Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Getting Controversial: I read my Bible because I feel guilty. Featuring: Being vs. Doing

I attend a Bible Study every Tuesday night here at West Point called OCF, Officer's Christian Fellowship. It's been great to get to know the people involved and make some new friends. I had a great time at the OCF retreat last month, getting away and spending some quality time with Papa was soul-nurturing.

OCF uses the Christian tried-and-true recipe for a Bible study: worship, announcements, short message, small groups. Quite frankly I'm cool with this, Jesus shows up regardless of the format, and that's what really matters.

Tonight the memory verse for this week came from the book of Joshua:

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
Joshua 1:8
After the verse was read aloud, the speaker posed this question to think about during the week:

What should I be doing differently in my life or continue doing after reading this verse?
It got me thinking, in a big way.

(First of all, I'm referring to the question throughout this post, not the verse from Joshua. I believe the verse is a very Old Testament way of saying "you guys don't know how to live. Do it this way: it works." If you think I'm off-base in this thinking, let me know.)

These days, whenever I hear someone talk about "what should I/we/he/she be doing?" I immediately stop to asses what's being asked.

First, the question comes with an inherent sense of expectation. Not "what's the right thing?" but instead "what should?" The person asking has some sense that there's an expectation to be lived up to. There's an invisible point in the distance that they must reach, and this action should be a step towards that point.

Second, the question is all about action, rather then personal development. "What should I/we/he/she be doing?" There's no sense of personal change, rather just a change of action. It's almost as if the person asking is saying "surely there's some action I can participate in that will change me from the outside-in."

Clearly, I disagree with the premise of the question being asked. However, my disagreement and inner frustration reached a climax during small group time.

I really do like the small group I'm a part of. All of the guys are solid brothers in Christ, and I believe they are truly seeking after God. My small group leaders are both Firsties (translation: seniors) and have 100 other things to be doing on a Tuesday night during a Thayer Week (translation: week with a ton of tests and papers due). I admire them for showing up and leading our group week after week. Also, I admire the other plebes (translation: freshmen) who attend the group. I know I have at least 50 other things I could be doing, and so do they. They help push me continue coming every week.

So, that said, moving on to the frustrating part of the night.

Guilt really grinds my gears. I feel as though if I am doing something because someone has made me feel guilty if I do not do it, I'm probably doing it for the wrong reason. I believe guilt has its place - and it has kept me out of trouble more than once. I do not believe that its place is in manipulating people. Unfortunately, much of Christianity today relies on that second kind of guilt: the kind that really pisses me off.

An on-going challenge that my small group leaders push every week is for all of us to read our Bibles on a daily basis. I love this idea. I understand that reading God's word is important, and I know that not reading the Bible is not helpful to my walk with Christ. The leaders of my small group check us every week,
"Colin, how'd your time in the Word go this week?"
"Good! I spent time in James and got a lot out of it."
"Did you read every day?"
"Nope, I missed Thursday and Saturday"
"Oh...well you gotta get on that every day man."

And so it goes, every week. Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for accountability for my actions. I appreciate the check up because it keeps it fresh in my head. Tonight however, one of my leaders said something that shocked me.

"Guys, if this keeps up we're gonna start some kind of competition where you do push ups if you didn't read, or something. I mean, we want you to succeed."

Here's the thing: I want to read Papa's words because I want to read them. If I'm reading them because I have to, because somebody else wants me to, or because I don't want to have to do push ups next Tuesday, I honestly don't really see the value in reading at all. I know this probably goes against the whole "the Bible never returns void" but I also know that a seed planted in fertile soil is going to give much more fruit then that planted in rocky soil.

My point is this: what's with the church guilting people into doing things that supposedly "grow our relationship with Christ?" If we are doing it to not feel guilty, then we're not really doing it to grow closer to Christ, are we? I have a theory: I don't think God's into the whole "actions first" thing. What if Papa was more interested in our hearts then with our hands?

You may not agree with everything I'm saying here: I'm sure there are plenty of verses that contradict my heresy. That said, I think we can all agree that manipulation through guilt is unhealthy. I'm not talking about choosing "the hard right over the easier wrong" (although, I'd love to do a post on that later). I'm talking about doing something because I feel like I have to, when the option is there to do that same thing out of personal desire for growth in my relationship with Christ. After all, it's the heart behind the action that matters, isn't it?

Hit me: where is my theology all jacked up?



  1. What do you think of this?

    "The reality that Someone is literally searching our hearts is a hard truth to grasp but when we begin to feel the impact of those eyes like fire, suddenly our lives become powerful and full of meaning. Jesus sees and writes it in His book. He takes our lives personally. I want to offer Him love that moves Him and a lifestyle that can stand the heat of His gaze. In both heart and deed I want to live before His eyes."

  2. Colin, I grew up in a wonderful, supportive Presbyterian church in New England that is WAY different than what I'm experiencing now at the Vineyard. Guilt was never part of my Christian repetoire and I'm glad it still isn't. I'm still growing in my Biblical/theological knowledge, but as far as philosophy goes, Dude, you and I are dead on. Guilt is bogus. God wants us to read his Word because we want to not because we feel like we should. Amen!

  3. Well actually,guilt isn't ALWAYS bogus. But in regards to when and how you make your relationship with Jesus, it is. :)

  4. Colin, I believe you are right on. Human sin nature is to "step over the line" when we are told not to do it. Jesus wants us to love him out of a pure heart not because someone told us to or out of guilt.If I read my Bible out of duty rather than desire I get very little out of it and I miss the "life" of Christ. Conversely, when I have a desire to fellowship with God, that creates desire to read His word. When my perspective is based on law I can focus to much on doing and miss the life of Christ. Wow, life, that's the difference between law and grace. The grace approach creates hunger and intimacy with Christ. The law creates death. I'm glad you understand this. I also know you understand iron sharpens iron and we all need to be encouraged and sharpened. Balance is always good. My question is, did you bring this up in small group and talk about it? If not, is that your next action point?

  5. Col,
    Your act of asking this question (and others to come, I hope...) may well be the leverage point in some other cadets' lives. Ask the questions. Let them have self-discovery. You keep being you, and let the Holy Spirit be himself.

    At times, I have erred in thinking that "debate" becomes the key to change thinking that doesn't work (in others). Not so. Only questions, right? And the key is to ask questions of myself, isn't it?

    So, keep asking questions of yourself, others will want that same type of self discovery...because it is attractive in us. God shines through us in questions, doesn't He?

    Let Him shine, buddy....