Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Myth of the American Gospel.

While I cannot speak of other societies of the world, it is by observation I make this entry about the practice of discipleship in America. If you are familiar with the Horatio Alger myth that permeates American culture and is the fuel for the progression of American culture into the stratosphere of prosperity, the story is a familiar adage. That is ‘if you work hard and sacrifice, you will be successful.’ While there is some truth to this and there is no denying it, the transfer of this principle into the spiritual success is somewhat indirect. In fact, I would say it is a main cause for the burn-out of pastors and followers of Christ in a general sense and even keeps us from the gates of grace like the poor beggar marooned by circumstance and self-perception in the book of Acts whom Peter and John healed by the name and grace of our Lord. What I mean by this is we all want to be ‘good enough’ to earn merit and the bare fact is that the true gospel repudiates the foulness of this approach yet the ‘Horatio’ in us still clings to it. Let the truth resonate: many are held prisoner by their own spiritual pride. This simply means people stay in abusive situations because at some time earlier they chose to take the road and Horatio taints their own thinking of escape and their own pride holds them fast. Simply put, many who long to be free never will be until they admit the road they themselves have chosen was or still is fraught with error and bondage. I know of what I speak. The ‘Horatio’ within me kept me in bondage for years and would not let me embrace the truth that I had chosen badly. I have talked with old friends now ejected from what we were a part of and some still hold to the doctrine and teachings that caused so much damage. I am not saying that what we learned was bad at all but what I am saying is I am not going to let my own spiritual pride, my ‘Horatio ’, get in the way of my evaluating the real truth and depth of what I was taught. I have had to face the fact that maybe I was wrong and to continue to deny that reality does me no good. Worse, I remain un-teachable and the Holy Spirit in His healing work is left outside – in essence, if I choose pride, I will remain a prisoner of my past. Humility is the key to acceptance and puts us on the road to true healing not just survival but a full life. Unless we see the truth of what we believed did and where it led us, and without the healing of the Holy Spirit it still leads us, we will never experience true freedom in Christ. I have tried to approach the past with the frame of mind that perhaps I chose badly and allow the Spirit of God access to areas that pride would have locked down. In this painful and humiliating process, God has brought a true weight and balance in the scales of what I hold as teachings and ways to live. My friends, if repentance truly is a change of mind and actions, then let us implement that definition. Let us at least entertain the notion that we believed and embraced something that damaged us and some like me embraced it with all we had to give. This is a main root cause of the casualties of Christ – we keep applying the Horatio principle to our spiritual pursuit i.e. to that which burns us out. We remain captured by the ‘American Myth’. Ladies and Gentlemen, Jesus does not look like Horatio Alger. He does not act like Horatio Alger. Jesus is not a product of our culture. If anything, the life of Christ in His earthly ministry does not read like a success story and there is no motivational speaker preaching the machines of how to be successful that would objectively look at the life of Christ and use it for their prototype of life management. Yet it is the way God the Father has chosen to reveal Himself to the world and it is the only hope the world will ever have. Horatio looks upon Jesus disgustedly because He talks of relieving the heavy-laden and sharing the burden, He preaches a message that blessed are the poor in spirit and to forgive and even help our competition. Horatio believes in the application of elbow grease to lift one up by their own bootstraps and make a way for themselves. In essence, while the Lord may have saved us, we will take it from there. If Horatio Alger were a disciple, he would be Judas Iscariot. He would justify himself in turning in Jesus to the Sanhedrin because he rebuked him for allowing a prostitute to break the spikenard over His feet and wash those feet with her tears and wipe them off with her hair versus taking the jar of pure nard and selling it to give to the poor. Here is the difference between Jesus and Horatio. Ironically, they both want to fix the problem but one is a quick fix and very temporal and one is not. Jesus rebukes Horatio in saying, ‘the poor you have with you always’. Now, on the surface, it would seem a very cold statement Jesus is making yet in it there is a reality that Horatio has not yet measured fully. What Jesus is saying to Horatio is ‘there are some things that cannot be fixed’. We always want to bring solutions to the table. We build our towers of Babel and reach to the heavens as if we could by our institutionalization and spiritual legislation, fix a fallen world or at the very least our own fallen nature. We cannot. The only hope we have is to find a power outside of this world and allow it to be manifested through us. In Jesus’ statement He condemns those who would put Horatio to work in their spiritual economy. Jesus does not see the woman as a means to His end as Horatio would. He does not de-humanize her into a process. We do not know from what she just came from and what she might have been doing only moments before the meeting. What was going through the mind of the Savior we cannot grasp or fathom but if we might use the episode of Jesus when He was confronted with a woman caught in the very act of adultery, we have insight into this meeting—it is much the same. She was not a cleaned up ex-prostitute who found the way, she was in the middle of a life that was destroying her and the one thing she thought she could do, she did. Not to earn but to bless; Not to make a statement of work for merit but a taking of something she would use to prepare a bed of inquity and to prepare the body of the Savior for burial. What is His reaction? He accepts her and her gift, precious to her and so for Him. She offers all she has and He accepts it, no matter the imperfection of it. She breaks it open and the aroma of a broken life fills the room. To Jesus it is a most acceptable offering but to Horatio only a stench and waste. Both Heaven and Hell were in that moment, yet brokenness of Hell was overshadowed by the acceptance of the Savior of one that knew it could never pay its own way. My friends, we are the woman and if we have seen that it is perhaps the greatest revelation we will ever have.

