Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Authentic Abiding in Jesus, Part Two

My search for a more authentic abiding in Christ had begun about a year before my wife and I decided to leave the local body in which we had participated for twenty years and eighteen years respectively. I already understood something of this topic. Having left the world at the time of my conversion to Christ in 1979 mired in more than one life-dominating sin, I had learned to abstain from alcohol dependency, drug abuse and promiscuity by abiding in Christ. That is focusing with confidence on Christ alone in my thought life, I learned avoiding and resisting the pulls of behavior to which I had become accustomed in my flesh. The reality of my walk was noted and confirmed by a call from the local body to be an elder after six short years from babe in Christ. I was thirty years old.

Why was this not enough you may ask? I am not sure how to articulate that other than to relate three observations from those years. First, I had started questioning the leadership of our group about 1991. I was not questioning so much authority as the consequences of our decisions and the manner in which we reached many decisions. I was part of the leadership team, a deep part. I was the second-longest sitting elder after the head pastor. I started to identify threads of -- how should I say this?--self interest labeled "God's heart" in what we decided regarding the larger group and clear indications our decisions were not fully loving others when it came to individual situations. I attempted to speak change and suggest alternatives, but it felt as if the status quo was simply too strong. I was not quite sure how to understand what I thought I was observing nor how little reception my viewpoint received. I questioned myself much, while I prayed constantly for the Lord to change me or our group as He deemed necessary.

In the winter of 1996-97 a predictable crisis in our family erupted over a teenage son. We received one of those 3:00 AM calls every parent dreads, "Mr. Davis, this is Sgt. Jones with the police department. We have arrested your son." I knew I had been too busy with the business of the church and took a year's leave of absence from my elder duties to give my family more attention. My second observation after about six weeks at home was like a deep satisfied collective sigh I began to identify among our family members. We were having more dinners around the table. My wife and I were encouraging, feeding, and accepting more talking and laughter together with our kids. One night when I had been home for four consecutive nights, the kids all in bed, I looked at my sweet wife and said, "This is how most Christian families live. It feels good." I had stepped off the treadmill of "good works" for the cause of Christ as defined by our group and discovered something incredibly precious many families know. We have enjoyed much familial love over the years, but much of that only came after the church had been served. When I reduced the number of hours church business required, the love in our family quickly blossomed into something rich beyond words. This got my attention. My questioning of how leadership functioned broadened and the questions became specific and directed at how people in our modern church culture spend their time; how they experience life in Christ; how leadership might function to more fully serve the saints.

Third, after we had separated from our church; and as I fulfilled my mandated church shopping I had many, many stunning moments of insight into the spirit of what we culturally call church. I visited ten or so congregations of different stripes. Some once, some for several months. Let me share with you three moments I recall with absolute clarity.
  • In an open Sunday school discussion about love, a criminal lawyer shared pointedly he did not love and had no ability to love some of the characters he was called upon to defend. He shared this as if it were a problem he had on one hand, and on the other hand as a situation with which he was perfectly at peace. He had no intention of ever showing this class of people any love.
  • Within the same body a layman was teaching in Sunday school about evangelism and finished with a starkly worded statement dripping with belittling condemnation and disgust, "Shame, shame," he nearly bellowed, "...on anyone here who is not winning souls everyday of his or her life."
  • Entering several minutes before one church's 11:00 AM main service, I recognized one family from our shared involvement in community children's soccer programs. The husband of the couple was an usher and lead me to the pew where his wife was already seated beside a few other folks. As she and I sought comfortable levels of chit-chat I asked, "So how do you and Charlie like fellowshipping here?" I knew already this was their church home of many years, and it seemed like a safe enough topic. She continued to look forward briefly, then turned to me with tears in her eyes beginning to spill onto her cheeks and said in effect, "We have always had our family in this church. I don't know what, but we have to do something different." The service included twenty minutes of the most theologically correct sermon I think I may have ever heard, read word for word from multiple long-hand covered pages and from which the pastor never once looked up.
Comments are welcome. My conclusions and new personal paradigm on abiding lay ahead.


Craig V. said...

