Monday, October 17, 2011

Hula Hoops and Pharisees

I do not like hula hoops. They are evil things! They require movements that border on being risqué and present a high likelihood of painful hip dislocation! Still, as bad as these foul contraptions are they aren't nearly as bad as "religious" hoops. Those are the worst hoops of all! Unlike the hula hoop which has been conquered by a proud few, "religious" hoops cannot be mastered! Oh one may try, but no amount of jumping can ever suffice for there are always more hoops waiting to thwart your best efforts. They come in many varieties, but most seem to find their beginnings as twisted bits of scripture taken out of context. For example, I have ALWAYS struggled with the following scriptures from Chapter 14 of the Gospel of John:

Verse 15: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments."

Verse 21 "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me."

Verse 23 "Jesus answered him, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words."

Am I the only one? Please tell me I'm not the only one who struggles with this!

These scriptures seem to indicate that our love for Jesus is based on our ability to keep His commandments. Keep them, and you obviously love Jesus. Fail to keep them, and you my friend…are a loser! Not only are you a loser, but you are a loser who does not love Jesus which of course is the worst kind!

Every single time I fail Jesus (which is ALL THE TIME); I am reminded of my lack of love for Him. It's just not fun folks! It's like a riding some sadistic rollercoaster. Up and down, over and over, and I WANT TO GET OFF!

So, I am left to deal with the following conclusions:

I fail God constantly. If I fail to keep His commands, I obviously just don't love Jesus. If I don't love Jesus, how can He really be pleased with me or any part of my life? Therefore, how can I ever call myself a Christian which means "follower of Christ" if I don't love Him? I can't!


I really do want to keep His commandments. I just cannot seem to pull it off. No matter how hard I try, I fail, everyday, all the time! It is this idea of having to do something that I know I cannot that DRIVES ME NUTS! Not only does it drive me crazy, but it keeps me in a continual state of defeat.

When I first came to Jesus, it was "just as I am". Now, it seems to be more along the lines of "do this, or else"!

What happened?

Well, I think several things are at work here.

Number one would probably have a lot to do with my personality. Honestly, I think I need medication! I obsess over EVERYTHING! My wife would give a hearty AMEN to that. Nothing is ever a small deal for me and I constantly analyze and pick apart every aspect of life. So, feel free to feel sorry for your poor tormented brother!

Secondly, I think I have heard far too many sermons about how much we all suck (excuse me, but it seemed appropriate) and we never "do" enough "for Jesus". I'm honestly not bashing anyone here. Heck, I've preached more than a few guilt laden "tongue lashers" myself. I think sometimes we forget that the guy standing up on the platform is still just…"a guy". I realize he's doing the best he can, but we shouldn't dismiss the fact that many of his own views were formed by listening to other "guys". That doesn't mean we should avoid "guys", but I do think we need to be very careful especially when we assume "our guy's" words are coming straight from the throne room of Heaven.

Last, but not least would have to be a misreading of scripture and taking verses out of context. This is certainly at the core of all "religious hoop jumping". When you look at the totality of scripture, it seems quite clear that God is completely aware of our inability to do anything good! We NEVER get it right and when we do, it's not us, it's Him. We would have to admit that it is God living in us that enables good things to happen. It is never "us", because it is impossible for humans to "be good" or"do right"! Even Paul made it clear in Romans 7 that he was completely incapable of "doing right".

So, what's up with the above mentioned scriptures? Is Jesus really saying, "Jump through the hoops to prove your love for me suckas"?

I just don't think so. If we look at these verses in light of what all scripture teaches, I believe we will see a different message.

Notice verse 15 says, "If you love me, you will…." Could it be that Christ is saying that our focus should be on loving Him and not on keeping commandments? Could it be that loving Jesus is the key to keeping His commandments, not the opposite? IF you love me, THEN you will be able to keep my commandments. After all, isn't that what most of the book of Galatians is talking about?

If my focus is on getting to know and love Jesus, maybe I will not have to worry about keeping His commandments. It is no longer me trying to "pull off" the Christian life, but rather it is Jesus doing everything through me because I'm in Him and He's in me. In fact, in the very next chapter of that same book (chap. 15), Jesus lets us know that, "Apart from me, you can do NOTHING"! Absolutely NOTHING! And friends, surely that would have to include keeping His commandments!

You see, if keeping commands satisfies God and proves our love for Him, then every Pharisee ought to have had it in the bag! They knew God's commands and were quite zealous in keeping them. Still, Jesus called them a, "brood of vipers" and "white-washed tombs". And let's not forget about Saul (later to become Paul). He was certainly someone who took God's commands very serious. Yet on a certain road to Damascus, Jesus let Him know He was not "okay" with him at all!

By the way, you should know that thinking this way REALLY scares me! The little Pharisee in me is constantly prodding me to work hard to please Jesus. Grace…is for lazy, sin loving "wannabes"! For me, embracing such truths goes against every religious bone in my religious body….and it probably does yours also.

Why is this? Is it fear? The fear that God will "whack" us is very prominent in the body of Christ (and in the life of Ken Richmond). Still, I think it is more than that. I really think the root of performance based thinking is really just plain old pride! Yep, you heard me right, pride.

You see, in a very sick way, it is much easier to "try" your best at hoop jumping rather than trust in the goodness of a very great God. For years, I've tried to convince myself that I really do have some part to play in this whole Christianity deal, but truthfully it just doesn't work out that way. As soon as I get involved, it all goes wrong. Not only that, but having to rely on God's goodness causes me to have to deal with the reality of what my relationship with him looks like…and many times that tends to be a little more than I'm looking for. It's far easier to attempt to do the stuff, fail, and then ask for forgiveness than to simply give Him my heart and trust him for everything including my right standing with Him. Unfortunately, I don't "do" trust very well. Besides, relationships are messy, scary things. They take effort, time, and are full of unknowns. Not only that, but you actually have to listen and at times walk by faith and who wants to do all that? Religious hoop jumping is far more convenient and allows us to at least fool ourselves into believing we are somewhat "in control".

News flash for Ken (that's me): You are not "in control", nor will you ever be!

I suppose for me it all boils down to one of two lines of thought. Either we are expected to live this impossible thing called the Christian life or Jesus has to do it through and for us. All I know is that I'm 42 years old and I have never lived a single day without thinking, saying, or doing something ungodly….and I probably never will. If God doesn't love me today "just as I am", then I doubt He ever will. At the end of the day, I know that the hoops will never go away unless I begin to truly embrace what God has clearly and lovingly shown me in His word. That of course being, that He does indeed love me "just as I am" and He promises to never leave me or forsake me...regardless of my endless list of failures! By the way, if you are His kid, that would apply to you also!

Apart from that, I suppose we are all toast!

So, if you get to Heaven and realize I'm not there, you can assume that I had this whole business of just trusting Him wrong. Tell all the "hula hoopers" and Pharisees I said hi and try not to gloat too much!

Just kidding…..sort of!