How does this story of compassion and understanding apply to us? We must look at the body of Christ with a new perspective. We must look anew at the way we have been called by Christ to walk out our lives. Is it about the accolades of the spiritual life? Is it to be inheritors of the kingdom here on earth and in the next phase? I believe that Jesus is allowing us the opportunity to look again at Him and see that the obstructions to a perfect body of believers and a pristine and holy way -- that is the real nature of the people that comprise the body of Christ -- are the not problems with Him, they are opportunities for us to lift and help. They are the reason why we have been called alongside Him and make no mistake about it. It is a privilege to do so. My friend when was the last time you had a kind word and a compassionate thought and gave it away to someone? I am convinced this is the power and ‘koine’ of the kingdom of God…as Peter said ‘such as I have, I give to you’. We might not be able to bring much but if it is all we have to give, it will be enough and achieve the purposes and intent it was meant to bring. Here is a little story for you, part of my new story and so life. Recently, I was in the pharmacy picking up a prescription for my wife and a bald-headed lady came trudging past me and collapsed tired in one of the chairs. She struck up a conversation with another in line. You can guess the conversation revolved around cancer. It was uncomfortable for the ‘Horatios’ in line with me. In America, believers and non-believers alike start out as Horatios and being sick is not part of the agenda and not something to consider but to brush past and move on. I caught myself beginning to think about other things and to try to not barge in the conversation these two strangers with a tragedy in common held so close as if to burn and scar them. Then the Lord reminded me of a scripture ‘When I was sick, you visited Me..’ I stopped dead in my tracks and allowed myself to embrace the moment to look again at the bald head wearing a work worn Subway Sandwich Shop uniform exhausted in a chair trying to hang on to the vestiges of a life no doubt ebbing away and succumbing. I got what I came for and began to turn away and walk out. I could not help myself, I did not want to. With all the Horatios standing in line, friends it is not about them, it is about the one Jesus has called me and you to reach out to. It is not my timing or my plan, it is the Lord’s. The hand that stretched and flailed on the Cross was extended to that woman. It touched and embraced her, it held to her. The eyes that looked upon compassion at Jerusalem the city that rejected its King and found no place for Him looked into her eyes and the voice that spoke planets into being said softly ‘I couldn’t help but over-hearing your conversation; I am so very sorry; I would like to pray for you and will pray for you…’ Was it an earth shaking meeting? No, just two ragamuffins worn and torn out by life that met, looked each other in the eye and shared a kind and special moment. The Horatios turned away so they could not see and made themselves so that they could not hear. But in that moment, Christ was there in the Pharmacy, He shared Himself with us. Did she know the Lord? I cannot know. Was she a part of the Body of Christ? I cannot say. But in that moment we shared humanity. What it means to be human and made in the image of the Almighty and for a brief moment the shadow of Jesus walked the aisle of a pharmacy- the myth of the American Gospel exposed and shown for the cheap substitute that it is for the real one. The Jesus the prophet in rags to a dying world loving with a relentless compassion and affection; my friends that is the Jesus I want to know and be like. I have lived through the performance oriented church and I have found it to be hollow and nothing but a marching band marking time and never dirtying themselves with the true discipleship of Christ. Prophesying the lie of self-righteousness and wearing the phylacteries of self-improvement. If this be a confession, let it be known I was there, I did it myself – but no longer. Legalism in such dark places makes itself to be an angel of light but just don’t get too close to question Horatio too much or in his corporate suit and snarl he will eviscerate you. Can Jesus be rejected by the very people that call on His name, prophesy in His name and do mighty works? The bible answers most candidly ‘every day’.

Do not make the mistake so many, including myself, have made. Listen to your heart, the deep down and soft place where only Jesus can speak. Will you hear other voices? Oh yes, they will come from the mind, the soul and even use the words from the sacred text to bind you but do not listen to them, they are mere masqueraders. Go deeper and allow yourself to walk the quiet halls of the heart and get your direction from Him. He is not successful, He is not clean. His hands are rough and His body smells of sweating drops of blood but allow Him to take your hand and speak to you the words only He can. He will remind you not all things can be fixed, not all things are fair, justice does not always play itself out this side of heaven but in the end, there is one power that hushes the drone of worthless ‘spiritual’ progress and focuses us on the Eternal – it is love and its power cannot be denied or stamped out by the stone tablets of law. In the end only three things endure faith, hope and love and the greatest is love. These are not the tools of Horatio but they are the arms, legs, eyes, ears and mouth of Jesus, they will remain and take us to the real gospel and not the American Myth of what we have pasted over it. You see, in Matthew 25:35-36, Jesus is not the one who visits the sick or takes time to feed the hungry or goes to see the prisoner – that is our privilege and our place – Jesus IS the sick, the hungry and the one in prison. This truth turns the tables on us all. I was not a representative of Jesus in that dispensary of pills but she was. It was her. He will always be like her and His appearance will never be what we expect or plan for yet this is the face of Christ, His heart and His presence. Look closely and look deeply and know your Savior – He might just be a very sick woman in a pharmacy waiting on you to share what you have and only what you have – nothing more and nothing less.

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