Many people in England seem to think that Christianity is a religion for nice people, people who have it all together, the rather respectable sort of person who has no financial worries, has the right social status, is perfect emotionally and spiritually and has no real problems, and so going to church is the ‘icing on the cake’ to a wonderful life, rather like a club for those who have made it. I suspect this view could be held in America and Australia and other countries where Christianity is, at least nominally anyway, held as the religion or upholds the morals of that society. At worst in England it’s seen as rather prissy, rather wussy, something that is part of genteel society and if I am honest something seen as a bit Middle or even Upper Middle class and in some cases like the Church of England seems almost to be a part of the establishment. This is not me being cruel, but just how I see it. Is the Bible only for the well to do, the great and the good and those who have wealth and privilege and power? Perhaps if this is what Christianity was meant to be about Jesus would have been born in a palace and not a stable being chased out of Israel by King Herod, the genocidal maniac. I know that Christians should be gentle and kind and compassionate and concerned with other people, but sometimes if I see wealthy people claiming to be Christians whilst at the same time seeming to find their security in the wealth and high social status and the material prosperity they have and the things it will buy them and the lifestyle they can attain through that wealth, I seem to feel a little confused. It is as if by claiming Christianity, some people can do what they like and use their Christian status as a kind of ‘get out of jail free’ card. I understand that this may offend some people but I feel it has to be said because it’s what a lot of Christians say and I believe that the truth about these and many other matters far outweighs the pleasant platitudes that some people speak or hold about Christianity. Christianity is not a tool of the establishment, or of rich and powerful people, nor is it the religion of the well to do or the Anglo Saxon cultures around the world or particularly European either. If anyone at all in fact tries to ‘use’ God to rubberstamp their own possibly selfish ambitions or use the respectability of being a Christian or regular churchgoer or even being a reverend or priest to do things that are completely unchristian or be nasty and offensive and as worldly as anyone not particularly a Christian at all, they have misused faith like the Pharisees did.
‘When the scribes of the Pharisee party saw him eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, 'Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?' When Jesus heard this he said to them, 'It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. I came to call not the upright, but sinners.'’ (Mark 2:16-17 NJB)
David was a shepherd boy and just a nobody from a humble family, who was told by God that he was marked out for something special, that being that he would be king of Israel. I expect he thought at first ‘oh yeah, okay, whatever, just let me tend me sheep mate!’ or words to that effect. But he became a king, and was a man after God’s own heart, after many troubles and being basically a warrior and perhaps was also an outsider within the most famous group of outsiders, the Israelites. The term Hebrew is I think a term similar to Gypsy today in that David and his kin were outcasts or outsiders or like the Irish travellers, and yet God calls David to lead His people. Of course David had to become a warlord and a fighter to eventually become a king, and he liked his women too did David, unlike Christian men today of course…?! Then again… anyway, he also had a man more or less bumped off so he could get his hands on the man’s wife. Not really a nice bloke to be honest, yet God said ‘…"I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, who will perform my entire will."’ (Acts 13:22 NJB) Hmm, curious. A murderer, womaniser and man of violence, and yet God’s man! Not exactly your textbook English vicar from the Home Counties was he??!!
Saul was a religious man, a law abiding man, a man who scrupulously kept the law and a man who upheld the law vigorously, and a man of God. Or so he thought anyway. He upheld the law so vigorously that he persecuted the early Christians thinking he was doing God’s will. Effectively, he was killing ‘in the name of God.’ Is that the truest and most obscene definition of taking God’s name in vain, the vilest form of blasphemy? Isn’t any form of self-righteous behaviour hidden behind a religious front, especially when the person is cynically using their respectability as a religious person to do things they shouldn’t be doing, blasphemous to some degree? But Saul, when he was Paul, admitted that while he sinned grievously, he was in ignorance. His excuse was that he thought he was truly in the right by ruthlessly persecuting Christians, but he couldn’t have been more wrong. There is a lesson for us all there.
Moses thought he was a high born prince of Egypt, but he found out that he was a son of slaves, a low born Israelite. A man brought up in the family of the pharaoh who was bred for perhaps the very highest office and the most advanced and most powerful and certainly most sophisticated and enduring civilisation of its day, who was actually something he never dreamed of. Isn’t that a bit like all of us to some degree? We all get caught up in everyday affairs, personality clashes, little and not so little worries and we become sophisticated and worldly and at the same time world weary, stuck right in the middle of what we think will make us happy and yet at the same time fed up with it all.
