From consistent observation, I have found that one of the most fundamental problems confronting the Body of Christ in these admittedly challenging times has little to do with external forces and factors. It is easy enough for us to sit back a distance from the “heathen culture” that surrounds us and wag our fingers at a society that by just about all indicators, appears to be heading toward moral and ethical bankruptcy at breakneck speed.
Indeed, it is not a difficult task to define and identify those aspects of the world around us that we find falling far short of the standards set forth by the Bible in general and Jesus in particular. Easy as these options may be, my observations have led me to the inescapable conclusion that our most significant problems as the church universal do not exist “out there.” Out weightiest issues rest within the parameters of our own walls.
We have met the enemy, and it is us.
I don’t mean to be trite or sarcastic here. Instead, with a heart of sincerity and sadness I want to confront at least one of these problems that seem to be draining the Body of Christ of its vitality and its power. I am not speaking of some sinister or deep rooted problem that will take great energy and countless committees to “study and investigate” the issue at hand. I am not talking about some vague, wispy metaphysical or doctrinal dilemma that, like a parasite, is eating away at the very fabric of our faith. I am talking about something far more simple in concept and personal in terms of solution.
I am talking about Christian complacency.
Far too many of our churches are experiencing a decline in vitality due to a creeping, insidious blight that normally goes unnoticed until the congregation is on the cusp of a suffocating death, vainly gasping for even a drop of breath, a touch of the Spirit to restore a chance at life and a rebirth of hope. This metaphor of life and death and breath and spirit may seem a bit dramatic and perhaps it is. It is highly appropriate, however. Many churches are dealing with issues of life and death as a result of decades of settling for maintaining the status quo. Further, the absence of breath and the absence of Spirit are synonymous. Man did not become a living being until God breathed life into him. Even more relevant is the fact that in many languages, the words for breath and spirit are the same.
The implications of this are readily apparent. Where there is no Spirit, there is no life. And where there is no life, there is death and disintegration. What is more tragic is the fact that much of this could have been avoided had it not been for that demon we are speaking of: complacency.
I think there comes a time in the Christian walk of faith when individual believers make a choice to go no farther with Christ. Let’s face it, Christ has called for such a radical transformation of character and world view, to fully follow his teachings would be suicide, given the realities of our post-modern world.
“Taking up the cross and following Him is not the same now as it was back in the day,” a friend of mine once said. “If I really did what Jesus said to do, I would wind up the poorhouse along with my whole family. I love Jesus, but hey, I am not an idiot. All in all, I think He understands.”
There is really nothing wrong with this logic. The problem lies in the fact that once we begin to make this compromise, a dozen more usually follow in its wake. Listen, my friend, to follow Christ in our day and time is suicide. And guess what? That’s how it’s supposed to be.
What is suicide? In a very real sense it is a voluntary death. And what is it that Christ asks us to do? We are to take up our cross and die daily. Each day, we are to undergo a voluntary death. That doesn’t mean that we literally attempt to end our lives. Heaven forbid. No, it means that we place the demands of our ego, our lower self, our flesh, on the cross. They die with Christ so that we may be raised up in new life. It cost quite a bit to be a Christian and this faith is not for the weak of mind or faint of heart. It takes a real hero to be a true Christian.
The question before us, and the antidote to the complacency that like a leech, is sucking the very life out of the church, involves each of us on an intimately personal level.
The ultimate question facing Christians in this difficult but exciting age is a question each believer must answer individually. Will you take on the yoke of Christ in all its implications and allow him to live and fulfill his mission through you? Recognize that this question involves taking an assessment of the true costs of discipleship. Yes, God’s grace is freely given but real discipleship comes with a price. And in the end, my friend, that price is yourself. How each believer answers this ultimate question will determine how effective the church will be in its mission. Dallas Willard remarks:
So the great issue facing the world today, with all its heartbreaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or by culture, are identified as “Christians” will become disciples – students, apprentices, practitioners – of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom of Heaven into every corner of human existence. Will they break out of the churches to be his Church – to be, without human force or violence, his mighty force for good on earth, drawing the churches after them toward the eternal purpose of God?
If you think about it, the words of Willard are both motivational and frightening. Yes, most of us want to be true disciples of the Lord. We all want to learn from him and profess the willingness to do whatever he requires for the furtherance of his kingdom. However, do we really want that? Are we really willing to go to whatever lengths it requires of us? The question before each and every one of us is fairly simple to comprehend.
