Why The “Christian Life” Isn’t Worth Living: A Blog by Kurt Willems

I have a friend named Kurt, who is a prominent blogger from the States. He’s been a big inspiration for me concerning all things in the blogosphere. He’s graciously allowed this post from his blog to appear here on my site. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

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For most of my life, I focused my faith on knowing Jesus through morality management. More accurately, Jesus was savior and the Spirit was the voice that helped give me the strength to avoid things like cussing, gossip, lust, and pride. Getting through a single day where those sins were avoided meant a major victory as I walked closer to Christ.

In college, a new sort of emphasis emerged in my Christian journey. Instead of seeing discipleship as a system of sin management, I discovered the red letters of Scripture. These words of Jesus (along with the actions of Christ that aren’t in red) propelled me in a new direction: justice.

Compulsively, I would give a few bucks to homeless people as they asked. In my youth curriculum (while I served as a youth pastor), more of the emphasis moved toward Christian activism. That is not to say that I didn’t care about relational aspects of knowing God, but that justice (at times superficial forms there of) became a primary emphasis. As a result many areas became important in my personal life: signing every progressive petition that would lead to influencing the system for the poor, avoiding stores that are known for their social Darwinism, and purchasing anything I could find that is organic.

It would be safe to say that I went from conservative evangelical focuses to a progressive faith emphasis. Still holding to the essentials of the Christian theology, but believing that true discipleship meant doing certain things. It’s interesting to me looking back: at one end of the pendulum of my faith journey I tried to avoid things, and at the other end of the swing I tried to do things. Both attempts at living the Christian life miss the point of discipleship – completely!

Which begs the question: What’s the point?

I’m becoming convinced that both polarities of holiness miss the point. We aren’t supposed to live as though God is a cop, ready to bust us each time we sin. Neither does God call us to work ourselves so hard that we become void of spiritual vitality.In this sense, the Christian life isn’t worth living.

I’ve quoted Dallas Willard elsewhere but this is worth noting a second time:

“Jesus never expected us simply to turn the other cheek, go the second mile, bless those who persecute us, give unto them that ask, and so forth.  These responses, generally and rightly understood to be characteristic of Chrsitlikeness, were put forth by him as illustrative of what might be expected of a new kind of person – one who intelligently and steadfastly seeks, above all else, to live within the rule of God and be possessed by the kind of righteousness that God himself has, as Matthew 6:33 portrays.  Instead, Jesus did invite people to follow him into that sort of life from which behavior such as loving one’s enemies will seem like the only sensible and happy thing to do.  For a person living that life, the hard thing to do would be to hate the enemy, to turn the supplicant away, or to curse the curser…  True Christlikeness, true companionship with Christ, comes at the point where it is hard not to respond as he would.”[1]

This “responding like Jesus would” impulse comes to us in many places – like the Sermon on the Mount – but also in 1 Peter 2:

21 You were called to this kind of endurance, because Christ suffered on your behalf. He left you an example so that you might follow in his footsteps. 22 He committed no sin, nor did he ever speak in ways meant to deceive. 23 When he was insulted, he did not reply with insults. When he suffered, he did not threaten revenge. Instead, he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.

Did you notice the reason that Jesus was able to endure such horrendous violence? Jesus “entrusted himself” to his heavenly Father. Prior to enduring the sufferings of the cross, with beads mixed of sweat and blood dripping down his brow, he humbly accepted the will of God the Father. In that painful, yet intimate moment, Jesus’ relationship to God took the ultimate leap forward, a deep knowing that led to a profound trust.

Jesus had chosen to know the Father’s will so much that it determined the natural impulses of his actions toward his enemies. Peter invites us to model our lives in the same way. How do we live as people of peace? The answer begins with “entrusting” ourselves to God, allowing the life of God to transform our character. When this happens, enduring unjust treatment via nonviolence will become part of our second nature.

The same is true of every other justice issue. God empowers us to become the sort of people whose impulses are bent toward love, and this happens when we create space in our lives to know God intimately. Justice and spirituality go together!

And, what of my former moral management approach to faith? Well, the sort of morality that God desires is a morality formed by the Spirit of Christ. Anything that looks like self-help strategies to administer a sin prevention plan misses the point of holiness all together. Christ wants to make our impulses bent toward holiness, including social justice, not dependent on our own legalistic strategies.

Certainly, we ought to also practice doing justice and living morally, even when we feel spiritually deflated. Those moments also work toward intimacy with God. In fact,in serving is how many people come to know Jesus the most. The risk is that we allow all of our doing to replace moments with God in our own Garden of Gethsemane, when some of the most profound “entrusting” and character formation by the Spirit takes place. No wonder Jesus often got alone for prayer before major Kingdom moments.

The Christian life isn’t worth living as I used to understand it. Instead, what if we all chose to allow the life of God to live in and among us? With such a reframe, holiness coupled with justice might just become more like second nature.


[1] Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives,7-8.

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378429_307809582593130_190381821_nKurt Willems (M.Div., Fresno Pacific) is an Anabaptist writer and pastor who is leading a church planting project in partnership with Urban Expression and the Brethren in Christ in Seattle, WA.  He writes at The Pangea Blog and is also on TwitterFacebook, and Google+.  Kurt is a contributing writer for Red Letter Christians, and has also written for Relevant MagazinePrismIn PartThe Ooze,Emergent VillageMennonite Weekly ReviewConverge Magazine, and Sojourners.

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The Power of Thank You: A Guest Post from Craig Sider…

Today I was sitting with a friend as we planned his father’s funeral. His dad passed away a few days earlier at the age of 87. My friend said, “we need to find a way to get a thank you note into the memorial service.” He went on, “40 years ago when my father was a locomotive engineer, he gave a little boy a tour of the train. The little boy’s father wrote my dad a thank you note that he held on to for decades.” It’s the power of a ‘thank you’.

