Christ’s Mission

Transcending the Places that Hold You

12 December 2014

Aragorn: What do you fear, my lady?
Eowyn: A cage. To stay behind bars until use and old age accept them and all chance of valor has gone beyond recall or desire.

“It is very important to transcend the places that hold you.” – Rubin Carter, in The Hurricane

There are only a few things that have ever really scared me.

  • The selfishness of my heart.
  • That I might not be worth loving.
  • That my love for others was fraudulent.
  • That I might disappoint God.
  • Injustice towards my children.

These have each taken turns possessing my attention, consuming my spirit. I have been, and though my spiritual muscle has been beefed up through use, continue to be vulnerable to them.

They come and go, in decreasing intensity, as my days go by. I hate them, but they have also become my friends, my most faithful allies in ushering me to my place, on my knees, before God.

But there is one fear that is ever-present. It eats at me consistently, and it is my best of friends, my most loyal ally in keeping the fire of love burning between me and my Maker. It stirs me to belief and action when I look it in the eyes, and it stares at me awaiting my attention when I momentarily ignore it to settle in and watch TV.

It is my fear of contentment.

There is a good kind of contentment. It is other-worldly, and captured by a verse in a book that chose me long ago, written by a man who has been dead over 2000 years, but is still teaching me: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” – Paul, in Philippians 4:13

That contentment does not scare me. That is the kind I crave. A capacity to be and live the same wherever I am, with whoever I am with, in whatever circumstance, doing everything that I should do, no matter what, because of His strength.

It is the bad kind of contentment that I fear. It is captured by another verse in that book: “We do not want you to become lazy , but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. We want you to show diligence to the very end.” – Heb 6:11-12

I can see it so clearly, even as I sense most others around can’t, or won’t, mostly because they don’t have or make the time to acknowledge it. I feels a bit like Neo and his crew in the Matrix, surrounded by people living busy, hurried, even good lives, but oblivious that they are mindlessly subscribing to a system that is designed to keep them asleep… or content.

I fear being content with that system. The system woos me. It courts me. It invites me to submit, to comply, even offering to slap some Christian labels on me that I might enjoy, and just enough difficulty to feel like I’m a martyr for Christ, without really being one. It’s like it knows me.

But my fear of contentment keeps me going. It keeps me believing. It keeps me dreaming. It keeps me rebelling, creating, insisting, and moving. It keeps me loving.

I do NOT want to lose that fear, and I am in more danger of it than I have ever been, because I have the choice to make my current spot very comfortable, and that is seductive. But if I drop nicely into this system, and I allow use or old age to make me accept them, I would be dead already without even knowing it.

And ignorance would be “bliss”. That is why it is tempting.

But it would not be life. That is why I’m grateful for my friend… my fear of it.

It is very important to transcend the places that hold you. The only perk that I can think of that an actual prison has is that it is clearly visible, and its dangers overt and obvious. The invisible one that all of us live in, not so much.

I have no bow to tie this piece up with, even though it is Christmas. I write it as a warning, and it is not for you.

It is for me.

I Wish Christmas Created This in Our Kids

5 December 2014

You know… because Jesus said “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” and stuff like that.

 

 

 

The Great Invitation – Being vs. Doing

19 November 2014

“When I was focused on doing God’s work, I was fast-paced and exasperated, accomplishing much. When I focused on being God’s man, I became peacefully and refreshingly busy.” – Yours Truly

We in Christian circles are familiar with what we call the Great Commission of Christ in Matthew 28 that exhorts us to go and make disciples of Jesus. We are equally familiar with what we call the Great Commandment of Christ in Matthew 22, which exalts love for God and neighbor above all else.

These are defining words out of the mouth of Jesus for anyone who would claim to follow Him. At least they should be. And they should become noticeably defining characteristics in those same people, or it would be right to question their stated association to the name of Christ.

Okay, so there is that.

But there are some other words, recorded in another verse, that I believe are equally worthy of our attention. Worthy of our lives. Vital, even, should we desire to live anywhere close to the Great Commission and Great Commandment lifestyle. As a matter of fact, it is the ignorance of these words that may explain how it is that many professed Christ followers fail to the live a life that is marked by a Great Commandment loving demeanor or a Great Commission disciple-making fruitfulness.

