Thursday, December 28, 2006

Trust me

Gandhi, who had closely observed Christianity as practiced around him in Great Britain and in Europe, remarked that if only Christians would live according to their belief in the teachings of Jesus, "we all would become Christians." We know what he meant, and he was right. But the dismaying truth is that the Christians were living according to their "belief" in the teachings of Jesus. They didn't believe them! They did not really trust him . . . The idea that you can trust Christ and not intend to obey him is an illusion generated by the prevalence of an unbelieving "Christian culture." In fact, you can no more trust Jesus and not intend to obey him than you could trust your doctor or your auto mechanic and not intend to follow their advice. If you don't intend to follow their advice, you simply don't trust them.---Dallas Willard

This kind of trust implies a willingness to bet ourselves and our stuff on Jesus' Way--especially since Jesus' teachings deal with ourselves and our stuff. Along with my earlier posts (and Jesus' statements on discipleship), it's an 'everything' kind of trust. Assuming for a second that we somehow get this willingness to risk everything we have and are on Jesus, what would we really be risking? If we persistently and consciously let go of every 'right', and just accept whatever he gives and takes away through mercy, what do we think we'll lack exactly? Aren't we already dependent upon his mercy for every breath? Literally, aren't I still breathing because he chooses it to be so? Aren't you? What does anyone have that isn't ultimately a gift from God? I know that, for me, the thought that my ongoing life--including my eternal life--hangs completely on the undeserved kindness of Another made me very afraid for a long time. "I'm such a loser. How can I secure (control) his ongoing approval?! There's no way I can make him show me mercy!" I still have a hard time accepting that everything I have now, or will ever have, comes through mercy. I'd rather trust my rights; I just don't think I want what I'm entitled to. Trusting mercy, embracing mercy, showing mercy is just stepping out of denial that I've ever had anything else--in this world or the next. It's stepping into the only reality that there is. It's not really a risk, it just feels like it. God is committed to me--forever--in undeserved love. Showing such love to others, even to my apparent loss, is the truest evidence that I trust this all important fact of my existence.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Muhammed & Jesus - practically twins

"No way!", you may say, and I agree. But there are many who view them and the religions they founded as essentially the same. This bothers me, especially in light of the simple fact that Jesus taught--and more importantly lived--that the rule of God in the world (his favorite topic) wouldn't come by physical force (neither his own nor that of his followers), but by overcoming evil with good, by turning the other cheek, by loving our enemies. Muhammed, on the other hand, taught, but more importantly lived the exact opposite. For this reason alone, it doesn't surprise me when Muhammed's current followers . . . well, follow him. I don't see how it should surprise anyone, actually, and it seems to require a denial of simple logic to expect otherwise, like expecting children to do what you tell them to do instead of what you actually do yourself.

Unfortunately, I have to admit that the contrast between Mohammed's followers and those of Christ is frequently not as stark as between the leading men themselves. This doesn't really surprise me for the simple reason that Muhammed's example is more appealing to follow than Christ's--even for those who believe Christ is the Son of God. Muhammed's overall story isn't exactly rare, historically or currently--get passionate about the way you think things should be (based on ideas about God or nature, or something bigger than one person), gather the masses around your zealous ideas, and, using the power you've amassed, give your opponents the beating they deserve (then write the bestseller about your opinion on everything). How many times have we seen this story just this century? Wow, if not for the current international politics, Muhammed's life would make a great and typically American hero movie. It's a pattern that many have followed and continue to follow.

But that life story isn't--at all--like Jesus' story, nor is it what he taught. Jesus' teaching and example are about showing mercy--even to the point of spilling one's own blood and money, and even toward those currently smacking you in the face in the name of God or something much less. Jesus' life and teachings are consistent and forceful on that point. Could this be any more different from Mohammed's example? Or Donald Trump's, for that matter? Victory over evil (even evil within one's enemies) through self-sacrificing, physical-loss-embracing, God-trusting love? Here in America and in other places throughout history, though, we've frequently managed to make following Christ about something not centered on this unique focus of Christ's life and teachings. It's sounds like quite an accomplishment, but it's really just a matter of supply and demand. We want to have the option of getting Jesus' blessings without having to personally trust his 'costly' Way of life and love, and such a religion has been supplied. But his example and teachings remain, forever providing the Way to overcome evil in the world and the violence and death it causes. A few actually find and follow this Way, Truth, and Life. And when they do, they don't act anything like Muhammed acted. They're not even typical Americans. They're little Christs, or, at least, that's the Road they're on.

