Today

I’ve watched a couple of WWII documentaries lately.  This is odd, because until now I have had zero interest in military history.  Maybe it’s my newfound appreciation of the Christian life as battle or maybe it’s finally appreciating recent history, or maybe it’s the fact that my grandfather fought in the Pacific Theater.  I’m not sure, but I’m fascinated.

© Copyright Brocken Inaglory and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

© Copyright Brocken Inaglory and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

I recently listened to a D-day veteran describe how he got through each day.  “You just assumed you were going to die that day,” he said.  “Then, when you got to the evening, you thanked God you were still alive.  You went to sleep and awoke the next day, expecting to die.

I feel like I should stop this post right there.  Nothing I write will add to the profundity of that statement.  Go ahead, read it again.

I know someone else who talked about dying.  About considering one’s life as rubbishOf being dead alreadyThe Christian life is dying, a preparation for death, in every possible meaning of the phraseAnd a preparation for resurrection, which can only come after we die.

Robert Farrar Capon is one of my favorite modern theologians.  He talks about this often, how the only thing God requires of us is the one thing we cannot avoid doing: dying.  Lewis says something similar:

“A rejection, or in Scripture’s strong language, a crucifixion of the natural self is the passport to everlasting life.  Nothing that has not died will be resurrected.”

I think of what it meant to Jesus’ listeners, His astounding command to take up one’s cross and follow Him.  Of how there is no way to hide from the reality of impending death when you’re lugging a cross behind you. The constant reminder is there: You are about to die.

© Copyright Piotr Frydecki and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

© Copyright Piotr Frydecki and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

I like to pretend this is not the case.  I believe the ads that tell me perpetual youth is, in fact, within my reach.  I am appalled when I hear of someone “dying too soon,” as though it’s somehow easier to face it at eighty.  I sometimes live as though there are endless tomorrows, that I can fritter away the priceless moments, because there’s a glut of years ahead of me.  Living as though I am guaranteed tomorrow is the worst kind of frivolity.

It’s part of the reason I so desperately hunt for security, why I want to minimize risk, and search for peace to replace fear.  I want to save my life.  I think of the soldier’s words, and I know I would have run away.  I would have fled the battle, shipped back home, and shut my eyes tight to the carnage of war.  I feel the same compulsions right now.  I want to avoid the struggle, hide away in my own fantasies of what life should be like, and shut my eyes tight to the carnage of war around me.

The thing is, doing that doesn’t save my life.  It robs me of it.

All we have is today.  This moment.  Right now. The neighbor God has given you.  The friend.  The child.  The coworker.  The stranger I stand in line with in the coffee shop.  What would it mean for me look up and out from my own fears and really see them?  What does it look like to resist the frantic, bent anxiety-reducing impulses and follow Jesus who teaches me that abundant life is a byproduct of loving God and loving others?  What if I put aside my fears, held loosely to my plans, looked outside of myself to the person in front of me, the eternal being who holds the seed of God’s image?  What if I stopped worrying about self-preservation?

I think it looks like this:  You just assume you are going to die today. Then, when you get to the evening, you thank God you are still alive.  You go to sleep and wake the next day, expecting to die.

Democracy of the Dead – CS Lewis

G.K. Chesterton once said that “Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead…Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.”  

To honor that sentiment and to stave off an easy chronological snobbery, today’s post comes straight from the mouths (or pens) of men and women who have died in the faith.