I realize I may not be the first to do so, but I don’t know anyone who has, so I’d like to call it the Great Invitation. And it is found in Matthew 11, and like the Commandment and the Commission, is spoken by Jesus himself.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Notice that just as there are two commands in the Great Commandment, there are two (maybe even three) invitations in the Great Invitation, both of which promise rest. It is Andrew Murray who pointed out to me that the first invitation is to come to Jesus, and that by doing so, there is an immediate gift of rest for the weary. There is an initial burden lifted. It could be argued that the very meaning of “coming to Jesus” in an initial way is to receive his offer to unburden yourself of responsibility for the heavy weight of sin and put it on his shoulders (The relief I feel just by typing it is palpable!).

Invitation #2, Murray taught me, is to take the “yoke” of Jesus, and to learn from him. Jesus is inviting us to become his students, his scholars. He is inviting us to apply our attention to who he is, how he is, and what he says, and not merely for education’s sake. He is literally promising a transformation into a life of even deeper rest (“for your souls,” he says this time). But only if we become master students of his. And just in case someone wants to disqualify themselves as not good “mastery” material, Jesus ends the invitation by saying that his “yoke” is easy, and his burden is something that the most feeble of people can carry.

The order of these Great Things matters. The Great Invitation is listed by Matthew long before the Great Commandment, which is likewise listed long before the the Great Commission. Don’t think it matters? Well, just try to go and make disciples of Jesus without first developing a deep heart of love for God and others and see how long you last. Or just try to develop that deep heart of love without giving the burden of your sins to Jesus, or without becoming his pupil, and see how long you last. Yes, the order matters. Way too much damage has been done to the name of Jesus by churches that try to make disciples from something other than a heart of love. And way too much weariness, discouragement, and despair has come to individuals who try to maintain authentic love for God and people when they have not yoked themselves up with Jesus, abiding with and in him, and (most importantly) he in them.

The order matters, but the order of these “Greats” is not the headline for me in this post, it is the number of them. The proclamation I’m making today, is that I have been guilty of promoting the Great Commission/Great Commandment lifestyle without properly elevating the enabler of them both – the Great Invitation. Not consciously, of course, and perhaps many of my hearers have assumed the Invitation when I’ve spoken of the Commandment and the Commission. But no more will I fail to elevate Matthew 11 to the status of Matthew 22 and 28.

Why? I don’t want to “make” a bunch of exasperated “doers.” I want to co-create with Christ the making of disciples. When someone is focused on “being” a disciple, they will “do” plenty, but without the burden of feeling like they are the savior, and it all rides on them.

May we who follow Christ life the Great Invitation, Great Commandment, Great Commission life. And may those of us who play any part in leading church families lead them into being Great Invitation, Great Commandment, Great Commission churches.

God help us.

Writing Down a More Beautiful Life

14 April 2014

“Write down the revelation.” – Habakkuk 2:2

“Everything in life is writable about if you have the crazy outgoing guts to do it, and the vivid imagination to improvise as you go.  The worst enemy to creativity and excellence is ‘stuck-ness’ caused by self-consciousness and self-doubt.” – Sylvia Plath

I have not taken the time to write much as of late. And the quote above from Sylvia confronts me in this. I have just not had the “crazy outgoing guts to do it,” having allowed myself to settle into a “stuck-ness” caused by an unhealthy self-consciousness (cleverly disguised as a healthy self-awareness) and an debilitating self-doubt (cleverly disguised as humility).

I have some very good excuses for not writing much, all of which are unarguable and easily defendable, but I will spare you them, because, if you go but one thin layer underneath, this is not about that.

If my writing is about a selfless sharing of my life, and about the raw need to keep it real, and about my desire to improve on the truth that I have found in order to adopt what is truer, then there is no excuse that can satisfy my own spirit.

No one can “hold me accountable” to writing. There is no moral imperative they can appeal to, no literal life and death that they can point towards, nothing so detrimental about “not writing” that they can show me, no “job description” that I was hired to do that can be threatened. Not to mention that any effort at offering accountability for anything is more than easily dismissed by the one being “held.”

