Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The gospel-mill life

I have an image stuck in my mind that I think illustrates life in God. I imagine an old, sturdy wooden mill deep down in the heart, in the center of a person -- a mill placed there by the grace of God that
can be driven by water pouring down from heaven. With this external source of water flowing into one's life (a source that never goes dry), the gospel-mill powers the person's whole life... the love of God flows down and then out through that person and drenches a hot and thirsty world. This is the beautiful gospel-mill life
that Jesus calls us to (see John 4, the story of Woman at the Well, for a full description).

The gospel-mill powers the person's whole life...the love of God flows down and then out...and drenches a hot and thirsty world.

The Bible indicates that there are three possible responses to the call of Jesus. Only one is the right response, which I find unnerving and makes me itch; apparently, one out of three find the gospel-mill life. Two of the three possible responses are outside of the rich life that I've portrayed above. (If you are turned off already I sort of don't blame you... if it weren't God's Message I would shut down too, but I give Him full rights to offend me). Since this message is offered by the miracle-working God-Man who was raised from the dead, turned all of history upside down, and compelled St. Peter to request an upside-down crucifixion in honor of the resurrected Lord, I think it's worth at least a short hearing.

So, what are the two off-track responses according to the Bible?

One response outside of God's hopes for human life is that of irreligious folks who freely reject Christ, His love, and His atoning sacrifice for a sinful life and broken world. In this camp, people might say that "all religions are basically saying the same thing" or "I don't buy the exclusivity of Christianity," etc. I really get and appreciate this response. It's easy for me to understand... God does not force himself or his plan on people, so some simply say "No, thanks" or "I don't buy it" or "that's outrageous" or "I want to do my own thing" -- and I really respect that; it's honest. (Per a previous post, this could actually be considered Stage 3 faith...)

The next category is a response I find woven into the entire New Testament narrative. It is a strong critique and warning for religious insiders like me who may have the right religious language and attendance records, the right theology, and even high levels of involvement, tithing, etc. -- but still have missed the point and are outside with the irreligious. In other words, we may think we said "Yes" to Jesus but it may be just a "Yes" for religion and God-management. We may use religion or worship attendance as if God could be managed like our boss at work. We may use God to feel morally superior to others. We may (unknowingly) orchestrate our worship, prayers, goodness, small groups and committee work to keep God happy and manage the guilt about the rest of our self-absorbed lives. Here, the mill has not really begun to move yet and we have not finally decided to follow Him. (This could be considered Stage 2 faith.) Life is still largely about us. It may be a managed moral performance exercise rather than a surrendering-on-your-knees exercise where the person yields life to Christ and the living water begins pouring down as the paddles of the gospel-mill finally start to turn.

We may think we said "Yes" to Jesus but it may be just a "Yes" for religion and God-management. 

This second response is represented in the lost elder brother from the Parable of the Lost Sons / Prodigal Son (Luke 15). At the end of the story, shockingly, the devoted, hardworking yet self-righteous religious elder brother remains outside the homecoming party while the bad boy younger brother -- who squandered everything, lived an immoral life, but finally yielded to the father and recognized his selfishness -- remains inside the party where everything is flowing. Jesus told this story specifically for the religious insiders of the 1st century, the Pharisees, those ultra-religious folks that Jesus laid into for their self righteousness and use of religion for power and status. The story is for our own day too. It's the unique logic of the gospel that sometimes upends us.

The shock is that Jesus has equally forceful critiques for the irreligious and the religious.

The shock is that Jesus has equally forceful critiques for the irreligious and the religious. If we read the Bible, we would more readily understand this... But relying so much on our pastors and priests, trying to access God indirectly via their devotional / spiritual lives and prepared remarks, can only get us so far (which I've proven through much of my Christian life...). It's really a one-on-one deal with God. Since many religious don't really know God's Message to humanity and the words of Jesus, how would we really know about God's stinging critique of religious insiders? I know I am prone to invent a Jesus of my own image... one that looks an awful lot like me and my tribe, but is simply inaccurate.

My life in Christ is a work in process, but I would rather know the truth about my life in the eyes of God than live under an illusion the rest of my days. Wouldn't you too?

In the end, it's not about religion... not about irreligious or religious life. Religion is not what's offered to us. It's about opening yourself up to the living water of Christ who is ready to turn your mill on for the world if you would say "Yes" to Him.

What might God be saying to you? Are you happy with meandering irreligion? Managed religion? ...Or are you ready for the eternal flow of a gospel-mill life?


Religion is not what's offered to us. It's about opening yourself up to the living water of Christ who is ready to turn your mill on for the world if you would say "Yes" to Him.

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