Imagine the scene: A young girl strikes out on the last pitch of a softball game. She hangs her head and wipes away her tears with her dirty sleeve. It’s obvious she has given her all but has come up short. While the other team celebrates, her dad comes down from the stands and puts his arm around her to console her.
Next comes a montage that shows her redoubling her efforts. There she is taking batting practice in the dark; up in the early-dawn hours finishing her chores so she has extra time to grab her bat and go through her swing in super-slow motion, over and over, to improve her technique; even shots of her running, doing push-ups, taking a series of hard and full cuts with her bat to increase her speed.
The final scene opens to the bright lights of the stadium. She is at the plate again; this time, before the pitch,
This is the American Religion: You can do anything. And it is devastatingly opposed to the religion of Christ.
she glances up in the stands at her parents and they give her a knowing nod. She grinds her front foot into the dirt in the batter’s box and decides to go old school by choking up on the bat. Then she swings. The contact makes a sharp crack, and she rocks back as the ball flies.
Out. Of. The. Park.
The message is ubiquitous and beyond the need to be verbalized, but say it with me anyway: “You can do anything you set your mind to.”
With enough hard work and perseverance, nothing is impossible. This, my friends, is the American Religion. You can do anything.
And it is devastatingly opposed to the religion of Christ.
Listen to the words of Jesus in John 15: “Apart from me you can do nothing.”
You can do nothing. When is the last time you encouraged your kids with those words? But wait, you say, aren’t we promised that if we remain in Jesus, we will produce fruit? Yep, but what, exactly does that mean? I think it’s a far stretch to imply that producing “fruit” means accomplishing our personal goals and aspirations. Far from it. All of those have to be given up.
What about the verse that has launched a thousand coffee mugs, “I can do all things…”? Look it up, read it in context and then never, ever use it as a motivational slogan again. Ever.
Here is the brutal but necessary truth: Apart from Jesus, we are good for one thing — to be cut off and thrown in the fire. Useless, except maybe as kindling.
The season of Lent begins this week. It’s a good time to take a hard look at our cliches, idols, slogan-filled civil religions. And then?
Let. Them. Go.
In their place, during this season and moving forward, let’s focus on the true source of life and hope, something better than self-sufficiency and “having it all”: abiding in Jesus.
Grace and peace, y’all.
John Ray is a missionary, spiritual director and the elder responsible for teaching at Grace Church of NWA. John and his wife Jane spend way too much time packing and unpacking, vacuuming dog hair and chasing raccoons off their porch. They much prefer sharing good food and good coffee with friends, reading and trying to keep up with their daughters.