You can’t make an elephant move by saying it must, or should. The elephant must want to move.

And we are all elephants.

So I must do the work of wanting to write. I must be about the journey of attributing it some sort of value, if there is indeed any to be had. Any use that it has for others is nice, and sometimes encouraging. But that is not enough. Having a witness or two to my life interested just enough to read about it is important to most. But it’s not enough to keep writing either.

Ultimately, I have some lonely work to do that can only be done by myself and God.

He and I alone must wrestle about meaning. About life. About ease and suffering, and when each is called for. About potential vs. kinetic energy within me. He and I alone must wrestle. He against me, and me against me. I’m grateful that He and I are on the same side, because it will take both to subdue the part of me that is growing old enough to not care anymore. To not try anymore.

I don’t want to not care. And I don’t want to not try. But the gravity toward it is so strong. And I’m scared to mess something up, at this point, by acting too boldly.

You all get that this is not about writing, yes? I do. I totally get it.

But for me, today, it is the useful prop that God is using as a heart-excavating probe. You have one, too, if you’ll just have the guts to see it.

So I cannot speak for tomorrow… but today, when I didn’t feel like writing, I wrote. This is God and I warring against the part of me that would just as soon go about life doing the bare minimum, or just hurriedly meet the many demands coming my way so that I can justify myself from any sort of higher calling, or just do the house chores while watching TV and call it being a good husband while getting others to agree with me, and then calling it a day.

This is personal. It always is. I can write about it, but there is a part of it that cannot be shared. It can only be known, and explored, and exploited by me and God. It is our work to do. It is our battle against not caring. Against not trying. Against not dying before I actually die.

It is a battle against not loving.

May God help us.

The Do-Gooder’s Battlefield

31 July 2013

“To be doing good deeds is man’s most glorious task.” – Sophocles

“For we are God’s workmanship , created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” – St. Paul 

The first battle that must be won for a person to become an unstoppable force for good is the battle over self.

From the moment we are born, we are concerned with, consumed by, and communicating what we perceive to be our needs and wants. Sometime between birth and the successful arrival of a person as good, he or she has come to grips with this truth and overcome it.

The second battle that must be won for a person to become an unstoppable force for good is the battle over pride.

Ironically, this is a second battle over self. Doing good has this incredible tendency of making you feel good, and on top of that, it gets you a lot of praise from others, which also feels good. As a result, it is difficult to not end up finding your value from these things. This makes the doing of good a means of feeling good about yourself, making it prideful. Some get stuck here, becoming masters at doing just enough good to feel good and/or impress others. But many realize their doing of good has ceased to be for good, and they overcome pride.

The third battle that must be won for a person to become an unstoppable force for good is the battle over effectiveness.

For statisticians or capitalists who require a good return for their labor, becoming an unstoppable force for good is not possible. The doing of good is the do-gooder’s reward, not the results. By definition, if you require a good return, then you will be stoppable in your doing of good if there is not a good return.

The fourth battle that must be won for a person to become an unstoppable force for good is the battle over judgmentalism.

Nothing stops a do-gooder quicker than his or her own judgment of the worthiness of a recipient. Do-gooders do not judge the worthiness of recipients, they assume the worthiness of a recipient. This allows him or her to never waste energy discerning whether to do good or not, and directs it towards what is the good that needs to be done.

The fifth battle that must be won for a person to become an unstoppable force for good is the battle over self-martyrdom.

Even though a do-gooder knows he or she cannot do all the good that needs to be done in the world, they do want to feel like they are doing all that they can do, so each one seems to go through a season (if they trust a guide, it is shorter, but for most, it is horribly long) where they say yes to just a bit more than they can or should or are called to handle. Do-gooders are paradoxically strong and fragile, able to maintain a decent performance at “too much” for long periods of time, the cost being their inward peace, their emotional steadfastness, their physical health, and their energy for God and loved ones. The payoff of this self-inflicted, just-over-the-edge-but-sustainable schedule is the ability to say with (delusional) confidence, “I am doing all I can,” pointing to their self-martyrdom as their proof. Burnout and bitterness is the inevitable result of this, and it must be conquered if one wants to be a life-long doer of good.

