Fffrrrreeeeeedoooooommmm!!!

I have struggled, over the years, with becoming a Christian: what does it mean, and what will I look like?   I have quite a few friends who don’t consider themselves to be Christians, or have fallen away from the church.  I hear them talk about how the church doesn’t meet their problems, the people are hypocrites, or none of it matters anyhow.  It pains me that I don’t have answers for them.  When I spend time with Christian friends, I hear them talk about wanting to reach the lost or train their children to be missionaries.  I have rarely seen one of them actually engage a non-Christian in conversation, and missionary life scares the bejeebees out of me.  My “heathen” friends, for the most part, are not solidly against Christianity; they have no problem with Christ or God.  Their problems hinge on Christians and hypocrisy.  To be sure, many outside the church don’t want their questions addressed.  But how many of us are willing to actually reach out in love to those right around us and face the issues each one presents?

Most of my friends see the average Christian as someone who’s been a member of the church since he was a toddler, attending AWANA, VBS, and choir practice weekly.  He’s sung Easter cantatas and lit Christmas candles since he could mount the steps.  He has no clue who Jack Daniels is, or that Pat Benatar lyrics can be quite inspirational.  He scorns the tattoo of remembrance for a fallen brother as so much branding of the wondrous body God gave.  Is this really the winsome character of acceptance we as Christians seek to present?

A few years ago, a lonely little boy began knocking on my door daily to play with my children.  We avoided him because he had already picked up a lot of irritating habits.  I knew I needed to minister to him, but in the meantime, my own children were learning from him how to successfully sneak contraband behind my back and lie about what was done.  They were learning to be wicked faster than I could show him how to be good.  Out of self-preservation (or was it fear?), I severely limited his access to my children.  I have sometimes wished I could have done more, but only after he’d moved away and I couldn’t anymore.

How ironic that the very weaknesses that draw us to God are the very ones that also keep us from him.  The same weaknesses He says He’ll overcome.  I could see this child needed what our family had, but I threw conditions on his case because he brought inconveniences with him.  Of course, as a parent, my commitment is to my own first.  Just like in the airplane, if you don’t put on your own oxygen mask first, you may not be able to save your child.  I have to get my own to a place of security before I can reach out to others.  Looking back, I could’ve done more to strengthen my own and reach out to him.  In short, I didn’t trust God for the outcome.  God doesn’t ever say that we should wait until we have attained the Promised Land before inviting others.  The disciple Andrew hadn’t been a disciple a full day before he brought his brother along to follow Jesus.

I’d like to think that nobody noticed what I neglected with this one boy, but I know this same selfish attitude will shine throughout my life.  My nephew is brutally honest with me here, and I love it. He’s got eyes like a hawk and helps me to see in the mirror more clearly than I’d ever be willing to look at myself.  But am I willing to be seen (or look at myself) that clearly?   I can look to different churches and justify myself against the whole gamut of liberality to legality, but my nephew lumps all Christians together.  Do I follow Christ, or not?

I’ve heard too many Christians say, “Y’know I don’t want to gossip, but…”  and then tell you more juicy dirt than any heathen ever worried about.  It is purported as “helping with discernment” or “guarding the sheep from wolves.”  Really?   Let’s just call it what it is.   I’ve got to give it to the non-Christians in my life; they are honest about what they see.  And what they see is too often a clique of people who close their eyes to acceptable sins within the group and truly needy people without.  Is it any wonder some disappear from our midst?  We should be encouraging our brothers to move past challenges, not keeping the evidence alive.  Does being saved exempt us from responsibility for trampling others?

Interestingly, these very limitations of our human-ness are a huge factor in how God gets the glory for whatever we do for him.  It’s pretty obvious that much of what is accomplished for God could not have been done alone.

