Breaking Up On Purpose

broken heart

Image Source: Spectator Health, UK.

One of my middle school friends was broken up with today. He is a basketball star, she is one of the cool kids. After a couple weeks of dating that consisted of little more than sitting together at lunch and texting after school, he was convinced she was the love of his life.

He loved her with his whole 14 year old heart.

Now, you and I know better. We know this was infatuation. We who have the wisdom of years know that love is more than butterflies and more than the excitement of reciprocated attraction.

But the pain my friend is feeling is real. Even though this was not a deep, committed love, his heart is breaking for the loss of relationship. It stings.

And this sting of the heart is the invitation in season of Lent. We are invited to let it hurt.

On purpose and for good cause.

Lent often begins with a call from the prophet Joel:

Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your hearts,
with fasting, with weeping, and with sorrow;
tear your hearts
and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is merciful and compassionate,
very patient, full of faithful love,
and ready to forgive. Joel 2:12-13

Those of us who are human have a tendency to get our hearts caught up in things that are not full of love. Not real love. At least not the faithful love of God.

We are captivated by cute and shiny things, much like middle schoolers. We are enamored with mutual attraction. We like being liked. The butterflies, the status it brings, the fun of young love infatuation.

Unfortunately, these infatuations are not as innocent as they were in middle school. They distance us from God and God’s desires for us. They cheapen our commitments to each other. They fill us with empty things. They call for our allegiance. They distract. They numb. They consume. They block out any conviction that might otherwise call us back to the right path. 

They tell us we are loved and they ask for our whole hearts. The first part is a lie and the second is a death sentence.

What starts out as a fleeting middle school romance quickly turns into full fledged idolatry and adultery. What seemed fun and harmless becomes the thing that destroys our faith, our witness, our church, and/or those we most care about.

And so in Lent we take the time to ensure this is not happening to us. We do the hard work of breaking our own hearts. Of examining where and to what we give our attention. We break up with our crushes even when our crushes look like everything we’ve been searching for. Even when it hurts.

More than just ripping our clothes (an ancient act of sorrow) or going to a worship gathering or saying “I’m sorry” or jumping through the next hoop, we rend and rip our hearts. We get in there where it stings and we let it make us uncomfortable.

We let it sting believing that the sting teaches us. It reminds that these things (whether good or bad) can distract us. It reminds us that they are not truly life giving. It reminds us that God alone is worthy of our whole hearts and allegiance. And it helps us remember just how much work we still need.

Perhaps it is people’s opinions that easily catch our attention. Or maybe its the pursuit of endless pleasure that draws our eye. For many of us it is the allure of power and control. For many it is our allegiance to partisanship that is standing in the way of faithful love.

It can be something as simple as Facebook and as complex as our core identity. Some of these things are new and some of them have been making their way into our hearts for years and years.

The invitation from God for us this day is to, “Return to me with all your hearts.”

The way to ensure we are doing this is to put an end to these other relationships. To break up with (even temporarily) whatever may be in the way of what God wants to do with and through and for us. One typical way to do this is through prayer and fasting. 

Perhaps you and I should abstain from social media for a while. Or political news. Perhaps we could channel the energy we put into politics towards our faith or our family. Maybe we take a break from food or drink, especially when we reach for these things in times of trouble. Maybe its a person. Or a bad habit. Maybe its a break from television that numbs us to death. Or perhaps there is something new we should begin or return to (perhaps a commitment to a faith community) that can help us align our hearts with God.

Whatever it is, however good or bad it may be, we have to put in the work. We need Lent because it is too easy to sit idly assuming that everything we do and and are attracted to is good and godly when there is ample evidence in human history and our very lives that demonstrates this is probably not the case. We need work. Lent is an invitation to allow God to do that work in and alongside of us.

Even when it stings. Perhaps especially when it stings.

My friend will be fine when he realizes this girl wasn’t really the love of his life. Though he hurts today he will be better sooner rather than later. One day he may think how fortunate he is to have not wasted time and energy in this relationship.

May it be so in us as well.

May we have the courage to break our own hearts for the sake of our faith. May we be willing to sit in the sting of heartache long enough to know where true love is found. And may the pain and anguish of a break up turn us back to the God who “heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.” May we find life in response to the death of our middle school crushes.

 

Church, We Don’t Need Religious Liberty

I hear regularly on the news and online that the Church is under attack.

I think those who say so are right, but I think they have gotten confused about where the battle is coming from. The attacks are not from the people we are often told to fear.

The greatest threat to the Church is not godless liberals or a politically correct government that wants to do away with the 10 Commandments in public places. No, the greatest threat to the Church comes from within our own ranks. It is sitting in our pews and writing our books and blogs and standing behind our pulpits.