The sixth battle that must be won for a person to become an unstoppable force for good is the battle over diminishment.

Many do-gooders feel under-qualified, or dis-qualified, to do good. What’s more, there is usually at least one “foe” who will be glad to validate and even try to prove that this is true. Doing good, however, is never a matter of qualification, but willingness. There may be certain good things that a person needs that you can’t do, but there is never nothing good for you to do for them (even if it is sometimes the doing of “nothing” – which it often is). There is a fine line between humility and diminishment, and do-gooders become masters at separating them.

The sixth battle that must be won for a person to become an unstoppable force for good is the battle over demand.

Life long, unstoppable do-gooders naturally become very good at doing good. At some point, a tipping point is reached, and opportunities for doing good, that he or she used to search for eagerly, not come knocking, calling, and emailing, most all of them legitimate and worthy. Add to that, the ideas of brand new ways to do good start rushing into the do-gooders imagination, each one possible needing a lifetime of investment to pursue, develop, and leave behind as a legacy. Many do-gooders shrink back at this point, drowning in opportunity, paralyzed in inability to prioritize one above another. The strategies for doing so are almost as numerous as there are do-gooders, but if they are to be unstoppable, they win this battle somehow, someway.

I’m certain there are many other battles ahead that I have yet to experience, and some current that I have yet to identify. Anyone have some?

That is Not True

29 November 2012

I was visiting a friend who is in the hospital this week, and ran into another friend who is one of my true allies in the mission of love that I am on in my life.

With a mixture of horror, gratitude, and awe, she briefly recounted an experience from the day before. She was by the bedside of a young boy around 14 years old who was dying. This boy’s older sister was sitting in the room next to the wall, the mother was standing over the bed of her son, howling with uncontrollable tears and sobs, desperately pleading with him to “not leave her.”

Pause. Let’s acknowledge the fact that most people in the world do not experience these kinds of moments. By “these kinds of moments”, I’m speaking of moments that are unescapably raw and real. Moments that are so unconsciously intense and gripping, that a necessary, uncontrollable, and un-censorable emotional honesty, that does not care  how it is comes across to those around them. Can not care. So do not judge. Just witness.

The mom, in the actual, real-time face of losing her beloved son, was wailing and desperately appealing to everyone with reasons why this must not happen, using as many different sentences as her urgently distraught mind could come up with. My friend is standing by the bed, facing her, with the woman’s daughter in her view just over the shoulder of the mom. My friend was doing her best to “be with it all” – witnessing this desperate pain, undone with the magnitude of her task to give care, coming up empty when searching for words to accompany the sorrow and tears that she was sharing with this family.

Then it happened.

Something completely understandable, and entirely false, came out of mom’s mouth. She looked up, drowning in her pain, right at my friend and said, “He can’t die! He is the only joy that I have in my life!”

My sister-at-arms found herself glancing quickly back and forth between the piercing eyes of the mom and those of the daughter (who’s head jerked up to meet hers at this latest pronouncement). And with a surprisingly authoritative voice, equaled only by a loving compassion in her tone and eyes, she looked right at the daughter and said, “That is not true,” and then looked right into the eyes of the mom, and said it again, “That is not true.”

The mom looked over her shoulder and saw her precious daughter, instantly realized what she was saying, and ran to her, hugging her, instantly letting her girl know that she knew that what she had just said, sure enough, was not true. And she embraced her daughter, allowing the untruth of what she just said be washed away by their shared suffering and tears. Mom, who was losing her son, realized that she was not losing her daughter, and that her daughter was losing a brother. And with this, the potential wound that could have been inflicted on her daughter’s heart based on an understandable, but completely false statement innocently spoken while drowning in emotions…didn’t happen.

Because someone was there to speak the truth out loud. Someone was there to expose it as a lie.

As far as I’m concerned, my friend is nothing short of a peace-bringing hero. A relationship saving, heart-protecting, love-advancing, healing-inducing hero of epic proportions.

