I am working on a series entitled Basic Christian Faith. Through the series I am going to be focusing on developing a basic framework and outline as to what it means, at a basic level, to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
To be clear I come to this project my own predispositions and assumptions. I will however try my best to steer an ecumenical course where possible. I am not laying down a systematic theology, rather this series will focus on the practices and faith tenets central to Christian belief whether you are coming at this from a protestant, evangelical, catholic, or eastern tradition.
My heart is that of a teacher and I hope that as the series progresses we can dialogue as we work together to understand what it means to follow Jesus Christ in this ever-changing world.
When I was a kid we would sing a song:
This is the day, this is the day
That the Lord has made, That the Lord has made
I will rejoice, I will rejoice
and be glad in it, and be glad in it
Chances are if you attended most any church as a child you sung that song as well.
What I love the most about this song is its present-ness, this is the day that the Lord has made. It can be hard living in this day, this moment, right now. I find that most people prefer to time travel mentally and dwell either on the past or the future. Our nows are often swallowed by the thens.
When I graduated from college I was completely unsure of my future; what it was that God wanted me to do with my life. The culture of church often pressures young folks that are devout and have some inkling of a ministerial call into discerning 'God's will for their life.' Frankly, it's downright intimidating, especially when you are in your early 20's and your adult identity is just forming. I was literally depressed at times because I didn't know what God's will was for me.
In hindsight I see God's hand it work in my life, and most of us see God's hand in our own lives as well, but I was so worried about the future that I missed opportunities laying right at my feet to serve God in the present moment. Francis Chan remarks that God rarely gives his followers a five or a ten year plan for their life up front; rather we are to seek out God's will in the present moment, seek what it is that God is asking of us right now, an then do it.
I was convinced that if I knew God's plan that the rest would just kind of fall into place, that I wouldn't have to think or do much about it. The problem with that was that it totally removed me from the equation. Certainly God has specific desires for us; but when we ask God to lay it all out on the table what we are really saying is, 'God, I don't want to have to think about this thing, I don't want to be challenged to bring any of myself to this partnership; just tell me where to go, what to say, how to say it.' God doesn't work that way. God wants you to be engaged with him in the building of His kingdom using your unique gifts and strengths.
Knowing God's will is, more than anything, a surrendering of the the present moment, and listening for God's prompting. Jesus says as much when he says:
Therefore, stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:34
Learn from the past, look with hope to the future, but live in the present and listen to God in the here and now.
There is a blessedness in honesty, the kind of honesty that gets you in trouble. Let me be clear what I am referencing is self-honesty, not the one where you boost your ego by saying unkind things to others. Self-honesty is the kind of honesty that you have with yourself about yourself and the kind of honesty you share about yourself with those closest to you.
I am not always an honest person, even though I strive for it each and every day. Lacking confidence in the person I am I might be tempted to sprinkle a bit of spice on the top. Not out and out bold lies mind you, I wouldn't want to face the backlash if you did your homework, these are just little white lies that help puff up my ego in just the right places. I am sure you have no idea what I am talking about.
The problem with these little white lies is they don't let people (and myself) see (or let me be) the true me, the me God made me to be. Instead of me they (and I) see some kind of slightly blurred echo, enough definition so as to not mistake it from reality at first; but in the end a projected and hollow shell. It's this hollowness that ultimately defeats us, especially when we forget who we really are and trade the real for the shadow, or as John Ortberg calls it, the impostor self. A crust builds up over time, a hardness to the shell that slowly encases us and traps us inside of our false self. Eventually we petrify, becoming a rigid and lifeless statue forged from false ideals.
As I think through my life anything of meaning has only occurred because I chose (active verb here) to be honest about who I was and who I wasn't. It is only when we reveal our defects, our shortcomings, and our failures that we find ourselves covered in the redemption that can come from Christ, the redemption that brings congruence to our warped selves and the restoration of our full humanness. When we trade who we are, warts and all, for the shadow-self we end up completely missing the fullness of God's restoration into his image and settling for some lesser idol of our own sin-bent vision.
I think of the song Create In Me a Clean Heart and its prayer that the Holy Spirt would renew a right and harmonious spirit in us. When we forget, or do not yet know, the power of God's forgiveness we can easily trade away our own identity for some false and presumably more glamorous image. We let slide those things we would rather not admit about ourselves hoping that by taking away our humanity we would somehow become righteous. The problem with that scenario is that it is a false understanding of what God's grace is. Grace isn't some kind of spiritual surgery where God cuts out what doesn't please him; rather it is the full restoration of who he always wanted us to be. God works with all of who we are (and often in spite of who we are given the opportunity).
My prayer is that I (and you) would have the courage to step out of our own shadow, embrace our humanness in all of its weakness and frailty of being, and to hold out for the grace that comes when we let God meet our needs of acceptance.