This Is Not How I Imagined Christianity

Standard

Today’s blog post is currently being published on Redletterchristians.org

I imagined Christianity would be similar to what I read in the Bible: I would pray for people and they would get better, I would have intimate conversations with God and receive supernatural revelations, I would be an unstoppable force for good, evil would be overcome, and things would generally be good—or at least headed in that direction.

I pictured scenes of innocent happiness, laughter, and joy. I envisioned a world where the church would be a source of unstoppable kindness, encouragement, and love. Instead, I found a corrupted institution infested with infighting, sexism, racism, discrimination, exclusion, and legalism.

In my naïve immaturity I was inspired by how future spiritual leaders would lead revivals by revealing the nature of Christ through sacrificial service, humility, and grace. But in reality I’ve found that people are often more motivated by pride, power, success, fame, and fortune.

I assumed Christians would radically stand out from the crowd and be distinctively attractive because of their ability to love others as Jesus did, but in the real world nobody—including myself—can tell the difference between believers and non-believers.

Like the rest of society, Christians are infatuated with wealth, comfort, control, social status, and being right—they’re too busy to care about promoting peace, feeding the hungry, helping the poor, uplifting the needy, fighting injustice, and protecting the persecuted.

The stories I heard about Jesus as a child made me wonder how anyone could reject such a wonderful person, and I was excited to join Christians in declaring the good news of the Gospel. Unfortunately, the priority of sharing the story of Jesus has been replaced by the desire to push political agendas, engage in theological bickering, and gain worldly power.

The Bible was such a beautiful book, filled with redemption, reconciliation, and hope, but now it’s been turned into a weapon to serve a variety of horrid motives—to promote violence, exclusion, injustice, corruption, bondage, and hatred. God’s words have lost their luster and the original meanings—harshly debated among pastors and theologians—are becoming lost and ignored amidst the sheer volume of noise, distraction, and garbage that Christian culture has created.

I never thought I would become so cynical, skeptical, doubtful, and ashamed of my faith—something I once considered holy, righteous, and a source of continual joy, hope, and inspiration. I didn’t think Christianity would ever become associated with the Westboro Baptists of this world, the sleazy televangelists, the fear-mongering street preachers, the sermons full of apocalyptic accusations, and hate-filled propaganda—but it has.

Despite everything, I’m routinely—astonishingly—surprised by God’s grace.

Against all reason and logic, God is still working, moving, redeeming, and loving humanity! In the face of my utter sinfulness, Jesus continually reveals His goodness through small bits of revelation: a moment in time, an interaction, a prayer, a friend—and hope slowly grows.

As bad as I sometimes think Christianity has become, I’m routinely overwhelmed by the distinct holiness of the mess that I’m surrounded by. God powerfully works through the brutally honest community of my church, my small group, and the beauty of corporately living life together, united and strengthened through Christ.

Suddenly, in moments like these, I can see that the Bible was much closer to reality than I previously imagined. It’s full of complexity, suffering, and chaos—real life. Christianity was never meant to be a form of escapism, an easy journey, or a way to flee from reality. Instead, it’s about God deeply loving His creation.

In spite of all the negativity, disappointment, and pain, I never could have imagined how absurdly wonderful following God would be, how He could intervene in my darkest moments, or redeem the most awful things and transform them into something beautiful, divine, and holy—and by “most awful things” I mainly mean: me.

These are often the hardest things for us to imagine: God created us. God thinks about us. God gives us worth. God died for us. God loves us.

And once we imagine them, we often refuse to believe and accept them. But today, I pray that you will.

18 thoughts on “This Is Not How I Imagined Christianity

  1. Reblogged this on I Have A Friend You Should Meet and commented:
    The world and its people in it, are the same now as in the days we read about in the Bible. The only difference is our technology, but the basics of human desires will always be the same, because we have One Creator, who created us in His image from ancient design. Though we may want to think of God and the Bible in ancient terms as well, He is still very much present within our world today, showering us with His divine grace and mercy, and above all His love for us.

