What do I mean by “…Life Has Taught Me?” I guess it is those things which I observed or picked up, not because someone intentionally instructed me but because I was paying attention and put some experience and some talk together. What follows fits that criteria.
Some things never get any better in this life.
Sorry to start with a downer but I learned this early – nobody told me. My mom was an alcoholic who used her booze to control undiagnosed bi-polar disorder. We know this now, but not back in the day. She never got well, just worse and better and worse again. We could not understand it. Hospitalizations did not help nor did all her years in A.A. After Dad divorced her in 1968 – the year I got married – she went downhill even faster. She died a bag lady in 1979. No kidding. The only reason we even know what happened to her is because the local coroner found letters from her mother in one of Mom’s bags and notified Nanna. She called the rest of us.
And now my beautiful wife Karen has been ill for over a decade with a debilitating dizziness which the docs at Park Nicollet, the U of M and Mayo Clinic cannot figure out. People have been praying for her for years, just like we prayed for years for Mom. Some things just do not get better. We live with them and we must hear God say, “My grace is enough for you.”
Practically everything good is done better by a community than by one person alone.
I saw how people rallied around my family sometimes; even my Young Life community of high school kids came one Saturday to help clean up our woefully chaotic house. Later I spent a year at L’Abri, a Christian educational community in French-speaking Switzerland. It was a powerful thing to be a part of a people who were dedicated to changing the world by spreading Christian perspective. I am sure God intends his people to work and live and act together as local expressions of his Body. I have seen it and lived it and I miss it today.
It is hard in our time to maintain true community for long.
Because our society at one time gave no thought to the individuals who are members of its communities, our recent centuries have given great emphasis to the importance of “the individual.” However, now we can barely imagine living within the Christian discipline of Submission, within which we would each bend our wills to the needs and priorities of an entire community. We are all afraid of such commitment and cannot imagine we would be fulfilled and not crushed by it. A great work of God’s Spirit is required for Christians today to form other than very temporary, ad hoc communities. I pray for that great outpouring of God’s Spirit now: a sign of the kingdom.
It is really hard to remember who we are apart from community.
Purpose and direction are all about who we are and what we are about within a community. At L’Abri we knew this without being told. When we were all invited by Mrs. Schaeffer to join her at 3:00 one morning to pray together for her husband’s debate with Bishop James Pike, beginning in Chicago at that very moment, the twenty or so of us who joined her knew what we were doing. Our society, however, makes it very easy to slip into the world’s mold and to forget the race we run.
We are all limited by what our communities know and believe.
Solidarity makes it difficult for members of communities to think clearly about ways in which their own group may be wrong about one thing or another. Openness within community to divergent views is critical to the health of the group. At Reba Place Fellowship, I remember, all decisions were made by consensus and so each member had a veto over everything. A disagreeing member was highly respected. It was recognized that he or she might be a prophet. After all, an entire Christian community may be conformed to the society’s ways in some matter. Communities need to respect the possible prophets in their midst.
Change really does come from the fringes of any society.
Two, then unheard-of Japanese firms, Casio and Seiko, turned watch-making upside-down, putting thousands of Swiss watch makers out of work with the quartz movement: no mainsprings, no gears. An Australian biochemist discovered the actual root cause for most stomach ulcers, overturning decades of medical ‘knowledge’ and practice. A small cadre of men and women from backwater Judea started a movement for a new kind of kingdom which eventually conquered the Roman Empire. Those with little to lose in the subversion of any status quo are free to advocate what transforms that world.
Love is hard but it make a huge difference.
Nothing is riskier than love. It feels like it will cost you everything – sometimes it does – but within love we have everything to gain. Love is an action, based on deep choices. Love involves feelings, but they come and go. When feelings disappear I focus on the choice and the actions. The more consistently I choose and act the more the good feelings eventually find their way back to me. This is true of love for country, spouse, children, a friend, and God. When we depend on the feelings for direction, we expect the thermometer to help us alter the temperature.
The kingdom of God will come with or without my efforts.
For a kingdom-focused Christian, nothing is more liberating than this knowledge. God has chosen to use people to achieve his purposes. It does not depend on us and yet we do get to help. If you or I give up or screw up, the work is not threatened. What is lost, perhaps, is the blessing we might have received for and within our efforts. The kingdom is not lost, nor is our place among those whom God treasures as his own.
So will the kingdom come through the efforts of the entire Christian community, worldwide, acting with one heart and mind? No. King Jesus will bring the kingdom with him from heaven down to the earth. However, the Lord does expect to find kingdom reflections, ‘sign-posts’ on the earth. Jesus asked the question, “When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on the earth?” Our transformed living together is the substance, the evidence of faith which he hopes to find on the earth.
There is no advantage with God for being good.
Don’t you sometimes sort of assume that long years of patient Christian living is going to get you some consideration, at least better seats at the marriage supper of the Lamb? I mean, as good a I have been – okay, I know the main table is reserved for the apostles and their guests (one each) – but surely I will be in the main room, right? Look, if seating is done by century, then us 21st century types will all be stuck watching the thing on closed circuit in room twenty-one to the right (or left, depending). But a few of us really meritorious types will get first-room seating, right?
No, no, no. One of the five points of Calvinism I have never doubted in the least is the first: Total depravity. Complete inability. I am not as evil as I could be, but every part of me is unable to advance my own salvation alone. And although I am, I believe, salvaged, I am no more able to contribute a single good or pure thing to the kingdom than I was before I was rescued from bondage. I have gifts and I am called to exercise them as fully as possible as I grow in grace. Still, motives are always mixed. My best efforts are shot through with pride. Yet, I believe that God cannot love me any more than God does right this minute. Nor can God love me any less.
[Now, as to that question of seating at the Marriage Supper, I honestly do not know how but I suspect we will all, somehow, have front-row seats.]
Being good does help… …Us!
Although God does not love me more when I am faithful than when I am rebellious, what is lost in my sinfulness is my sense of connection to God and his people. That is fearfully sad and it changes my experience of connection but my position as a child of God is secure, no-matter how I feel. Again, feelings have an important part. When I feel out of fellowship it is time to look around and discover why. Feelings should never dictate my actions but they sure do warn me when I am touching a hot iron or have moved outside the will of God. Feelings should either alarm me, get me recommitted and acting in faith or else comfort and reassure me as I live for God.
Next time: Things I have regretted.