January 22, 2017

The Donald, Disney, and Discipleship

Let's be honest here- the new President of the United States is not known for being nice. Donald Trump is often crude, often rude, and certainly not the type of person who will hide this thoughts and feelings from others. However, one thing I do appreciate is that he speaks his mind. You always know where he stands - or at least you think you do. 

It is amazing to me that hundreds of people who dislike these truths about him voice their opinions in a way that mirrors the very things they criticized him of doing. Just take a look at all the social media yelling about his election. I don't see too much difference, just a large dose of hypocrisy. 

Classy way to speak your thoughts, Nicole!

Kudos to folks like Nicole Kidman who has spoken her thoughts and opinions in a respectful way. We, me and you, could learn much from that gracious manner. 

So could the church in America! We have the other problem. The Christian church in America is dying from the disease of Terminal Niceness! Let that statement sink in for a bit before you keep reading. I'm not speaking of kindness here (which is a Biblical value) but niceness- being unable to speak the truth in a gentle manner which builds real relationship versus one which honesty and humility is not truly valued.

How did the organized church that follows Jesus get to that place,  so far away from Historic Christianity? A faith that served the people and turned the world upside down with a message of hope and eternal joy?

Let me throw some thoughts your way. First, “The Soft Gospel”. It says, "Come to Jesus and your life will become better." It's the Pathway to Prosperity, etc. It's a teaching that has taken hold in the United States for a few decades now. We have come to believe it is our God-given right to health and wealth. This mindset keeps us focused on our own needs- and ineffective in God's Kingdom! We don’t think about God’s priorities but our own! It is still “all about us”! 

Let me ask, did Jesus end up wealthy and healthy on this earth? No, and neither did the Twelve Disciples, and neither did the early New Testament church. Many were killed for their faith! Even today, true believers are not welcomed in our world. (Look at the latest statistics on Christian persecution here. And the facts are certainly one Disney ignores in China by the way. Read it here.) The latest martyrs- believers in the Middle East who are executed- certainly didn't end up with a life on earth full of money and comfort.

Joel Osteen preaches prosperity, not the Truth as found in the Bible.
It's NOT all about us. It's all about Jesus.

This thought is no better than any other philosophy, reducing Jesus’ bloody sacrifice on the Cross- and His Resurrection- to nothing. It reduces Jesus to just another philosopher instead of the Creator God who will return to Judge all Creation. Following this thought pattern reduces the Christian to another self help group, and we can fall into the trap about talking about Jesus and thinking about Him, intellectualizing Him, without actually following Him into a life of self-sacrifice and death... in exchange for eternal life. Ultimately, the church and the Christian faith looks like what the world offers but from a different slant! I read the Bible where Jesus said, “Whoever serves me must follow me.” (John 12:26). On the way to his crucifixion, he asks Peter “Will you really lay down your life for me?” (John 13:38) The same question holds true for us today!

The second reason the church has been infected by terminal niceness comes from another incomplete piece of theology. “It’s All By Grace” – Yes, that is true, and I am thankful for Amazing Grace- but it does not mean nothing is required of us! The Biblical book of James was written for a reason. Faith without works is dead!

Work is an expression of, and a response to, the grace given us, an outpouring of our gratefulness toward Him who gave all for us. Jesus himself set this example in motion! To be Christlike is to also engage in the work the Father gives us. For His purposes and for his glory. If we never work, we become spiritually fat, lazy, and dull! We remain self-focused and immature, useless in God's kingdom, and we forget we as Christians are ambassadors to a dying world.

Is it more important to be nice or to be kind?

So, that begs the question- What Does Terminal Niceness Look Like? What are the symptoms?

1- We get Bored- and We look elsewhere for fulfillment! Be it entertainment, business, family, sports, money, leisure, outright sin, etc. Why? "Soft Christianity" doesn’t fulfill because it has no depth and no challenge, so we look other places.

It used to be the U.S. military appealed to patriotism to recruit. In the last few decades, when that no longer worked, they changed tactics and now appeal to a “Are You Man Enough?” approach. They realized we are designed by God to be about something bigger than ourselves. Playing to this truth appeals to thousands of man and women who want to make a difference in our world. This is partially why we "come alive" when serving others. For  followers of Jesus, that means missions trips and service projects! When we do what we are designed for, we come alive!

2- We get Frustrated and Cynical!
As people in the church respond to lack of direction and clear purpose, frustration continues, and in response the church becomes focused on making people happy and being nice- reinforcing the cycle!

3- Other Symptoms
There are plenty! Here's a few.

• We rewrite the rules to justify our personal weaknesses.
• We are fearful to confront sin. Truth tellers become the problem. (Let me remind you that we are called to tell the truth in love, not letting our delivery be abrasive. The truth can be abrasive, but we should never be.)
• Iron no longer sharpens iron- We got stuck in our disfunction- and we like it at one level as it requires no responsibility on our part.
• We become insincere as everyone must start to look good and be content or risk not fitting in. 

