Before I continue, I want to put my usual disclaimer that my thoughts are my own and not my family’s or any organization I’m connected with either directly or indirectly.
I get a few critics who question my perspectives on things. I don’t mind at all and I respect our freedom to express our ideas peacefully and respectfully – even if those ideas don’t agree. I don’t think my ideas are superior, in fact, I find that the more I read my Bible and pray, the more I read history, and psychology, and biology, and geography, and business, the more I travel and experience different things, and the more people I meet, the more I find my ideas being refined, and the more amazed I become with the truths the Bible tells us, even as I find many of my long-held interpretations not only don’t make sense but don’t honor the spirit of God’s word which is love. I think it’s not only wise but necessary to take our doubts and the things we cannot reconcile to God, and to wait on Him for answers, however long it takes. Faith doesn’t mean we know the “biblical answer” to everything. It’s not asking ourselves “What would Jesus do?” or in many cases “What’s the church’s stand?”
Faith, in the Christian sense, means believing in God’s love so much, that we face life with hope and love, not entitlement and fear, and that we obey what God tells us, not, what everyone around us is saying, even if that crowd is supposedly Christian.
I find that many times, we don’t really think for ourselves and are as easily impressionable about Christian things as we are about non-christian things. This is why it’s not uncommon to see that we are fans of diametrically opposite values. We subscribe to Tim Keller AND Ellen Degeneres. We sing Hillsong’s How Great is Our God AND Maroon 5’s Animals. We cry at The Passion of the Christ AND gather our friends to watch 50 Shades of Gray. We call for a stop to the objectification of women AND we (both men and women) shriek in glee at underwear shows (featuring both men and women). We gather for small group AND get drunk after. We share articles on how Christian relationships should be (which is selfless and sacrificial) AND share relationship articles that talk about the 5 Things Your Partner Must Be (which is entitled and self-seeking). We call for justice AND practice injustice in our own lives. We cry for the poor AND spend majority of our money on things we don’t even remember 3 months later. These behaviors, and I am guilty in my own ways, do not show Christian conviction but people (again, including me) easily impressed by whatever is going on, easily attracted to what the crowd is attracted to, easily moved by what is moving the crowd, easily excited by what excites the crowd, easily convinced by the noise, easily trapped by the trappings, and easily emboldened, not by personally studied and personally held convictions, but by the security of having a lot of other people doing the same thing. We say that faith should be a personal thing, and indeed it does have a strong personal dimension, yet we don’t realize that our “personal” faith without “personal” devotion and “personal” discipline will not lead to “personal” conviction but to a constant defaulting to popular opinion. It’s no longer about the principle. It’s about what fits as neatly with the people around us.
Someone who does good things out of community pressures and someone who does not-so-good things or even evil things out of society’s pressures are the same that they both are not motivated by faith but by self-interest. Both are not free. Both are so easily contained by the pressures they have no courage, discipline, nor wisdom to defeat.
This is why the popular Christian ideal has no distinction. Currently, that idea looks like this: For families, it’s a happy marriage, with a beautiful family, that goes to church (a family that prays together stays together right?), with financial stability, and active in community events. For people in relationships, they know know each other’s love language, they know their roles and fulfill them, they don’t cheat, they communicate effectively, they don’t have complicated pasts and don’t bring in baggage, and they meet the emotional, spiritual, physical, and financial needs of their partners. For singles, it’s to live in such a way that I can someday have God’s blessing on me. If I’m a good person, God will give me a good partner. If I’m generous, God will give me a lot more. If I’m serving in church, God will work on my stuff.
How do we know that this is our ideal? Because the closer we or someone is to this picture, the more blessed or devoted or right we think that person is and the further we or someone else is from this, we wonder, “What’s wrong with him?” or worse, judge, “This is wrong with him.”
