Too Christian For Your Own Good

When I first started following Jesus, I went around trying to prove it to everyone. Because of this, I was really susceptible to other’s ideas on what it means to be a Christian. If I heard someone up front mention how they don’t listen to secular music, I threw out my CD’s the next day. If someone talked about how they didn’t swear, I switched to “shoot” and “dangit” immediately.

Now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong about looking for people to model our faith after. If I’m building a lego set with my boys, it’s nice to have the picture of the finished product on the front of the box to get a good idea what we’re making. Some instructions just make more sense when you can see you’re trying to make a magic castle instead of a battleship. People of faith we admire work like this in our lives and it helps the Bible make more sense sometimes.

Prove it.
However, these models and striving and proving can become something other than healthy spirituality if we’re not careful.

Christian+CarThe person who has the Christian bumper stickers, shirts, and slogans may be trying so hard to prove it because they’re not inwardly convinced they actually are a Christian.

The person who studies apologetics in order to defend the faith may be battling some real inward doubt. Why else would you chase after so many defenses?

I remember, I got so good at praying out loud people started complimenting me afterwards. I had all the right words, weaved in all the right memorized verses, and sprinkled in just the right amount of heartfelt emotion. Looking back, I wonder how much of those prayers were designed to make sure other’s would listen because I wasn’t sure if God was listening.

 

Sometimes, the ways we try to prove it can become proof of our own insecurities. (1)

Produce.
I had dinner last night with the sweetest engaged couple. Afterwards, we walked down the streets of Capitol Hill as they shared about their upcoming wedding. As they shared, something that struck me was their decision to not include any traditional Christian symbolism into their wedding. You know, like the unity candle or communion or something. Their reasoning for excluding these symbols was because it felt unnecessary. See, this couple has a deep and profound Christian spirituality. I’ve known them for two years and everything about them glows Jesus. From her passion to end sex trafficking to the way he gravitates to the vulnerable to their desire to selflessly serve everyone around them.

In a very real way, they are their own symbols. Anything more would be, well, redundant. When I think about it, any manufactured and arbitrary symbol on display in addition to their lives would almost be a distraction. The sun doesn’t have to prove to us that it’s bright. We see it’s evidence in the stars, waves, and warmth all around us.

“…that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior,” -1 Timothy 2:2-3

I don’t know about you, but that seems like such a better way of living. I’m tired of proving it. I’d much rather produce the kind of fruitful life that is undeniable. I’m so tired of convincing people as a grand cover up for my own insecurities.

I’d rather be loved than be right.
I’d rather have peace than popular opinion.
I’d much rather be inwardly healed that outwardly Christian.

May we live sacrificed lives instead of settling for a cross around our neck.
May we become broken bread and poured out wine instead of a mere ritual of communion.
May the proof be in the pudding.

  1. Could the woman vehemently opposed to the LGBTQ community be struggling with their own sexual identity? Could the man zealously defending gun rights be battling a tremendous inward fear? Could that athiest Facebook friend who won’t stop Christian bashing articles be experiencing a genuine crises of belief?

What I’ve Found In Silence

I’ve been saying less,
and growing more.

636026492149037219-1281118569_jh0913_silenceFor a few months, I’ve been practicing the spiritual discipline of silence. I haven’t told anyone, mainly because it’d be a lil’ embarrassing if people found out and didn’t notice a difference. The emphasis is definitely on “practicing”. As a raging extrovert, it’s natural for me to share my opinion, be drawn to a crowd, and enjoy the center of attention. Practicing silence has been humbling, to say the least.

I’ve grown a lot. Normally, I’ve not been able to see my personal growth in the moment. It’s typically something I can only notice in hindsight. However, with practicing silence, the growth feels like it’s in real time. Let me explain.

