Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Sh***y Christian, part 3

From Haubner’s article, I made one more connection. In Philippians, Paul recites his heritage: a Pharisee of the tribe of Benjamin, a blameless observer of the Torah. But the gain that he had before, and indeed everything, is counted as loss

because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death ,if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead (Phil. 3:8-11).

The Greek word translated “rubbish” carries the connotation of “refuse“ or “excrement.” “Sh***y,” indeed!

To those of us who appreciate Jewish-Christian dialogue, Paul’s image is very lamentable. In his historical context, Paul considers himself a Jew and upholds Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of all God’s promises to the Jews. He is not "dissing" his Jewish heritage but conveying how wonderful is God's continuation of that heritage in Christ. The broader meaning of Paul’s image is: whatever we hold most dear to us, nothing is valuable compared to having Christ and his power in our lives.

But what about Christ’s power makes it so valuable, that nothing else matters as much? Several things.

The powers of evil and death have no ultimate control of us (1 Cor. 15:24-28).
We receive mercy and grace from God (Rom. 6: 23, Heb. 4:16).
We’ve confidence in approaching God (Heb. 4:15-16).
God is gentle with us (Heb. 5:2)
We know that God will never forsake us (Rom. 8:31-39)
We’ve freedom from being “good enough to please God” (Rom. 3:21-26).
We need not erect barriers between us and other people, because God has already removed them
(Eph. 2:11-22)
God does not expect us to grow on our own, by our own effects, but gives us plenty of help (Gal. 5:22-23)
... and the Gospel has other aspects, too.

What will we have to abandon in order to gain these things? This is a difficult subject, and different for each Christian. Repentance is an important part of spiritual beginnings and journeys. We may have to abandon cherished attitudes, ideals, and ways of perceiving the world.

We may have to abandon or modify certain religious ideas! As I understand Buddhism, doctrines and dogmas may be a source of unhealthy attachment in so far as we try to possess them in order to find security and validate ourselves. I’m not a Buddhist, but I can certainly see how this would happen. Circumstances can test your religious assumptions:

You try to forgive someone and reconcile with them (Matt. 5:23-24), and the person treats you worse than before.
You believe that God cares for you, but then something terrible happens to you that makes you question God.
You look up to a certain Christian, and then he or she does something bad or hurtful, and consequently your faith in God is shattered.
You turn your troubles over to God, and sometimes God provides, but other times nothing happens, so you're not sure how to proceed. You feel frustrated with God.
You turn to a congregation for help, and you feel like all they really want is your money and your volunteer time.
You’re a pastor who has served faithfully, but a congregation does not respond to your leadership, or the denominational system rewards someone else instead of you.
You’ve affirmed God’s power to change lives, and have done so all your life, and now after years of witnessing to God’s power, you’ve “stumbled” in your life in a manner which surprises even you.

Although one hates to think of religious faith as “personal stuff” (that is, inner struggles, personality traits, and falseness), we do carry attitudes and expectations that are mixed with and connected to our religious beliefs. The process of personal growth and sanctification may entail disappointments and betrayals that will prompt a reassessment of beliefs (and hopefully not a discouraged faith or a discouraged agnosticism).

You sometimes hear the saying, “Christianity is not a religion but a relationship.” That’s a little simplistic but still true: Christianity contains plenty of things to do, doctrines in which to believe, and rules to follow, but it is not primarily a set of rules. (Many people go around, perhaps for years, thinking that being a Christian is a matter of being a respectable, Ten-Commandments-following person.) Christianity points us to the accomplished work of Christ for our salvation, the power that he gives us for living, and a guaranteed companionship with Christ, the living person.

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