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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Why I Don't Call Myself a Christian Anymore.

 "We tend to think that if Jesus Christ compels us to do something and we are obedient to Him, He will lead us to great success. We should never have the thought that our dreams of success are God's purpose for us. In fact, His purpose may be exactly the opposite. We have the idea that God is leading us toward a particular end or a desired goal, but He is not. The question of whether or not we arrive at a particular goal is of little importance, and reaching it becomes merely an episode along the way. What we see as only the process of reaching a particular end, God sees as the goal itself."

"What is my vision of God's purpose for me? Whatever it may be, His purpose is for me to depend on Him and on His power now. If I can stay calm, faithful, and unconfused while in the middle of the turmoil of life, the goal of the purpose of God is being accomplished in me."

"God's training is for now, not later . . . We have nothing to do with what will follow our obedience, and we are wrong to concern ourselves with it. What people call preparation, God sees as the goal itself. "

      Excerpted from Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (July 28th).

As many of you know, Tricia and I have been up in western Massachusetts since the summer of 2008. We followed Jesus and came to help plant imagine/Northampton, the creative missional church forming in our hearts and minds beginning in early 2007. We were all filled with dreams and ideas of what imagine/Northampton was supposed to become. We talked of it for hours upon hours. We prayed and studied. It took shape in us.

The day finally came when we moved. There were all sorts of unforeseen problems, setbacks and difficulties, but we were here and gradually became a part of the life of this city.

Over the course of the two years here, we weathered all manner the trials and tribulations, some expected and some not. In the midst of it all a subtle change took place. I stopped referring to myself as a Christian and not because people were antagonistic to me because I am one. The word gradually just felt too passive. I saw it similar to calling myself American, Irish, or a McDermott. It described something about me, but didn't capture the dynamic nature of actually following Christ, a dynamism I valued and wanted to characterize my life. A person can be baptized into Christianity and never follow Christ. I realized I wanted my primary identity to be that of a man actually following Christ in the redemptive work he's currently doing in my neck of the woods. Many of the other terms used to identify me are the roles and interests though which I should follow him. Everything I am and do is given to him for his use as his follower. The term Christian was just too pale for what he wants from me which is to step over the line, follow him and never look back.

So I've taken to using the term Jesus-follower. Sometimes I use Christ-follower - nothing wrong with that. However, I prefer Jesus-follower because it captures his becoming human, and I can identify with that: he became one of us that we might become like him. At the same time, I know his being Christ (the Messiah) is a source of great joy and hope to me. It's just that Jesus-follower feels the most intimate term, so I use it more.

With that in mind, I've also begun to come to grips with a simpler, but more true to the heart of God understanding of my following Jesus as a spiritual formation catalyst under imagine/Northampton. I see it as less about the mechanics of planting and growing a church, and more about opening people to the love of God through Jesus and his call on them to truly love others. I'm to obey God in this regardless of whether or not imagine/Northampton sticks. Therefore, the mission is less about growing an organization, and more about helping form an exuberantly loving community of viral Jesus-followers. It has nothing to do with hip programs or innovative artistic expression, and everything to do with being a faithful redemptive subversive in the Kingdom mission God is leading . . . one person at a time. Church for me is not a thing, event or a place, but a salvific stealth movement of unexpected healing, freeing and being included in the most miraculous revolution in the universe.

So I'm seeing I am to follow him and be of use as he invites people to trust and experience his healing love. Then, by his grace and through the leading of his Spirit, I am to help them open to his love so they can learn to love others who have no idea such love exists. It's that simple, I think. Adding to the imagine/Northampton membership rolls is not my prime directive. That's God's prerogative. Following Jesus wholeheartedly and loving what he loves is.

So I'm understanding being a Jesus-follower these days to mean continuing to find what it is to love God with all my heart, and soul, and mind, and strength (holding nothing back i.e., learning to surrender fully), and from the wellspring of his gracious, abundant response, give my days in Northampton to loving others as I would want to be loved. My key question every day has to be: Am I following Jesus today or am I wandering in the jangling confusion of my desires, wants and preferences thus giving myself to "much ado about nothing?" I've been quite good at the latter!

Oswald Chambers in the quote above reminds us that obeying him is the essence of being a Jesus-follower. Listening to his commands and instructions through the Spirit and then going (or sometimes waiting) fulfills his purpose in me, and maybe his purpose through me. I want to learn such obedience and the freedom attendant to it. I want to trust God to such a depth that outcomes do not determine how passionate I will be for obeying him. In other words, if I never see any fruit from my labors here, it will not seem a failure to me because I obeyed, stayed the course and did what was asked of me . . . I followed with all I had.

What about you?

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