I really don’t like cheering for teams that are constantly disappointing. I am what many call a fair weather fan. It’s one of the reasons that I just don’t enjoy watching professional football…because by reason of my residence, I am obliged to cheer for a team that has been “rebuilding” since 1959. (weakly, with a lame fist pump) Go Lions…
And I remember when I got married, I confessed my desire to cheer for a pro football team that could at least win a few games here and there on the regular. My wife’s response to me was to pretty much, “man-up and cheer for your hometown team. You’re not a very good Michigander if you don’t cheer for the Detroit Lions – win or lose.”
I confess, I wasn’t expecting my marriage to use a sport neither of us like as an object lesson pointing to my extremely conditional loyalties. Haha! And this tension is funny to look back on now. But at the time, it was a real thing. So I cheer for the Detroit Lions, now. I do…even though I know better. I even went out and bought a Lions shirt after that conversation…and I literally don’t know where it is! Ha!
But I love marriage and the silly things that happen with us over the years! Marriage is an amazingly beautiful and powerful thing that God has created! But it’s funny how even marriage – the foundational construct of marriage in our culture and our society – seems very similar to my relationship with a floundering football team…at its most basic level. It is also what we like to call CONDITIONAL.
Over the years, I’ve had the blessing of attending a bunch of weddings, and I’ve even had the privilege of officiating a few weddings. And they were beautiful ceremonies. But when it comes down to it, a wedding is a ceremony based on conditional promises. I have stood between the two people getting married. And they look at each other and say something to the effect of: “I’ll love you…if you’ll love me.” “Well, I’ll love you…if you’ll love me.” “Ok, give me a ring.” “Ok, now you give me a ring.” And then I’ll basically say, “Say these things in front of lots of people who can hold you to your promises… Ok, give me a paper. Now sign it.” And this conditional construct of marriage is the backbone of our culture and society and it’s a curator of human development and stability.
But then here’s what happens: we take this kind of conditional construct, and we tend to project it on God… Do you know how many professed Jesus followers right now have convinced themselves that they are not ok with God simply because of their religious performance? It is one of the great toxins in our theology and culture.
It gets worse… What happens is those of us who have already received Jesus, and begun to follow Jesus, have concluded that a relationship with Jesus is not much different from a relationship with a sports team or a best friend or a spouse. And then we project this on God: because we have a sinking sensation that we live under on a regular basis, if things are not right with God, we espouse that to others who are considering God.
And so we hear things like: “I’m gonna tell you right now…you can come to church with me, but you gonna have to change some stuff in your life. No, it’s cool. Anybody can come…that what they say…anybody can come. But if you gonna KEEP coming to church with me you can’t keep doing what I know you’re doing on Saturdays…and then roll in there on a Sunday…”
And we do this! We do it non-verbally; we do it with little statements; we do it with little applications; we take scriptures that we don’t really understand the context they’re found in and use them in ways that God never intended for them to be used in. And we do it – not because we don’t fully understand how to navigate certain parts of scripture – we do it because WE are still carrying this sinking sensation that things aren’t right.
“How do you know?” “I KNOW because I’m not DOING right, so I can’t BE right. But when I DO right, I FEEL right.”
But here’s the slippery slope that we keep believing and projecting onto others (verbally and non-verbally): that I am right with God when I am doing right. And we build whole cultures of communities on this kind of conversation: “Church, come on, hey, stop that! Young people, don’t do this or that. I don’t care what’s cool or hip. Just stop it. Quit that. Enough of that…” This is what we’ve done for a long time. We have unintentionally sent the message that Christianity is all about what you’re not supposed to do so that you can be right with God so that you can FEEL right.
The problem exists on both ends of the spectrum:
- When you don’t feel right because you aren’t doing right, you feel shame.
- When you feel right because you are doing right, you feel pride.
And BOTH are a problem. Neither are accurate! The backbone – the spine – of the Christian faith is not predicated on the performance of human beings – it is the performance of one Man alone. And his name is Jesus!
It is not good news to tell people to tell people they’ve got to do right in order to be right. That’s called ‘normal news’; that could even be called ‘below average news’… “Hey man, I got good news for you. You gotta DO right to BE right. Only the elite will make it…only the incredibly disciplined few!” Does that sound like good news to you?
There are literally loads and loads of Christians who believe that only a special few are going to get into heaven BECAUSE only a few can live right for God… I have to say: that’s not good news!
When we project this belief, we’ve just turned the good news of the gospel into below average news that has NO POWER TO SAVE ANYONE!
The power to do right is not in your will power; the power to do right is when you let go, and say “I can’t, but I accept what Jesus has done on my behalf.” And what will enter into your soul is a supernatural energy to do and live in a way you otherwise could not.
And THAT is good news!
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