When we invite someone to church, they hear that they must give up life as they know it in order to get what is offered.  Doctors know that asking someone to change their lifestyle is so hard they’d rather give you a pill than ask.  Yet the devil accomplishes it all the time.  I’ve joked for years that nobody would go to hell if the devil wore red tights, horns and carried a pointy stick.  It’s because he walks in looking like Miranda Priestley in a Prada-designed dress and up-to-the-minute sunglasses, taunting of something more that so many of us drop everything we stand for to join his team.  Luscious lipstick and sexy ankles are a lot more appealing than monastic wardrobes and lists of Thou Shalts.  Of course, the world’s lures are not appropriate for Christ’s disciples.  Jesus had nothing noteworthy but his loving acceptance of every sinner He met.  He asked for hard things, but always with his intended’s best interest in mind.  And they knew that.  This may seem like a strange illustration, but I saw a study once about women who’d left their husbands for another man.  The researchers were surprised that most of the lovers were not as physically attractive as the husbands.  Why would women, always security conscious by nature, discard the security of their marriages?  Because the lover had met a real need that the husband had overlooked.  Over and over, the Bible reports that Jesus saw what was really lacking in peoples’ lives and met those needs.  It changed them.  He looked beyond even longstanding patterns of poor behavior and said that they could be new.  He knew what His Father’s grace could accomplish.  One only needs look at the Apostle Paul to see how dramatically an encounter with the risen Christ can change a life.  Can He not do the same today, no matter how broken and lost we are, no matter what we’ve done?

Funny, for someone who’s taken as many salesmanship and psychology courses as I have that I didn’t get this aspect of being winsome.  One of the first things a salesman learns is that no one will ever buy anything he doesn’t have a need or want for.  He will not buy until he sees that you have what he wants.

Many years ago, when I lived in Las Vegas, a young family began attending our church.  They seemed so uneasy, but the kids were so nice – and the entire family was very open to accepting any teaching they could get on Christ.  I decided this would be an easy way for me to learn how to evangelize.  Pretty soon, I noticed that I was the only one speaking to this gal, and I never saw her husband around anymore.  It turned out he wasn’t her husband, and she was a dancer at a casino.  I am pretty blind sometimes, and it was only once she stopped coming that I realized why she was uneasy.  I don’t think anyone said anything offensive to her; they didn’t have to.  Their distance and looks said it all.  What would Jesus have done?

Oh, gosh – he was in a similar situation!  The woman at the well, right?  He showed with his actions – he had no fear of repercussions and spoke openly to her – and with his words – that he knew who she was and that she, too, could have eternal life if she’d accept his gift.  And did anyone notice what he found next time he visited that town?  She’d brought the entire town to faith.  Nobody is beyond saving.

Why are we so damn human in clinging to our petty ways, even when we’ve been freed from needing them anymore?  Why do we continually tear others down, even while professing a desire to lift them up?  I wanted to help that child, but how often did I bring him before the throne in prayer?  How often did I ask for protection of my own while accepting this opportunity to share what we had in abundance?  How many people tore that poor woman down behind her back with gossip, when she was doing exactly what they’d prayed for in the women’s meetings?  How many others are kept away by past sins that Christians cannot let go of?  We preach forgiveness; can we practice it?

It is not our place to judge another.   We must realize that all of our sins have been paid for – and have patience with those who haven’t grasped that yet.  A child of a friend of mine was probably a little too honest one day with me.  She told me that she and her sister were frustrated with my lack of understanding of something that was so simple to them.  “Mama told us to remember a few years ago, before we realized that.  It’s okay; you’ll get it.”  Out of the mouths of babes, the true character of the parent will speak.  Do my children – the ones who know me best – exude love and acceptance this way?

I’m finding that being a Christian is more than just attending church on Sunday.  I need to be aware of my failures so that I can encourage others in their struggles.  I need to forgive others for things that I’ve done myself.  I need to love those who are unloveable because I’ve been there.  I need to incorporate who I’ve been into who I am so that I can show what I’ve found.  I need to parent honestly.  I’m disgusted at the hypocrisy of Christians who cannot seem to grasp the power of God to surmount frailty and see His hand in others.  But in that very instant, I realize I’ve convicted myself.

I just want freedom from the restraints of this world – the silly grudges and mind games, the limitations of my own abilities, and the whims of the natural world around me.  I want to be loose of the unseen regulators that hold me down – those character traits I struggle with, the health issues that dog me.  I feel like William Wallace, shouting “Freedom!” as he charges across the dale at a completely insurmountable enemy.  And I don’t believe I’m alone in wanting these things.

But it’s not an outside enemy that must be conquered; it’s me.  My charge is toward my neighbor, and the sword I wield is pointed against my own fears.  I must look in my neighbor’s eyes and seek to understand who he is.  I must be willing to remember where I’ve been before I can lead him anywhere.  Then maybe, walking together, we can make a difference in the lives we touch until that day that the Savior releases us both.