Silence is trusting.
My habit in most meetings or conversations was to think about what I was going to say while someone else was speaking. Because of that, my opinion often seemed well articulated and thoughtful. I’d get all sorts of compliments for it, but really my goal was to be heard rather than to hear. When I started practicing silence, I noticed that under my insistence to state my opinion was really a lack of trust. I didn’t trust God was going to direct the conversation without me. I didn’t trust his way and will would be done. My dominance in conversations was more about my rightness than a way toward holiness.

Practicing silence has provided this real-time inner dialogue with God. I’m catching myself preparing a statement, or interrupting, or not listening, and then handing the conversation back over to God. When I do speak up, I’m asking God before hand, is this a contribution to the dialogue or my desire for control? Is this exchange about me being right or me trusting?

Silence is being loved.
After practicing silence in conversations, I started to wonder what it would be like to practice it when I’m alone. I noticed, it’s often the loudest when I’m by myself. I needed constant stimuli. The TV on, a game on my iPad, while scrolling through Facebook on my phone. The radio always on while in the car. Or if I’m feeling especially spiritual, I’d put a christian podcast on or some worship music during my commute.

But it was all noise.
It was all my doubt that I was loved.

See, noise can masquerade as meaning. Busyness can make-believe it’s purpose. Even my prayers can become nothing more than anxieties I swirl up into the atmosphere to impress something how important I am. Silence doesn’t let me hide. I’m forced to just be without any trappings. Or as the Bible puts it, “Be still and know that I am God.”(1)

At first, this terrified me. After time, I discovered, there is a direct correlation between my ability to be comfortable in silence and my confidence in I am loved. With nothing to offer and nothing to say, I am still wholly loved.

Time with God used to feel like a to-do list, dear diary, or vending machine. Impersonal and transactional. Now it feels like climbing up on my Dad’s lap after school. He received the report card in the mail week’s ago. He just wants to hear how recess went.

I’ve noticed the friends who I am closest with are the ones I don’t feel the need to keep the conversation going. On road trips, we can just sit together and watch the trees pass by. Easy. Quiet. Intimate. This is what I’ve started to discover with God.(2)

May we grow in trust. May we remember we are loved. May we watch the trees go by together.

  1. Psalm 46:10
  2. Meditation, centering prayer, and mindfulness have been helpful tools as well. They help me become still. An app which has helped me get started is “Headspace”. Check it out and friend request me on there so we can compare how we’re doing and remind each other to practice silence.

When I Sit Down

lonely-bench-and-a-log-1I was talking to my friend Zac(1) about his difficulty with institutional religion and he made an interesting point. He told me before Jesus shared probably his most famous words, he sat down.

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. -Matthew 5:1,2

In the rabbinic tradition, sitting down was a way of communicating importance. If a teacher sat down, you knew what they were about to to say next was really important. They sat down to draw people in. They sat to engage in meaningful conversations. They sat to communicate more than information.

Taking A Stand
It seems today, conservatives are known for taking stands instead of sitting down. They boycott Disney movies, try to ban refugees, and stand up for God in public schools.

Liberals are equally guilty. We are addicted to outrage, protest in airports, and march against those we demonize.

Now, I think there are moments to take a stand. Some of the finest people I know were at SEATAC airport a few months ago. Others fight culture wars and remind me of the important virtues of purity and authority. However, in our zeal to take a stand, do we notice how very few are listening? In our grasping for control, are we losing trust?

When We Sit
It seems like a paradox to sit in order to get someone’s attention but Jesus was full of paradoxes. For instance, he kept going on and on about if you lose your life for Him, that’s how you’ll actually find it. I’m still trying to make sense of that one. Nevertheless, this paradox I understand.

When we sit, we give up authority but create intimacy. We level the playing field. We communicate to the other, relationship trumps talking points. It’s more important for you to know I love you than it is for you to know I’m right. As we sit, we draw people into an exchange of more than ideas. Vulnerability is created and we get to discover the backdrop of another’s conclusions.

