Sunday, May 3, 2009

Where'd They Go?

How could one man chase a thousand, or two put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock had sold them, unless the LORD had given them up? For their rock is not is not like our Rock, as even our enemies concede.

                        Deuteronomy 32.30-31

Regrettable Amendments

How it must break God’s heart to hear terminology like “the Christian Right” and “left-wing Christians,” “mainstream churches” and “splinter groups.” No doubt He winces (at the very least) when we answer inquiries about our faith with denominational affiliation or where we worship. Every convened forum to debate doctrine and legislate policy surely infuriates Him. Politics never figured into God’s plan. Yet from the start, we’ve done our best to foil His intentions. The quarreling that began soon after the first 120 Christians left the Upper Room hasn’t stopped, and won’t stop until Jesus returns to unify His Church by separating true believers from impostors.

We’ve all but forgot the Second Coming and Final Judgment are regrettable amendments to the original design. Christ’s First Coming and Calvary’s verdict were meant to be final, forever reconciling our differences with God and, by extension, uniting us as equals by His grace. Two prophecies (Isaiah 2.4 and Micah 4.3) emphasize this almost word for word: “He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” Global rejection of Christ accounts for humanity’s perpetual conflicts. But what explains the Church’s persistent infighting? How can people bound together by God’s grace justify constantly battling each other?

When Believers Attack

Actually, an understandable—though hardly legitimate—reason comes into play when believers attack one another. Recognizing what that is would greatly help both sides declare peace and convert their weapons of war into tools for growth. Ironically, the very grace binding us together also tears apart. Because each of us cherishes it so passionately we’re compelled to defend and protect it. Both sides’ unyielding faith in God’s grace is a magnificent thing, undoubtedly the highest honor they offer Him. But the miracle of grace is too overwhelming to fully comprehend. It doesn’t take much thought about it to send us reeling into a drunken frenzy of misguided, graceless emotions and behaviors. We forget Jesus issued an open invitation to His well: "The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' And let him who hears say, 'Come!' Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” (Revelation 22.17) Accepting Christ's invitation to drink living water requires us to invite anyone else who's thirsty to drink with us. Unfortunately, however, many of us get so excited and greedy with grace, we want it all to ourselves. In our headiness, we actually try to drive others away

Let’s be honest: overindulgence in Christian fervor makes for mean drunks. We pick fights with fellow believers who, in our opinion, have no business savoring the same forgiveness and acceptance we prize so dearly. Abusing faith’s potency as an intoxicant throws us off balance, distorts our vision, clouds our minds, and releases personal inhibitions we’re taught to respect. We sacrifice all self-control to confront fellow believers who don’t look or act like us, who we don’t believe belong in our company, and who anger us by taking a seat we feel they don’t deserve. Insults start flying back and forth. Arguments break out. Everyone’s flashing ID’s and challenging each other’s scriptural rights to drink Christ’s living water. More drunks jump into the fracas, ponying up on one of two sides. People scramble to find God, as if He were a bouncer screening who’s eligible to get in and throwing troublemakers out. But God’s long gone. This isn’t His kind of crowd. Meanwhile, no one seems to care that desperately parched people see our pandemonium, hear our racket, and walk away. We’re not their kind of crowd, either.

The Rock

Condemning confrontational Christians makes us confrontational. We join the opposition and, therefore, oppose God’s plan and Christ’s purpose. We weren’t saved to identify with ideology, doctrine, or dogma—to side with the left or right, to be Catholics or Protestants or any other schism. Jesus died to bring us back to God and establish peace among His people. If other believers stumble around like blind drunks, tripping over themselves, stirring up trouble, and embarrassing one another, so be it. Our sole identification is with our Maker. We stand only with Him and those lucid enough to stand with Him.

That other crowd is too woozy to remember God has no tolerance for intolerance, particularly when practiced in His name. Deuteronomy says He sells them—He gives them up. Although He once priced their value equal to His Son’s life, they’re worth so little now one faithful believer can chase a thousand of them away, two people can send ten thousand packing. Notice the subtle downshift in capitalization. The Rock they claim to stand on gives them up to find another (all lower-case) rock. “Their rock is not like our Rock,” Deuteronomy 32.31 says, “Even our enemies can see that.” Numbers, politics, and opinions have no importance when we identify exclusively with the Rock. We may feel like outsiders, but doing as He says makes us a majority of one. When faith brawls flare up around us, putting as much distance as possible between them and us ends in our adversaries’ flight. One minute they engulf us with bickering and broadsides. The next finds us wondering, “Where’d they go?”

God wants nothing to do with faith brawls, and neither should we.

(Tomorrow: From Panic to Picnic)


FranIAm said...

Oh this is so good, really good. God wants nothing to do with faith brawls - amen.

