Category Archives: christian life

Without Vision the Community Flourishes?

I have been reading through Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s short treatise on the subject of Christan community entitled “Life Together.”  His words are clear and convicting.  I often hear pastors talking about the necessity of “vision” in leading a church.  This passage from Bonhoeffer may cause some to question the idolatry of their own “vision.”

God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious.  The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself.  He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly.  He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren.  He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together.  When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure.  When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash.  So he becomes,  first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.

Social Justice and/or Personal Holiness: A Quandry?

My mind has been unsettled recently about the relationship between social justice and personal holiness.  My own experience with the Church has been in settings that almost exclusively focus on issues of personal morality (e.g., fornication, lying, etc.).  I think there is good reason for this.  Take the Ten Commandments for example, they seem primarily concerned with one’s relationship to God.

On the other hand, there are well-meaning Christian and non-Christian groups that continually sound the alarm concerning the thousands of people that die every day from preventable disease around the globe, the children dying from starvation in other countries, the children kidnapped and forced to kill as soldier’s for a cause that is not there own.  I could go on and on about modern day slavery and the like.

I don’t have the answer, but I am coming to some preliminary considerations.

1.  Personal holiness and social justice are intertwined. Jesus makes it clear that love of God and love of others are two sides of the same coin.

2.  Christians need to be careful what they emphasize. On Derek Webb’s so-called controversial new album “Stockholm Syndrome” he has a lyric that reads:

If I can tell what’s in your heart / By what comes out of your mouth / Then it sure looks to me like being straight / Is all it’s about

I believe that marriage and sexuality are gospel issues.  However, I do not believe they are the only issues.

3.  The gospel is both foundational and transformational. The gospel does not speak to only personal struggles but, also, the redemption of the world.  Genuine service to the downtrodden is not less than the proclamation of the gospel, but it certainly is more.

These are some initial thoughts.  What do you think?  Any advice on how to think clearly about these issues?  Leave some comments.

Crucifying My Wife

It is disconcerting to be vulnerable on the “interweb.”  I am about to share my marital woes with millions of my closest friends.  Here goes anyway…

I’ve been thinking a lot about idolatry and my own life.  I have a lot of idols (e.g., sports, dreams, job, popularity, friends, etc.).  The most dangerous idol I have recently discovered is the one God has called me to love more than myself — my wife.

In my haste to love and adore my wife (which I most certainly do), I have put a lot of expectations on her.  I noticed recently that I started to get very terse with my wife when she let me down in even the smallest ways.  Their are a myriad of reasons why this is the wrong way to act (e.g., she is the most talented and loving person I know, I act like a jerk way more than she does, she demonstrates sacrifice toward me every day, etc.).

Here is one way that Donald Miller explained it recently:

I realized that for years I’d thought of love as something that would complete me, make all my troubles go away.  I worshiped at the alter of romantic completion.  And it had cost me, plenty of times.  And it had cost most of the girls I’d dated, too, because I wanted them to be something they couldn’t be.  it’s too much pressure to put on a person.

That is so true.  Only God can handle the “pressure” of demonstrating perfect love.  The application of this sentiment is what hit me the hardest.  Here is how Miller finished his thought:

I think that’s why so many couples fight, because they want their partners to validate them and affirm them, and if they don’t get that, they feel as though they’re going to die.  And so they lash out.  But it’s a terrible thing to wake up and realize the person you just finished crucifying didn’t turn out to be Jesus.

Ouch.

On Community – Shared Lives (Part 2)

“Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our lives, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8).

What a beautiful picture of the gospel!  Paul, Silas, and Timothy came to the Thessalonians promising not to compromise on the gospel message that was entrusted to them (v. 4).  They refused to fall into any doctrinal error (v. 3).  Their speech was not obsequious or motivated by personal gain.  However, in the midst of sharing their message the apostles made sure to share themselves.

In reflecting on this passage I have come to understand a few things about genuine Christian community:

1. Christian community is gospel-centered. Christian community involves more than just gospel information but it does not involve less.  There are plenty of groups to join if you want friends. You can find people that have similar interests (e.g., scrapbooking, MOPS, fantasy football).  Shared interests, however, do not reinforce gospel community.  The gospel breaks down external barriers.  A gospel community is not concerned with external uniformity, but internal unity (Phil. 2:12-13) centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Most people are concerned with finding persons that look, think, feel, and act like them.  People with similar interests and values will tend to confirm what you already believe.  A gospel community is not bound by age, race, or political preference.  A gospel community will challenge you to become like Christ rather than validate your own preferences.

