Jon Hevelone's blog
People by nature have a need to reach beyond themselves. We wish, we dream, we hope, we aspire for something more. Often this aspiration focuses on our living situation. We want to be better off financially, have a happier home life, or learn how to achieve a more satisfying outlook on life. Often these are goals we long have cherished. Even when we don’t have these hopes for ourselves, we have them for our children or our friends.
People also have spirituals dreams. We want a sense of deep, inner contentment for ourselves and for those we love. We try to discover the meaning of life and to live our lives by that discovery. There are two problems, however, that often frustrate us in our attempt to claim an adequate spirituality.
First, what we discover as the purpose of life often has a nasty habit of not being “big” enough to base our lives upon. The obvious example of this for those of us with a church background is the way we all outgrow the idea of God we carried around with us as children. We all give up the picture of an old man in the sky with a long white beard. Some of us replace that picture with a more mature and complete understanding of the God who really is there. Others don’t replace it, and go through life feeling empty. They become angry at a silly and inadequate god they have created in their own mind, confusing their infantile picture with the real God. Often these people feel superior to those who have faith, and don’t bother to notice that Christian believers try to let the Bible inform them of what God is really like. And the God of the Bible doesn’t have a white beard!
The other thing that often frustrates people in their spiritual journey is the discovery that we do not live up to our expectations. We walk the pathway of faith only a short while before we are shocked at the gap between ourselves and the real God. Not only are we a long distance from our Creator, we even fail to match the day by day expectations we set for ourselves. This sense of shortcoming is especially vivid when we have a more mature, adult picture of God. In comparison with the God of the Bible we just do not measure up adequately. Most of us are just not too good at parting the Red Sea, turning water into wine, loving God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, or loving our neighbor as much as we love ourselves.
The Christian faith helps us with these two problems. First, the real God isn’t some creation of our mind, and therefore will not fail us. God is so awesome that we never will be disappointed. We can stake our lives on the adequacy of God. Secondly, God already knows that we do not measure up to standards and loves us anyway. God is “big” enough and loves us so much that our shortcomings are overcome in Christ.
Reaching beyond ourselves is a natural part of life. The good news is that God has reached out to us, and that in Jesus Christ our spiritual hope, dreams, and aspirations can be realized.
Joe McKeever has worn many hats. He’s a pastor, a cartoonist, and a keen observer of the trials and tribulations of church life. He retired as Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of New Orleans, and has collected an ongoing list of things NOT to tell a pastor. He has given his ok to pass them on and even add to the “wisdom.” These are the ones I like — and have heard!
1. “I enjoyed your little talk.”
2. “Is what you said true, or was that just preacher talk?”
3. “The restroom is out of paper.”
4. “Someone–I’m not saying who–told me to tell you….”
5. “Can I come by your office in the morning? I might need a couple of hours of your time.”
6. “I miss our church when it was just our people.”
7. “I heard High Rock Church baptized 42 people. And Grace Chapel had a $100,000 offering last week.”
8. “Just because you’re the pastor doesn’t make you always right.”
9. “Hi Pastor! Bet you don’t remember my name.”
10. “You preach too long; our former pastor preached 20 minutes and people loved him.”
11. “We don’t want those kind of people in our church.”
12 “Are you aware of what your daughter posted on Facebook?”
13. “This is our church. My granddaddy started this church.”
14. “I don’t care what the Bible says. I know what I believe….”
15. “Would you tell the music director to sing some of the hymns I like?”
16. “I’m not being fed.”
17. “Oh, pastor–don’t you just love Joel Osteen!”
Most of the coffee mugs I drink from are personal. Whether they picture a Studebaker Hawk or New Orleans’ Cafe du Monde or a moose in Maine the cups say something about me. When I lived in the deep south I often drank my coffee from a mug emblazoned with the stars and bars — the old Confederate flag. I liked the mug because it somehow always appealed to that idealistic part of me which was, and is, a rebel. As a native (and naive?) midwesterner I somehow never associated the rebel flag with it’s deep roots in racism. That has changed since the terrorist massacre at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.
During the time our family lived in Louisiana, one of my daughters started dating Mark, a sociable, intelligent, and handsome young man. While I readily admit no one is good enough to date a daughter of mine, Mark came pretty close to my criteria. He was also black.