+++ God, May we all recognize and follow your narrow Road to Life without end.+++

Monday, December 18, 2006

On cross examinations . . . of myself

My attitude frequently does not make any sense in light of what I profess to believe about Jesus. For example, I say I believe that God's mercy, his undeserved goodness, is at work in the world--even toward me. I believe that it will "pursue me all the days of my life." Now, even a minimal appreciation of the implications of that fact would prevent me from getting bent out of shape about pretty much anything--ever. And yet, I bend out of shape. Why? Because I am failing to recognize the significance and breadth of what God is doing, or (worse) just turning a deaf ear to it. I fail to listen to and and contemplate God's good news and instead follow lines of reasoning based on something other than the gospel that I profess to trust.

It's these inconsistencies of thinking that a few well directed questions can bring to light with shocking clarity. Better to shock yourself (to yourself) than leave it to someone else, I think. Here are some questions that I zing myself with to snap me toward gospel thinking when I find myself using something much less worthy:
  • For use when I'm angry, hurt, etc. about not getting something I want or feel I deserve: "So, is Jesus not enough for me?"
  • For use when I am enjoying my "right" to be upset, disappointed, etc.: "What does God deserve from me, this moment and always?"
  • For use when I'm about to run out of patience with anyone: "What kind of love does God have for me? (What does he want shown to anyone?)"

Anyway, there are more, but you get the picture. I find that any scripture or fact about God that I would like to honestly hold can be turned into a question to point out my current rejection of it. Most people, I imagine, talk to themselves for the purpose of self-correction among other things. Feel free to add these to your repertoire and give me some of your own favorite corrective zingers.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Practice Six - Entirely Ready for Change

Becoming entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character and to become a different person. -- Practice Six

Entirely ready to become a different person. Entirely ready. A different person. Remove all defects of character. To me, this practice is very closely related to my previous post on Jesus becoming enough for us. Being willing to be remade is a willingness to die, to cease to be as I currently am. It's not a denial about who I currently am, but an intention to be something else. That something else is Christ himself. I don't see this happening, biblically or from experience, without a willingness to let go of what I currently am. For those of you who have seen this kind of thing become a repressive, homogenizing reality, I am sorry for that experience, but I have no doubts that letting Jesus have free and total reign in me will do anything but make me the same as everyone else. In fact, it's the inevitable difference, uniqueness even, that I know I embody when I do this (I have done it from time to time in the past), that frequently tempts me away from being willing to do it wholeheartedly 'today'. Sometimes I don't want to be different in the way Jesus makes me.

The thing that strikes me about Christ right now is the utter inability of fear or desire to move him where it wants him to go. That is completely amazing. All desires, even for food, were subject to the desire for the Father, subject to the understanding that God was more than, or included, everything else. That is impressive. Only the Father was 'worthy' of his ultimate loyalty, reaction and obedience at any moment. (This, to me, is what actual worship is.) If I can make Christ the only one I need to please--if I could give the Father even my right to eat when I want, trusting his love, intelligence, and purposes--I would begin to get acquainted with Jesus' sufferings and his power. Peter, I believe, says, "the one who is prepared to suffer is done with sin." I can certainly see that if I'm not prepared--not willing--to lose the things that I want, to have some desires go unsatisfied, indefinitely or otherwise in favor of God, then I'm not prepared to be a exclusively loyal to Jesus. I'm not willing to be his disciple. I'm not ready to become just like my teacher. I'm not ready for real change.

But today, I am ready--in the belief that everything I need is in Christ. Thank you, Lord, for the willingness.