Thirty years ago I gave my first public talk. If you measured it against gifted speakers, I might have squeaked out a D- …maybe. In the audience that day was a long-retired leader and public speaker who took the time, several days later, to handwrite and mail me a page-long thank you note. He was encouraging, specific, and even constructive in his thank you. It motivated me to push on. Every year I pull out that thank you, read it, and remind myself of the power of a ‘thank you’.

In neither of these scenarios was the writer attempting to create a legacy statement; they just saw a reason to say ‘thanks’ and took the time to send a note. As a leader, when you observe a reason to say thanks, be intentional and send off a quick note (a quick handwritten note is more effective than an email!). Want to make it easier? Keep a stack of note cards in your laptop bag, desk, or car along with stamped envelopes and a marker. When you observe someone demonstrating:

  • A courageous first step
  • Consistent and faithful service
  • An extra mile effort
  • Generosity with someone in need
  • Outstanding performance
  • An act of kindness

 

Take the time to write them a thank you note. Don’t just think about it…do it. Years ago I read Tom Peters’ pithy little article, “50 Ways to Gain Personal Power”. Number One? Write thank you notes!! You’re leadership won’t go soft if you take this step….it will strengthen you while you encourage and empower others.

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ImageCraig Sider enjoys helping people, leaders, and organizations pursue more intentional lives. He serves as President of The New York City Leadership Center, A Christian organization that serves as a change agent for leadership and collaboration across Metro NYC. . In addition, he has served on various not-for-profit and para-church ministry boards. Craig and his wife, Laura, reside in West New York, NJ.

A New Kind of Season: A Guest Post by Diana Wiebe…

September. It’s a season of newness. Crisp morning air and northern winds bring about changing leaves and the accelerating stride of routine… alarm clock buzzers, sharpened pencils, squeaky running shoes on newly buffed hallways, photocopied worksheets, back to school banners and the early morning drone of the yellow school bus engine on it’s route. Today on my errand runs, I encountered a couple different stops and crossings as kiddos travelled from home to school and back again; each student with a spring in their step to be a full grade ahead.
 
But this September, for me, is different.
Ever since I was 5 and I toted that purple barbie lunchbox to the bus stop, September has involved learning, growth, and structure. Each September to follow has involved me being a small town/big city schoolgirl, then to college, and then an elementary school teacher.
Unlike most of my years to date though, this September involves no strapping on of backpacks and early morning bus rides. There have been no college orientations to attend, classrooms to decorate or lessons to plan.
 
Instead of making new friends with a lab partner, collecting syllabuses, or setting up get-to-know-you activities for my kids, my fall has consisted of wide open spaces. Spaces that I have found myself filling with activities that are very unlike my traditional school routine, such as quilting with my grandma, training for a 5k (you’ve got to start somewhere), extended hours travelling on foreign highways to visit long lost friends, volunteering, spontaneously baking new recipes that I stumble upon on pinterest, and pulling out dusty books from my bedroom shelf to read over again.
 
All of which I’ve been doing and enjoying very much, but I have to be honest…
these days, when people ask me what I’ve been up to, a pang of embarrassment loves to creep in. Because in a sea of emerging 30-year olds with successful careers and growing families, I am primitive. Living in my parent’s basement, no cell phone, and a work week consisting of a fraction of the standard 40 hours. I feel like a twig caught between the bulrushes in a river current.
 
As soon as I start to size myself up with those around me, it isn’t long until I begin to wish this season of stillness away… I start to question what purpose or value I have. I feel guilty that I’m only treading water rather than swimming at breakneck speeds like the rest, and I want anything but this.
 
What I’ve been learning more and more these days is the fact that comparison truly is the thief of joy. That no matter how much you fight avoidance, it creeps itself into the core of contentment, and even the tiniest dose can be fatal.
 
The Bible urges us in galatians 5:26 not to become conceited, comparing or envying of one another, but rather to rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 thessalonians 5:16-18).
As it is written, the only way out of comparison is thinking above and beyond it to God’s goodness. In it’s simplest form, gratitude is the cure, and that is what I have been trying to centre myself around lately – to dwell on these days as they were intended to be: a gift.
 
Someday, my grandma isn’t going to be able to teach me how to quilt. Someday, my morning routine won’t be able to afford a half-hour jog and visits with passerbys along the way. Someday, I won’t be able to take off random weekdays when I can visit and re-kindle old friendships from afar. Someday, cooking daily meals will be mandatory, and I might as well start practicing…
 
So in this day I have before me, and in however many more I have to come, I want to be fully engaged and thankful. I don’t want to burdened with a heaviness of dismay that my life doesn’t match up perfectly with a colleague from high school. Rather, I want to awaken with joy and possibility for what the Lord has for me here and now.
 
Most of you reading this probably have much more of a crammed-full life than I do, but as one standing on the sidelines in a season of watching and waiting, these are the words I’d like you to hear. Friends, it is my prayer that you, whatever season you may find yourself in, may be able to view your place and time as a gift, and steward it well for the Kingdom. That you wouldn’t be dismayed that your life doesn’t parallel your next door neighbour or former college roommate (because it probably doesn’t). That the thief of comparison who wants to steal your joy would come up empty-handed in a heart full of gratitude, and that you would be able to embrace the ‘sweet spot’ that the Lord has you in.
 
May you live a life praise toward the Giver of all good gifts.
 
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Visit Diana’s blog at www.embracing-hope.blogspot.ca.