20080724

Frontline

“Stand beside, or step aside for the frontline.”

Now that’s the sort of talk I love to hear. Of course it doesn’t make as much sense without the context of the song it’s yanked out of. Here, let me give you the first verse so you can get a feel for the song…

It’s not like I’m walking alone into
the valley of the shadow of death
Stand beside one another, ‘cause it ain’t over yet
I’d be willing to bet that if we don’t back down
You and I will be the ones that are
holding the Crown in the end
When it’s over, we can say, “Well done”
But not yet, ‘cause it’s only begun
So, pick up, and follow me, we’re the only ones
To fight this thing, until we’ve won
We drive on and don’t look back
It doesn’t mean we can’t learn from our past
All the things that we mighta done wrong
We could’ve been doing this all along


And then of course it goes into the chorus, the last line of which is quoted above. The song is titled “Frontline” (obvious, no?), and it’s by the band Pillar. I must admit, I like the song. I’d definitely recommend it as a download for the digital music player of your choice. A warning is in order, however: it’s pretty rockin’ stuff. If you can’t stomach that genre of music so well, at least look the rest of the lyrics up for me, kay? I think that you’ll come to like the song too.

Actually, it’s encouraging to me. If you look out over this younger Christian generation, that sort of “let’s get this fight rolling again” mentality is rather widespread. You can see it in the music we listen too: the above Pillar song is one of a plethora of popular Christian songs I could point out. You can see it in what we do: the number of young people going out of various sorts of missions endeavors seems to increase exponentially every year. You can see it in what we say: I’ve been (figuratively speaking) hammering this message into the skulls of my not-so-similarly-minded peers in just about everything I’ve written since I started writing. And I’m not alone, not by a long shot.

It’s refreshing, seeing that many of this generation want to rid the Church of the apathy that has smothered it for about two generations now here in America. Yeah, I’m sure some of you would take issue with me on that statement, and if I was being technical, I’d take issue with me too. Obviously, if the church had been completely apathetic, there wouldn’t even be a younger generation. BUT, I think that anyone looking at the events towards the beginning of the last century would, if they were honesty, say that that generation bought into the lie that the Church should keep to itself, and leave the running of society to the government. To a large degree, the church surrendered many of its responsibilities to the government. Yes, the Depression was a hard time, but it should have been the Church rallying to help people make it through, not the government. That’s just one example, but in many arenas the Church gave its own ground to Uncle Sam, public education (Uncle Sam’s inbred and retarded child), and non-profit organizations. The Church unfortunately acquiesced when they said it needed to stay in the arena of “spiritual matters” behind its closed doors on Sunday, and leave reality to those properly equipped to handle it.

Sigh.

So now, two generations later, society’s a mess and the Church still struggles and to ground itself in the reality of people’s lives. And yet we wonder why Sunday morning Christians are still such a problem. The apathetic Sunday morning system the Church let itself get compartmentalized into generations ago is obviously and inevitably going to breed an apathetic Sunday morning Christian, that whole “reap what you sow” thing. So yes, it’s immensely encouraging to see that this generation knows things have to change and wants to either prevail or go down fighting.

But now I have to sigh again.

I hate to say it, but unfortunately many of this generation, many of my generation, are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The Church has become obsolete, they say, so let’s just chuck it. Essentially, that’s really what this whole new “Emergent Church” thing is about, tossing anything that even half-way looks like it was related the Church as it has been. This new book that’s been causing waves, The Shack, it runs along the same lines. I haven’t read it yet (although I intend to), but I’ve read several reviews and an interview with the author in World Magazine. To a certain (and admitted) extent, the book is about removing the organized Church from Christianity. As if that were actually possible.

I can identify with them to a huge degree; I’ve given the Church plenty of tongue lashings myself. I can understand the frustration. We’re hyped, we’re pumped, we want to fight something, to get to that frontline and give the enemy our best shot. The apathy plaguing Church absolutely disgusts us, and of course the gut reaction is to run. Much of the generation is flying out the Church doors, weapons in hand and battle-cry in lungs as they charge off, looking for that frontline. You have to admire their guts and die-hard spirit, it’s inspiring really. They’ve just missed one, small thing. The frontline is just under their noses, it always has been. It’s not in the trenches “out there” somewhere...

It’s in the pews.

Does the Church have problems? Oh yeah, you’d better believe it. Have we made some pretty killer mistakes? Heck yes. But if the Church was perfect, it wouldn’t really be the Church then would it? Christianity and the Church are inseparable. The Church is where the battle is and always has been. It’s where the frontline fight really is, bet your life on it.

One must admit, there is a certain logic to the “chuck the Church” perspective. The Church has been a Lone Ranger convention for a long time, a place where the individuals come together 4 (at best) out of 168 hours a week to discuss how doing their own thing the other 164 hours is going. Well the convention isn’t going well, so what does one do? Break up the convention of course; Lone Rangers don’t need one anyway. Quite logical, it does in its own way make sense.

The only problem is this: there were never supposed to be Lone Rangers. It’s the Rangers that need breaking up, not the convention. The Church is supposed to be a living breathing body, a family of people living life together day by day. The battle lies in making that happen. But, you say, the Church is supposed to reach out and change society; that’s where the battle should be. Wrong: the Church is supposed to overflow into and possess society. The idea that the Church is over here and it needs to reach society over there is only part of the compartmentalization that caused this problem in the first place.

