So what am I talking about when I say that I agree that we need to return to “traditional values”? As I said, I don’t think that the values held by those who espouse what they call “traditional values” are bad, I just see things differently.
1. God is much more concerned about who I am than what I do.
My big issue with what are defined as “traditional values” is that they only deal in superficial, external behavior choices and don’t deal with real inner identity and transformation. This is a value that covers our individual responsibility. As Christians we are to pursue God with all our hearts and allow the rest of life to take care of itself. Not that we should abdicate all responsibilities but that we should be much more aware that all of life is a formation process and allow God to do God’s work in us. When we are listening and responsive to God’s activity in our lives we become more Christlike versions of ourselves and we behave differently in the world.
Tim Kimmel’s book Grace Based Parenting uses the example of endoskeletal and exoskeletal creatures to describe the internalizing of values and the subsequent influence of behavior. As humans, we are endoskeletal creatures, meaning that our skeleton is inside our bodies. If we break a bone, we have it set and it heals and we move on. Exoskeletal creatures, such as a lobster, doesn’t have that luxury. If its shell is broken, it dies. It doesn’t have the internal structure to withstand external pressures. When we are internally transformed, our character is shaped and we can more easily withstand pressures to do things that are counter to our values.
Paul says in the New Testament that while on the outside we may be wasting away (some more than others) inwardly we are being renewed – actualy the Greek word is renovare, where we get our word for “renovate”. We are being re-made, improved, updated, made new. We should not be capable of having an encounter with the living Christ and not be changed for the better.
2. God is much more concerned with compassion than with convention.
The best example of this internal motivation I see is in John 13 when Jesus makes the decision to wash the disciples’ feet.
John 13: 1-5
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.
Because of his constant connection to God, Jesus had a strong sense of his identity and mission. Because he knew that he had come from God and was going back to God, he was able to take a towel and perform the lowest household task. Because he knew that he had come from God and was going back to God, he said to the Samaritan woman, “Give me a drink.” Because he knew that we have come from God and are going back to God, he said, “Whatever you do to the least of these, you have done to me.”
3. God’s values are counter to our culture, not integrated with our culture.
The pope sort of stole my thunder on this one today, and I’ll address this in a day or so, but my point with this one is all about how American culture has deified business and capitalism and has come to equate financial success with God’s blessing. I love how Christians call the success of something they agree with God’s blessing but the success of something they don’t agree with the devil doing his work. Here’s an example:
Christian Person: Our church is debt free/we have record offerings/our business is thriving/we made _________ dollars, therefore God is blessing us.
Me: What about the Mormon Church? They have assets totaling over $30 billion. Is that God’s blessing, too?
CP: Ummmm….uhhhh….well…….uhhhhh….the devil…..ummmm……Satan……Billy Graham says they’re not a cult anymore…..ummmm
What I’m getting at here is that financial windfalls for individuals and businesses may or may not be from God, but what God is interested in is what we do with them. When we get more, do we give more, or do we hoard more? Again, I speak not against the common sense of saving. But I speak of really listening to what God wants you to do with your money, both as an individual and as a business.
What does it mean to be a business and to follow God’s values? Does it mean that you have to be a Christian business or that your business has to have a Christian CEO? Do you have to not be open on Sundays?