Thursday, March 31, 2011

Illegitimi Non Carborundum

"Illegitimi non carborundum is a mock-Latin aphorism meaning 'Don't let the bastards grind you down'". (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illegitimi_non_carborundum)

When Jesus started His ministry, He knew his target audience: the lost sheep of Israel. The church of His day was sick in many ways, reflected by the fact that His only words of criticism were for the religious authorities: “Listen to them but don’t be like them!” He warned. (Matthew 23:3) How much is this like the church in America? We usher in new converts to build a work-force that can be used to further increase church numbers, justifying the “fruit” of the ministry by statistics that validate and promote the value of our organization. The growing crowd shouts: “We’re building the Kingdom!”

But is that really building the Kingdom or is it building a program? Some years back, I was initially excited to take a group of kids to a youth conference. I was struck by the professionalism of the first few sessions as well as the quality of each presentation. From the beginning, the Lord kept prompting me to observe and learn. During a breakout session for youth pastors, I was able to hear the conference organizer speak about how to build an effective youth group. His key point centered on including the parents. As he asked the question “why should you include the parents?” My heart leapt! I sat on the edge of my chair waiting to hear the answer: “Because it’s God’s desire to turn the hearts of parents to children and children to parents!” (see Malachi 4:5-6) Instead, his only answer to the question caused my soaring heart to sputter and crash: “Because they will fund your ministry!” I kept listening, hoping for an answer that would reflect God’s heart for His people, but instead all I heard were words educating youth pastors on how to build a program through the efforts and money of others. And the religious task-master justified it all as “building the Kingdom”.

I observed the rest of the conference from a different perspective. I saw the synergies of this man’s program as the messages led from “you need to be sold-out for Christ” to “you can be sold-out for Christ if you raise funds to be a ministry intern”… and ministry interns were the man-power and fund-raisers for youth conferences. So my heart sank deeper. I observed and learned that “effective ministries” from the world’s perspective did not necessarily reflect God’s heart, and while God can still use these ministries to build His Kingdom, this is often done in spite of the religious authorities… “Listen to them but don’t be like them!” They confuse the Kingdom with their program and they distort being sold-out for Christ as being fully committed to building their ministry.

So what is the Kingdom? It’s seen when we value the hurting as much as the healthy… when the members of a failing marriage are loved as much as the ones in a “strong marriage”. It’s demonstrated when the “unproductive” members of the Body are valued as much as the ministry leaders… when people are loved for who they are rather than what they do. It’s seen when the heart of God is reflected in sacrificial love for the unlovable… when Christ’s representatives continue to invest their time and resources in people that don’t appreciate it; it’s like being the parent of spiritual teenagers! (No disrespect intended toward the teens out there who demonstrate more maturity than most “adults” in our society!) It’s letting the heart of God change our hearts, so that God reigns in our lives, and it’s allowing His Kingdom Presence to reflect His love to the world around us. The Kingdom of God is close for those that are willing to adjust their ways to God’s ways!

And is being sold-out for Christ is any different from submitting ourselves to God’s authority? Our obedience is an outward demonstration of our response to His love and recognition of Who He is. It acknowledges that He is God and we are not. Being fully dedicated to Christ means being faithful to Him in our daily circumstances, in the secular job as much as the ministry activities… in the home as well as the church. It’s seen in how we raise our children or treat our spouse even in their most unlovable moments. It’s being thrown into the fire, proclaiming our God’s power to save us and our commitment to Him regardless of the results! (Daniel 3:17-18)

This past year, the Lord said to me: “Don’t let the bastards get you down.” To be honest, I didn’t know how to take that. Ever since leaving the Navy, I’ve tried to get the “salt” out of my language, and the word “bastards” didn’t exactly match my theological understanding of how God should speak. So He clarified it for me: “Would you rather I said ‘illegitimate sons’?” Well, that made more sense. Gandhi had once said that he would be a Christian if it weren’t for all the Christians.

As people, we often make the mistake of confusing the message with the messenger, and we tend to judge an action by its results. However, our commitment to serve God regardless of the results includes trusting Him despite the way people respond to our faith. My wife’s parents have faithfully trusted Him through the years, and I’m thankful that my children can draw upon their legacy. My in-laws have followed Christ when it seemed the world was completely against them, and the Lord has shown them that He is faithful even when others are not. A pastor, my father-in-law felt led to give a sermon on pornography. His message was so convicting that some members of his congregation believed he had discovered their secret sin and tried to have him removed. It caused a church split, but my in-laws remained at the church. God is faithful even when people are not. And God is still in control.

Jesus once taught about the wheat and weeds:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a person who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. When the plants sprouted and bore grain, then the weeds also appeared. So the slaves of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Then where did the weeds come from?’ He said, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the slaves replied, ‘Do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, since in gathering the weeds you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At harvest time I will tell the reapers, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned, but then gather the wheat into my barn.”’”

-Matthew 13:24-30 (NET Bible)
The problem with weeds is that they look like wheat. In the same way, the “illegitimate sons” resemble the children of God. Like the servants in the above story, we want to remove the illegitimate children (aka - weeds) from the church, but in so doing, we’re just as likely to destroy our brothers (aka – the wheat). I find it interesting that Jesus Himself didn’t seek to uproot the religious misrepresentation of His day. In fact, He longed to see them healed and the ministry restored. Knowing full well that He would suffer because of them, Jesus still refused to put out the smoldering wick or to break the bruised reed. (Isaiah 42:3, Matthew 12:20) He could die to Himself, and in the midst of pain, look upon those that wounded Him and ask the Father to forgive the unlovable and unworthy.

I don’t know about you, but this dying to self thing is hard. It’s hard to trust in God when the results seem to end in our suffering, but like Christ, we need to look beyond the cross to the glory that He has prepared for us. We need to walk through the flames and feelings of isolation into the promises God has made. And we need to reject the prosperity gospel as well as the seduction of immediate gratification that our world offers as a distraction from our own great calling. The Lord has a plan for His church in last days. The question is: will we join Him?

The church is sick in many ways…

But we who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not just please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself, but just as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” For everything that was written in former times was written for our instruction, so that through endurance and through encouragement of the scriptures we may have hope. Now may the God of endurance and comfort give you unity with one another in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

-Romans 15:1-6 (NET Bible)



copyright ©2011 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)