The Christian Ombudsman

An ombudsman is usually someone hired to be an impartial observer of an organization’s practices and to bring to light certain situations that require special attention, either positive or negative. In other words, an ombudsman is someone who watches an organization and says, “This is good, keep doing it” or “This wasn’t so good, here’s a correction.”

We live in a world of factions; forget the mainstream media’s portrayal of things and look to the news feeds of your own friends and family–you’ll see that many people run to one extreme or the other in order to find security. As a result, people share distorted (at best) or untrue (at worst) portraits of those who disagree with their positions.

As a Christian, I find that most of the people I know struggle with sharing who Jesus really is. In fact, most of the people I know don’t actually share Jesus–they share political opinions disguised in religious rhetoric. I’ve wasted plenty of time in the past trying to attack people on both sides of the aisle for their statements and ended up with nothing but heartache (and in many cases, heartburn). So the goal of this blog isn’t to hatchet either Christian polemic.

Instead, this blog will look at things through the lens of Jesus and the rest of Scripture. I won’t pretend that some posts will seem to lean toward one political direction or another; it’s practically a given since we’ve made that language an intractable part of our daily discourse. But my focus will be on what Jesus said and did, or what his followers said and did, in contrast with what many believers are saying and doing today. And my goal isn’t to convince Christians to change their positions–though, if that happens, all the groovier–but instead to help those who find themselves weary of the religious rigmarole altogether. I will share thoughts on faith and Jesus as a safe zone for those who don’t have a faith of their own.

As a result, I’m open to questions from the curious. I’d love to speak to those issues you find mystifying, troubling, or flat-out disturbing. Sometimes I’ll share my thoughts, other times I’ll share the thoughts of others. The goal will always be to stir your thinking and answer your questions with gentleness and respect.

What I’m not open to are attacks from the dissenting, or bullying from those who find their security stems from having everyone agree. You have the rest of the Internet for that.

So that’s the goal. Honest answers from a practitioner of the faith, which is what the Bible says we’re supposed to do anyway (1 Peter 3:15-16). I’ll figure out a way to create a form that allows questions to be submitted, and if I get one, I’ll answer it the best I can. If I get none, then I’ll just start with what’s top of mind.

I’m looking forward to blogging on a regular basis again, and for having a purpose that keeps me inspired. Hope you’ll come along for the ride.

A Whole New World

different-races1So 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.

The Lure of Small Gods

“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.