“Ahh, Jesus, I like him very much, but He no help with curveball.” – Serrano (Denis Major League)
Note: This is one of those particularly passionate posts brought about by hearing about the abuse of a friend by his church and remembering things that happened to me and other friends at the hands of supposedly Christian leaders, ministries and organizations. So I probably hit a little harder than usual. Please excuse this, it is an old wound that got opened up again this week as I saw good Christian people lose a baby and a friend be maligned by ministers in his church.
I think I agree with Serrano in Major League. I like Jesus very much but He no help with curveball. I believe that God loves and cares for us but I do not believe that God servers at our command. I also strongly believe that Jesus died to redeem us and that we need to have some kind of walk with God. I know that I am too much of a screw up to get by without the grace of God and God’s mercy. Hopefully we follow as best we can God’s will for our lives and obey the commands to “love God and love our neighbor.” Patently, while not Rocket Surgery, this can be surprisingly difficult as all of us to some degree or another. I and I’m sure most who read this complicate the matter by narcissistically assuming that if we ask God something for any reason that God owes us. We are often taught that is we pray the right prayer, serve on the right boards in church, figure out what miraculous spiritual gifts that we assume the Holy Spirit has given to us, gave a certain amount of money, vote for the right political candidate, support the right cause, ad infinitum, ad nauseum that God is obligated to do what we want. The mandatory and obligatory tithe from the Old Testament Law is frequently used by Christians as a means to determine how much we have earned God’s blessing, by our obedience of course, among other things. There are plenty of other means by which Christians are held in bondage but this is common and unfortunately too often there is no accountabilty by ministers and minstries across the ecclesiastical spectrum for the sums that they recieve from those who support them.
What I find fascinating is how much many people assume that God is involved in the minute to minute details of their lives. It is as if some supercalifragilisticexpialidocious narcissistic form of hyper-Calvinism, baptized in Pentecostal fires has overtaken the faith. In fact I believe that we in the west, particularly the United States have gone to ludicrous speed in pursuit of self absorbed faith in which we use God as a cosmic vending machine of individual blessing. Evidence of this belief abounds in what is blatantly misidentified as ”worship” songs in which our needs, our desires and our love for God are magnified above God’s Holiness and condescension to become incarnate of the Virgin Mary and become Man. Somehow I think that we have the paradigm upside down. Do I believe that God loves us? I patently do. I know for a fact that I can never love God or serve God as much as God loves and cares for me, but I base this on God becoming incarnate in Jesus, the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate was crucified, died and buried, descended to the dead, who rose again on the third day, ascended into heaven and will come to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom has no end. So yes, indeed, even to death I will believe this. However, this does not mean that I believe that if I do the right stuff that God is obligated to do things for me. Likewise I do not believe that God really cares a whit if I ever hit a curveball. He speaks to me through baseball but only through hard work and the coaching of my dad was I a decent utility player. When I told my dad when I visited him in the nursing home that he didn’t teach me how to hit, he told me that “you have to have the natural ability, lots of people can’t hit.” Despite his advanced Alzheimer’s disease dad understood that no amount of instruction or even prayer was going to make me a good hitter.
Unfortunately this is often the faith as marketed by alleged Christian “ministries,” churches and retail establishments. All you do is have to go down to whatever “Christian” bookstore chain has a outlet in your town. I remember a day when actual Bible studies that dealt with God and not us were available in Christian bookstores. Now if you actually like me, have walked around one of these places of edification you will fill racks upon racks of “Christian” fiction, often romance novels without any hint of sex or sensuality, which is a shame since the Bible doesn’t leave it out; variations on the theme of what happens to the poor suckers who forget to pray the prayer to get saved in time before the rapture when the slick Anti-Christ comes after them. Likewise they are filled with all manner of “Jesus junk” usually made in China because the alleged Christians running the company care more about the almighty dollar than they do caring for workers in their own country. Allegedly Christian television networks and ministries consume hundreds of millions of dollars in money, given by people who actually believe that the people running them are actually hearing from God, This money could actually be used to plant churches, do mission work, care for the poor and sick and also pay Christian workers a living wage. I have lost count of the number of friends who have sacrificed everything including their lives to support ministries which threw them away when they were spent. I have seen workers in Christian ministries have to rely on charity because they were not paid enough while the “Christian leaders” that they worked for lived in luxury on the donations which came from the toil, labor and love of people who trusted them. The litany of the names some of these people reads like a sorry story out of Inside Edition. Peter Popoff, Creflo Dollar, Larry Lea, Bob Tilton, Benny Hinn, yes Benny, while others have turned themselves into almost purely political power players. I could go on, but to what purpose? My point is that many ministries, and not just the big ones, will hold their workers in near servitude and attempt to manipulate intimate details of their lives.
I find the message of many of these alleged “ministries” or ministers to be in absolute contradiction to the Gospel, which if I recall was to set us free from the bondage of sin, death and the Law. In fact if I recall Jesus didn’t go beating on politicians, tax collectors, prostitutes, and a host of other undesirables, but instead went after judgmental, legalistic and self serving religious leaders who abused their power and position. I have seen in person such people curry the favor of the rich and neglect the poor. I have seen people, including faithful Christian workers be ostracized and abandoned when they experienced circumstances and tragedy that do not fit the narcissistic prosperity gospel theology of their churches or ministries. Even worse is what happens when one of the lesser people falls into “sin.” Especially sexual sins while things like greed, gluttony, dishonest business dealings and a host of other things are ignored. It is onerous when the Church refuses to take care of its own. To save embarrassment of people who might read this I will not go into specifics only to say I have seen this happen and even experienced it myself.
The unfortunate underside of this is the effect that the theology has on the people who buy it hook line and sinker. Such people are victims of predators dressed as ministers. I’m sure that even if the ministries that they serve do not honor or care for them that God will still honor their work and sacrifice, if not in this life the next. Yet, it is criminal for church leaders, ministers and heads of supposedly “Christian” organizations and ministries” to leave faithful servants of God in the lurch when things don’t fit their theology. When we were in absolute crisis in 1989, wife sick, house and car lost, and all coming apart while in my second year of seminary I hit the wall. I decided to call the prayer line of the Terrible Blonde Network. I was desperate and hurting as I saw all I had sacrificed for going down the toilet. When I told the female “prayer partner” my story and asked for prayer she said something that I will ever forget. It is etched in my mind to this day. In a sickening sweet voice, this woman who did not know me from Tommy Lasorda, or Adam for that manner said: “Well it’s obvious that God can’t be calling you into ministry otherwise he would be blessing you.” I was stunned, but something rose up in my heart that said that she and those who thought like her espoused a theology from the pit of Hell. I told her that I didn’t need her prayer and that I would be content to suffer as the saints before me.
Now do I believe that God cares about details? Yes. Do I believe that God loves each of us with an undying and everlasting faithful love? Yes. Do I believe that he is obligated to do anything for me other than the gracious love that he bestows every day? No. Do I think or presume that God must do things my way because I have somehow got the formula of some preacher’s personal interpretation of a few Bible verses right? No way. It is unscriptural, is not supported by the testimony of 2000 years of the church and is nothing more than the deception and abuse of good people who really want to serve God.
I pray and trust that someday Christian leaders and churches will have the integrity and character to care for people, especially those that serve in subordinate positions.
Do I think that Jesus needs to help me hit a curve ball? I think so, but I think that this might be unreasonable on my part, and so far he hasn’t. Thus, if I want to hit the curve ball, I’ll have to do it myself.