Friday, January 3, 2014

Harmful things many Christians believe

I was having a conversation with a friend yesterday about how people have certain beliefs that are so destructive for their personal and/or spiritual growth. These attitudes are pervasive; that is, they are everywhere. However, I've noticed them most (and perhaps it's because I get around most in these circles) in the church. The list below is not exhaustive by any means, but I have put together a few of the most harmful-to-the-spirit things that believers believe ... and all of them are myths, yet taught as truth.

  1. It's all about the outside. Yeah, that old myth is still kicking around. I'm not so much talking about physical appearance here (although that can be included) as I am about the penchant believers have to lay down rules and regulations, obligations and expectations of themselves, and then expect others to follow them. And when others don't follow them, they judge these people and call into question their commitment or their dedication.

    This myth is born from fear: if I don't measure up, if I don't do enough, God won't love me. Or my prayers won't get answered. Or I won't have a nice car. Oh please. God's love and God's grace don't work that way. Get a grip on even a corner of the lavish love that God has for you, and that myth will vanish like fog on your glasses when you enter a warm house after being outside in the cold. Understand the grace of God and you will live in gratitude and not in fear.

  2. Self-denial and self-love are mutually exclusive.  Yikes! This is a variation of the first one!! The belief is that one is a good person if one is self-sacrificing and never looks after oneself. In fact, this belief is the fast track to burnout! Jesus knew this; He often took time away from the crowds to be alone and spend time with His Dad. He recharged His spiritual batteries and was ABLE to give Himself fully to others BECAUSE He spent that time looking after His own spiritual health. That "J-O-Y" that we learned in Sunday School (Jesus-others-you spells Joy)? Yeah THAT's a myth. It's more accurate to say, "Jesus pours into you and fills you up, so that you can pour into others."

    A healthy self-love is crucial to the ability to lay aside what we prefer at times, in order to meet another's need. When we don't care about ourselves, we will not care about others; remember, the 2nd greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Not instead of ourselves or before ourselves.

    I'm not talking about narcissism here. I'm talking about knowing yourself, knowing your limits, and looking after your own spiritual condition first. In that regard, I'm a big believer in the saying, "You can't give away what you don't have."
  3. I need to defend God. Hmmm, here's a sticky one. The idea here is that any time anyone says something that we don't believe, or expresses an opinion that casts a shadow on the Bible, or espouses a cause that is not "scriptural" ... we feel we have the right - indeed the obligation - to point that out.

    This is probably the one thing above all other things that gives Christians a bad reputation, because "pointing that out" causes others - and so many more than we can even imagine - to dismiss us as judgmental hypocrites, having no compassion or tolerance for other people.

    I had quite a problem getting this myth expunged from my psyche. Finally, it dawned on me. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion means that everyone has the right to say or to believe what he or she wishes, within certain legal boundaries. That a person - or a government - or a social group - says or believes something that I don't believe is actually a good thing. If that person or that entity loses the right to say or believe that thing that I don't like, freedom of speech and freedom of religion don't exist. And if they don't exist, then I lose the right to say or believe what I want. It goes both ways, you see. The golden rule is still golden.

    One of the things we have lost - I believe - in the last few hundred years since the Reformation, is the wonderful and nearly lost art of acceptance. Accepting people and situations the way they are can go a lot farther than placards and petitions, protests and punishment. Jesus operated like that. He wasn't a pushover and He did not join in others' evil deeds. But He ate with tax-collectors and prostitutes. He accepted everyone the way they were, and loved them. Their own gratitude for that love transformed them. The only ones He had judgmental words for were the people who were so tightly bound up in how everyone else was doing it wrong (and how much better they were than everyone else) that they couldn't accept that He might be who He said He was. Even those among that 'elite' group who were willing to listen to Him, He accepted and loved just as much as the fishermen and farmers who flocked to the hillsides to hear Him and to watch Him love people.

    God is a big boy. He can look after Himself. He doesn't need me to run roughshod over other people to prove a point defending His honor. I can trust Him to do that... and He does it far better than I ever could, and with far more compassion and mercy.

  4. I need to understand everything. Wow. The older I get the more I realize how silly and potentially dangerous this myth is. It's important to know what we believe and why we believe it. But there are things about what we believe that just don't cut it. They can't even come close to explaining all there is to know about God and about how He works. And I don't need to comprehend it. If I do, or if I think I do, then somehow God becomes just a ho-hum part of my existence instead of an all-consuming passion. And if I feel as though I need to control everything, then I make myself something I was never meant to be. Only God has the right and the power to control it all.

    Mystery makes our lives interesting. It also keeps us humble. When we admit that we don't know it all, that God might be a smidgen more vast than we can conceive, or work in ways other than what we might have thought ... our world expands. It's like standing at the foot of a mountain we've only read about. There is nothing like that feeling of being so small, such a speck on the sands of time, to give us perspective and to make us grateful beyond imagination for the love and the mercy and the grace of our great God toward us.
  5. Bad things come from the devil. The problem of evil is a huge one. It is true that much of the evil in the world happens as a result of the influence of the father of lies.

    But not all of it does. A lot of times, bad things happen as a result of a choice ... ours or someone else's ... that sets a series of consequences in motion. And in a lot of cases, even those bad things can be turned for good because (get this) God is never surprised by the bad things that happen. He works it into His plan to transform His children into His image.

    He doesn't cause them to happen. He weaves them into a tapestry. Sometimes we can get a glimpse of what He is doing ... but most of the time we see that tapestry from underneath, and it appears so jumbled and tangled that it doesn't make sense to us (see myth # 4). That's where faith comes in. Faith (whatever form that takes for us) is based on what we believe the character of God is. If we believe Him to be harsh and vindictive, we will see Him as cruel and punitive. If, on the other hand, we believe Him to be loving and pure, we will see Him as having our best interest in mind, and we will better be able to trust His heart even when the storm is raging.
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These are only a few of the myths that plague us as believers. I'm sure you can think of more. 

We put a lot of stress on ourselves by trying to do what we were never meant to do. A lot of us (and I have done this) try to be the Holy Spirit - to bring someone to our way of thinking. It's true that we can participate in doing God's work. But let's remember ... it's GOD's work. So let's let Him. 

My prayer is that we will all grow up into Him and learn to love as He did as we begin to understand how very deeply and passionately He loves us ... to love God (in return) first and foremost, to love ourselves, and then to love others as ourselves. It really is the only way to be happy.

Happy New Year!

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