An Outsider’s Code of Conduct

(Second of three parts. Continued thoughts from March 21, 2005)

The community that Jesus had presented to his followers was simple:

* You are not of this world. Don’t try to live like you are.

* Love each other. That is the mark of a disciple.

* You are not part of a hierarchy. Serve, do not dominate or set yourself apart with titles.

* Walk in unity with the Father.

Simple though it was, Jesus’ directive didn’t prove to be easy. He had effectively made outsiders of his disciples. It’s never easy for outsiders, particularly deliberate ones who act like aliens by choice. Christ-followers were going to be misunderstood and hated because they didn’t fit in chose not to fit in. Jesus warned his disciples that the world wouldn’t understand a people that consciously rejected it and its systems.

But therein lies the problem. Are we conscientiously rejecting the world? Are we familiar enough with the ways of the Kingdom that we can differentiate between it and what Paul called elementary principles- simple kid’s stuff? (Colossians 2:20). Furthermore, are we able (more importantly, willing) to set a course that intentionally diverges from the world’s systems and aims for a rendezvous with the Kingdom of God?

Not so much.

I am feeling compelled to explore practical ways for we Christ-followers to live as outsiders-strangers and aliens-in the world. My view is that the systems of the world are, at their core, idolatry, that is they are patterns of thought and practice that are human constructions under the covert supervision of the enemy of God. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not thrashing in the brush looking for demons. Wild-eyed paranoia over the works of the devil would make lousy editorial policy. I’d rather make a case for a uniquely Christian worldview that puts the world-the kosmos-in its proper place relative to the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “The lamp of the body is the eye; if therefore your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23). I italicized the last line here because that is precisely what I believe has happened in Western evangelicalism. Our light is darkness so we are only dimly aware of the rot that has eaten away at the substance of contemporary society. We have contented ourselves to be a “subculture” borrowing liberally from the world, sanitizing what we borrow to make it look “Jesusy,” then consuming it-white-bread Christianity packed with processed sugar and flour-as though it were actually good for us. Worse, a subculture is a culture in isolation. John Fischer said,

Instead of engaging our culture in a meaningful way, we have often preferred a siege mentality, retreating into the safety of our Christian subculture. We are more comfortable fighting culture than we are being constructively involved in it. Ironically, on every front we mount highly charged rhetorical battles with a worldly culture, while at the same time, within the walls of our subculture, we try to imitate the worldly culture’s nuance. (Fearless Faith. Harvest House, 2002. p. 15)

Moreover, we have missed the need for what Blamires calls, “a Christian Mind.” (The Christian Mind. Servant Books, 1978). I think that as we press into the 21st century, such a mind will call us beyond subculture and into counterculture.

Faces of the Fallen

Fly Kid (small).JPG
David & Iraqi Child

Today, our friends, David’s parents, are in Washington, D.C. to participate in the memorial to fallen soldiers of the Iraq war called, “Faces of the Fallen.” The photo above is one such face of the war. David said he hadn’t been so tired in a long time having spent a couple of hours playing with Iraqi children. Please pray for the family as we remember the sacrifice of our soldiers. and their loved ones.

In memoriam…
David J. Weisenburg,
B-Co, 2/162 infantry
Killed in Action 13 September 2004, Taji, Iraq

Reflections on a Long Year

The Soldier Comes Home
“Courage is the price that Life exacts for granting peace.” ~Amelia Earhart

And so ends 2004.

I know, 2004 ended three months ago, but for us the challenges of that year could not be ended until our son, Caleb returned from Iraq.

There were three families that stuck together during this trying time. We prayed together, shared our fears and, in one case, wept deeply together when one of our children, David, was killed in action. We rejoice at Caleb’s return, and in anticipation of Jon’s, but weep with David’s family. His parents will be travelling to Washington, DC for the unveiling of the tribute to the fallen soldiers.

“Soldiers that carry their lives in their hands, should carry the grace of God in their hearts.”
~ Richard Baxter

Another Flavor of World

The driving motivation behind the creation of a Christian subculture in America has been the issue of relevancy. We have wanted to make ourselves relevant to the world around us so that the gospel can be understood in terms that are common to the day. There is nothing wrong with this as long as we can maintain a different standard for how we live our lives. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. We have become so enamored of the primary culture in the process of trying to be relevant to it that we now offer it hardly anything other than another flavor of itself. I used to think American Christians were shallow; now I realize it is American culture that is shallow. Our failure has not been through our identification with the culture as much as it has been through our inability to rise above it.

-John Fischer, Fearless Faith, pg. 30-31

In general, I have been impressed and inspired by what John Fischer has written in his book. He is like the child in the old story who cried out among his elders the obvious truth that the emperor had no clothes on. Still, I wonder how important it is to “make ourselves relevant to the world around us so the gospel can be understood in terms common to the day.”