The threat is us.

The people who say they have faith in God but who put their faith in other things. The people who will trade most any value for the chance at political power. The people who love to be comfortable and in charge. The people who are infatuated with the concept of religious liberty.

We are a threat because we have let these things distract us from the things Jesus called us to. We are a threat because we sing “the world behind me, the cross before me” and then act as if we are doomed should an election not go our way. We are a threat because we bear false witness by pointing people to a hope that is built on politics and circumstances rather than faith.

Now before you start your rebuttal, know I sincerely believe in religious liberty.  I believe in liberty for people of all faiths and creeds and will work for and defend everyone’s right to be here and have the same freedoms I enjoy.

I am thankful for my freedom. I use and probably exploit it. I stand multiple times a week in front of people and proclaim the Good News of Jesus. And if it were outlawed tomorrow, I’d show up on Sunday and do it anyway.

I’m guessing there are many Christians in many churches who would say the same thing.

What then are we after when we say we want religious liberty? What are we chasing? What is our end game? We say we want religious freedom but religious freedom does not make our faith stronger, it does not make our churches come alive, it does not claim that people will come to faith in Jesus.

What we are after is what that freedom brings us: We want comfort. We want control. We want political power.

Take a stroll through the Gospels and show me a place where Jesus is after those things. He lived in an occupied land. He had no votes. He had limited freedom. He couldn’t pass religiously based laws. He had none of the things I see Christians saying were their top priorities this last election cycle.

Never once was he worried about the threat of Caesar showing up and telling him to stop. He never once said the way to be faithful is to hang the Scriptures in City Hall or stamp In God We Trust on our money. He didn’t say, as the people wanted him to, that we need to overthrow the haters and install God’s government.

He didn’t say those things because they simply did not matter to his ministry and work. Not ultimately.

He wasn’t chasing after an earthly kingdom because his Kingdom was not of this world.

Jesus didn’t get his power from government. He didn’t need Rome to give him permission to speak. His freedom was not wrapped up in the laws of the land.

And neither is ours.

The faithful Christian life is lived out regardless of where we find ourselves or what government we happen to be ruled by. This doesn’t mean we don’t work to make our culture and government better, but we certainly don’t put our hope there or take our marching orders from them.

The faithful Christian life has nothing to do with who has political power and instead has everything to do with who has our heart.

I’m telling you right now that religious freedom is one of the biggest idols in the Church today. And idolatry will kill us far sooner than persecution or making room for people of different faiths and practices will.

I’m convinced we are being led away from Jesus. We are giving our heart to things that will not bring us abundant life. Religious liberty has absolutely nothing to offer the Church.

Just like Jesus we do not need political power, comfort, or control. Not only do we not need them, they will ruin us.

Power corrupts. Comfort lulls us to sleep. Control is the antithesis of a love.

We are killing ourselves and the faiths of our children and our witness to the world as we chase after these things. Things that don’t look like Jesus.

I can’t imagine Jesus saying, “What the North American Church really needs is pastors telling people who to vote for.” I can’t imagine him saying, “Christians need special laws and protections so they don’t have to bake cupcakes for so and so” or “Blessed are those who wield the power.”

Jesus invites us to serve, to become uncomfortable, to give up so much control that we’d risk everything to love people unlike us. He invites us to lay down our lives. He invites us to trust him on this journey of faith.

Jesus invites us into a Kingdom. A Kingdom far more beautiful and powerful and life giving than anything democracies or monarchies have to offer. A Kingdom that is not run by coercion or violence or deal making but by sacrificial, extravagant love. A Kingdom where laws give way to grace. A Kingdom that changes hearts and minds. A Kingdom that never ends.

So while I hope our nation will live out its identity as a land of freedom for people of all faiths or no faith, I will not be chasing after or applauding things marketed as Christian religious liberty. I will not be schmoozed by politicians who hope to gain my vote by promising me something that isn’t theirs to give.

Church, the government does not give you your voice. The government does not give you your power. The government does not give you your freedom. It does not give or transform life.

Stop putting your hope there. We must stop clamoring after religious liberty as if only then will we experience the life God wants for us. As if only then will God show up.

God will show up when we assume the posture of Jesus. When we love our neighbors as ourselves. When we live a life of faith. When we eschew power and comfort and control in order to look more like the God we claim.

We are better than this. And our Kingdom is better is than this.

May we never bow down at the feet of religious liberty. May we stop chasing after worldly things only to find that we’ve left Jesus and our neighbors in the dust. May our allegiance be to an eternal Kingdom. And may our free or persecuted lives look just like Jesus.