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Reaching

Not that different

While telling a story, I caught myself laughing at the end and was reminded of how I sometimes find that habit annoying in others. Fact is, I probably do it all the time. Fact is, I'm not that different.

Our church has long struggled with an idolatry of being different or "doing church different(ly)." Some of this, no doubt, comes from starting as a church plant just over a decade ago—to even have a reason to exist, there was a pull to find identity in our distinctive qualities. Our mission, likewise, was often put in terms of "getting it" and helping others "get it." Indeed, the gospel itself is news that transforms by the power of the Holy Spirit—Jesus is making all things new. But even that newness and difference isn't Jesus; it's only fruit, and we get in trouble if we worship it.

Idolatry of how different we are can really hobble us. We can look snidely at others' efforts to be faithful, and sometimes, perhaps, there's even a fear that their successes may make us less special as those who see/do things differently. We can become extremely conservative about our cutting edge-ness, finding ourselves unable to imagine other approaches and points of view than the ones we've come to love. Once "I can't imagine" becomes part of our vocabulary, our view of God and everything grows sorely limited. And anyone who doesn't see it our way doesn't "get it"—one of the harshest indictments we idolaters of difference can bring to bear.

I'm stunned by how deeply this idolatry of difference has seeped into my life, and I suspect I'm only seeing the tip of the iceberg. It's huge. Likewise, even though lots of its symptoms have been relatively quiet in our church over the last few years, it's still there, rooted in some deep and unexpected ways. When those roots attach themselves to legitimate and important concerns, they're so much harder from which to be ripped free.

We can't risk throwing out our hearts with the idols that have entangled them, yet neither can we leave our idols undisturbed in an effort to protect our hearts, for they will surely kill us if we do. Only the Great Physician can perform the surgery we need to survive, and even then it may well hurt.

In the process, He will likely make use of His Word and His Church. We'll need to listen well, not only for those things that comfort, but also for those things that put us "under the knife." I'm no fan of hard things for their own sake or using difficulty as a measure of truth—I've seen way too much abuse under such auspices. But if we who need surgery seek only our own safety and comfort, we will never be made well. In one instance, Jesus asks someone if he wants to be healed (John 5:6); perhaps this is part of the reason why.

By the same token, the antidote to the poisons brought into us by our idolatry of difference may be terribly ordinary. Doesn't that make sense? Ordinary doesn't mean abdication of truth, beauty, and glory; if this were so, the gospel would have little to offer. But we may be called to accept that we're never going to be lauded by the masses, that no one will be drawn to us because of how special we are, that faithfulness may not make us heroes. Our friends may not be that interesting, our family may not be a model, our work may not be our passion, our commitments may not be riveting, our communities may not be filled with only the people we'd pick, and those in authority over us may not be performing up to our expectations. And that might just be part of the cure.

Can we submit to that, out of trust in our Physician? Do we want to be healed? Do I?

Comments

Wow

You may be on to something here. I have seen so much "vision casting" and "we have a higher purpose" and we must change the world type stuff for years around us. I began to think, "what about those born in a country where all they can do to feed their family is live on the trash heap?" They may not be doing some great work for God. They may not ever get to "witness" to anyone but their own kids. They may live a simple life with nothing. Someone like me might come along and try to give them some sort of gift like a box from Operation Christmas Child with a bible and some tokens. That may be all they get for any Christmas, but will it change their life? So then what? What if these people live and die and no one ever is changed because of them? Could any person living on a trash heap all their life who actually makes no difference to anyone at all also be a believer that is doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing? What if no one is changed by them? What if their only fruit is their enduring faith that was given to them by the Father? What if they spend their days praying, so really, anything they do change is only by God's effort and not of their own? What value is this person?

With all the money in the USA, all the churches, all the motivational speakers, all the books and training, what do we really amount to? Many of us have the sin of pride, the sin of purpose as idol, the sin of seeking self advancement rather than Christ.

Not saying your church is like this, but I've lived it. I've walked it. I've seen it. I hate it about myself.

However, I tend to be one of extremes, and find myself running right into literal deep study of the bible and get all prideful and frustratingly less loving. I stop trying to change the world (which is not really a good goal anyway) and then stop serving. I become a useless vessle. When I have the opportunity to serve, I become smug and also afraid to be one who uses works to please God rather than just loving and serving. Oh, I wish for simple days again.

I hope I haven't missed your point or taken over your post.

Re: Wow

Good thoughts—makes perfect sense to me. Dealing with the reality that God's glory may well be revealed in my being ordinary is tough to swallow, but it's very much worth considering.
I know I'm late to be reading this, but:

This is a great post.

The idolatry of being different is something I have problems with personally, but I've also seen it at work in at least one church of which I've been a member.
Thanks! It's definitely in play on both personal and corporate levels here, too. Ironically, not uncommon.