Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Change of Direction

I'm not much good lately about keeping the promises I make regarding what I'm going to write about in the future on this blog. I've promised posts on predestination, the doctrine of Scripture, and probably numerous other things, so I apologize to my great faithful horde of blogosphere followers for my grave dereliction of duty. I know the two of you (presumptuous, I know) are desperate to learn further from my wisdom, but please, hang in there a while longer and I just might get to the promised projects . . . one of these days.

Truthfully, I don't feel a great deal of motivation lately to do much writing. It's not that I'm too busy. I'm just taking one class, leading a Bible study, and not doing much of anything else productive other than these two things that really are important. No; I have struggled from time to time throughout my life with laziness, procrastination, and depression, and that’s where I am at in the current season of my life. When mired in the mud, it can be difficult to find that surge of energy that is required to crawl lose, dig out, and get up into standing position again like a man.

The source of my current malaise is an unresolved question of purpose coupled with a fear of continuing for all of my days in a state of disappointment and unfulfillment. I am profoundly unhappy, and I do not know how to proceed to remedy that. I never have known how to change that.

Plans have been frustrated, the search for deep community in the embrace of a local expression of Mother Church has been unsatisfactory, my isolation has increased, my search for "Eve" has been ill-conceived and thus unproductive, friends do not draw close (mostly, I fail to seek them out), I drink from empty or fouled cisterns, I capitulate to fear, and pervasive feelings of unreality and futility—embodied in the questions, Who reads my stuff? Is it important, and, even if it is, does it make a difference?—stifle the creative urge to write.

That's enough feeling sorry for myself. I think you get the picture about my emotional, relational, vocational, missional, creative, etc., state at the present time. I truly covet your prayers, but the point is that problems don't get solved by wallowing or by withdrawing deeper into oneself to find the answers. That's what I have always done and it doesn't help. I hear the Savior calling us to a better way: "He who loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39). He's telling me, "If you're unhappy with yourself and the direction your life is headed in, quit worrying about it. Turn your attention from yourself and your problems and focus on serving others!"

I'm worrying too much about my purpose writ small. Our purpose writ big is, "LOVE GOD, LOVE PEOPLE!" That's first. Get that established and you're on the right track. You don't have to go to seminary to do that or write brilliant blog rants that acutely point out and remedy everything that's wrong with American Protestant Christianity.

I have apologies to issue and prophetic words to preach to myself before I preach them to others. Much of what I have written from my armchair theologian's position as a blogger has been self-important, hypocritical, and self-serving. I have written a good deal about certain emphases held by the historic Church that have been neglected in American evangelicalism, much to our detriment. Usually the emphases I have taken up to recover are those that have been thrown out the door in the name of protecting equal and seemingly opposite emphases we have deemed to be priorities in authentic Christian faith and practice.

For instance, in order to preserve the utter transcendence of God and the immediacy of His saving works in His creatures and in His world, we have exclusively emphasized the way that God works using spiritual means, rejecting the ideas that God works redemptively in His creatures and in His world through a human church and the material means of the sacraments as "superstitious," Roman Catholic-sounding doctrines that belong in the dust heap of Church history.

I have engaged in some pretty harsh rhetoric on this front, so, undoubtedly, some of my writing has proved to be less than charitable to the Baptist tradition of my youth and to other credobaptist and non-sacramental traditions. I apologize to friends of these persuasions whom I might have alienated in my overzealous attempts to recover a robust ecclesiology and sacramental theology for evangelicals. I have been obtuse and rude and self-important to think my efforts alone could make apparent the correctness of a high ecclesiology and sacramental understandings of baptism and the Lord's Supper, much less show how important it truly is to believe correctly on these matters. I mean well, and I will try to speak more charitably on these points from here on out.

In the same vein and more directly to the point I'm trying to make, I have made a great deal of bother about how we have blown up the importance of one's personal relationship with God and the application of salvation to individuals to the point that the communal nature of our salvation and the importance of the church to that salvation has been obscured and thus that the love Christians are to have for one another (both the love we are to give and that which we should receive) has been downgraded from being one of God's surest testimonies to His children that they are His own to being simply a matter of optional, supplementary support for private Christians in their personal relationships with God. I absolutely think this is the case, and I think that this is one of the chief tragedies rampant individualism in American Protestantism has wrought.

I will inevitably be, and have been, accused of advocating salvation by love and will be accused of mixing up loving one another—a matter of sanctification—with individual justification before God, but does not John say, "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death." (1 John 3:14)? Has he not also said, "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." (1 John 4:7-8)?

Doctrinal issues aside, I must confess that, what I believe has been a burden given to me by God to be prophetic voice for reform in mainstream American evangelicalism arises (I will have to tell you the story sometime of how a charismatic/Pentecostal revivalist anointed me with oil and asked for God to give me the gift of prophecy and how I see that as an authentic commissioning, but that's for another time) from my own self-interest. I am so passionate for God's Church and for my vision of what a wonderful, loving, world-changing, Kingdom-ushering-in reality it was meant to be, can be, and will be because I want to find a place for myself where I can be loved and accepted at any time and in any place by loving Christian people in spite of the deep relational, emotional, and social brokenness and isolation I so often feel. I know God is for me, and when I stop to ponder God's graciousness to me, I remember so many instances of extravagant love that so many brothers and sisters in the Lord have undeservedly poured into my life at so many times and in so many ways and when I needed it the most. You wonderful folks know who you are! Still, I long for the days when the consolations of God's Spirit through His people will constantly flood over my loneliness and brokenness, freeing me to love fully in turn and be all that God has called me to be for the sake of the Church and the world!

What I have just said puts all the focus on my own needs, and I know our joys in the Lord and in one another will never be complete until Christ returns, but I also want you to have power to grasp "together with all the saints . . . how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:18-19).

This is where I must preach prophetic words to myself. I am part of the problem. When I clamor for my rights as a believer for the love of my fellow Christians while failing to love my brothers and sisters in the Lord as passionately as I desire them to love me, I fail to pay the debt of love I owe to Christ and to my co-heirs in and with Him. I too fail to love my brothers and sisters in Lord as they deserve to be loved. As C.S. Lewis reminds us repeatedly in the Chronicles of Narnia, "Each is only told his own story," and as Jesus said to Peter, "What is it to you? Feed my sheep" (John 21:17, 22).

If I am lonely, let me love my brothers and sisters in the Lord unreservedly. If I am concerned that I be included and welcomed more deeply into the community of my church, let me strive ever-harder to warmly love those I worship with. If I am concerned that I as a marginal person be loved and accepted among the cultural majority in my congregation, let me love in a radically counter-cultural way both those esteemed as marginal and those esteemed more favorably. If friends seem to be far away in times of need, let me reach for them in-season and out-of-season. If I believe God has something to say through me, let prophets preach to themselves.

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