Saturday, October 3, 2009

Shoving God off His Throne

     Many years ago, when I worked in the deli at the grocery store, I got into a discussion with some other employees.  I don't remember exactly what we were talking about or how it came up, but eventually we talked about gay customers that shopped at the store.  Judgmental Jamie was working that night.  When she heard us talk about gay folks, she grew livid.  She asked me in a heated voice, "You know people who are gay?"  I responded, "Yes.  Yes, I do know some gay people."
     Judgmental Jamie got so angry at my admission that she shouted at all of us, "Well, the REPUBLICAN is leaving the room!"  And with that she stormed out of the deli and into the back room. (As if I am supposed to look over someone's personal resume before I can say "Good morning" to them.)
     Judgmental Jamie made sure that everyone knew she was a "Christian."  She would be sure to tell you how you were suppose to live your life, and what was right & wrong with both the world and you.  This was during my time of rebellion against Jesus.  Everything Judgmental Jamie said only helped to confirm my belief that the average christian was at best unpleasant, and certainly not the type of person I wanted to be around.

     My very first semester of teaching, I had an American History class.  We came to the Civil Rights era of the early 60s.  I figured that I would try something fun in class and chose to pop some bubbles of stereotypes.  I wrote on the board "All White people are..., all Black people are..., All Asian people are"..., and so on.  The students were then to raise their hands and fill in the blanks.
     "All black people are"..., good at basketball, can dance, etc.  "All Asian people are"...good at math, short, etc.  I recall one African American student raising her hand and saying in a squeaky voice, "But Mr. C, I can't play ANY sports, and I suck at dancing."  And that was the point.  Stereotypes are stereotypes, they are not facts.
     I decided to move in the direction of religion.  So I wrote on the board, "All Muslims are..., all Jews are," etc.  I wrote on the board "All Christians are..."  Mind you, this was a class of 35 kids.  Every single hand that was raised to answer that particular question said "All Christians are JUDGMENTAL."  And this included even the Christian kids who raised their hands.  Ouch! (And this was when I was making my way back to a healthy relationship with Jesus.)

     In the book Un-Christian from the Barna research group, the 8th chapter deals with the perception that Outsiders have of the church in that Christians are prideful and quick to find faults in others.  In fact, almost 9 out of 10 young outsiders say that this is an accurate description of Christianity.

     True story; years ago when I was at school in Israel my roommate asked me what I thought about abortion.  Now abortion is an awful thing, to be sure.  No one I know of who has participated in one, whether male or female, has walked away unscarred.  However, the way I responded to the question said a great deal about my self-righteous state of mind.  I launched into a tirade about how evil abortion was, and I didn't spare anything.  By the time I was done, my roommate was crying.  He told me that he and his girlfriend had had one a while back.
     So I had shamed this guy.  As if he didn't already feel bad enough about it.  I sure made myself feel good about it while I was spouting off though.  Now I didn't feel so good.  Good job Joe!  What a jerk.  David Kinnaman points out that arrogance is perhaps the most socially acceptable form of sin in the church today.  Unfortunately, I think he is right.

     The irony to all of this is the way that Jesus, our primary role model for behavior in this world, judged and acted when he was around people.  Does anyone really miss the obvious that Jesus never seemed to act even remotely harshly towards people who were known as sinners?  Yet when it came to the professionally religious people he could be scathing.  How come so much of the American church can read about that, but than act the opposite?

     Jesus would say things like "Dude, pull that 2x4 out of your eye socket before you point out the saw dust in that guy's eye." (My translation) So I used to think that it was OK to judge others as long as I was not guilty of that sin.  After all, I didn't want to be a hypocrite.
     Now though, I think very differently about the whole situation.  In fact, I try not to judge anyone about anything when it comes to their personal lives.  Why?  Because the Apostle Paul taught me something.
     In Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth he starts to comment about a bad sexual situation in the church.  He wrote "What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?  Are we not to judge those inside the church?  God will judge those outside."  Eugene Peterson's translation of the Bible titled The Message says it like this, "I'm not responsible for what the outsiders do, but don't we have some responsibility for those within our community of believers?  God decides on the outsiders."
     That was when it hit me.  Every time I was passing judgement, I was shoving God off His throne and taking a seat there.  I was pushing the righteous judge to the side and usurping his powers for myself.  Talk about your bad ideas.
     God claims that He is a jealous god, and not in the sort of "Mommy, Billy stole my legos again," kind of way.  No, His jealousy is a healthy form of understanding what belongs to whom, and keeping everything in it's proper place.  And here I was making a mess at His feet.  I got the idea of just how patient God could be, because He had not given me the big squish yet for repeatedly shoving Him around.  If you came up and knocked me out of my chair I would most likely pop you one...unless you are a lot bigger than me. (Then I would go in my corner and cry.)
     
     I find it a lot easier to live as a Believer now that I figured that out.  I don't have to waste my time thinking about what sinners everyone is.  Now I can concentrate on my own problems.  And this is not to say that I don't understand what sin is...oh boy, I got that in spades in my own life.  But now, if any particular subject comes up I handle it very differently than before.  If someone asks my opinion I will give it as diplomatically as possible.  Also, I tend NOT to voice an opinion unless asked.  Now I find that I can speak much more matter-of-factly about my faith in the same way that I would about fishing or cooking.  
     A few years back I went to see one of the many Neil Young concerts a have been to.  For some odd reason, there were people holding poster boards up that said we were all going to hell for listening to Rock n Roll.  Pour Bono and Steve Taylor.  A friend of mine told me that he saw the same sort of thing at a football game.  He asked me, "How does that help anyone?" (This is particularly true because everyone knows that only Packer's fans are damned for eternity.) 

     Pastor Scott says that Believers should earn the right to witness to others.  This means building a relationship with someone.  Once you have a relationship in which they know that you genuinely care about them, then they will be open to hearing more about the Gospel.  It certainly beats sticking a tract in someone's door, or holding up placards proclaiming eternal punishment.
     So now I try to be diligent about letting God stay on His throne while I sit in my highchair.

     Here is a link to the book Un-Christian if you would like more information.

     Peace
     Joe

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