Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Do you KNOW Him?

Do you know Jesus? Or do you know a lot about Him?

Could people tell that you've been with Jesus? If a stranger spent fifteen minutes with you, would they come away saying you know a lot about God, the Bible, Christianity? Or would they come away saying they felt refreshed and lighter in spirit, more hopeful about life, because of the few moments their life met with yours?

Would they be impressed with you, either favorably or unfavorable?

Or would they be impressed with God and His great heart of love?

My teens and I were discussing these questions this morning. They are good questions.

Of course we all know what the right answer would be. But what would be the honest answer? We are all so good at deceiving ourselves, but I wonder what the neighbors would say? About me? About you?

I know what my children would say about their fundamentalist missionary/pastor grandparents. My daughter said that she thinks they are most selfish people she has ever met. She spoke about how she was looking forward to her first sleepover with them, expecting to hear great adventure stories of how God had moved mightily in their lives in some way. Or even just about the wondrous beauty of the jungle. Or perhaps about a person that they had come to love during their time of "ministry" there.

What she got was boring, boring silence. Now if she had asked a question about doctrine, either grandparent could have answered any question at length.

But she was looking for stories about their having been with Jesus. And you know what, they don't have any to share.

I think that is a tragedy of epic proportions.

They sacrificed everything for religion. They abandoned their sons to the care of strangers because religion held that up as a virtue. They left every modern convenience and suffered poverty on a scale unknown to most Americans, because religion held that up as a virtue. They spent years treating minor illnesses and creating an alphabet and a written language for a remote tribe, because religion held that up as a virtue. They spent their whole lives striving to be virtuous.

But they never cared about anyone. Not their children, not the indigenous people they "served", and not each other. No one ever saw Jesus in them, and so, no one was ever drawn to Jesus by their ministry.

Their own grandchildren felt just as unimportant to their grandparents as those tribal peoples must have felt in years gone by. Time spent with grandma and grandpa is a drudge to be endured, not a refreshing time of being in the presence of one who walks with Jesus.

What a sad, depressing legacy from the "ministers" of the good news in my children's lineage.

And what did I, their starry-eyed daughter-in-law, find in the lives of these "men and women of God"? How lucky I thought I was to get to marry into a family of committed Christians! I was expecting compassion, mercy, kindness, joy- all those things that I saw in Jesus when I read the gospels. After all, they were ministers of that very gospel! Wow.

I found a man who openly and regularly belittles his wife- her thoughts, ideas, projects and dreams. A man who fills the car with noxious farts and doesn't even say "excuse me" or roll down a window. A man who expects people to treat him with respect, even though he personally doesn't respect others. He has never once asked my husband an important or personal question. He watches football on television, studies his Bible, eats and never ever shows a personal interest in anyone's heart, hopes or dreams. He does, however, do the dishes at his house. For what it's worth. I think he believes it's the proof of his "servant leadership".

I found a women with pinched lips, who silently endures her husband's ridicule. A woman who is really into setting tables and having regular mealtimes with all in attendance, though there is no life-giving conversation at these meals. A woman who is very proud of keeping to her schedule of annual Bible reading, and the many, many times she has read it cover to cover (Scofield Bible, of course!). A woman who is a diet Nazi, referring to the book "The Ten Commandments of Nutrition" to explain why her cookies are better for you, even if they do taste awful and the grandkids can't stand them.

It is a strange, strange world where righteousness is not defined as walking "even as Jesus walked", but by a lack of debauchery. By this definition they are very righteous. They don't smoke, don't drink, don't dance other than square-dancing, don't read popular fiction or go to movies or listen to the radio unless it is labeled CHRISTIAN. They are fine CHRISTIAN people.

And still my teens, their grandchildren, are left wondering. Will Jesus say to their grandparents, "Depart from me, I never knew you?"

If doctrine is the important matter, then no, the grands have said the sinners prayer and so are "saved" according to their doctrine. If it's about fitting in to the strict Christian subculture, championing the Christian political causes, joining in the right boycotts, etc. they are in like Flynn. No one can doubt their commitment to fundamentalism.

But if Christianity is something more, if it's about really pressing in to know God and personally seek to become like Him, to walk even as He walked, well then, that's a little murkier.

In the end only Jesus knows a person's heart, but he also told us that we would know each other by our fruit. So it's a muddle, and one I can't clear up.

But it is a question I should ask about myself every day, and one I resolve to keep before me regularly. Do I know Jesus? Can people tell I have been with Him this morning? Will people be impressed by the love of God for having spent time with me?

