This post is from a larger series under the cat­e­gory Friend to Jesus. It is a detailed explo­ration of the three stages of faith: the believer, the ser­vant and the friend of God. If you want to start at the begin­ning, it begins with the post How Look­ing at a Car­avag­gio Paint­ing Can Change Your Life and then con­tin­ues chronologically.

We have been far too tolerant of pain and suffering when it isn’t our own. We are far better at fixing parts than people, far better at saving souls than comforting sinners, far better at killing than carrying for the wounded. Thomas Lynch

We all need a mission in life. God has given each of us a purpose which is grand and should be a focal part of our life. However, for some, the lifework of being a Christian can go awry and turn into something that it should not. Sometimes “being a Christian and serving the Lord” can actually become an idol. Sometimes the causes we become involved in can actually lead us into doing things that don’t model anything that Jesus taught or exemplified.

I’ll give you an extreme example of a “Christian group” who is doing it for the cause, but are missing the point entirely. Have you heard of the Westboro Baptist Church? This group epitomizes what it means to be a servant of Jesus way too long. They are a church (if you could call them that) known for its extreme stance against homosexuality and its protest activities, which include picketing funerals of those they believe are in the wrong in some way. You may have seen them on television or the internet; they are the group that has the signs that say God Hates Fags. Jon Stewart had an interesting comment about them, “The Westboro Baptist Church is no more a church than Church’s Fried Chicken is a church.” This group has a cause. This group is very passionate about its cause. However, its cause is also extremely misguided and hateful. In many ways, this group epitomizes the Pharisees of our day.  I like what F. Scott Peck, the Christian psychologist said about such folks, while it may seem harsh, there is truth in his words about the danger of living for a cause and then letting it go awry:

Since they must deny their own badness, they must perceive others as bad. They project their own evil onto the world. The evil attack others instead of facing their own failures. Strangely enough, evil people are often destructive because they are attempting to destroy evil. The problem is that they misplace the locus of the evil. Instead of destroying others they should be destroying the sickness within themselves.

In some ways, it’s easy to be zealous. Whether its animal rights, a political agenda, or a religion, being obsessive in this sense simply means you need to be really passionate about your ideology. Anybody can do that and people become fanatical about different issues for countless reasons.

  • People become zealous for a cause because of hatred.
  • People become zealous for a cause because of a selfish motivation.
  • People become zealous for a cause because of boredom.
  • People become zealous for a cause because they feel they need a calling in their life.
  • People become zealous for a cause because of ignorance.
  • People become zealous for a cause because of loneliness.

As an example of this, I remember some years ago, a good friend had reached out to a guy who was in prison and he would help him lead a Bible study for some other inmates. This person who had been in prison for about three years had become a Christian since his incarceration and he had become very passionate about his faith. He loved sharing it with others; he loved studying the Bible; he wanted to always do the right thing. He was the ideal Christian or so everyone thought.

However, a couple of years later he got out of prison. Once he was released, he lost his zeal and passion for his faith, and instead placed that into things like motorcycles and women. He simply did this—he changed his passion from Jesus to these things. From the above list of reasons why people become passionate about a cause, some of the likely reasons he was so passionate about being a Christian was because he had selfish motivations, the loneliness of prison life, or simply because of boredom. Sadly, once he got out of prison, he simply transferred or changed his passions.

An example of this that we know from Scripture is through the story of Mary and Martha. This is how the story reads: 

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I love that line Jesus shares with Martha—“you are worried and upset about many things.” Isn’t that precisely what the Westboro Baptist Church is all about. They are worried that the great United States of America is going to hell in a hand basket. And they know who the culprits are, don’t they—it’s gay people! And this is who they picket with their God Hates Fags placards. Because of this, those caught in the servant stage of faith simply have not learned how to do a very important thing. Jesus alludes to it in the passage above. They don’t know how to rest. Rest from their compulsion that they must always be doing something.

Again, obviously serving is a key component of being a follower of Jesus. Giving back to someone else in whatever capacity is vital in being a person of faith. But it is not who we are; it is just something we do in our gratefulness to God for what he has done for us. I always tell my sons that because our family has been blessed in many ways, we need to share these good things with others. It is the Christian way. But again, it is not who we are. We should never base our identity off our creeds, convictions or causes. First and foremost, we are God’s child, and not his employee or hired hand. We should never feel that we are obligated to do something for God. Those who do that get caught in serving the cause and not their Maker.

To drive home this point, you have to go rent a movie. Have you ever seen the movie The Great Santini? It is a tremendous film on so many different levels. Robert Duvall plays a hard-nosed military pilot; in some ways he’s Peter incarnate. Duvall is a man who is driven and everything has to be just right. He deeply desires that his wife and kids have the good life. However, he is also a man with a darkness about him. At different times in the film you see him verbally and physically assaulting his wife and his kids in epic proportions. He, in many ways, has all the right motives, but gets it entirely wrong as a father and husband. The film gives us a great perspective of what someone looks like when they have been a servant way too long. It is a great movie which depicts a man who loves his family, but in reality doesn’t really love his family at all, because he is too passionate about being the perfect dad. In Duvall’s character, he captures who Peter was at one time in his life, before Jesus dramatically teaches him about grace. We will get to that story soon.

In: Friend to Jesus