Monday, April 13, 2009

Our Moral Failure?

Christianity is not about morality.

To follow Christ is to emulate his example. To be sure, morality plays its part. Jesus was a good and honest person. Never do we find Jesus at the horse track in a drunken rage, cursing his misplaced bets while swiping popcorn from his neighbor. Make no mistake, Jesus is the model for moral behavior.

He did hang out with prostitutes, though. Ate with sinners, that sort of thing...

I would say more here, but I think you've heard this sermon before. At least, I hope so.

Here's the problem. When moral behavior is our ultimate objective, we neglect much of our calling as disciples. Following in Jesus' footsteps includes time spent with sketchy people. It demands the nerve to challenge the pious fuddy-duddies of our day. Following Jesus means endeavoring to be holy, not simply moral. It has to do with where we spend our time, money and energy, and how closely related those things are to communion with the Father.

So here's the tragedy that occurs in our churches - from the admittedly less than objective standpoint of a full-time youth worker:

We parents are increasingly concerned for the safety and well-being of our children. Rightly so - our world is getting scarier all the time. We Christian parents see hope in the morality of our faith. While others' kids struggle with teen pregnancy and alcoholism, our young people have a chance to avoid all this, simply through adherence to a Christian moral initiative. We parents recognize this, almost instinctively.

We ask, "What would Jesus do?"

That's a no-brainer. Jesus would wear a Silver Ring and preach abstinence to his friends.

Maybe he would. And so should our young people.

We affirm, "That's what Christianity is all about."

So, as parents, we do everything we can to insulate our young people. Keep them pure, keep them clean, keep them safe, at (almost) all costs. We say things like:

"As long as they are keeping busy..."


"As long as they are hanging out with good people..."

And we assume that busy-ness and responsible company holding will protect the moral development of our young people. Not only does this make sense, it becomes high priority when morality is our ultimate objective.

Here's the rub:

Annie finds her niche in volleyball. Volleyball keeps Annie busy. Annie's team is full of good and mostly "moral" people. Through volleyball, Annie can stay busy (keeping her out of trouble) while spending time with a good (relatively moral) group of people. Thus, volleyball can be Annie's salvation.

It can also become her God.

So, with the best of intentions, Annie and her parents embrace the volleyball God. Annie plays competitively four months each year, not including a handful of tournaments in the off-season. Annie attends two volleyball camps in the summer and a team retreat in the fall. Annie trains and conditions with her team almost year round.

She is busy. She is hanging with a good crowd. There's no time or influence to become pregnant, thank God.

The youth group at Annie's church volunteered at a homeless shelter this past weekend. Annie did not participate - she had a tournament on Saturday.

On Sunday mornings the high school class at Annie's church has been studying spiritual disciplines. Students have selected disciplines to employ in their lives, and each week the group reports together on their experience. Many have said this class has had a profound impact on their faith. Volleyball has consumed Annie's weekends this season. Annie has not been to class in months.

Annie's involvement in volleyball insulates her to some degree. It keeps her busy, safe and moral to the extent it can. If morality were the objective, good parenting coupled with a full volleyball schedule may indeed be Annie's salvation.

But we all know (don't we?) Jesus is Annie's salvation. Not volleyball. Not football. Not drama club. Not choir. Jesus.

Jesus calls his followers to more than just morality. We are called to service, fellowship, worship and proclamation. We understand our identity is found in rich community with other believers. We know that following Christ is often following others who have followed for much longer than we have. We know that faith is nurtured in the home, supported by the teaching and example of our greater faith community. We know volleyball can't provide this for Annie.

Yet, as long as morality is our ultimate objective, we parents will strive to keep our kids busy and out of trouble. We would love for them to be more familiar with their Bibles; to serve and worship regularly. We want our young people to be deeper and more mature in their faith. We want our kids to be right with Jesus.

Sadly, there is just no time for that. We have exhausted ourselves keeping our kids moral. As long as no one is drunk or pregnant, we have fulfilled our charge.

Have we really?



Cindy said...

Wow, good thoughts Dave.

Michael said...

Very well put. As a parent of a recent youth group grad. we struggled with this issue. We wanted our daughter to be involved in good "moral" school and extra-curricular activities. We also tried to instill in her the need to grow your own faith by fellowship with other Christians, reading & study of God's word and putting your faith into action. Hopefully we did the best we could as parents to find an appropriate balance.

Franklin Wood said...

I think moral is the next step up from what most parents shoot for: for their kids to be HAPPY. (And if they are moral as a by-product, then great!)
Of course, we all know that, as a follower of Christ, you will be insanely happy all the time, and enjoy EVERYTHING you do as you follow Him! :) Because, Jesus wouldn't call us to do difficult things, would He?

joseph said...