I was terrified. What was my daughter thinking? What were the dangers facing young teenagers dating across racial lines in the violent racial world of Dixie? And more terrifying still, I felt within my heart the passions of prejudice stirring, threatening the image I carried of myself as an accepting, color-blind Christian who accepted all people. My soul struggled. I, of all people, did not discriminate against black people. I, of all people, detested the young black teenager who had stolen my daughter’s heart. I sat at my desk engaging in deep soul searching. I drank lots of coffee, all from a mug covered with the rebel flag. Back then, it never crossed my mind that in many ways, I was an unintentional racist.
I believe many of us today are unintentional racists. Our ideals are good, but we slip up a bit in practice. We are unaware. We become blind to our prejudices and are quick to dismiss those twinges of superiority or fear or condescension or distancing as being normal, or a product of our culture, or as the way we were taught. Well, yes. This, however, does not make our actions right. I was wrong in my attitude toward Mark.
We are wrong today, no matter what color or ethnicity we wear, when we wear it pridefully as just a little bit better than others. When we are insensitive to a black person or dismissive of a white person because their skin doesn’t match ours we are unintentional racists. When we as a multicultural church sing just “white” hymns catering to nineteenth century tastes we are unintentional racists. When we pit a Scotch-Irish heritage against that of Italians or Brazilians we are unintentional racists. When we perpetuate jokes or make trite remarks about people who are different than us, we are unintentional racists — or unintentional sexists or unintentional homophobes.
When we as a nation, or as individuals, believe that removing the Confederate flag from view is enough change to atone for the murders of praying people in Charleston we are unintentional racists. It takes so much more. Christians believe it takes a cross. Following Jesus involves embracing that cross. Part of living Christianly is becoming aware of the unintentional sins that we harbor, and and then allowing God’s grace to remove and redeem. The best way I know to stop being an unintentional racist is to become more and more intentional in our faith and in our relationship with Jesus.
One of the latest fads in puffing one’s ego is the whole “selfie” phenomenon. Almost everybody under the age when social security can be collected has taken a few selfie photos. Entrepreneurs have even come up with a way to cash in by making “selfie sticks.” These contraptions are basically a plastic extension of your arm that allows the camera to get a better view of your gorgeous face.
Actually, there are a lot of religious selfies floating around out there, too. Again, we massage our egos and think we can do religion better than the church in which we were raised.
If we are concerned about the hot issues of the day like justice, climate change, and the welfare of chickens and other critters we gravitate toward a faith which stresses that particular issue and leaves out all of the other stuff.
If we are determined to get people saved so heaven will be densely populated, then we pump John 3:16. After all, who needs anything more than being born again?
On the other hand, if we really yearn for a new Audi or Porsche and all the trimmings for a quick vacation getaway to our hoped for second home on the Maine coast (or would Jamaica be better?) we understand clearly that the health and wealth gospel has the biggest payoff for us.
It’s so easy to make a selfie faith, and it feels so good. Just pump what you like, and forget all that other stuff. No need to get all bogged down with things like repentance, obedience, taking up one’s cross and all that when the thing that matters most is God give you your heart’s desire, and that he does it right now.
Of course this means that real Christianity as understood and practiced for generations is a goner. That’s because the Bible is not collection of selfies posted on social media. It sees faith as having a God given core of truth, and that content must be believed and held high. God’s truth is a given, it is not negotiable. It must be understood, believed and applied to the contemporary world of every generation who would be followers of Jesus.
It is not only these doctrines and content of the faith that are crucial, but above all a personal connection with the very one who had the audacity to say, “I am the Truth.” Because of this dynamic quality of faith, followers of Jesus have also formed opinions on how people are to live Christianly, living out the truth God has given us. Our faith is not so much holding on to a way of living that good people in the past have followed, but rather, allowing Jesus to live out his Truth through us today.
We are to believe and trust in him and then go about living our lives. Getting this part of real Christianity right is difficult, but it is crucial. It is here in the application of faith that people have a tendency to go off the path, get out their camera and incorporate only the selfie they think looks good. That makes a merely a snapshot that mars the bigger, more complete picture of what Christian faith looks like. The Apostle Paul warned about this in his writing when he noted that people tend to have what he called “itching ears” and run after whomever and whatever seems pleasing. In other words, the problem of religious selfies is not a new one. (2 Timothy 4:3)
If you are going to be a real follower of Jesus, pay attention to these two key components of faith. First, know God’s truth. There is content to Christianity, content that is life changing and world shaking. Secondly, risk the adventure of placing your life on the line so that Truth becomes alive in you. Jesus is not an artifact of faith to admire, but a living Savior who wants to connect with you, fill you with his Spirit, and go with you in all the moments and places of your daily life. It is interesting how much better your selfie looks when Jesus is in it, too.