Summary: The Company We Keep, part 9. When we decide to get serious about spiritual practices in our lives, we find that grace gets hijacked and replaced with guilt and oppression. How does this happen, and what are we to do?
The Company We Keep, prt. 9
Wildwind Community Church
June 27, 2009
We have come a long way in our learning about the Jesus life – how to enter into and live in the life of peace and rest Jesus said is available to us. Today I want to talk to you about some things that will stand in the way of your being able to take hold of this life. And really it’s one thing that takes many forms.
The main obstacle to entering the Jesus life is difficulty in receiving grace. Difficulty in receiving grace. When something intended to be a means of grace, a way of knowing God, becomes a source of guilt and oppression in our lives, grace has been hijacked. On May 30 I challenged you to give up television for a week. Immediately after the service, I was approached by many people (some serious, some not), each offering to me their excuse/explanation for why they wouldn’t be following the “rules” 100%. For some it was hockey. For some it was family movie night. For some it was hoping that this would not include video games. For some it was a need to put the kids in front of the TV for brief periods so they could have time to work out or do other important things around the house. Etc. A means of grace was extended, and for some people, it was immediately hijacked and made to serve the purpose of inciting guilt and causing spiritual oppression.
I stood there listening to these explanations and do you know what I heard? For the most part I didn’t hear people who were trying to weasel out of the challenge. What I heard were people who were struggling to make peace with themselves. “Let’s see, the challenge was to not watch TV. But this hockey game – this exercise thing – this family movie night – I need to make sure I get clearance from the pastor and get validation that my exception is acceptable.”
The first and most persistent obstacle you will encounter as you pursue the Jesus life is difficulty in receiving grace. This was not the resistance I expected. What I expected was, “I’m not doing it. That’s nuts. That’s not necessary,” and defensive comments of that nature. I did not expect that there would seem to be this guilt over not meeting the exact terms of the challenge, even before people had walked out of the building!
Now what I want to do for a moment is hold that guilt up to the light and turn it around and really look at it. We’re going to discover something amazing in it. Before we do, let’s go back and listen to the voice of Jesus…
Matthew 11:29-30 (MSG)
29 Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.
30 Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."
So this is the call. To walk with Jesus and learn from him how to live. And so we receive a challenge at church. “Let’s rid ourselves of one of the biggest distractions in the spiritual life –television.” This was a challenge designed to help us quiet down, eliminate some distractions in our lives, and hopefully hear the voice of God and enter into rest – into unforced grace – into lightness and freedom. That was the point of the challenge, right?
And the response to the challenge showed the very reason why the challenge was so necessary. Because rather than hearing the challenge as an invitation to lightness and freedom and joy – a chance to remove from our shoulders a burden that is affecting us and our children every day – some found just another opportunity for guilt – another chance to beat themselves up for not measuring up fully. And I am confident that those I heard from represented just a fraction of those who had these feelings.
This tendency toward guilt and perfectionism masks itself as the voice of God, and reveals how we actually think of God! After all, if we knew God as a gentle shepherd, one who loves us and protects us from danger, then we would enter into rest with a sense of lightness and joy, anticipating what God might do in our lives. Since most of us do not know God this way, we enter into this rest feeling a little irritable and resentful. A little suspicious and afraid we won’t measure up – as if God will stand next to us with a whip saying, “Rest I tell you. REST I say!! Watching the hockey game? You’re not DOING it right! Enjoying a movie with your family? SHAME ON YOU! Following a link someone sent you to something on YouTube? That’s Internet television! A pox be on you and your house for your unfaithfulness!” At the very least, perhaps we’d better get the pastor’s permission to “cut a few corners” here and there because if I don’t I’ll feel guilty all week.