Sunday, September 17, 2006

Quantifiable Christianity

It seems that the modernistic world we live in is in love with measurements. Of course we all have measuring cups in our kitchens for measuring ingredients, measuring tapes in our toolboxes for measuring walls and spaces, and odometers on our vehicles for measuring the miles that we travel. But, it just can't stop there can it? No, it seems that our rational minds just have to dominate every area of our lives. We have IQ tests to measure how "smart" we are, travel services to measure (in stars) how comfortable a particular hotel is, and even letter and number grades to measure the cleanliness of our restaurants. But, once again, it just can't stop there. We need Food Network competitions to decide whose dessert is the "best", just as we need Randy, Paula, and Simon to tell us whose voice is the most pleasing to the ear. Can everything be so neatly compared and tightly packaged?

My wife and I just got back from our 10th anniversary vacation in which we went hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park. While there, we purchased a little book called "Best Easy Day Hikes--Rocky Mountain National Park" by Kent & Donna Dannen that that gave us some tips on good places to hike within the park. In the front of the book was a section that we both found humorous entitled "About the Cranky Authors". Here is an excerpt:

"For a quarter century, guidebooks by Kent and Donna Dannen have been the standard reference for the trails of Rocky Mountain National Park. Therfore, many reviewers of their trail guides have accused the Dannens of being "experts". This accusation offends the Dannens, who maintain that experts should never write guidebooks. For example, experts write user guides for VCRs, fax machines, and computers. Experts lack ignorance and, therefore, lack the perspective of the ignorant, which is essential to explain anything. Because experts really do know all the answers, they have no clue about the questions. Guides written by experts are understood only by other experts, who rarely read them because they do not need to."

Wow! I could hardly have said it better. This reminds me of conversations that I have had with computer techies in which I was led to feel pretty stupid. In this age of experts, of professionals measuring and quantifying everything for the rest of us, little creedance is given to someone actually experiencing something for themselves. Instead, we prefer to have someone else pre-process any kind of abstract knowledge for us and then deliver it back to us in chunks of steadfast, absolute, and pre-measured answers.

While I believe that these prepackaged measurements can sometimes be detrimental when measuring things like music and food, I think that they can be downright dangerous when used in reference to our relationship with God. I, for one, am growing tired of things like systematic theologies and creedal statements being used to determine who's "in" and who's "out". Many times I have had a good conversation with someone about the things of the Spirit interrupted by the question "And where do you go to church?", or "What do you think about ________?". As a matter of fact, this very thing happened to me twice today. As many of you know, I work at a Christian bookstore. Just today, I was helping a customer find a Bible. He was wanting some information on various translations, so I began to tell him about some of the differences and tried to help him find one that would be beneficial to him. About half-way through our conversation, he just had to ask, "What denomination are you?"...Why??????...What does it matter???? Well, best I can tell, this was the measuring rod to determine whether or not it was "safe" to continue listening to what I had to say.

One area that I have struggled with myself, is the way in which we, as believers in Jesus, seem to measure our spirituality or the validity of our walk with God. The daily "quiet time" is a perfect example. A "good" Christian reads the Bible at least once every day and spends time everyday in "prayer". What this has boiled down to for me is feeling okay about myself on days in which I read one chapter of the Bible and prayed through certain mental checklists, and feeling that I was displeasing to God on days when I failed to do so. This is a Scripture that I have not been able to shake for a long time though:

"When you pray, don't babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered only by repeating their words again and again. Don't be like them, because your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!"
Matthew 6:7-8 New Living Translation

That sure doesn't sound like the ritual that I have become oh so familiar with. What is prayer anyway? Is it a time or times throughout the day when I stop to talk to God, or is it the very atmosphere I live in as I continually walk (even into the bathroom) with God?

It seems like the reason we like formulas and rituals is because they are so easy to measure. It's more quantifiable to "spend time with God" than it is to embrace Christ as your very life. It's easier to measure your time in the written word than it is to measure your life as influenced and impacted by the Living Word (Jesus). It's more appealing to the flesh to go to the "house of God" than to actually be the house in which He dwells.

I think that the main reason we seek to measure our spirituality is because of a lack of security in our idenitity in Christ. If Christ really is my identity, then I don't need to rely on religious rituals to make me feel "safe". I know that I am safe because of His finished work as well as knowing that I am in Christ, and Christ is in me.

I, myself, used to feel like I had all of the answers. Now I feel like I have many more questions than answers. I am beginning to embrace "the perspective of the ignorant" which truly does seem "essential to explain anything." It seems that only when we know what the questions are can we begin to uncover an answer. What do you think?


Steve Sensenig said...

Bro, so very well said. It's good to have you back from your trip. And we look forward to having dinner with you and your sweet wife tonight!!

While you're here tonight, I'd really like you and me to work out a confession of faith that we can use to determine who we fellowship with.....JUST KIDDING!! ;)

steve :)

Dan Keistler said...

Ray, Great thoughts. I think so many times people get caught up in who's who? and who are they with? that it determines whether or not they will associate with them. Some judge according to how a person is dressed or what music they listen to. For some it is what denomination they are or what "church" they go to. My response to those would be, how about we stop going to church altogether and start being the church.Truth is what God says."Religion" is what man says God says. Religion will stand and "measure the outer court" God will bring some into the Holy of Holys and leave those with the measuring tape still standing outside. If people would realize who they are in Christ they would put away the yardstick, because what they would see in any mans circumstance is Christ. God looks at an adulteress and sees Christ. God looks at a thief and sees Christ. God always sees redemption because of what Christ has already done. He sees his sons no matter what their outward appearence. Rather than measuring eachother, we should be looking for His appearing in each other and in ourselves. Much of the church still has the mindset that we have to do in order to be. But I say that Christ has already made a way, He has already done the work, meaning that something is already true of us. So all we really need to do is "just be". Be what is already true of us. "For now are we the sons of God"
I have found that much of what I thought I was doing to become more like Christ, was actually my greatest hinderance in realizing that I am already like him. Because I was crucified with Christ Meaning my old man is dead. You can't dress Adam up and make him look like Jesus. We need to reckon Adam to be dead and reveal our true identity. So many people have been in church for years and years and done all the right things yet are still left with emptiness. They have prayed the prayers and sung the songs. I think as for me, I have wasted much time praying some prayers because I realized prayers are not prayed, prayers are made. We should pray according to His will. God has already fininshed all His work, So that means we need to look into the heavenlies and see what is already done to release it in the earth. I don't think it is so much asking God for healing as it is releasing the healing that is already there. Prayer is our conversation with God, not so much a conversation with words but our lifestyle, our atmosphere. We carry the Glory of God. The problem is most people are still trying to carry the ark on an old ox cart. But God meant for it to be carried upon our shoulders. That is the mind of Christ. Ox cart represents man working for something rather than posessing something. True prayer will let us see into a finished work revealing to us what we already posess.God Bless! Dan

Raborn Johnson said...

Well said, Dan. Indeed, if we would stop going to church and instead live as the church, we might stop seeing God as "up there" and instead see Him as "in me". When this happens, we truly embrace the entire mystery of the Gospel which is "Christ in you, the hope of glory". We have to quit trying to measure up and instead embrace the finished work of Christ which has made us perfect (Hebrews 10). Thanks for your comments Dan! Look forward to hearing more from you!