She didn’t plan this. She couldn’t have. She just had to be willing to be there to let it happen. She had to be willing to walk into the uncomfortable place of human suffering and pain. She just had to be there and not run. She had to be there and not find and use a reasonable excuse to leave the room. She just had to go and stand in that space with people in their most vulnerable and intense experiences.

And she did. And she does. It costs her. It costs her some tears. It costs her some time. It costs her some comfort. It might even cost her some sleep.

But…

She saved people. And saving people, in my book, is worth any cost.  I don’t do it perfectly, this walking into things, and neither do all my allies, like this sister. But it’s what our friend and teacher, Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ did. And we want to be like him. We want to do what he did. We want to do what he does.

We want to save people. Like we’ve been saved. Like we are being saved.

All she had to be was willing. The words came to her when she needed them, precisely when they were needed, and – boom – a miracle.

Dear reader, would you please join her?

Dear God, would you please help us?

How Will I Best Impact People

29 August 2012

I admit it. I want to impact people. I want to impact people for good. I want to impact people for a particular kind of good. I want to impact people with Christ. With his life, his message, his example, and his ways.

But…how?

Should I write? Should I write books? Should I write blogs? Would this be how I could best impact people?

Should I talk? Should I preach at a local church? Should I teach at a local church? Should I accept speaking engagements? Should I do training seminars? Should I be the guest speaker at retreats? Should I host my own retreats based on a variety of meaningful themes? Should I continue my education and become a professor at a college? Would this be how I could best impact people?

Should I lead? Should I organize a church family in a way that impacts them and others through them? Should I spearhead a ministry program or push and initiative among people, getting them to buy in for their good and others that they end up serving? Would this be how I could best impact people?

Should I counsel? Should I walk into the mess of people’s lives and help them navigate it? Should I create and multiply support groups for the wide range of specialized needs that I encounter? Should I continue my education and counsel professionally? Would this be how I could best impact people?

Should I mentor? Should I clear my schedule for nothing but one on one relationships? Should I proactively and lovingly pursue people who need mentoring? Should I reactively and lovingly respond to people who pursue me for mentoring? Should I create mentoring groups? Would this be how I could best impact people?

Whatever I do, do I do it here in my current hometown? Do I do it in my old hometown? Do it find a new hometown? A new country? Would this be how I could best impact people?

“Just pick one!” I hear myself say to me. Okay. But how?

“Just do whichever one you like the most!” I hear myself say to me. Okay, but that just seems either selfish, or hard to discern. I “like” them all.

“Do them all!” I hear myself say to me. Okay. But I know for a fact that a yes to anything is a no to something else, and the doing of everything is the choice to do nothing really, really well.

“Just stop thinking about it so hard!” I hear myself say to me. Okay. And on this one, I really mean, okay. Because the possibilities seem so vast and weighty and overwhelming that it certainly is just easier to flip on the TV and forget about it.

But it just keeps coming back. Nagging. Inviting. Pushing.

And for this I am grateful. It means I still care. It means I still love.

And above all else, no matter what I do, no matter what I choose, no matter where I land, live, or linger – I want to keep loving.

How should you make your difference?

If

7 August 2012

“Get your rest. It’s vital to life. But don’t use ‘rest’ as a cover up for fear, cowardice, irresponsibility, laziness, wastefulness, or indulgence.” – Yours Truly

 

Below is a piece entitle “IF.”

A friend and mentor of mine introduced it to me years ago, and he brings it up periodically – just enough to allow me to use it to gauge my progress into manhood.

 

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

 

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;

If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools;

 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings,

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

 

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, 

Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

– Rudyard Kipling

 

The last “IF” is what is haunting me currently.

Can I fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run?

I’m training for Tough Mudder right now, which will take place in Austin on October 6th. It is serving me as a living analogy for this question. As I train, I am in a constant state of deciding whether or not I will give 100% or not, whether I will push through some element of the training and feel the victory of having done so, or collapse into “rest” and feel the ease and comfort of compromise.

In the long run, the Tough Mudder matters very little. But what it represents for me right now matters very much.

We’ve all been given about 75 years (give or take) of 60 second runs. I’m 44.

Join me in developing a massive distaste for collapsing into ease. May God Himself make us all uncomfortable with comfort.

