Normalcy, The Great Seducer…

The issue of normalcy has been at the forefront of my mind for many years now. However, it has only been recently that these things have begun to work themselves from the place of mere thoughts in my mind into reality. It has been a goal of mine since I was about 15 to “be different”. I have come to discover that God has wired me to be a bit rebellious, which can be a very dangerous thing if not harnessed for the Kingdom & His purposes (Something I struggle daily to grasp). Being normal has always seemed so boring to me. Why would I want to be, do, look, act, work, perform, & love like everyone else does? Where is the adventure in that? There may not be adventure in it, but it is much “easier” to be “normal”. Therein, lies the seduction…

By nature, I suppose, we choose what is easier over what is “right”, or obedient. I mean, it is much easier to go along with the “flow” of the majority, or “status quo”, right? For example, it takes much more effort to eat organic & prepare meals at home than it does to swing by Subway to grab a $5 foot long. It is SO much “easier” to mentally & physically “escape” the busyness of the day by watching hours of TV on the couch than it is to engage those we love in healthy conversation about life. It is much “easier” to fit in with the “crowd” by having a “real job” (9-5, vacation time, set hours, health insurance, nice salary, retirement, etc.) than it is to do what you love doing – even if it means less money, or the risk of “appearing” unsuccessful. We could go on and on with examples…(I’d love to hear some that come to your mind as well)

The more places I go the more encouraged I become. I meet people everywhere who refuse to be seduced into the normal life. They are insistent upon pursuing what they feel are the important things in life. The beauty of that is we all must choose for ourselves what is important to us, and what we value based upon the activity of the Gospel in our lives. Then, we mustn’t judge the things others choose as important so long as they have heard God’s voice and are in His will for their lives. There is much freedom in this, as well as a lot of room for Jesus to move in our lives as we make ourselves available to Him for obedience.

Perhaps Normalcy is the enemy’s great tactic in keeping the Bride of Christ too busy to ready herself for the return of Her Groom? It is what robs us of the Joy we could have in Christ through our pursuit of what is in line with His kingdom. It is what causes us to live a life of doubt and fear, unfulfilled. This Great Seducer grabs us, and pulls us in early on. It conditions our minds against TRUTH, and the things of God.

I do not find anything normal about Jesus and those who followed Him in the scriptures. In fact, they were quite the opposite of the rest of their fellow man. However, they did not choose to be abnormal for the sake of being different. They chose to be different so as to fully surrender their lives to Jesus, and be completely available to Him. Does normalcy reduce our availability to the Holy Spirit’s leading? There have been many attempts to pull God, His Kingdom, and His purposes into our “Normalcy box”. There are a lot of “normal Christians” out there. They all look alike, dress alike, talk alike, do the same activities, drink the same beverages, follow the same laws (scary – see Galatians), keep the same traditions/rituals, follow the same “leaders” (Often times not Jesus), spend their money on the same things, have similar “time cards” of availability, and have the same lifelong insecurities that Jesus longs to set us free from. As believers, we should be set apart from the world. I would submit that very few, if any, of the above things are on the same list Jesus holds in how He desires His children to be “different” from the world. There are also similarities we should share with our brothers & sisters in Christ. Again, I feel that very few on Jesus’ list can be found in the above. I have no desire to be normal in any sense – worldly, or Christian – both are a far too incomplete picture of what Jesus paints when He speaks of life to the fullest, for the purpose of His Kingdom, as an adopted Child of God.

May we pursue Him, and obedience to Him. Let us not swing the pendulum back over to the other end, allowing our “rebellion” or rejection of what’s normal to become our idol. Both are dangerous, and not pleasing to Jesus. This is a mere plea with myself, and you all to insist upon removing the “normal” things in our lives that steal our uniqueness in Christ. May our hearts cease to lust after what is easy and normal, and may we be seduced by the one true lover of our souls. May that love set us free, and cause us to come alive. May this be what “sets us apart” as those who follow Jesus. Thank you Jesus.

“All Mixed Up, Don’t Know What To Do” – Part 1 – Christians Suck at Reaching the Lost

Previous blog written on April 20th, 2008

I have recently realized how stubborn, arrogant, and prideful we are as humans…and Christians. On a small scale we think that we are always right with our individual convictions, or opinions. That causes us to act with irrational and selfish behavior. We don’t even know how to selflessly serve our spouses, loved ones, families, and best friends much less “love our enemies”. On a large scale our nation has been guilty of ethnocentrism for decades. Ethnocentrism: evaluating other people’s cultures according to the standards of one’s own culture. We think our way is better. We go to foreign countries with the idea that we are going to “enlighten”, or teach them a better way of doing things; our way. The reality is that there are movements of the Lord taking place in huge/powerful ways overseas, ways that we have never seen in the U.S! In the evangelical world this has translated to a large amount of Christians, if not all at some point, who feel that they have figured “it” out. (Even if they/we/I do a poor job at living out the basic principles of what “it” is) We begin our journey towards Christ with passion and vigor. Our excitement with this new awareness of grace ironically fuels our ability to start “living right”, and sin less. This is where something goes terribly wrong for many of us. I do not mean to make blanket statements about ALL Christians. However, this was definitely my story, and the story of many I know. We drastically change much of our old behavior, and add some new rituals to our lives. i.e., reading our Bibles, going to church often, praying, serving, etc. These are all great things. However, many of us aren’t quite sure how to handle our life change in terms of relating to others, and communicating these values effectively to those we come in contact with.