  2. I’ve had these same thoughts Stephen. I remember the zeal of my 20’s being beat down for soooo many years. Now I am 59 and though recognizing the frailty of the church I am being renewed in my heart to do my part in living out the high calling of God in my tiny circle. Though I am regularly frustrated with my flops, I still want to do this thing better. The reality of Christianity’s current condition should drive us honor Christ in living this radical thing He has called us to; a thing not motivated by shame but by the deep mercies of Jesus. Jesus, we want more. Help us never to lose sight of You or give up.
    I appreciate you, Brother!

    • Stephen Mattson

      Thanks for sharing, Mark! I completely agree, and I love what you say about not being motivated by shame but by the mercy of Jesus! So Good!

  3. Warren

    Although I can imagine God’s grace and love, and there are even times when I believe and accept them, my problem is far worse. My malady is maintaining my focus on His love and grace throughout the day. There are just so many things that appear to demand my attention, that I’m side-tracked, and blind-sided into believing that the opinions of politicians, news media, and special interests would matter more to me than God’s plan for my salvation. At the end of the day, I usually find myself exhausted. Afterwards, in a quiet moment at home, reading the Bible, I feel ashamed. Until I pray, and God once again brings my attention back to Him where I am not only forgiven, but renewed, and strengthened. My focus is again restored.

    • Warren, I experience the same kind of distractions. I want so much to “travel” with Jesus throughout my day but over and over again get off track. My distractions often come in the form of “tasks” that I think I need to get done ahead of communion with God. As much as I want to have fellowship with Him throughout the day there is nothing like sitting still and being intimate with Him. Here is to single-mindedness and greater traveling.

    • Stephen Mattson

      Yeah, Warren, I can totally empathize. And I’m also worried about the things that subconsciously impact my faith that I’m not even aware of. Fortunately, God is merciful and graceful!

  4. God’s perfect ways are so above our imperfect thoughts about what should be perfect. little by little He shows us real perfection and you’ve pointed to that gracefully. Thank you

  5. Thanks for writing. I have a question related to your intro paragraph. What are your thoughts on seeing the supernatural exist in today’s world similarity to how it was in the Bible?

    I’ve heard some say (seminary students, pastors, etc) say that supernatural is not like Bible days because we live in world full of doubt. Others say it’s because we are living in different times, where the supernatural doesn’t operate in the same way. And the last argument I heard was that the supernatural does not exist in the WESTERN world because it does not have the same effect on our intellectualized society. But that miracles and signs and wonders still happen in parts of the world where the culture still embraces the supernatural as a part of daily life i.e. developing parts of Africa or South America.

    If you already wrote about this, forgive me. Feel free to answer with the link. If not, would love to hear your thoughts about why some imagine miracles as a part of a Christianity today and others do not.

    • Stephen Mattson

      Hi Ester, great thoughts and questions! Thanks for checking out my blog. I do think culture plays a huge part in how we perceive our reality. Westernized societies often don’t leave room for supernatural or ‘spiritual’ explanations, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen.

      For this reason, as Western Christians, I think we tend to dangerously downplay the reality of spiritual warfare, because the concept of ‘supernatural’ just isn’t something we naturally think about as often as other cultures.

      We often become ethnocentric and dismissive of other cultures that focus more on the ‘supernatural’–but just because our society is ‘wealthy’ and ‘developed’ doesn’t necessarily mean our view of reality is the best or most accurate.

      I also think God is omnipresent and constantly working in our world. Although we may not realize it, this is something that gives me hope and courage. In this aspect, I think the supernatural is happening all of the time, because God is always present and working.

      Sometimes people assume God is in the background and occasionally intervenes in a wondrous and obvious way (a “miracle”)–but this presupposes that for the most part He’s just standing back and not involved in our lives. But I think He’s always present, doing supernatural things all around us, all-powerfully and sovereign…

      But I don’t have all the answers, and your questions inspire me to process through this stuff, so thanks!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s