Saturday, August 8, 2009

Vertically Challenged

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

                        Colossians 3.2

The “Cathedral” Dilemma

A friend and I were talking the other night about something I call the “Cathedral” dilemma, named for Crosby, Stills & Nash’s song about the stark contrasts between Christ’s teaching and Christians’ behavior. My friend confessed total faith in God, but he added, “I still have questions.” He went on for a few minutes about his difficulty in reconciling his faith with a lot of people and organizations professing the same beliefs. “Look at the people they’ve hurt, the wars they’ve started, and the power they’ve abused. How can that be?” The “Cathedral” lyrics capture this disillusionment at its height: “Open up the gates of the church and let me out of here! Too many people have lied in the name of Christ for anyone to heed the call. So many people have died in the name of Christ that I can’t believe it all.” 

Tragically, the song can fire these salvos without qualification because a plethora of quantifiable evidence backs them up. The Church has become its own worst enemy by historically buckling under temptation to manipulate Christ’s truth for its purposes. “How can that be?” It’s fairly obvious. The Church is made of (and run by) people. It’s a holy place and God’s dwelling. But it’s also as vulnerable to sin as any other human institution and its dilemma over this won’t be resolved until Christ’s return. But each of us can resolve our personal “Cathedral” dilemmas here and now, simply by reorienting our perceptions.

Up, Not Out

We find the answer to retaining faith in the invisible despite visibly prevalent Christian dysfunction in Colossians 3.2: “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” True and earnest believers look up, not out. They align their thoughts on the vertical axis of God’s love and grace. The horizontal axis—human accomplishment and failure—remains visibly real, yet its influence on their confidence in their Creator or the truth of His principles is non-existent. Vertically minded believers are attuned to God’s voice; they read His Word, meditate on His principles, and pray for His guidance in order to receive what He says specifically to them about their lives and circumstances. Horizontal clamor about entitlement and exclusion, right and wrong, values and vengeance swirls around vertically minded believers constantly. But it never gets to them.

Psalm 1.1-3 provides a superb portrait of the vertically minded believer: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” When we set our minds on things above, not on earthly things, we stand tall and strong. We lead productive, prosperous lives. The psalmist goes on to say this isn’t so for horizontally minded people. He compares them to chaff blowing across the landscape. They go where the wind takes them. That’s why they’re so regularly swept up by harmful attitudes and endeavors that bear no resemblance to Jesus’s teaching and example. Paul paints an indelible picture of horizontally minded individuals as “infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” (Ephesians 4.14) Vertically minded believers stay put. Horizontally oriented ones flit and flounder.

On the Up and Up

We consciously decide to reorient our perceptions from horizontal to vertical, to define our faith by our trust in God rather than the travesties of His people. Blaming Him for their failures isn’t just or accurate. Neither is it practical. Withholding commitment to Christ because others do great harm in His name only stifles our spiritual growth. It doesn’t change anyone or anything else for the better. Has anyone ever stopped a holy war or ended religious bigotry by forsaking God? Because so much horizontal disobedience is on the loose gives us every reason to plant ourselves vertically. Because religious malpractice runs amok is why we stand firm in our faith. Those who say they want to believe but can’t for the suffering caused by other believers are foolish. Though they pose as victims of “organized religion,” they volunteer for its abuses. They allow what they resist to drive them from what they seek.

If only for its pragmatic merits, deciding to live uprightly should be a no-brainer. Why blow through life like chaff on the wind when we can grow strong and tall in our faith? Yet deciding and doing are radically different. The first comes easily. The second requires tremendous effort, because our inherited weakness for disobedience makes all of us vertically challenged. Onerous grudges and disappointments, sins of pride and stubbornness, and innumerable other burdens tug at us. This is why Colossians urges us to set our minds on things above. We anchor our confidence in God’s unconditional love and acceptance. As a late pastor always reminded us, we have to “know that you know that you know.” Hebrews 12.1-2 puts it like this: “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles… Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” Staying on the up and up means always and forever looking up.

Looking up keeps us vertically aligned.

(Tomorrow: Hallelu Yah)


genevieve said...

I notice that I have much more concerned with the spiritual condition of my TGLB brothers and sisters. This is my fifth year of being out and each year has opened my eyes to many things. Through it all, people's need for Jesus is still the same.

I have been reading and studying the bible with new eyes and a new heart. Telling my TGLB brethren that Jesus loves them as they are is very important to me.

Tim said...

It's so important that they know this, Genevieve. And God will continue to reward you for your compassion.

Each of us, regardless of our orientation and personal circumstances, has the opportunity to direct others' attention toward looking up and not out. We draw them with our love and, in turn, help them know Christ's love.

Like the old spiritual says, "I cannot sing like David. I cannot preach like Paul. But I can tell the love of Jesus and how He died for all."

You and dozens of others here are doing that. You're witnesses to what happens when we stop looking out and start looking up.

Blessings to you for sharing this. And I pray renewed joy and vigor for you each and every day!