Jesus: our favorite cop out

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Faith & Theology

You want to know what the hardest thing about being a Christian is for me? It’s not questioning whether God is really there, or wondering why bad things happen to good people. No. What’s most difficult for me is my irritation with people who use their faith as an excuse to do things poorly, whether as a result of ignorance, or even worse, sloth. It makes me angry.

In addition to the goofy four-legged creature, sloth also refers to a “reluctance to work or make an effort; laziness.”

There is perhaps no “industry” where evidence of slacking off is greater than in the Christian world. Whether it’s books, movies, magazines, t-shirts or church media, you can bet that if the word “Christian” is slapped on the front of it, it’s going to be sub-par. To be fair, there are shining stars here and there who are doing great work, but as a whole it is really quite pathetic. Why?

The first problem is that most faith-based companies derive most of their operating expense from donations—not customers or advertisers. The idea is twofold: we want complete control over our content without regard for what “people want,” and secondly, we are ministers, not merchants! Ok then, I hope your message finds it way past your crappy production and overconfident attitude. It just so happens that people like things that they want, and professionalism is an admirable quality. People are drawn to be a part of something that is good. But I’m sure you won’t be concerned when your ratings are through the floor and no one is buying your product. After all, there will always be someone to subsidize your income with a tax-deductible donation, someone to encourage your good intentions, and some store that’s willing to relegate your book/album to the “inspirational” shelf. It’s the safe road, where the bar is low, the water’s lukewarm, and everyone pretends not to notice. Well… I can tell you who notices: everyone else. Donations toward a good cause are helpful, but we need not be afraid of profit, because in the real world, it’s profit that provides the extra incentives to perform at our best. There’s no reason we can’t be both ministers and merchants.

“It’s the safe road, where the bar is low, the water’s lukewarm, and everyone pretends not to notice. Well… I can tell you who notices: everyone else.”

Along these same lines is the tendency to request/offer volunteer or darn-near-volunteer work. I understand. Humans have a deep desire to transcend their natural flaws. We like to believe we are strong, honorable, patient, humble, and so on… and these things often drive our actions. This tendency is amplified as Christians who constantly face the question, “what would Jesus do?” While there is cause for praise for an attitude of servitude, there is also room for criticism. As reason would dictate, service to your neighbor is only good if it produces beneficial results. Too often we over-commit ourselves to projects, set them on the back burner and—usually at the last minute—throw something together in order to come through on our word, resulting in a product that is far below potential.

To half-heartedly do something because you really can’t afford to put the work into it, and because you’d rather be doing something else, just to prove your humility doesn’t really serve any cause. A few years ago, when my former band began to take off, I decided to stop accepting free work from friends and fans. I was done with ugly bumper stickers and photoshoots that wasted several hours and resulted in nothing usable. Experience had taught me an important lesson: professionalism comes with a price, and anything less isn’t worth it. If you have the money to do it right, do it right… it is a worthwhile investment every time.

But I really haven’t gotten to the meat of my frustration—the reason for my title on this post. A popular idea among many Christians is that because God is in control, and because he is concerned with the “important things,” we need not be distracted by burdensome details and material perfection. We don’t need talent, preparation or intelligence; we need divine inspiration, intervention and revelation! This idea can by summed up in one phrase: If the intentions are good, God will make it work.

This mentality, like all of the most destructive philosophies, is truth mixed with deception. It takes a reality—that God is all-powerful, and is not limited by human impairments—and assumes that He is ready and waiting to place His blessing on any and all of our endeavors. Indeed, God commanded many seemingly incapable people to do many miraculous things. He told Moses to strike the rock, and when he did, water flowed from it. What if, the next day, he decided to start whacking at all the rocks, trying to get more water? Nothing would’ve happened. God did direct Moses to another rock and told him to speak to it, but instead, Moses struck it again. Water did come out, as the people were indeed dying of thirst, but Moses was punished for his disobedience and told he would never enter the promised land.   …Ouch.

When God commands, he equips. But we have become used to just doing whatever we think is good and assuming God will sprinkle Jesus dust on it and make it work to His glory! As a result, we put responsibility on Him, and excuse ourselves from the equation.

So this is the Christian view of labor and production: We fear commercial success, we have a general expectation that other Christians will do things for us on the cheap, and we think that God blesses our work when we have failed to put forth the effort and resources toward it. The strangest thing about all of this is that it boldly flies in the face of sound theology (and economics, I might add).

Noah built an arc. David fought lions… and practiced his sling. Jesus was a carpenter. And though most of the major figures of the New Testament live the rest of their lives as evangelists, Jesus tells several people who come to him that they are to go back to their jobs and perform them faithfully. When God calls you into the wilderness, He expects you to come—with or without a plan. But it is a perversion of this fact to think that God doesn’t expect preparation and excellence, even in the mundane and unspectacular tasks of life.

When God calls you into the wilderness, He expects you to come—with or without a plan. But it is a perversion of this fact to think that God doesn’t expect preparation and excellence, even in the mundane and unspectacular tasks of life.

When we use Jesus as a cop out so that we can avoid the hard work, creativity, and responsibility it takes to achieve great things, we put a big fat label of tepid mediocrity on the very person who we hope to exalt. We tell the world that we are a low-standard bunch, lacking the talent and intelligence to make something of ourselves in the “real” world, and settling instead for a feel-good fix that will make all of our shortcomings appear perfectly acceptable.

We’ve got to face our failures for what they are, because everyone is great at something, and if we are content to settle for that in which we lack, how will we ever discover that in which we excel? And how will we ever reflect the beauty, inspiration and brilliance that is our God? We should hold ourselves and each other to the highest standards, always being flexible enough to give way to God when the moment requires it. If we can do that, our message and ministry will be much more effective.

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