Back when I was a youth pastor (1978-2007) I almost always had a poster on the wall of my office, the youth room or the hall outside the youth room that said Go Against the Flow. The pictures were much like the one here, with a one cute fish (or in this case the actual "Jesus Fish") swimming upstream into the path of oncoming sharks and barracudas. It was often accompanied (as this one is) by the scripture from Romans 12:2 about not conforming to the world. The message seemed appropriate and straight-forward to me as it applied to teenagers. Don't give in to peer pressure. Be your own person. Be different. Follow Jesus. And the church (and youth group) were places where you could find love, support and encouragement to live the kind of radical, against the flow kind of lives that Jesus calls us all too. I loved those posters. They were decorations with a message!
But lately the idea of going against the flow has taken on a very different meaning for me. I am beginning to understand more and more that in our USAmerican society today, the flow that Jesus is calling us to go against is often the institution of the church itself. Not the Church of Jesus Christ, but this "thing" that we have created in our own image, full of politics, traditions and power struggles that have little to do with the Messiah. There is no doubt our world is a mess, and any Christ-follower who clings even a little to "the ways of this world" is clearly missing out on the abundant life Jesus came to bring us. It's the attitude of the church itself that scares me more. When Jesus began to swim upstream in his earthly ministry, the sharks and piranhas he encountered were most often church leaders. Pharisees. They were into judgement and using God's law to selectively condemn those who didn't fit into their vision of what a religious person should be. Jesus made it very clear that he came to call people to God by loving them, by offering forgiveness and grace and by serving and sacrificing. He spent his time with the very people the Pharisees were busy rejecting. While the Messiah was busy blessing the poor, the humble, the peacemakers and the merciful, the Pharisees were busy seeking power, money and an air of superiority they could hold over everyone. Jesus was their worst nightmare.
I see far too many "Friends of the Pharisees" in church leadership today. Christian leaders with the most power and prestige and with the loudest voices are far too often the very people seeking to create restrictions on who belongs in the family of God. They are judgmental and condemning, and have tried far too often to turn the message of Jesus and his church into a political one. Trying to find salvation and relationship with God through law failed miserably- that's why Jesus was necessary. Christ did not die so that the US could be a great nation. Christ did not die so that the rich would inherit the church or so that we could live comfortably and be free from persecution. Jesus did not sacrifice himself to teach us that gluttons, shellfish eaters or divorcees were the worst of sinners, anymore than he taught that homosexuality is the worst of all sins as we seem to keep screaming at the world today. Jesus died because God so loved us- every stinkin' sinful one of us- and wants us to spend eternity with Him. He came for the hurt, the lost and the seeking. Christ did not come to condemn the world, but to save it. Too many modern church leaders seem content to condemn first and hope that will lead to salvation. We want people to be like "us" before they enter into relationship with Jesus. And that's just wrong. In this day and this time I am becoming more and more convinced that following Jesus and following church "leaders" are often two very different things. And I want to go against the politically correct flow. I want to follow Jesus.
So what does this revelation mean to me as far as being bold, stepping out in faith and living in the #DangerDays? I currently have no standing or position of leadership in any religious organization - no mountaintop from which to scream. But I do have friends. I have pastor friends who have been exiled from ministry because they have stood up for the outcasts and were found to be "unworthy" themselves. I have friends who feel unwelcome at churches because they do not fit the mold of today's political Christian stereotype, but instead feel led to follow the example of Jesus and feed the hungry, take care of those in need and serve s peacemakers in our world. I have friends whose faith puts my own to shame who have been told their voices do not matter because of their lifestyle. And while I can't change any of that by myself, I can go swimming. As these friends fight their way upstream and face the sharks in Pharisees clothing, I can go first. I can swim interference, like a blocker leading a running back into the line. I can risk my own "standing" among Christian leaders by taking a stand for my friends who are hurting because they decided to live life with the outrageous love and grace that Jesus commands of us. I must...I WILL..speak out in their names and in the name of Jesus! I can now understand a deeper meaning for Romans 12: 2- "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." It's time to get dangerous. It's time to be a Transformer. It's time to go against the flow- even if that flow is driven by some of the famous voices in Christianity. The only voice that matters is that of Jesus. And his leadings will ALWAYS be dangerous!
Because of Jesus,