Again, this is why there is no clear distinction in society because our motivations are, deep down inside, the same: self-interest. The distinction was never about things like singing a different song or wearing a different thing or hanging with a different set of friends. It was never about going to certain schools, having certain activities, or enjoying certain experiences. Christian distinction came from being powered by something else. Christians were supposed to be more passionate, more serving, kinder, more joyful, more committed, more patient, more kinds, more generous, more good, yet more forgiving because we were powered by something else: we were powered by love for God and love for others.
By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
– John 13:55
By THIS – ALL PEOPLE – WILL KNOW – What?
What will all people know? That we’re blessed? That we’re wise? That we’re honorable? That we’re respectable? That we’re popular? That we’re secure?
None of that.
ALL PEOPLE will know that we truly have a loving relationship with God.
What is “THIS”? How will they know that we have a truly loving relationship with God and truly follow Him?
By being as close to this description as possible, people will know that we are truly followers of Christ:
For families, it’s a happy marriage, with a beautiful family, that goes to church (a family that prays together stays together right?), with financial stability, and active in community events. For people in relationships, they know know each other’s love language, they know their roles and fulfill them, they don’t cheat, they communicate effectively, they don’t have complicated pasts and don’t bring in baggage, and they meet the emotional, spiritual, physical, and financial needs of their partners. For singles, it’s to live in such a way that I can someday have God’s blessing on me. If I’m a good person, God will give me a good partner. If I’m generous, God will give me a lot more. If I’m serving in church, God will work on my stuff.
While those are nice, and I want all of those, those are not the indicators of a Christian. Yet those are the ideals that seem to dominate our thoughts (including mine), social media, our discussions, and efforts. A good indicator that I have other ideals than that which God has for me is how I respond to when my ideals are threatened. Do I lose my peace? Do I lose my joy? Do I lose my love? The honest answer is yes.
The verse says it clearly: IF (meaning it’s conditional) we have love for one another.
This verse has been keeping me up lately, asking myself this question over and over, “If I am just like everyone else, motivated by self-interest, then am I really Christian?”
My thoughts on this subject form my exploration in a series I’m calling How to Burden Relationships, Kill Success, and Be Irrelevant. I chose this title because, after personal reflection and prayer, I found that many areas of my life need the weeding out of one particular weed: entitlement. Entitlement is the feeling inside me that I am obligated to certain things, that people are obligated to be certain people for me, do certain things for me, decide in a way that agrees with me, listen to the things I write or have to say, understand me and my feelings, that there are things due me, and that life, and by effect, God, owes me. I know I have this weed because, like with Christian ideals driven by self-interest, I lose my peace, joy, and love when certain things don’t happen my way or according to my beliefs.
Entitlement is internally-institutionalized self-interest. It’s in our heart. That’s why it’s harder to fight. It’s self-interest that has been taught that selfishness is good. It is bolstered by our fears that we won’t get what we deserve. It is fueled by envy at what others have unjustly or get away with. It is reinforced by unforgiveness that prevents us from facing today afresh because we keep taking yesterday’s painful lessons, many times unconsciously, and applying them towards self-interest today. It can be as obvious as people who are lazy clamoring for more, or disguised as a child expecting his parents to afford certain things, or be social like expecting to be invited to a friend’s wedding, or even well-meaning expectations parents place on their kids.
Entitlement makes the wise exploit and the foolish lazy, the religious intolerant, the honorable proud, and the dishonorable condemned. It makes the good unforgiving and arms the bad with a personal reason. It makes the simpleminded superstitious. It makes the individual a rebel and the family a burden. It makes marriages obligations and makes single people think they have no obligations other than towards their own advancement. Entitlement makes us have a higher sense of self-worth without the corresponding abilities and skills, and so leads to failure and disillusionment. Entitlement makes leaders lord over instead of serve.
Entitlement makes us burden our relationships, kill success, and live irrelevant lives that have no real impact on greater society. The worst part about entitlement is, even as we do this damage, we do it all with a feeling that we are in the right. We are brought back to the “if” in John 13:55, and this is why not all people know.