Sunday, February 26, 2006

Personal Peace & Affluence - Part One

Much of our life is spent trying to build a fence around ourselves. The one who can build sufficient security and stability around their physical lives is seen as having a full life. Going through a risky situation is seen as an occasional necessary evil, but something which generally speaking is avoided.

We call it "the good life" or "personal peace and affluence". This is what we are taught to strive for. It is idealistic, and those who do not live up to it will often live with guilt about not attaining to it. We as a society, as Francis Schaeffer noted, that is sometimes interested only in our personal peace and affluence. We don't care how much other people suffer. We don't care how unproductive we are. We don't care about morals or philosophy or theories. We don't care about social justice. We DO care about our standard of living and we do care about being comfortable.

One of the most notable casualities in an unchecked pursuit of personal peace and affluence is Truth. The Truth must be worth something, it is reasoned, but not to the extent that I would be willing to endanger my personal peace and affluence for it. Hence, this pursuit overshadows the truth, and consequently becomes an idol held at the expense of what is true.

Along with truth, social justice falls. Social justice is important, it is reasoned, but only as long as it plays as a secondary goal that in some way benefits the primary goal, personal peace and affluence. Then social justice no longer becomes a fair thing, but rather a very narrow means of furthering one groups needs only in so much as they play into the benefits of a higher class.

According to the Bible, no temporal thing should usurp eternal truth. And also, it teaches that truth and justice will always be costly, will always involve some sacrifice (John 15:18-20, Luke 14:27-33). If we chose to follow truth only when it leads us within our norms of personal peace and affluence, we are doing a great disservice to the world and secondarily are estranging ourselves from any sort of connection with the truly radical Biblical vision of discipleship.

While the specifics vary from person to person, ultimately you will be required at some point to chose between preserving your personal peace & affluence and going in a path you know is right. Sometimes these two ways can become contradictory.

One particular example comes forward in my mind. In my denomination in the 1960's, an individual left North America to bring the gospel to a particular tribe in Papua New Guinea. His decision was foolish from any perspective which highly exalts perosnal peace & affluence. Nobody in the denomination had done that before, would this be well received? What would his church think? He was a well-to-do nuclear engineer. What would he do if he cut off his income? He had 4 young kids and a wife he was providing for. Moving to another country with 4 kids and a wife, the reasoning goes, would not be wise, especially when you are taking them into an environment that is dangerous, to a people who are essentially still living in some sort of "stone age". There is no way this decision could be wise when evaluated only on the basis of whether it was good for his personal peace and affluence. But there was something else in operation here: The idea that truth, a mission, a vision, etc. were more important than some of the finer details of personal peace and affluence. The individual decided that God could provide some of these temporal things, if only he would be willing to go out on the limb.

It turns out that this was the beginning of an amazing work. A work that still lasts today. God used this individual to reach a tribe with the Christian gospel who hadn't even been reached with just about anything modern yet. They literally were untouched by civillization as we know it. This gospel not only transformed their hearts, but some social practices that were unhealthy and destructive. He was also used to not only translate the New Testament into their language, but actually invent a written form of their language! Now they are a large group of churches with hundreds upon hundreds of believers and all native leadership!

This individual, Victor Schlatter is his name, said the following, and I think it is a good way to conclude this part: "My mother, a hard-pressed widow, taught me that there is a real Jesus. And if He is real, He is worth believing. His principles are worth following--beyond run-of-the-mill church morality and what is comfortable to twentieth century affluent evangelicals." We need to think long and hard... are we willing to pay the price? What is more important: our personal peace and affluence, or Truth, Justice, and Purpose? While I have focused on religious matters in this post, this concept really applies to the whole of life. Are you just going to seek out what makes you comfortable and safe, or are you willing to take risk when necessary?

To be continued..

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3 Comments:

Blogger Paul said...

"My mother, a hard-pressed widow, taught me that there is a real Jesus. And if He is real, He is worth believing. His principles are worth following--beyond run-of-the-mill church morality and what is comfortable to twentieth century affluent evangelicals." We need to think long and hard... are we willing to pay the price? What is more important: our personal peace and affluence, or Truth, Justice, and Purpose? While I have focused on religious matters in this post, this concept really applies to the whole of life. Are you just going to seek out what makes you comfortable and safe, or are you willing to take risk something when necessary?"

God calls us to step out of our comfort zone. In fact, we are told if we follow Christ, we will have more struggles than not following Christ.

So...
"Safe, Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good." -C.S. Lewis

Following Christ is the greatest adventure we could ever have.
And I wouldn't want it any other way!

12:09 AM  
Blogger Spinney said...

Paul, that's one of my favorite Lewis quotes!
Mark - your words cut right to the heart. I appreciate your boldness. When I ask the Lord to search my heart, I know that sacrifice of personal comfort has been rare in my life at best. And yet, I hear and read of believers in far more dire earthly circumstances who are actively laying their lives on the line.
Have you heard John Piper's sermon, "Doing Missions when Dying is Gain?" I couldn't begin to do it justice, but he nails the issue of comfort by calling believers to a "wartime mentality" of sacrifice.
Great post!

10:32 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Thanks for your comments!

9:20 PM  

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