Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A State of the Heart

I've been reading the book Story by Stephen James.  James is a story teller, and this book takes us on a journey through God's story, from the beginning, to remind us of the big picture.  Today I came across this verse: Genesis 6:5-6  5 The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. The Message version says that this broke God's heart.  James referenced this verse on page 46, just after the story of Cain and Abel.  I've been mulling this over all day.  I broke God's heart.

I did it.  I broke God's heart.

Yeah, I know what you're thinking.  "But you're a good person, Katie!  You're kind.  You've never done anything all that wrong.  That story was about Cain, not YOU!  Don't you think you're overreacting?"

James put it this way: "When I'm honest with  myself, I can't keep up the illusion that I'm really a pretty good person.  Deep down, coursing through my soul, are the same currents of jealousy and resentment and bitterness and rebellion that surfaced in the life of Cain.  The currents flow all throughout our human family, deadly and deep--currents as old as Eden and as thick as blood.  And sometimes they bubble to the surface when we least expect it." (page 46)

Some of you still may not get it.  You may see me, or yourself, through a lens that allows you to compare me (or yourself) to others instead of to God.  Compared to others, I (you) might be OK.  Never murdered, never stole (well, not on purpose.  There was that flea comb at the vet's office when I was in middle school.  I thought it was one of those promotional things, like a pen at the bank.  It wasn't), even waiting until marriage to have sex.  But compared to God...?  Is that enough?

I'm also reading the book Radical by David Platt.  I know, I know, two books at once?  That's Nathan's fault.  He picks out great books and then leaves them all over the house.  Eve had the fruit.  I have Nathan's books.  It's a problem.  A real one.

But I digress.

Platt's book is about what Christianity originally was (and still is to much of the "underground church" world where Christianity is illegal and deadly) and what that means for modern American Christians who live in a very different world.  He says this: "The modern-day gospel says, 'God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.  Therefore, follow these steps, and you can be saved.'  Meanwhile, the biblical gospel says, 'You are an enemy of God, dead in your sin, and in your present state of rebellion, you are not even able to see that you need life, much less to cause yourself to come to life.  Therefore, you are radically dependent on God to do something in your life that you could never do.'...He has to come to us." Platt goes on to tell of a time he was with a  religious leader from each the Buddhist and Muslim movements.  These two men were discussing that they believed that all three men (themselves and Platt) all worshipped the same gods but through different routes.  They asked Platt what he thought of it, and Platt said that they seemed to be saying that God was on the top of a mountain, and no matter which route one took, if it led to the top of the mountain, one would find God.  The men were pleased with themselves and agreed, yep, that's the idea.  Platt asked, "What would you think if I told you that God doesn't wait for people to find their way to him, but instead he comes to us?"  The men thought it over and replied, "That would be great."  Platt replied, "Let me introduce you to Jesus." (pages 32-33)

See, the problem isn't whether or not I'm a good enough person.  The problem is that the gospel isn't about me.  Christianity doesn't exist for the sake of making me feel good about myself, making my life better, or even helping me to be a better person.  Christianity exists because God is holy, I am not, my sin equals death (my death), but Jesus loved me enough to bear that death for me (and in doing so, bore his Father's wrath for me), and God has redeemed me, adopted me as co-heir with Christ, and granted me eternal life and the amazing power of his own spirit living in me.  

Wow.  That should be enough, right?

But I worry that sometimes we dress the gospel up to make it more palatable.  We lead people, whether intentionally or unintentionally, to believe that becoming a Christian will mean our life is blessed, that we will feel loved, that we will be a good person, and that we'll pretty much feel good about life from that point on.  But remember what Jesus said?  You have to eat his flesh and drink his blood to follow him.  Yep.  And you've got to carry a cross.  You've got to be faithful, even to the point of death.  Sure, following Christ often DOES result in people being good, doing good things, and having good lives.  But that's not the point.  That's not what the gospel's about.  The gospel's not about me, or you.  It's about God.

I don't mean to be melodramatic.  I'm by no means a pessimist.  I'm a very happy-go-lucky person.  I enjoy my life immensely.  I have one son who begs for more snuggles each night, and another who backs up and plops down into my lap any time I'm sitting in such a way that produces a lap.  My husband loves me. I have great relationships with my parents.  I belong to a church family of people that live out love on a daily basis.  I have a career that actually makes a difference in this world (and summers home with my boys!).  I even have easy access to technology to allow me to check my Facebook incessantly throughout the day.  Life's good!  And I am very, very happy.  But remember--it's not about me.  I'm on a journey to better understand the awesomeness of God and what it really means to follow Christ to him.  

If I really want to make a difference in this world, it's vital that I get this.  It's crucial that I understand--it's NOT about me.  It's not.  It's about God.  And to really follow him, I need to understand that.  And so do you.