“We often surround ourselves with the people we most want to live with, thus forming a club or clique, not a community. Anyone can form a club; it takes grace, shared vision, and hard work to form a community” (Philip Yancey)

2. Christian community is participatory. The information of the gospel was not enough; the apostles humbly participated in the lives of the Thessalonians.  It was not enough to teach a few truths about Christ, their genuine affection motivated participation.  Getting involved in someone’s life is messy.  It is easier to show up on Sunday morning, sing a few songs, smile and shake hands.  It is much more difficult to sit on someone’s couch and listen to their struggles.  It is uncomfortable to go to the hospital when someone is sick.  It is terribly inconvenient to give your money to someone who is in need.

And that brings us back to the gospel.  Think about how messy it was for Christ to become flesh, to endure temptation, and to experience pain.  Sharing your life with others provides the only context to genuinely articulate and, more importantly, demonstrate the gospel.

– Mark

Radical Discipleship

This summer I am teaching through the gospel of Luke. Jesus’ description of the Kingdom of God is so radical compared to my concept of Christianity as hobby. Jesus’ words are haunting:

“Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters — even one’s one life! — can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple” (Lk. 14:26-27).

Many people followed Jesus (Lk. 14:25), some for selfish reasons. He was a wise teacher and he healed diseases. The large crowds loved Jesus as entertainer. Today many persons self-identify with Christianity for ulterior reasons: social value, political expediency, personal guilt, family tradition, and more. The crowds are not always genuine disciples.

A genuine follower of Jesus — a disciple — participates in every aspect of the life of Christ. As Paul says:

“I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it” (Phil. 3:10-11).

Being a follower of Christ is more than paying God off with a few minutes of Bible reading and prayer. Discipleship is more than a little doctrinal acumen. Discipleship is nothing less than giving every part of my life to the full service of Jesus (Lk. 14:33).

Am I cut out to be a follower of Christ? Do I want to suffer for the glory of God? Do my financial, relational, and temporal priorities reflect a life in which I have renounced all personal ambitions for the sake of the Kingdom of God?

Am I a Fake?

When I was in high school we used to call people “posers” when they tried too hard to fit in.  If you wore Vans and dressed like a skater but couldn’t ride a skateboard, you were a “poser.”  Now that I look back on it, I realize that “poser” is just a different word for “hypocrite”  — someone who says one thing or looks one way, but in reality acts or thinks differently.

One of the biggest arguments non-Christians cite as a reason they do not want to attend a church is because it is full of “hypocrites.”  In many ways, I feel their pain.

I have noticed a great deal of spiritual pretentiousness in “Christian” groups.  There are usually spoken and unspoken expectations of what a Christian looks and acts like.  These expectations involve the way you dress, the way you talk, the music you enjoy, the books you read, and your political affiliation (to name a few).  People are continually shocked to learn that I despise listening to happy, shiny K-love and am not a Republican.  I am tired of kitschy, sentimental Christianity.  I want a Christianity that works in the “real world.”  A Christian is not someone who “looks” a certain way on the outside but, rather, someone whose heart has been transformed by Christ (2 Cor. 3:18).  Hypocrisy is a result of focusing too much on externals rather than focusing on the heart.

In my ministry with young adults, there is a temptation to breed the hypocrisy I so despise.  If I am concerned only with teaching them to behave well and not to love God I will teach them to ornately paint their coffins and never deal with the dead bones inside (Matt. 23:27).  If I only emphasize character traits (e.g., modesty, abstinence, honesty, commitment, etc.) and never deal with motivations and intentions then I will only teach them to look good on the outside.  If they love “good” more than they love God then they will go to hell “good” people.

For me this means that I need to model genuine Christian transformation (2 Cor. 5:17).  First, I do not need to play the part of a “good” Christian.  I must be honest about my struggles.  I cannot just imitate Christian vocabulary but must mean what I say.  If I say, “I’ll be praying for you,” then I need to actually pray for you!  Second, as Tim Keller says, I need to “repent not only for the things I do wrong but for the reasons I do right.”  Am I doing good out of a heart that loves God or am I just trying to justify myself (Luke 10:29).  Do I love and obey God as a means or as an end?

“Religious people love God to get things, gospel people love God to get God.”
— Tim Keller