Witness

Six Pieces of Weird Christian Baggage Still Worth Redeeming

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If the Church is a family, it’s a family with a lot of baggage. It’s easy, in any family, to let our choices be shaped by the baggage, as we try to avoid the extremes of our history.

But if we’re reactionary, we end up setting aside the way scripture defines our mission, as we throw out many babies with much bathwater. If we’re not careful, we find ourselves living in the negative space left between the baggage.

In an attempt to live against the constraints of our history and according to scripture, here are some practices I’m stepping into to watch how they can be redeemed.

If the Church is a family, it’s a family with a lot of baggage. Click To Tweet

Six Pieces of Baggage Worth Redeeming

1. Talking as if God is engaged in our daily lives

We’ve all heard Christians making crazy claims about God’s guidance and provision. The prosperity gospel approach makes us cringe so we no longer know how to thank God for his provision. We’ve been manipulated by people telling us God’s will for us, we’ve watched people prophesy moments when Jesus will return.

It’s easier just to stop crediting him, stop listening for him. But if scripture is about anything, it’s about moment by moment reliance on the Spirit of God, trusting that every good and perfect gift is from him, that he is with us in suffering, that his spirit guides and comforts us.

My staff has made a commitment to talk as if God is at work and it’s surprising how uncomfortable it is to say “Praise God!” or “I sense God leading us . . .” But we’re pressing into the discomfort and finding hope.

We made a commitment to talk as if God is at work and it’s surprising how uncomfortable it is Click To Tweet

2. Praying for healing

We’ve seen dramatic healing ministries on TV. We’ve heard stories of scams. We’ve watched God look weak or uncaring when healing doesn’t happen as promised. We’d rather not set foot into the insanity.

But it’s pretty clear in James 5 that we should pray for healing for the sick. As much as we focus on scriptural practices of communion, prayer, baptism, my church has not had a regular practice of praying for healing. So, although it is terrifying, we’ve started asking for literal, physical healing (with anointing oil and everything).

We can’t claim any miracles (yet) but we’re choosing to do what the church is supposed to do.

3. Talking about the enemy

If cartoons and horror movies weren’t enough, we know there are real Christians with real deliverance ministries finding demons under every bush. We don’t want to sound like everything in life is explained by angels or demons and we’d rather not smack of the Middle Ages (or a Frank Peretti book).

Scripture talks of a very real battle with very real victims and very real victories. So while it feels like a script from a bad movie, we’re learning to call out forces which oppose us, as little as we understand their efforts. And we’re learning to claim the power of Jesus. We’re discovering His power from watching how much those forces seem to respect it.

We’re learning to claim the power of Jesus. Click To Tweet

4. Speaking with authority

We’ve seen leadership abused in so many ways that we’re crippled. As some become aware of their privilege, they don’t feel the right to speak at all. As some become disillusioned with top-down, authoritarian leadership models they want to do away with all forms of leadership.

When we don’t have an official, paid title, we don’t know how to speak with authority. But people were astounded by Jesus’ authority. He didn’t have an official title (in fact, most of his ministry, people asked “Who is he to say these things?”) but his authority grew from his own experience of the Father.

So, as we engage in scripture, as we seek God in our lives and through prayer, we’re learning to sense his priorities, learning to watch him in our story. And from his call upon us, we’re learning to trust the authority he has given us, speaking not to dominate or manipulate but to guide to God’s heart.

5. Allowing for emotion

Because we’ve seen examples of extreme faith, entirely based on emotion, we flee to the other extreme. For years I wanted so much not to have a faith based on emotion that when any kind of emotional response arose—gratitude at a sunrise, tears during a worship song—I pushed it away, critiqued it: “Maybe I’m just feeling good because I slept well. That doesn’t prove God is with me.” This creates an illusion that we can be purely rational creatures, only wanting to engage God with one part of ourselves, only trusting things that can be explained.

So, I’m choosing, as subjective and silly as it makes me feel, to accept any good feelings that come. In scripture, we see David dancing and praising, crowds responding with emotion to Jesus. God has no problem with our emotions. So how can we redeem them? This life and faith are hard. I don’t rely entirely on emotion but at the same time, I’ll take whatever good feeling I can get!

God has no problem with our emotions. So how can we redeem them? Click To Tweet

6. Longing for large scale change

We have seen human efforts at large scale things in Jesus’ name—book campaigns, celebrity pastors, mega-churches, huge conferences. We’re turned off by the compromises involved and so turn to small things. When Satan tempted Jesus with kingdoms and authorities, the temptation was to have a mass-marketing approach in the face of the immensity of the mission—he showed Jesus glorious kingdoms, not human faces.

At the same time, Jesus was called to a staggering mission. When he called his disciples to be fishers of men, he used the illustration of bursting nets. I don’t know how to tread the tricky path of letting God do big things through us without compromising the human scale of our mission.

I want to repent of my fear of big things and confess that I long for God to touch every heart on this planet! When we see a mission of that scale, we jump into action with business schemes. But is there a way, instead, to pray for immense change, and ask God to call us to do the small, faithful things that will bring it? (See this article on the power of the recent Urbana event.)

Let’s Call Out the Weirdness

It’s painfully uncomfortable to reclaim these scriptural practices. We’ll be weird to the world and even weird among enlightened believers. But the only way I’ve found to get over the weirdness is to name the weirdness and do it anyway.

As I’m stepping into stretching myself beyond my baggage on all these things one thing is bringing healing: a new approach to certainty. Most of the ways these practices have been abused involve how certainty has been shown in the specifics of God’s behavior: exactly when he will heal, what the enemy is up to, how God is leading the church, how God is making us feel, what God is doing in the world.

So, instead, I’m choosing to have confidence that God is at work but retaining the mystery of the details. It leads me to say, “I don’t know what God will do but I know what he can do.” When we talk about healing we say, “Father, you are able to do this very specific thing. And we leave it in your hands.”

When we talk about being led by him we say, “I’m sensing this from God, does this resonate with you?” When we confront the enemy we say, “We don’t know what he’s doing but we know God is greater.”

Both extremes in these practices look like certainty in ourselves: “I know for certain God does not work in those ways” and “I know for certain exactly how he works.”

What if we stepped into a different kind of certainty? “We know for certain God is at work in weird and wonderful ways. We don’t know the details and that forces us to seek him, to rely on the community and to watch, day by day, for his wonders.”

As we step into where we have certainty and where we still need him, we will shape a powerful expression of his church, unhindered by the baggage.

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