So we went on vacation last week with the kids. Took our first for-real family vacation to Saint Simons Island. Rented a little house. Kicked it on the beach. Enjoyed walking around the Village at Saint Simons Pier, getting lemonade at Zuzu’s, and just taking a break from everything that’s been going on in my head for the past 15 years.
The kids loved it too; they got to share a room with twin beds and a television, complete with VCR (remember those) and DVD player. They watched movies to their hearts’ content, and the last movie they watched was Disney’s Aladdin. You know, the one with the hysterical blue genie and the sappy magic carpet ride across the world. In fact, the song during that sappy magic carpet ride got stuck in my head, and I’ve not been able to remove it.
Yesterday at church, it got stuck permanently, I fear.
The pastor who spoke was teaching on Jesus’ habit of eating with unseemly people. How Christ, God made flesh, came eating and drinking with sinners and the lowest of the low. The point of the message was about modifying the frequent religious expectation of people (to behave the right way, believe the right things, and then belong to the right group) in favor of the way Jesus brought people along (by letting them belong with him, then believe in him, then changing their behaviors). We learned that Jesus shared meals with people who weren’t like him so they could know how much God loved them.
But the thing that turned my head around was the following quote:
“When you are uncomfortable with people who are different than you, that says more about your insecurity than it does your spirituality.”
Can I tell you how much this rang true with me?
I spent years trying to teach people that uniformity mattered. That everyone walked the same line, thought the same thoughts, watched the same shows, sang the same songs. I was wrong. It’s not uniformity that Christ called us to, it’s unity. And there’s a difference.
Lately, I’ve been feeling the pull to be around people who aren’t like me. To be around people who don’t think like me, or believe like me, or watch the same kind of shows as me. I want to be around people who will stretch me, challenge me, make me laugh, and remind me that people aren’t horrible all the time. I want to go places I’ve not gone for fear of being judged and meet people I’ve not met for fear of being scolded. I want to be like Jesus, so secure in my own self that I can make others around me feel secure too.
My struggle lies in letting God accomplish this on His timetable. I’ve got this internal clock in my head that keeps sounding off about how I don’t have the luxury of time to wait for God. I can’t afford to give Him my complete trust because He might work so slow that I’ll have to sacrifice something like my house or my car just to stay afloat. I’m at war within because I am hungry for the deeper things that God is doing in my life, but I’m anchored to the security I’ve created outside of God.
Everything feels like a battle for my soul because I’m secured myself to insecure things, and God is calling me into a whole new world where I find my security solely in Him.
Not in my religion. Not in my self-righteousness. Not in my works. Not in my finances.
In Christ alone.
It’s scary, but it’s the only thing that offers peace these days. I will trust in Him, even as the battle inside rages on. I will be with him, and trust him to change what I believe and how I behave. That’s walking with Christ.
And that’s the life I want.
“When your god is small, you can still be the biggest thing in your world.”
I heard that on Sunday. It’s been in the back of my mind ever since. Small god. Small God. It’s a fascinating thought.
I can’t get it out of my head.
See, I know people who worship the small God, the God that is more concerned about rules and uniformity than about redemption and transformation. The small God doesn’t change you; he gives you rules and demands that you change. The small God doesn’t disciple you; he disciplines you for committing errors you didn’t know you’d committed. The small God doesn’t love you; he demands you love him.
The small God is not the true God.
Even now, there are people who are reading this and going ballistic. They hear words like love, redemption, transformation, rules, discipline, and they hear something very different from me. I am teetering on the edge of heresy by suggesting that God is not concerned primarily with rules and discipline and order and obedience. I’m leading people down a wrong path, a path of easy-believism.
The reality is the opposite. Easy-believism is when you tell people that if they’ll live their lives a certain way, according to to certain code, then God will make everything work out, and if it doesn’t, then it’s their fault for not living right. Easy-believism says that everyone else is wrong and you’re right, so there’s no need to have a conversation. Easy-believism says that only people who live by certain rules truly get God.
True belief is hard. It’s challenging. There are black and white areas to be sure, but there’s also a lot of gray. And it’s in that gray that a person is forced to lean into God, to dig into the word, to search Him out for answers. It’s in that gray that a person finds themselves being transformed. It’s in that gray that a person discovers that the small God is pathetic and mean and not to much different than a petty human being; that if God exists, He must by definition be something more than we can create on our own.
And that’s why the quote above resonated with me so much: people who worship the small God want to be bigger themselves. They want to be able to say that they are special, they are unique, they are gifted or holy or any other adjective that places emphasis on them and their ability to be blessed by the small God.
Maybe that’s the tell: if your God exalts you for following him, you’re worshiping the small God.
Because the big God, the real God, the God revealed in the Bible and in the person of Jesus Christ, isn’t concerned about you being exalted through Him. He wants to be exalted through you. And He does that not by piling the rules on you to the point of suffocation, but by freeing you up to be who He created you to be. He is exalted most when you live a life fully free in Him.
I get scared writing stuff like this. I get scared pushing against the small Gods out there, the gods of abusers and bullies who use religion as a weapon to secure their own power. I get scared because I know those types of people don’t like being called out, don’t abide people who stand up to their scare tactics. I get scared because I know people who live that way, and I don’t wish them any harm or want to hurt them. I get scared because I don’t want to become like that myself.
More and more, though, I find that this is something I want to write. That I feel driven to write on. More and more I feel like I need to say something that presses back against the small Gods so the people who wonder if there’s something more can know the truth: there is.
And He’s so much more than you’ve been lead to believe. Or dared to dream.
Don’t settle for a small God. Don’t settle for a world where, by simply following rules you become the biggest thing. Don’t settle for anything other than the one true God.
Yesterday the pastor of the church we’ve been visiting was speaking on the topic of Good Advice. The main point of his sermon was that too often people seek out “yes men” for their decisions – they fail to seek out enough perspective before making a decision and so their choices often lead to hardship. The pastor suggested that for many people, life is about acceptance: we crave it, and so we seek it, and we’ll give it in order to obtain it.
In other words, we’ll give people a pass on things they do if they’ll give us a pass on the things we do. The Romans called it quid pro quo. Scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.
The pastor went on; rather than acceptance, he said, what we really want is discernment. To know which things are good, and to be able to choose them. When we can discern for ourselves, we don’t have to trade our approval for someone else’s; we can simply do what we know to be right. We still seek counsel in order to do things wisely, but the fundamental idea of knowing what we should do gives us clarity and focus. It doesn’t leave us chasing our tails.
I was amazed by the pastor’s ability to bring that together. I find myself trying to be an accepting person when what I really want to be is a discerning person. Too often I trade my approval for the approval of others, and I’m learning I don’t have to do that. I can disagree with someone about the how or why of something and not have to feel beholden to them, as if I’m responsible for making them feel good about their life choices.
As the pastor pointed out, I’m responsible before God for me. Not anyone else.
That doesn’t mean that I live a life of isolation and nonchalance. There’s still a mandate from God to be light in the world. But how people respond to the light isn’t up to me; I simply have to live according to His word and His spirit. He’ll do everything else.
Discernment. Wisdom. Strength. I want them all, and have been praying for God to develop them within me. How about you?