Saturday, September 19, 2009

Jesus is all I need ... NOT!

I just sat through yet another interminable “worship” session this morning, at which song after song repeated one form or another of the notion that “Jesus is all I need” or “Jesus is more than enough for me.” I suppose I’m going to raise serious doubts about my spiritual condition here (nothing new in that), but I’ve just got to say this:

Jesus is NOT enough for me. I believe he could be, but he ain’t!

I bring this up because I have an overwhelming suspicion that I’m not alone here, and more importantly, I really feel for the internal conflict that this (over)emphasis may cause for those who, like me, have not found full satisfaction in their spiritual experience (whereof more below).

So let’s break it down a little bit. What, in fact, does it mean that “Jesus is (more than) enough for me?”

1) Does it mean my physical needs are provided for? Maybe. I just had a new job land in my lap, taking away the very real fear that my former job (at which we were on reduced pay to try & save the company) was going away. My family continues with no lack of income, and for that I’m deeply grateful. . .to God and to those who helped me land the job. My daily bread is still coming.
But what about those who believe in Jesus as much or more than I, but whose physical needs are NOT being met? This could be a failing of their church body, who ought to support each other (a topic for another time), but the harsh reality is that there are people who DON’T have their daily bread, but who diligently seek Jesus. Is Jesus really “all they need?” What about a square meal? Man shall not live by bread alone, but he has a tough time living without ANY bread. . .

2) Does it mean salvation itself? Of course this must be part of it. I’ve written before about the fact that Jesus is the beginning and end of salvation and redemption (but please follow this link to clarify what I mean by salvation; it’s not just fire insurance). I would submit that most churches where I’ve heard the “all I need” language repeated ad nauseum are teaching—by implication if not explicitly—that Jesus without appropriate doctrine is most emphatically NOT enough. This needs examination.

3) Does it mean relationship or friendship or love? Sure sounds like it. And to be perfectly candid, this is one place where I simply have to say “no, Jesus doesn’t cut it here.” I have spent a lifetime believing in Jesus, trusting Jesus, and doing my fallible best to seek to be a disciple of Jesus, but I have never “met” Jesus. I have heard lots of justifications from lots of people, but I’m sorry—I do not accept a definition of “relationship” where the communication is all one-way. Reading a guy’s book and talking into the air believing he hears you, but never seeing his face or hearing his voice in response, does not a relationship make. I accept and acknowledge that God loved the world and gave his son; that Jesus demonstrated his love for “us” collectively in that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8). However, “us” collectively, by which I mean the whole of humanity, is not at all the same as a personal relationship with an individual—me.

I value my friendships and relationships highly. My wife Janine is my best friend and I deeply cherish my life with her. Could I survive without her? Sure, but it’d be a severely diminished existence. Likewise, though at a different level, my three children, and a few dear friends around the country. And in a still-different, but significant way, some of the friendships I’ve developed with readers of this blog—you know who you are, and I hope to meet you in the flesh someday. Each of these relationships adds something vital to my existence, and while Jesus may (and probably did) have a hand in my meeting and developing relationships with each of them, Jesus in their absence is NOT enough.

4) Does it mean fulfillment or satisfaction? The context of the singers would suggest as much. But here in particular I take issue with the implication of the songs. I have spent nearly twelve years doing work that, while it’s certainly responsible work for a Christian to do, it has absolutely nothing to do with my passion and desire to serve in health and development for the poorer parts of the world. And with limited time off and remuneration, it doesn’t even provide me a lifestyle that allows me to volunteer in that realm. It may very well be that God is preparing me for something I’m not yet ready to do. . .in fact I want to believe this is so. But the reality is that God has not given me the privilege to see the point of what I’ve been doing for the past decade-plus. I want to trust that I’m in God’s will here, but the harsh truth is that I’m clueless on this point. God hasn’t given me any indication of what else I ought to be doing, or that what I am doing is wrong. I just have this deep conviction (reinforced every time I engage the field) that there’s something else I could do that’s much better. . .if only I could find a way to do it without leaving my family in the lurch.

But the reality for now is that, in the realm of fulfillment or satisfaction that I’m in God’s will, that my life has a purpose beyond what I cynically call the “circle of life,” Jesus has provided me nothing.

In defense of Jesus, I’m not actually convinced that he ever promised to be or do any of these things. So it’s not really Jesus’ fault. It is, though the fault of a church/faith system that trumpets this sort of language in nearly every “worship” service. And therein lies the real problem, I think. If people who are less the independent, stubborn cuss I am, keep being battered with this message, and if those same people do a clear-eyed self-examination and come up as short as I have, we run the risk of driving them from the faith because of our own false expectations. And if I’m right about this, it would seem to me that Jesus’ comments in Matt. 18:6 (about the millstone) might be relevant.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Where/when can Christians serve in the armed forces? Part 1

I know that many (most?) of the readers of this blog share at least some of my qualms with Christians serving in the military (for those who haven't yet explored my blog, click on the "War and Peace" subject in the index at the top of this page). I have a question aimed primarily at those who do NOT fall in the no-Christians-in-military camp. I hope to get a few of my "Just War" friends to weigh in; if you know of anyone who ought to be invited to this dialog, and who can commit to keeping it civil, please recruit them.

This is not intended to be a "gotcha" or an attack on those with whom I disagree. Rather it's a conundrum I genuinely do not understand and would like to learn more.

My question is this:

We know that there are, and have been for centuries, Christian citizens of the nation of Iraq. Do you believe it was (a) morally acceptable, or (b) morally requisite, for those Christians to serve in the army of Saddam Hussein's Iraq when:
  1. Iraq invaded Kuwait?
  2. The U.S. invaded Iraq in response to the Kuwait invasion in 1991 ("Operation Desert Storm")?
  3. The U.S. invaded Iraq again in 2003 ("Operation Iraqi Freedom")?
If you answer in the affirmative in either (2) or (3), how do you reconcile the notion that Christians, citizens of the Kingdom of God, would have found themselves on opposing sides of a conflict where they very well might have tried to kill each other?

If you answer in the negative, please help me to understand, in the Biblical framework of Romans 13 or your choice of other passages, how you see the differing duty or freedom between citizens of Iraq and the United States in the context of the above conflicts.

And above all, please keep the ensuing discussion civil.