1) What is true faith/Christianity? What makes it real, especially in a country where we have everything at our fingertips?
Me - I do believe that Western Culture has missed the mark in balancing (a lot) - but in regards to church and Christianity - we have put such an emphasis on intellectual knowledge and human understanding. I grew up predominantly being taught that the more Bible you read and "understand", the more of "God" you knew. In essence, The Bible becomes god. Instead of a resource that teaches us about God. Or as Jesus put it in John 5:39-40 - "You search the scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life. And are unwilling to come to me for eternal life. " (my paraphrase) I realize he was addressing the religious sect at that time, but are we not seeing the same in our day and age? Knowing more Bible gives us a "mark" - a way to measure ourselves. It becomes an idol. It is just a book (the most important one). It is not God Himself.
The church is also predominantly "inward" focused I believe. We expect the outside world to come into a building - lost and without hope - ready to give their life to Jesus. But why? They know more about a God of hate than a God of love. And his followers can't agree on much, and are not very good at representing the love that would draw "the lost" into the church doors. A church I recently visited has a campaign started where you donate money to buy a "seat", for the new building they are building. And that's all fine and dandy. But when is the church going to go out into the world? Where that money could do potentially more than bring comfort for someone's rear-end. Jesus said "I am sending you out. Go! Preach that the Kingdom of God has come near. Heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead, and proclaim the Gospel everywhere you go." (my paraphrase)
I guess I am just getting really numb about Sunday seat warming Christianity (just being real while we are on the subject). The Message Version of Revelation chapter 3 says some pretty intense stuff about the church.
15-17 “I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking. You’re not cold, you’re not hot—far better to be either cold or hot! You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit. You brag, ‘I’m rich, I’ve got it made, I need nothing from anyone,’ oblivious that in fact you’re a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless.18 “Here’s what I want you to do: Buy your gold from me, gold that’s been through the refiner’s fire. Then you’ll be rich. Buy your clothes from me, clothes designed in Heaven. You’ve gone around half-naked long enough. And buy medicine for your eyes from me so you can see, really see.19 “The people I love, I call to account—prod and correct and guide so that they’ll live at their best. Up on your feet, then! About face! Run after God!
Sounds a lot like Americanized church to me. So...what is faith/Christianity? Depends on where you are looking to get the definition I suppose. Please don't get me wrong, I am not a church hater, nor am I church bashing...but I am going to call it like it is. Jesus is perfect theology. If you can't find your beliefs in the *person* of Jesus...then throw it out. That's what I believe true faith and Christianity is.
But I find myself in a struggle myself. Because I'm not where I want to be in my walk; in my boldness, and walking out what I believe. So I have to remind myself often that I can only be so hard on the church if I am not leading by example myself. We are all a work in progress. And I hope to do my part in bringing that balance. And I will :-)
2) Is it just a way of life for the majority of churchgoers I know?
Me - Isn't it? I think so much we do becomes a way of life. And sadly...I have to come clean on this one. I lived a complacent and passive life for many years. As a "believer" - serving in my church nearly every Sunday for six years. And that complacency seeped into my life, and my marriage at the time. And that was *part* of the beginning of laying a foundation for divorce. Because "hope deferred makes a heart sick". I became more like a roommate with my ex-wife. We sort of stopped truly *living* for something. But we had the routine lifestyle down. You can do a lot in the name of "ministry", "Jesus", and "Christianity". But it can be just like another day "on the job". We are creatures of comfort. We will avoid pain and discomfort even at the expense of great pleasure. So while we have everything neat, tidy, and "just right" - often times we are not challenged to do much more than come back to church next Sunday; and hope the message is a good one. It becomes an endless cycle of "get me through another week". It's a defeatist mentality. Christians are always "just gettin by". When we should be out changing the world. Jesus said "This is how you pray, Father in Heaven...YOUR Kingdom come...on Earth as it is in Heaven"(my paraphrase). But we are all sitting around acting like we are waiting for the Rapture to get us to Heaven. If that were the case, why didn't God just make it so we got Raptured as soon as we got saved? The goal was never to evade His Kingdom, or elude our responsibility to bring it to present - everyday - Earth. People would love God if we showed them that Heaven is God's love. An experiential relationship with God where His love is real and tangible...would that not be Heaven on Earth?
3) Is it just a way of life for me?
