Responsible Love

Self-denial and suffering in this life are the promises of Christ to His church.

……………

I’m not sure what to say after that. Sarcastic rants, tempting to write as they may be, are not the best choice, here.

This is not a forum for church-bashing. On the contrary, the fact that the few of us are still meeting together in some form of sporadic regularity, despite the complete loss of purpose, says much about our determination. To be honest, I’m going through a time of serious self-reflection about my own lack of faith.

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer has completely wrecked me. Anybody who is curious to know what I mean by that and feels particularly self-flagellant, by all means, read the first few chapters and tell me your thoughts, if you want. WARNING: this is not for the casual Christian bookstore literature reader.

My copy1 contains a Forward by Bishop G. K. A. Bell, a personal friend of Bonhoeffer, Memoir by G. Leibholz, and an Introduction, all well worth reading. But I encourage you to jump right in, if you want. Go back and look at these when you get a feel for what’s going down in the book. Front stuff can be off-putting for some, and this is best started with a running leap into the deep end, in my opinion. Just get into it.

In chapter one, “Costly Grace,” Bonhoeffer explains the difference between “cheap grace” and “costly grace,” allowing the reader to understand, right away, where he’s coming from with these two operational definitions. Pay attention to what you’re reading. Don’t let your mind drift. This is not so much over your head, as cloaked by our spiritual contamination, something very few people in the modern world can circumvent, given our over-exposure to sensory stimulation.

I look forward to hearing your reflections on this. Cathy, I’m talking to you. Guys, I’m not going to lie; this is hardcore stuff, but it’s good stuff. There’s a reason this book is mentioned in low, reverential tones. If you’re through playing around in the kiddie pool, and you want to go deep into the heart of responsible love, come on in. I dare you.

__________________________

  1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 1st Touchstone ed. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995).

Cross-Road

The message of the cross: we don’t want to hear it.

This could be one reason why much of the American church has, over time, delegated the full extent of its revelation to the obscurity of near nonexistence.  The central focus of the Judeo-Christian faith has been almost completely omitted in the modern church’s declaration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How has this happened? Christian bookstores are filled with mediocre “cheer up” messages which are little more than over-priced, humanistic self-help manuals. We “encourage” one another with “buck up, lil’ Buckaroo” admonishments and helpful hints based on “how I overcame this-and-such in my life.” We pick and choose our theologies based on the Big Three: Prosperity, Good Works, and Empty Encouragement.

Prosperity and Godliness

Prosperity teaching, in one form or another, could be the most prevalent heresy promoted from the pulpit since the early days of the Church. Anything other than complete financial success is interpreted as God’s punishment for the Faithless and/or the Non-tither. Poverty is used as a threat, and looked upon as a curse, even though Christ’s ministry on earth is a template for Christian self-denial. We love the reciprocity verses, focusing entire teachings, even ministries, upon its precepts (Luke 6:38*). We justify whole sermon series targeted at monetary giving by reminding the bench-warmers that their money is God’s money and, therefore, belongs to the church to redistribute as it sees fit. We tell ourselves that the on-staff missions’ pastor knows how to better use God’s provision while we comfort ourselves with excuses for not handing a fiver to the man on the corner holding a homemade cardboard sign. “He should work for his bread,” we say. “Those who do not work, do not eat,” we paraphrase Paul’s words. Yet, Paul’s admonishments were directed at those who misused the gifts given to the church by the faithful. These were words aimed at the Body of Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 3). On the contrary, we are continually instructed by the scriptures to care for the poor (Matthew 19:21; Mark 10:21; Luke 4:18; Luke 14:13; Luke 19:8; Romans 15:26; Galatians 2:10; James 2:1-7). It’s not my job to judge the man on the corner or presume to know what he will do with “my” money. I thought it was God’s money, anyway, so what do I care what happens next?

Nice Guys

Good works are good, so long as they are done in secret and glorify God, not myself (Matthew 6:1-4). The minute that my motivation is to posture myself in front of others, everything that follows is garbage (Luke 6:26; Philippians 3:7). The only attention I should ever draw should be directed toward Abba who is worthy of all glory. Period.

Going Nowhere

Finally, empty encouragement, while well-meaning, does far more harm than good. When we pile compliments on others because we love that despairing person and want so much for him or her to feel that love, we’re only putting a Band-Aid on an open artery. The kindest thing any brother or sister in Christ can do for me, is tell me the truth (1 Corinthians 13-6). Our motivation should always be love, but love seeks what is good for those who are loved. It’s like giving the wrong directions to a fellow motorist who suspects he needs help, but is, somehow, certain that he knows where he is going. We don’t want to contradict him or hurt his feelings, even though we know he’s headed for a collapsed bridge (Proverbs 14:12). Maybe we’re so taken by his knowledge of cars and driving, that we begin to doubt our own understanding of direction. This is a particularly tough one for me. Every time I skip out on an opportunity to read the Word, I’m in danger of getting turned around, myself, which causes all my well-intended direction-giving to be more harmful than helpful.

The message of the cross is suffering and rejection. I don’t want to hear that. Everything in me is desperate to soft-lens its stark reality. My need for self-preservation screams out for validation. How can I trust a God who would send His own Son to dwell among those who would despise and reject Him? How can I say, “Yes,” to His promise that I will most certainly suffer for the sake of His Name (John 16:33)? I can joyfully accept Christ’s call, because whether I follow Him, or not, I suffer, but when I share in the fellowship of His sufferings I neither suffer needlessly, nor alone. I am freed from the fear of poverty; I am justified by His death and resurrection, and I rest in the Godly council of people who love me enough to tell me the truth.

 

*Not to keep beating a dead horse, but please reference Luke 6:37 in order to understand     what kind of “giving” Jesus may be referencing in Luke 6:38 (i.e. judgement, condemnation, forgiveness).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tales from the Crypt

What is truth?