If you currently follow Christ, then I encourage you to take some time to consider what that means.  Are you following Christ like the multitudes did after he made a feast out of some fish and bread?  They LOVED Jesus.  They did.  He fed them.  He did miracles.  He healed people.  He delivered revolutionary teachings.  They thought he was going to overthrow Rome.  He was cool.  But when he told them, "Eat my flesh and drink my blood," they got spooked, creeped out, and left.  Why do you follow Christ?  Is it about you and what he can do for you?  Or is it about God?

If you aren't following Christ, I highly recommend considering it.  I really, really do.  But what I DON'T want to do is dress Christianity up like something it's not.  Think of it this way--the Bible teaches that we are the Bride of Christ.  But you've seen Bridezillas, right?  A bride's not always a good thing.  Some brides forget that the Big Day is about two people coming together as one in a love much bigger than themselves.  They think, instead, that it's all about them.  You've heard the brides shriek it--"It's MY day!"  If we walk down the aisle of a church because of what it could do for us...well, you get the idea.  You should understand full and well the cost of following Christ.  Coming forward on a Sunday morning is great.  But it's risky.   A blessed life (in THIS life) isn't promised.  Jesus says we'll have troubles.  And many, many followers of Christ do.  Check out http://www.persecution.com/ to find out more about the cost of following Christ.  Because following Christ isn't about US.

I'll leave you with one more passage from Story that really hit me.  "The fists that beat Jesus were formed by human hands, that lead-tipped whip was wielded by a human will--hands just as human as ours, a will just as hardened as Adam's.  The crown of thorns was woven by human fingers, not God's."

You see, the gospel isn't about me.  But it is BECAUSE of me.  I caused it.  I did.  And so did you.  But thankfully that's not the end of the story :)


  1. With this line of thinking, is it wrong to thank God for our blessings? Like you I feel my life is really good. I have a strong faith in God. I know I am far from good. Uncle Theo used to talk about how the best of humans were like dirty rags and it made me very mad at that time to think I was like a dirty rag. However, I feel good about where I am in my relationship with God. We talk often. This is kind of rambling but you have really started the thought process going. On the topic of reading, I have four books going at once. That way you never have to leave a room to find a book that you are reading. Love you Katie Did

  2. Dad, thanks for taking the time to comment. No, I don't think it's wrong to thank God for our blessings. As the old benediction says, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow." In the midst of Oren's poop explosion at 3 AM, I was thanking God for the opportunity to snuggle my little guy while he's still little enough to do that. My life truly is blessed. I've just been really thinking on the fact that the call to Christ was never meant to be a call to comfort. It CAN be, sure, and it's not wrong, I don't think, to be a comfortable Christian. But Christianity doesn't guarantee our comfort on this earth. And in many places around the world, Christianity guarantees danger, risk, and persecution. I think what I'm wrestling with is an egotistical Christianity that is about ME and what I can get from Christ instead of who God is. I want to do big things for God (and believe I already am), but I don't want it to be about me, for me, or because of me. I want to serve out of an understanding of, appreciation for, and reverence to who God is.

    On the concept of dirty rags, yes, that's true. The imagery gets a little more graphic than that, but since you're a squeamish guy, I'll leave it at that. But remember, even if we ARE like dirty rags, God loves us so much that he sent his son to die for us, a bunch of dirty rags! That's pretty awe-inspiring love. I mean, would you allow me to die for your best friend, let alone a sinful, dirty, disgusting person who might not even change his ways because of that sacrifice? I know I wouldn't let my boys. But God did because he loves us THAT much. That's amazing. THAT'S what Christianity is all about! :)

    Love ya Dad.

  3. Katie,
    You bring up some interesting concepts in this post. I hadn't really put much thought into what Christianity TRULY is. It does seem that anymore many Christians (generalizing here) go to church to create and/or maintain an image. For example, my husband is an Officer in the Army, and many of our peers truly verbalize how important it is to their image to be seen at the Chapel on Sunday (I really cannot understand this, but whatever works for them I guess). But honestly, I had not ever stopped to view Christianity, or faith the way you illustrate here. I have to admit, at times, I've grown somewhat disgusted with society (especially when I watch television or movies), nothing is truly geared towards education and toward creating a sound moral foundation for our children. I try not to focus on the bitter taste these things leave in my mouth though, because I know I also fall quite short of perfection. I think many times, we forget just how far we come from even being comparable to the perfect examples set forth in the Bible. We read the stories, quote the scripture, and can even refer back to them...but to really compare them to modern day situations, and to live as it is illustrated within these stories...well I think we all have work to do there. I've learned over the past few months (shortly after my husband decided to pursue Chaplaincy) that the harder you try to be a faithful follower, the more walls and boulders jump out in the way...but that (in my opinion) is what truly strengthens that faith.