We, as Christians, need to be upfront about our fallibility and stop professing anything but His covering of perfection.  Let’s not expect from others, especially non-Christians or those who’ve been battered out of their faith, what we don’t truly possess ourselves.  We have the freedom of knowing that we are forgiven and there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  And since I don’t understand what that means, I’ll assume forgiveness is for everybody.

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21 thoughts on “Fffrrrreeeeeedoooooommmm!!!

  1. The mirror is the harshest judge. Judge not lest ye be judged or, don’t give other people crap for things you yourself have done. I’ve been in the same predicament with my children. Keeping them from some other children to “protect” them. Life is uncertain and realizing that one’s control of life is minimal if not non existant, is a tough pill to swallow. I agree with your nephew that all who believe in Christ are Christians. It’s merely a philosophical difference that gives them different names. Judgement and spreading rumor is not reserved for the religious but it seems that these traits are more pronounced in the relifious. My guess is that the group or club mentality gives people a sense of being better than everyone else because they belong to that group or club. My wife is a lapsed Catholic and has told me stories of judgement based on income and status that are endemic to that branch of the faith.

    As a reminder, I’m a devout agnostic, believing in no religion but believing in God. Go do good things Brenda, not because it’s your Christian duty, but because it’s the right thing to do. You don’t need religion to tell you what’s right. You already know. You may love everyone but it doesn’t mean you have to like them. Do what you feel is right.

    • The practice of Christians calling each other non-Christians is some pretty disgusting sectarianism. Protestants exclude Mormons, Catholics exclude Protestants, Protestants exclude Catholics, etc. Not all do this, but many do. The name “Christian” says it all: “follower of Christ”. It doesn’t matter what YOU think Christ wanted people to do – if a person is following Christ’s teachings by their own interpretation, they are, by definition, Christian. To think otherwise would be like telling someone that they aren’t a baseball fan just because they disagree with you about how the umpire called a certain pitch.

      I say all of this as a former Christian turned Buddhist. Buddhism suffers from sectarianism just like Christianity, but at least we don’t de-label each other. Our sects are divided over tiny, split-hair issues, like whether the Buddha meant to discourage alcohol consumption, whether the concept of reincarnation is a metaphor, or the different ideas of how to attain enlightenment. A key difference between Buddhist sectarianism and Christian sectarianism can be illustrated by the comparison of two religious text passages:

      Bible: Matthew 7:13,14,21 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” … “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.'”

      ^ This and many other passages skirt around the idea that there is only one right set of beliefs and actions. How, then, in such a widely inconsistent text, is one unanimous interpretation to be found? It isn’t. Yet every sect insists that they have found the one and only “narrow path” and that everyone else isn’t a true follower of Christ.

      Pali Canon: Kalama Sutra: “Do not believe something just because it has been passed along and retold for many generations, or because it has become a traditional practice, or because it is well-known everywhere, or because it is cited in a text, or solely on the grounds of logical reasoning, or because it accords with your philosophy, or because it appeals to common sense, or because you like the idea, or because the speaker seems trustworthy, or because your teachers and elders say it. But after observation and analysis, when you find that it agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”

      ^ The Buddha is telling us, among other things, that we have to come to our own terms with what practices and ideas we’re ultimately going to accept as right. If each man is interpreting the truth for himself, can one really fault another for finding the same basic truth with a few minor differences?

      The lesson here is that each person is going to interpret and practice their religion a different way, and that’s no reason to consider them an outsider.

      • I define a Christian as one who follows Christ. Since you have avowed to follow Buddha, you would qualify as a Buddhist and therefore a non-Christian. I do not think I use the terms loosely: my Roman Catholic grandfather, my Presbyterian father, and my Baptist husband all fall under the term “Christian”. Other than the Baptist husband, you share this heritage. But you are not bound to believe it.

        We do have to come to our own terms with what we’ll ultimately follow as truth. My very point in this post was that Christians elevate themselves too highly when they judge others. There are plenty of godly people out there who are square with God, but not the church. The Bible calls them back into fellowship because they have much to teach. I am very aware of my failures and praise God for the concept of forgiveness, because I sure use a lot of it. I wish other Christians would offer more.

