This may sound stupid, but why don't we hear things this clear-cut in church?
Maybe if we did - if we as pastors and lay leaders and people of faith could really, really be rigorously honest about our confession, and our failures to live up to "our confessions of faith" - then maybe (just maybe) our churches would be less irrelevant to the outside world, as well as to our members.
In the last couple weeks (despite having changed my email) I have been assailed by messages (many sent by otherwise sensible friends), most of which essentially say "If you love God, you'll...."
- vote for Bush
- vote for Kerry
- vote all the &$%'s out of office
- condemn homosexuals
- welcome homosexuals
- save the institution of marriage
- support this or that cause
- "forward this email on to at least 10 people! (don't break the chain!)"
And unfortunately, every one of the messages I've received at least imply that if I don't, I'll be a failure as a Christian.
Well, duh. Too late for that one.
Been there, done that. Still there (most days).
I've said it before, but I'll say it again - despite my pursuit of a more Godly life, and my status as part-time seminarian, I still do not wake up in the morning with "Hosanna!" on my lips. (And it's not just because I'm "not a morning person.")
"Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me" needs to be in my first 15 minutes of wakefulness, or I can stay there in the spiritual sewer most of the day. Admittedly, I'm pretty sure I'm a vast improvement over the man who first walked back into church on Reformation Sunday, 1990 after a 17-year sabbatical (my adopted "mom," Delphine Housholder, can attest to that) but trust me - I ain't got "holy" yet, folks. To use theologi-speak, I trust that I am "justified," but I know I am a couple o' country miles shy of "sanctified."
If I lived between the 2nd and 4th centuries after Christ, I would have been excommunicated, tortured, or killed so many times there wouldn't be enough ashes left to sweep together - because at one time or another (all in my supposedly Christian life, mind you) I have commited virtually every heresy that they put folks to death for back then. (The good news is, I have plenty of company - as most of my seminary sisters and brothers have been right there with me, as well.)
Please do not misunderstand - there is no pride in my sin. I am not proud of my failings - in fact, were it not for the words of Paul, I'm afraid I would have already exited this world, marinated in self-horror and self-loathing:
As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." (RomansWithout that, I don't know how I could live with my past, or even most of my "present."
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly....God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6,8 NIV)
People have asked me, "What is the heart of the Gospel?" I've given a variety of answers over the years, but the simplest one is the one I'd give today: I try to live my life as a Christian, but overall, I suck. But believing in this person Jesus Christ, and confessing my suckiness, and striving to be better (even when I predictably and regularly fail) I am promised eternal life. Not just what might seem as the hell of this life, for eternity - but an eternity of joy and love in fellowship with God.
Simplistic? Probably. Worthy of a master's-level student? Who knows. Is it true for me?
As an aside: the article mentions another book that I will look forward to reading: When Bad Christians Happen to Good People, by Dave Burchett. Sounds like another book I wish I had written...
And while you're at it, peruse the Relevant Magazine web-site. Their mix of "God, Life, and Progressive Culture" is a neat place to spend some time. It's not perfect - nothing is, really - but there are some eye-opening things on their site.