Posted in Christian ethics, discipleship, reflections

Upright, or uptight?

There’s just one letter difference, but what a difference it makes.

To be upright is to be righteous. It refuses moral compromise but does so in a way that attracts rather than repels. It’s the loving, kindhearted, winsome quality of character and integrity epitomized by Jesus.

In the quest to be upright, some become uptight. Uptight religion scolds; it’s suspicious of laughter, always serious, and rarely lets down its hair. Steering clear of the ditch of sin, it ends up in the opposite ditch of joyless austerity. Uptight religion repels rather than attracts. It empties churches, then calls itself persecuted, blaming the “devil” or “the world.”

Uptight religion majors on what good Christians don’t do. In the early editions of my denomination’s Manual, they were called the “special rules.” Here’s a sampling:

Don’t dance.

Don’t go to the movie theater.

Don’t play the lottery.

Don’t swim with members of the opposite sex.

Let’s be clear. There’s a place for prohibitions in the Christian life. After all, the 10 Commandments include multiple “do not” statements including “do not steal,” “do not murder,” and “do not commit adultery.” (See Exodus 20:1-17). But while the church of my youth did plenty right, it also unwittingly sowed in my heart the notion that religion is mostly about keeping rules. Mine was an uptight religion, and I still struggle to see faith through the lens of what God asks me to do rather than what he commands me to avoid.

Uptight religion was certainly not God’s intention for Adam and Eve (See Genesis 2-3). The LORD created an amazing garden, with a dizzying variety of plants and trees. God turned them loose in the garden and said, “Go have fun!” Imagine the freedom they enjoyed. They could drink of the crystal-clear brook, soak-up the sunlight that filtered through the canopy, and – best of all – feast on the fruit of hundreds of trees. There was a single tree that God said was off-limits (Gen. 2:16-17), the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We can’t know for sure how many trees were in the garden, but it’s safe to say that (as a percentage) more than 99% of the trees were in-bounds. That’s freedom!

Sadly, uptight religion wants to fence-off more trees in the garden than God ever intended. It forgets that God is much more often the God of “yes” than the God of “no.” This positive outlook is captured by Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:20 (NLT): “For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding ‘Yes’ And through Christ, our ‘Amen’ (which means ‘Yes’) ascends to God for his glory.”

As the scales of uptight religion fall away from my spiritual eyes, I’m coming to see upright religion in a new light. If uptight religion is negative, emphasizing what we don’t do, upright religion is positive, accentuating what God calls us to do. I’m coming to understand holiness as engagement with the world rather than a rules-based sequestering myself from the world. It’s a confident thrust forward rather than a suspicious step back. It’s Jesus’ attitude as he sends out the 12 apostles in Matthew 7:8-9 (NLT): “Go and announce to them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. Give as freely as you have received!”

What about you? Is your Christian faith of the upright or the uptight variety? May God help us to discern this crucial distinction.

Posted in reflections

Time for some righteous rebellion?

Rebels often get smacked down. Jesus was a rebel, and he knew if we followed his example, we could expect the same treatment:

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:11-12 (NIV)

In the United States, Christians throw around the term “persecution” far too lightly. It is a sacred word, dripping with the blood of the martyrs, and when we toss the term out nonchalantly, we cheapen it. This is why the Beatitude is clear: the blessing is only for those who are mistreated “because of me.” We’re not talking about a negative reaction from others that we’ve merited because of our own silly behavior in the name of Christ, such as the Florida pastor who in April 2012 threatened to burn the Koran. He should have been censored.  That’s not persecution; that’s public accountability.

But let’s not be naive. The drift of Western culture on multiple fronts is such that those who resist the tide, however quietly, will necessarily stand out. As a preacher rightly pointed out: “We’re upstream Christians in a downstream world.”

There are dangers in group psychology when those who before were culturally dominant become a cultural minority. This seems to be the moment we’re living in, both in the United Kingdom and the United States. The knee-jerk reaction for the believer can be to withdraw from broader society, like a turtle who – when you poke his head with a stick – draws back into his shell. But how can we be salt and light if we remove our loving influence at the very time when it’s most needed?

A second reaction is anger, a temptation to lash out at those we perceive as marginalizing us. This may show up on FaceBook as angry status updates or bitter criticisms of politicians. Time to add a new verse to the children’s song: “Oh, be careful little fingers what you type!”

A superior path is the path of righteousness. Want to rebel? Be holy! By doggedly modeling the values of love and integrity, no matter what, we can make a difference. Rather than disengaging, our commitment – in obedience to the Great Commandments to love God and neighbor- must be to re-engage our culture. Because the stereotype is that Christians are brittle and hateful, we must go the second mile to show that the stereotype is just plain wrong.

A good example of this was Sandra Bullock, the actor who played the mom in the 2009 film, The Blind Side. She turned down the role three times, fearing it was just another example of Christians grandstanding about good deeds, while on-the-side living low-down like too many others. But after she met the real-life Christian family behind the film and spent extended time with them, she concluded: “I finally met people who walk the walk.”

When “everyone else is doing it,” when Christianity has been compromised, it’s time we put a little rebellion in the mix. Follower of Jesus, are you ready for some righteous rebellion?

“Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God remold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.” – Romans 12:2,  J.B. Phililips paraphrase

Let’s rebel against the low road, whether it’s the low road of non-believers or Christians who don’t act like it. It’s time to take our faith to the next level. It’s time for some holy rebellion. Are you ready to be a righteous rebel?

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Photo credit: Blue Cheddar