I’ve been flipping through a book by a guy named Erwin Raphael McManus here recently…either considering it for the youth gathering in my church community, or something that could be used for small groups in the future, and I’ve been struck by the passion with which McManus talks about life in Christ. As I’ve considered some of Erwin’s points of emphasis, I had a conversation with a great guy for an hour at seminary today, and over the course of our discussion, we talked about the goals most churches set for our lives, and how they live up to the dreams God has for our lives.
To sum up the conversation, we agreed the goals we’ve received from our church communities are woefully inadequate. Tell me if I’m painting with too broad of a brush here, but here are a few of the goals churches seem to set up more than most:
1) Don’t drink
2) Don’t smoke
3) Have a good solid moral foundation
4) Give your money to worthy causes
First, those goals aren’t even Biblical, and second, I am convinced that the church is dying on the vine in America today because we have defined the goals of our existence in this passive, empty, institutionalized, fashion. God is essentially a means to an end; if he “blesses” me with a consistent middle-class lifestyle that allows me to drive an SUV, have a good job, a wife, and a couple kids, I’ll “follow” Him. If I struggle, God doesn’t answer my every whim, and life actually throws a couple curveballs, I’m packing it in; screw God and the church. One of my friends calls this god (small case because it’s a false god) the MTD god (obvious parallel in negative connotation to STDs).
M=moralistic (all that hubbub over the Ten Commandments in Alabama and/or schools across the nation)
T= therapeutic (welcome to Joel Osteen’s world)
D= deistic (God wound up the universe like a toy and stepped away from it till the very end)
This is the god of America. Newsflash: it’s not the God of history.
1. We need to recover the reality that committing ourselves to following Christ is a starting point, not the finish line. This decision is the beginning of a whole new world to be explored, a race to be run.
2. Being a Christian is not a matter of “God being in my life,” or “Jesus is my personal Lord and Savior.” Those are modern phrases, not Biblical truths. We choose to fundamentally submit our lives to the plans and desires of God because of gratitude for what God has delivered us from: ultimate death. It’s not a case of God coming to us because we deserve it; God initiates the love relationship purely out of His goodness…it’s us getting the reality that we are desperately in need of truth and life into our tough-to-crack heads and pride. We choose to follow God because this pursuit is the fundamental longing of our hearts. And in this turning in of the old way for the sake of the new, better way, there will be pain.
3. God is not a means to an end. God is the end. Worship should be God-centered; the witness of our words and lives should be God-centered.
4. As followers of Christ, we need to commit ourselves to local communities and ride out the storms of disagreement and conflict that are natural to our humanity for the sake of true community, true accountability, and growth. We cannot truly challenge each other if we aren’t truly committed to helping one another grow.
5. God doesn’t expect faithfulness from us based on the bottom line as defined by our society. It seems to me society has two driving, defining motivations. The first is self-preservation. Everything’s cool as long as everything’s good in my life; if your quality of life gets in the way of mine, however, you’re up a creek without a paddle. Especially if my weaponry outranks yours. Many a conflict or war has been started with bluff and bluster from friction experienced from competing desires and miffed individuals. The second is financial security. If you feel like God is asking you to step out in faithfulness in your life in a way that will potentially badly harm your portfolio and/or cause you to drive a smaller car or get a smaller house, it’s clearly not God talking. Call me crazy, but Jesus addresses both of those driving motivations head-on. Neither should be close enough to even sniff at our willingness to surrender all for God and life in God’s kingdom. Now THAT’S big love and big commitment.
6. Following Christ is about passion…here’s a quote from McManus that struck a chord in me.
“When I was fifteen, I was a coward. In my heart, I longed to do great things. I was a tragedy of dreams not only unfulfilled, but unattempted. I was living proof that without courage you will never live the life you dream of. I realize now I was running from the shadows. Like a child afraid of the dark, I was afraid of what I could not see…dream great dreams and have the courage to live them. If your dreams don’t terrify you, trash them and begin again…it is only here that you will turn to (and depend on ) God who creates us to dream and ask Him for the courage required.”
We see neat little pithy quotes all over the place in life like, “Hitch your wagon to a star,” “The only way to have a friend is to be one,” or “Finish each day and be done with it; you have done only what you could,” and they leave us nice and fuzzy but never take us anywhere; never spur us towards transformation because there’s no drive. But as McManus suggests, God has dreams and desires for our lives that can take place when you and I make the decision not only to desire transformation and dream dreams in the Way of Christ, but to have the courage and the will to carry out this calling. I’m praying and endeavoring to see my life speak in such a manner; that others would see me as one never satisfied with where I’m at; one whose life is offered in complete service to Christ.
Hold me accountable, if you would. You and I need the opportunity of challenge, the pain of falling short, and the willingness to keep running. We are dependent on God, for whom we have been created to pursue.