Monday, December 27, 2010

The Problem with Mimicry

In the natural world, mimicry is often used by a species as a form of protection. Although now it is felt that the monarch and viceroy butterflies mimic each other, for the prior one hundred years the prevalent thought was that the viceroy mimicked the monarch butterfly, a bitter tasting insect, which discouraged avian predators from feasting on a tasty morsel. A bird, seeing the monarch pattern in the viceroy’s colors, would bypass it for another, more tasty, insect. Several animals, such as the ermine and the snowshoe hare, which are brown in the summer and white in the winter adapt to blend in with their surroundings. Their adaptation provides safety from their larger predators. While this is very effective in the natural realm, in the spiritual realm, spiritual mimicry is disastrous. Christians who blend in with the surroundings of the secular culture in which we live are charting a very dangerous course for their spiritual lives.

C. Stacy Woods, in his semi autobiographical book Some Ways of God states “Our failure to emphasize the radical and essential difference between a Christian and a non-Christian, between the Christian way of life and the non-Christian way of life, is a root cause of today’s weakness and spiritual ineffectiveness. If the world ignores Christians and ignores the church, it is because we fawn before the world, seek its favors and delicacies, and strive to imitate its ways.” He goes on to say that, compared to the world’s standards, a Christians value judgments, goals, life orientation and reactions are to be different. A Christian’s worldview should be vastly different from that of the secular culture around us.

The temptation we face to mimic the culture around us should not be ignored. It has a powerful effect upon our lives. We are tempted to engage in several types of mimicry, all of which weaken and destroy our spiritual lives. Cultural mimicry is a way for us to blend in with the world and prevents our being ridiculed for living a Christian lifestyle. By blending in with the culture around us, no one will know that we really are a Christian, even if they might be aware that we attend church on Sundays. They see us as having the same values and mores as they do. Success mimicry tempts us to model our churches after successful churches or dynamic secular models for the purpose of obtaining the same results as they have had. But just because a particular program or model has worked elsewhere doesn’t necessarily mean that it will work for us. We are in a different place and God has a different plan for us. Peer mimicry is especially a problem among our youth as they attempt to identify with their friends. They can easily find themselves in compromising situations as they try to go along with and identify with the crowd.

The only mimicry acceptable in the Christian life is the mimicry of Jesus. He asks us to walk as he walked, to live as he lived, to pattern our lives after his life, and to have the same values as he did. He calls us to live incarnational lives so that others, seeing how we live our lives will see Christ through us. We are to be little Christs; imitators of God. We may be the only Christ they ever see. In this way we point to the difference Christ makes to our world. How we pattern our lives makes all the difference. Who are you mimicking, Jesus Christ or the world?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Tyranny of Normal

What is normalness? For most Americans, normalness brings us security and comfort, for it somewhat guarantees predictability. We prefer that, becoming uncomfortable when events in our lives are unpredictable and are outside of the usual realm of our experience and control. We prefer the security of not having to deal with surprises in our lives.

But “normal” is a relative term. No two people can agree on what they consider to be normal in their lives. For those of us fortunate enough to have a job, normal might be the daily routine of getting up in the morning, going to work, coming home at night to our family, then preparing to do the same the following day. For those who have lost their jobs normal may be the frustration of the day to day search for employment, feeling like they are just spinning their wheels, that they are being broken in the futile attempt. It may be the continual frustration of marital tension experienced by the family struggling to meet their financial obligations while dealing with jobs which provide inadequate income. For the orphans in Romania, abandoned to live on the streets, normal is the desperate attempt of begging for food, scavenging garbage cans and dumps, hoping that the activity might provide a single, paltry meal for the day. For the Untouchables of India, it is the knowledge that the rigid society in which they live will keep them in perpetual destitute poverty. For children, forced to work in the squalid conditions of third world slum factories, normal is the grim realization that this is how they will pass their lives. For the young girl of Kolkata, sold into sex slavery, normal is the ever repeating forcible rapes which she must endure day after day, night after night, year after year.

For many of the people of the world normal is not something desirable. It brings with it the deadening ache of knowing that the brokenness which it causes will likely never end. The haunting reality that there may never be an escape from the prison of normalness is endless.

The solution to the misery and brokenness we experience and see around us requires transformation. It requires us to identify with the brokenness of Jesus and realize our own brokenness. As we acknowledge our own brokenness, God can use us to help those who are broken around us. Many times we feel inadequate and don’t know how to respond to the suffering of others. As we cry out in desperation to him, he heals our own brokenness and gives us the strength to reach out to those around us, helping to transform them with the love of Christ. It requires us to go beyond normalness, stepping out in faith into the thrilling adventure of letting God lead us in unpredictable ways, all the while transforming our own brokenness into vessels he can use to minister his love and grace. Transformation is never easy. We must face the painful realization of whom we are – sinful people with many faults. It begins when we become broken over our own sin and our potential to harm others. Knowing where we have been and what God is doing in us gives us hope and compassion for others in their own struggles.

The tyranny of normal can be a cruel taskmaster. It feeds on brokenness. It delights in the status quo. It leads to the abandonment of hope. Are you satisfied to live with normalcy, or are you ready, in brokenness, to be transformed by the living God?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Preparation and Expectation

The liturgical season of Advent is a special time of the year. It begins the church year and looks forward to the birth of Jesus. It is a time of preparation as we prepare our hearts to celebrate his birth. The Gospels speak of John the Baptist fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah. He came, preparing the way of the Lord. David Bayne, a missionary to Argentina, notes that “Advent is a reminder that we, too, are called to prepare the way for Jesus. It is a season of preparing the way for Jesus not only in our own hearts, but also inviting others to prepare their hearts.” With this there is an expectation that Jesus will be working in our hearts, drawing us closer to himself. Many Christians use this season for prayer, fasting, penitence and devotional reading as they prepare for the coming of Christ. In Advent, we experience hope, joy, peace and love. These sustain us throughout the year.

Advent is also a time of expectation. We see this in Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel’s announcement of the coming birth. Her response of “May it be to me as you have said” implies that she fully expected the prophecy to come true. The aged Simeon of Jerusalem, looking forward in expectation for the arrival of the consolation of Israel, could not fail to find the infant Christ in the temple courts. His expectation fueled his discovery of the Christ child, allowing him to see what the thousands of people milling about the temple could not. At Christmas time we often sing the Wesleyan carol “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus”. Do we really mean the words we sing? Do we have that same anticipation about the coming Christ as that seen on young children’s faces as they open their presents on Christmas morning? As we go into the Christmas season, do we anticipate Christ working in our hearts in a new way?

Beginning with the activities of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Advent can be a time which takes us away from these qualities. We can become so busy with the activities of gift buying, party going, and the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season that hope, peace, joy and love are pretty much ignored. Instead we find ourselves frazzled and stressed out, experiencing more turmoil than peace. We may briefly think about them on Sundays, but ignore them as soon as the church doors close behind us and the reality of the holiday season hits us again. We impatiently wait for the season to be over so that things can again return to normal. We find we don’t have much time for spiritual things let alone taking time to ponder and reflect on how to prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus.

As we begin a new Advent season, it is well worth the time to expectantly prepare for the coming of Jesus to work in our hearts, for this is how he works in our world. The poet and devotional speaker Carolynn Scully, in preparing for Advent, asks herself the question “I search my heart wondering if I expect God to use me?” concluding that “I must expect Him in my life if I am to be ready to say "Yes!" when he calls. As we begin the new church year are you preparing your heart to hear the voice of God this Advent season? Are you eagerly, in anticipation, expecting him to reveal himself to you in a fresh new way? Are you preparing for and expecting his call?