I wrote about Sectarian Catholicism on my churchy blog today....

The business of the kindgom is big and messy and potentially uncomfortable... and just what God invites us to with great love.

ALL of us!

Tim said...

"The business of the kindgom is big and messy and potentially uncomfortable... and just what God invites us to with great love."

Would that I could engrave that on 10,000 plaques and hang them on the walls of 10,000 churches. It is a messy business, Fran, and we just make a bigger mess thinking we can clean things up.

Now I'm keen to hear what you're saying on the St. Edward's blog--will get over there before the night ends!

Fran, you know how much I love hearing from you, knowing you're here, and feeling the love in your words. Thank you again and again for this.

Peace and happiness,

Cuboid Master said...

Pastor Tim,

I loved when you wrote, "This isn’t His kind of crowd." Amen.

This sermon reminds me of John 8:7, ""If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone..."

I struggle with feeling intolerant of the intolerant. Clearly, Jesus wants me to have the utmost love for them, but I often want to shake them.

Actually, I feel anguish when I witness people persecuting others in the name of Christ. I immediately think, "How can they defile His Name?"

And yet, in judging them, I am demonstrating my own spiritual poverty. Not good.

If we give offense, we are at fault for not expressing His love to our fellow man; and if we take offense, we are guilty of not upholding his call to forgiveness and reconciliation.

Thankfully, I know only Christ Jesus is the perfect reflection of His Father's love! 'Cause me? I fall down all the time.

Christian unity is something I pray for. It saddens me that some 4,000+ sects cannot find unity under the banner of Jesus.

But I know peace begins with me, one small step at a time. If I strive to exemplify His infinite love, I assist Christian unity one more baby step.

I have got to stop judging the intolerant Christian. We are all at different levels of understanding and we must have compassion for those whom have not rid their hearts of prejudice.

Man, though, it is hard.

Thanks for another awesome sermon.

Tim said...

CM, I and probably everyone else here can totally empathize with what you say. I think the command to love is toughest when it comes to intolerant believers, because we have to offer them exactly what they're supposed to offer us and everyone else. I personally find a bigoted Christian many times more offensive than a hostile atheist or a mocking non-Christian, because his/her effrontery sullies the One I love more than anyone or anything in life.

But what I think and how I feel obviously don't matter to them and can't affect Christ's love for them. If I don't love them as He asks, however, it most definitely impacts His regard for me. When I can't find anything lovable in an intolerant fellow believer, I summon all the strength I can to love them for Christ's sake. Whether or not that moves them--if they even notice--becomes irrelevant, because He sees all and He's Whom I want to please.

A local pastor I followed very closely as teenager used to tell his congregation and radio audience EVERY WEEK, "It makes no difference what you think of me, but it does make a difference what I think of you." As a burgeoning gay man struggling with how to honor God yet remain true to myself, I took that to mean, "Man's opinion doesn't matter; pleasing God is what's important." At the time, that's what I needed to hear and I have no doubt it sustained me through my long crisis of faith. But now that I'm at ease with myself and confident of my acceptance, I hear another thing altogether. (And I don't think a day goes by that his words don't ring in my ears.)

What we think of others makes a difference in US. "Preacher" (as we affectionately called him) always followed that sentence with this: "I can't allow hate, prejudice, or anything else that separates me from God to keep me from knowing Jesus is the Light of the world." Judging intolerant believers wedges lies of darkness between us and the truth of Christ's light. The ideas combative believers embrace and espouse are hateful, but they are no less worthy of our love and acceptance than we are of theirs.

I'm a sinner, you're a sinner, and they're sinners. By judging one another, that's what we're reduced to share with one another. Acceptance and forgiveness, however, raise us all to share God's grace, and whether or not they join in doesn't diminish our lifting.

Oh yes, it's tough--probably the hardest thing we'll ever be required to do. But as my dad always says, if it were easy, everybody would do it.

CM, my dear and wonderful friend, your comments never cease to inspire me with their introspection and candor--and they always move me to examine my own heart against God's Word. You are a great blessing to me and all of us!

Bask always in the truth of Christ's light,

kkryno said...

Hi, Tim.

Sorry that I've been out of touch for a bit. I plan to get caught up on things this week.

Tim said...

Darling Vikki, don't stress! Everything's here for your convenience; catch up as you can.

Lately, the posts have got longer than usual (longer than I'd like, actually) and I can't really say why. But I realize they ask more time than normal and apologize while also hoping they're worth the time.

I miss seeing/hearing from you, of course, but after all these months together, don't fret thinking I'm worried you've gone away. I know you're as busy as the rest of us and, more often than we'd like, "life gets in the way." We gotta do now what we gotta do now to get to do what we want to do later. So take your time and I'll look forward to hearing from you as soon as you get around to it!

Great joy and happiness,