From CS LewisTHAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH

Cross by George Wharton James[Mark] left the Bristol feeling, as he would have said, a different man.  Indeed he was a different man.  From now onwards till the moment of final decision should meet him, the different men in him appeared with startling rapidity and each seemed very complete while it lasted.  Thus, skidding violently from one side to the other, his youth approached the moment at which he would begin to be a person…

There were no moral considerations at this moment in Marks’ mind.  He looked back on his life not with shame, but with a kind of disgust at its dreariness.  He saw himself as a little boy in short trousers, hidden in the shrubbery beside the paling, to overhear Myrtle’s conversation with Pamela, and trying to ignore the fact that it was not at all interesting when overheard.  He saw himself making believe that he enjoyed those Sunday afternoons with the athletic heroes of Grip while all the time (as he now saw) he was almost homesick for one of the old walks with Pearson – Pearson whom he had taken such pains to leave behind.  He saw himself in his teens laboriously reading rubbishy grown-up novels and drinking beer when he really enjoyed John Buchan and stone ginger.  The hours that he had spent learning the very slang of each new circle that attracted him, the perpetual assumption of interest in things he found dull and of knowledge he did not possess, the almost heroic sacrifice of nearly every person and thing he actually enjoyed, the miserable attempt to pretend that one could enjoy Grip, or the Progressive Element, or the N.I.C.E. – all this came over him with a kind of heart-break.  When had he ever done what he wanted?  mixed with the people whom he liked?  Or even eaten and drunk what took his fancy?  The concentrated insipidity of it all filled him with self-pity.

In his normal condition, explanations that laid on impersonal forces outside himself the responsibility for all this life of dust and broken bottles would have occurred at once to his mind and been at once accepted.  It would have been “the system” or “an inferiority complex” due to his parents, or the peculiarities of the age.  None of these things occurred to him now.  His “scientific” outlook had never been a real philosophy believed with blood and heart.  It had lived only in his brain, and was a part of that public self which was now falling off himHe was aware, without even having to think of it, that it was he himself – nothing else in the whole universe – that had chosen the dust and broken bottles, the heap of old tin cans, the dry and choking places.  

 

Self-preservation, or…?

Christianity is a battle, not a dream.”  – Wendell Phillips

I’ve written before about my ongoing struggle with fear.  I hold tight to the promises of peace, trusting in the nearness of God to be my good.  I memorize verses that tell me that He is my refuge.  I pray loud that God is my only security, that only in Him can I be safe.  Which is why I came up short the other day to find I was wrong.

© Copyright Jerry Segraves and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

© Copyright Jerry Segraves and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

Nowhere am I promised to be safe.  Oh, He will be my refugeHis nearness is, in fact, my good.  He will become my security, but my insatiable need to feel safe will never be met this side of heaven.  I stumbled across one of those charts that you’ve probably seen before.  The ones that contrast “fleshly thinking” with “spirit-filled thinking.”

And this one sets the desire for peace against the acknowledgment that we are in a battle:

“Is self-complacent; craves the peace of mind that relieves him of unwelcome responsibilities.”

vs. 

“Knows that warfare between good and evil will not allow undisturbed peace.[1]

I’d heard before that peace doesn’t necessarily mean everything goes perfectly.  You only have to look at the cross to recognize that Jesus didn’t mean “trouble free” when he said “My peace I give to you.”

I’d heard how He doesn’t promise to take the storm away, but that He gives you peace in the midst of the storm.

But what if it’s not just a promise to help us endure the storm?  What if it’s a call to get out there and stir one up? 

I spend so many hours hoping that tragedy doesn’t strike that I’m not even truly living.  I remember watching my six-year-old waver on the edges of the dodgeball game during kindergarten recess.  The thought of getting hit with the ball was just too much for him.  I can relate.

But here’s the truth, the one I need to sink down into the depths of my soul: The ball might hit you, and it might hurt, but staying on the sidelines means you never get to play the game.

Lisa Bevere states it this way:

© Copyright Michael Gäbler and  licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

© Copyright Michael Gäbler and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

“Becoming who God created you to be is both your best offense and your best defense against the enemy’s strategies.  He obviously didn’t stop you from drawing breath. It is now time to keep him from stifling the spiritual seed God planted inside you.  When the enemy oppresses, it is always because he fears what we might become.”

