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.”

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Give Forgiveness a Chance

Do you have a sin that “haunts” you?  Maybe the chains of abuse, alcohol, dishonesty, drugs or pornography once bound you until you gave your life to Christ?  Perhaps you’ve still not completely broken free.  Either way, do you ever wonder what it would be like to be rid of that sin, but then slip into an excuse like “God would never forgive me of that!”  As Christians we can look to the story of David for a powerful reminder of the redemption offered by forgiveness.

David’s rise to power was anything but ordinary.  As a shepherd boy, he once killed an attacking lion with his hands.  With 5 smooth stones, a simple sling and unflappable faith he slew Goliath, the Philistine champion.  He was chosen by God to be King of Israel, but spent a good part of his life running from the first monarch, Saul.  Once crowned king, David defeated all of Israel’s enemies and was able to bring the Ark of the Covenant back to Israel.  He even conceived of an impressive temple to house it.

At the height of his reign when everything seemed to be going his way, however, David took two giant leaps backward in his faithfulness to God.  He committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband murdered.  2 Samuel 12 tells the story of how the prophet Nathan confronted David with his sin, and it’s clear that he realized the error of his ways.  David was also a great author and contributor to the Bible, and in Psalm 51 we get a glimpse into his heart as he pleads with God for forgiveness.

Clearly David had done wrong, but he admitted his errors and promptly asked God for forgiveness.  Happily, this isn’t the end of the story.  David is remembered as one of the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11, and God calls him a man after His own heart in 1 Samuel 13:14.  A later child of David and Bathsheba named Solomon not only follows David as King of Israel but is also given the distinction of being the wisest and wealthiest man who ever lived and the beginning of an infinite kingly lineage.  Perhaps the crowning honor of David’s life was to be the ancestor of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Not bad for a man who blatantly broke two of God’s Ten Commandments after defending them so fiercely!

Keeping this in mind, is it safe to assume that all of the dark clouds of our sins will be blown away completely after we seek and gain God’s forgiveness?  No.  Remember, the illegitimate child born of David and Bathsheba’s first union did not survive.  Similarly, we cannot assume that our sin will not have consequences despite our sincere request for atonement.

God wants to forgive us.  He wants us to draw close to Him, and He’s smart enough to use anything, even sin, as a means to do it.  Give forgiveness a chance.  It might be just what’s needed to ignite your ho-hum relationship with God into an amazingly warm future.