Yesterday, I took a “spiritual retreat” for a class that I am taking. I drove over to Perry Sippo Park and after sitting in the library for a few minutes reading my Bible and praying some, I decided that I would go on a prayer walk. The prayer walk was really wonderful. Now, I’m not an environmentalist, but I do enjoy nature occasionally. For some strange reason that I have yet to figure out, I seem to have become fascinated with birds lately. As it turns out, Ohio has some pretty cool looking birds. I saw a few Blue Jays, which I really think are pretty albeit territorial and some other bird that is sold black with an orange spot on each wing. I haven’t looked that one up yet to tell which one it is. Feel free to let me know if you know.
My friend joked with me when I told him about the retreat. He said, “Are you going to hug a tree?’ I said, “No, I’m going to let Jesus hug me for awhile.” That’s how I have been feeling the last few days. I am not sure what makes me more ill: legalism or fighting over it. I published that blog on fundamentalism fully expecting some conversation to be spawned, but never thought I would be called names and never thought that it would cause so much angst among people that I love. Can I tell you? I needed a hug from Jesus. After all my theologizing was done, at the end of the day, I just wanted to fall into His gracious arms.
As I watched those birds, I thought of the words of Jesus in Matthew 6: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” I felt the Spirit around me and as crazy as it sounds, I felt surrounded by the arms of Jesus. For a brief moment, I forgot about the fighting. I forgot of all else but the sunshine and the trees and the birds and my status in the eyes of God.
The words of Paul to the Galatians, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” I felt very free out there on the trail. Now I know the fundamentalists out there would say that this is about sin, but it’s not just about that. It’s about living in God’s grace. This is why I get so bent out of shape about legalism, in all its various forms and issues. I hear someone say, “Don’t listen to that type of music because it is bad.” What type of music? Why is it bad? Is it played badly? What do you mean by bad? The answers I get are usually something like “It’s rock music,” “Jesus wouldn’t listen to that,” “Do you really think that music glorifies God?” The last question I think is pretty much the only legitimate one. If it glorifies God, it is good. I agree.
So can a love song glorify God? I think it can. I hear the song “Unforgettable” by Nat King Cole and I think of Kandice. I’m not sure where Cole stood with God because I know very little about him, but I know that song moves me almost every time I hear it because I think of my wife and how much I love her. Cole is pretty tame, but what about Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Creed, Pink Floyd, or Jimi Hendrix? And I got to say, every time I hear Bob Marley, I just feel like dancing and I almost cannot help but smile.
Here is the big rub that I think really just makes fundamentalists mad: Non-Christians can glorify God. It’s true. It’s part of the image of God that He placed within us. It doesn’t mean they’re heaven-bound. It doesn’t mean that God will overlook their sin; it just means that God gave them natural talents to create beautiful music. So why not enjoy it? I’m not so naïve as to think that every song put out by any band is glorifying to God, but I’m also not a mindless robot and I can make the decision based upon the content of the song, the guidelines laid out in the Word of God, and the direction of the Holy Spirit whether or not I should be listening to it.
The same goes for movies. Every movie that any director or actor participates in is not worthy to be watched, but that does not mean that I cannot be discerning about what is good and what is bad. That is part of the freedom that God gives us. I have been accused of saying that “everything is permissible” and for the life of me, after reading back over what I wrote, cannot figure out where that came from. The closest thing that I saw was when I said that “Everything belongs to God” and I stand by that statement. But Paul does write in 1 Corinthians 10:23, “’All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up…”
So let me clear this up. Here is what I am not saying. I am not saying that we have carte blanche to do whatever we want because it’s all about grace. God forbid we treat His Word with such blatant disrespect that we throw it all out and live only by the Spirit. What I am saying is that we have been given these incredible gifts of our brain, the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit and we should use them. We want to make it simple and just paint it all black and white when God never meant for things to always be that way. He meant for us to engage these things and to use the tools that He gave us to do that. Sure, some things are obviously something that we should avoid because the Bible plainly commands us to not do them because they are sin and/or they are not glorifying to Him, but much of what we label as this, we label not because we believe we should not engage it, but because we are afraid to engage it.
It’s much easier to paint things with a broad brush of black and white when we do not want to get our hands dirty. It’s much easier to say that all “secular” music is bad. It’s much easier to say that all music with a beat is really bad. It’s much easier to say that all PG-13 and R movies are bad. It’s much easier to say that all homeless people are homeless because they are lazy, crazy, or on drugs. It’s much easier to oversimplify economics and blame the liberals for everything. It’s much easier to say that all alcohol consumption is bad. It’s much easier to throw certain words under the category of “corrupt language” even though they are being used properly. It’s much easier to judge someone for not dressing up for church on Sunday morning.
And what about the things that really matter? It is much easier to systematize theology and condemn everything that does not fit in a box (I’m guilty of this). It is much easier to blame someone who is searching for God for having bad theology when we have the benefit of 2,000 years of it behind us (I’m guilty of this, too). It is much easier to turn our heads when someone is in pain because of their sin despite where they might be. It is much easier for us to judge others on nonessential, unclear issues in the Bible. It is much easier to claim our own personal holiness for the reason that we don’t reach out beyond our circle, our race, or our political party or just because we think we are better than them. It is much easier to claim our own personal holiness when grace might require us to get down in the trenches with them and help to pull them out. It is much easier to condemn the homosexual and ignore his or her pain. It is much easier to give static answers to complex questions. It is much easier to say, “What Would Jesus Do?” when the truth is, there are many times we just do not know.
When are we going to learn that we do have freedom? And it’s not for us to abuse; it is for us to help others, to show grace, to enjoy his creation, and to love God with all our hearts. I am very tired of defending my Christian freedom to those who would judge me without ever really knowing me. I believe in enjoying God and His creation to the fullest and worshipping with everything I do. I don’t consider it a free pass to do whatever I want, but I refuse to conform to a legalistic standard that is someone else’s opinion of what godliness is which is evident by their behavior and attitude. I cannot win God’s favor by boosting the standard even higher. It doesn’t work and that’s the point.
I also think that I need to publically (if that is the right term for this) repent of when I have done this. I am a work in progress. Jesus saved me, but I have to rely on the Spirit to help me not be the very thing that I despise. I try my very best to not judge others by a standard that I cannot even reach, but it often comes out of me in a very prideful way much more than I acknowledge or admit and for that I am very sorry and I need to ask all of you for your forgiveness for my own judgmental attitude. I just want to live fully in God’s grace and I desperately want that for others also, for the glory of God alone.
To be honest, I wish I could live everyday in that moment that I had yesterday evening, just surrounded by God and His creation and not have to be concerned with what people think. I guess that’s a bit idealistic, but the little piece of that that I can have right now is to choose to not be so dogmatic on things that in the end, I don’t really know, just plain do not matter, or that I can be discerning about. I have to be vulnerable and willing to make mistakes and not let that shatter my sense of worth, because God loves me no matter what. I do not need to earn his favor. That’s freedom and that’s grace.