Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Fly Over Country

Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy was one of the very few books we brought overseas with us way back when we first launched this journey.  Great book.  And now I've finally gotten around to reading Willard's The Spirit of the Disciplines.  

I have imagined myself as one attempting to imitate Christ, but Willard shows me for what I really am.  I tend to read the Gospels with an almost exclusive focus on the red letters (well, they used to be red anyway).  Much of the narrative black print between the red lettered sections had become fly over country for me.  Interesting terrain to look down at from thirty-thousand feet, but I'm more or less biding my time until I arrive at my destination: the rich teachings of the Master.

The call to "follow me" had been reduced to "follow my teaching."  I have spent far more energy trying to follow what Jesus taught than I have attempting to mimic how he actually lived his life in those long stretches of black print.

And Willard calls our attention to this.  If we hope to become Christlike, we follow the Master's way of life, not just his amazing teachings.

Willard points out that Jesus was, well, Christlike--sermon-on-the-mount-like--in the crisis moments of his life not simply because he was Christ, but because he had been training for these moments all of his life.  Reading the narratives we see how he wove into his life a pattern of spiritual disciplines that kept him connected to his Father and developed deep patterns of Godliness that enabled him to react in a Godlike way when the evil moments were thrust upon him.

Willard contends that it is ludicrous for followers of the Master to expect that we will be able to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, love our enemies, hide the good that we do--to be like Jesus in these more extreme moments--if we have not trained as he did in the everyday flyover country of our lives.
We cannot behave "on the spot" as he did and taught if in the rest of our time we live as everybody else does.  The "on the spot" episodes are not the place where we can, even by the grace of God, redirect unchristlike but ingrained tendencies of action toward sudden Christlikeness.  Our efforts to take control at that moment will fail so uniformly and so ingloriously that the whole project of following Christ will appear ridiculous to the watching world.  We've all seen this happen.
The secret?  Jesus' secret?  Spiritual disciplines.  I did a quick scan of the Gospels, and the numerous disciplines Jesus practiced jumped off the pages.  Some were not so obvious: though we don't see it described, his discipline of scripture memory must have been astounding--word-perfect recall after not eating for forty days?  In my quick sweep of the black-lettered narratives, I frequently caught Jesus in the practice of solitude and of prayer.

Alone.  On a mountain.  Praying.

And he says, follow me.

If there was an easier way, 
you better believe Jesus would have been the first to tell you.

--Dallas Willard

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Garbage Church

The small group of believers we worship with is a motley crew of messed up people if there ever was one.  Any given Sunday sees the rough block building with the uneven cement floor and the cheap plastic seats filled with prostitutes, drunks, swindlers...and a bunch of the rest of us more normal sinners.  We are all in the process of being transformed by our encounters with Jesus.  The pastor himself is an ex-drunk whom Jesus turned into one of the most passionate preachers I have ever heard.

Every Sunday we have an open mike testimony time, and it can be surreal.  One of the women in the the church shared that she had finally submitted to conviction and gone to ask forgiveness from the woman she had stabbed for cheating with her husband.  A young man shared recently that the reason he's there is because he'd seen the guy playing the bass guitar take a dramatic turn from a life of destructive sin to one filled with joy, purpose, job and family. He wanted his own life, currently caught in the self-destructive vortex of drugs/sex/drink, to experience the same change.  Last week a woman asked for us to pray for her as she tries to reach out to the woman who is currently sleeping with her husband.

One of the leaders told us that some in town refer to the place as The Garbage Church.  Human detritus filters in here.  So much so, that when the pastor saw our neatly dressed missionary family slip in the back for the first time his shocked mind assumed we'd gotten lost and wandered into the wrong place. Three weeks in a row I've watched the same toddler pee smack in the middle of the center aisle while her barefoot mom looks on adoringly.  The barefoot mom and her brood are fresh out of the jungle.  Simple, uneducated, dirty clothes...and welcome here.  Eventually they'll figure out there's an outhouse behind the church, but until then no one scorns them.  After all, how much effort does it cost us to step across a puddle on our way to the front at offering time?

And it seems to me that Jesus actually goes out of his way to encounter the prostitutes, drunks, swindlers, and kids who pee on the church floor.  He seeks out the broken.  He doesn't seem much interested in those who think they're something special.

Been poking around the first book of Peter, and have been hit by the words from Proverbs that Peter quotes towards the end of his writing:

God opposes the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.

Kind of lays out God's stance pretty clearly.  If I am proud, the God who created the universe is in opposition to me.  If I am broken, he's on my side.

What a gift to be surrounded by people who remind me to stay broken.