There's a website that I browse on occasion. A Christian website. It contains all kinds of media reviews; movies, music, games, you name it! It takes an album, song, or new movie, and breaks it down into categories (pros and cons), and by the conclusion the reader has a fairly clear view of how "Christian" or "un-Christian" said media is.
And that's the whole problem.
Because this website, while crafted with good intention, horribly misses the point. As I understand it, being a Christian isn't a mandate for a preventative lifestyle. It's not a life lived looking for the next enemy, or a life lived in the pursuit of critiquing, and tearing down what others have created.
It's a life of creation. It's a life of constant identification of where God is present, rather than making assumptions about where He's not.
Many Christians, in America, are fast losing their ability to laugh or to take any joy from life. What's happening instead is that joy is being replaced with a critical, cynical, self-righteous spirit.
There's much time devoted to attempting to "sanctify" oneself. To cut out the "sinful" things, and to make oneself holy and presentable. This is often done with the best of intentions, which is especially important to emphasize but, what's being lost in the process?
When a follower of Christ decides to take a de-constructive view of life (i.e. being critical of actions, differing opinions, etc.), they begin to lose the ability to see good in fellow human beings, and situations outside their comfort zones.
In fact, everything becomes a hindrance. Life becomes about swearing less, not watching "R" rated movies, avoiding the opposite sex like the plague lest they cause you to "stumble."
This attitude can also infect how we relate to fellow human beings. The pursuit of "righteous living" can actually manifest itself in unintentional condescension toward those who aren't living up to the standard that we are.
"Oh, you laughed at that joke...hmmm.. how would God feel about that?"
"I heard that you got drunk last night?" (sympathetic look)
"Do you really think that ______ is what you should be doing?"
Life lived in this fashion is, actually, quite self-absorbed. Because, while we're convinced what we're doing is to "honor God," our thoughts are constantly revolving around ourselves, and our spiritual well-being, rather than being focused on the needs of those around us.
When I first decided to follow Jesus, I was hell-bent on being a good Christian. I rigorously pursued, what I was led to believe was, a "righteous" life. This meant no swearing, no smoking, no dating for the sake of dating, no Family Guy. Man, I was committed.
I realized, after about a month, that I was a horrible failure. And that failure ate me up inside. So I tried again. Harder. This time I pushed "bad influences" out of my life. I had no time for those who didn't believe as I did. They were merely anchors that would pull me down to Hell itself with them should I give my time of the day.
I failed again.
I've tried being a "good Christian" and it turns out I'm no good at it.
Perhaps this is because there's no such thing as a "good Christian."
Many times, a pursuit of holiness leads to rejection of relationships. Relationships with those around us, because they don't believe as we do. Rejection of those who are "too sinful" for us to touch. Rejection of the kind of people that Jesus spent a great deal of time with. In fact, Jesus was all about relationships, wasn't he?
I, personally, don't believe that we can earn favor with God. Our actions, the things we do for Him, are immaterial. They're meaningless.
God doesn't care about how long we gave up cursing. He doesn't care that we hung around with the "right group" of friends throughout college, rather than those crazy partiers.
Did you get this my Christian friends?
He doesn't care.
Your spiritual resume' doesn't hold any water with Him.
His love is about something greater than that. It's about you.
He's crazy about you, if you didn't know. :)
He wants your heart, not your actions.
See, that's why Jesus loves the church kids, and the hookers. That's why he loves the alcoholics, and the kids that cut themselves at night just to feel something. That's why he loves gays, missionaries, pastors and porn stars, agnostics, atheists, and pagans.
I write a lot about how Christians, myself included, often miss the finer point. I think we have to be real with ourselves, and have to be humble enough to admit this.
The finer point is this, my friends:
Often, we find ourselves slaving away "for God," for good things that God really doesn't care about. But, at the end of the day, only one thing matters...we're all getting what we don't deserve. We can never earn it.
That's what grace is.
So, then, what's the point of embracing the Christian faith if doing the "right things" isn't the point?
What I'm coming to understand about my faith, is that it's about a journey.
It's about a greater story, that my story is woven into...
Think of all the greatest stories you've ever read.
Think about the main character, who's often a person of profound flaws.
Think of all they experienced in their adventures.
Think of the adversity they faced. Of the unlikely friendships they made.
Think of how you rooted for them in their lowest lows, and cheered them on at their peaks of joy.
Think of how vastly different person the hero is at the end, than when they first began.
A great story isn't one of a hero who does all the "right stuff," and hangs out with all the right people.
A great story is a story of discovery, unknowns, unpredictability, and an abundance of opportunities which test, and refine, the character's convictions.
One of the coolest things that a person of faith can do, is to invite others to join with them in the greater story that's being told, as they journey toward God.
I want to begin, daily, to live my life inviting others, rather than excluding them, much like my Savior who did likewise for me, and countless others in the human narrative.
Grace isn't exclusive. This story is for all.
The only question is...will we choose exclude, or invite?