I have learned many lessons this past year. One of the most important things I have learned is this:
If you are a Christian and do not have any non-Christian friends, you are missing something. If your love for God does not compel you to make friends with normal, every day people, you are missing something. If you judge and don’t know how to talk to the people sitting at the end of the freeway, girls/guys who sleep around, people who don’t even believe in God or people outside of your church/home church, you are missing something. If you look at a homeless, drug addicted, suicidal person and say, “That will never happen to me or my family, my children”, and you choose not to put yourself in the shoes of another person in order to truly empathize with another person and their situation, you are missing something. If you are part of a ministry that occasionally does charity work, food drives, builds houses or takes one missions trip a year, but you are not actually connecting with normal people outside of your Christian circle, you are missing something, and that very something is major. That something is Jesus, who is the very heart of God.
I have always been interested in the cultures and subcultures in America. I was fortunate enough to have been raised in Elizabeth, NJ. Even though I was raised within a church and a somewhat safe neighborhood, I was always skeptical of Christians and the “everything is fine” bubble that people live in. Before you read this and get angry, hear me out. Being raised in the church made me blatantly aware of the hypocrisy and empty religion that permeates the modern day American, organized church. Parents have children, believe their kids do no wrong, judge other families on how they raise their children, compare their lives, all the while their kids are addicted to porn, angry, jealous, suicidal, fighting other church kids in the bathroom, drinking, smoking pot, take your pick. It is easier to hide how f**ked up you are when everyone is really good at pretending that nothing is wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not angry about all of this. It’s actually a very sad reality.
My family was never able to hide how messy we were. I actually think I made it my mission as a child to expose it all and to be the physical manifestation of how sick our family was. I did not care about appearances, trying to please anyone in the church, pleasing my parents or pleasing my peers. Somehow I knew God knew my heart. I did not (to put it lightly) give a single f**k about empty religion, forcing anything good that I was not compelled to do from my heart. I refused to fake it. It would have been too much work to try and please everyone. Looking back on it, I am glad that I have developed my particular perspective because of this. There is an obvious need in the world for love, but what is worse than the most heinous evils committed by people in “the world” is the secretive, quiet, ignorant sickness that exists within the church. It is the separation of “us and them”, the inability to truly become friends with someone who drinks and sleeps around, girls with daddy issues, boys who profess their sexual preference as homosexual, and the homeless. It is even at the point where many Christians will have something negative to say about people who cuss, or people who smoke cigarettes. It is an estranged relationship between self-proclaiming Christians and a God who became a man, Jesus, who chose to be friends with sinners, aka. everyone on earth because we all mess up royally at some point or another. And let Jesus catch you if you wanna trip over your offense if you feel some type of way about your life/church/group while reading this ( 1 Peter 2 – Jesus is the rock of offense).
Jesus did not come to hang out with people in the church, and only hang out with sinners if they decided to come to his church. Jesus sat at tables and ate with corrupt tax collectors who were seen as criminals, associated himself with adulteresses (women seen as dirty and dishonorable). He touched lepers (outcasts of society), and surrounded himself with close friends who were murderers, a traitor, tax collectors, doubters, foul mouthed fisherman, Zealots (Nationalist, fanatic, genocidal-minded Jews, loyal to Rome), and He consistently shut down religious mouths of men who held to the law outwardly but did not truly love God in their hearts.
This is not only a problem that exists within the church, but a problem that is actually the hallmark (in my eyes) of our culture. People are segregated into neighborhoods, projects, socio-economic classes, religions, republican or democratic parties, etc. From my experience and perspective, people who have a bit more money and opportunity, who have been practiced in the art of outwardly appearing clean and put together, are largely disconnected from the plight of those who are below them in socio-economic status. What is sad is that many families (many being white, yes, I said it), and many people in America who have a bit of money and more safety, often have the same internal problems as people who may have been raised in the projects, or on welfare, or what have you. The only difference is that it is easier to hide how fucked up you actually are when you have some money, a nice house, a solid/legal job, a pastor father, nice clothes, expensive cars, a ministry, a charity, to clean up the outside while the inside rots.
Pretense is exhausting. Pretending to like people when you are secretly judging them is tiring. Not speaking the truth drains the life from your bones.
Look at it this way: Jesus came to set you free from pretending, lying, hiding, ignoring, and denying some seriously ugly shit in this life. Furthermore, Jesus called religious and the hypocritical “sons of hell” (Matthew 23:15).