The Blessing/Curse of a Christian Inner Life

8 February 2012

“We demolish arguments and every motive that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” –  Paul, in 2 Corinthians 10:5-6

To “be like Christ” is never to be mistaken as a strictly outward project. Decidedly choosing discipleship is to decidedly turn your attention inward. As one progresses, the simple focus on transforming outward actions and behaviors moves to include transforming every thought, every feeling, every judgment, every attitude, and every motive. introspection

No one argues that these are found inside of us, as is the Kingdom of God (Lk 17:21). So it is here, folks, that you must go – into the inner world of thoughts, feelings, motives, attitudes and beliefs – if the greatest Kingdom success is to be achieved in and through you.

It is effective, horrible work.

Effective because these inner inhabitants are the source of your outward behaviors that seemed before so hard to permanently change. As you advance in the skill of inward surrender to Christ (you could call this your own crucifixion), the Kingdom’s thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and motives crowd out your fallen ones, and you quite naturally begin to behave outwardly in alignment with Christ. So, this is effective.

Horrible because when you do exhibit an outward behavior that is not aligned with Christ, you are now quite sensitive to the fact that this superficial and relatively insignificant action is evidence of a much deeper and profound problem: there are still inward parts of you that have not been given over to God and to love.

Before, when you began your journey into Christlikeness, you explained your outward failures with the truth that your sins are forgiven, even when you “fall”. You learned to not feel guilt, receive God’s potent grace, and accept yourself as an imperfect sinner who will always fall in one manner or another. You learned that in terms of your eternal security, your imperfection is not a serious issue. This took time to grow into, partly because it is such good news that it is hard to believe, but partly because you also knew that your sinfulness is, in fact, a very serious issue. But if not because it threatens your eternal security, then why?

Your “falls” matter because you have grown to care about pleasing God.

See, when you advance, and you learn to spend time with Christ within yourself, where he resides and works powerfully (Col 1:27-29), you learn that his aim is nothing short of perfecting you, for your own good and God’s pleasure and glory. And as you are converted further, you begin to follow Christ not merely for the selfish desire of Heavenly security, but out of a selfless desire to love and please God.

As this conversion happens, you find yourself less and less able to remain in the theological hiding place that you fled to as a spiritual child (the one that says, “Don’t dare aim for or believe that you can be perfect, for you are merely human. You are not and never will be Jesus Christ”).

When this begins to happen, it is important for you to accept something and allow it to happen: Your reasonable side is being overcome by your belief.

This belief in your perfection comes not because of some high estimation of yourself or your ability, on the contrary, it comes from your high estimation of Christ and his ability. It is from humility, not arrogance, that you must come to believe in your own perfection. In other words, humility insists that your ability to sin is not more powerful than Christ’s ability to love and transform. When you are humble and lowly enough to admit this, you read the Bible differently, at face value, believing it rather than explaining it away with your earth-bound logic and reason.

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” – Mt 5:48

“You have been given fullness in Christ.” – Col 2:10

“My power is made perfect in weakness.” – 2 Cor 12:9

“By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” – Heb 10:14

“Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” – Jms 1:4

“Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” – 1 Jn 2:6

The blessing of the inner life is that we are free to believe, our frequent failures notwithstanding, that these things (perfection, fullness, holiness, maturity, completeness, Christlikeness) are indeed attainable. And we can do so without fear of thinking too highly of ourselves simply because we have finally allowed for the fact that “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20), and we have humbly admitted that “with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Mt 19:26).

The curse of the inner life is that we can no longer console ourselves that it is insignificant when we behave or think wrongly, which is any action outside of the realm of love for God and neighbor. It is a tortuously narrow road you walk, but not because you must fear losing salvation (which is also an arrogant position, by the way, to think that your sin is more powerful than your Savior’s blood), but because you fear hurting people, and worse, you fear misrepresenting Christ – who is your life.

So here is to the blessing and curse of the inner life – the life of the Kingdom – the life of Christ – the Christ who lives in you.

May God help us all.

 


 

Christianity: Who Is In and Who is Out?

3 February 2012

If Christianity is a certain set of theological facts, then whoever agrees with those facts is in, everyone else is out.

