Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Judge not thy internet memes...

Recently, I came across a very popular Christian blog written by a very popular Christian teacher who is followed by millions. In this blog, the author was ranting about how they are annoyed by the memes on the internet. You know, the little "e-cards" and sarcastic statements with pictures that are meant to be funny, but are more often rude and in questionable taste.  I admit, even I find a lot of these internet memes annoying at best and downright raunchy at worst . Though- a few are quite funny! The author's opinions on memes wasn't what was disturbing to me. People have all the rights in the world to hate memes with a passion- it's a free country right? It was almost a comical read. Until I got towards the end.

What disturbed me was a comment that the author made. After going down her long list of why memes aren't biblical, and why no self-respecting Christian would repost them, she made the statement "if you are truly a Christian, you would not find these funny or share them." A real Christian wouldn't be laughing. If you think they are funny, YOU ARE NOT A REAL CHRISTIAN. What a message. What a judgement. That sentence made my heart break. MILLIONS of her followers were just sent that message.

My heart broke not because I have a soft spot for memes, or because I find some of them funny. My heart broke for the people reading it who may find them funny, and who already feel like they are not good enough for God. People who are constantly being condemned by the devil and by other people for their past. People who are constantly bombarded with thoughts of "God couldn't really love me because I'm not good enough. I've sinned too much."  My heart broke for the new Christians who may still have a long way to go on becoming new creatures in Christ. Christians that may not only think memes are funny, but have a host of much bigger issues that they are dealing with in their life that other Christians would judge as "unbiblical".  People who feel like they won't be accepted by God because they're not perfect Christians who love the lord, and are trying their best to walk a Christian life, yet at every turn they are having stones thrown at them because they still have issues they struggle with.

It brought back a flood of memories of a time when I was a brand new Christian, yet still struggling with drug addiction, alcoholism, smoking, pre-marital sex, and a host of other issues. I desperately wanted God to set me free from my strongholds. I joined a small group at church once in order to get plugged in and seek out Christian friends, and I remember very vividly sitting there listening to the girls in the group talking about how horrible it was that one of their sisters got caught smoking, and what a horrible sin that was. They were horribly offended that someone would sin that way and dishonor God like that. Repulsed was more of the word I would use to describe it. Sitting there listening to them,  all I could think of was that if they thought that was so horrible, if they knew me, and what I had done and still struggled with, they would want nothing to do with me. I shot heroin. Surely, if smoking made someone "not Christian enough", than heroin certainly did too.  I left that small group feeling judged, unwanted, and unlovable to God. I walked away and never came back. Instead of it being a safe place where I could confess my faults and be prayed for and loved on by other Christians, I was met with contempt by judgmental people who though they were better than me and sent the message that God could never love me. I wasn't really a Christian, because I had strongholds that they didn't.

That was such a heartbreaking time for me. I wanted desperate to be able to fellowship and worship God with other believers, but I felt so judged and condemned by them that I couldn't even force myself to walk in the doors. They were right, I was still very sinful. They had me convinced that God would have nothing to do with me until I was perfect- perfect like they felt they were. Until I stopped smoking, stopped doing drugs, an stopped laughing at internet memes, it was made clear that I would never be accepted as "one of them", and that Jesus didn't want me. I gave up and stopped trying. If I had to be perfect to be loved by God, there was no point in even trying. I was a mess.

Despite what I still struggled with, God had freed me from many things. My testimony was powerful, and he had done a lot of work in my life. Some just need more work than others. Instead of looking at where God had brought me from, I was being judged by what I still had left to change. Thoughts like this by Christians in the church hurts so many people. For example, some of the people that we work with in our outreach ministry are pretty rough around the edges. They have a lot to work through, and a lot for God to reshape and remold. But you have no idea how far they have come. They have incredible testimonies about what God has brought them out of. What to you may seem "unchristian" (i.e. internet memes) is huge progress from where they used to be. The girl who prostituted for years, robbed people at gunpoint, shot heroin on a daily basis, abused her kids, and hated God is now saved, drug free, celibate, loves God and her children, and pours her life into helping others daily. But, the church judges her on the fact that she finds an internet meme funny. Instead of giving God the glory for the changes in this woman, there are Christians throwing rocks at her and judging her on her media choices. Am I the only one who sees a problem with this? Let's find the sin you still have and crucify you for it and judge your Christianity on it, without stopping to find out your story. That doesn't sound like Jesus to me. 

