I.D., please…

The older I get the more amused I become about the world’s attempts to confine me to various boxes.  Who I should hang-out with, what I should eat, where I should live, when I should be happy, why I spend my money the way I do, how come I hate golf.  The list goes on and on.  And as if that weren’t claustrophobic enough, most of these have a negative side as well (the most painful being “what I should not eat”).  Sometimes I wonder if I resemble the shape of a box, and that the cartoon character Sponge Bob might be a distant relative or that I might be the human manifestation of the proverbial square peg.

Amusement shifts quickly to annoyance, however, when the subject becomes Christianity.  People of faith are this way, not that way; and since some believe this, others must find it acceptable – right?  At first blush it appears that only those living outside Christ are the ones who suffer from these cases of mistaken identity.  Curiously, though, Christians are also plagued by the same identity crisis, perhaps explaining in part why we question who we really are in the world order and succumb to the travesty of allowing internal and external divisions to prevent us from fully uniting under Christ’s authority.

Of course, oversimplification is a risk here, but I am a firm believer that we make life far more difficult than God ever intended it to be.  So, though it may be a bit naïve and almost certainly incomplete, I offer the following points, grouped as simple statements of being and belief, about Christians in general as an attempt to dispel the boxy notions about our faith.

I am part of the wondrous demographic diversity God always intended.  I am a member of all rungs of the socio-economic ladder: poor, middle-income and wealthy.  I am tall and short, fat and skinny, male and female, old and young, black and white and every shade between.  I am educated: GED to Ivy League, street-smart to multiple PhDs, blue collar to white collar.  I am a resident of all towns, tribes, cities, states and nations in this beautiful world.

I am interested in more than just religion.  I am a concerned citizen who reads the newspaper, votes regularly and gets involved in community affairs.  I am worried about the environment and want to do my part to leave our children a healthy planet.  I am someone who struggles to be a good spouse, parent, grandparent, child, employee and friend.  I take seriously God’s mission for my stage in life.

I am honest about who I am.  I am a sinner.  I am someone who desperately needs God’s grace and mercy and who wants to be held accountable.

I believe in the one and only true God, creator of all.  I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s own son and my savior.  I believe the Holy Spirit is alive and well convicting the world of its sins.  I believe in the Bible as the inerrant word of God.  I believe there is only one path to eternal life with God.  I believe only one human being has ever lived a perfect life, and the rest of humanity is equally imperfect.

I believe in the sanctity of life from the moment of conception to death.  I believe in marriage as the sacred union between one man and one woman.

I believe the cross of Christ transcends any party or side of the political spectrum and trumps the self-serving rhetoric of mass media commentators.

I believe a church’s name or parent organization is far less important than what it actually stands for or against.

I believe that holding a Biblical opinion gives me needed direction and the confidence to handle what life throws my way.

I believe fame, power and wealth cannot compare to forgiveness, grace and mercy – just ask anyone who has fallen from the limelight, been pushed from office or rendered penniless.

I believe few things (if any) are more open-minded and less judgmental than a savior who accepts anyone as long as they accept Him.

I believe religion has often been misused throughout history, and that Christ will sort things out when He returns.

I believe in freedom of religion, speech and the press, but I also believe these freedoms are regularly abused.  I believe censure is wrong, but many forms of expression are nothing more than blatant profanity worthy of nothing more than the garbage heap.

I believe that Christianity and fun are not mutually exclusive.  Just pay a visit to any thriving youth group to witness the proof.

I believe it is God’s privilege to determine what is right and wrong, despite human laws that may say otherwise.

I believe that if science wants everyone to believe it is strictly fact-based, then all scientists need to consider every possibility instead of indiscriminately throwing some out.

I believe that my faith is an integral part of who I am and everything I do, so asking me to set any portion of it aside for any reason keeps me from being my best as an employee, spouse, friend or family member.

In the end, it all comes down to a struggle for consistency: are we really honest about who we are and what we believe, and do those statements of being and belief play-out in our everyday lives in such a way that we cannot help but package ourselves into a gift-wrapped box for presentation to our Lord?  If so, then we can leave all pretense behind and state with full confidence: “I am a Christian.”

The Love Connection

On July 4th 1976, the United States celebrated its 200th birthday, and much to the chagrin of my brother, sister and me, our family headed east instead of south to spend spring break in our nation’s capital to take part in the yearlong festivities.

To make matters worse, the long car ride from our southwestern Ohio home to the Atlantic coast was filled with homework – that’s right, my parents doled out reading assignments.  As the miles passed, we spent our time studying AAA travel guides, skimming library books and perusing magazine articles about the geography and history of the sites that we were about to visit.

At some point during that trip, my siblings and I exchanged a knowing glance of skepticism: all of these facts were somewhat interesting to “experience” in black-n-white text and grainy, sepia toned pictures, but none of us were naïve enough to believe we’d ever come close to the actual Oval Office or set foot on the floors of the fabled U.S. House of Representatives or Senate chambers.  Instead we’d be relegated to the 50-cent, “everybody crowd in so you can hear me” tour of the Capitol and an uncomfortably warm and noisy bus ride past the White House grounds.  Why in the world would Mom and Dad rub our noses in this reality by making us study?  We soon learned the answer.

The next morning, the three of us dutifully followed Mom and Dad to the hotel lobby to begin our first excruciating day as common tourists.  Nothing appeared out of the ordinary except for the long, black limousine parked at the entrance that was surely waiting to whisk away some politician or dignitary to a high-powered meeting at any one of the area’s major power centers.   However, the chauffeur approached us instead.  “Good morning!  Please follow me to the car as we have a very busy day ahead of us.”  He smiled as he held the door open for two beaming adults and three very bewildered children.  Once comfortably seated in this lap of luxury, we sped past the ubiquitous tour buses and crowds of weary sightseers to a heavy wrought iron gate marked “authorized personnel only.”  A uniformed guard saluted and waved us through to an underground parking area.  When we rolled to a stop, an officer in a crisp, white shirt and neatly pressed pants approached.  He greeted our parents by name and introduced himself as the Captain of the Capitol Guard.  Over a private breakfast in an ornate dining area, we came to find out that this gentleman was the son of a close family friend.  Mom and Dad wanted our family to experience this proud moment in our country’s history in a very memorable and unique way, so they asked their friend if special arrangements could be made, and obviously their connection paid off.

Over the next several days we were treated to an insider’s look at Washington D.C. – walking the private hallways and visiting the exclusive rooms frequented by historic figures from the past and present.  Maybe Lincoln ate here, maybe FDR met with Churchill there!  We went behind the scenes at all the well-known buildings and cherished monuments and even rode in the special people-mover used to shuttle Representatives and Senators throughout the Capitol building.  For that short span of time, we felt truly important because we knew someone who was “connected.”

John 14:6 speaks to this same concept from a Christian perspective.  Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  As we learned on our family vacation, you need to know someone in order to gain access to exclusive places and important people.  For believers, Jesus is that someone, our special connection who can admit us into heaven for eternal life with our Father.  Why did God arrange this?  Because, as John 3:16 so aptly put it, He loves us!  It’s the greatest example of connecting through love that’s ever been devised.  Let’s buckle up together and settle in for the grand tour!