What if we embraced this paradox? What would the Church look like if we stopped clinging to authority and opened ourselves to intimacy?

Millenials
As someone who has worked with Millenials for years, I’m seeing the sermon slowly die. They were never impressed by my authority in the first place. They can google something better.

Instead, I find my greatest connection with younger generations occurs when there is a dialogue rather than a monologue. The moment they feel like they are on a railroad track forcing them to go one direction, they check out. But if the dialogue about God feels like a sandbox, they engage. When the back and forth is not merely patronizing or robotic but organic and authentic, I win their attention. In short, when I sit down, they enter in.

I’ve got a lot more to say about sitting down. Grab a comfy chair and lets grow together.

  1. You can listen to the entire conversation on Zac’s podcast HERE.

2 Reasons My Conversations About God Have Improved

I used to suck at talking about God with others. It usually ended in an argument. I came across as a know-it-all. I hurt relationships and lost wars while winning battles. At best, I’d see friends politely listen, while a blank stare would overtake their expression. I often left with a haunting sense, they weren’t quite buying it. Here’s two ways, those conversations have improved.

1. I’m Loyal To Truth. 
Back then, if I were honest with you, I couldn’t say that. I was loyal to Christianity and hoped Christianity was also true. There’s a key difference and the people I had conversations with noticed. The great news is, Jesus claims he is true.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. -John 14:6

Jesus is not simply stating he says true things or knows what’s true. He is making the audacious claim, He is truth. He embodies truth. If it’s true, it’ll dead end at Jesus. This  has liberated me because I’m no longer threatened by truth I find elsewhere. If it’s true, it’s a step in the right direction of Jesus.

Therefore, we’re really after the same thing. We have the same goal. This isn’t a patronizing manipulation ploy toward the other. In order for the conversation to be constructive and honest, I have to be loyal to truth, and not Christianity. When the other notices this, the me vs. you dynamic fades and we become teammates with a common goal. Nothing under my sleeve. No bait and switch. Lets discover truth together and maybe, just maybe, truth has a name.

2. I’m Not Certain.
I may have some deep convictions. I may be sufficiently confident. But I’m not certain. Another reason why my conversations about God fell short was because the other recognized my attempt to convince them I was certain. I was overcompensating and they saw through it.

That’s because the truth is, we are relational beings speaking of a relational God and there is no certainty in relationships. In fact, I’d say certainty is actually harmful to faith.(1) It’s dishonest and turns faith into an intellectual assent where the more white knuckled you hold your ideas about God, the more “faithful” you are. Certainty can make grace look less amazing.

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” -Luke 23:42,43

This conversation occurs during Jesus’ last few living moments. He hangs on the cross next to a thief. They are minutes from death and the thief offers up a request.
It’s a last ditch effort.
It’s a hail Mary pass.
It could have been Muhammed or Buddha next to him for all the thief cares.
It’s a bail out plan from someone bankrupt.
And it works!
Jesus, without hesitation, accepts the thief’s request.(2) Grace is reckless and offensive. It defies doctrine and fairness. The thief was anything but certain. In fact, certainty doesn’t even fit in this story. But trust does.

Constructive conversations about God begin, when I lay down my attempts at certainty and confess my doubt and questions to another.  We can finally talk, when I stop acting like I have it all together, or I’m Mr. Answer Man, or Christianity provides certainty. My humanity shows itself and we realize we’re just two humans slowly learning to trust.

Because it’s always been about trust.
We’re so very human.
We really need help.

So try it out this week. Leave your baggage of certainty at the door, jump into a spiritual conversation and be loyal to truth. You’ll be amazed how quickly both of your defenses can lower and the conversation can become honest, true, and even a little whimsical.

Oh, and a good pint helps as well. 🙂

  1. Check out Benefit Of The Doubt by Greg Boyd for much more on this.
  2. This is one of the few times, Jesus clearly determines a person’s eternal destination. He was far more concerned with the here and now.