Me - And this is the question that really makes it real. You know...to be open and vulnerable...I lived so much of my life in fear. I look back at all that fear did to me. It ate my lunch everyday for so many years. Fear consumes and consumes. And I know so many people who live in deep fear. And we are not called to play Holy Spirit in other people's lives. So sometimes you can't really do anything about it. But you can always control you. And that has been an ongoing battle in my life. My fears have changed over my 34 years alive. But today, this very moment, I am struggling with "hope deferred makes the heart sick". And fear tries to use what isn't happening in my life to make me feel like my life is meaningless. And there are many days I wake up and think "God...the air I breathe could be used better by someone else". Not because I'm suicidal or depressed. But because I have such a burning passion in my heart and (seemingly) no where to sow that passion (yet). Every door has been shut for about two years. On top of other burning desires that have no "off switch". And some days I am like "I would be so productive for The Kingdom of God if I could just turn my freaking mind off!" But my head and my heart won't let me go a minute without beating me up over these unfulfilled desires/goals. And no book, sermon, prayer, or any other cookie cutter answer pacifies it. So in all of that...fear tries to eat away at me. Am I hearing God, am I not? Is it just me and my imagination? To make matters worse, my number one spiritual gift is Faith. I can believe God on anything and have no problem going after it so to speak. But it's also my worst enemy. Because I believe so many things so easily, and then get confused if they are God or not. So in my faith, I need faith, to figure out if my faith for "X thing" - is really real faith. Is it God or me? And around and around I'll go. It's miserable when it happens.
I don't know if that really answers that question other than to say, what I believe...I would die for. But are my beliefs seen as reality in my life? Or am I just another so called Christian with lots of head knowledge, "talk", theology and doctrine? :-/
4) Do I truly love God?
Me - We do. I really believe I can answer that for both of us. lol! The acceptance of His love for you (anyone) is most important. I know that we always inherently end up back at some form of "I gotta do something to deserve this" mentality. I think that is human nature. And I think that is when we feel like we may not be lovable by God. Or that we are failing to love Him properly by not being "good enough" for Him. And for me...this is tough also...because this means I have to remind myself of the truth. And my feelings don't get to change that. I let my feelings dictate far too much in my life as it is.
5) How is it that I'm so blessed when other people are living in hell on earth?
Me - Impossible to answer maybe? I think someone else's "hell" - as perceived on the outside looking in - is in essence undermining your own hell. In other words, if hell defined by me was being legless, I would look at others and think "that must be hell". Yet so many people have done far more amazing things without legs, than I have with them. So I think hell can only be defined personally. For me...hell was divorce, then God taking me, and having me confront the worst parts of me. Years of "ugly" stashed away under a rug that I would never look under. But the time came, and I had to look under the rug. And face my worst fears. All the insecurities, voices, and lies that I lived believing my whole life. Was I ugly, a failure, not good enough, not talented, not worth anything, unlovable, unnoticed, useless, weak - on and on. And when I faced those things...I realized I had to say yes to a lot of them. That's how I felt and I never wanted to admit it. I had to pretend in light of the reality of some of it staring me in the face. We all have dark secrets...even if those things are nothing more than the stuff that we would never want anyone to know about us (in other words, stuff that's not THAT bad), because we fear what they would think if they did know. And a lot of that comes from the religious stigma of being called a Christian, and participating in places where "not sinning" is more important than unconditional loving (he that has no sin, cast the first stone).
Isn't it interesting that Jesus never really "preached" at people. Like, He never elevated someone's blatantly exposed weakness in a moment - over unconditionally loving them. The religious people of the day were always ready to slam someone for failing or being caught in some sin. But Jesus never - not once - condemned a SINGLE person. The closest you can get might be rebuking Peter. But even then Jesus said "get behind me satan". Not even the ones who beat and mocked Him. Think about this; the thief on the cross simply said "Remember me when you enter your Kingdom". Jesus didn't give him a speech or do an altar call. He didn't ask the man to say a salvation prayer...He simply said..."Today you *will* be with me in Paradise". Just like that. All that man did to deserve his cross. And Jesus tore down every religious institutes law and rule for "Heavenly access" - both then and now - in that one moment. And not one word of acknowledgment was given to any sin that man committed. It was as if Jesus was "forgetting" sins before He paid the price for them to be forgotten eternally.
Hell for you doesn't have to be comparable by human sight at a distance. Because what is unbearable to you is specific to you. I know people who judge suicide victims because from outward appearances, that person had no reason to take their life. It was selfish and wrong. But step into the hopelessness and darkness of that person's life and feel it. Let it course through your veins - then hop back into your own "self" - and see if you still hold the same belief. It's too bad we can't do that. On the same token...we are blessed in ways. But in others we are not. I may have more convenience and comfort than someone in a third world country. But they may have such a deep and real relationship with God, that they can live to truly die for Him (if necessary). So blessing (IMO) is as much a point of perspective.
For real though...in closing...maybe it's not why we are so blessed. Which is ok and great that we are. Because that's His decision and love to bless His kids. But rather, He chose us to be here in this "land" to accomplish great things. America has this arrogance about sending missionaries off to other countries to "Americanize" them. When WE need more missionary work here in the homeland (IMO) than a lot of those countries do. I'm all for missions, but let's be real...we need it AT LEAST as much. We could DEFINITELY spread our wealth more. But in terms of actual spiritual health...I think America needs to be "missioned" so to speak...by other countries who are living the "real". In spite of what they do or don't have. Sometimes the greatest need is in our backyard so to speak. And sometimes it's the little things that go the greatest distance when conveying the truth of God's love.