The real fight is breaking the Church out of its compartmentalized mindset that crippled it in our society two generations ago. That’s the true frontline for you, and it ain’t your momma’s frontline either. This one’s going to be a doozey: entrenched habits die hard, very hard. It’s going to take a defibrillator the size of Texas to reawaken this sleeping giant we call the Church, call it The Great Awakening Round 2. But that’s the fight I’m headed for. So like Pillar said…

“Stand beside [me], or step aside for the frontline.”

20080713

Giving in to Grace

Sin is the only thing we’re supposed to hate as Christians, and I’m finding that I hate it more and more, especially within myself. I mean sin is the whole reason Jesus had to come and die; it’s definitely worth hating. It’s only by God’s wonderful grace that we can (and have been) saved from sin. But even though we’ve been saved, we still have to deal with it in our lives, and it’s a yucky process.

What especially irks me are those really repetitive ones, you know, the sins that you just can’t seem to shake off no matter how hard you try? Everyone’s got them, and if you say you don’t, I wouldn’t hesitate to call you a liar. But whatever yours may be, are they not the most irritating things? Yeah, everyone knows the key to ridding yourself of sin is confessing and repenting, that’s the preacher’s version. But how do you DO that? Confessing is fairly easy, but how do you turn 180 degrees around from doing something that, no matter how hard you try, you can’t seem get yourself to stop doing? I mean I’ve tried everything to kick these things, and no matter what or how hard I try, they still come back to bite me.

I was feeling rather down in the dumps about my own clinging sins recently, and it really had me down. They just make you feel like a failure as a Christian if you’re honest with yourself, and no one likes feeling like a failure. You feel like you let God down. Well, I was talking to someone about how I felt, and while engaged in the conversation an incredible thought occurred to me.

What about grace?

It’s interesting. We only really talk about grace a lot when we talk about salvation. But there are three parts to the life of a Christian: salvation, sanctification, and glorification. Salvation is being saved from sin’s penalty and is a one time thing (at conversion); sanctification is being saved from sin’s power (or becoming more like Christ) and is a life-long thing; glorification is being saved from sin’s presence and will happen when we get our new bodies in heaven. (And yes, I just gave you a whole semester’s worth of Bible College for free.) Grace obviously plays an enormous part in steps one and three. After all, grace is the only reason those steps are possible. As a matter of fact, the only reason any of the steps is possible is because of grace.

Why then do we not talk about grace when we talk about becoming more Christ-like?

I believe that it is to our detriment that we don’t emphasize grace when we talk about sanctification. It’s like we say that we get saved and get to go to heaven because of what God did, but the becoming Christ-like part is our part of the job. We don’t believe in salvation by works; should sanctification be any different? I say not.

Let me explain it this way. Let’s say (hypothetically) that you have an anger problem. You’re saved and you’ve been a Christian for years, but you just can’t shake it. You’ve tried everything you know, from counting to ten to taking deep breaths, but you still lose it when that idiot cuts you off in traffic. You’ve prayed and confessed and done your very best to repent, but when that jerk down the hall in the dorm won’t stop playing “Sweet Home Alabama” as loud as his stereo can go (at 2 A.M. mind you), you charge down there and take a bat to the stereo till that infernal machine is silenced forever. You just can’t seem to control these bursts of anger. This if-at-first-you-don’t-succeed-try-try-again all over again business is only leaving you feeling defeated in your Christian walk. What are you to do? (And this sin doesn’t necessarily have to be anger; you fill in the blank.)

Here’s my point: what if there’s nothing you can do? Maybe the only real way to be rid of this leeching sin is to admit that you can’t. Maybe it’s like salvation. We say that no matter how hard you work, you could never save yourself. Well maybe no matter how hard you try, you won’t ever sanctify yourself. What if the only real way to ditch these clinging sins is to simply admit that we cannot do it ourselves? Maybe it’s only in surrendering our volition to the Holy Spirit by admitting that we can’t that He is finally allowed to take over and rake this muck out from inside of us.

Now don’t get me wrong. This does NOT give us license to sin as much as we please, any more than the fact that we can’t save ourselves gives us license to sin. It just means that we have to man up and say we can’t do it. God alone can save; God alone can sanctify. I think it’s part of human nature for us to try and do things for ourselves. Even the unsaved will try to earn their salvation in some manner or another. We condemn this as wrong when it comes to salvation, but then we turn around and do a different form of the same thing when it comes to sanctification; we try to earn it. But we can’t earn it.

Giving into grace is the only solution.

When that realization hit me, I was psyched! It was the first time I ever looked at the sin in my life that way. I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I can’t beat these sins, and I felt like screaming it out to the whole world. I can’t do it; there is absolutely nothing I can do. But God through the working of the Holy Spirit can. Now I’m just plain flabbergasted. How could I have been so stupid as to somehow think that sole responsibility fell on my shoulders to do this? And why would God want to sanctify anyone so dumb?

Well, that’s grace for you.

“Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that can pardon and cleanse within. Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that is greater than all [my] sin.”