Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Unconventional Faith

When I was a kid, church was central to all we did. For teens, our denomination offered the annual ritual of “Convention.” This usually happened around Easter or Thanksgiving break when we all had long weekends.

A convention meant we came from all over the state to the same location for a weekend of spiritual resuscitation. Instead of hotels, we stayed in homes around the area, sleeping wherever there was a flat surface.

With small exception, everyone was well-behaved.

Whipped into a frenzy of renewal

At the services is where we got raucous, laughing to the sermons that were intentionally slanted toward cool, clapping to the “contemporary” worship music, and then beseeching the mercy of God after being confronted with our many libidinal sins.

Oh, what wretches we were, so we were told!

But it was all good in the end.

The spiritual spotlight that was lasered on our hearts that weekend cleansed and refreshed us. We confessed, renewed our commitments to Christ, felt the Holy Spirit lift our hearts, and then we went home.

There, re-immersed in our un-conventional lives, we were slammed with the reality that life is not a beach.

Confronted by the reality of convention-less living

While there was some value to these conventions, our hyped up excitement usually petered out before the next weekend.

Instead of the camaraderie of dozens of like-hearted brothers and sisters to encourage us, we had to deal with the subtle mocking of unchristian friends.

Instead of nightly praise fests and rallies, we had to deal with the drudgery of homework and pimples.

Instead of a being contained securely in a holy sin-free safe zone, we were face-to-face again with our persistent temptations, struggles, and insecurities.

The reality of living in the world but not of the world tamped our spirits down quickly.

If we could just somehow hold on, there was always the periodic revival and summer church camp for recharging our drained spiritual batteries!

It seemed we were always clinging to faith by the skin of our teeth. And our teeth hurt most of the time.

Walking steady in unconventional faith

In his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, Eugene Peterson opens with the simple assertion: “This world is no friend to grace.”

No kidding! I learned that as a teen every week after convention.

But conventions, summer camps, revivals, and the like failed to inoculate us against the vagaries of sin. They were more like the fleeting highs that come from a sugar or caffeine binge.

There was always a post-event crash.

True faith cannot be sustained by occasional shots in the arm. It is “a long obedience in the same direction.”

This steady walk of faith begins with repentance. Not the hyped-up-emotion-of-the-moment “repentance” that is usually happens at a youth convention or other event.

Peterson puts it this way:
“Repentance is not an emotion. It is not feeling sorry for your sins. It is a decision. It is deciding that you have been wrong in supposing that you could manage your own life and be your own god; it is deciding that you were wrong in thinking that you had, or could get, the strength, education and training to make it on your own; it is deciding that you have been told a pack of lies about yourself and your neighbors and your world. And it is deciding that God in Jesus Christ is telling the truth. Repentance is a realization that what God wants from your and what you want from God are not going to be achieved by doing the same old things, thinking the same old thoughts. Repentance is a decision to follow Jesus Christ and his pilgrim in the path of peace.”
Event repentance aims to clean us up quick and make us feel good in the now. It does nothing to equip us for staying faithful confronted by a life-time of tomorrows.

Unconventional faith is characterized by the Apostle Paul like this,
"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things" (Philippians 3:710-15, NIV).
Youth conventions and revivals tend to only address the potential future suffering of hell. They play up the giddy joy of the Lord and play down the idea of sharing in the sufferings of Christ over the long-haul; something that’s necessary for becoming mature.

There is joy in Jesus, but this steadying joy is not sugared giddiness. It’s more of a resting in the Lord, truly trusting in his sovereignty and grace. Instead of pointing at the terrors of hell alone, conventionalists should also address the essentials of discipleship, grace over legalism, or, as Peterson puts it:
“The Christian life is not a quiet escape to a garden where we can walk and talk uninterruptedly with our Lord; not a fantasy trip to a heavenly city where we can compare our blue ribbons and gold medals with others who have made it to the winner’s circle.”

***

“The Christian life is going to God. In going to God Christians travel the same ground that everyone else walks on, breathe the same air, drink the same water, shop in the same stores, read the same newspapers, are citizens under the same governments, pay the same prices for groceries and gasoline, fear the same dangers, are subject to the same pressures, get the same distresses, are buried in the same ground.”

***

“Faith is not a precarious affair of chance escape from satanic assaults. It is the solid, massive, secure experience of God who keeps all evil from getting inside us, who keeps our life, who keeps our going out and our coming in from this time forth and forevermore.”
Living out unconventional faith offers far more than a week of summer church camp ever could.

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