‘Sheer futility, Qoheleth says. Sheer futility: everything is futile! What profit can we show for all our toil, toiling under the sun?’ (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3 NJB)
Maybe at times we all need a way of escape, and it was of course Moses’ great calling that became the most famous escape of all. No, I don’t mean Steve McQueen as Hilts on his motorbike, as cool as Steve was in ‘The Great Escape’! I mean the Israelites out of their 400 years bondage of slavery to Egypt, where they were making bricks for the pyramids of the pharaohs. Egypt represents the worldly, the material, the wealthy and the comfortable, although Israel are enslaved to create these very things, as often people today become slaves to ambition or to making money or lose themselves to excess or the pursuit of pleasure and sensuality and finding security in their wealth or sophistication or high social status of some kind. In the end however what they thought might make them free actually makes them slaves. It’s a modern dilemma we all seem to face. Moses gave it all up to lead his people to the Promised Land. He left the land of material wealth and worldly power for something that his people were really all about, spiritual riches in abundance and an intimate relationship with God, being obedient to God rather than their own fractured egos and individual selfishness. It didn’t quite work out as planned though did it?! What’s new, hey?! They got stuck in the wilderness for 40 years, running around in circles, complaining, moaning, grumbling, not being satisfied with the menu on offer, generally being pissed off with old Moses and wondering just where on earth they were going anyway. If you’ve travelled on British trains you’ll know the feeling well!!! After escaping the stifling slavery of Egypt, they meandered and traipsed and moved half-heartedly to wherever they were going, like kids with their mum in the supermarket, whining one minute and blaming someone the next. There’s no pleasing some people is there?! Moses was another flawed man of God, who did actually murder an Egyptian, yet God makes something of him that no one would have even guessed at.
The three of them then were deeply flawed men by any standards, definitely by today’s standards and certainly by God’s high standards, yet each played a major role in God’s purposes proving that even deeply flawed people whatever they have done can have a second chance or can do great things for God, if they have faith and call on Him from the heart. Even flawed people can have a thirst and hunger for God, in fact I sometimes think it is those who are notoriously or chronically flawed who thirst and hunger the most for God and for His righteousness.
I was a woman hater, the complete misogynist, and for a long time have had problems with women and an anger and bitterness towards women, the root of bitterness the Bible warns about perhaps. Whatever the case, I have had a lot of resentment towards women for a long time, and I am beginning to get help with this issue. My attitudes towards women then have been skewed for a long time because for some reason I just seemed to meet angry, unpleasant, indifferent and even hateful women especially in pubs and nightclubs, but even in colleges and universities too. I suppose I have just been unlucky but it didn’t help matters and put me off women for a long time. At the same time though, God has sent me a number of women friends, some Christian and some not, who I have growing friendships with and who are all a regular feature of my life. Of course, these are all women that I have a fondness and affection for and who in many case I love like sisters. But, being honest, my anger is as much about the way I was treated than it is about who treated me so badly, or negatively it might be better to say. When anyone puts themselves on the line and makes themselves vulnerable, risking being rejected, who does in fact not take it completely seriously? The British pub and especially the nightclub scene is to a certain extent superficial and trying to find love or meaningful relationships there is probably not the ideal place to look but as British culture can be a very limited culture, where else can single people often find love, and that goes double maybe for Christians? Being drunk as well or at least half cut is also seeing the situation, and other people, through beer goggles and is often not a good idea either I think.
So we have a dilemma, or rather I have a dilemma which I know millions of people throughout the world have; that of wanting to find genuine romantic love but trying to get over the hurdle of hurt, anger and pain that I feel over my past rejections and failed romances. A wall builds up that seems insurmountable and perhaps although other people help build it with their cruelty and indifference and even nastiness, we sometimes supply the bricks and help build it with them and then cement it with our own hatred and low self-worth and even by feeding off the negativity. I have done that before today too for sure.
The Church Going Christian
Would Jesus accept homeless people, the lost, the completely hopeless, those with mental health problems, those who are chronically addicted to drink or drugs or caught up in OCD or filled with anger and hatred? You know, the sort of people we don’t really want to be around or can’t really be bothered with or the people you don’t want sitting next to you on a bus because they might smell or say something weird or just because they may engage us in conversation and we feel embarrassed.
‘”For I was hungry and you never gave me food, I was thirsty and you never gave me anything to drink, I was a stranger and you never made me welcome, lacking clothes and you never clothed me, sick and in prison and you never visited me." Then it will be their turn to ask, "Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, a stranger or lacking clothes, sick or in prison, and did not come to your help?" Then he will answer, "In truth I tell you, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me."’ (Matthew 25:42-45 NJB)
Would many Christians even want some of those people in their churches? I do wonder sometimes.
Church is for people who have no friends, right? It’s usually filled with rather polite old ladies in flowery hats, right? It’s a place where you have to agree with everyone and there are no characters or individuality, right? It’s a clique for religious people who think they are better than everyone else, right? I could keep going on and on here because I have thought, said and believed all of the above and much more about church before today and I think many other people have and do, even some Christians. I had a fear above all that it would compromise my individuality and hinder my walk with God too!!! It hasn’t on either count. So, you probably guess that I am now a church going Christian after 40 years in the wilderness. Yeah ok, that’s a bit dramatic but in essence there is a lot of truth to it as I didn’t go to church for years and have just got involved with one. I was more likely to attack the idea of church than actually see it as a force for good and that it is essential for growing in the Christian life, having Christian friends who know where you are coming from, which is important if you don’t come from a Christian family or Christian background of some kind, and in encouraging you in your Christian walk which of course your non-Christian friends just won’t do will they, even if they are good friends. So, church is finally part of this Christian’s life, and about time too!