Thursday, April 19, 2007

Roses and Lilies

Steve, over at Theological Musings, wondered aloud about what it truly means to live like Jesus. I recommend watching the Tony Campolo video he links to and also reading Greg Boyd's The Myth of a Christian Nation.

Bonhoeffer writes in Life Together, "It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work."

If you watched the video, then you might have heard the term 'Red Letter Christians' mentioned.

That's the background information. Now here's my two cents.

It has been a slow process, extricating myself from the mainstream church, but I believe it has been worth the pain and confusion and fear. This not about my frustration with the church, thought initially it was. Rather, I found it was about the amount of noise in my life. Not the noise of everyday life, but the noise of superficially seeking out God 'plan' for my life within the context of Christian community.

From the pew to the couch, I left the mainstream church model in favor of starting a small house church.

From the couch to the chair, I felt led to no longer gather at our house in favor of small discipleship groups meeting in coffee shops and other places.

From the chair to my heart, I backed away from the discipleship groups in desperation of seeking God out myself.

Bonhoeffer talks about the "cloistered life". The cloistered life isn't about being alone, but rather it is living in some sort of Christian bubble world that is completely disconnected from the rest of the world. Nothing could be further from Jesus' life or even from what he called us to do.

Just check out Matthew 10. Now I'm not going to compare myself to the 12 disciples, but do think we are meant to heed his words as we go about our lives and what we should be doing with the time we have. Lets see, flogging, arrest, family betrayal, being compared to Satan, and after all of that, death.

Let's go back to that Martin Luther quote, "The Kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he want to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared?"

Jesus came to show a better way, he came to advance the Kingdom of God, we are called by him to do the same. The kingdom of the world simply doesn't not like the way of God because instead of having power over people, the Kingdom of God is about having power under people, to lift them up, to meet their needs, to show them the love and grace and mercy we have been shown.

Therefore Christian community is not a hierarchy, but a simply a group of people that should be associated by only one thing, Christ and the furthering of his kingdom. If it is anything more, if has anything man-made in it, then it loses its potency. We are to be meek and humble towards one another. Forgiving of one another, sometimes to a fault, just as we have been granted mercy by God.

It can take many different shapes, if in an atmosphere of no religious persecution, then it will flourish, but beware, in a time of flourishing, it is very easy to get caught staying in the roses and the lilies. If in a time of religious persecution, when the branches are pruned and the roses and lilies are gone, what happens?

In Bonhoeffer's time the church, in order to keep its power in the kingdom of the world, bowed to Hitler, approved of his dictatorship, and in effect approved of his Master Plan. Do not think I am comparing our government to Hitler's in this next sentence. I am comparing the churches of the two time periods however. Now, the church sees a chance to maintain and even gain great influence in our country by pushing for the conservative party. Over the past 6 years we have seen the results. Christians have gained great influence, but at what cost?

People are less open to the love of Christ. The church is now synonymous with the conservative party and therefore is considered a proponent of war. The church is not seen as a very good example of Christ.

Now, in regards to living like Christ. I recommend taking time to go into the wilderness, to read the red letters, to seek out God, to leave the clutter and noise of the cloistered life in order to find God's purpose for your life. Do not think this is a weekend trip to the mountains. This is a long, hard, arduous trip. You will find that Jesus' words in Matthew 10 will resonate more and more with your life.

It will make that whole 'narrow path' comment take on a whole new aspect.

After all of this, community starts to take on a different shape. Just the mere presence of someone seeking after God earnestly is enough. You don't have to sing, you don't have have a building, or go and get coffee. An email, a letter, a phone call means so much more. I carry around a letter from Shane Claiborne as a bookmark. While there is nothing profound in it, the letter is like a connection to something more out there, it is like a reminder that I am part of something, that I am called to something greater, even if it isn't a place I can visit on Sundays.

I travel a lot for my job. I eat many of meals alone while I am on the road. Once when I was in Philly, I went over to see some friends, Chris and Lara Lahr. Now we aren't the best of friends as I had only met them a few times while Joanna was attending Asbury College, but you would never guess it to see us together. Genuine love radiates from that family, genuine. Anyway, I told him I was going to be in the area and maybe we could grab some dinner. Laura thought that maybe I would like something home cooked since I had been on the road so much. We ate lasagna around their table. Yes, it was great. But more importantly, that time of community has sustained me during other periods of travel. I can be sitting in Subway, alone, and still relish that time.

That is the community Christ brought to the world when he ate with the outcasts of society. He validated their worth, by sharing a meal with them. Look how central eating is to his time, to the accounts written about him. It wasn't about politics, or who said what prayer, or any of that man made stuff we have to deal with. It was about validating people, showing them they are worth something.

Community then for us, should be about Christ, about loving people where they are with no hidden agenda to 'fix them', or 'help them get saved'. We can talk all we want, we can create the most bulletproof doctrine, we can have the greatest set of programs, the slickest graphics, the tightest worship team, the most impressive building, but if only supports a cloistered life, then really, what do we have?


Mike Ross said...

From my heart to others, God is showing me that I do have something to offer, that I am one of his children.

Sarah said...

You said so many good things here. My two cents: I walked in what Bonhoeffer describes - living not among other Christians, but among my enemies - for six months in Japan. I utterly wilted under the pressure. North American Christianity had not equipped me for the spiritual realities I faced in that nation (called the missionaries' graveyard, and has the most idols per capita than any other nation). I failed miserably, and beautifully. Although I had been out of the church system for several years previous to going to Japan, and had been doing a simple church thing - my experience in Japan was a launching pad into a whole new realm of following Jesus radically.

Regarding your comments on the American church and the conservative party. Yes - God does not take sides, God is not a Republican (or a Democrat), contrary to popular belief!

Love what you said about "power under people" rather than over them - preach it! This reminds me of Paul's words: "you have many teachers, but not many fathers". Fathers come underneath to undergird and truly equip sons to fulfill their destinies. This is an apostolic heart - it cares more about multiplication (it wants to raise up sons that reproduce - not just sons that obey).

And about sharing meals: this is real communion to me - I don't know how we reduced it to a wafer and a sip of grape juice (or wine). The last supper was just that - a supper! For me, to share a meal is to share communion. And it is powerful!

Blessings to you and keep on keepin' on!

Sarah said...


I had to qualify some statements I made in response to your comment on my blog (under the "Must See" post), because I was wrong. Please have a look.

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