The thing is, Jesus tells us not to judge for a good reason. We have absolutely no idea where people have come from,  what they have had to overcome in their lives, the pain they have suffered, the hell that  they have been brought out of, and how much they have already changed. We have no idea how far God has brought them, and how hard their journey has been. The Christian walk and being transformed into the image of Christ is a process. Who are we to judge how long that process should take? Maybe it's easy for you to be appalled by internet memes because it offends your Christianity, but for someone who was just sticking a needle in their vein last week, it's understandably much less offensive. You have not been through what they have been through or fought your way out of hell like they have. In the grand scheme of things for someone who has made it out of addiction, a meme is a very small thing  to be concerned about. There are much bigger, life or death, soul crushing sins and strongholds that God wants to take away from an addict before he focuses on convicting them about their humor. It is a process. Jesus will convict them about  raunchy humor in his time. God knows their heart. We do not.  It is very dangerous, and very prideful, to take it upon ourselves to judge where someone is in their Christianity by a small snippet we see of their life. 

My point is, it is the Holy Spirit's job to convict people to bring about change in them. It is not for us to throw rocks at them and tell them they're not changing fast enough, or that they haven't changed enough to really be a Christian.  That they're not good enough, that they haven't "gotten it all together" yet, that they haven't really changed. That sounds like something the devil would tell them to keep them away from God- not advice from a fellow Christian. New believers- especially former addicts- who have switched from darkness into light get enough condemnation from the devil, from people reminding them of their pasts, and from their own conscious due to their inability to forgive themselves for some horrible things that they have done during their addiction. The last thing they need is someone judging them about the many small issues that God still has to work on in them. There are a lot of issues that addicts have to deal with when they give their lives to Christ- issues non-addicts have no idea about. As Christians, we should be showing them grace, love, and standing beside them with support as they walk through the long, hard transformation process that listening to the conviction of the Holy Spirit brings. We need to be a safe haven for them, not one more place where they are condemned for not being "Christian" enough.

My heart hurts for the addict who comes to church in a scantily clad dress and gets dirty looks from the congregation. While I think "PRAISE GOD SHE IS HERE," many others are judging her clothing choices and giving their husbands dirty looks if he glances her way.. I praise God for the addict who shows up to bible study and swears, because at least they are there and getting a hold of Jesus. I don't judge their language.  I praise God for the addict who posts bible verses in between internet memes on their social media sites, because at least they are learning the word of God. I would much rather have the come as they are than not come at all. JESUS will convict them about modesty, their language, and their social media content. I am just thankful that they are giving him a shot and opening their heart so that he can do it later on down the line. To ostracize them for not being "Christian" enough will only cause them to feel condemned, unloved, and unforgivable, and possible shut the door on Jesus, and the church, for good. Why don't we stand and rejoice with them at what God has done in their lives, instead of beating them up about what they still need to change?

I was lucky enough to get saved in a church where I KNEW people weren't judging me. The pastor was a former heroin addict and Latin King, the associate pastor was a former drug dealer, and the entire congregation was made up of former drug addicts, pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers, gang bangers, murderers, adulterers, thieves, liars, and criminals. They were all on fire for God, because they were grateful for what he saved them from. I felt at ease there, because I knew there was no judgement. They had been where I had been. They had done horrible things in their lives as well. They still had a lot of issues to work out, and weren't expecting me to be perfect. They welcomed and loved me in all my flaws, and let Jesus do the changing and convicting. I honestly don't think I would have stayed in a church if it wasn't for this place. THere was no worrying that I was going to be judged for what I had done or even what I was still doing. The weren't repulsed by my past or current actions because they had been through the same thing, and no one thought they were better than anyone else. We were all messed up  They let me know that Jesus forgave me of everything in my past, no matter how horrible. And, if I found raunchy internet memes funny, he would forgive me for that too. But they would not call me out, point fingers, or make me feel unloved because of it. They loved me and accepted me and gave God time to work and convict me about things I needed to change.

Christians, please be conscious of how you judge people, and what you say . What may seem like a huge sin to you may be progress to someone who has struggled through much greater things. Don't judge people off of your life when you haven't lived theirs. We all come from different place in life, and some of us have much more junk to work through than others. That doesn't make the one with less junk any better- and to think that it does is a slippery slope to pride.  To think of someone walking away from church and God because someone told them they are unworthy and not "Godly" enough is utterly heartbreaking. What may look to you like someone not "acting" like a Christian may in fact, be the result of years and years of struggle, transformation, and God changing someone. They may be better off spiritually now than they ever have been, and it's not our place to judge if that place is "good enough." They just had a lot more to change and a lot more junk to work through than you, so it may take longer for them than it did you. But don't condemn them for that.  Be thankful that internet memes are your biggest spiritual concern, and pray for those who are fighting much bigger demons. Love, mercy, compassion, and grace wins out over condemnation and judgment every day. I'm living proof.