I understand your topic sentence was meant to be a conversation starter but it is dead wrong. Christianity is indeed about morality. It is a part of the puzzle. Jesus calls us to be holy and making moral decisions is a part of holiness.

Annie needs more of your Bible studies and more Church events. Jesus is coming soon morning or night or noon. Many will meet their doom. I for one don't want to be playing volleyball when the trumpet sounds and Jesus comes riding on a cloud to destroy this sinful and wicked earth! I want to be reading the bible or converting a poor sinner who will be lost in the fires of Hell without making the choice to cloak themselves with the Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 65:15 says “You will leave your name for a curse to My chosen ones, And the Lord GOD will slay you. But My servants will be called by another name.”

God is a God of love but this verse clearly says that God has the capacity to SLAY. I don't want to be slain. Do you?


Jared said...

Interesting thoughts Joseph. I am not sure what the intensity of your "slay" and "die" and "doom" comments have to do with the original intent of the blog. I think Dave made the point very clear that morale is a huge part of Christianity, but his point still stands. What is more important. Morale without Holiness or both working in unity to the development of children and teens. So I just want to be clear on what you are talking about cause I am confused.

I am also confused on what you said about where you want to be when Jesus comes. You said you don't want to be playing volleyball, rather you would like to be reading the Bible and helping some poor lost sinner who, apparently is burning in the fires of hell. I am just curious as to where you expect to find those "lost sinners" as you so eloquently put it? Cause it seems like the place to find them is on the volleyball court. And just as a side note, I am not sure that saying to them what you said on here is going to want anybody to "cloak themselves with the prince of peace."

joseph said...

jared, are you saying that volleyball players are sinners? if you are, you would be correct. they are sinners. we all are. I don't want to be playing a game when Jesus comes back to judge the wicked deeds of sinful men. I want to be praising His holy and perfect name!

I think David said it best in Psalm 149:6:

“Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, And a two-edged sword in their hand”.

I don't mean to be rude. I just think we tend to lean on the whole God is Love portion of the story and not give enough balance to the God is Wrath part.

Just as a side note and not related to the topic. I wish the Verse of the Day emails I get in my inbox weren't the cherry picked happy ones. God wrote some pretty hardcore things in his best seller. I think we need to mix it up a little and make sure we focus on stories like 2 Kings 2:23-25. God means business and will be back in business on judgement day!

God inspired Psalm 137:9 for a reason. We can try to rationalize it and say that it is the idea of man...but that would be just plain wrong.

Sorry for the tangent. My point is we need to be better students of the perfect Word and be more involved in our churches. Jesus founded the church for a reason and I don't think it was to only play Nintendo Wii.

Jared said...

God is love is the essence of the truth of Jesus Christ as savior of the world. Jesus came with words of love and peace. He did get pretty mad and show some strong emotions but I think if we are to be like Christ, then yeah we should over emphasize the power of the love of Christ. It is not wrath that saves people, it is the loving grace of God. I think that preaches way better than the fire brimstone, hell is upon us teaching that so many are accustomed to.

And you know I agree with your last point whole heartedly. We need to be more involved with our churches, if by that you mean taking church to the unchurched. And yes, I believe church is more than just playing Nintendo Wii, but again I am confused as to what that has to do with anything.

So anyway. Praise His holy name when Jesus comes back. But I think that there is a huge problem when those two things are separated. Playing volleyball and praising his holy and perfect name I mean. When Jesus comes, I am pretty sure that all knees in Heaven and on earth will bow and every tongue confess. What we have to worry about is what happens between now and then. And the love of Christ is what brings people to want to listen, want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Teach them Jesus love first and then you can pound them with fire and brimstone.

Jason and Nicole said...

Dave, it sounds like you're not really saying morality is not associated with salvation, but that many of us have a pitiful definition of morality. You're turning out definition of holiness on its head maybe.

It reminds me of all the warning against sex, but no warning against greed. In my Bible there are both, but perhaps a lot of parents settle for half the picture. A fuller understanding of Christ and salvation is probably the best solution, as you said. Whether tax collectors or prostitutes, Jesus' people are changed totally.

Jim Tucker said...

Dave, I think your blog is spot-on. The temptation in the garden was to eat the fruit "to be like God, knowing good and evil," and ever since we should be cautious of honoring our own ideas of goodness and morality rather than honoring the One who alone is good, of living by our idea of "Christian principles" which may, unfortunately, be or become something quite different from Christ living in us.

An excellent, provocative entry, Dave. Thank you!

Fox and Jacob said...

i changed my blog. it is now:

love you and miss you guys. <3 jacob