February 14, 2012

Working On Our Relationship With God

I read a great blog post by Richard Beck, professor and department chair of Psychology at Abilene Christian University. Even though it was written in 2009, "The Bait and Switch of Contemporary Christianity"  is still as relevant today as it was three years ago, and well worth your time to read. In it, Beck writes, "The trouble with contemporary Christianity is that a massive bait and switch is going on. "Christianity" has essentially become a mechanism for allowing millions of people to replace being a decent human being with something else, an endorsed "spiritual" substitute...The point is that one can fill a life full of spiritual activities without ever, actually, trying to become a more decent human being."

The question we are left with is , "What did Jesus want us to be, good church attendees or good human beings?" Look at the responses Christ gave to Peter after asking, "Do you love Me?" Each of the answers was to take care of His sheep. While we certainly aren't all followers of Christ, does not being a Christian make anyone not be one of His sheep? We know that Christ was trying to teach us a lesson there, but sometimes it seems as if we Christians only have part of the lesson learned.

I don't believe for one bit that Christ intended for this command to be something that we do to prove our love to Him (or our fellow Christians), but rather, a deep lesson in how to love him, how to transform our hearts to be more like His. And I believe that He intended for this to be a deeply personal lesson and spiritual activity.

While things like giving to charities, supporting missions, advocating for change in society are all good things, do they really reach deep within us and mold our hearts like clay? It's easy to get a sense of well-being and satisfaction from things like that, but do they bring about the crushed and tender heart that is the true sacrifice of God? And are we learning the deep lessons that He wants everyone to learn? Actively engaging with those who are suffering, lonely, hungry, depressed, confused, or just having a bad day brings the pain of real compassion into my heart. And that compassion moves me to greater generosity in all areas that I am able to give.

There's also a lesson in gratitude to be found here, and not just for us as Christians. We all know that the best gifts we can receive are the ones that truly come from someone's heart. When we take the time to reach out in a personal, one-on-one way of kindness and caring, the recipient knows and feels it. Christian or not, they're grateful for what they have received. And in the lessons of compassion and gratitude learned in this heart to heart way, He is there. And then His teaching of compassion can start anew in the heart of another.

I know these are the lessons He wants me to learn from this because of the example he set for us. When confronted with the suffering, He didn't pay for doctors to come and heal, He was there, face to face. When the time came to offer the sacrifice for all our sins, he didn't set up a foundation to gather lambs for the altar, He gave Himself as our sacrifice. When He asks me if I love Him, and He tells me to feed His lambs, I know that He wants me learn the deep lesson, to feel the piercing of my heart as I reach out to the suffering of others.

It's not easy; in fact, it's downright painful.

I'd like to turn away from it, and retreat into my comfort and contentment.

He's not letting me do that. The more I run, the worse it hurts.

It's even difficult to sit in church sometimes, because I know that I'm not the decent human being He would have me be.

But in all of this vulnerability and pain, He is making me a new man, and renewing a right spirit inside of me.

While I may never bring a deep understanding of His love directly to someone's heart, I can give people a glimpse of that. It starts with me trying to be a decent human being, to do what is right and good.

Sometimes, that may simply be a smile and a kind word.

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