(originally posted 3/13/16)
I am a nominal Christian. There I said it. Perhaps that is the beginning of change, like someone who goes to AA. They have to admit they’re an alcoholic first.
I have wanted God on my terms because I never really trusted him. How could I? I have not been able to trust the most important people in my life. Why would he be any different? So, in the name of self-preservation, I wanted him in time-out until he got his act together.
God wanted to be the most important thing in my life, but I kept him at a comfortable distance. He wanted to show me how much he loved me, but I refused to accept his love, reasoning that he was trying to trick me. He had to be. He said he wanted me to trust him and surrender my life to him, but his cunning wouldn’t fool me. I was smarter than that! Sure, I played the game when it served me. But I’m not sure my “playing” was believable to others, and God certainly knew!
I do have moments of sincerity and longing that God latches onto. He doesn’t miss an opportunity. When the door is opened, even just a crack, he zooms in with lightning speed! One recent example was when I was struggling in a relationship with someone important to me. I felt a “loving confrontation” was necessary to resolve the issue once and for all.
Now, I don’t handle confrontation very well. So, in a rare moment of submission, I turned to God first and prayed for his guidance. I wonder if he’s gotten over the shock yet, especially considering I waited for his response! That’s nothing short of a miracle.
A few days later, I went for a run at about 10:30 in the morning – not my usual time to run. I turned on my MP3 (that’s right, shocking, huh? I don’t have an iPhone, an iPad, or any I-want-what-you-have gadget. But somehow, I manage to hobble through life).
I turned on the radio instead of my playlist – also not usual. As soon as I turned it on, the woman announcer talked about a book she was reading, “Unoffendable” by Brant Hansen. As soon as I got home, I downloaded it on my Kindle. I couldn’t put it down. Honestly. It was amazing and just what I needed. Not just for this situation but for all time. He is so spot on and so incredibly funny. (He says he’s not, but he is.)
When Hansen says we Christians are the worst examples of always being offended and reacting with “righteous anger”, sadly, he’s right, and I am the worst offender of all. And, folks, that is why I have to admit that I am a nominal Christian, no matter what else I do to try and convince myself otherwise. But, hey, I tithe generously, fast, pray, and go to church. Why isn’t that enough?
Wait! Who do I sound like? The guy in Luke 18:13 who stood humbly before God and prayed? “He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’” Not hardly. More like this guy in verses 11-12: Looking around to make sure everyone was listening, he says, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'”
When I consider my “righteous” anger in the context of my relationships, I have to understand that I am making a statement about my faith and about God. Every time I try to one-up someone, I show them a false image of God, of Christ. I imagine them saying, “Oh sure, Linda, you have planted within me a burning desire to run to God with arms stretched out. Longing for His tender embrace.”
What I am actually doing is turning others away. There’s a scripture verse for that, starting with WOE TO YOU, knuckleheads! Check it out all through Matthew 23. It’s not an affirmation! And, no, he doesn’t use the word “knucklehead”. What He does use is worse!
So, back to Hansen’s book. I was looking through it for my favorite quotes, but there are too many. And the scripture verses he quotes are too numerous to mention. So, just get the book and fasten your seatbelt!
After reading the entire book without taking a breath (I’m not kidding! Okay, I’m kidding), I prayed, asking God’s forgiveness for my pride and self-righteousness, for seeing myself as the savior of the world, and then I finally let it go. God’s timing is impeccable, considering Good Friday and Easter Sunday are right around the corner.
The Pascal Mystery is relived for us every year because we too quickly forget! Our tears of sorrow on Good Friday may turn to tears of joy on Easter Sunday, but then dry up on Monday. If God is lucky, we might make it to Tuesday. If our promised surrender to God was something tangible, it would end up on Craig’s List like the treadmill from a New Year’s Resolution with the heading, “Like New – Rarely Used”.
Being a nominal Christian does not have to be my fate. I no longer believe surrendering to God is an instantaneous, magic wand moment or nothing at all. In Matthew 4:5, the devil tempted Jesus to jump off the cliff with a promise of great reward. Not God. God doesn’t give us an all-or-nothing ultimatum.
If we just start somewhere in our messiness to trust him, to give up something we are clinging to, he will show us what he can do with it. He will reveal to us the peace and joy in our hearts that can only come from turning loose of our need to control.
This can be the time for us to sit at the foot of the cross and “see” with our very hearts what is right before us.
What do you see there?
Do you see a God to be feared?
Do you see a God trying to trick you into submission?
Do you see a God who will betray your trust?
Or do you see a God who loves you THIS MUCH:
God is not a nominal God, and we are not called to be nominal Christians. Instead, we are called to take his love into a hurting and broken world without fear, knowing he goes before us.
Are we in or out? (By the way, that confrontation I told you about never took place because I felt God’s gentle nudge to let go of the need to “fix” other people. And the angels rejoiced!).