Thursday, September 28, 2006

Would I? Could I? Hard Kingdom Questions

Ever since I read Lee Camp's Mere Discipleship, I have been awakened to a better understanding of the Gospel of Christ and it has raised to the surface many concerns in my heart about myself that probably lurk in all of our hearts if we are honest. Recently, JMG posted some questions and thoughts in a post at Musings From the Chariot that forced me to articulate my internal wrestlings. I post my self concern because I need input? I need to hear some of your thoughts on the matter.

Attempting to live the life Jesus preached, to do what the disciples did, would turn the majority of Christians' lives completely upside down--immediately. I am scared that I am not getting the true message and not truly doing what Jesus called me to do as a disciple. Yet I don't quit my job and go out to serve the poor or be a missionary anywhere. I don't radically change my lifestyle, drop my nets, and live a life of direct service to the Kingdom.

This realization is very hard on me. I am concerned but I don't change my life. I don't mean I am not constantly becoming a better person because I do see myself progressing to better discipleship, but I have not made any radical changes and frankly I am afraid too. I am a spiritual coward.

I think what bothers me the most is not whether I try to serve the Kingdom through my current life or give it all up and dedicate myself to some mission. What bothers me is when I ask myself, "would I do it? Am I willing to do it--give it all up?"

God may not ask me to serve in such a fashion? He may leave it up to me to decide. He may want me to serve through my job and my career. I certainly have talents in those areas. But it is the question and contemplation on the answer that hurts. Am I selfless enough to sacrifice all for my Savior and His Kingdom? I am supposed to be willing. But would I really do it?

I firmly believe, know in my heart, that I could sacrifice my life to not denounce God and Christ as Lord. But would I completely give up my way of life to live a hard one? Do I have that much courage? Even further, would I do it voluntarily, without the Lord directing me to do so? Do I have that much conviction?

I am not confident of my answer to these last questions. Based on imperical data of my life, the answer is no. If the answer is no, am I really a disciple?

Does anyone else feel this way? What are your thoughts on the matter? I am truly troubled by this topic.


JMG said...

What bothers me is when I ask myself, "would I do it? Am I willing to do it--give it all up?"

Has God asked you to give it all up? You can't really know what you would do until it comes right down to it.

But would I completely give up my way of life to live a hard one?

Jesus said that his yoke is easy and his burden is light.

I think the things that we think of as blessings will become burdens to us when God is ready for us to give them up.

jettybetty said...

"Am I selfless enough to sacrifice all for my Savior and His Kingdom? I am supposed to be willing. But would I really do it?"

I am struggling, too--but I think it's because of my selfishness--my love of the easy, comfortable life. I haven't come up with a lot of anwers--but I am trying to see what God has for me since I do have this inward struggle.

Perhaps JMG's last paragraph has something to do with my answer???

Tony Arnold said...

JMG, the thing that causes internal consternation is not whether I would do it if God asked me to, because I probably would.

It is this part: "Would I do it voluntarily, without the Lord directing me to do so? Do I have that much conviction?"

Hasn't Christ asked me to do it already in His gospel? I read your post as aksing this very question. Did I misunderstand your post? It really resonanted with me in an uncomfortable way.

You raise a very interesting duality of discipleship. Clearly from Christ's words and from Mere Discipleship, following Christ will be hard, difficult, and may require extreme sacrifice. On the other hand, Christ did say His yoke is easy and His burden light.

JB: The more I understand discipleship, the more I realize just how truly selfish I am.


Amy said...

JMG, I think you make some great points.

On a personal, rubber-meets-road application, how should we plan for retirement?

This may not be what you're referring to, Tony. But this is a huge area of personal sacrifice and trusting God's provision for daily bread.

What are you all's thoughts on savings in relation to giving? I don't think it has to be either/or, but when the budget is tight it is either/or.

Tony Arnold said...

Christ told us not to worry about tomorrow in Matthew, so when it is either/or, I would give. God will provide. My wife and I have faced this very situation and when we choose tithing over saving God always delivered with new sources of income. It was truly amazing. But it was scary making the choice on the front end.

As a general rule the priority would be giving thus when you can do both give more than you save. Right now in our life, we contribute to our 401k up to the company matching limit so as not to lose free contributions, but stop there so we have more for charitible.

This does tie in to my concerns. Am I willing to live a life of complete service where saving is not even possible? Do I have the courage to believe Mt. 6:25-34 completely? So far, no.


Amy said...

Great perspective, Tony. I agree with you about the choice to give, and we have experienced the same blessing that follows the choice.

There's just that part of me that wants to get all our ducks in a row like all the financial planners tell you to do. And our ducks aren barely in the pond it feels like!

But we have never experienced hunger or lack of shelter. I believe God will provide for each day.

