Being principled is a lot easier to talk about than it is to do, especially when things get personal. Recently, I was taking some training that involved capture and detention survival techniques. What I found interesting was how much “oo-rah-rah, Go America” rhetoric was involved. I found myself wondering ‘if I were in the same situations some of our POWs have been in, would I still be a motivated patriot?’ It’s one thing to be patriotic when you’re enjoying some fireworks on a school-free day, but what about when someone is sticking dried bamboo shoots up your fingernails and lighting them on fire? ‘Go America’, remember?
Our spiritual lives are no different and in a lot of ways it takes far less to make us compromise our principles. Let’s say you have a really, really agitating confrontation with someone and have the opportunity to bad mouth your assailant in conversations with others (face-to-face or online). When I was in college, this was probably my #1 “compromisable trait”, especially when you felt hurt and helpless to take revenge (Facebook just makes ‘satisfying’ status messages so easy!). How about this example: you are quick to tell others that they should just “release their worries to the Lord”, but find out that your brother or mother has contracted a late form of cancer and things don’t look good. Wait, don’t get all worked up… just “release it to the Lord”, remember?
These are situations that we are all thrust into from time to time. What makes ‘sticking to our principles’ difficult is that our principles are not of our own making; our principles are derived from a perfect standard that we all acknowledge we are incapable of holding. You mean we can’t EVER gossip? We can’t EVER want to publicly slam someone’s character or boost our own at someone’s expense? We can’t EVER look at unsavory or profane things? We can’t EVER get jealous over possessions, positions, or recognitions that other people receive? And the knock-out punch… we have to boldly proclaim this gospel knowing full well that we aren’t even capable of living up to it?!?! Talk about setting yourself up for failure!
Where we end up is that acting the way we proclaim our character to be is nearly impossible… but not without an amount of control and not without the redemption of Christ’s grace. There are always things we can improve, ways we can grow, temptations we can avoid. More often then not, the level of hypocrisy that we ‘accept’ in our lives seems to be directly related to the amount of things in the world we are not willing to let go.Let’s take a look at what Jesus says in Mark…
But if you cause one of these [children] who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone hung around your neck. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hellwith two hands. If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one foot than to be thrown into hell with two feet. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. It’s better to enter the Kingdom of God with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, ‘where the maggots never die and the fire never goes out.’ (Mark 9:42-48 NLT, Source: Bible Gateway)
“Wow, that sounds a little intense.” Let’s not gloss over parts of our faith just because they seem intense, difficult, or inconvenient [that would leave us with a pretty small Bible]! This leads us into a brief tangent about idols; recall that idols are things that take priority in our life over God. What are the idols in our lives? We love to think about possessions, but what about less tangible idols like Facebook, that social circle that drags you down more than you minister up, and those hobbies that consume our lives? These lead to all kinds of character-idols: ego, gossip, revenge, insecurity… these are all things that we let take over our principles and drag us to a place where we know we shouldn’t be. What’s worse is when we relish in these idols (even the negative ones) and refuse to acknowledge that these traits are even problems. It’s like a baby ‘making a poo-poo’ in it’s diaper and crying when you try to change it; it’s may be a stinky, messy diaper but it’s HIS DIAPER, DANG IT!
The Christian calling is not always a fun one paved with convenience and emotional satisfaction. Sometimes we are tempted to twist reality into things that fit our “interpretation” of what our principles should be. The problem with this is that other people are watching (which is even more true when you are around children and students). They can see through the hypocrisy. When they see a leader, mentor, or role model unwilling to take the necessary steps to focus on and fix their own flaws, they wonder why they must hold themselves to a standard that their ‘leaders’ clearly aren’t willing to hold.
“Why should I improve myself if [blank] isn’t willing to do it?” “Why do I have to stop hanging out with certain people or act boldly if my mother/father/preacher/minister isn’t willing to do it?” “Why do I have to make sacrifices if my mother/father/preacher/minister always makes excuses for keeping all their vices around?”
These are tough questions, but what happens when a teen’s observations of our character evolves into something a bit more dangerous…
“Why do I have to act like this ‘Christianity thing’ is a big part of my life if my leaders don’t even take it seriously?”