Sunday, October 01, 2006

Bitter or Better?

As we examine the ways in which we can improve as a church, it is not our purpose to stir up bitterness and anger. The purpose is not to make the church or any individual "look bad", but to learn how to more closely and lovingly adhere to the teachings of Jesus Christ. The Bible says, "Come, let us reason together". Truth is big enough to stand investigation. There are many who will be uncomfortable with any kind of examination of our beliefs, but still it must be done. There are un-Biblical teachings- even within our own ranks. We cannot blindly follow any guides- including our own, but must fully investigate and live by conviction of the Holy Spirit alone.

As Bible-believing Christians, we want to follow Jesus Christ, accepting and preaching the Salvation that He purchased for us with His Righteous blood on the Cross. We want to enter the spiritual rest that God offers. Instead of working harder and harder to "be good", it is our desire to wear the 'Robe of Righteousness' that God so freely offers us. In Matthew Chapter 23, Jesus laments, "How often I have longed to gather you as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing." Here Jesus is offering His covering and protection. I raise chickens and know that a baby chick is not strong enough to defend itself from attack- they are weak and helpless. Under the mother hen's wings, the chicks are safe- as she will sacrifice her very life in order to save them. When we come to Jesus, we are also helpless. Born with a sinful and selfish nature, there is no hope for any of us to meet God's requirements. That's why Jesus came and lived those requirements perfectly FOR us. Now, we can rest under the shadow of the Almighty. When Jesus said, "It is finished" with His last dying breath. That is exactly what He meant. The work was DONE- COMPLETED. There is nothing you or I can do behaviorally to add to the Righteousness of Christ or to enhance that Blood Sacrifice. We have been reconciled to the Father through our faith in Jesus Christ. Our duty is to accept that gift and live as if we believe the promises of God. But this Good News will not sit well with those who prefer to see God as angry and demanding. They would rather work themselves into an early grave keeping a checklist than rest in the merits of Christ. Too many look to the church for instruction and a regimen of dead works to save them, instead of being alive in Jesus under the New Covenant.

Unfortunately, in my 18 years of experience within the Seventh-Day Adventist church and having gone through the educational system for 12 years, I somehow emerged from the system with the ability to proof-text people into my beliefs and knowing Adventist lingo and culture. I was zealous for good works. However, I somehow missed the most important Truth of all- that God loves me and wants to have personal relationship with me. I was too busy worrying about skirt lengths, dietary restrictions, how to avoid Sunday keepers and how much make-up was too much. Christ and the Cross were mentioned- yes- but far overshadowed by the behavioral requirements of Commandment Keeping and Lifestyle issues. The message so many received throughout the last 30 years or more of Adventism is that they are never good enough. Give up this, don't eat that, don't go here, stop listening to that. Suggestions always abounded as to how to reach new and better heights and obtain more favor in the eyes of God. I remember the pride of feeling like I was already 10 steps ahead of all other Christians, because of my Adventist heritage. But where is the rest or humility in all that? Finally after years of working so hard, I fell victim to an overwhelming temptation. I wore my hair in a bun, kept the Sabbath rigidly, ate a strict Vegan diet and wore dresses all the time, but I had NO power to overcome the sin in my life. For the life of me, I couldn't understand why. My self-righteous image slowly crumbled in an exhausted, shameful heap at the foot of the Cross. "I can't be good, Lord. I try and try, but I'm just never good enough. You may as well end my life right now, because I know that all I ever do is bring shame to Your name." I was completely defeated. Good thing, too! As long as I felt I could keep all of God's requirements perfectly, I was deceiving myself. "Christ in you, the hope of Glory". If anything good comes from my life, it must be because Jesus Christ is living and working in me. My focus then becomes staying connected to my Savior, not keeping the rules. I may still observe standards, but it's not my strength that is working, but God's.

Too many today in churches of all kinds are like the Pharisees in the 7 Woes of Matthew. Busily polishing the outside of the cup and dish in order to look good and have something to say, but inside they are filled with iniquity. Only relationship with Jesus can make us truly good. A branch only produces fruit when it is connected to the vine and even then, the branch is not straining to bear fruit- it is simply the natural outpouring of a connected life. I hope that through intelligent discussion, we can learn how to better worship and uplift Jesus Christ both in our personal lives and relationships, and within our denomination.

However, in examining our faith, we should become better and more Christ-like, not bitter. The healing love of Christ softens the hard-hearted, humbles the arrogant and opens the mind to hear other points of view. Everyone within Adventism has encountered un-Christlike behavior at one time or another both inside and outside the church. This does not give us permission to become hateful. The Bible says, "Be angry, but do not sin". We should feel anger when we see injustice or errant teachings in the church- if we didn't, I believe it would show a very detached regard for our faith. Christ Himself was angry when He saw His Father's house being used wrongly. It SHOULD be disturbing when Christ is being overlooked or misrepresented in our church. However, if that anger causes us to spew curses upon those who have offended us, closing our hearts to them and throwing temper-tantrums, we are still not being Christlike.

Let us not take time to get caught up in futile debates with those who refuse to believe. There are more positive ways to encourage change. This forum is meant to be one of them. :o)

1 comment:

  1. Amen to that all the way. I want to be better not bitter. In the devil's service I was bitter, but Jesus helped me out of that. Knowing His love makes me want to love. Now I'm part of a great big brotherhood, a brotherhood that composes the religious and the irreligious. We are all of one blood, searching for God. Now I'm not running from the atheists or the Adventists or the other brand name Christians. I'm cured. I love them all.

    Nice post. Thanks Re-Inventing.