Good question. Very good questions.


  1. Oh, I forgot to include something very important on the "no debauchery" scale- absolutley no public displays of affection of any kind! Grandparents don't kiss, hold hands, put an arm around the other's shoulder, hug, etc. No touching of any kind in public, except I have seen a pat on the back or arm.

    It's as if the "no fornication" rule of scripture is interpreted as "no physical touch"- that way you couldn't possible be a stumbling block to anyone watching, right? How virtuous!

    This way when you show no affection to your mate it is counted as righteousness rather than hard-heartedness. Great cover.

  2. Oh...I wish that I could not relate, but I can. All of this, and so much more. Yep....it's so very very sad.

    It's strange growing up this way - it can either turn you completely OFF from God to where you want to run the other way, or, you can see right thru it and know that somehow, this type of life is just wrong. It can make you long for something else. I chose the "something else."

    Unfortunately, for so many children, however, it causes decades of emotional distress and disorder.

    SO interesting that this type of lifestyle is so closely associated with "mission," or "pastoring." The virtue is in the vocation, in the doing - even though there is no love and no heart for either the people they are supposed to be serving or for the people at home. How ODD. Christianity is defined (not verbally as much as by living) as something we "do," or maybe as the things we "don't do," not by something that God has done in us, or by the relationship we have with Him.

    I told my son the other day, tongue in cheek, "Grandma would be SO HAPPY if I would just "get saved" and grow my hair long and wear dresses." We had a great discussion about which one she might think should come first...and they are so tied together that I can't even answer the question! (I am saved, love the Lord, already. She just thinks I'm a much lesser individual because I don't carry the trappings. I wear jeans.)

    So so sad, so, so wrong.

  3. I thankfully did not have this in my immediate family. However, I really related to your story about your daughter wanting to hear stories from her grandparents.

    I had some cousins who were missionaries in Africa. After they came home after about 30 years, I asked them what they missed most. They said "nothing" although they had plenty of stories about how bad things were. All I could think about is how ineffective their work must have been. To me, God calls us to have love. We don't have to love everything about a place, but after 30 years, if we can't name at least one thing, then we wasted our time, and I believe God's time as well.

    I just recently found your site and am really enjoying your writing.

  4. Shadowspring, I came back and reread my post - I think that it could sound wrong and I really would rather a face to face conversation where I could clarify and explain - tell you of my past too so you would know of the years of deep pain and know that I do get it. It's horrible, it's just awful.

    When I said that "I chose the something else..." That sounds like I think I was superior and strong. No. Not at all. I can't explain that. Only and sheerly God's mercy, I think - and yet, why? Why did it work that way? Maybe an individual's personality - I don't know. My parents and the way things were...well, even as a little person it just made me MAD inside. I KNEW it wasn't right. I KNEW it wasn't God even though everything was backed up by God. Yet it crushes and you carry it and you deal with it for the rest of your life. I wish that I knew how and why different individuals respond/react/internalize the ways that we do - why one reacts in anger and one slowly withers and dies. I guess that I don't think it is a choice (regardless of how I worded it.) I think it is almost too deep to know or understand. It has scarred my three siblings each in different ways. Who can explain it.

    Anyway - just wanted to clarify. Sometimes I try to hurry and things just don't come out right.

  5. I didn't think your post was arrogant at all. We all DO respond differently.

    Take for example the horrible movie about the rapture, the one that ends with a woman standing at the edge of a dam, getting ready to jump as the police overtake her since she refused the mark of the beast.

    That movie terrified my twin sister. And to me it was nothing more than a fiction. I didn't personalize it, and any way I knew that Jesus loved me and I didn't need to fear getting left behind.

    But my precious, artistic, sensitive twin was in agony about hell and damnation and the tribulation. She never felt safe. I don't know how many altar calls she responded to over the years. One day when she didn't know where everyone else the family had gone she had a panic attack, thinking she had missed the rapture. Not just considering that possibility, but terrified it was a reality!

    I hate that. I don't know why it scared her so much and not me.

    And no one ever told us that the early church didn't teach about a rapture, or that the whole doctrine only arose in the 1800s and was an American invention. It made me so angry when I found this out. Preachers can be so deceptive.

    No one ever had a problem telling me the history of the Mormons or the Jehovah's Witness. But no one ever taught about the history of fundamentalism. Not transparent at all.