If Christianity is a particular set of worship practices done in a particular way, then whoever organizes their worship services with those practices is in, everyone else is out.

If Christianity is a specific set of moral behaviors, then whoever lives by those moral behaviors is in, everyone else is out.

If Christianity is active participation with or financial backing of the programs and ministries and services of a church, then whoever actively participates with or financially backs the programs of a church is in, everyone else is out.

If Christianity is the steadfast practice of a regular quiet time with God, then whoever has a regular quiet time with God is in, everyone else is out.

If Christianity is knowledge of the Bible, then whoever knows the Bible is in, everyone else is out.

If Christianity is the accurate application of Christ’s teachings to your political views and practices, then whoever applies Christ’s teachings to their political views is in, everyone else is out.

If Christianity is the practice of tolerance, then whoever tolerates everything in everyone is in, everyone else is out.

If Christianity is the practice of getting everyone to believe a certain way, then whoever goes around trying to get everyone to do so is in, everyone else is out.

If Christianity is the thoughtful dialogue between those sincerely interested or invested in Christ, then whoever has a sincere interest or investment in Christ and engages is thoughtful dialogue about it is in, everyone else is out.

And if Christianity is the open and honest, skeptical but hopeful, courageous questioning and challenging of religious or theological beliefs, then whoever does that is in, everyone else is out.

But Christianity is not, in my humble opinion, any of that.

Nothing you can simply do is fully Christianity. While you can’t do nothing and truly be “in” as a Christian, it is not the simple doing of something that makes you Christian. Christianity motivates certain actions in one’s life, but those actions can not be called Christianity.

Nothing you can simply admit to believe is fully Christianity, either. Now, believing certainly matters. And one can not be “in” as a Christian without it, and the objects of those beliefs matter as well. But a simple profession of belief in some theological or historical fact, publically or privately admitted to, even if sealed as true with some sacramental religious action of some sort, is not Christianity.

So what, in my opinion, is Christianity, you may ask?

Before I answer, you need to re-read my list above as a confession. I have or do practice everything on that list. My crime, in my estimation of things, is not that I have or do practice any of those things – only that I call any one of them the sum total of Christianity. In fact, a secret to understanding my conviction about what Christianity is, and who is in and who is out, is to understand what I mean when I say that I think all of the above statements contain “some truth.” I won’t belabor the point today – I’ll just leave it at, “he who has an ear, let him hear.”

I believe quite passionately that Christianity is a way of life.

I believe this way of life is best defined by studying and conforming one’s life to the example and teachings of it’s namesake, Jesus Christ.

I believe the best (but not only) way of studying the life and teachings of Jesus Christ is done by diligently spending time in the Gospels of the Bible.

I believe the best (and only) way of conforming your life to that life and teaching is done by dying to (or putting to death) all other ways of living.

Said another way, Christianity is a life of following and being shaped by the heart, mission, character and priorities of Jesus.

Who is in? Well, it seems to me that Christ would admit anyone into discipleship who sincerely desired to follow him.

I know lots of people who believe like I believe, and practice worship the same I practice worship, and adhere to the same moral code that I adhere to, who simultaneously show very little desire to practice Christianity. On the other hand, I know others who believe very differently than me, who have worship practices that I do not, who struggle profoundly to live the moral life that I have come to practice, but are devoted to following Christ and to conforming their lives more and more into Christ’s way of life.

So who’s in? It’s not my call, praise God, it’s His. I admit that in my practice of “fellowshipping” with people, the farther along that I perceive someone to be in their devotion to following Christ, the deeper the fellowship (friendship, partnership, companionship) I invite. But as to the practice of proclaiming definitively and authoritatively to my fellow man who I think I can declare is “in” or “out,” I just can not do it.

Why?

Because Christianity is described, above all other words, as love. Every single thing I do has to make sense under the banner of Christianity’s greatest command to love God and love others. The Lord I follow said that everything is summed up by this way of living – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Well, I don’t want others to render judgment on me in God’s place, so I will not render judgment on them in God’s place. By doing my best to love everyone, up to and including my enemy, I find myself living in a way that looks more and more like Christ’s way.

God help me.

Next Page »