Maybe that’s not the place we should be starting. That we start there may be the reason we can’t find the standard for living our lives differently. What’s relevant to them? Maybe the moving question ought to be, “what.’s relevant to us?” If we look to the world to provide the baseline for our relationship with it, aren’t we apt to be spending more time looking at the world than at God? This is what has been happening. I’m becoming convinced that we need to have a crystal clear understanding of what is relevant to us. How should redeemed, regenerated, sojourners bound for a kingdom that is not of this world live their lives? Let’s start there.

Moreover, when I sense someone is trying to be relevant to me, I can’t help but feel patronized. I’m more drawn to a person who is confident in their own space even though I may not be with them in it. Isn’t that the message of many folks today? Stop patronizing me! Stop trying to sell me stuff! Get real; get authentic! What’s up with a world where I can find real lemon juice in my furniture polish but not in my lemonade? —real faith on the streets, but precious little in the churches?

Meanwhile, we’re printing bibles that imitate the publications of the world, and producing music that sounds like the world, but isn’t the same. Fischer is right. Another flavor of world isn’t what those who live inside the world need, neither is it what those of us who are outsiders need.

What’s needed is a genuine “counterculture.” By that I don’t mean a league of antagonists—storm troopers in the culture war— trying to defend their claim in popular society in order to protect their world-flavored sub-culture. That, it seems to me, is an “anti-culture.” What is needed is a counterculture made up of people who know the eternal Father, and know what He has made of them. For them to live peacefully, confidently imitating Jesus as they honor their Creator, might well appear to the insiders of the world to be a society of faithful people. It might also appear to be a good place to come ashore after running aground in the shallows of American culture.


Living in the Twilight Zone

“There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area we call the Twilight Zone.”

~Opening to the third season of “The Twilight Zone” TV program.

I’m starting a class I’m calling “Living in the Twilight Zone.” At first I thought I’d call it Ministry in the Twilight Zone, but these days I shy away from terms like ‘ministry’ that have become deeply rooted in the Christian sub-culture.
The class is based on these assumptions:

  • · As Christ-followers we are transitioning into a new dimension, a dimension that links time and space with the dimension of the infinite and eternal (some would call it ‘heaven,’ but that’s another term fairly drenched with the heavy perfume of evangelicalism so I’ll call it the ‘dimension of the infinite-eternal.’). We are bound for a destination beyond this world.
  • · Having been infected with the “good virus” called the Spirit, which is the legacy of a crucified and resurrected Messiah, we find ourselves in “the middle ground between light and shadow,” between the limitations of reasoning and the credulity of religion; between the primal fear of living and the limitless hope for something beyond. It is a dimension of imagination, but not of myth and legend. As Spirit “carriers” we are drawn into a reality that strains our imagination: the meta-narrative, the story from which myths and legends descend. It is the First Truth from which half-truths, distortions, and falsehoods flow. The story of our Creator God and His chosen Seed is the meta-narrative. It is our legacy and our story to tell. As Christ-followers, we are not to withdraw from the world, but to carry the light—the story—into the world, living consistently, faithfully and fearlessly as aliens in a place that is only a stopover on a longer journey.
  • · We are on a journey of discovery in which we intend to learn who we are in Christ and fearlessly embrace the implications. It seems that there are layers of “veneer” that, over time, have been nailed to the frame of the Father’s story. It will be our goal to peel away the layers and find what is basic to the life of a Christ-follower.
  • · We are not to judge the world as though it should be expected to live as we do in spite of the fact it has not been infected with the Spirit. We are to love the world because that is what our Father did. As Jesus spoke with his Father he said, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:18). Jesus loved the world. The Father sent Jesus because He loved the world. For that reason, we are to love the world. We are not to sit as judges, rather walk as storytellers, or as revelers carrying a “splendid torch” in the shadows.
  • · To do this we will have to practice storytelling and loving—one another and the world. John Alexander, in his book, The Secular Squeeze, put it this way: “But Jesus didn’t stop with stories; he also gave us way to authenticate them…He told us…that you tell whether a story is true by the lives of the people who tell it. You judge a story by its teller…A good story enables people to lay down their lives for each other and become one.” What is called “evangelism,” at its core, is the splendid torch of the Father’s story and the story of His seed, which is His Son.

This is living in the Twilight Zone. Undoubtedly, Rod Serling, in his portentous prelude to the creepy tales of that third season of the venerable program, never imagined that his words might suggest an approach to living as followers of Jesus. But, as long as light continues to meet darkness there will be shadows. That is where we have to learn to carry a torch.

Helping Restless Christians on the Road to Adventure