Wow. What an amazingly pretentious beginning to a blog. I have no shame. Let’s go there.

Philosophers have pondered its meaning, and religious groups have claimed to possess its sole source. Almost everybody in the first world experiences some form of eye-rolling at its mere mention. I don’t care. I keep thinking that the concept of truth is a good place to start.

About fifteen years ago, I began asking God to tell me the truth, as much as I could handle, as much as I could comprehend. Why would I do such a thing? Perhaps there existed within me a need, a desire for stability. Living is a precarious endeavor. We all have our illusions, the stories we tell ourselves that help us go to sleep at night. We like to believe that we are essentially good, that the things we do are reasonable and rational. In order to be a good, reasonable, rational individual, I must believe that the way I view myself and others is the correct way. This illusion, this story, becomes my personal truth.

But if this peculiar life philosophy, this truth, lends itself not to my benefit, but to my harm or the harm of those who are important to me, I begin to question my version of the truth. This is the situation in which I found myself fifteen years ago. My version of the truth wasn’t delivering. My life felt empty and purposeless. Even though I had aggressively embraced mainstream American Christianity, I felt lost and confused. All I wanted was the truth, because the fabric of my reality was unraveling and wearing thin. Whatever the truth could be, however painful its revelation, it had to be better than the nameless dread that haunted my once-comforting bedtime stories.

That’s what I thought, anyway.

I relate quite well to the rich young ruler who approached Jesus about eternal life in the book of Matthew, chapter nineteen, verses sixteen through twenty-two. The young man had created his own truth, but it must not have been working for him, either. Something felt wrong, and I believe he was sincerely seeking answers. Jesus knew the heart of the Seeker, just as he knew the real answer the man was seeking, even though he didn’t offer it, right away. He gave the young man an out, an easy answer, because the Master knew that the young ruler already knew the truth. The scriptures tell the reader that the young man went away, sorrowful, because the truth was too costly. For all the comforts that surrounded him, he could no longer afford his own illusions.

I suspect, like the rich young ruler, I already knew the truth. Abba gave me an out, an easy answer, because He knew I wasn’t ready to give up a good night’s sleep. He knew that I didn’t want it badly enough to let go of my illusions and trust Him.

How badly do I want the truth? What am I willing to sell to acquire it (Matt. 13:45, 46)?

Get Ready

*Note to my peeps: Don’t panic. You’re in the right place. I thought it was time for a new look.

As a recently reestablished resident of the Metro Nashville area in Nashville, TN, my husband and I have been engaged in the disheartening activity of finding a church to attend. Here’s a little background:

Once Upon a Time

I have been a member of a church, either in Tennessee or Texas, for most of my life. That means I have regularly attended, tithed, and served in different capacities in various mainstream denominational and nondenominational churches throughout most of my fifty-year lifespan. My family has been, traditionally, some incarnation of conservative Baptist. As a young adult in the 1980s, I switched to nondenominational, which has been the mainstay of my religious observance from that time until now.

My husband’s family attended the local Baptist church, as well, confining the bulk of their attendance to holidays and other special occasions. Because he is twelve years older than me, his experience of “Christian America” may entertain a slightly different vantage point, but not enough to affect a noticeable difference in our spiritual perspectives. Another important point to be made is the fact that we are newlyweds—a precious story for another time—which is certainly a factor in this discussion.

Where Do We Start?

Several weeks ago, we began our search on the Internet. Nashville has undergone a massive transformation from the city of my youth. Upon my return from a twenty-plus year tour of Texas, I encountered a beautiful, albeit alien, terrain. Thank goodness for Google! I can’t believe I used to drive around without it. Churches are everywhere so crawling the web helps to narrow the choices down a bit. Of course, prayer has been our key resource.

From sanctuaries and auditoriums, bleachers, folding chairs, and pews, I’ve engaged in enough congregations to have honed a specific criteria of what I’m looking for. Oddly, this list has become shorter over the years, which is noteworthy considering how church programs seem to be steadily lengthening. Confession moment: I should disclose the fact that I have spent the better part of the last decade in a weird sort of disillusionment regarding the Christian church in America. I found it increasingly difficult, at times, to attend. In his own life over the years, my husband, who became intensely involved in the Renewal Movement of the mid-nineties and active in prison ministry, eventually became discouraged, as well, preferring to worship privately through biblically sound, teaching tools (podcasts, recordings, etc.) and prayer. In my experience, no matter how sweet the people, how sound the teaching, or how moving the worship experience, I consistently came away with a growing sense of loss, like we were missing something—something important.

Now What?

More and more, I find that I am not alone in this unsettling revelation. I am an avid reader and researcher concerning cultural shifts within populations. The American church is an endless source of observable data. While the Focus of our devotion is unchanging, our expression of His worship exists in a perpetual state of regeneration. Why, then, are so many once-committed Believers now choosing football and sandwiches over the wine and the bread (Hebrews 10:24-26)?

I would like to end this installment, here, and ask my readers to reflect upon this discussion. I will leave my comments section open. In the past, I have closed it, enabling me to read the content before allowing it to be seen by the public. Because I intend this to be an open discussion, I’m taking the safeguards off. Remember, we are discussing the Bride of Christ. No matter her state, she is His bride and we must treat her with the same love and respect that our Bridegroom has so graciously extended to all of us. We are flawed and imperfect, but we are loved beyond measure or human understanding.

One more thing: there’s a point to this extra-long entry. More is on the way. I want to not only start a discussion, but bring up an uncomfortable, yet foundational, component that I believe is one reason for the discouragement and subsequent exodus of so many faithful hearts (Matthew 24:12). Stay tuned. This could be good.