  6. R.N.,

    I have met some missionaries that glowed with the love of God. They love the country they are in, they are important in the life of their tribal village, and have adopted children from that place. I do not think they will ever come back to America to live, not even to retire. Their heart and their children are African. I am proud to support them.

    But there are a lot of wasted years and wasted lives "on the mission field" too. Not one word of the translation work my in-laws worked on has survived. Not one person came to Christ.

    On the other hand, for a short season they helped found a Bible college in a neighboring country. While they were there, they all lived together as a family. That place is still in operation today. I don't think it's a coincidence that the only part of their ministry that prospered was when they had their children home.

    Of course that is obviously only opinion. I have no idea why that ministry remains. It may have absolutely nothing to do with my in-laws. They were bit players in that enterprise. It could have prospered for other reasons entirely.

  7. http://thegracecafe.wordpress.com/

    you may be interested in this post, which advocates that if one isn't prepared to sacrifice parent, marriages, children to a dream (presumably the dream God gave you) then you are dreaming big enough. Wow, pushed my buttons, alright. I haven't been able to comment without going ballistic.

    Yup, you called it right in wondering where Jesus is, where is the love, in all this sacrifice? Maybe there is "love" ie defined as obedience to a supposed call from God on the part of the minister but where is the love evidenced by the commitment to the sacred responsibility of parenting and marriage? How does the child or spouse who has been sacrificed feel about a God who would demand such a gesture?


  8. Good words, Shadow.
    It is about knowing Him. Not about doing what we 'think' He wants. We need to know Him. then we'll KNOW what He wants

  9. Yes, the scripture used to manipulate the devout into leaving family and friends, the verse used to justify abandoning/rejecting their precious children, the verse used to validate shuttling off young, tender hearts to uber-religious strangers to warehouse educate them, was Luke 14:26.

    Of course it had to be taken out of the context of Jesus' whole life, ministry and contextual narrative to fit though. It wasn't balanced with any of his commands to love, or to treat children with tender care and acceptance, or to deny our self (and our personal need for spiritual accomplishment and significance) to serve the least of these. Nope. It was taken out to stand all its own, as if this was the greatest commandment of all.

    Here it is:

    26"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.

    Can you say "cognitive dissonance" boys and girls? That's where you claim to serve a God of love and you show your devotion to him by "hating" other people (instead of loving like that God commanded) and spending your life talking about that God!

    Because that's the real way to interpret the holy command of Christ, right?

    The word "hate" appears in the gospels 20 times in verses that say the world hates God, darkness hates light or that people hate others and it is not a good thing. One it says a man should hate his own life and love Jesus more. And once, only once, does it say that anyone should hate their family in order to follow Jesus.

    ONE VERSE and they built an entire religious system around it! I don't even know how many different mission boards/boarding schools there are in the world. All justified by one little verse.

    I don't know about you, but I was taught that good Bible interpretation meant that you could NOT EVER take out a single verse and build a doctrine out of that. "Out of the mouth of two or three witnesses let everything be established."

    By exalting this verse above the whole counsel of God, they do GREATLY ERR!!

    If I were a tribal person, and someone told me that their God loved me so much that He sent his only son to die for me, and I saw that the person telling me that sent his son away every year, and did not have a close nurturing relationship with his son, I would just think, "So what? You guys don't even love your sons. It's no big deal to give up something that's not important to you. Sons are not important to you. For you God to give up his son means very little in your culture. Your God doesn't care any more than that for his sons, why would I care to "become a child of" that God?

    It is so messed up. Why did no one ever think about the horrible testimony this is (if they don't care about the children, which they obviously don't) to the people to whom they claim to minister? Or any unbeliever who ever hears about the boarding school/missionary sytem?

    The amazing thing is, that even knowing what Jesus taught about reaping what we sow, these missionaries who hated their own children for the sake of the "gospel" did not expect that they would be rejected in return!

    They believed that God would clean up their mess and everyone would be happy and well-adjusted and love and respect them because they were serving God! All the cruelty that happened was ordained by God. God would make sure it all turned out okay.

    Ahem. Doesn't work that way. Go back and read your Bibles again, this time without the fundamentalist glasses on. You are responsible for how you treat others. With the same measure you meet it will be measured to you again. Take heed that you do not hurt the little ones of offend them. That is repeated four different times in the gospels!

    Matthew 10:42, Matthew 18:6-14, Mark 9:42, Luke 17:2.

    There are the two or three witnesses.