And I also think we were given brains to use, and God gives wisdom. Savings is in the picture. Hoarding is definitely a problem. I wonder where to draw the line, especially in our "bigger barns" culture.

jettybetty said...

This is my question on your question: "Even further, would I do it voluntarily, without the Lord directing me to do so? " How do we know when that is what God IS calling us to do???

JMG said...

Tony, I hadn't really thought that deeply when I asked the question, but it is a concern. I was just wondering why the churches spend much less time on the kingdom life as Jesus preached it--a gospel that dealt as much with people's practical needs as their spiritual ones--in favor of a gospel that doesn't extend very far beyond personal salvation.

You say you are concerned about whether you'd volunteer to give everything up without the Lord's direction. I would say that if we are continually in a prayerful relationship with God, his spirit is directing all our moves anyway. God hasn't given us all the same spiritual gifts, so not everyone is suited to become a missionary. I think that God gives us interests in certain areas and expects us to use those interests in our work for him. That probably doesn't address your concern, but that's as good an answer as I can contribute.

As for saving for retirement: Jesus said that if the kingdom is our primary concern, all of our day to day needs will be met. He didn't say that we'd have a "nest egg" in the bank. I think the key is day to day reliance on God. The current mentality about retirement, insurance, health care, etc. does nothing to facilitate this sort of day to day reliance on God's provision.

I've said before that there's nothing wrong with having savings. People who have gardens gather their harvest and preserve part of it for use durning the months that they can't garden. That's not hoarding. The same could be said for saving up an emergency fund. Also, what's the guarantee that if we do what we're "supposed" to do by fully funding our 401k's, we will have enough to see us through our retirement years? James tells us that we should not take pride in (rely on) our plans for the future (4:13-16).

The early Christians lived the earthly version of the kingdom life by living communally. If Christians today were to live communally, we would have no need to save up so much for retirement. Everyone would contribute to the needs of others with whatever resources they had. I would imagine that in the early Christian communities, the younger people helped to take care of the financial needs of the older people who couldn't work, and the older people helped cook and take care of the children of the younger people while they worked--sort of like how it used to be here in the U.S. when extended families still lived together in the same household. Everyone had a different talent that was put to use in the household.

The problem with communal living is the need to overcome selfishness and the idea that everyone should contribute equally in order to receive equally, because in reality, everyone cannot contribute equally.

This comment is too long. I'll stop here.

Starrider said...

I concur with your sentiments about how the book has simultaneously awakened and challenged me deeply. It too ke much longer than usual to read this book because i would read a chapter and then re-read it over and over- "wrestling" with its implications. While I was still working on the book, I began to write quite a lot- especially e-mails...with which I tortured several of my Christian friends and family. I knew I was really onto something...I was on fire. I knew the implications of this book could maybe reconcile my understanding of the Bible to a place where I'd been trying to get for a lifetime. I had never been overly happy with the World or The Church the way I had found it. I am a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma- so my family history and tradition contains not only Bible training but deep cultural ties to a legacy of great tragedy regarding the dynamic between my race and "Christianity" as it has been practiced by the dominant society of "Christian America".
"Mere Discipleship" has greatly helped me finally understand and reconcile in my mind the schism between my Native identitity and my Christianity. The tragedies of history between my white, Christian ancestors and my Cherokee ancestors was not "God's will" was man's freewill and pride run amok. It was because of the same fundamental misunderstandings about the Christian faith that Lee camp addresses in "Mere Discipleship". Although I still do wrestle with the implications of discipleship in my everyday personal life (because I am human)- overall I feel more at peace and liberated and LOVED by God than ever before. I have written at great length about this (often paraphrasing and quoting "Mere Discipleship")here:
and here:
in my blog. Visit me there- there's plenty of other material to peruse.

sincerely, Scott S.

p.s. I feel that "mere discipleship" is a very important book and should be read by all. I am doing all I can to get the word out to fellow Christians and encourage you to do the same. I have been in several Christian bookstores and NONE that I have visited are even carrying this book (most don't even have it available from their distributors)- but instead favor material that is more in line with the evangelical base that believes falsely that The U.S. is the "Arm of the Lord" so to speak.

Anonymous said...

Scott S. and I are good friends.
He has truly challenged me to work through these issues for myself.
He referenced the book to me and I am still working through it. Lee Camp has truly revolutionized my calling, zeal, and understanding.
Suffice it to say, that my understanding of God's grace allows me a great deal of confidence in my Spritiual state & its growth, so long as I am struggling with the fact that I don't live up to Jesus' example of service.
If I have a heart to say I am not good enough yet, then I meet God's standard for receiving his grace. The dangerous ground would be when I stop realizing that I am not yet "there." This does happen to me from time to time, and God has always blessed me with a shake-up or tragedy. I do actually pray that He will shake me, when or if I am becoming my own master and feel like I've had my "Eureka Moment" an can coast.
Each day I walk with the Lord, I find that I am a little bit more like His glory. I am "becoming", always.
On the day I die or Christ returns, I will be the most like Him of all the days of my life. And the good news (gospel) is that Jesus' will make up the differnce in my account.
You might look at the posts from my blog, which are linked below. The post "A Different Interpretation of the Rich Young Ruler" I think will cover much of the discussion. But, each of the posts tend to build on the others.