        I admittedly have not studied other religions as thoroughly as Christianity. The few forays I’ve done into Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witness, and Buddhism have convinced me that they are, indeed, preaching the same precepts, but they read like plagiarism to me. I could be very wrong, but I’m not willing to bet my life on it. Whatever I decide, I will answer for. I see no other religion that claims a divine being; I see a lot of dead prophets and head-emptying to reach peace that really don’t help me much. Men and childless women have the freedom to chant mantras until they reach Nirvana; I’ve got diapers to change and mouths to feed. I’m also very troubled by Christian men who’ve abandoned their wives and children to go save the lost in a far-flung land. What I see on the Mount is a human being, feeding hungry families and teaching that he has the power over sin and death, who then backs it up with divine power in rising again. Josephus is some pretty dry reading, but he was an eyewitness who is not a contributor to the Bible. Others in the world commented on these happenings as well. They’re on the library shelf next to Josephus. What scared me when I decided there was no god was how alone I instantly became. No man can ever truly help me, and I don’t see much of use when I truly look inside myself. Once again, you must face yourself and what you know squarely – and be able to stand on it.

        Jesus Christ just made the most sense to me, and my writings are my journey in finding Him true.

      • I didn’t mean to say that you should call me a Christian. I meant to say that you should call Mormons, Jehova’s Witnesses, Catholics, and all the other Christ followers Christians. Save the hairsplitting for your denominational distinctions.

        I disagree quite a bit with most Theravada sects, but I still call them Buddhists, because they feel they’re following the Buddha.

  2. The reason for submitting to Jesus as Lord is to have your sins forgiven. No one should become a Christian because they like Christians.

    Christians are hypocrites in that they don’t live up to the standard of perfection that God’s law requires. But, we admit that we’re hypocrites, repent and trust Jesus’ payment for it.

    Also, Aaron is dead wrong in that you don’t need religion do tell you what’s right. There is no human who has the power to establish right and wrong. God is the only one with that power. We must know what the one true God demands (i.e. have the right religion) before we can even determine what is good and evil. Whenever Aaron does something that is truly good, he is simply borrowing from the Christian worldview.

    Rest assured there are answers to the questions you’ve heard unbelievers ask, and it is our duty to provide them.

    Thanks,
    Bill

    • Yes – I agree with you in the reason one becomes a Christian and that Christians are hypocritical because they’re human. You seem to have said much more succinctly what I was trying to say. What I’m against is the person who thinks he’s better than the heathen because he’s “in”.

      Aaron is my friend. I don’t always agree with him, but I count him as a friend. I’d like to treat unbelievers, even anonymously on the internet, with as much courtesy as I would in person.

      Brenda

      • You and I are the only Bible that many people will ever read. We need to intelligently question, not solidly rebuke, those who are not at the same level of understanding as we are. Because eventually we’ll meet our better….

  3. A reminder to all that all world religions share the same basic tenents and beliefs. Expand your view by doing research on different religions and maybe realize that all religions worship the same god. Just because Islam is practiced by what we here in the west call heathens, doesn’t change the fact that the Koran is basically the old testament and the story of Mohammed and his teachings runs a linear line to Jesus’s teachings. The golden rule is found in all major religions and while one man doesn’t make the rules, the community of man does. A lack of tolerance is what has gotten the world into the mess it is today and a little open mindedness and compassion for our fellow man whatever religion he follows, would go a long way towards making the world a little better place.

    Brenda, I apologise for my earlier post. It was early Sunday morning and I hadn’t had my second cup of coffee yet. After re-reading it, it seemed a bit disjointed and wandering. Keep up the good work and don’t let anyone stop you from saying what you have to say.

    • Not all worship the same god. You’re only taking into account the Abrahamic religions. What about the myriad tribal religions, Eastern atheist religions, and Hinduism? To write those off as some insignificant party in the scheme of global ideology would be a mistake.

  4. Perhaps the majority of your non-Christian friends aren’t showing you any indication of their direct dislike for Christianity because they’ve learned early on that keeping friends in Texas means at least pretending to be okay with the ideas of Christianity.

    Truth be told, I passionately hate Christianity and (almost) everything it stands for. It’s a fundamentally evil institution and an abomination and it should be eradicated, along with Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Paganism, Vodou, and everything else that advocates faith and superstition to the detriment of social and intellectual progress. I’m not alone in this. Among other non-believers that I know, there’s a fairly prevalent opinion that the world would be better off without theistic and superstitious religions, and something should be done to hasten their demise.

    But I tone that stuff down around Christians so as not to alienate half of the people I know. Most of my atheist friends do the same. It’s an unpopular opinion to hold in the southern US, and you’re going to have to look hard to find an atheist who’s not going to put on the mask of appeasement when they’re talking to you. Hell, look at me: I’ve taken the mask off for a brief moment, and I bet this comment is going to get moderated out because of it. It’s just not something most people are comfortable doing. I only do so here because I’m not terribly frightened of alienating anybody here.

