The True Story of Christianity
The other day, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed and saw a snippet of a sermon video from a well-known mega-church pastor preaching about being "successful" as a Christian.
If you didn't know it was a sermon, you might have thought the guy was addressing a corporate retreat or self-help gathering a la Tony Robbins.
His prosperity-Gospel-fueled litany of exhortation essentially stated that Christians not only should desire prosperity but deserve it more than most people. And he didn't fail to mention that if a Christian isn't prospering, it's probably because they lack faith or need to be holy enough.
As I watched the video, I felt despair over what constitutes Christianity in America these days.
This mega-church pastor draws tens of thousands a week to attend one of his church's many satellite locations all over the South. And there are scores more like him all over the country---all preaching a similar message.
Not once did he mention loving your neighbor. He glossed over any teaching that Jesus gave on becoming less, losing your life to save it, or caring for the poor and marginalized.
It's not surprising that hundreds of thousands of people who identify as Christian flock to hear these kinds of messages, but it's disheartening.
These kinds of messages, delivered over and over, are inspiring to folks who want their piece of the American dream. But they ultimately set them up to fail.
Because the kind of spiritual "success" that Jesus taught his followers to chase after didn't look at all like success in the way their culture defined it. It didn't make sense to many people then, and it still doesn't.
The Christian faith is not a chest-thumping exercise in toxic masculinity, conspicuous consumption, or triumphalist theology, nor is it a program of self-help defined by winning at all costs.
This kind of faith structure isn't faith at all. It's propaganda.
And far too many people who used to be Christian left the Christian church because when they experienced a dark night of their soul, the structure they believed in fell apart.
To draw from Jesus' parable about the two men who built houses on different foundations, their faith, which was built on sand, collapsed with a mighty crash when the storms came.
The kind of faith foundation that withstands life's storms is built of sturdier stuff because it was forged out of humility, cemented through struggle and doubt, and laid with a healthy layer of sacrificial love.
Christian mystic and contemplative Fr. Thomas Keating offers a different view of what God sees as success in the spiritual journey:
The spiritual journey is not a success story but a series of diminutions of self... The night of the spirit is an intensive course in humility.
Sustainable faith (the kind we carry with us no matter what challenges we face) comes from letting go of our need to control, our desire to win, and the pride that comes right before a fall.
Only when we become less can we experience more of the abundant, joyful life that God intends for us to live---an outward-focused life lived for the sake of God's shalom, and the healing of the world.
The true story of the Christian faith is about offering oneself as a living sacrifice, following Jesus' example of unconditional love for God and everyone else.
When we do this, we discover who we really are and get the chance to be a natural light in a world often shrouded in the darkness of triumphalism, materialism, and wrong-headed notions of success.
May we embrace this face with joy and hope. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us now and forever. Amen.