God Bless All Who Have Posted Here,
In Christ,
David M.

Brent said...

"...God always delivered with new sources of income."

"But we have never experienced hunger or lack of shelter. I believe God will provide for each day."

I have a different take on this:

As many of you already know from some of my previous comments in this forum, my definition of God is quite different than most of you here. I do not believe that "God" is an omnipresent and omnipotent entity who enters into our lives in both big and small ways in order to act out his supreme will. I don't believe that Jesus was a unique one-time-only combination of the divine and human. I don't believe that God reveals his supreme will to select individuals or to anyone who seeks diligently.

For these reasons I do not subscribe to any idea that God blesses people with income, food, shelter, healing, love, etc. It simply cannot be the case because we have millions of people who die from aids in Africa and thousands of children who die from starvation each day, even though they cry out to God for help and thousands of others remotely pray to God on their behalf. If we choose to "look to the heavens" for the answers to the problems of life, we are left with more and more questions rather than answers.

I believe that the answer lies with us rather than with God. We must do all of the things that have been suggested here (give money to those who need it, assist those who need help, live selflessly, team up with one another, etc.) out of a true compassion for everyone in the world and not because God wants us to help them. Helping others "because God wants us to" often implies that we have cornered the market on truth and knowledge about the will of God.

Jesus was right. His ways are good. He showed the world a better way to be human. If we can focus on the goodness of many of his insights rather than claiming that "truth" is found in him alone - then we can get rid of systems of belief that hinder us from helping one another. This means, of course, that we (myself included) accept those who don't share our religious beliefs and become unified rather than distinctly separate. Religion divides. Acceptance unites.


Tony Arnold said...

JMG: you really challenged us on saving for the future. Great thoughts that don't fit the norm. I agree that we don't practice daily reliance on God and we have moved from a community view of Christianity to a self-serve version which makes daily reliance almost impossible.

JB: I don't have a good answer to your question. If I did, I don't think I would be asking mine. Guess we both have to keep digging. :-)

Starrider & ccwman: Thanks for posting and welcome. Starrider, I am glad you have found reconcilliation with "Christianity of the past" and the genocide of the native American Indians. As a white, Christian American I offer a deep apology to your heritage for the gov't sponsored genocide of native Americans. It is a shame when we cannot undo the ills of history. It is a sin and tragedy when we fail to learn from it.

I will be visiting both your blogs. If you don't see comments from me, know that I am reading.

Brent: welcome back! Although I don't agree with your views on God, you hit the nail on the head with, I believe that the answer lies with us..." God gave us free will. Every human that chooses to exercise his own will over seeking God's will for his own, will fail. Some fail in heinous ways, others selfish ways, still others fail with good intentions. But as long as we are serving our own will, we are not serving others and therefore not serving God's will.

We may not agree on the manifestation of God, but if we both are serving the good of others we are both making the world better.

I will support someone who is giving to the poor, feeding the hungry, healing the hurting and who shares a totally opposite view of God than me long before I will support someone with a similiar view of God as me that is doing none of the above. Which one is serving the Kingdom?

This is why I have a real problem with George W. Bush. He claims to have the same view of God as many of us, yet he is not bringing much healing or reconcilliation to the world and yet the "moral majority" keeps supporting him blindly and without accountability. I don't see much morality in that.

I will still wrestle with my feelings but I agee with ccwman, the real danger is when I stop wrestling with these issues.


Tony Arnold said...

p.s. I am uplifted by the comments and discussion...thank you and keep it up.

Stoned-Campbell Disciple said...

Tony these are the kind of questions that we need to wrestle with. We need to take them into our prayer garden and meditate on them and seek the Spirit's power to find the courage to live our answers.

Thank you for a thoughtful series of questions.

Bobby Valentine

Matt said...

Well the good news is that it concerns you. Most people just want to be comfortable. Seems to me like it is an identity issue. We are who God calls us to be at whatever stage in life we find ourselves. Does Paul call all believers into a life of poverty or quitting their jobs? Only when their jobs conflict with their identity in Christ. Does our Christianity transform all areas of our life? Yes. Does that mean I have to stop everything I do and do all new things. No. God does want us to live radically different lives than those around us but I think we need to be careful that we don't turn into spiritually neurotic people who are always taking our own spiritual pulse every five seconds.