It is with great fear and trembling I write this blog entry because I know it could cost me friendships that I have enjoyed for many years. Perhaps even within my family. But in our rage-fueled society where opinions must be binary and extreme, I find it harder and harder to just let things slide. To properly preface this rambling of mine I must state first and foremost that it is my faith as a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, that influences my life. Because, to paraphrase the Apostle Paul, if my belief in the risen Christ doesn't direct my life, I am a hypocritical fool to be pitied.
So what is this screed about you may ask? Ethics. Morality. Behavior. And words. As a former teacher of mine Dr. Bill Mounce once said: words matter. What we say speaks more than the literal words being spoken, but rather we are sharing the character of who we are. For ten years and more I have been struggling to determine how I should act as a follower of Christ. I’ve heard numerous teachers, preachers, been to uncounted bible studies, and have lived all my life as a Christian. But what does that mean? Non-believers call us hypocrites and they are right, for the most part. I’ve watched people I admire, friends I’ve spent time with, and others whom I respect act in ways that are counter to what I have read in scripture. And the thing is, I haven’t acted any different. I am deeply ashamed of the "example" that my life has displayed. That’s what this entry is about – to publically say that I have not been a very good follower of Jesus Christ.
In my view, a follower of Christ should understand the fallen, broken state that is our life. I have no intrinsic value save that God created me. While that is amazing, it does not make me righteous. I have not held that thought for most of my life. I’ve always had a pretty high opinion of myself. "Cocky" is the right word – I’ve always known I was "all that and a bag of chips" as the saying goes. I’ve tried to hide that most of the time in an effort to not be thought conceited – only my friends can tell me if I was ever successful. But somewhere along the way, God re-established control over my life. Certainly I had asked Him to and he has just as certainly taken me at my word. I’ve become increasingly aware of just how worthless I am. I have absolutely zero to offer Him and yet he still wants me. I’ll never understand it. As I continue to turn more parts of my life over to him I have found things that used to be okay I can no longer tolerate. Which brings me to the point of this writing. At the risk of being thought of as yet another hypocritical fool, I’ll list some things I can no longer tolerate.
Gossip - and all things related. The verbal destruction of others as not measuring up to some standard of behavior or profession or way of expressing themselves. Discussions of other believers as not quite worthy because they go to a different church, maybe have different doctrinal beliefs than I. That has always made me feel a bit unclean, though I never spoke against it at the time. I just faded out of the picture of regular friendship with those that said them. Pretty cowardly, right? The "prayer request" for people who are having a hard time with something, maybe deeply personal. Of course we can pray best when we have all the details. The assumption we make of someone, then stating it as fact when talking with others. But we always have our facts straight. The reality is that we allow our perceptions to take the place of reality. Furthermore, we seek out the echo chamber of others of like mind to cement that into a foundational, bedrock belief in our minds. And from that foundation comes everything that James wrote in those four short chapters of his book of the Bible. If that isn’t a perfect description of most churches, I don’t know what is. All that to say that God has put on my heart that it is sin. Pure and simple. If I am to call myself a Christian, then that must go. I’m trying.
Ethics. The Oxford Dictionary states that ethics are "moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity." Moral principles. But whose? For me there can be only one source: the Word of God. From Genesis to Revelation He has given us laws, stories, examples (good and bad), history, poetry, and so much more and all of it should be forming our moral principles. One of the pastors at my church (I’m ashamed to say I don’t remember who) said this once: "The DNA of sin is self." That has been a life-changing ephiphany for me. It’s as if God open the book of my life and said “here’s your problem.” It has brought me low. I understand now who and what I am. I will never be anything other than a sinner deserving of hell. That He chose me and rescued me from the brink . . . amazing. Like the title of Francis Schaeffer’s book, how then should I live? First of all, the lying has to stop. The bluffing of being some knowledgable person has to stop. I’m not some Holy got-it-together Christian, but rather a pretty miserable example of one. For the first time in my life I know what humble is. I get it. Humble is simply understanding who you are in the presence of God. Arrogance in the face of the truth is abhorrent. I know that I’m only a step away from being just as bad as I have been in the past, but there really can be no going back. But can I live a life of integrity? Do I even know how? Time will tell. I’m sure it’ll be many steps forward and many steps back, but I trust that God will complete this work.
What does all that mean? It means I know where the bar should be for my life as a repentent follower of Christ. By that measure I will strive to live (and probably fail) and how I will view the world. Do I hold the world that doesn’t know Him to that standard? No. But when someone tells me they are a Christian, that’s where I’ll see the bar. Am I a judge? Goodness gracious no!!! But when I look at what our church says and does, that’s what I will be looking for. That also means leaders that I come into contact with or read about, whether they be local or national. And here’s the part where I probably lose some friendships. I want my country to stand for the ethics that it was founded upon. I’m not calling for some theocratic nation nonsense. But I expect leaders to have integrity. To lead for all. To discuss civilly. To compromise like this Republic was designed to do. To hold others with differing opinions in high regard, with the respect they (or their position) deserve. To not be afraid of new ideas. To recognize that we all make mistakes and to own them. For my friends: I want the name-calling to stop. Do you really think the names you give to people who believe differently is having a positive effect? Let’s get down to the nitty gritty: do you believe that Jesus Christ, whom you profess belief in and alliegence to, approves of your behavior? Do you believe that you are providing an adequate witness to the changing power of Christ? You who believe that the Republican Party is the party of God and that anyone who believes differently can not possibly be a Christian – do you really believe the Bible supports your attitude? That the book of James is talking about someone else? It needs to STOP. View Trump from the Word of God. Trump's behavior fails so miserably as the Christian that evangelical leaders says he is that I’m appalled I put his name and the Bible in the same sentence. He shows zero fruit as a president. Does that mean I think he’s done no good? Of course not. But I refuse to accept that kind of behavior from the leader of my country. I’m not going to go any further with this discussion, but my standards for leadership begin and end with the values I see God teaching me from my Bible. I have never been tied to any political party. Am I a conservative guy? You better believe it. But it doesn’t mean I rubberstamp someone just because they say they’re a Christian or agree with some of the hot topics that "Christians" believe are important. As a friend of mine says – it’s more complicated than that. The only thing that is black and white is sin and we tend to conveniently ignore that too.
I’m sorry. I needed to get that off my chest. I see a lot of failure in myself and I’m trying to change. Or more accurately I’m trying to get in the passenger seat and let God do the driving. I’m going to fail. I always do. But I have high hopes. And I desperately want my friends and family to be there too. Stop living in an echo chamber. Read opposing opinions. Try to see others points of view. Remember who we are in Christ: sinners, but saved from the sentence of death. This week we celebrate the birth of the one who took our sin on himself and paid the price we deserve. As a man, Jesus Christ took a bunch of failures and changed the world. He’s still at work. Will you let Him change you? Can we live a life that holds His values as more important than ours? Can’t we at least try?