Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Lessons from a Prostitute: Don't Be Good

Last December, my family made it from Trenton, MI to Ft. Worth, TX in 18 hours. We might as well have driven in separate cars, because we spent most of the trip deepening our relationships with "Steve Jobs" and "Satoru Iwata" on our iPods, iPhones, and 3DS's. (Warning! Old Man Moment...nostalgia). When I was a child there were no uphill-both-ways-to-school routes, but we did spend long road trips interacting through "car games," which always ended in a family feud.

Password was one of our favorite games. The game consists of two pairs of teams. A member from each team selects a secret word and then provides clues to the other member to help her identify the secret word. The teams alternate giving clues until one of the team members guess the secret word. Here's an example:

Secret word: "Chicken"
Possible clue: "Colonel Sanders"
Possible clue: "Crossed the street"

Got it?

Let's play a game of Password. I'm going to give you a clue and you try and guess the secret word. Here we go. The clue is, "Prostitute!"

I don't know your guess but I bet it wasn't the word "Good," and my online thesaurus would agree with you. It suggests synonyms like "betrayer," "deceiver," and "cheater." And yet, scripture commends a prostitute as a hero of the Christian faith!

Hebrews 11, the Who's Who chapter of the New Testament, lists Rahab the prostitute alongside the all-star characters of the Old Testament. She is listed alongside Abraham, the original B-I-G P-O-P-P-A; alongside Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, the Patriarchs; and alongside Moses, the stud prophet!  In fact, Rahab gets more screen time than David... the boy wonder, the giant-slayer, the KING, the man after God's own heart! The Hebrew writer says this about the Lady of the Night (Heb. 11:31):

By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.

But he is not the only one who holds Rahab up as an example. Jesus' own brother shines the spotlight on Rahab too (James 2:25-26):

Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road?  For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

If you have grown up hearing Rahab's story, what I just wrote doesn't shock you. Your familiarity has desensitized you to its messiness. Perhaps I can rekindle the awkwardness of this story by asking you a question, "Have you explained what a prostitute is to your child?"

"Well...they are too young?"
"Oh, not yet. They don't even know about 'sex.'"
"Ummm...not sure how to do that."

Precisely.  It is a grungy story and yet Rahab is held up as a Christian example of...of...pay attention: not GOODNESS but FAITH.  God used her because she had faith and not because she was good. The story of Rahab dispels some false Christian notions about faith and goodness. In upcoming posts, I will explore further what Rahab teaches us on this topic of faith and goodness. But I want to begin with this statement: 

Faith rather than goodness is the foundation of your relationship with God .

Christianity is about faith rather than goodness. It may be easy to nod and say, "Amen," but it seems so many Christians and non-Christians are obsessed, not with being good, but with being seen as being good. We spend vast amounts of energy and time shaping the perception of others. We speak, act, and hint so that "he" or "she" will think I am good. 

A preacher-friend of mine ministers at a congregation where they provide envelopes in which to put your tithe. He says they receive empty envelopes EVERY week. Why would you take the time to put an empty envelope in the offering plate? One reason: the appearance of generosity. You want others to think you are good. 

If we stood you up in front of 300 people who knew you and asked, "By a show of hands, who thinks [insert your name] is a good person?" and only two people raised their hands, you would be devastated! You would probably lose sleep. You might even slip into a depression. 

We want others to think we are good, and as a result we often make Christianity about goodness. "He who looks the most like Jesus in the end wins. He who has the most Fantasy Christian points is the 'goodest!'"  We even use church as a badge of goodness. How many times have you heard or said, when vouching for someone's character, "She goes to church!" as if to say, "She's a good person."

Trying to be good...well...trying to look like you are good is exhausting. Chill! Your relationship with God is about faith, not goodness. So...for today, quit trying to be good.

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