Christianity Is: “Not Me!”

Christianity Is: “Not Me!”

I’ve been on a movie-watching kick recently, particularly for action/adventure films. Two that I’ve seen in the past week or so are Schindler’s List, about World War II Poland (which I wrote about in The lords Of This Age) and No Escape, about a family of Westerners trapped in a coup in a third-world country. This is not a review of either film but their plots are the starting point for my thoughts – a blog prompt, if you will.

These stories show “the very darkest side of humanity,” which is how I wrote it in my journal. Schindler’s is based on a true story, and Escape claims to be fiction but looks an awful lot like the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge. (It compares well with The Killing Fields, which is based on a true story.)

As I took in the scenes of unspeakable violence (complete with ultra-modern special effects), a movie quote came to me. In The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Theoden King says, in the height of a losing battle,

“So much death. What can man do against such reckless hate?”

Reckless hate. I checked the definition of ‘reckless:’ (of a person or their actions) without thinking or caring about the consequences of an action. These movies depict incidents of repulsive violence, a complete lack of care about people, places or things. And it didn’t matter how the actors came to take these actions. In the first, the Nazi party worked from within the “civilized” democratic system, being voted into power. In the other, rioting gave way to an overthrow – in all its raw, base nature – of the existing government. (‘Base:’ adjective, without moral principles, ignoble. Synonyms: mean, bad, wrong, evil.)

And that brings me to my main point. I hope you have heard of “us versus them” in social/societal interaction. We humans seek to belong to a group – any group – as an instinctual form of security and protection. People in our group are “us.” Anyone not in our group is a “them,” an opponent to be wary of, at best, or a blood enemy to be killed on sight, at worst.

I submit that, at its very heart, this actually stems from an attitude of “me versus the world,” and is the ultimate drive behind a wholly instinctual survival of the fittest. Furthermore, I say that this is, for a human being, a perspective of immaturity – but it has nothing to do with chronological age. It is childish in the extreme. It is seeing everything outside of myself and my little world as “Not Me,” and a rival.

As an example, I give scenario “the last two people on earth,” and the last bit of food. Result: they fight to the death over it.

Maturity is a change in this piece of our instinct-driven, animal nature.

When I was a child, I spoke… understood… thought as a child,
but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
1 Corinthians 13:11

Definition ‘mature:’ adjective, having reached an advanced stage of mental or emotional development characteristic of an adult; (of thought or planning) careful and thorough.

Quite the opposite of reckless. In my own words, “an understanding that I/we are not alone in this existence, and not meant to be alone; that I/we need others and others need us.”

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 …Two are better than one … a cord of three strands is not easily broken.

I believe that we start our transition into maturity when we realize this need, and specifically when we encounter another human who needs our help, whether it be from a lack of ability or due to negative circumstances. For us, this being needed is a brand new experience. The perfect example is becoming a parent for the first time.

At that instant, we begin to change our use of the phrase, “Not me.”  Instead, it becomes, “Father, not me, but you (or another).”

Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me;
Yet not my will, but yours.
Luke 22:42

Take that scenario of the last two people on earth, only make them related to each other, siblings or parent/child or married. Result: one will offer the other the food. In both movies, when it comes down to it, the main characters both show/display this attitude of giving and sacrifice or risking everything to save another.

Our Creator meant for us to strive for this conviction in how we live our lives. And Jesus is the ultimate example of living that out.

:13 This relief offering is a prod to live at your very best, showing gratitude to God [The Creator] by being openly obedient to the plain meaning of the message of Christ. You show your gratitude through your generous offering to your needy brothers and sisters, and really toward everyone.
:14 Meanwhile, moved by the extravagance of God in your lives, they’ll [some, a few will] respond by praying for you in passionate intercession for whatever you need.
2 Corinthians 9

Reckless hate is countered by passionate intercession.

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Christianity Is: Divine Paradigm Shifts

My friend, Jim, often refers to being in a Christ-based 12-step recovery program as more a journey of basic “Spiritual Formation” than of a single act of miraculous healing from broken living. I like this point of view, because I think it definitely offers something for everyone – even those who don’t have (or admit to) hurts, habits, and hangups.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.
Romans 3:23 NLT

For myself, the growth I’ve experienced is both: While the big picture is a life completely transformed, the day-by-day process is an on-going baby-step-by-step migration from chaos to order.

The spiritual piece is, of course, divine. The formational part is simply learning and accepting what has heretofore been unknown or stubbornly unacceptable. Together, a divine paradigm shift. Actually, it’s one awesome adjustment after another, each of which is increasingly inspiring and amazing. Who’d have thunk it?!

Let me share some examples:
One of the first changes in attitude I received was regarding “P.T.” which can stand for ‘Present Tense’, ‘Positive Thinking’, and, later in my recovery from health issues, literally ‘Physical Therapy’. It began when I committed myself to stating, “I am” instead of “I was” or “I want to.” Keeping my plans present and positive made me more able (and likely) to carry them out.

Next, an absolutely huge revelation: acceptance. First, in my acknowledgement of God, the Great “I am“, and then in finding (being given?) the ability to embrace life – my own and the world’s, exactly as it is. This is what allows me to say, “I am a grateful child of God, in recovery, healing, and transformation from ____ (what I was).”

