The Lie that Fuels the Pride of the Church

I remember when I was in the prayer and fasting peak of my life.  I prayed with authority, knew more bible verses than I ever had, probably had the least amount of joy in my life and that’s when God cut me with his words.

I will share a little background with you to help understand what he said to me.  I know a man who has been a drug addict since he was 14 years old.  He engaged in promiscuous sex,  began dealing drugs, was in and out of courtrooms and almost killed himself through driving while super strung out on drugs…three times.  He was my age.

God said to me in that little prayer room where I was giving up my life serving the poor, “I love him as much as I love you.”  You might think this would have been a comfort, but I tell you, it was an offense.  I had been taught by leaders in the church that God held a special place for people like me, the good ones.  That he loved the saint more than the sinner.  I didn’t notice the arrogance towards others that crept in under this teaching.  I believed I truly was better than those other people.  That is what I believed.  And that is the lie that God wanted to root out of me.

There is sometimes a stench that comes in religious environments and its the stench of pride.  When people move in the power of God or feel his presence or know his word or obey his commands, sometimes there is a smelly lie that accompanies this that we have earned his favor.  That we deserve it.  We are no longer like those unreligious secular commoners, we are the fingers of God and deserve the better than them.  Surely we are better.

I can feel the slithering feeling of these garments of pride even now as I imagine it.  Even now as I remember it.  This is the stench the world hates.  And let me tell you, it is also the stench Jesus hates.

Jesus did not separate himself.  He did not pride himself on his spotlessness.  He did not cast judgment, nor condemnation.  The thing he openly rebuked is what I have written about above and it was alive and well in the reigning religious order of the time.  There will be offense in heaven and it won’t be at God as a terrorist, it will be at God as a merciful king.

Teaching parables, “I will pay the wages I want,” he says as he pays someone who barely worked at all the same amount as the one who worked the hardest, causing offense at all of their efforts.  “Let me give everything I have to my careless son,” he says to the offense of the dutiful, obedient, older brother.  “Cast the first stone,” he invites to the guilty condemners of a whore, leaving them with nothing left to throw.

God is offensive.  His love is offensive.  His generosity is offensive.  His mercy is offensive.  Get ready to be offended by God, not by his judgment but by his mercy.  No one has earned his love.  No one deserves his favor.  No one has maintained their own innocence.  No one in Christ is treated as they deserve, they are only ever treated as Christ deserves and nothing less.

God the father didn’t wait for your life to change before you were worth dying for.  No, it was the other way around.  He wanted to correct me that his love truly is free to all right now in full, not just to those who climb the religious ladder.

God doesn’t love in part, love is who he is and we are his dream.  All of us.  We get to treat all people with dignity whether or not they have forgotten it.  We aren’t invited by God to love every kind of person because he asks us to, we are invited to love every kind of person because they are worthy of it because his shed blood says so.

God wanted me to see that nothing I had of him was ever earned of my religious efforts, therefore none of him could ever be taken away from me.  All of my religious-performance-self was offended.  God loves the man I mentioned in the beginning of this piece as much as he loves me still to this day.    Maybe one day we all will believe this and then the world will truly recognize followers of Christ by their love.

Servant King

Christians in Pakistan

I remember one day in my early twenties sweeping a floor in a soup kitchen for the umpteenth time and using their hand brush while on my knees to get EVERYTHING off the floor and into the wastebasket when I thought I would eventually graduate from service. Ya know, helping people and serving them. Like the cleaning toilets and taking out the trash kind of stuff.

I remember having lofty thoughts of leading something or speaking somewhere or doing something IMPORTANT. Something that would impact the world and make a mark. One day. One day I would graduate from service.

I can tell you now, a decade later — I will never graduate from service. If I will one day lead others, I will lead them into service. If I speak, I will speak about loving God, themselves, and others well. There has been a change but the change has been within me; I no longer hold a desire to move on to something else.

I still sweep floors, clean toilets, and take out the trash. I still wash others dishes, underwear, and throw away their leftovers. I still wipe that rag along baseboard so dust doesn’t make a home, and I scrub tiles in the kitchen so residue doesn’t stay for long.
Jesus never graduated from service, rather he graduated his disciples into service. His last night with them was spent on his knees getting his hands in their dirt and washing their feet. He didn’t have to. It wasn’t because they were worthy of the act. He did it because it revealed the likeness and nature of his father.

He may not have specifically been inviting them into the life of Cinderella, but in part, he was. Every day some of the people I am most impressed with in the world are not on television shows or the radio; they are people cleaning up the bathroom mistake of their elderly father or mother who didn’t quite make it in their feebleness to the toilet. They are the mothers and fathers who faithfully love an adolescent who hates them back and is being self-destructive. They are the beautiful families that serve siblings or spouses who are handicapped and will never live independently from their care or even have the mind or ability enough to say “Thank you.”

Not only does God serve the needy and take care of the poor, he invites us to something even harder. Welcome to not necessarily graduation from service, but maybe the next lesson within it: “27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. […] 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. […] 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, […] Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Lk 6

God never graduated from service. While he was on his knees in front of his friends he was king of the Jews with an unseen crown representing all authority on his head. Jesus was himself called a servant of God, executing his father’s will as his own. His admonishment for greatness was in fact this very thing. “Jesus called the twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Mk 9:35

My challenge is to not resent the tasks at hand before you; the tasks for which you don’t get paid, the tasks for which no one notices, the tasks for which you won’t get any online attention. And we can all be leaders, but the manner in which we lead says more than our words do. After all, its ultimately him we can do these things and live this life for. It’s him we say thank you to as we exhale our breath, or gaze upon a loved one. It’s him who sees.