Monday, March 20, 2006

I Love Jesus But Hate The Church: Judgment Day

“As a young child I saw a lot of things that bothered me about the Christian faith,” Nancy recalled. “I was raised in a very legalistic church. As soon as I got away from home, I turned away from the church and vehemently turned against all things that I considered Christian. I would have sooner spit in the eye of a Christian than talk to them. At that time I even actively campaigned against Christian programs and missions.” I Saw Him in Your Eyes by Ace Collins

The legalistic faith Nancy witnessed growing up left her with thoughts of guilt and shame, so she fled for years. Later in life she came back to God and now distributes Bibles!

A lot of people have similar stories. They’ve either left church because of judgments, or haven’t gone to a church service because they fear the judgment upon arrival.

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter a woman is forced to wear a red ‘A’ on her sweater because she committed adultery. Many people experience the same treatment, albeit metaphorically, upon entering modern day church services.

“The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not to tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude!” Nathaniel Hawthorne

"Walk The Line" June Carter in a store shopping before a concert Chapter 16 (54:08-55:40)

Religious groups can malform and deform a person. It leaves us with the question, "What should a real relationship with Jesus Christ mean and what should our lives and church look like as a result of that relationship?"

Luke 18:10-11
"Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a dishonest tax collector. The proud Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: `I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like that tax collector over there! For I never cheat, I don't sin, I don't commit adultery, I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.' "But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, `O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.' I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For the proud will be humbled, but the humble will be honored."

If I have been judged and rejected my first reaction is to judge and reject. This, though, is not the recipe for a fruitful life. We need to encounter these issues because it’s easy enough becoming frustrated by our own shortcomings, never mind focusing on the shortcomings of others. We are prone to becoming obsessed with the weaknesses of others that we can’t see anything else. Often we get so caught up in this battle that we lose touch with our own relationship with Jesus Christ.

We start to think that we have the spiritual gift of judgment and enjoy using it liberally.

Will Rogers once said that before a Native American would criticize another man he would walk all the way around him. He would look carefully to see what the view was from that person’s perspective before condemning him.

''If you judge people you have no time to love them” Mother Teresa

Say “No” to judging others. Withhold the judgments.

We learn to do it so subtly, don’t we?

When you gossip it is sin....
When I gossip it is "sharing."

When you stand up for a belief you are stubborn and rigid...
When I do I have the strength of my convictions.

When you make a mistake you are an immature Christian...
When I screw-up I am going through a "difficult time".

You are selfish...
When I act selfishly I am looking out for myself because no one else will.

When you miss church you are letting down the fellowship...
When I miss it is because of my difficult week that you can't even begin to understand.

When you don't work at a church function you are lazy...
When I don't volunteer it is because I can't possibly take on another thing (sighhhh)

When you take initiative you are self-centered...
When I take charge I am following God's direction.

When you get angry you have a terrible attitude...
When I get ticked off I am "filled with righteous indignation"...or something.

These dark age attitudes are like CAVE people & CAVE churches: churches and Christians against virtually everything

Counter them by
1. Having seen God’s grace at work in our own life we find our identity in Christ, not in the approval of others;

2. By recalling how bad it used to feel or remembering the pain of past judgments upon us;

3. Speak from a position of love with no other agenda.

"I love Jesus, but I hate his fan club." One of the reasons for this is the ‘love’ agenda doesn’t seem as strong as some other agendas are…such as being right!

For those of us who follow Jesus Christ we will never find the healing and freedom that we desire until we are willing to open every nook and cranny of our behavioral house for remodeling and cleaning.

This is not easy to do. We need to search for the nearly extinct species known as personal responsibility: yours and mine.

Mickey Rivers, former Yankees centerfielder said, “Don’t worry too much about things you have no control over because you have no control over them. Don’t worry about things that you have control over because you have control over them.”

Deuteronomy 29:29
There are secret things that belong to the LORD our God, but the revealed things belong to us and our descendants forever, so that we may obey these words of the law.

The common perception that good people have fewer flaws is wrong. It is not a matter of more or fewer flaws. It is the willingness to change them that counts. Louis Tartaglia

We need to find a way to leave our pride outside and make our differences work, like developing the attitude expressed in the following prayer,

Heavenly Father, Help us remember that the jerk who cut us off in traffic last night is a single mother who worked nine hours that day and is rushing home to cook dinner, help with homework, do the laundry and spend a few precious moments with her children.

Help us to remember that the pierced, tattooed , disinterested young man who can't make change correctly is a worried 19-year-old college student, balancing his apprehension over final exams with his fear of not getting his student loans for next semester.

