Monday, October 29, 2007

The God of the Good Life

Who said Christianity is an easy life? Some Christians do: They claim you just need to pray and God will answer your prayers as your expected. If not, they argue, then you've probably failed to exercise faith or you have an unconfessed sin that's hindering God's blessing. All you need to do is get rid of these problems and your prayers will be answered.

For the sake of discussion I divide Christianity into two echelons of believers. One level is composed of Christians who claim God is always performing miracles on their behalf. This is the God of the Good Life, as I call Him. These Christians observe God's hand everywhere and in everything.

The other group of Jesus’ followers seems to always struggle in life. They live with illnesses that linger and marriages that only become worse.

I've actually never met anyone in the first category. Well . . . yes, I have. I have encountered Christians who claim to hear from God on a continual basis. Every event in their life is another indicator of God's intervention. Yet these believers have just as many problems as anyone else . . . sometimes even more.

While the poor starve in third world countries and suffer with the HIV-AIDS epidemic, God is finding these higher echelon disciples prime parking spots in glorious malls so they can purchase the latest fashions from DKNY or Bebe's. Don't you just love how Jesus reinforces our self-indulgences?

Most people I know are patiently waiting on the Lord to answer their prayers, heal an illness or help them find employment. These are the people who rarely hear from God but tough it out day-by-day praying, trusting and growing in their trials. They don't seek the Lord for parking spots but for healing from malignant skin cancer. They are fed up with prayer gimmicks, formulas and the chanting of scripture passages to try to convince God to answer their prayers. They refuse to utter meaningless repetitional prayers that are somehow suppose to catch God's attention and motivate Him to care. To these faithful devotees, God is the God of the Good and the Not So Good Life . . . the real life .

Prayer in the hands of the miracle-seeking crowd has the potential to become cruel and heartless. The God of the higher echelon is a God who wants to heal and bless but His hands are tied by our limitations. Such a God is impotent and useless. His ability to help us is bound because we don't have the faith the size of a medicine ball, or we just haven't attended the right healing meeting or been prayed over by the right prayer warrior.

How shallow life becomes when all the disappointments we face become our fault. It sounds like the philosophy of "The Secret" with its law of attraction. Such philosophies reduce God to a weakling who is controlled by the negative and positive things we say or attract. He doesn't know whether He's coming or going. In fact, if God is limited by my negative or positive attitudes, then I am more powerful than God Himself and I've reduced Him to a wooden cosmic puppet.

In contrast, the God of the lower echelon heals people who have no faith and allows people with great faith to die in pain. He cannot be reduced to a formula. This deity does not run from hurt and disappointment. He sticks around when the parking lot is full and there are absolutely no parking spaces.

I love the God of the "lower echelon" because He allows us to be real. He permits us to cry when the hurt of loneliness is too much to bear. He holds us close when the radiologist delivers bad news about our x-rays. He's near in death and in life. He's the God who stands near us when our hurt is so unbearable forcing us to spew out a string of curses . . . some aimed at God Himself. Yet He is also the God who can perform a supernatural intervention when it will bring Him glory.

Sadly, the God of the Good Life is only near when healing is granted but far away when death knocks at our door. For those who only seek the God of miracles, perhaps you're missing out on who God really is? You see, your trust in God runs out when there are no parking spaces that open up. Your God can only cast blame on your lack of faith or your failure to launch yourself into the supernatural.

As for me, I'll take the God who lets me be real. I want the God who catches my tears and speaks warmth into a heart cold from being too alone.

When the parking lot is full, I will keep my motor running, and keep on seeking another spot even if I need to walk a few blocks to my destination. I'll thank Him either way and know at the end of the day my relationship with Him is as honest as can be.

I don't need to rationalize or scramble for a reasonable spiritual explanation for why things do not always work out. Maybe I'll never know. But in my heart I know I am under His care whether I walk from that far away parking spot in the bright shining sun or in the dismal driving rain.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

I'm a Real Boy Now!

Christianity is my faith of choice. Depending on your theology, Christianity is also my faith in being chosen. I started walking with the Lord three decades ago. I embraced Jesus as my Messiah, Lord and Redeemer out of a deep need for inner wholeness.

My life was spinning out of control. I lost my moral compass and was wandering through the late sixties. At my moment of faith I had nothing to bring to God. No sense of personal righteousness. No religious jargon. No list of random acts of kindness. I offered God a life I had screwed up through involvement with drugs and stupid relationship choices. What attracted me to Jesus, or Yeshua, as I call Him, was that I didn't need to get religious in order to get spiritual. No pre-salvation clean-up. No need to change my political party. He did not even ask me to cease and desist from my debauchery until after He empowered me with the capacity to make changes.