I think that’s true. The next best thing to making sure you were never born or killing you outright, is sentencing you to a living death where you do absolutely nothing.  Self-preservation is the opposite of the gospel, so how is that I’ve been telling myself God will help me with my pet project of self-security?

Preserving your life doesn’t save it.  It just keeps it.  And what good is a well-kept life? 

I want a well-spent one.  Whole-heartedly, frivolously, even recklessly poured out, because we’ve joined His game, and it’s a wild one.

 

 

“Ours should not be the love that asks, ‘How little?’ but ‘how much?’;

the love that pours out its all and revels in the joy of having anything to pour on the feet of its Beloved.

The question ‘what is the harm?’ falls from us and is forgotten when we Calvary, the Crucified, and the risen-again Rabboni of our Souls.”

–Amy Carmichael


[1] Beyond Ourselves, pg. 192

Democracy of the Dead – Evelyn Underhill

G.K. Chesterton once said that “Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead…Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.”  

To honor that sentiment and to stave off an easy chronological snobbery, today’s post comes straight from the mouths (or pens) of men and women who have died in the faith.

From Evelyn Underhill‘s THE SPIRITUAL LIFE

Cross by George Wharton JamesSo those who imagine that they are called to contemplation because they are attracted by contemplation, when the common duties of existence steadily block this path, do well to realize that our own feelings and preferences are very poor guides when it comes to the robust realities and stern demands of the Spirit.

St. Paul did not want to be an apostle to the Gentiles.  He wanted to be a clever and appreciated young Jewish scholar, and kicked against the pricks.  St. Ambrose and St. Augustine did not want to be overworked and worried bishops.  Nothing was farther from their intention.  St. Cuthbert wanted the solitude and freedom of his heritage on the Farne; but he did not often get there.  St. Francis Xavier’s preference was for an ordered life close to his beloved master, St. Ignatius.  At a few hours’ notice he was sent out to be the Apostle of the Indies and never returned to Europe again.  Henry Martyn, the fragile and exquisite scholar, was compelled to sacrifice the intellectual life to which he was so perfectly fitted for the missionary life to which he felt he was decisively called.

In all these, a power beyond themselves decided the direction of life.  Yet in all we recognize not frustration, but the highest of all types of achievement.  Things like this – and they are constantly happening – gradually convince us that the overruling reality of life is the Will and Choice of a Spirit acting not in a mechanical but in a living and personal way; and that the spiritual life does not consist in mere individual betterment, or assiduous attention to one’s own soul, but in a free and unconditional response to that Spirit’s pressure and call, whatever the cost may be.

Sufficiency

 

Comic Luther

Image Credit: From History of Christianity: Reformation to the Present Study Guide

Such a good comic, right?  I’m always amazed at the industriousness of our fathers and mothers in the faith.  They were not messing around.

Lately, I’ve been reading through the book of Acts.  Many things spring to mind as I read of the exploits of the first Christians, not  least the crazy-boldness of the early church.  No wonder they took the world by storm.

Non-stop traveling.  Persecutions.  Imprisonments.  Beatings.  Healings.  Teaching.  Even miraculous teleporting.  Just reading about the Spirit’s energy and power echoing down through the ages is enough to get me up and out of my recliner.

But then what?  I am tempted to jump in to the nearest opportunity.  After all, the need of the world is great, and the time is short, and, after all, I only have one crazy life.  It’s all very American of me, I know.

I’ll never forget the sermon I heard several years ago.  The Rwandan bishop who came and preached.  For an hour over the usual time.  Which is very east-African of him.

© Copyright Piotr Frydecki and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

© Copyright Piotr Frydecki and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

But one thing he said I’ll never forget: “You Americans,” he said.  “You are so competent.  You could build a church without the Spirit of God.”  He went on to speak of our education.  Our money.  Our skills.  With every description, I felt the clang of truth deep down in my soul.