Remind us, Lord, that the scary looking bum, begging for money in the same spot every day (who really ought to get a job!) is a slave to addictions that we can only imagine in our worst nightmares .

Help us to remember that the old couple walking annoyingly slow through the store aisles and blocking our shopping progress are savoring this moment , knowing that, based on the biopsy report she got back last week, this will be the last year that they go shopping together .

Heavenly Father, remind us each day that, of all the gifts you give us, the greatest gift is love It is not enough to share that love with those we hold dear. Open our hearts not to just those who are close to us, but to all humanity. Let us be slow to judge and quick to forgive, show patience, empathy and love.

I need a volunteer. Take out a scalpel, hacksaw, cutting instruments, etc.

1 Corinthians 12:12, 14-20, 27
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. Yes, the body has many parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And what would you think if you heard an ear say, “I am not part of the body because I am only an ear and not an eye”? Would that make it any less a part of the body? Suppose the whole body were an eye—then how would you hear? Or if your whole body were just one big ear, how could you smell anything?

The church isn’t a building it’s a body. That’s the way God has made us. He has made many parts for our bodies and has put each part just where he wants it. What a strange thing a body would be if it had only one part! So he has made many parts, but still there is only one body…. Now here is what I am trying to say: All of you together are the one body of Christ, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it. How absurd to judge and cut one part of the body up: it's bloody, messy, and very painful!

Twelve Steps for Recovery
1. We admit that our single biggest pleasure is to judge other people.

2. We have come to believe that our means of obtaining greatness is to make everyone lower than ourselves in our own mind.

3. We realize that we detest mercy being given to those who, unlike us, haven’t worked for it and don’t deserve it.

4. We have decided that we don’t want to get what we deserve after all, and we don’t want anyone else to either.

5. We will join with others on this journey of transformation.

6. We are ready to have God remove all these defects of attitude and character.

7. We embrace the belief that we are, and will always be, experts at sinning.

8. We are looking closely at the lives of famous men and women of the Bible who turned out to be ordinary sinners like us.

9. We are seeking through prayer and meditation to make a conscious effort to consider others better than ourselves.

10. We will embrace the state of grace and forgiveness as a permanent and glorious reality. We will seek to live in the spirit of ‘reconciling friendship’.

11. We choose to rid ourselves of any attitude that is not bathed in gratitude.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we will try to carry this message to others who think that Christians are better than everyone else.

God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Take me to your recovery room for healing. Then help me to lead others there to show them your grace, and mercy, and peace. Amen.

I am loved….by God…and by this church family. In this place…I am home. I can make a difference. I don’t have to be perfect. I can love whom I wish. And I can be loved. No matter what the world says, nothing is impossible with God. I am where the less than perfect are more than welcome. Amen

A manifesto
To try and see everyone through the eyes of Jesus because my eyes are prejudiced and prideful.

To try and love them like Jesus because my love is selfish.

To let them others know that my relationship with Jesus has changed my life, given my life purpose, given me strength to endure tragedy, and real hope for the future.

To authentically relate how this personal relationship with the living God saved my marriage and made me a better parent to my children.

To be gentle in relating the good news of the story of Jesus Christ to people in every situation and mired in any self-destructive behavior. My goal is to introduce them to Jesus and let them work out their relationship in a loving and supportive environment.

To exhibit grace and forgiveness to those who attack me for not sharing their views.

To be an example of the living Christ to everyone I come in contact so that I can have a positive effect in my little circle of influence.

To be an advocate for those wounded by the church and other Christians. Our lack of unity must grieve the Lord who prayed for unity of the body during His final agonizing hours before His betrayal, mock trial, and crucifixion.

To try to never be surprised or repulsed by the actions of those who do not follow Jesus. The Lord Himself was always gentle with searchers and always tough on religious hypocrites. We have reversed his example far too often. We are too tough on searchers and too gentle with the hypocrites.

To try and give generously of my time and treasure to those who have not been as materially blessed in my neighborhood, my country, and around the world.

To let people know that I love Jesus and I am not at all ashamed of that fact.

It is sad, silly & sinful to judge another & drive wedges. Stefan Ulstein

"Real fellowship is so much more than just showing up at services. It is experiencing life together. It includes unselfish loving, honest sharing, practical serving, sacrificial giving, sympathetic comforting, and all the other 'one another' commands found in the New Testament." Rick Warren

We need each other to be able to do this. It can’t be done alone.

John Wesley had it spot on when he said: ‘Sir, you wish to serve God and go to heaven? Remember that you cannot serve him alone. You must therefore find companions or make them; the Bible knows nothing of solitary religion”.