I am what I do today, not what I did in the past.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV

Grant me the ability to accept the things I can not change…
Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it…
The Serenity Prayer

Only when I was able to face the whole of “what is” was I able to identify what I could change, and then gain the courage to change it.

Grant me… the courage to change the things I can
and the wisdom to know the difference…

Then, there was The Law. At first, I focused on what I should not do, but, as I’ve said before, “Thinking about not thinking about something is, in effect, the same as thinking about it.
Instead, I needed guidelines that directed me toward what to do.

Specifically,
Don’t Think, Don’t Look, Don’t Touch

became
All thoughts to praise
On Christ to Gaze
With hands a-raised
Heart and mind amazed (an added bonus!)

Now I was getting somewhere! I’ve heard that to be in recovery is to be in the process of letting my sinful urgings die from neglect, which doesn’t mean I won’t be tempted. I pass the test by not giving into temptation and by not dwelling on the temptation as something I must avoid. Am I dismissing the temptation? Perhaps, but I’ve begun to specifically ask for protection in my nightly prayers. (And it works!)

The most recent development is really exciting, and has made a big difference in decreasing how often I stumble and fall. Early in my journey, I looked upon my obsessive pursuit of things that physically felt good as my burden; my cross to bear. This weighed me down. I was heavily laden. But turn that around, to where that addiction is instead, a gift to offer; a sacrifice made by a living body, voluntarily given up in order to be kept whole, holy and pleasing to God.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
Romans 12:1 NIV

It might even be that I’m regifting right back to God. He gave me the gifts of the (sometimes beneficial) effects of a wee bit of alcohol, and of sex (and more!) But instead of selfishly hoarding them for myself, I offer them to Him as my way of remaining pure.
Giving of ourselves, especially those things we cherish, to others is a sign of love, is it not?

Christianity Is: The Greatest – Comeback – Story Ever Told

Christianity Is: The Greatest – Comeback – Story Ever Told

I’ve said before that believing the Gospel is like seeing a live sporting event – but with the feeling of watching a recording of a victory for your team. No matter how bad it gets – even late into the game – you just know it’s going to come out all right. Last night’s Super Bowl LI was exactly such a win for my team, the New England Patriots.

Late into the 3rd quarter, they were down by 25 points. That’s four improbable scores- and things had looked bad and getting worse all evening. (For you non-American Football fans, it’s like being down 4-nil at the 68th minute.)

467I’m known as a big Facebook game-time poster (sheepish emoji), but all I had put as my status so far (at 21-0) was, “Well, this is disappointing.” (Honestly, win or lose, I’d rather witness an exciting, well-played game, rather than a blowout. Long-time Patriots fans remember the team’s crushing first Super Bowl, 1986’s 44-10 loss, even if the rest of NFL fans do not.)

BUT, even when the score last night was 28-3, I felt an assurance that this game was not over. (Granted, I was very nervous and twitchy, but that could have been the coffee I drank just before kickoff. Either way, I was not going to bed early!) In sports history, there are some legendary years of dominance by particular teams: the NHL’s Canadiens; MLB’s Yankees; NBA’s Celtics and Lakers. The Patriots have been such a dynasty in the NFL now for 16 years. The players have the experience, faith, and confidence of this streak, as well as the successful coaching staff, behind them. Their simple motto is, “Do your job.” If any team in history could make this greatest comeback, it was this one.

And this is exactly how I feel in my faith in Jesus Christ as the redeemer of the world. (Well, most of the time – sheepish emoji.)

I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world.
John 16:33 NIV

Christianity as an organized religion does have some deserved black eyes, such as in the Middle Ages. Certainly, some very un-Christian things were done in the name of God, and these types of actions have contributed to criticism. Likewise these Patriots committed some unlikely blunders that led to the huge deficit.

I have commanded you, “Be strong and courageous! Don’t tremble or be terrified, because the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Joshua 1:9 GW

243I’ve also said before that true Christianity is based firmly in the individual relationship its believers hold with God, The Creator (as opposed to relying on the trappings and ritual showiness of ‘religion’). Consider that 1986 Patriots team. They’d made an unlikely run through the playoffs, with games of huge import (and payback). But without the calmness of having been on football’s biggest stage before, when things got tough early in the game, they couldn’t hold up under the pressure. That team’s faith could not be more different than that of this year’s team.

399Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.
Revelation 14:12 ESV

If any verse could be translated as, “Do your job,” this one’s a great candidate.

The verse I thought of when I woke up at 3am after just three hours of sleep, however, was

We have this confidence as a sure and strong anchor for our lives.
Hebrews 6:19 GW

It’s earlier in the chapter that I can imagine the substance of a halftime speech from the coach:

014Then… you will imitate those who are receiving the promises through faith and patience. (:12)
God made a promise to Abraham… (:13)
So Abraham received what God promised because he waited patiently for it. (:15)
God wouldn’t change His plan. He wanted to make this perfectly clear to those who would receive His promise, so He took an oath. God did this so we would be encouraged… those of us who take refuge in Him hold on to this confidence we have been given. (:18-:19)

I know it’s a stretch to compare the fate of creation with a fickle game, but, when I consider the faith, belief, patience, calm, and continual effort to live day-by-day, play-by-play, I see nothing but similarities. And I am grateful!