I'm enjoying this series and look forward to the next installment. Not to ignore your most important point about abiding in Christ, I wonder if we as churches get so distracted by silly notions of success that we take our eyes off our real goals. For example, if we our goal is to enrich family life than it doesn't make a lot of sense to keep people busy away from their families. If, on the other hand, our goal is a big extravaganza, then taking people out of their homes makes more sense.

ded said...

I agree! I think too much of the time, we are well intentioned and faithful in ways that are not the fruit of abiding in Christ. Thus we miss the mark of what we say we want to be while hitting the mark of the inconsequential; or worse, we bull's eye stress. All in the name of Christ.

terry said... you navigate through this series, you are becoming a much better story teller. Since I know a lot of the steps in between, and have written about several of the chapters that you haven't, I wonder what the whole book looks like.

As I attempt to rest in/find my way back to that place of centered-ness you refer to, I can only say that you have made great strides and I am anxious to read the next installment.

ded said...

Thanks for the writing encouragement, Terry! I appreciate your insights and time invested in reading these posts.

I hope next couple of posts provide something of your expectations.

postmodern redneck said...

Your account reminded of a memorable passage in a book I read 30+ years ago called "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Heaven" by Gary Freeman. His narrator, then a teenage boy, had found that the old ladies around the church always got teary-eyed when he revealed that he wanted to become a preacher (and sometimes gave extra cookies, etc.) so when a new preacher came to the church the lad tried it on him. Preacher's response: "What on earth would you want to do that for?"
"Why, I want to serve the Lord and serve the church."
"You'll have to make up your mind."
"Excuse Me?"
"You said you want to serve the Lord and serve the Church. I said you'll have to make up your mind, because those two things often have very little to do with each other."

This isn't a perfectly exact quote, because I no longer have the book (have seen it used on Amazon, if anyone's interested). Guess that little book played a part in shaping my thinking over the years--and in making me a sometimes flaming radical.

Iris said...

Our Lord has given my husband (and children) a bit of a different way of "seeing."

There really is no church system (denomination) that will fit us. We are Pastor's children and have been studying and doing forms of mission work for years. Everything has come into question at one time of another (we would be in the Sr. group if we attended such). However, in the last few years, we have been assigned to different church bodies.

Our theology has been formed by our study, and then the Lord has graciously appointed us in churches for service where we find a measure of comfort, but do not totally agree. However, we are there for His Kingdom. Both of us serve in leadership roles. (Our two children are ass't pastors in their various appointed church fellowships). My husband and I probably have more harmony between us and a better sense of the pleasure of God in our lives than ever before.

My suggestion - do not look to the corporate body for your placement. Develop that with the Lord then listen and go where He leads. You may indeed need to search that out, but coming from this perspective, the evaluative process is not on the system nor its people, but in the hands of the Lord. Abiding in Him -- where He leads is my place.

I realize with younger children this might be more difficult, but my husband and I both wish we had listened to Him about His appointment much sooner instead of trying to find a "fit" for us according to our understanding of Scripture.

I applaud your being home more -- do not allow anything to take that away.

Just some sharing -- ,

Iris said...

I realize I did not fully explain (in my last comment) something that you need to know to understand. I am in leadership in an Assembly of God church while my husband is in leadership in a born-again Anglican Church. We never anticipated ever being in different fellowships -- but our unity is deeper than ever before. We agree more theologically than ever before and flow together easier than trying to "fit" in a system. We clearly do not fit -- no need to. We are on assignment to love and work in harmony.

It is an interesting walk.

Jimazing said...

I am dreadfully behind in reading your blog. I agree with terry's kudos on your storytelling ability. Our stories have the ability to engage the hearts of others as each one relates to it from their own perspective. I am enjoying your story very much. If you will slow down a bit, maybe I'll catch up with you :)

ded said...

postmodern redneck: Hey, brother!!

I would love to hear more of your radicalism sometime.

Iris, now that is interesting! Four pastors in one family representing several different groups. Thank you for sharing your situation that illustrates we maintain the unity of the Spirit and not worry over getting everyone's doctrine to line up to every dot and tittle.

The love of God and His redemption of us unto love for one another expressed in good works is so much simpler to live than many would make it out to be.

jimazing, glad you dropped by. Slow down? Well, I will I am sure, now that school is in full swing! Notice it took me four days to find the time to answer you?