Thursday, January 8, 2015

Real Christianity: Clothing, Buildings, Money, & Extravagance

There is a lot of stuff out there claiming to be Christian, when it's not really Christian.  It's a difficult situation for any real Christ follower.  On one side you have a culture and society growing progressively more hostile toward Christian values.  On the other side you've got a religious establishment entrenched in wealth and worldliness.  The real Christian must face down hostility from a depraved culture.  And within the church, the real Christian must face down the rejection and hostility from luke-warm Christians, self righteous false followers, and health and wealth types.  It's very difficult.  Especially once within the church.  One hopes to find respite, but instead finds hostility and many who feel threatened by the sincere Christian's real devotion to a real savior.  Have you ever encountered that?  I have.  80% of Americans claim to be Christian.  But are they really?  Of course not.  

Now before I go any further, I know that it is very easy to attack the church.  Everyone attacks the church, believers and non-believers a like.  She's an easy target given all the trouble.  So it's worth mentioning that the church, the body of Christ, was never said to be perfect.  In fact from the very outset, evidenced by the letters of the New Testament to the early churches, from the very start there were serious problems.  The NT letters tell of sexual immorality (1 Corinthians), men sleeping with their own mothers (1 Cor 5:1), false teachers (Galatians), Jews attempting to force Christians to be circumcised (Romans, Galatians), falling away, shipwrecked faith (1 Timothy), attacks from Gentiles (Acts), attacks from Jews (Acts), and many other problems.  The church is not perfect.  Yet it's also important to realize that when Paul and others wrote the developing churches, he didn't ignore the problems or sugar coat them.  He addressed those problems directly.  He then lovingly encouraged the believers to do better.  So if we do the same today, we are right and correct to do so.  

So what does it mean to be a real Christian?  To be a true follower of Jesus Christ?  

Does it mean that I never sin?  Of course not.  Does it mean that I never make a mistake?  Nope, true followers make plenty (ask Peter).  Does it mean we never fall away?  No, true followers have fallen away (but they always come back).  

Jesus Christ taught that the wheat and the weeds are being allowed to grow together (Matthew 13:24-30).  The church is full of non-believers, agnostics, hypocrites, liars, fakes, and abusive men looking for submissive wives.  And that's not even the half of it.  Some churches are dead, some churches are half death, other churches teach false doctrines, and still other churches are nothing more than CEO business style money making machines flamboyantly portraying a false belief system stamped with the word "Christian."  

I don't want to be a jerk or anything, but it's true.  I don't want to be a debbie-downer either, but we real Christians need to watch out for this kind of thing.  I've encountered people threatened by me in virtually every church I've ever visited.  Why?  There is no need for it, but it happens.  I've been deeply hurt by people in the church professing to be Christians.  It doesn't necessarily mean they aren't followers of Jesus.  But that could be a possibility.  

What I'm trying to say here is: Expect difficulties, especially if you're sincere about this Jesus following thing.  I'm not always as great as I want to be.  I fall short.  I screw up.  I don't always feel as sincere as I should.  But I cry out to God about it.  I beg God to change my heart.  As I write this, I yearn for God to receive these written words as yet another desperate prayer from a troubled young man like myself, to please, please, please Holy Father, change me into the man you want me to be!  I need it so badly.  That's all it takes.  Keep asking, keeping talking to the Father, if you don't think you're sincere enough, if you think your faith might be fraud, cry out to God the Father!  Beg the Spirit and Jesus to intercede for you.  It ain't hard, just ask.  

Given that we believe and love the Savior, how then shall we live?  That's the pertinent question.  How shall we live in response to a world in such desperate need?  We really can't live as Christians of the United States and Europe anymore.  We need to live as Christians of the world.  We're in that time in history, when we receive news and information from all over the world.  If I want to, I can send a package to the Philippines and it will arrive in a few weeks.  We are global Christians.  Via the internet I can speak to people anywhere.  I can access information on virtually any topic.  

Despite all our access to information then, why are we so foolish?  How could I not realize the desperate needs of the 2/3rds world?  

This blog has always been about a lifestyle change for peace.  Peace is only available through Christ.  The Psalmist wrote "Seek peace and pursue it" (Psalm 34:14).  Through Jesus I have peace with God (Romans 1:5).  Now today, I am the arms and legs of Jesus Christ in the world, the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12-20).  Every true believer is within that body and functioning by and for Christ.  How then shall I live?  

It is best that I love God with all my heart, all my mind, everything I have.  It is best that I love those around me, and serve them humbly, washing their feet and giving of myself to them.  Or as it was put in Micah 6:8.. do what is right, humbly, love mercy, walk with your God.  

Seek peace and pursue it (Psalm 34).  Blessed are the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9).  I best seek peace and pursue it by being the arms and legs of the reconciler, the peace-maker himself.  That's Jesus.  And it's all about Jesus.  All things were made by him, through him, for him! (Col 1:16, Rom 11:36). 

