Monday, December 12, 2005

Formula or Falling in Love? part ii

The second stream of thought concerning the being a Christ-follower flows through the language of falling in love. Ideas like "personal relationship" "new birth" "household of God" and, especially, "Bride of Christ" form the framework for this view of God's salvation.

Becoming a believer is like falling in love: mysterious, deeply personal and varies from one to the other. Christ-followers seek to share this transforming relationship with pre-Christians through loving, genuine relationships. Accepting people where they are and prayerfully looking for opportunities to interject the love and message of Jesus into their lives. The process side of conversion, the pre-decision preparations steps are the focus.

Focused on acceptance and relationships, this current is wide. It is also shallow, sometimes trading presence for presentation. There is a good life lived, the genuine acceptance and love of the person found in Jesus is shared, but often no moment of acceptance of this relationship is offered.

The Bible's ultimate picture for God's relationship to those experiencing his salvation is pictured as a marriage, with Jesus as the Groom and the community of faith as the Bride. This image of what it means to experience salvation through Jesus balances the needed pieces of assurance and acceptance, of variable time to convert and "today's the day of Salvation," and of valuing the person and calling to commitment.

One day I woke up a single man. I got dressed up, went to a church and met Lisa at an altar. We publically made promises to each other. Then the pastor pronounced us "Man and Wife." I had entered that day, that building, that room, that moment in time a single man. I left that moment, that room, that building and that day a married man.

We dated a long time before that day. We shared life and in the process got to know each other. We discovered a mysterious, powerful love one day. We could no longer think of life without the other. I proposed. She said, "Yes." We planned the day. We got blood tests. We participated in a series of premarital counseling sessions. ALL before the moment of marriage.

But, we were not married until we had that moment of commitment.

That was 12 years ago next May. Since we have learned what marriage really is.

So when I think of salvation, I think of my marriage to Lisa. When I think of sharing it with others, I think of myself setting up a date between two friend. In this case it is some man or woman I know and God. As the relationship grows, I encourage it, support them both as they explore a new kind of life together. But the mysterious, powerful loving relationship is out of my control. The man or woman will not be a Christ-follower until that moment of commitment begins a lifelong journey. Then as John the Baptist said, I rejoice at the Groom's marriage to his new bride.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Formula or Falling in Love?

Is becoming a Christ-follower more like following a formula or falling in love?

Two very strong currents are running through the ocean of what was once known as evangelical Christianity. They diverge at the point of how we relate to God, how that relationship begins and is continued. Some move in the direction of formulas. Life lived in trusting faith has been stated in terms of a contract. Others move in the direction of falling in love. Life lived in faith has been stated through the nearest analogy among humanity: wedded love.

You can recognize you are flowing in the first current when you think of or talk to others about becoming a Christ-follower as a salesman might talk to a prospective consumer about a product. You think/talk of the benefits of Christ-following. You minimize the costs by spreading it out over time or correcting common myths about how much the bottom lilne really is. And of course, the cost-benefit analysis falls on the side of accepting the offer now. You think/talk about the steps that assure reception of the gift of salvation today and guarantee the prospect will not miss out on this time-limited offer. You focus on closing the deal and getting a commitment now. You overcome obstacles to closing the deal with counter measures. Words like leads, prospects, plans and numbers season every conversation with other Christ-followers about the pre-Christians around you.

This current is narrow but swift. Those who are moving through life without God are pulled into this way of thinking by the sheer rush of motion and activity. Beginning with Jesus this way does provide a clear closing or commitment point of reference. Much work has been done to clarify and simplify and package this approach to sharing the invitation to Christ-following.

Being narrow, this wave of evangelism passes some by. Either people accept our presentation or they don't. We even say this is our only responsibility: to present. The rest is the work of God and the choice of the individual. People degenerate into objects. Little consideration is given to the person' sitz en liben (situation in life.) It can become very impersonal and dehumanizing. If a person rejects the presented offer, most will move on to other, more receptive leads...

For more on this discussion, check back next week...

Monday, December 05, 2005

Danger of living in the light

Once in a great while, I say or write something for a Sunday Celebration! at Touchstone Community poinient and profound enough to keep me thinking beyond its delivery. These "gleanings" I occasionally post. Please allow me the following "Vanity Press" moment:
While waxing eloquent, or rambling on some would say, about the Light of Hope in a Dark World for Advent yesterday, I believe I came upon a genuine Word: Those in the dark can see into the light, but those inside the circle of light cannot see outside it.
Think of a time you have passed an unshaded and lighted window or door at night. You can see clearly the Christmas tree or furniture within the room beyond the window.
Now think of a time you stood inside a lighted room waiting for a tardy child to come home. The same transparent window which allows passersby to see your tree and furniture, blocks all vision outside. You actually stare at a mirror image of yourself.
So, too, with those following Christ as he is and is in the light (John and First John.)
Those outside of this reconciling relationship can see into it clearly. They see the joy, hope, peace, power and freedom that furnishes such a life. They can see what Christ-followers do and even catch glimpses of Jesus in our actions.
The Christ-follower has limited vision, though. Unless we direct rays of hope, love, peace and other forms of Christian light into the dark world around, we no longer see what lives and lurks in the dark. Unless we purposefully create light beams and bridges back to those in the dark, we loose sight of the dangerous, lonely and cold life apart from Jesus.
Just a word of warning not to stare at our own image reflected agains the darkened pane; but, to let our little lights shine out hope, peace and love into our darkened world. For many wait to be welcomed into the life they see in the light.