Say ‘no’ to judging others means Saying ‘YES’ to compassion. To live as fully human, we must cultivate an inner sense of how other people think and feel, how they hurt—and we both fear and pity those who lack this knowledge. If community and church is the interweaving of self and other, then its most intensive form is compassion. Compassion is a particular subset of love, self-dispossessing without being self-destructive, a state of mind that (unlike mere pity) surely results in virtuous action: the sufferings of others become "the cause of our action as if they were our own."

Developing a thick skin and a tender heart is the road to becoming a hope-filled follower of Jesus Christ.

"Object constancy: in psychology it is the ability to maintain an internal connection to people (i.e. your friends or loved ones), goals (i.e. your commitment to them) and hope (i.e. your ability to look forward to in the future) after you have been frustrated, disappointed or hurt/injured. The more mature you are, the stronger your connection to them; the more immature you are, the weaker your connection to these.

This is why children will say, "I hate you," to a friend or parent after they have been disappointed or sometimes merely told, "No." It is also why immature wives and husbands will immediately go to, "Let’s get a divorce" or girl friends and boyfriends will say, "Let’s just break up," when many of them are disappointed or told, "No."

Learning to feel and stay connected under stress is a matter of maturity and an ability that fewer people seem to be achieving, even in a church.

Learn to ask, "Is there anything building up between us?" Assumption is a close cousin to speculating, and unchecked speculation leads to judging.

Risk It!

Churches are like tortoises. They can only get ahead when they come out of their shell and stick their neck out…”

People are the same way. We need to get out of our shell and risk it!

The dying church is the one who doesn't hear the call of God to be the compassion of Christ, the icon of God's grace in the community.

Let's not worry about being 'seeker' or 'sinner' sensitive; Are we broken-hearted sensitive?

"Being comfortable in church is not the primary goal. I am not always comfortable at the dentist's office. I often arrive in pain because I have neglected to do what I should have done. The staff always makes me feel welcome and even cared for. Then the dentist confronts me with the truth: 'You have let this go too long, and I must hurt you (a little) in order to heal you.'"

In order for this analogy to hold true we must understand we have a problem and realize that the church and Jesus have something to offer in hope and healing and finding meaning.

The strange paradox... of gathering together Sunday mornings regularly to learn the message that gathering together Sunday mornings regularly is not what gets us to heaven.

We read the Bible to learn the message that reading the Bible is not what makes us a Christian.

We pray prayers to a God who teaches us that just saying prayers is not the thing that makes us true Christ-followers. Bruxy Cavey

The goal of all of this isn’t to cram info into our head obviously. The goal is to go and make (spiritually form) disciples (apprentices).

Our normal equation,
Gospel = SELF + Attend Church + personal transformation + social transformation

But What if God loves the world;
And He has called a group of people to work with Him in loving the world;
And what if you could be converted to life participate in this and thus live outside yourself.

It is not about self but about participation in what God is doing. And at this point in history God is more concerned with love and compassion than judgment and condemnation.

Although I have (thankfully) never been hurt by the church, I could still share and appreciate the misconceptions that you spoke about last Sunday. It was only by chance that I became a part of CoHo; before that, I hadn’t actually sat in a church since I was a child. As an adult, after going 20 odd years with not so much as one Sunday saved for church, I honestly believed that “I wasn’t good enough” to even attend a church. I didn’t even think I was a Christian because I did not attend church. I knew I believed in God, but somehow, I always felt insignificant in God’s eyes.

I can’t tell you how much it has come to mean to me -- to be a part of this beautiful community of hope. When I started attending CoHo, shortly after moving to the city – about 8 months ago, I did have apprehensions about being accepted. I worried about the questions, like “Are you married?” or, “How long have you been a Christian?”, or my personal favourite “Oh... there is no father... I see”. But, those apprehensions soon faded. I have been embraced each Sunday with warm smiles, “how are you”, “how’s your son”, “nice to see you”, and even virtual strangers have reached out and hugged me! No one has ever made me feel unwelcome or judged... ever.

I guess my point is, since coming to CoHo, I have realized that I can still attend church on Sunday, despite the fact that I don’t know a single verse from the Bible, that I don’t have a church background to speak of, or that I’m an only parent fumbling through life... not always making perfect choices, but trying. I think everyone should be very proud... CoHo may be small, but its imprint is ever lasting.

I want to give back and thank CoHo for making a tremendous difference to me and my son... for embracing us, with all our imperfections. :-)

I just wanted to share that with you.

Email me your "100 Word" story of a "God moment" in your life. I'd love to hear it.

Next week: I Love Jesus But Hate The Church: A Building or the Kingdom of God?


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