God is not all about keeping you safe and segregated from the world if you are a Christian. On the contrary, He promises to keep your soul safe, but to count it all joy when you endure persecution of all sorts for the sake of Jesus and the sake of righteousness. He tells us that there will be trials of many kinds if we choose this narrow way, and that many people who claim the name of Jesus will fall away, and I believe that falling away will be those who call themselves Christians but have not truly had their faith tested because they choose to remain ignorant of suffering, along with the real world and it’s people.
If you are a Christian, you cannot close yourself off from the world and box yourself into a church building or home group that you spend a majority of your time at. You cannot be so afraid that you are going to “fall into sin” and “fall from grace”, and so you choose not to associate with people “in the world” who are doing whatever they want with no consequence. It is not what is on the outside of a person that is corrupt, it is what comes from within. So if you’re struggling with some s*it as a Christian and are tired of it, let it go, believe that Jesus crucified that shxt once and for all. It has no power over you. If you really believe in the good news, that Jesus defeated death and you have the victory with Him because you died with Him when he killed off sin, then you should not be afraid of associating with the world. You can be secure in your salvation. Don’t use grace as an excuse to do whatever you want, but don’t be afraid. There’s no fear in love. If you mess up, it’s ok. If people in this world mess up, it’s ok.
How is the world gonna know about love unless they experience it? How are people gonna relate to God who they already think is too lofty to relate to unless we can relate to real people on a real level, the level of real friendship and vulnerability? Why would people even want to believe in God if that God is portrayed by a bunch of Christians who gossip and shred people apart, who fly to third world countries to take a few pictures with kids and feed them a Bible but don’t actually want to integrate into their culture and try to contribute? Why would people want to believe in a God who only allows the clean, talented and gifted into His exclusive club? I didn’t want to believe in that kind of God. When I thought that is who God was, I was willing to go to hell.
What is not ok is holding the world to a moral standard and law that nobody can fulfill or attain anyway, not even the people who passively claim their way and their righteousness is the way. It should be comforting to know that your own goodness and ability to be right with God is worthless, and you don’t have to work to earn right standing with God. It is good news for the hypocrite, the non-believers, the sinners and saints alike: We are all saved by the same Jesus for the same reason. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not die, but will have everlasting life.
29 Levi (Matthew) gave a great banquet for Him at his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others who were reclining at the table with them. 30 The Pharisees and their scribes [seeing those with whom He was associating] began murmuring in discontent to His disciples, asking, “Why are you eating and drinking with the tax collectors and sinners [including non-observant Jews]?” 31 And Jesus replied to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but [only] those who are sick. 32 I did not come to call the [self-proclaimed] righteous [who see no need to repent], but sinners to repentance [to change their old way of thinking, to turn from sin and to seek God and His righteousness].”
27 “Woe to you, [self-righteous] scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which look beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. 28 So you, also, outwardly seem to be just and upright to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
1 Peter 4:12-14
2 Corinthians 4:8-12: We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
1 Corinthians 1:27
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
21 “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not murder,’ and ‘Whoever murders shall be [g]guilty before the court.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who continues to be angry with his brother or harbors malice against him shall be guilty before the court; and whoever speaks [contemptuously and insultingly] to his brother, [h]Raca (You empty-headed idiot)!’ shall be guilty before the supreme court (Sanhedrin); and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of the [i]fiery hell. 23 So if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and while there you remember that your brother has something [such as a grievance or legitimate complaint] against you, 24 leave your offering there at the altar and go. First make peace with your brother, and then come and present your offering.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor (fellow man) and hate your enemy.’ 44 “But I say to you, [n]love [that is, unselfishly seek the best or higher good for] your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may [show yourselves to] be the children of your Father who is in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on those who are evil and on those who are good, and makes the rain fall on the righteous [those who are morally upright] and the unrighteous [the unrepentant, those who oppose Him]. 46 For if you love [only] those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers [wishing them God’s blessing and peace], what more [than others] are you doing? Do not even the Gentiles [who do not know the Lord] do that? 48 You, therefore, will be perfect [growing into spiritual maturity both in mind and character, actively integrating godly values into your daily life], as your heavenly Father is perfect.
I could keep talking about a million other things, but I’ll stop here for now. I love you all!