Monthly Archives: June 2016

Full Disclosure: The Cost of Following Jesus

I opened up Facebook this morning, and this is what I saw in my newsfeed:

cost.png

I could talk about typos (but then I’d probably embarrass myself by littering my own post with typos lol). I could talk about how my church doesn’t fully understand how to capitalize on the social media platform (in their defense, they tried to get me involved with it and I was like “Uh-uh. Social media I don’t.”). But what I really want to talk about today is the title on the front of the bulletin: The Cost of Following Jesus.

When I first read the title, I wont lie, my initial reaction was ugly: “Boy, I wish I had gone to church this morning, because I would just love to hear what white, middle class America thinks the cost of following Jesus is.”

Now, that was a pretty nasty thought. If I didn’t know the person thinking it, I’d probably say they were a judgmental asshole. Ok, I’ll say it even though I do know the person thinking it: I can be a judgmental asshole.

(Also, full disclosure: I am an asian/white, middle class American, so it’s not like I’m socio-economic worlds away from my pastor.)

I didn’t have to think hard to know where that ugly thought came from though. I’ve been frustrated with my church lately, because even though they speak a good word about being inclusive and loving and welcoming toward everyone, I have found that on a case by case basis, we turn a blind eye when the truly downtrodden come a’knockin’ – when the homeless man comes to our service, we don’t speak to him, we don’t offer him shoes. When the addict comes to fellowship with us, we don’t ask her name or tell her we “hope you’ll come back!” When someone sits crying in the middle of service, we don’t embrace them and pray with them (either during, or after).

It kills me on a personal level, the way we (as a collective church) ignore the downtrodden. Because I may be their white, middle class, young family ideal that they are so happy to have in the church now… but I used to be the one without shoes. The one with the addiction. The one who sat crying in the middle of service with no comfort, no help, no hope in my heart of things ever getting better. It kills me because when Jesus told me to take up my cross and follow him, it meant to leave behind my family, my home, my friends, my church, my job (my students!), and the man I loved so much that it was destroying me.

But each person’s cross is different, and each person’s struggle is different. I know as much as any person can that it is difficult to love someone in the midst of mental illness, addiction, hopelessness. My church struggles to find the place in their hearts and their community for these people. And sometimes I struggle to find the place in my heart for my church.

My favorite story in the Bible is from Genesis 32:22-32: When Jacob lies down for the night, but instead of sleep, he finds himself wrestling with an unknown assailant until dawn. The man agrees to bless Jacob in exchange for his release, but first he tells him, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” Israel, which means he who struggles with God.

Israel and his descendants were not blessed because they adhered perfectly to God’s laws, or because they loved his people perfectly. They are blessed – we are blessed -because we continue to struggle with God, and with each other. Because we continue to take up our cross and follow (Matthew 16:24).

“Boy, I wish I had gone to church this morning, because I would just love to hear what white, middle class America thinks the cost of following Jesus is.”

I could have left that ugly thought floating in my own head, instead of airing it out on the internet. No one was here to hear it. I could have pretended that I am not what I am: Still broken, still in need of forgiveness, still with a cross to bear. This cross looks different than the one I was asked to shoulder four years ago, but let me tell you, it is no easier for me to carry. Luckily, I don’t have to carry it alone:

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)

Advertisements

I am a Church Member, Pt. 1

I will be a functioning church member.

Are you a church member?

Membership counts are important to churches for measuring growth, for stable revenue sources, for volunteers. And as church members, we expect the church to serve us in turn – to pray for us, to feed our spiritual growth, to teach our children, and to bring meals when we are sick or injured (to name just a few).

Now, before we go any further, I have a confession to make: I’m not actually a church member. At least, not officially.

Because in an official capacity, I’ve always thought of church membership as a denominational issue: Do you subscribe to Methodism, or perhaps Presbyterianism? Or maybe Catholicism. For me, the answer has always been: None of the above. This can likely be attributed to the fact that my first serious exposure to the Bible and theology was an interdenominational college study group. This gave me a wonderful foundation for engaging with and struggling with Scripture on a frequent and personal basis – but it also left me feeling a bit outside any single established church.

But in the first chapter of I am a Church Member, Thom S. Rainer wiped away all my preconceptions about church membership and belonging with his astute observation that church membership as actually biblically based – not social, economic, or even denominational. As a basis for his argument, Rainer cites 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, where Paul describes what it means to be church members (aka “the body of Christ”):

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body and one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.

In short, Paul says that is our belief in Christ and our acceptance of his Spirit into our hearts that binds us together and make us church members. So… I guess I am a church member after all?

Church membership doesn’t just end there though, because the Holy Spirit is anything but passive. In fact, in John 14:16-17, Jesus describes the Spirit as “the Advocate… who leads into all truth.” He says that the Spirit which lives in you and me, and every member of the church, is not a passive spirit – it is an advocate, a word which Merriam-Webster defines as “a person who works for a cause or group.”

What cause or group does the Spirit work for? 1 Corinthians 12 says that the Spirit works to help church members achieve two ends:

1. To serve the Lord (v. 5).
2. To help each other (v. 7).

Or in other words, the Spirit works to help us fulfill the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:36-40):

“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

Rainer goes on (in great and fascinating detail) to discuss spiritual gifts, and how they impact our ability to serve the Lord and help each other, but above all of these, he points out that Paul specifies one single thing that is “best of all” to help us fulfill this commandment: Love (1 Corinthians 12:31). (Ok, so he doesn’t actually say “love” there, but the entire following chapter sort of spells it out in not-so-subtle detail.)

I’ll be honest: This new context for reading 1 Corinthians 13 – the so-called “Love Chapter” – completely blew my mind. I (and most people, I assume) typically hear this chapter in the context of marriage, but Rainer emphasizes the fact that Paul wrote it in the context of church membership, and how we treat our fellow members. So what happens if we read it and hold ourselves accountable to that standard?

Be patient and kind to your fellow church members. Do not be jealous of them, do not brag about yourself to them, and do not be rude to them. Do not demand or expect to get everything YOU want from the church, or its members, and don’t be irritated or hold a grudge when things don’t go your way. Don’t be happy when unfair things happen (even if they’re in your favor), but always seek and rejoice in the truth. Never give up on your church, never lose faith in your fellow church members, always be hopeful, and stick by your church & its members through every circumstance (paraphrased from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

Gulp. I mean, I know I’m supposed to be kind and patient and forgiving to my husband, and to never give up on himThat is a tall enough order when it comes to the person I’ve chosen to be my one true companion in life. But… to the church elder who is always bossing people around? To the woman always nagging and trying to guilt me into volunteer in areas I am not spiritually gifted? To the pastor who was unfaithful to his wife?

Sure am double glad I never joined a church, now!

Except, by Rainer (and Paul)’s standard, I am a church member. So can I use the fact that I didn’t attend a little class and participate in a little ceremony as an excuse to shirk my duties to both my church and my fellow members? I suppose I have, and I can, and I could.

But there’s this saying that I like to toss around: “If we knew better, we would do better.” Now, I know what it means to truly be a church member. So now, I can do better.