Confessions of a former, former Christian

Loving

I said previously that there were two passages of scripture that had really haunted me since I was a kid. Every time I read them I’d get that, “Oh man, I’m in real trouble” chill down my back. And strangely, I almost never, ever hear them preached about in a sermon. You know there are certain sermon topics you hear all the time. Once the pastor starts into the text you say to yourself, “Oh, it’s that one today”.

Although to be honest, I was sort of glad they aren’t talked about more because whenever they were, it’s always reminded me of how far away I was, and I was really pretty content believing that I was generally ok and not that far from where I needed to be.

The first troubling text was where Jesus says at the entrance to heaven, “Depart from me,  I never knew you” (discussed here). It makes me ask, “Do I really know him?” That is still my desire. I want to know him. I want to know him in as real a form as I know my wife or my friends.

But there is another passage of scripture that really pushed my buttons all the wrong ways. Interestingly, lately it’s not really scary to me. Instead, it’s becoming the guide of what I need to do, what it means to be a Christian, what Christianity is about if I’m going to say that Christianity isn’t about sinning less.

The passage is in Matthew 25, commonly referred to as the Sheep and the Goats.

In short, at the end of time everyone stands before God and he splits them into two groups, the sheep on the right and the goats on his left. Then he says to the sheep, “You’re in!” and to the goats, “Go to hell!” (read it, it’s there…)

And what is the criterion for this massive distinction? What is the difference between the two groups? What gets you an inheritance prepared since the creation of the world, and what gets you sent to eternal fire prepared for the devils and his angels?

What they did (or didn’t do) with these 6 things:

  • Feed the hungry
  • Drinks for the thirsty
  • Housing for the stranger
  • Clothing for the naked
  • Caring for the sick
  • Visiting the imprisoned

I have done almost none of these things. It could not be said of me that these things have ever been actively present in my life.

See, somehow I’ve been exposed to and working on a much different list of what gets you in or out. And on this list are things like:

  • Don’t sin
  • Pray more
  • Be good
  • Read your Bible
  • Avoid evil
  • Witness
  • Did we mention try to sin less?

In fact, I found a random website several months ago where a guy finds people’s lists in the trash, then puts them up on this site of discarded lists. I was struck by this one.

I think I know exactly where this guy (girl?) is coming from. I think I know what world they’ve grown up in. I also think I know why this list was crumpled up and tossed. It totally misses the biggest thing, and consequently it provides no real satisfaction. 10 things on this list. Going to church even gets on there twice. Not one had anything to do with someone else.

Jesus seems to make it clear what he’s looking for from us. And it’s not about improving ourselves. It’s about loving others. It’s about understanding that He loves me, and what I have to do now is turn around and intentionally love others the same way. I may become a better person in the process, but that’s just a side-effect, it’s not the goal.

Where is that message? Where is the “love others” message? Maybe you’ve gotten massive exposure to this message in your Christian experience, and if so, I’m genuinely happy for you. Not mine. How have we missed this?

It’s almost like cheating. It’s like God is showing us the test a month before finals and saying “Here’s the 6 things I’m going to ask you about, be ready”. And yet somehow we’ve totally ignored that, gone and done a million different things, then reassured each other that we’re “once saved, always saved”, ready to go and heaven bound.

How does every pastor in America not read this passage, say to themselves “Uh-oh” and announce the following Sunday that effective immediately there is going to be a food program, a drink program, a housing program, a clothing program, a hospital visitation program, and a jail ministry, and you would be very wise to sign up for one or all of them? How is this not happening? Does your church have even one of these? Mine doesn’t. I’ve never attended one that has.

I know the response by some is that this is just a story, a parable, that these things are just examples of the kinds of things we ought to consider doing. But it seems pretty straightforward to me. And it has since I read it as a kid. Maybe I’m totally wrong, but I’m not brave enough to roll the dice and get to that day and chance that maybe he didn’t really mean it like it sounded.

God is calling me to live a different life. Not one where self-improvement and self-control are the goals, but one where loving others tangibly is the goal. Jesus loved us enough to give up everything and come to this stink hole and die. Then he says “Love others like that” (John 13:34).

God has shown me in a very real way that he loves me. And now he’s showing me that what I have to do is give that same love to others. Because someday I’m going to be in one of two groups. And, if this story is to be believed, it will not be based on what I believed, what I said, what I confessed, what I thought, what I felt, what I meant to do, or what sins I gave up.

It will only be about what I did…. in love…. for others….for Him.

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June 24, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 4 Comments