January 18

Reflections: On Being a Misfitting Christian

This could quite possibly be the most misunderstood thing I’ve ever written and then posted online.  It’s not meant to be derogatory but sometimes it will take some effort not to take it that way.  It’s also not intend to sound like I consider myself as being better than others – far from it – but what I write certainly can be construed to say as much.  In essence, I’m trying to explain how I can make sense of the differences I see between myself and others.  As you will read,  I don’t take any responsibility one way or another for that difference.  It just is what it is.  Like one man being short while most others or tall.  I don’t know why God chooses some to be shepherds – I know I didn’t volunteer – but it’s probably because we’re like sheep.  And there are differences between the shepherd and the sheep.

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At some point in my past — I can’t actually remember a time but there probably was at least one — I thought I would have my life all figured out by the time I was 30.  When that mile marker came and went, I figured maybe 40 was the magic age.  Then it was 50.  And 60.

Now I’m 64 and I’m still figuring things and myself out.  I have a feeling this is not unusual — why else would Socrates’ quote1 be so popular? — but, since few people admit to as much, who knows?

Yesterday, as I was bemoaning my misfortune of being a Bible-study misfit, the swirl of words in my head seemed to revolve around one or two facts that provided clarification for me.  The first was that I’m a shepherd/pastor and am always looking for sheep to tend and feed.  I do curative or reparative work with people all week long but after-hours groups give me a chance to do some preventative work.  It’s a nice balance to the weekday work.

If the people in the Bible study don’t seem to be hungry or don’t want to be shepherded, however, I’m at a loss (at best) or angry (at worst). That people wouldn’t want to feed on the life of Christ or discover how to live more in keeping with God’s intent for us is baffling to me.

That was one thing that came to light.  Another — bigger and more awkward to explain — has to do with levels of commitment.  Before going further, it must be said that I don’t take any credit or look down on others: I didn’t orchestrate all the details and events of my life.  There are many things that happen to all of us of which we are largely unaware that become determinative and adjust the course we’re on.  I believe it is God’s superintendence of our lives and so no credit can be assigned.

I’ve long known that, having been to seminary, I was a bit different from most of the other men with whom I fellowship and associate.  These men are Christians, to be sure, but there’s something different about them.  Or about me.  Which it is doesn’t matter.

The only way I can describe it is as a difference of levels of commitment.  By way of analogy, it’s as though I’ve pushed all my chips into the pot and held nothing back: my pockets, bank accounts, assets, and everything else are on the line.  The men in the game with me have pushed their chips to the middle, too, but they’re not actually all in. They have considerable reserves awaiting them when the game is over.  They risk a considerable amount — maybe quantitatively more than I — but they’re not “all in.”  They might feel the loss but it won’t devastate them. They can feel the pain, absorb it, and get on with life.

As I thought about this, a question came to mind: if it were to somehow to be determined that Jesus Christ never did resurrect from the grave — if His bones were uncovered or a book He wrote at the age of 64 surfaced, or somebody traveled back in time and saw Him sneak out of a backdoor to the tomb — if it were proved beyond doubt, would your choices in life make sense?  Would your life make sense?  Would you not only look like a fool but in truth be a world-class idiot?

Personally, my life would be absurd.2  I made choices — and my wife has always supported me — that were based on my belief that this life was not all there was, that what we do here is important only because there is a judgment and a heaven that awaits.  If that is not the case, if there is no resurrection that awaits all of us, then I have wasted whatever years I’ve had and have yet to come.  As Paul says, I should have been eating, drinking, and being merry.  I should have continued on the two-lane highway of hedonism and nihilism.3

When I consider the lives and careers of other men, I don’t see the same level of risk or commitment.4  Again, that doesn’t make me holier than them because I didn’t actually choose this path: it was made for me and I for it by God.  But the difference is huge and explains a lot to me regarding why I so often feel like a misfit when I’m around Christians. Not all Christians, of course: others that are even more committed than I are out there and, from time to time, we stumble across one another.

I’ve often wondered why other men get so caught up in football, hunting, politics and a thousand other things that Paul says — based on his own belief in the resurrection — are destined to perish.5  Their choices have confused me.

I don’t know why there are the differences there are between believers (I’m not talking about doctrinal or any other kind of difference other than that of commitment).  I pretty sure that we don’t have a lot to do with it, though.  Or, at least for me, I don’t feel like I did: I simply couldn’t do anything else.6  If there is no resurrection, life is a short joke.  But because there is resurrection — and I’m sure there is — then life makes sense.  It has a purpose and meaning. Knowing that, how could I make any other decisions than those which I have?

All the chips are in the pot; investing in other things makes no sense.  I’m just playing the hand dealt to me until the Great Croupier tells me there are no more hands left for me to play.