At a time when I no longer loved myself and gravitated toward self destruction, His love for me drew me to Him.

I approached God with fear. I wondered, "Would He want me? What could He do with me?" I'm not perfect. My foul mouth. My sexual indiscretions. My over-the-top mentality. My attraction to living high.

I started off in the messianic faith with a sense of gratitude and humility. I always reflect on the moment when I first opened my heart to Jesus. My first few years of walking with the Lord was real, honest and vulnerable.

Then I entered the ministry . . . After nine years of college and graduate school I was immersed in evangelical Christianity. I became a seminar speaker. A pastor. A college professor. I loved serving God and others in these capacities.

My relationship to my faith changed. In order to be in spiritual leadership I was required to be an example of transcendent spirituality to others. Not only was I following Jesus; I had to be Him. Peopleexpected to look to me as a shining example of the character of God at work in a human. Always truthful. Holy. Righteous. Persevering. Faithful. Pure in thought and deed. Spotless in speech. Even secular people expected me to be Mr. Christ.

Pressure. Pressure. Pressure. Loneliness. Loneliness. Loneliness. Dishonesty. Dishonesty. Dishonesty.

"Nothing makes us so lonely as our secrets"—Paul Tournier. Alas, so many Christians live in spiritual loneliness afraid of their secrets, forgetting God already knows the truth. He is waiting for us to run to His arms finding His love and mercy. Yes, I decided to be a secret agent instead of an honest Christian.

After awhile I realized i was living a double life. Outwardly, I had this facade of Christianity that made others feel good: at least someone seemed to be taking Jesus seriously. Inwardly, I struggled like anyone else. In my heart I was this person who decided to follow Jesus 30 years ago. The inner person cried out to be released because he is THE real person. My transparent self. The self that always needs Jesus. The external, plastic pastoral identity doesn't need Jesus. He is banking on his own self righteousness.

For the sake of spiritual survival, I decided the double life had to come to an end. Now I am no longer a pastor. However, my relationship with God and others has become more real. I can be honest about my moral struggles. I no longer need to live for what others think about me. I feel free. I am like Pinnochio who was released from being a puppet by his creator Geppetto and cried out: I'm a real boy now! Now I say, I'm a real Christian now! No more strings.

Too many followers of Jesus look good on the outside. They say the right things. Refrain from cursing. Shun discussion about sex. stay away from R-rated films. Only listen to sacred music. Read G-rated books and live in a Christian bubble while trembling at the thought of being tainted by the world. Their social life consists of church, bible study groups and small groups. They are several degrees of separation from mainstream living. They showcase a life most secular people are not attracted to. Outsiders fail to see Jesus in these well-intentioned Christians. They see self righteousness and self induced piety. It all looks good on the outside but it is on the inside-the heart, soul and mind-where Christ is the most real.

Give me an honest, sinning Christian who admits his struggle with sin and inhales the grace and mercy of God on a daily basis, and I will show you a true New Testament Christian.

So much more to say on this subject. For those who are tired of the Christian cultural veneer of perfectionistic Christianity, your voice needs to be heard. Too many Christians settle for lives of quiet desperation. You and I need to speak up and say it's okay to be real and vulnerable. God can handle it. He's handling me and I am still amazed He's still hanging around!

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Music Capitol of the World

I live in Los Angeles, the hub of the music industry.

I came to LA in 1969 when the rockin' bands were the Doors, the Byrds and Zeppelin. Radio was free form. It was album driven and the DJs were able to play whatever they wanted. Any cut. Any band. Any album. The focus of music shifted from AM to FM. Commercial free FM radio played deep into the night. What I never understood was that LA radio hardly played any Dylan apart from "Like a Rolling Stone" or more of his pop stuff.

Now LA Radio rocks to the beat of Clear Channel. The local stations play what sells and they sell out on what should really be playing. Mostly, I find the best music on XM Satellite listening to Fred, Ethel and Lucy. Several podcasts from around the country play some incredible indie bands. Accidental Hash is a great podcast to find out what is brewing beyond the walls of the music industry and the controlled atmosphere of Clear Channel.

I am glad we have choices. Clear Channel is necessary. However, LA radio fails to give the listener much choice. A few alternative rock stations exists-KROQ and several college based stations. Yet this is the music capitol of the world. I love the music industry but the moguls need to start listening to what the people are listening and not to what the tweenies are buying. The good music will survive . . . it always does.