Sunday, 4 May 2014
Easter: The World's Behaviour
We have a problem in the Church. We don't understand the World.
Actually, the problem is that we don't understand the World behaves differently to Christians. Or at least, how Christians are supposed to behave.
I got burned a few years ago doing business on a handshake agreement - with a "christian" businessman.
But I learned from the mistake. I learned our desire to "fit in" with the World often means we adopt their attitudes and behaviours. I'd never have considered doing business on a handshake with someone outside the Church, but I expected more from a Christian. I realised - or began to - on that day that we have a tendency to miss "belonging" in the World. We do so at our peril, as we end up becoming as cutthroat and heartless as the World is.
The World gives what it expects. It is hard and demanding, unrelenting and unforgiving.
The problem is, we forget to expect the World to give us what it is only capable of giving. It doesn't know or even care about the Love of Christ. It cares about love of self. Selfish pride, greed, avarice and malice seep from every pore. We sanitise the descriptions with words like "ambition" or "driven", but lusting for power and the acclaim of worldly "peers" who are actually beneath us is enticing. Power is highly seductive - just ask Monica Lewinsky. Acclaim is intoxicating - ask any pop star.
The problem is that power corrupts and acclaim is fleeting. Ask Bill Clinton and Lindsay Lohan about what happens when power and acclamation are what you really need to get a "fix" of. More deadly than cocaine or heroin, these drugs are worse than any narcotic because we all take them. Every unsaved (and an unhealthy number of saved) individual on the planet seeks power and acclamation. We all seek what Satan sought - worship.
The one thing God reserves for Himself alone.
But the world worships. Idols everywhere. TV stars, movie stars. You only have to look at the pay cheque any "A" list celebrity gets for acting in a movie to see the idolatry. They are the idol worshipped by the studio - and tribute, not wages, are given. I respect Christian Bale for turning down disgustingly large sums of money to reprise his role in another Batman movie. He rejected money in favour of integrity of himself.
Donald Trump slammed him for turning down the sum - many millions of dollars - as a poor business decision. But his integrity is intact. How many can say that? In some ways I respect Donald Trump, but his Twitter account is so often negative and critical without offering solutions - only highlighting what he sees as wrong decisions. Maybe they are, maybe not. In either case, we can only judge by their fruit - and that takes time.
Short-term and long-term definitions are changing. Long term can mean a year - two at the most. Some oriental societies view a medium term to be 20+ years. Most Western society sees 5 years as long-term. The difference? who has the stronger trade economy? In the Far East, long-term planning stretches into decades in some areas. Their plan is more visionary. Why isn't ours?
The first century Church looked eagerly to Christ's Return, expecting it at any time. We don't. We have been influenced by the World which says at best that it won't be in our lifetime, and at worst that Christ was a myth and never existed - despite the primary source evidence outside the Bible to support it. Pliny, Jospehus and a host of other secular historians record in their writings the rise of a new sect of Judaism based around a young Galilean teacher named Christus whose followers claimed had risen from the dead. Execution records even show his crucifixion, yet sceptics insist he didn't exist.
Our pulpits have even reflected this. If has become a part of our common vocabulary. We have been insidiously infected with the pessimism of the World - and we missed it. The concept of a living God taking human form and co-existing with us has become preposterous, so we spiritualise everything He said. Obviously Jesus speaking about money was a representation of what we will have in Heaven. The concept of a New Heaven and a New Earth are washed away in favour of some ethereal idea of wings, halos and harps. If harps are intrinsic to heaven I'd like a refund. Eternity of nothing but harps will drive me insane - even in perfection. Give me a Bon Jovi riff or a ZZ Top groove to jam to. Maybe my guitar playing can finally improve there.
But why bother with a new Earth if we'll be in Heaven? So we have a holiday let? No. So we have somewhere to work.
In the movie "What Dreams May Come", Robin Williams's character is relieved to find there's work in the afterlife - he feels it is right. Adam was given a job as a gardener, we should expect nothing less. Personally I hope there's no tree of knowledge, but if there is then I hope I won't be the one to blow it by having apple pie one evening. And if I do, I hope I'll have the courage to run to Christ.
I like the idea of work in Heaven. It's sole purpose would not be productivity, but Glorification of God. We need to work for that here as well.
But the World's behaviour is the opposite. It idolises self and gain instead of worshipping the creator.
God says we must remember it is He who gave us the power to create wealth in order to strengthen the covenant He set up with us (see Deuteronomy 8:18) with a reminder that He is the one who set it up, not our own endeavours. Our "Promised Land" is not some ethereal place, but a position in this world" where we can experience His fullness and move into His promise for us.
The issue is simply that we expect the World to behave as if it were Christian, and then we feel surprised when it doesn't. Oddly, we seem to expect Christians - especially in business - to be as ruthless and cut-throat as any secular business. I once had a receptionist who was offered a job by her pastor on the condition she start the following Monday - just three days later. We had an arrangement that she would give ua a minimum of two weeks notice so that we could find a replacement and her assistant could be fully briefed on the outstanding files and accounts that needed to be attended to. The offer was too good for her to pass up, and this church leader insisted that she walk away, dishonouring a long-standing agreement and displaying zero of the attitude Christ would have offered. When later she asked me for a reference for another job, the best advice I could give, since I knew I would be asked under what circumstances she had left us, was to not use us as referees. It may have made a hole in her CV, but it meant I would not be placed in a position where I would have to lie.
Another receptionist we employed who claimed to be a christiancollected her pay as always on the last Friday of the month - six days before the last day of the month - and never came back, effectively stealing the wages for a week she didn't work. I was particularly disappointed in these two women as they were both in leadership positions in their respective churches, yet in business they showed no Christian ethic whatsoever. Their integrity was non-existent and I will never be able to give a positive report for them.
Interestingly, the most honest and ultimately trusted member of our staff who I had to let go was a self-confessed drug addict who was struggling becuse she had begun using again while she worked for us. She came and told us and we granted her a leave of absence to get herself clean. After several weeks she was sober again, but eventually she fell off the wagon again, and very reluctantly we had to let her go as it was a medical business we owned. Not a single item went missing, not a cent from the cash box, and she worked out her last days with us after we'd made our decision because we had already paid her for that time. I had, and continue to have, massive respect for that young lady - a non-Christian by her own admission - who showed greater character than her two "christian" colleagues.
So the World can surprise us. Usually in a negative way, but mostly that happens because we assume it will behave according to a Biblical basis!
The World is a hard place. We forget that and we will be hurt.
But if we expect the World to behave in a Worldly manner, we can be on guard and avoid unnecessary hardships.
But we must hold to our integrity as Christians, or we are no better - in fact we are hypocrites to behave one way on Sunday, but to conform to the World's standards for the other six days of the week.
Let the World be the World.
We're better than that.