• We segregate ourselves from the outside world, or we begin accepting everything the world says as ok for Christians. We become useless salt. Think of how many people proclaim to follow Jesus but live in a way that displeases Him.
• We begin to protect the status quo in the church. At the extreme, we defend it to the result where good is labeled evil, and evil is justified away.

The church's call to Holiness, living a life that pleases God, is not legalism or simple narrow-mindedness - it is asking the church to be the church, the believer to be a disciple, the challenge to live as we say we believe. If we carry the name of Jesus, we should live like him! But we should also understand we will be treated as He was.

If we read the book of 2 Timothy, where the Apostle Paul addresses Timothy- who was young in the faith but set aside to pastor a church, we get our "job description" as a person who follows Jesus Christ. It's interesting to note that in this letter to Timothy, Paul is the one in prison, but he is encouraging the young pastor to stay the course!

“1 You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” (II Timothy 2:1-3)

Just some observations- We need to acknowledge God’s grace to live this life. We cannot rely on ourselves. Nor do we need to! The Holy Spirit empowering us. Secondly, we as Jesus followers all have work to do, and Paul was encouraging young pastor Timothy to endure hardship- knowing Timothy was already working hard.

Some authors, like the popular Christian author John Eldridge, believe the church has been feminized. This may be why men are dropping out of the church in record numbers, but I believe it is more than that.  

Lounging our way into being ineffective.

I believe we have been rendered ineffective by being pacified. We have become pacifists- but God calls us to something different. He calls us to be active in our world, making it better because we are in it, contributing to it.

Paul compares being a follower of Jesus, a real disciple, to being a soldier. But what are soldiers called to do? The job of a soldier is to: Defend, Protect, Free Prisoners, Advance Against and Break Down Enemy Strongholds.

General Knowledge from the Wonders of Life attraction,
Cranium Command at Epcot.

The book of I John tells us the whole world is under control of the Evil One, that is the devil. (I John 5:19-20). We know that he is like a roaring lion waiting to devour (I Peter 5:8). Yet, even without the Scriptures to remind us, we can see evil is winning battles in this world, although God has won the War. We are at war! Reality says “If you want to live in a nice world, go to Disneyland!” (Isn't that it's appeal, Disney park fans?)

Yet, look at Jesus’ words about this battle: "From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force." (Matthew 11:12- New American Standard version of the Bible). What does this mean? The best explanation from the commentators is this: “The Kingdom of God Belongs to Those Who Contend for It!” Who will win? Not the nice guys! Hear me, I'm not advocating aggression or a victim mentality; I'm advocating perseverance and remembering our Biblical priorities.

Further in 2 Timothy 2: 3-4: “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs- he wants to please his commanding officer.” There's only two comments from Paul here. First, a reminder. Don’t get involved in civilian affairs In other words, remember your first priorities! Secondly, please your commanding officer – the bottom line! For the soldier, this priority remains job Number 1.

Unrelenting obedience is required. A full understanding of all the facts or circumstances is not necessary even if it is preferred. This is training in integrity, commitment, and perseverance. There's no excuses- you are in the military or you are not. Own what you signed up for! Soldiers train for battle, refined by their commander. Every person is under someone’s authority. Each has special skills which work together for the common good, and all of us in the battlefield of life must be able to rely on the other.

Maybe, but it's ultimately unproductive.

Sometimes, the Commanding Officer is blunt, direct and honest- preparing the platoon for things to come; not always liked, but he is respected, and he gets the job done. He's not your Mamma! We need Him to keep us from getting lazy and getting off on the wrong track. We need Him to remind us what Our Mission is!

Churches and people can forget their true mission! It's the Great Commandment, to love God and one another. And it's the Great Commission, to go out into the world, be it near of far, and share the good news that Jesus died for the sins of men to save them from an eternity in Hell. People who truly love risk by speaking the truth in love. They risk being seen as not nice. 

It's more than just understanding the truth. It's acting on it.

What challenges do soldiers face? Plenty- we must "Fight the Good Fight of Faith!" It should be a joy and a delight to work with God. At the least, it is exciting to be obedient, and see where that leads! The Lord will judge us for our deeds; He will forgive our sin, not our excuses! When we step out into obedience to Him, God gets the glory, and His name and His purposes become known.

We are human and we like to run from truth to justify ourselves. We let ourselves and others stay in sin and old unhealthy patterns- this is not good for the church and not good for us as individuals. We like having just enough Jesus to save us from Hell. However,  this kind of shallow satisfaction isn’t enough to give us deep freedom and healing. Only full submission to the One True God will do it.

Not only is the way to eternal life narrow, the path for a true follower of Christ is narrow. It’s a path that leads us to the cross as well! Choosing to die to our own desires and embrace His calling.

We stand at a crossroads every day. What will it be, our purposes or His? Obedience or sin? It's time we fight the disease of Terminal Niceness in our churches. Isn't it?

This teaching is one of my personal favorites, slightly revised for the season. I first posted this years ago, and the message still holds true today.


Len Yokoyama said...

What an important and eye opening post Mark! This installment alone is reason enough to keep this blog going for the next ten years. Thank you for posting!

Mark Taft said...

You are too gracious to me, amigo!