Since taking up the adventure of blogging, I have chosen to delve into issues many find bothersome or offensive. I have stated things that have caused tension, I have made claims that some believe to be antibiblical. I have been perceived as taking a stance which puts me at odds with the evangelical church, the Christian community in which I participate.
Given all these things, these perceptions, I think it is important for me to take a moment and reflect. I want to, for a moment, step back and approach this on a different level and with a different tone than has previously been taken. This, I hope, will allow some to see my heart for Christ and the root of my beliefs in his cross.
My Christian journey has been a spotted one. I have struggled with depression and self-hate. For the majority of my life, I let my self-hate translate into hate against anyone or anything I considered to be an “other”. This included people of other faiths, people of different lifestyles and orientations, as well as other Christians who disagree with me.
However, I have also experienced a radical transition in my faith. I have come to value dialogue over debate and apologetic. I have come to love and engage the “other”, to stop seeing enemies and reprobates and start seeing neighbors. More than anything, I have been challenged by the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I resolved to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”
This passage hits at the core of my former lifestyle. As Paul so eloquently argues in 1 Corinthians 1, the cross of Christ deposes the proud and strong, those who seek to preserve their own power and image, those who coerce and bully. These people are exposed by the cross, their purported “wisdom” is but foolishness before the humility and weakness, the utter dejection of the crucified Christ. Thus, in grasping this, I began a journey to read Scripture anew.
I read the Sermon on the Mount and came to realize the centrality of love and humility to the Christian life. In fact, the entire ethic of Christianity is centered in loving others, humbly exalting them by considering them an organic extension of our self.
I have realized the humility of Christ was demonstrated in love for everyone – embracing all who would come in fellowship, servitude (he washed the disciples feet!), and willing rejection for their sake. He died abandoned by God, by those he called friends, and by the world he created – all to demonstrate the radical grace and love of God who calls all to turn away from self-absorbed lives and find identity and relief in him.
This journey towards understanding the love of Christ and how it ought to be made manifest in my life has led me to three principles.
1) Plank Eye
I have come to the realization that setting out to expose a speck in another’s eye often reveals a plank in my own. No where does this seem more emphatic to me than in the Evangelical Church’s engagement of the LGBTQ community. In attempting to expose, denigrate, and demonize this community we only expose our own hypocrisy.
My former hatred towards LGBTQ people, my claim that they lived a sinful lifestyle, exposed me as a hypocrite. Most certainly, my vilification was geared towards establishing my own righteousness. I had set out to shore up my own “goodness” by looking for something “worse”.
Further, it revealed my own desire to maintain privilege. Rather than embracing the humility of Christ in serving my neighbor, I sought to maintain a certain status for myself. This, however, was a counter-witness to the cross of Christ. In Philippians 2, we are told that Jesus willingly set aside his claim to divine power and chose to become human. He suffered and died, he touched and healed, he loved in a radical way that spoke into our brokenness. He also mourned, hurt, and feared – he chose to be human because he wanted us to know him. This is the humility of Christ that passages like Ephesians 5 or 1 Peter 2-3 call us to embody in all our relationships. It is a life of humility which considers everyone before self, which strives to seek and embrace the “other” in a radical way.
3) The Cross
Lastly, I realized that the cross stands as a critique of all cultures, all identities that compete with identity as a member of the body of Christ, one flesh with Christ and with one another in the most intimate and organic of senses. This caused me to begin to question where my beliefs come from and where I was placing my identity.
I came to Galatians 3, where I was confronted with the idea that to find identity in Christ is to embrace self as a new creation. Christ took on the curse of the law that we might experience a new age, an age in which the eschaton is breaking in and those who follow Christ are being transformed in his likeness.
It helped me to realize that all claims to identity must pass through Jesus Christ, and him crucified. I then considered my personal beliefs. Beliefs about my own identity as an American, as a man, as a father, husband, and son stopped being conformed to the likeness of Caesar – the commodification and sexualization of the human person, the claim to violence as power, the claim to nationalism, the claim to my own authority. Instead, I realized that in Christ the tensions of Jew and Gentile, slave and free, man and woman cease to be points of contention or struggle and become transformed. We forsake antagonism for particularity realized fully within the mutuality of Christian community.
This led me to reevaluate all my relationships. It has strengthened my marriage, called me to social justice, and challenged me to seek the guidance of the Spirit in rereading Scripture with Jesus as my center. More than anything else, it has challenged me to seek to move all ideas, arguments discussions, and dialogue away from ideologies and antagonism, which only seek power and strife, and expose them to the crucible of the cross in which everything is exposed and our true calling, our identity as the image bearers of God is renewed.
I hope this can be seen in my writing. I do not claim to be the end-all-be-all authority on all things. I do claim Christ and seek to bring everything back to him. I seek to be humble and loving in all my discourse while attempting to challenge ideologies and antagonism which compete within the Church for our devotion. Mostly, I seek to provoke thought which always centers myself and the reader firmly in who Jesus was/is and how that ought to affect change in our lives. I seek to expose the planks of Evangelical complicity – a plank juts from my own eye – by humbly considering how we/I engage the specks of others.
I hope this reflection helps you to see my heart, to provide a paradigm for reading and engagement. Most of all, I hope it demonstrates Christ in all I do and say.
I also invite anyone to dialogue. I do not have the market cornered on Christian living. I am not above reproach, I am a member of the body of Christ and subject to the other members therein. I am a broken person trying to live in the grace and forgiveness of Christ, and to extend that to others. If you perceive an issue please fulfill your duty in Christ to lovingly approach your brother in Christ. I genuinely look forward to any conversation and hope we can grow together through such engagement.
May you receive Grace and Peace through our Lord, Jesus the Christ,
Posted by Nate Sparks