We are very competent.  We get things done.  We, the powerful.  The educated.  The ones who actually have the luxury of “free time.”  We can do many good things on our own.  As a church planter’s wife, I think of this often.  We have the capacity to move on ahead, laboring in vain, and putting up something only we ourselves are calling a church.

“We Africans,” the bishop went on.  “We have nothing.  Unless the Spirit of God shows up, nothing will happen.

I’ve thought of this often in the years since.  His insight was profound.  We can be blinded by our perceived sufficiency.  We can think we are doing God’s work when in reality it’s all about us.  But do you know what?

Our perspective doesn’t matter.  We, too, have nothing.  Unless the Spirit of God shows up in the American church, nothing of eternal significance will happen.   We may have deep pockets and pretty buildings, but we also have shattered souls and lives worn thin by addiction and despair.  We have broken families and tormented minds and failing bodies.

The African church has tangible daily evidence of their insufficiency.  Ours is hidden by the illusion of our competency.  Both of us – all of us – have no sufficiency in ourselves.

You know who else came to realize this?  St. Paul.  That very brave, very sold-out, very industrious leader in the early church.  His lack of sufficiency didn’t paralyze him.

“Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant…”

Our sufficiency is from God.

The early church walked in the power of this truth.  Faces fresh with the heat of the Holy Spirit falling on them, they had no illusion about sufficiency or scarcity.  And they moved in boldness.  In energy.  Led by the Spirit.

© Copyright J J Harrison and  licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

© Copyright J J Harrison and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

And that sufficiency is ours.  That Spirit is ours.  In the midst of our insufficiency.  In the midst of our incapability, Christ is ours.  This phrase that’s sprinkled throughout Acts keeps coming to mind.  “This same Jesus,” the apostles were always saying.  “This Jesus whom you crucified.”  “This Jesus who was raised from the dead.”  “This same Jesus who we saw.”

So we do not lose heart.  This same Jesus is with us.  This same Jesus is the one we lift high in our churches.  This same Jesus will draw all people to himself.  This same Jesus is with me. This same Jesus is with you.  When the truth of our insufficiency creeps in, let’s not hide from it.  Let’s join with Paul in celebrating it: Our sufficiency comes from God.

Two-Cents

I’ve been reading the parable of the widow with her offering.  It makes me think of the phrase “two cents.”  I like this phrase.  It’s a useful disclaimer when I’m about to say something.  “I’ll give you my two cents,” I’ll say.  “But that’s about all its worth.”

© Copyright Warburg and  licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

© Copyright Warburg and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

I hide behind that sometimes, as though saying my words don’t carry weight will excuse me of any negative implications.  I like to name them as two cents, so that no one will think I’m passing them off as a twenty-dollar bill.

My husband caught me the other day.  “I don’t know what that’s rooted in,” he said.  “That desire to say you only have two cents.  What you have to say is worthwhile.”

I’ve thought a lot about that recently.  Our tendency to determine what contributions are more valuable than others.  Sure, money is the most obvious one, but what about Time? Conversation? Relationship?

What do you have to put in the box?  Holly Pierlot uses this example when she’s talking about being a present mother:

“Jesus is perfectly wiling to bless my efforts,” she writes.  “But first he had to have efforts to bless….I had to give a full five loaves and two fish – not three loaves, not two loaves.  I had to apply all of me to the task and mission I was called to be and do, not haphazardly, but fully, methodically, completely.  Jesus was asking for the dedication of my entire self to my vocation.

The story of the widow and the offering box seems straightforward.  It really doesn’t matter whether you’re putting in two cents or twenty.  It’s whether you are putting in all you have.

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© Copyright warrenlead69 and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

I think the trick is that we often don’t know what we have.  Two mites or twenty dollars, we think it’s about what we can scrounge up to give. But the real question is: are you putting in all of yourself?

Perhaps it’s time to stop determining what our contributions are really worth and hustle on up to the offering box instead.  He can use two mites.  He can use four loaves.  He can use the mouth of an ass.  He can use you and me, whatever we have to offer.