In my daily life, where the rubber meets the road, how far am I willing to go?
Each of us must settle this matter for ourselves. It is ultimately between the Lord and the individual believer when it comes to answering this vital question. However, our individual answers, taken collectively, largely determine the nature, the character, and the future of the church as a whole.
I am not trying to be fanatical here. I am not saying that unless you go all the way, you are not what God wants you to be. If that were really the case, I would be the first to admit that I would be toasted and toasted quickly. I think what Jesus is asking is, “How far will you go given your current circumstance?”
Also keep in mind, to avoid answering the question is to answer it. God, however, sometimes refuses to allow some of us to rest unless we answer this vital query. I know in my own life, whenever I avoid God for any length of time, particularly something he wants me to do that I don’t want to do, I can make Jonah look like a piker. Still, the Lord indeed comes after me and, in the final analysis, I am grateful.
If my own experience is a valid indicator, it seems that most of us come to a point in our Christian walk where we are confronted with the reality that things are not as they should be. On a surface level, we may be struggling with a persistent sin or shortcoming; on an emotional level, we may find ourselves wrapped up in a cloak of despondency, bitterness, or guilt. Whatever the surface manifestation, however, if we really take a look at what is going on and if we have the backbone to be brutally honest with ourselves, we find there is a deeper struggle occurring. More often than not, that struggle is between that still, soft voice calling us to move forward in our journey of faith and that other voice of complacency, which tells us that stepping out into the territory of the unknown can be a dangerous affair – at best unpredictable, at worst, downright terrifying. The late Brent Curtis and his co-author John Eldredge describe that voice we often hear in the dead of night:
The voice often comes in the middle of the night or the early morning hours, when our hearts are most unedited and vulnerable. At first, we mistake the source of this voice and assume it is just our imagination. We fluff up our pillow, roll over, and go back to sleep. Days, weeks, even months go by and the voice speaks to us again: “Aren’t you thirsty? Listen to your heart. There is something missing.
Indeed, my friend, that still, small voice calls us to the grand adventure. It calls us to get up off our seats, step out of our comfort zones, and walk forward in the light of Christ. It calls us to become His partner, to share his mission, to challenge the status quo, just as He did. Yet his calling is a high calling. It is a high honor, but does come with a price tag. The price tag for most of us is, first of all, getting past any sense of complacency and satisfaction with things as they are.
The call of Christ is without a doubt counter-culture and has no association with maintaining the status quo for the sake of personal comfort. The call of Christ is a grand calling, but to follow Him is to guarantee a degree of daily discomfort. I have always loved these words by Houston Smith, so much so that I will give them to you in their entirety. I think Smith speaks clearly about what the call of Christ entails:
…we have heard Jesus’ teachings so often that their edges have been worn smooth, dulling their glaring subversiveness. If we could recover their original impact, we too would be startled. Their beauty would not paper over the fact that they are “hard sayings,” presenting a scheme of values so counter to the usual as to shake us like the seismic collision of tectonic plates…We are told that we are not to resist evil but to turn the other cheek. The world assumes that evil must be resisted by every means available. We are told to love our enemies and bless those who curse us. The world assumes that friends are to be loved and enemies hated. We are told that the sun rises on the just and the unjust alike. The world considers this to be indiscriminating; it would like to see dark clouds withholding sunshine from evil people. We are told that outcasts and harlots enter the kingdom of God before many who are perfunctorily righteous. Unfair, we protest; respectable people should head the procession. We are told that the gate to salvation is narrow. The world would prefer it to be wide. We are told to be as carefree as birds and flowers. The world counsels prudence. We are told that it is more difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom than for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye. The world honors wealth. We are told that the happy people are those who are meek, who weep, who are merciful and pure in heart. The world assumes that it is the rich, the powerful, and the wellborn who should be happy. In all, a wind of freedom blows through these teachings that frightens the world and makes us want to deflect their effect by postponement – not yet, not yet! H.G. Wells was evidently right: either there was something mad about this man, or our hearts are still too small for his message.
I would encourage you to set aside some time each day, or as often as possible, for the next two weeks and just spend time alone with these words from Houston Smith. Pray about these words and what they mean to your life. Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you about Jesus and how these words relate to Him and how they relate to you. The Holy Spirit will answer you. It is, after all, in his job description.
© L.D. Turner 2008/All Rights Reserved