We quickly become self-righteous, and Pharisee-like. Either we want our friends to be where we are, making the same changes and commitments, or we distance ourselves from them because they are not. If the first is true then we tend to run them off because we pretend that we have it all together. We become judgmental, hypocritical, lame, boring, etc. If the latter, it is because “bad company corrupts good character”, right? Isn’t that what we have been taught our entire lives? “Aaron, you don’t need to be hanging out with them, they are a bad influence.” Many times that advice is not entirely wrong or bad if we are attempting to remove temptation from some area of our lives. However, it has sadly translated into every aspect of our lives as we become more mature Christians. How does that happen? Can we grow more mature as followers of Christ while we continue to distance ourselves from the rest of the lost world? Dan Kimball, in his book “They Like Jesus but not the Church”, states that statistics show most Christians lose contact with almost all of their non-Christian friends within two years of “accepting Christ”. I thought back on this in my own life, and it was somewhat true. When it wasn’t true was only in cases of sin in my life that I wasn’t releasing to Jesus; I stayed in relationships with those people not to reflect light to them, but to continue in disobedience. Those who participated in sin that was not included in my arsenal of sin were quickly deemed as unholy, and therefore, “unworthy” of me to associate with.

Dan talks about the “Christian Sub-Cultures” that we have created, and essentially locked ourselves in. Think about it, we spend much of our time at “church”. We surround ourselves by Christian friends. We join Bible study groups, and have accountability partners. We busy our lives with “Christian activities”. Many of us place our kids in private Christian schools. Heck, many of us have chosen our careers in ministry where we almost completely cut ourselves off from the outside world. We listen to “Christian” music, go to “Christian” concerts, eat at restaurants owned by Christians. We read “Christian” books, and shop at “Christian” stores. We drink coffee at “Christian” coffee shops, and go to “Christian” camps. We go on vacation with our “Christian” friends, and stay away from rough parts of town. We have cross collages in our living rooms. We refuse to participate in many activities based upon what someone has told us our entire lives from a pulpit instead of what the Holy Spirit has spoken to us through scripture. Kimball would say that some of us break free from our Christian sub-culture, but usually only for a very brief period of time before darting back to it. We have conditioned ourselves to be so different, and uncomfortable with anything unlike us. All of the sudden everyone who is not like us becomes wrong. And so it goes, that we, as the body of Christ, have isolated ourselves from the rest of the world. We so quickly forget that the rest of the world is what Christ has called us to humbly serve, and love in the first place.

Luckily, we serve a God of unending grace and mercy. Somewhere down the road of our journey we realize that we have lost sight of our purpose. We realize that our lives are ultimately designed to reflect glory to God, and that is most effectively done when His gospel is lived out. Part of this translation is that those who are different from us, those who are lost, are the ones we are to be broken over. Finally, we venture out. We try to relate to, and reach those who are “of the world”. The word tells us to be “in the world, but not of the world”. Sadly, we have been neither. The result is that we suck at reaching the lost. We try everything we can to be “cool enough”, or “hip enough” thinking this will reach out to a desperate world in need of a Savior. We realize that the places we’ve spent most of our time over the past however many years might not be where any non-believers spend time. So, we try going where they are. This proves to be quite the challenge. We have spent so many years in isolation that we fit in about as well as home-schooler in the real world. We are uncomfortable, and awkward. We get nervous when we get around “sin” and “sinners”, forgetting that Jesus spent most of His time with people of that label. The end result is sad. We retreat back to the comfortable boxes that we’ve created, and called churches. This is a safe place where “normal Christians” can be professional church members. This is where we stay away from sin, and sinners, becoming more holy, and pleasing to God, right? Now a paid staff is responsible for doing the “dirty work”. The professional member puts their check in the plate, attends all the events, serves in the youth group or nursery, and maybe even goes on the annual mission trip. Our only job now is to invite non-believers into our box, where the professional Christians who make up the staff take it from there. Unfortunately, a large majority of the lost world will never step foot into the doors of a traditional church building. Here we are, comfortable in our simple, easy, and normal boxes. We’ve even pulled God into the box with us. His Spirit in us screams out for air, but our fearful flesh can’t handle it outside of the box; we retreat right back into a life of safety and certainty. All the while the world that we are called to live in is absent from our lives…

It would seem that this has all occurred because of the expectations of those around us, the expectations of other Christians. It is these false, man-centered expectations that have caused the dilemma we are in today. The expectations of God, and the challenges of the scriptures are diluted to fit into our easy, comfortable, certain, and risk-free lives…