Changing Filters

My groceries paid for, I rolled the shopping cart toward the door of the local Safeway.  Near the door was a video kiosk.  One family was selecting a movie at the screen, and two other families were waiting for their turn.

My first thought was that this family was going to waste their night watching some mindless, devoid-of-meaning movie.  Then I was amazed as I realized my Evangelical Filter was on.  26 years of thinking of everything in light of Evangelical theology and so-called biblical meaning dies hard.

Pastor and author John Piper wrote a book a few years back called Don’t Waste Your Life.  Here’s a blurb from the back cover:

John Piper writes, “I will tell you what a tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life. Consider this story from the February 1998 Reader’s Digest: A couple ‘took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30-foot trawler, play softball and collect shells. . . .’ Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment: ‘Look, Lord. See my shells.’ That is a tragedy.

and

“God created us to live with a single passion: to joyfully display his supreme excellence in all the spheres of life. The wasted life is the life without this passion. God calls us to pray and think and dream and plan and work not to be made much of, but to make much of him in every part of our lives.”

I actually own this book.  I bought it a couple years ago, when my passion was waning but my belief in Jesus as God was still sure.  I was interested in so many other things.  I was trying to write a book, three different screenplays, and a musical.  I was deeply involved in the local theater group.  My job is time and travel intensive.  None of these things were Christ centered, and for that I harbored a low-grade guilt.

The Christian mentality is summed up in I Corinthians 10:31 (NIV) – So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

This is driven into the Christian mind incessantly to the point where you look at every activity that you do and evaluate its eternal worth.  After a little while you start evaluating everyone else’s activities the same way.  If they’re just picking up a movie to while away a Friday night, then that night is wasted.  Often you take it a step further, assuming that if they’re wasting away that Friday night then they’re probably lost and headed to hell.

Now, on the other side of this belief system, I see this filter through which I once viewed the world around me, and it is an ugly color.  It is ugly because it inspires a judgmental attitude and a sadness for which there is no foundation.  Seeing those families choosing a movie to watch, presumably together, should be a just what it is, or even a cause to smile, thinking of one little family spending time together enjoying something rather than apart.

Thinking on this exposes the bigger issue – Purpose.

When you’re “in Christ” you have a specific purpose.  You are here for a short time.  If you are fortunate enough to be found by God, then you need to realize that this is just a temporary home.  While you’re here, you need to work at becoming more like him.  You need to do his work and pursue his purpose, for you were “bought with a price.”  Any moment spent doing something just for yourself is a moment lost.  You can always be more holy.  Every time you ignore that impetus to pursue a selfish desire, to be entertained rather than enlightened, emboldened, encouraged or otherwise further indoctrinated, you lose a small chance to be your best for God.  You will finish the race with fewer rewards in heaven than the next guy.  The now is not about now, it’s about what’s ahead.

In this economy, entertainment is worthless.  It’s a distraction from the real meaning of life.  It’s nice to have, but you could always have done a little more for him.

In short, it cheapens the present in looking to a glorious future instead.

That saddens me.  Knowing what I know now, seeing the world the way I do without those filters on, I see that there is only Now.  Not only that, if there is no monumental future in the sky, then our lives aren’t about redeeming every moment to win more souls for Christ.  It’s about enjoying the present moment, loving your kin, finding peace, happiness, and joy in the tiny moments as they go by.  Finding happiness and comfort in sitting down with your kids to watch a movie together, reveling just in being together, sharing laughter, thoughtfulness, suspense, and the satisfaction of a story well told.

Referring back up to the blurb on Piper’s book, I think that couple is far from tragic.  What is tragic is that Piper can take a vignette of the simple enjoyment of marital devotion and togetherness and twist it into something to be derided.  That couple has found peace and happiness together, enjoying each moment in the little tiny seashells they find.  They’re enjoying the natural world in which they live, not worrying about tomorrow, just being in today.  That’s beautiful.

I like the color of that filter much better, and I think it tells a more accurate truth about every day life.

