Posts Tagged ‘Christ’s example’

“We do not have time to waste our lives coasting out casual, comfortable Christianity.”

— David Platt, author of “Radical,” addresses the Urbana 2012 conference.

“What plan or dream will you give your life to that is more significant than this?”

Friends of ours were talking about their daughter. During lunch periods at her public high school, she’s befriended a girl who’s pregnant. Eventually, she invited the girl to youth group at church.

“Will I be judged?” the girl asked.

“Yes, by some,” our friends’ daughter responded. “But there will be a lot of others who won’t. They’ll be glad you’re there.”

That’s the most real, honest answer I’ve ever heard to that kind of a question. No one finds universal acceptance in any social situation – even at church, where we should. Kids who are told to expect total grace from a church youth group will be disappointed, and maybe disillusioned.  I’ve seen it happen too many times.

At the same time, the answer promises this girl that she will indeed find a measure of love, acceptance and yes, grace.

The girl is thinking about it. A lot of us who don’t even know her are praying for her. We’re praying that she’ll see Jesus.

I think maybe she already has.

Ran across some great words today from Max Lucado’s book, “Fearless”:

“When fear shapes our lives, safety becomes our god. When safety becomes our god, we worship the risk-free life. Can the safety lover do anything great? Can the risk-averse accomplish noble deeds? For God? For others? No. The fear filled cannot love deeply. Love is risky. They cannot give to the poor.  Benevolence has no guarantee of return. The fear-filled cannot dream wildly. What if their dreams sputter and fall from the sky? The worship of safety emasculates greatness. No wonder Jesus wages such a war against fear.”

You can read the entire chapter here.

“We do not have time to waste our lives living out a Christian spin on the American Dream.”

— David Platt, “Radical”

God has indeed blessed us, as Americans. He certainly has blessed me. But maybe not in the ways we’ve been taught to think.

My friend Nate, a disillusioned but deep-thinking Christian, says the idea that God wants to provide us with material blessings is heresy. Here’s a quick excerpt from an interview I did with him a couple of years ago:

“While most of us reject the lure of the traditional prosperity gospel, the truth is we just find the crass materialism distasteful. But we DO believe that if we do certain things – like ‘accept’ Jesus, tithe, go to church, keep our noses clean) – then God is obligated to place a hedge of protection around us and ensure that we’re happy and satisfied with our lives. I don’t know where that promise is written, but it’s just the ‘magic words’ mentality of the prosperity gospel dressed up in more acceptable terms. Instead of getting health and wealth from Jesus, we get satisfaction, happiness and fulfillment. Where is there any decent teaching on suffering and its role in the Christian’s life? Nowhere. Because North Americans don’t have to suffer; we live in comfort and we’ve twisted the Good News to suit our desire to remain comfortable.”

Uh, yeah ...

I’ll disagree with Nate a little and say there’s some terrific teaching out there on suffering. See Philip Yancey, Brennan Manning, Henri Nouwen and C.S. Lewis, just to pluck from the top of the list. But I do agree that this kind of teaching doesn’t sell millions of books or get the author’s prosperous teeth and hair on the cover.

God’s blessings are not always material; in fact, the best ones are not. Either way, that’s not the ultimate point. As my pastor, Dan, said recently: The larger question is, what am I doing with the blessings God has already given ne? Am I keeping them for myself, or am I giving them away – using them for the benefit of others who need help?

Platt writes in “Radical”: “Why not begin operating under the idea that God has given us excess, not so we could have more, but so we could give more?”

What if I gave myself a salary cap? And anything above that, I gave away? What if I sold or gave away a lot of the luxuries surrounding me? What would it look like to take Jesus’ advice in Mark 10 to the rich young man: “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

I know, I know, Jesus wasn’t necessarily saying all of his followers should give away everything they have, become missionaries and move to some Third World country. The real question is: Am I willing to do something like that? To forsake everything for the cause of the gospel?

It’s interesting: The more stuff I have, the more likely I am to say, “Jesus wasn’t talking to me there.”

But what if he was? Would I be able to hear him? And then, what would my answer be?

I just read an amazing little book by David Platt called “Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream.”  It is aptly titled, and now it’s keeping me up at night.

Platt talks about how we in America have at times twisted the gospel to better fit our affluent, consumer culture. And he calls Christians to examine that little problem and then do something about it.

Early in the book, he lists three factors needed to be considered a successful American church today:

  1. “A good performance. In an entertainment-driven culture, we need someone who can captivate the crowds.”
  2. “A place to hold the crowds that will come … a multi-million dollar facility to house the performance.”
  3. “Something to keep them coming back. So we need to start programs – first-class, top-of-the-line programs – for kids, for youth, for families, for every age and stage.” Oh, and professionals to run all of these programs.

The Platt, a megachurch pastor himself, writes:

“But what is strangely lacking in the picture of performances, personalities, programs and professionals is a desperation for the power of God. God’s power is at best an add-on to our strategies. I am frightened by the reality that the church I lead can carry on most of our activities smoothly, efficiently, even successfully, never realizing that the Holy Spirit of God is virtually absent from the picture. We can so easily deceive ourselves, mistaking the presence of physical bodies in a crowd for the existence of spiritual life in a community.”

