The gospel is…the word about Jesus Christ and what he did for us in order to restore us to a right relationship with God. – Graeme Goldsworthy

Monday, July 11, 2011

Gutting It Out for the Glory of Christ

We're moving from our (Lord willing) last rental into our first home. This is the 9th move in 10 years of marriage. Thanks to the anticipated help of servant-hearted congregants and friends, this Saturday's move should be the last one for a while. God is gracious. And we're pooped.

Life with four small children, readying our rental for real estate showings, doing all-things house shopping and buying, and seeking to be servant-leaders to the small church we planted three years ago has been exhausting.  Yet, we have a love for our people that is profound. When someone leaves - due to moving out of state (as one did lately), an offense taken, or disappointed expectations – we feel it, acutely, to the core of our souls.

I'm no different from you. When I'm taxed physically and emotionally, discouraged from setbacks, have to say goodbye (for whatever reason) to another relationship, and must still put one foot in front of the other to continue being faithful with the responsibilities God has given me, my soul starts to yearn for a life without any pain, discomfort, or trial.

I'm realizing, first, that this is a yearning for the new heavens and the new earth – where work is constantly fulfilling, easy, and done with joy; relationships have no weird vibes, constant struggle, painful history, or brokenness; and there’s no fear of death, rejection, failure, sickness, accidents, lack of provision, the unknown, or of "the other shoe dropping." In sum, no sin. 

However - and secondly - I'm realizing that I'm a part of a culture that wants it easy. Comfortable. Safe. And for insidious reasons (that could fill innumerable blogs), this desire has saturated the entire church of Jesus Christ in the Western world – so much so, that when life's not easy, comfortable, and/or safe, we look up and cry, "Why, God?!"

I was talking with two godly men a while back. One is the father of five who goes to another church. One attends new3c with his wife and child. They both said the same thing to me within about two weeks of each other – that is, our generation is always looking for the better job, the better life, the easier path. We know very little of what it means to plod and persevere. Now, these dudes aren’t slouches. Far from it. Both are very successful men in their chosen careers. But, they saw and were confessing that they saw such softness in themselves, in our culture. They knew they needed to gut it out for the glory of Christ, even as they struggled to find contentment as Christian husbands, fathers, churchmen, and bread-winners. Their words have stuck with me for months.

This reminds me of another Christian I've recently sought to pastorally assist. They didn't like what I basically counseled them. I brought what I believe to be the only biblical answer to their situation. Stay where you are. Don't move from where God has you right now. This is not easy advice – nor is it the only thing I said to encourage them. (I sought to employ great sensitivity, gentleness, compassion, and hope – encouraging them to look to the example and empowerment Jesus provides for them in their situation.) But it wasn't what they wanted to hear. I could feel the invisible walls go up when I saw them the next couple times.

The most interesting response this person gave me when I spoke to them about the Bible's counsel to their specific situation was, "I don't think God wants me to be miserable." That statement is telling on many fronts. It speaks to how our therapeutic culture has infiltrated evangelical Christianity. It reflects how our emotions caste blinding shadows over the biblical text's explicit meaning and application to our lives. And it is the summation of our anemic, 21st century pop-culture theology in the Western world.

I read the following quote today that challenged my heart in regards to all this. It's convicting. And, yet, I hope that you, like me, find comfort in it if you're a battle-worn disciple of Jesus.

"There is a mind-set in the prosperous West that we deserve pain-free, trouble-free existence. When life deals us the opposite, we have a right not only to blame somebody or some system and to feel sorry for ourselves, but also to devote most of our time to coping, so that we have no time or energy left over for serving others.

"This mind-set gives a trajectory to life that is almost universal – namely, away from stress and toward comfort and safety and relief. Then within that very natural trajectory some people begin to think of ministry and find ways of serving God inside the boundaries set by the aims of self-protection. Then churches grow up in this mind-set, and it never occurs to anyone in such a community of believers that choosing discomfort, stress, and danger might be the right thing – even the normal, biblical thing – to do.

“I have found myself in conversations with Christians for whom it is simply a given that you do not put yourself or your family at risk. The commitment to safety and comfort is an unquestioned absolute. The demands of being a Christian in the twenty-first century will probably prove to be a rude awakening for such folks. Since we have not embraced the Calvary road voluntarily, God may simply catapult us onto it as he did the home-loving saints in Acts 11:19: ‘Those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word.’” – John Piper, The Roots of Endurance: Invincible Perseverance in the Lives of John Newton, Charles Simeon, and William Wilberforce (18)

Before I leave you, I have one more thought that confirms with Dr. Piper’s talking about. I’ve been a church planting pastor for 3 years now. I can’t tell you how many people have walked in – and out – of our church because of the very thing addressed in the quote above. The reasons many Christians have chosen not to join what we’re endeavoring to build had nothing to do with the fact that we were asking them to leave their jobs, their homes, their family, or their relatives for the cause of Christ. No, it had everything to do with the discomfort and stress a small church demands. It requires extreme self-sacrifice – on the part of every member – for that church to grow in numbers and gospel influence.

Instead, most suburban Christians want to drop their children off in a world-class childcare facility, send their teenagers to a “wow” experience youth group, hear a sermon by a guy who’s job is solely just preparing sermons, find a “click” within that large church (and avoid the rest of the “weirdo’s” [translated: different than they are] who go there), and serve without it being too taxing on their already-established and “very busy” lives. Church plants, like international missionary endeavors, are by nature very uncomfortable, very demanding, very stressful, and sometimes even dangerous (to our present social circles). But both are seeking to do what the Great Commission commands: make disciples.

Are you gripped by the gospel? Really? Here’s a test: are you willing to leave your big, comfy church to establish a new one? Here’s an even deeper question: what if God called you to leave the United States to serve in a foreign country? If your answer is, “No,” to either question, you’re not gripped by the gospel. You may not even know it. Christ is looking for those who are willing to gut it out…for His glorious purposes in this world. What’s your answer? “Here am I, send me!” Or, “God doesn’t want me to be uncomfortable.”

1 comment:

  1. you hit the nail in the head. I have struggled with this since coming to Afghanistan, wanting to stay with our local body asking God to open up a door to do so and when I thought all was lost, he provided a way, this was done with prayer not just by myself and family but by the church. I believe there is something to say about putting roots into a community and into a church, and my family has made a commitment to do that, thank you all for your prayers.

    I will end with phrase which I have meditated on since arriving in afghanistan, it is simple "forward or fire" this came after the Galatians army headed toward Ireland the captain on the ship would light the boat on fire before they would reach shore so you have a choice "forward or fire". Some would rather take possible death in the ocean than stand and fight.

    Ive been wanting to send this message to our church I believe it is completly applicable, and an encouragement to all those willing to stick with the church. I would even say a word from God to our church.

    Hebrews 13.....

    see you soon...