Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Law of Averages

It's been a busy week and now I'm back to the blog. And along the way, this past week, I came across a review in ChristianityToday.com of a group I'd never heard of before, Future of Forestry. Their music is rocking praise, and the sound is a bit like early U2. You can check out some of their music at purevolume.com (click the link). Their song "Open Wide" is available for a free download as an mp3 file.

My wife and I were part of a Marriage Encounter this past week. No, we weren't presenters; we had wanted to go to Marriage Encounter for quite a few years, and about a month ago some friends registered us for this one. We had a wonderful, but intensely emotional (in a very good way) time. Our friends told us we would get out of Marriage Encounter what we put into it, and they were right. I 'd recommend it to any couple, and I'd tell them the same thing: They will get out of it what they put into it.

I said something to my wife during our Encounter that ended up meaning more to me than when I first said it. I told her that I felt about our marriage the same way I felt about my own Christianity. I wasn't afraid of either of us walking out on the other, any more than I was afraid that I would convert to atheism. What I worried about was the same in both areas of my life: That I would settle for "average," or even "above average." We were doing okay, even better than most couples I know. In fact, when my beloved told someone we were going to Marriage Encounter, that friend exclaimed: "You and Robert? Really?" We do the right things: We make time for each other, we talk, bounce ideas off one another, and look for ways to minister together. Above average.

Same with me and God. Look at my bio: I teach, I'm an associate pastor, elder, and home fellowship leader. I even blog for Jesus! And do the occasional Bible College course as time and money make possible. Above average.

But the nagging question is: Am I sold out? Have I given all? And if not, why am I satisfied with being even "above average"? I'm going to let out a secret here: I'm not too terribly impressed with the "average" Christian in the US. The "average" Christian isn't much different from the average non-Christian. And the "above-average" Christian seems to stand out only because the "average" Christian is such a poor reflection of his Master. Take Jesus just a little more seriously than the rest, and you too can be a super saint.

There is, in the Christian life, this "law of averages" that sets in the longer you go on. It comes from not wanting to stand out. We don't want to be labeled as idiots, fundamentalists, and fools by non-Christians. So we do what we can to seem "normal"--which comes to mean "average." The fellowship of believers turns itself into a social club of people craving acceptance and surrendering, little by little, the distinctives that have made them what they are. You see this law at work with every reform movement and renewal movement in the church, after a while. The apostolic church became the hierarchy of Rome; the Lutheran and Calvinist movements became mainstream doctrinal Protestantism; the Wesleyan and pietist movements slowly lost their emphasis on holiness. It's happening as well to the Pentecostal movement, because we're more concerned now with size than with authentic Christian life. We are joining the learned theological masses of evangelicalism--fine in itself--but are forgetting that the Spirit, not the letter, gives life.

The answer? Fight the law. Stop worrying about what people think. We answer to God and not man. Stop worrying about being "above average." Our call as Christians is to be like Jesus, not like anyone else. He was never just "above average," and as long as we are fixing our eyes on Him and making His life the goal of our own life, neither will we be "above average." We will be something profoundly more. We will be changed into the likeness of Jesus by the Spirit Who lives within us.

This extraordinary kind of life is meant to be normal for every Christian. For this purpose the Spirit of God was sent to dwell within every believer. If we yield ourselves to the Holy Spirit, then this kind of life is inevitable. And if you are dissatisfied with the average life you've been leading, or with an above average life that impresses others yet rings hollow to you, then it's because the Holy Spirit is calling you to something more--to Christlikeness.

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