July 26, 2008

good...is not good enough

This is one of my draft posts I had previously mentioned. I am not completely sure how to best express myself, but this is a topic that weighs heavily on me. I hope this doesn't come across as criticism, but as concern. May you learn these lessons more quickly than I am learning them. I have so far to go.

We all have typical phrases we say to someone who is leaving us, like "Drive safe!" or "Have fun!" When I began living with my brother, I would often dismiss him with "Be good!" Finally I stopped saying that to him, because I hate implying that his being "good" is my main concern for him. If I define "being good" as most would, I set the standard far too low.* As if being good would save souls or get us into heaven. I realized that when I said "be good" to him it was just a cop-out. I was trying to sound more normal when my insides saying something like: I want you to reflect Jesus out there. But I guess that sounds too spiritual for a regular Christian conversation, right? Like, tone it down!

If you have spent long in North American Christian circles, you probably have heard it said that someone is "not walking with the Lord." That is Christianese for someone who has made a profession of saving faith in Christ but is living in a visibly worldly fashion (read: not going to church). In a recent conversation with a Christian lady, she mentioned her son, who is not walking with the Lord and some church kids, whom she described as good kids. Yes, evangelical churches are often full of good kids. My concern is the great overlap between the two categories: many good church kids find themselves not walking with the Lord.

At prayer meeting, we often pray for a few young men have quit attending church. I realize that those are the people that it is easiest to pray for aloud, because we all agree that they are not doing as they should. But I wonder if those who pray realize how many of us good church kids continue to warm stacking chairs in the sanctuary, but have minds that are far, far from the Lord.

The problem is not so much that we do good things, but that we're willing to stop at just acting good. I think that in most people's eyes, I'd look like a "good church kid." Let me give you a good church kid checklist. (Reminder: these are the good church kids, not every church kid).
  • Go to church at least once a week.
  • Don't have premarital sex.
  • Read your Bible.
  • Hang out with Christian friends.
  • Don't curse.
  • Give money to the church.
We know that these things don't get us into Heaven, but we take them as indicators of whether another Christian has their essential ducks in a row. But when we go past appearances...

We go to church. (...but what sorts of conversations do I initiate as we stand in the foyer? I heard about a man who, after his sermons, would sit on the podium and weep. "Listen to their conversations!" he would say. It broke his heart to preach the Word of God, only to have the congregation walk out of church talking about last night's football game. When I hear that someone is struggling with something, do I say I'll pray, but then forget? Do I take ten minutes to call them that week, or do I seek to avoid the "uncomfortable" or "socially awkward" people in order to talk to the cool crowd?)

We don't have premarital sex.
(...but God wants "not even a hint of sexual immorality". Do crude jokes repulse me like they repulse the Father of Lights? How can I watch movies that are impure, with the knowledge that the Spirit of God lives in me? Do my trendy church clothes cause other people in the pews to stumble?)

We read our Bibles. (...we can quote some verses and give devotionals. But we're busy, and more often than not we don't really study God's Word as well as we should. Isn't that just for people who preach and teach publicly? Sometimes the day slips away on me and while I let the world influence me for hour after hour, I give God ten minutes and I can hardly concentrate, because I'm tired. It is no wonder that we fall prey to worldly life philosophies, since our knowledge of the Scriptures remains so shallow although we've grown up in church. If someone does study God's Word in a serious sort of way, they are almost considered a rarity, a super-saint or radical...when this should be the average Christian).

We hang out with Christian friends. (...and we don't drink, smoke or have sex. We talk about the weather, sports, work, school, friends...but I know my tongue is so slow to go to the deeper issues, like What is the Lord teaching you right now? How can I pray for you? A Christian friend of mine told me that in her 25+ years growing up the church, she has never been asked to share what the Lord is teaching her. Why is talking about the Lord at any length or spontaneously praying together so foreign to many Christians? Do we save that for when we're camp counselors or Sunday school teachers? Another friend has told me how difficult it can be to tell a Christian friend that she don't feel comfortable watching a movie they want to watch. Do we consistently encourage each other to spend time, conversation and money on frivolous things? Some nights I know I need to go home and do some Bible study, but it sounds holier-than-thou to say I need to go read my Bible. My fear of what my "good Christian friends" think helps me excuse my sin of settling for the status quo. Instead of listening to the Holy Spirit, I was to justify my activities by the fact that Christian friends are doing the same things. The Lord wants us to "press onward toward the high calling". Why do I better resemble a vacationer than a soldier?)

We give money to the church.(...but what do I know of sacrificial giving? I give out of my excess and still have money left for entertainment or things I don't need. As if missionaries aren't needing money for flights, radio programs, bicycles...food. As if most of this world won't go hungry today.)

We don't curse. (...but as I've already said, the conversations I initiate often lack any substance. I'm using language, but not using it responsibly. I like gossip more than I'd care to admit.)

I have spent most of my life comparing myself to other Christians, when my standard should be Christ. Therefore, I continue to fall into the "good church kid" category. Others might think I seem good. But my pride is slain when I compare myself to Christ: My haughtiness compared to His humility. My fallen thoughts next to His holy ones. When Isaiah saw the Lord, he cried that he was "undone" due to his uncleanness and the uncleanness of his people. Job hated himself. Daniel weak and sorrowful, Daniel, Paul and John all fell to the ground. When I stand bare before the One "to whom we must give account," my goodness looks filthy.

In conclusion, it takes some work to be good. But at some point, things level out for the good person. Life reaches normalcy, and you are maintaining but not advancing. As long as the outside looks good, you think you're OK, because you're living for the praise of man. But the life Christ calls each believer to is alive and dynamic. To cease to advance is to fall back. In many matters no one else can tell me what is right or wrong for me. I must know the Lord intimately if I am to know His mind in each matter. You and I stand accountable before the Lord--and will not the judge of all the earth do what is right? May the gracious Christ be our measuring rod:
"till we all come in the unity of the faith,
and of the knowledge of the Son of God,
to a perfect man,
to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ"
(Ephesians 4:13).

*I know that the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 6) includes "goodness", and that we are taught to be "good", but I think you'll see my point as I continue.

3 comments:

  1. Excellent post. I didn't feel any judgment, but a call to live for the Lord. I've been thinking about some of these things recently. When I talk to people and I'm trying to get to know them, do I ask them where they are from and what their favourite activities are (not wrong questions, but lacking substance) or do I ask them what they believe about God, what He's been teaching them, or what is their testimony. You are right that it is so easy to get stuck in the rut of "normal" North American Christian living that we are not growing in God.

    Thanks for the challenge, E03. God is using you to encourage and spur me on to live for Him.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Texto muito muito edificante Julie!! Me tocou profundamente!!!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you so much for your comments to my blog - I got to find encouragement from you and your blog notes. Keep shining, please! :)

    ReplyDelete