12.17.2010

The Goal

One of our amazing abilities as human beings is to focus our energy and attention on that part of life that we each currently feel to be deserving of our attention and focus, and to put on blinders to the parts we feel need to be ignored in order to give proper attention and focus and energy to the place we feel we must focus. This serves us well each day, because life is too big to even be fully observed daily, let alone processed and addressed. However, this leaves us very vulnerable to ignoring something crucial and pursuing something secondary. Above all else, it is this dilemma that our faith seeks to address.

I have grown up watching successful people define reality and faith and pursue with diligence the tasks and focus they needed to pursue to be good people, as they and those around them defined good. Evil was, practically speaking, anything which redefined reality or faith in a way that made their pursuits seem less logical or made them question everything they valued. And those who pursued other values or made it harder for them to pursue their own values and goals were "on the other side" and thought of either as those mistaken who needed to be educated or saved or as those deliberately choosing evil who needed to be punished and excluded.

It is interesting to consider how Jesus appeared to the "good" people of His day. There were people of faith and practice who had devoted their lives to following all God had revealed to the Jews, and who were eagerly awaiting the Messiah who would make the "not yet" part of their reward become "here and now". Some of them believed that to be fully possible without apocalypse, and some did not, but all were awaiting the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of God. And then Jesus showed up and turned their ideas of good and bad, their ideas of valuable and to be rejected, their ideas of THE GOAL upside down. And so it was the good people who took the lead in killing Him, the ones who had had a vision of "HOLY" and He was not it; it was not the "lost" masses who found Him offensive.

The ideas and values and goals of Evangelical Christianity are not far from the words of Jesus, but our exclusion of those who show up in our churches but don't fit our culture makes any grasp we have of TRUTH just as useless as the Pharisees' grasp of truth was to them. Jesus let people walk away from Him rather than follow His hard way, but His hard way was all about inclusion of any who would follow and lovingkindness to all they encountered along the way. We are proud of our grasp of TRUTH and a better way to live, and find it easy to just erase from our minds all those who object and leave for any reason. If we listen to them, it is as a technique to change them, not in order that our ideas and perceptions might be changed.

We assuage our discomfort with the masses who won't or can't fit our idea of reality by ministering to them in many ways, thinking we are obeying Christ's command to love. And certainly it IS obedience to offer food and childcare and clothes and other resources to those who need those resources. And we get many converts that way, because there are many who will willingly become part of our communities if they get that hand up. They fit well, if they will only be given the resources to become like us. But then there are many that we find we must write off, because they cannot or will not become like us, with our values and goals and lifestyles, no matter how much we help them, and no matter how much we then motivate them by withholding help until they are motivated to conform.

Our most revered leaders are those who do the best job helping us interpret and come to peace with all the places our ideology and culture just doesn't quite ring true, and help us silence that dissonance with new ways to "be in service" and new ways to shut it all out through "spiritual disciplines" and new ways to conform our own minds and lives and emotions to the culture they have been formed by. We pay them well and we give them power and reverence, and so we have spawned a whole class of seminary-trained would-be leaders who would like to get in on that action, and pursue it either by simple imitation of the vision and passion and leadership style or by a call to change (like mine) but internally motivated by a desire to play that role and have that career that those they would replace have had and played.

We have lost the abiltiy to revere each life, regardless of roll or beauty. Our leaders speak much that is true and call for much that is right, but they do it for the money to live and the role they trained to fill. Scripture calls for something different than their call.

The goal of each person is to be whole-hearted service of the rest. That is the great commission, if you take the command of the Risen Jesus to go and make disciples of every nation and to teach them to live as He taught His disciples, and you then look back at the way He taught His disciples to live. Corporate Christianity, with its buildings and salaries and budgets and structure, can have a role in that, but it will never be the central role that our passionate young seminarians were led to believe. They were betrayed by being allowed to believe that the best way they could serve the Kingdom was to go into full-time Christian service, and the rest of us were betrayed by thinking that we could settle for less than whole-life commitment to God and each other if we were not called into "full-time Christian service".

The goal of the Kingdom is the presence of the Triune God again among man, in a world reconciled to God and to one's own self and to each other and to this world in which we live. This is best served by lives lived as members of the economy, producing approximately what we each consume, and learning to live with each other even when we disagree. Those who are paid to comment upon that and to lead us in that, but that have no real experience in that daily routine and tedium (or who failed at that daily routine and tedium and so opted out into "ministry") may have power and a great ability to create and wear their blinders to the rest of reality, but they will not be able to "save" more than a very small part of their potential "followers".

The true disciples were and are bi-vocational. They were and are fishermen and tentmakers, merchants and tax-collectors, lawyers and writers and doctors. They centered their lives around following Jesus, but not as a way to earn a living! The church will certainly need to support some who are found to be most useful as leaders and teachers and administrators, and our educational systems have value . . . but our educational systems and institutional churches and service organizations and media and other ministries should not be sustained as industries in themselves when they have lost grass-roots support and usefulness and have become leeches on the living CHURCH which is the people who are really followers of Jesus.

God's goal for you is for you to find a way to live that supports your own needs financially through a genuine contribution to the needs of all, and that allows you to enjoy the moment and learn to hear and befriend the people around you, and be changed by that reality as you process it with times of solitude and with a life of study of scripture and truth from other sources.

God's goal for the Church is that it foster the ability of each individual to do just that, but as an authentic communion of individuals after that life, not as an idustry trying to create converts and services to justify its existence.

I don't have a single or a couple of "proof-texts" for this essay, mainly because I believe all of scripture combines to say exactly what I have said here. If you want to do your own study to confirm or deny that, I suggest you start with the Gospel of Matthew, then Luke, then Acts, then Romans, then Galatians, then James, then Colossians, and eventually cover the whole of scripture.

I will leave you with two passages to consider here though:

Colossians 3 (The Message)

"1-2 So if you're serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that's where the action is. See things from his perspective.
3-4 Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you'll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.

5-8 And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That's a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God. It's because of this kind of thing that God is about to explode in anger. It wasn't long ago that you were doing all that stuff and not knowing any better. But you know better now, so make sure it's all gone for good: bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk.

9-11 Don't lie to one another. You're done with that old life. It's like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you've stripped off and put in the fire. Now you're dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.

12-14 So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It's your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

15-17 Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.

18 Wives, understand and support your husbands by submitting to them in ways that honor the Master.

19 Husbands, go all out in love for your wives. Don't take advantage of them.

20 Children, do what your parents tell you. This delights the Master no end.

21 Parents, don't come down too hard on your children or you'll crush their spirits.

22-25 Servants, do what you're told by your earthly masters. And don't just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you'll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you're serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn't cover up bad work."


Romans 12 (The Message)

"1-2 So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
3 I'm speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it's important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.

4-6 In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we're talking about is Christ's body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn't amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ's body, let's just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren't.

6-8 If you preach, just preach God's Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don't take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don't get bossy; if you're put in charge, don't manipulate; if you're called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don't let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face.

9-10 Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.

11-13 Don't burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don't quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.

14-16 Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they're happy; share tears when they're down. Get along with each other; don't be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don't be the great somebody.

17-19 Don't hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you've got it in you, get along with everybody. Don't insist on getting even; that's not for you to do. "I'll do the judging," says God. "I'll take care of it."

20-21 Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he's thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don't let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good."

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