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15 thoughts on “Changing Filters

  1. So according to Piper, you CAN take it with you, and get to show it off to Jesus in the great beyond, where he is likely ready to pounce on you for your ignorance of his special purpose. God be damned if that’s how to not waste your life as a Xtian.

    • But apparently some salvations are better than others…

      Um, what?

      Seriously, though, part of Evangelical theology is that even the saved will undergo judgment to evaluate their works in the name of Christ – some will be saved as through the flames, their works burnt up so that they are empty handed before god. Some will have lots of treasures stored up in heaven. They will be the top dogs in heaven, having devoted more of their lives to the good works of Christ rather than, say, relaxing in retirement with their spouses or somesuch. There will be a hierarchy of believers, and different responsibilities, etc. They’ve got it all mapped out.

      • I don’t really know where they are finding justification for that in the Bible, since Jesus clearly says otherwise: “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”

        Jesus never says you have to earn your mansion.

      • I guess he also said this though: And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.

        Would be unAmerican to believe there won’t be rich and poor in heaven I suppose.

      • I Corinthians 3: 10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

        If in doubt about where a lot of things come from in evangelical theology, just look to Paul. It’s a safe bet.

        But to hear from the words attributed to Christ, here’s a sample:

        Matthew 5: 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

        or Matthew 16:27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

        So, There will be rewards commensurate to works, and there will be a hierarchy in heaven.

      • Yah, I quoted the Matthew one too. The other one is more ambiguous. However, the quote in Matthew should be interpreted in line with other sayings of Jesus. He is not implying a hierarchy, rather implying the binary “reward” scheme that we’re familiar with: heaven or hell. Matthew’s dodgy anyway. It was mostly written by early Christian fathers to fit their Pauline theology, whereas Mark is older and probably more accurate.

      • Well, yes, the book of Matthew is a disaster for that.

        And I didn’t share those verses to convince you that said theology is true, rather to illustrate where modern evangelicals get their theological tenets.

        (edited for insomniac misspelling)

  2. wow! Where to start? The attitude described sounds awfully judgmental:

    After a little while you start evaluating everyone else’s activities the same way. If they’re just picking up a movie to while away a Friday night, then that night is wasted. Often you take it a step further, assuming that if they’re wasting away that Friday night then they’re probably lost and headed to hell.

    I had a friend in Santa Cruz who used to say “I can’t find the spiritual gift of ‘fruit inspector’ anywhere in scripture”. Yes, we evaluate our own lives as to spiritual worth of an activity, but not others’ lives (“judge not”). That does not mean that leisure time is not of spiritual worth. Taking a break and watching a movie with your family is often something that one needs to be a better husband, father, or even a better worship leader. A burnt out leader can’t lead very well.

    If your life as a Christian was so loaded with guilt over behavior that you lost sight of grace, no wonder you left the faith. Living with the constant pressure of meeting an unreachable standard would push anyone away, but that isn’t the Jesus I know. Yes, scripture speaks of some being greater than others in heaven, but I don’t do what I do to try to earn a “better spot”…I do my best because I love Jesus and true love always gives its best for the one that is loved. Not to earn anything, but to show my love. If I end up at the low end of the “hierarchy”, I don’t care. If I end up at the high end, I don’t care. It will all be meaningless compared with the privilege of spending eternity in His presence.

    • *The attitude described sounds awfully judgmental:*

      Rick, would you like to hear judgmental? Here are a couple:

      If your life as a Christian was so loaded with guilt over behavior that you lost sight of grace, no wonder you left the faith

      It seems that your world is very small…confined by empiricism and logic. There is more to life than that. You are rejecting the spiritual component and you do so to your detriment. Yes you are now in charge, captain of your ship but you are missing out on so much, and I feel for you because I once was just like that.

      One should remember that, biblically speaking, we are called not to not judge, but to judge by the same measure against which we’re willing to be judged, or expect to be judged. The *attitude* is encouraged by folks like Piper, by the general, all-encompassing nature of pursuing the eternal instead of the temporal, and the idea that we are going to be accountable for every act, every word. How much is enough? Where is the line between the ideal and the insufficient? Nobody really knows. To live is Christ, to die is gain. A burnt out servant might just not be trusting in the holy spirit enough – Paul won over city after city while supporting himself making tents. When did it ever stop for him? And did he not judge others by their works? Did he not have a falling out with Barnabas because he didn’t approve of his choices?

