were not chiseled on the stone tablets Moses brought down from the mountain.
I guess the “take-away” of all this is that another person’s sin or their standing before the Lord is really a private affair between them and God. I witness, but it is not my place to convict or cajole. I am not my brother’s judge, but nor will I stand down in defending the positions God has laid down in His Word. And the splinters in our neighbor’s eyes invariably get on our nerves even while we struggle with our own beams, but that is when you just say, “God love ’em” and go back to letting the Lord alone deal with sorting things out both in your own life and that of others.
Making disciples is not a matter of being perfection personified. If we try to do that, we are setting the new Christian up for disappointment and failure. Don’t look to me, look to Jesus! By the same token, if you are a Christian, shouldn’t you have a desire for God and an interest in the things of God, particularly His Word. And when will even the “best churches” get over themselves? Denominations are divisions. PERIOD.
Keeping it real means accepting our own deficits, the short-comings of others, and life’s disappointments, crying when you need to, laughing when you get the chance, and learning to let a whole lot of things go without ever getting the “resolution” you might prefer.
In the end, God will straightened every last bit of it out. Not to worry, so and so will have their day of reckoning.
And so will you.
Kudos to people who carve out dedicated moments or hours when they pray diligently over every single prayer request that comes their way, but considering God is omniscient, I think bringing their name before Him and asking for Him to bless and provide for their needs, grow them and prosper them, or save them, whatever is applicable, still counts as prayer. How is setting aside a 30 minute block for prayer fulfilling the command to “pray without ceasing”?
These are just some things that are simple and basic to Christian life but seem to have been lost in the shuffle. Just like a great many of us would be better off if we simplified and lived a physical life of less, I think we could have more of an impact as Christians if we got back to a “life of less” in our churches.
I thank the Lord for putting up with me, and you for reading my rambling thoughts. What is on your mind today?