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Circus Christianity

Updated: Feb 19, 2020

This morning as I was sitting in church, an image popped into my head. It was the image of a clown. This particular clown had a sad face with tears painted on, but was still doing its silly clown show to make people laugh. And I thought about how Christians do this…how there are Christians who act like clowns. They might vary in how they look – some of them may have the sad faces, but some have happy ones and some just look a little crazy.

The common denominator is that each of them has painted on a persona that is not their own – a persona that, in fact, hides what each of them really is.

Have you ever seen a movie or a TV show portraying a clown that ends his or her act, then when they no longer have an audience, they begin treating everyone like scum or you find out that they are a raging alcoholic? It’s a ridiculous analogy, I know, but this style of Christians does the same ridiculous thing. Their real character is completely incongruous with what they try to portray, leaving people disillusioned and disappointed when they find out the truth. They thought those Clown Christians had it all together, but turns out, that’s only while they were on stage.

Christianity is not about faking it. Some people may say, “Well, we have to look cheerful or act cheerful or do something to make everything look great.” I say this is one of the best ways to chase people away from Christianity. It doesn’t take a very long look for anyone to tell that everything is not always great for anyone.  It’s hypocrisy at its grandest.  So, if people do fall for it initially, they drift away easily after coming to the truth of the matter: that Christians struggle and mess up, too. Even the clowns with the sad faces are going through the motions of making people happy…a performance they’ve often been rigorously taught. People pleasers rarely please people. Let’s be real, Christians. The clown act doesn’t become us.

And as I thought through this, I realized it was more than just clowns. There is an entire Christian Circus going on all around us.

There’s the guy/girl walking the tight rope. It doesn’t take long to spot this one. These guys are in shape. They’ve worked hard. They probably even have a little talent. And now they want to show it off. “Look at me – I can walk this rope. It’s a fine line, but I can do it.” They put themselves way up there…they are the elite. They’re not going to fall…falling is not an option. I mean, if you fall, you die, right? There’s no net. God’s not big enough for me to fall. These are the legalists. There’s no room for error, and anyone who can’t do what they can do has not quite got it all together. What happens with them? They crash…and burn. They live in fear of stepping one toe out of line, and inevitably find out that they can’t stay up there forever. It’s a lonely road.

Christianity is not about fear. And all this act does is scare people. “Ooh, I could never do that. I might as well not even try. I’ll just stay down here and walk around on this dusty tent floor. You have to really work too hard…and it’s dangerous, too…I mean, what if you fall? You’re done for.” When are we going to learn that it’s not about what we can do, but about what God already did?

And now we have the lion tamer. This is the dude with the whip. He is all about beating everyone into submission. There’s no love in this act. It’s all force: conversion by conquest. And then once you get them conquered, you make sure you keep them controlled.  He’s not getting people to follow God; he’s getting people to follow him. It’s all about the power.

Christianity is not about force. The lion tamer eventually gets his head ripped off when one of the lions he thought he had tamed suddenly realizes this guy doesn’t have its best interest at heart. He’s just a mean guy with a whip on a power trip. If conquest were the answer, then the whole world would’ve been Christian after the Crusades. Let’s stop pretending we can hold people down until they say uncle…or Jesus. This would only establish that the strongest guy wins. It says nothing about truth.

Then we have the guy who eats fire. He’s a showman. He uses a lot of slight of hand, illusions, tricks. The Christian fire-eater is really not much more than a magician with an agenda, but he sure does make it look exciting.

Christianity is not about the hype. Hype goes away. People get tired of watching him eat fire every day…he’s a one trick wonder. They lose interest. There is no substance to his message. People don’t get tired of watching someone who is living the abundant life that Christ offers us to the fullest, day in, day out, in every area of their life. THAT is something to see.

The next one is more like a category. It includes the bearded lady, the tattooed man, etc. – the pejorative “freak show.” These are the Christians who have embraced their fears and insecurities. They have accepted the lie that they have nothing to offer anyone, except as a novelty, and therefore have retracted from normal daily interaction with people. They get mocked a little bit and just take it as their lumps in life, figuring this is the price you pay for being different. You may as well just own it, right? Their inability to fit in has become their identity. It’s an excuse not to become something else, something more.

Christianity is not about hiding behind your insecurities. It’s about facing them head on, and allowing God to make something of you in spite, or possibly because of them. When we, as Christians, retreat because we feel inadequate, that says to the world, “Look, they really don’t have anything to offer. They don’t even believe in the power of it themselves.” God has promised that He will make something of us, and we need to start acting like it!

There are probably more, but this is as far as I got on the performers in the circus. However, there’s one more I want to mention: the ringmaster.

You might think that I’m going to say the ringmaster is God. Not in this case. In the case of Circus Christianity, the ringmaster is Satan. He is standing in the middle of that big red tent, directing the performance. “Yes, that’s right,” he says. To the clown: “Don’t you dare show your true colors.” To the tightrope walker: “You (and everyone else) must be perfect or it was all a complete failure.” To the lion tamer: “Anyone who disagrees with you should be treated as a hostile.” To the fire-eater: “Give them a good thrill!” To the bearded lady: “You are not worth anything.” Satan applauds it all…anything that makes us ineffective, impotent Christians.

How many spectators of a circus do you know who watch it, and then decide they’re going to go join up and become part of the circus, too? It’s just a show; something to do…see what those crazy Circus Christians are up to now. There is nothing remotely desirable in it.

So, this is a call to all Christians – step out of the circus! Stop doing tricks and putting on shows. Become a real person with real purpose as God has called us to. Be engaged with those around you and with what you believe. Don’t be afraid of people questioning things; know that God is big enough to handle their questions as well as your own. Don’t pretend to have it all together; if you don’t know, say so. Respond to people with the love that God asks us to respond with. Don’t focus on your own insecurities or other people’s faults; focus on God’s strength and the way He can make something out of anyone – just like He does over and over again in the Bible.

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