Cynical? Maybe. But there’s a lot to think about here. And the book is far more than just a rant against the American evangelical church. Platt structures the book as a challenge that, if taken seriously, will be life-changing and culture-changing.

More Thursday.

Tough week here. On the college campus where I work, a student who went missing 2 weeks ago is now feared dead. Authorities found burned human remains in a park near campus; they waited a week to tell the public because it took that long to determine that the remains were human. The case has been reclassified as a homicide investigation. And, with no suspect yet in custody, the campus is scared.

For whatever reasons, I’ve found myself on the scene during the aftermath of some horrific tragedies these past few years. Post-Katrina New Orleans and post-earthquake Haiti were of my own choosing, as I had an opportunity to do relief work. No such choosing with the 2008 NIU shootings and now a grisly homicide.

A common thread I’ve noticed in these situations is the heroic response of the church. Not “a” church. THE church. Denominational differences don’t amount to much. Neither do doctrinal debates about Calvinism or spiritual gifts or gender roles in the church.  And all of those “why” questions about why terrible things happen to good people can wait. Right now, the question is “how?” As in, how can we serve?

It’s in these times that WWJD – What would Jesus Do? – means something a lot deeper than a Christian marketing slogan. We can say, with complete confidence, that Jesus would comfort those within his reach. Not by handing them a pamphlet, but simply by crying with them. Quietly and inconspicuously serving them. Working alongside them. Sometimes, praying with them.

In short, for us as Christians, it means disappearing. Getting out of the way and letting hurting people see Jesus. Pretty simple.

I think this song says it well.

Shepherd of the Streets

Posted: August 17, 2010 by Jim Killam in Christ's example, the poor
Tags: ,

I attended the funeral service last Friday for Gerald O. Pitney, a man who devoted most of his adult life to serving the needy and homeless through the Rockford Rescue Mission. G.O. (as he was commonly known) and his wife Nadine, who died two years ago, together might have been the closest thing my community has ever seen to Mother Teresa.

Gerald and Nadine Pitney

“Jerry and Nadine gave all of themselves in a way that few people have ever experienced,” said speaker and longtime Mission staffer Gene Covault.

The Pitneys didn’t start the Rescue Mission, but by the end of its first year of operation in 1964, they were running it. Their names remain synonymous with the Mission and its very basic work: providing food and shelter, in the name of Jesus, to those who have no place else to turn.

For a couple who earlier had set sights on being foreign missionaries, this was as unglamorous as ministry could get. Working with alcoholics at street level can get violent and ugly. G.O. routinely would break up fights; both regularly cleaned up vomit and worse … and all for barely a salary and certainly no glory at the time. “This work is a killer, and not for the faint-hearted, G.O. once wrote. “It’s where heaven meets hell every day.”

A few years ago, I had the honor of co-writing a book about the Rockford Rescue Mission with the Pitneys’ eldest son, Perry. I got to spend many hours with G.O. and Nadine in their living room, listening to stories from their decades of running the Mission. Every time we’d finish for the day, they’d apologize for wasting my time. Hardly. These were two of the most Christ-like people I’d ever met, and what those stories were doing was letting me see inside their hearts. Virtually every conversation would include their tears of compassion for hurting people – whether we were talking about something that happened 40 years ago or a week ago.

 “The main qualification for working at a rescue mission is a servant’s spirit,” G.O. told me. “Jesus told His followers, ‘I came not to be served, but to serve and give my life as ransom for many.’ Mark 10:43-44 says, ‘If anyone be great among you, let him be a servant. Anyone who aspires to be chief, let him be servant of all.’”

In the 1960s, a local businessman asked G.O., “Why do you operate such a place for those drunks? They are all no good. You’re just wasting your time.” Because others were saying the same kinds of things, G.O. responded in The Rescuer newsletter: “In case someone else might wonder, let me state our purpose. We are here carrying on the unfinished business of Christ who said, “As my Father hath sent me, so I send you.” It was the main business of the Master to seek and save lost humanity, and we are simply making His business our business.”

As the church, there’s much we can disagree on, different priorities and ministries we can pursue. But if we neglect this one, I’m not sure we’re the church any more. We’re a country club. The poor were a huge priority for Jesus. They had better be the same priority for us, his followers.

It was interesting at the funeral service for Rockford’s “Shepherd of the Streets” to hear from some of the most successful business people in the community, and some of the least successful. All stood on equal footing in talking about a truly great man who made a larger impact on the city than just about anyone else.

One speaker told of a city council meeting when G.O. gave a hellfire and brimstone presentation against the idea of granting of additional liquor licenses. Never the most fashionable man, he wore his trademark cowboy hat and suit.

After G.O. left, some of the aldermen poked fun at him.

One alderman, Frank Beach, took his colleagues to task. This man has devoted his life to serving the poor, Beach told them. He cleans up their vomit. He does things that we, the city, should be doing, too.

That ended the mockery.

It’s ironic how people who are obsessed with building their earthly legacy so often end up either humbled or shamed … while people like the Pitneys, who quietly serve the least in society, end up looking the most like Jesus.

“This man lived out the Sermon on the Mount,” the pastor at the funeral said. “He was a person devoid of pride.”

It was hard not to think about the standing G.O. and Nadine now enjoy in heaven, and about Jesus’ words: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”