The scriptures say that to whom much is given, much will be expected (Luke 12:48).  Who has been given much?  I have been given much!  I am a Christian living in the wealthiest country in the world!  That fact has passed me by sometimes, as I dither in my own sorrow.  Never-the-less I don't want to diminish the real sufferings of American Christians.  We have great material wealth.  In reality, we have little of real value (Proverb 11:7).  The only thing of real value is faith in Christ (1 Peter 1:7).  And with the material wealth comes temptation of every kind, bells and whistles flashing in the face day and night always tempting, tempting, tempting.  Sex, drugs, alcohol, parties, cars, electronics, appliances, loans, cigarettes, fine foods, furniture, and it's so loud and overwhelming and all encompassing and brainwashing you could just scream out loud!  Shut up, be quiet, get out of my head!  The noise pollution, the forcefully memorized slogans and commercial ads, all being beaten into the head of the Christian believer who is trying so hard to escape all that nonsense to truly follower Christ, and all that noise is such a grave threat to that walk with Christ that it could snatch away years of progress in a second.  It isn't easy.  Whether you are going hungry in the 3rd world threatened by disease, poverty and war, or a sex addict media junkie 9 to 5 debt slaver in the 1st world, it's never easy.  Each environment comes with it's unique challenges.  

I was watching Cable recently while visiting my mother and step dad in Wisconsin Rapids.  I was disturbed as I flipped through the channels to find myself looking at a certain Benny Hinn, with a 1-800 number posted on the screen.  On the screen was flashing that if you called, Benny would pray for you, so God would get you out of hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt.  I believe the exact number was $140,000 of debt.  God wants to get you out of debt, just send us your money!  Buy this book, order this DVD!  It was like I was watching an infomercial.  

I was genuinely disturbed.  I recalled then from years back, when I was watching a program where a gifted preacher drove me up into a religious frenzy with his speaking, and just at the cusp of the frenzy I found that he was trying to sell me a product.  Truly disturbing, once again.  These religious television programs are a lucrative market it seems.  That's not Christianity.  But that's what many assume it is.  A joke, a game, a lie.  But that isn't Christianity at all.  It's a business venture.

All the fancy clothes, the multi-million dollar buildings, the extravagant meals, the weekend conferences, the health and wealth, the gyms, the "Christian" dating tips, the "Christian" get out of debt DVDs, and the preaching tours of Israel.. I mean, it seems like mega-churches end up promoting their brand of "Christian" material more than the real message of the Bible.  

Humility ends up a dead concept.  If there is one way to get this all straightened out, it's through intense humility and utter devotion to the real Christ.  Maybe we need to take a hard look at how we live, and ask ourselves what we could give up.  How can we redirect all of this wealth to reach the lost?  Isn't that the primary purpose of the body of Christ?  To bring Christ?  Maybe we need to ask ourselves, what are we here to do?  Why is evangelism such a low priority?  Why are we staying behind the church walls instead of going out to serve?  Why all these fancy suits, massive building projects, and flamboyant worship music?  Do we even know what worship is anymore?  Are we going to be entertained instead of to praise and worship the Living God?  Why are the sheep starving in the fields?  Why is the message so watered down?  

There are many questions to ask.  But in the end, it starts with me.  It starts with the choices I make everyday.  How can I, me, Justin, serve Christ better?  How can I redirect some of my incredible American wealth to those who need it?  Keep in mind, I work at a homeless shelter making a tad above minimum wage.  I'm not a rock star or CEO pastor.  But I've got a bit extra.  I can sponsor a child for  I can hand out some Bibles.  I can tell some people about Jesus.  I can pray for some people.  I can take a few people under my wing and encourage them.  I can write.  I can share on social media.  So I need to challenge myself to do those things.  It doesn't have to happen over night!  But it can happen slowly over time.  It's not hard.  In fact it's great!  We can definitely do this.

This is real Christianity.  This is really following Jesus.  And it's great!  It's the real thing.  It's powerful, shocking, and life changing.  It's exciting.  It means taking dangerous risks, and fighting for a noble cause in a lost world.  This isn't kneeling in the pew half asleep on Sunday morning praying for service to end already.  That isn't it.  This is going to the lost.  This is serving overseas.  This is going into dangerous countries.  This is putting it all on the line for our faith.  This is trusting something we can't tangibly see.  This is radical devotion, a world shaking spiritual experience in the lives of billions on the planet Earth.  This is everything, or it's nothing.  What it can't be is "six tips for a better blah blah blah."  Or can I take your order?  Or playing World of Warcraft for two months straight.  Or CCD doctrinal sessions.  Or ziplining at youth group.  This is the front lines of a spiritual war.  A real conflict.  

This Christ following journey is the truth of life itself.  It's the spark in the eyes of those once half asleep at the wheel.  Those bored to tears at mass, or bored to tears clicking through an endless Facebook news feed hoping to heaven and earth that something might change, that something might light up in the dead eyes of someone who is emotionally and physically wasting away from meaninglessness in the self entertainment lifestyle of this culture.  Someone who has masturbated so many times to pornography, got drunk so many times, smoked so many cigarettes, paged through so many magazines, taken so many orders, sat for so many hours in a cubicle, went on so many unfulfilling vacations, did so many drugs, had so many empty sexual encounters, faked so many smiles, driven so many bland miles, and sat staring at a television screen so many endless hours that they feel they might burst inside from the meaninglessness and droning emptiness, and deadness of it all. 

This is the message for you, this is the mission for you; the Christian mission, the radical Jesus Christ following mission of true, real Christianity, beyond all the mega-churches, book sales, conferences, and prosperity gospel.  This is true devotion to a Living God, through a Living Savior, in the current ministry of the Living Spirit.  All explained through the elegant message of the Bible, the book, written over thousands of years, there is nothing like it.  No one ever said it would be easy, but there is one thing I can guarantee you:  It will be worth it, and it will stir in you a light that none can extinguish.  Take the journey.  Open the Bible.  Study and learn.  Explore the resources.  Truly follow him, truly follow him!  In the name of my blessed savior Jesus Christ, amen.  


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