      If Christians are not to care where they slide in on the hierarchy, why is the distinction made? Nothing in the word is meaningless, right?

      You said: *I do my best because I love Jesus and true love always gives its best for the one that is loved. Not to earn anything, but to show my love. If I end up at the low end of the “hierarchy”, I don’t care. If I end up at the high end, I don’t care. It will all be meaningless compared with the privilege of spending eternity in His presence.

      “…always gives its best…” What is its best? And it will clearly not be meaningless because if it was it would not be in his word, right? It would not be pointed out.

      And you are quite wrong, Rick – I never lost sight of grace. I held on to grace like a man dangling from a cliff from the last vine on the mountainside. It was only the concept of grace that kept me hoping for as long as I did. What I “lost sight of” was why I should have to shut off my mind to continue to believe.

      Anyway – I post this not as a motivator to deny my former faith, but as an observation of the differences between thinking through the filter of a Christian future and the (to my mind much clearer) filter of living presently in a world in which we’re not *called* to anything, but free to pursue happiness, peace, and love.

  3. I just found your site through Mike Gantt whom I follow.

    And I am here to tell you that for me it has been nigh unto impossible to give up that evangelical filter, even though I threw out both the bathwater AND the baby during my sophomore year in college. That was 43 years ago. Even today — even my wife (33 years) cannot “get” why I have such trouble living in the “now”. Hell — EYE don’t get it.

    Fascinating stuff here. Peace upon you. Sam

  4. Thank you very much for your website. I live in an area of the world where being “without faith” is the norm, but I was raised into an Evangelical Christian home with my father being a devoted pastor. Your website (and others) have helped me finding the words and the courage to come to face with my own doubts about my faith. I am finishing my training as a medical doctor, but in the end it is not “science” or “reason” that will have brought me to outgrow my faith, but rather a strong sense of moral injustice about the Gospel’s message. I have found it to be empty of a real hope for suffering people. Believing in the world being filled with sinners deserving hell, even if forgiveness is made available to some people, does not bring freedom and love to people like I was taught it would… Even though to be honest at the moment it is difficult to see the personal hope I had in Jesus fade away and my worldview/source of encouragement/sense of purpose crumble.

    I was greatly influenced in my life by this book by Piper, wanting with all my heart not to waste my life… while from the very beginning feeling uncomfortable with the judgment made upon this couple’s life. Maybe because myself I have found so much solace and peace in the little moments. I made so much effort to reconcile the tension between accepting intense free grace in my life, yet wanting to live my faith to the fullest “for his glory”, as both are definitely described in the Bible. I was reminded by well-meaning friends when sharing my struggles (and have myself used the same words on others!): “What you don’t feel free in Christ?” and on then other hand “If you have faith, you will find the strength to follow his ways, he will sustain you.” At the moment it feels liberating not having to struggle in trying to make sense of what I used to see as competing truths.

    Even though I am scared in having to “rebuild” my life, I suddenly feel like I’m starting to discover my real value in this world – a simple mortal being that will make the most out of this life with true humility – embracing my humanity and the one I find in others, accepting the unanswered questions. I want to welcome the joy that comes with “loving one another”, knowing that grasping it in its mysterious human complexity will be the journey of a lifetime.

    • Well, I’m just awestruck by your comment. Thank you for saying so. It is deeply meaningful to know my ruminations speak to others too.

      I especially loved this:

      **Even though I am scared in having to “rebuild” my life, I suddenly feel like I’m starting to discover my real value in this world – a simple mortal being that will make the most out of this life with true humility – embracing my humanity and the one I find in others, accepting the unanswered questions. I want to welcome the joy that comes with “loving one another”, knowing that grasping it in its mysterious human complexity will be the journey of a lifetime.**

      That was exceptionally said. And what else can we do but that? And what else should it inspire but humility? Thank you, I think you’ve given my heart enough to ponder for days. I hope you visit more 🙂

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