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.”

Strangers in a Strange Land

Sometimes I feel a strong need to get away. While this urge can be triggered by the crush of deadlines or weight of responsibilities, it is seldom the product of bitterness, anger, grief or guilt. In fact, most of the time it is simply brought on by an overwhelming compulsion to just go. Where I am headed, how far I travel and what I am to do when I get there never seem to matter as much as the journey itself. And so I properly excuse myself, get in the car and start driving, seeking to fulfill some nebulous longing to go somewhere.

In searching for a secular explanation, I’ve run across the German noun “sehnsucht,” which roughly translates as an ardent craving or deep yearning. “It is sometimes felt as a longing for a far-off country, but not a particular earthly land which we can identify. Furthermore there is something in the experience which suggests this far-off country is very familiar and indicative of what we might otherwise call ‘home’.” (Wikipedia contributors. “Sehnsucht.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 28 May. 2014. Web. 30 May. 2014.)

Turning to Scripture, I wonder if Jesus coined the original expression of this concept in His prayer for His Disciples: “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.” (John 17:14-16, NIV) It is clear that our Savior identifies both Himself and all believers as strangers in this world. Jesus also characterizes the world’s attitude toward those who believe God’s word as hatred, ostensibly because God’s wisdom is foolishness to non-believers (1 Corinthians 1:18 & 2:14). Rebuffed by the world, it then follows that believers are inexorably drawn toward something else entirely, their true home in the heavenly realm where Jesus is preparing rooms specifically for them (John 14). It is not a place believers can see, but somehow they know it’s there, waiting for them. Could this be a holy form of sehnsucht?

Although His means of transportation was limited, could it be that Jesus pioneered the concept of getting away during His time with us? “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16, NIV) “Jesus went out to a mountainside and spent the night praying to God.” (Luke 6:12, NIV) “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35, NIV) In addition to providing a means to dialog with God, maybe prayer is a less mobile means of temporarily stepping away from this broken and fallen world.

I think it is fair to ask if a course correction may be effected before it’s too late. Should it be considered it a warning sign if friends, relatives and coworkers who call themselves believers appear to be getting too comfortable with this world or don’t share this sense that they may be strangers? Old Testament prophets Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai and Zechariah all refer to a “faithful remnant.” Joshua and Caleb remained faithful to God’s instruction to invade the Holy Land (Numbers 13 & 14). Zadok remained faithful to King David (2 Samuel, 1 Kings), and Zadokites are held-up as an example of faithfulness and rewarded (Ezekiel 42:13, 43:19, 48:11). God’s Word promises those who are faithful to the end will be rewarded (Matthew 24:13, Hebrews 3:14-19, 2 Timothy), but it’s tough being faithful with my reading, studying, praying, worshiping and obeying all the time especially while nonbelievers seem to flourish. Maybe my attitude toward these building blocks of faith act as a barometer for whether I’m heading in the right direction or not.

I have heard it suggested that God has been largely silent since Biblical times. Could it be that the difficult to articulate concept of “sehnsucht” is the subtle tug of our Father’s voice which all true believers feel in their hearts, coaxing them through this temporary period of mere existence on planet Earth toward a heavenly eternity? I think I’ll take a drive and think it over.