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1 “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
2 This does not rule out the possibility that, the resurrection being true, I’m still an idiot.
3 I was in the passing lane with the hammer down.
4 I am aware that this is simply my perspective and not absolute truth. But I am looking only at behaviors or actions or lifestyles and basing my assessment on them. If I’m wrong – and certainly history has shown that to be possible – then I’d really like someone to explain to me where and how I’m off.
5 Col 2.22: “. . . things destined to perish”
6 It was a logical compulsion: the resurrection being true, to live otherwise simply made no sense to me.




Posted January 18, 2014 by Doc Mike in category "The Mirror in My Mind", "Things to Consider

7 COMMENTS :

  1. By Diana on

    Very thought-provoking, Mike. So wish we could meet a few times a week or month to talk. Please move to Indy. BTW, I am confident of three things: I have not been “All in” except for short bursts of great faith and love of God; two, those who have been fully committed will be more rewarded than I; and third, we must not let anything separate us from that peace that passes all understanding. I believe that Satan dances with delight every time he succeeds in having deprived us of it. The older I become, the more I strive to seek that peace. It is my greatest joy.

    Reply
    1. By Michael Russell (Post author) on

      It seems to me that you’re being unduly hard on yourself, as is your wont. Not everyone is called to go through life with their hair on fire and their heart on their sleeve. You may not have noticed the title and tagline for my blog: “a quiet Christian life: ‘Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life . . .’ – 1 Thes 4.11” The full passage is

      “But we urge you, brethren, to excel [in loving one another] still more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.” – 1 Thes 10b-12.

      My quick and dirty paraphrase: love other believers, live simply, mind your own business, do the work you have to do, don’t embarrass Christ by being a jerk, and stay within your means. You’ve done all of those pretty well, I think.

      So enjoy your quiet life: Scripture says that’s a good thing, regardless of what Tolstoy said. There’s no reward for going out looking for trouble, i.e., suffering, so rejoice that God has been good to you re persecution. I suspect that if you were to examine your life for evidence of God’s discipline, though, you’d find plenty of evidence.

      I read a book last year entitled “To Change the World”: the author’s conclusion was, you’re not going to change it so get busy doing what God has called us to do. What that is, he argues, can be described by the term “faithful presence.” It is being faithful and responsible for what our life is, not what it isn’t; for the influence we have, not that which we do not have, and for being faithful in that little corner of the world in which we find ourselves.

      Another author narrows the responsibilities of Christians down to four, two permanent ones and two temporary ones. The permanent ones are (1) to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, (the great shema of Deut 6.4-5, which every orthodox Jewish man starts his day repeating, and (2) to be stewards of the earth and world in service to God. These will never stop being responsibilities for us: when we are in the New Creation (the new heaven and earth) we will still be called upon to love God and take care of our responsibilities.

      The temporary commands, brought about by the rejection of Christ at His first advent, are (1) to love one another with the same love that Jesus had/has for His disciples (Jn 13.34), and (2) to make disciples, i.e., followers of Christ (not just converts). As parents, that starts with our children but expands to include anyone in whose life we have made a difference for Christ’s sake. That can be formal ministry or the faithful presence of allowing others to experience God’s love through us, e.g., your students.

      Reply
  2. By Michael Russell (Post author) on

    “I’ve often wondered why other men get so caught up in football, hunting, politics and a thousand other things that Paul says — based on his own belief in the resurrection — are destined to perish.”

    An additional footnote to this: it was Pascal who said, in essence, that man busies himself with distractions so that he doesn’t have to think about the really important things in life.

    That doesn’t mean there is anything inherently wrong with football, hunting, or similar activities. It does mean that if we invest more of our time and our minds on those rather than on the things that matter eternally then we are missing the point.

    Reply
  3. By shirley on

    In reference to if Christ did not rise from the grave-Even if that were so, would not there still be those of us who sought truth even though we would never find it; and saw the folly of all else? Why did I ask that? Stupid questions are OK?

    Reply
    1. By Michael Russell (Post author) on

      As has been said, there are no stupid questions but only people too stupid to ask them.

      Prior to salvation, I sought truth but could not find it though I looked in philosophy, eastern mysticism, the Abrahamic belief systems, and through drugs (See the Book of Ecclesiastes for a better depiction of life under the sun. I knew truth was more than just facts and knowledge.

      It wasn’t until I believed that I found the truth about truth: it is not an esoteric or ephemeral form (as Plato argued) but a Person, i.e., Jesus Christ. It is only in finding Christ – or being found by Him – that truth becomes knowable for us.

      Reply
      1. By shirley on

        Thoreau says in ‘WALDEN’, “THE MILLIONS ARE AWAKE ENOUGH FOR PHYSICAL LABOR; BUT ONLY ONE IN A MILLION IS AWAKE ENOUGH FOR EFFECTIVE INTELLECTUAL EXERTION, ONLY ONE IN A HUNDRED MILLIONS FOR A POETIC OR DIVINE LIFE.

        Reply
  4. By shirley on

    John 18:38 Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all.

    John 14:6 … I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

    Reply

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