17. Weakness vs Pretending
Dear believer. If I could but convince you. Failure is your only option. Only when you are weak can you ever be strong.
17. Weakness vs Pretending
Therefore I will boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. — When I am weak, then I am strong. — His strength is made perfect in my weakness. Paul - who claimed that his take on the gospel was the only one that was correct.
What must I DO in order to be saved. The man who did not continue with Jesus.
In the sermon on the mount, Jesus said that we must do what He says in His teachings. James said that we must be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving our own selves.
The New Testament is rather confusing. Christians have a habit of picking one or two verses on a topic and ignoring all the rest. They rely on their pastor or their denomination to tell them which verses to consider and which to ignore.
Most of the time they consider the least important and ignore the most.
For most Christians, none of this is an issue, because their goal is to go to heaven when they die and since that takes no faith at all – everyone dies – they don’t give it a thought.
But hidden throughout the New Testament is a promise, a view, a vision of those who overcome, who triumph over sin and death, who see Christ revealed in them. God is determined to win in this age, and therefore He gives that hope to those whom He has chosen.
Through the strength of my adult years, from age 20 to age 41, I lived under a word of “doing” and “obedience.” Alongside that word was a revelation of ‘Christ in you,’ with a vision of overcoming all things, but through the last several years before I left that fellowship, ‘doing what He says’ had triumphed over ‘Christ revealed in us.’
Why did I leave that fellowship? Two specific reasons.
1. I hate wearing masks; I’m no good at it.
2. I had no hope. I was no good at ‘doing what He says’ and if that’s what it took, then no way could I ever ‘make it.’
Christianity is all about wearing masks. There are no more experienced pretenders on this planet than Christians. We exhort one another all the time to do what God says in His word. This week, my boss exhorted us to step aside in our classrooms, and let Christ teach through us. “Don’t rely on your own gifts and abilities, but rely on His.”
Now this sounds really, really good. The problem is, it’s really, really not.
This exhortation comes out of a very definite belief. “I am bad; Christ is good. If I am seen, that’s bad; if I step aside and let Christ be seen, that is good.”
We were taught and we believed that Christ is something we are not and that we ourselves are human, fleshy, and bad. We imagine that if Christ is seen, we are not, and if we are seen, Christ is not.
The more we are involved with other believers, the more pressure is on us to ‘act’ a certain way. And act we do.
Here was my problem. I was never ever able to “die” so that Christ was seen and not me. Never. The problem was that I was still around. Always.
But those who are really good at pretending, at convincing themselves and others that it is not ‘them,’ but Christ, we call elders and pastors. And the strongest humans of all we call ‘apostles.’ An apostle then becomes the one who is most convinced that he can never be wrong, and is most capable of convincing others that he is never wrong.
As I said, I’m just no good at all that.
Over the last few months, for the first time in my life, I have begun to come out of pretending. In my classroom, I am learning to just be me without one ounce of condemnation or pretending. When I am frustrated with a student, I holler at them. I will be the first to admit that I’m no good at any ‘political’ approach. When I am wrong, I apologize without pretense. When I see an opportunity to say something hilarious, I do so.
I just be myself.
Christ is in ME. Christ is in me!
Sin? If there is sin, I didn’t do it. The one who did it is dead, crucified on the cross of Christ long ago.
My weakness? Jesus carries me in Himself. All of me. And He has never once offered to put me back upon myself.
The New Testament presents to us an expectation of performance. Young adults are filled with the belief that they can do what God says. They give years of effort to it.
But the great focus of effort with the ‘doing’ word is directed towards teenagers. We tell them to ‘act their age.’ (In other words, we adults have an expectation, and you need to ‘act’ or pretend in order to present an outward appearance of our expectation.) There is a strong belief in most adults who work with teenagers that teenagers are completely fleshy, that they are a disaster waiting to happen, that without great manipulation and control constantly placed upon them they will go in the wrong direction. They are often treated with open disrespect.
The church in general loses 70 percent of its teenagers. With that data, we increase the pressure of expectation and the loss rate rises. Teenagers standing at the back of the chapel, not entering into worship are to be targeted. They must know that they are losers, unless they come up and pretend once again.
Oh, how we pretend. Pretending is what the Christian life seems to be all about.
But I do NOT do all things to the glory of God. I’m no good at that. I have caved in too many times.
At the time of my greatest failure, in the middle of icy winter, I packed all of our belongings in my van and parked it. I put my family in our little car and we left everything behind. We drove for five thousand miles, having no real idea where we were going or why. We just knew we could not stay. And although those were the bleakest weeks of my life, I’ve been a complete failure many more times than that.
And I had failed. I had arrived at the pinnacle of all my hopes and dreams. I was now sitting in the circle of elders in the greatest thing God was doing in the earth, at the height of the power and glory of His kingdom. And I sat there, with the dawning realization that the only way that I could ever move like them was to pretend as I had never pretended before. And the dawning realization that every single person in that circle was doing little more than pretending. When I saw the raving madness in the eyes of the brother who was trying to convince me why he was an elder and another was not, I knew that we had to go.
I hear the exact same arguments and I watch the exact same pretending in the school in which I teach. It is not as all-consuming, no, only because here we move in a limited relationship with each other.
So why, then, does God fill His word with the expectation of performance? “All that God says we will do?”
I believe there are two reasons. First, God is giving us a prophecy of who we really are, conformed to the image of His Son, right now before Him. Second, so that we will utterly and absolutely fail.
Failure is the only way you will ever know Jesus. (This is what Romans 7 is all about.)
At a certain point in one’s life, the realization comes slowly, bit by bit, that if I must be a “doer of the word and not a hearer only” in order to please God, then I am without hope.
How many times through the years did I cry, “God, can you not save me from the wretchedness of my inability?” With brokenness and tears. With an open, desperate heart. Over many years in a life of radical commitment to the kingdom of God, pouring out my strength in service to others. And God never once answered me. Not once.
Dear believer. If I could but convince you. Failure is your only option.
Only when you are weak can you ever be strong.
When I read messages from those who teach the ‘obedience’ gospel, when I read them at their strongest protestation of God’s requirements and the damnation that belongs to those who don’t measure up, I have only one question to ask them. “When are you going to admit to yourself that you are barred out by the very words that you proclaim?”
“You are fake, sir!”
I deny that I have a self separate from Jesus. When I am myself, Christ IS revealed in me. I know that this sounds desperately heretical. Blasphemous, even. That’s why they crucified Jesus.
I am just like Him; He reveals Himself in me. I don’t have to ‘get out of the way.’ That idea is ridiculous anyway. There is no such thing.
Christ is in me. I am weak – and Christ is in me.