  5. Robert, I like the cut of your jib. I agree with you completely that the majority of major religions use superstition and fear to accomplish their ends. I wasn’t taking into account multi theistic religions for the reason that it’s aplles to oranges to compare them to mono theistic religions. I sent Brenda an email stating that I would henceforth refrain from commenting on religous topics and stick to my original goal of offering advice and assistance form my own expeiences to assist her in her difficult journey. You have obviously done your research and have come to a conclusion that suits your needs and I personally agree with your conclusions. So, that being said, I will now excuse myself from getting involved in any more religous discussions.

  6. Hey Brenda–enjoyed reading your post! I’m thankful that you’re willing to call things out the way you see them, and for your honesty about your Christian walk.

    Seems like your posts have a way of encouraging your readers to vent.. haha!

    Keep up the great writing!

  7. We’re on the same page, Robert “The Nephew”… My investigation into the matter indicated Buddhism predates Chrisitanity by five centuries…

    I don’t recall an instance of Buddhists burning women at the stake or drowning them in an effort to force them to confess to the practice of witchcraft, in itself a gentle religion that worshiped the earth and was predicated on healing; they were the first pharmacists and in no way associated with satanism. The harm that has been predicated by misguided followers of the “True God” has put me off the subject entirely. I bow to no diety . I am totally responsible for my destiny. I bear no grudge with those whose faith gives them comfort; I am happy for them, just as I expect their compassion and forgiveness to be happy for me.

    • Finding false comfort is one thing – I’m not going to tell you you have to face the cold reality of things if it’s just too hard for you to handle. But when religion causes people to distort the public perception of sexuality, to mistrust the process of scientific enquiry, to hurt others on a personal level because of imaginary beings, and to irrationally support unreasonable political actions, that’s when religion has earned its own destruction.

      I practice Zen Buddhism, but don’t have any sort of comforting faith in it. For me, it’s a set of wise suggestions and useful practices, not a rulebook that guarantees me some reward and demands my obedience. I don’t justify my actions with it; that would be inappropriate. One must justify their actions in human terms – who do a stand to hurt by my deeds?

      • Okay, y’all. We’re off track. The point of my post was that Christians should not put themselves above others they seek to woo into the fold. We are all sinners and subject to failures, lapses in judgment, and misunderstandings of others’ motives. The very point that has turned you off of Christianity is exactly what you are now doing to me: Shoving it down my throat because you don’t like what I say. Yet you have admitted you do not stand on what you preach. I do. So stand for what you believe or fall for anything.

        I love you both, Rob and Jim!! B-)

  8. I think I’ll stick to the weather; someting else I know little about, but easier to stay out of trouble.

    What do you mean, you don’t like cumulo-nimbus?

  9. Yeah Bren, I think I did get your meaning right on the first try. I think you made a great point, and that all(here) are in agreement, that “christians” have done a very very poor job of following instructions. If anyone,”christian” or not would simply read the directions(bible)–the WHOLE thing front to back, and then put those recipes to work, instead of pushing and shoving, name calling, excluding, and judging-either up or down(ie: look what he did, and he’s a pastor!, or what is SHE doing in church) that same person, and those around him or her would see the power of it all. This certainly does not fault the principle, that is, its super easy to find those who have failed, but does that really mean that the whole thing is no good? I could give a million examples of people who stink at baseball,or have been hurt or excluded by it, so should baseball be done away with? Is the game flawed? Or are there some amongst the many who do perform?
    I really enjoyed the post, right up until the comments, but then saw the source of the anger– what you were writing about in the first place!

  10. OK so I think we al agree that the system is flawed and anything touched by human hands is tainted. If just one person begins the process of compassion and forgiveness, then the pebble in the pond will send ripples outward to a butterfly flapping its wings in South America which will bring a smile to a child’s face who’s parent will take a hint from a cheesy TV commercial to do a good deed and then we will all go into metaphoric overload. Remember people, the only thing we absolutely have to do is breathe. Everything else is just gravy on the mashed potatoes of life. Give a shot at looking at life with a broader view and not with the narrow view of just the things in your own line of sight. Instead of nit picking semantics of a religous text, look at the overall message and use that as a guide. A little compassion and understanding go a long way. A sense of humor don’t hurt much either.

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