Sacrifice of Love: A Tale Inspired by Peter Rollins

There once was a town full of people who loved and served one another. Whenever a person was sick, three other townspeople would aid the sick one. If a man was chopping wood for his fireplace, two more men would assist him. If a woman was running out of food and growing hungry, five women would cook her meals until she was able to recover. Every townsperson was willing to sacrifice their time and efforts for one another.

The town was full of love and compassion, all because of the founder of the town. He was a bold man and a revolutionary who taught radical ideas of love. He opposed the popular ideas of the era which were centered around selfishness. With his new and refreshing views on loving one another and showing compassion to all, he gained a following. The men and women were so captivated by his ideas that they decided to form their own town, where they would live by his radical teachings. They lived in an environment built on his ideas of sacrificial love.

That happened hundreds and hundreds of years ago and no one knew what happened to the man. Yet, the philosophies of the founder were timeless and continued to persevere.

One day, however, a very old, small book was found in the attic of a building within the town. A few of the townspeople gathered in order to look inside the book and at its content. As they began to read, they discovered that there contained a few pages that were written about founder of the town by a person who lived in the same time as he.

In it, they found a beautiful story of what actually happened to their founder. It said that the surrounding forces were so upset with the man, his ideas, and the town, that they were going to pillage the town and take all of its inhabitants hostage, most likely to kill them. However, the founder of the town bargained with the forces and asked if they would instead simply take his life and leave the people and their town alone. They accepted his offer and brutally murdered him, this founder and great teacher.

The man who wrote this short record was someone who had been so moved by the founder’s actions that he decided to write it down. He couldn’t understand why a man would so selflessly sacrifice himself and give his life for the people of his town. But, the townspeople knew why he would. They put down the book and decided to tell the whole town this wonderful story, now viewing the founder’s teachings of sacrificial love in a completely new light.

Commentary:

I just finished “The Orthodox Heretic” by Peter Rollins. As a tribute, I wanted to write a tale (as he calls them) according to the style of the book. Also, however, I wanted to analyze a concept that he seems to criticize in his book. One idea that he seems stress throughout countless tales is the idea that the salvific message of Christianity often distracts from the call to be compassionate and serve those around you, to show a sacrificial love.

For example, in his tale “Being the Resurrection”, he presents a story of a group of disciples who leave when Jesus is crucified, broken and saddened by the events. However, they start up a community that bases their lifestyle off of the life and teachings of Jesus. This happens for about a hundred years and then they get visited by Christian missionaries. The missionaries begin to explain Jesus to the community and the community in turn explains how they already know of this Jesus and actually live according to His teaching, despite the fact that He died.

The missionaries rejoice and claim, “We have amazing news for you all!” And they proceed to tell of the message of salvation. So then, the people of the community begin to erupt in celebration over this news. However, the leader of the community, an elder, withdraws to a small hut on the fringe of the city as he begins to weep. When asked what is wrong, he says that he they have given their whole life dedicated to living like Jesus, but now he is scared that his children and children’s child will not follow Him because of his radical ideas and sacrificial love, but rather for selfish reasons and personal salvation.

To be honest, this story impacted me greatly. Because it made me look at my motives for following Jesus. And I appreciate Rollins for creating a tale that incited such contemplation. However, I believe that the salvific message of Christ, if properly understood, does not hinder from the social aspect of His ministry, but rather, enhances it.

As we saw in the tale, the townspeople continued in the teachings of the founder. However, when they understood the sacrifice that the founder made himself, it gave new light to his teachings. It was no longer a set of ideas that had been working through the lives of the townspeople, but rather, it was something tangible. They could grasp it and see the result of his own selfless act of sacrifice. The only reason the town in which they practiced his teachings of sacrificial love was in existence was because of his own significant act of sacrificial love.

The point of his sacrifice was not so that the townspeople could celebrate the fact that they were not decimated by the forces that were coming to destroy or to honor him for being so brave. Rather, the founder was working within his own system of sacrificial love. The salvation he provided the town with, then, was not seen as something to celebrate as an end of itself, but rather, as a means to carry on his system of sacrificial love. And he did so by performing the ultimate act of sacrificial love.

In the same way, Jesus sacrificed Himself the ultimate act of sacrificial love. Salvation is a beautiful thing. However, it become toxic when it acts as an end, rather than a means to end. Jesus’ sacrifice, of course, encompasses many things. But, what it was not meant for was to be celebrated selfishly, simply as a means of avoiding hell or something of the like. While we were saved from something (sin), we were also saved to something else (service and sacrificial love).

It would be foolish to say that people could not act in sacrificial love apart from understanding salvation through Christ. However, when His ultimate sacrifice of love is properly understood and the gravity of it and of the message of salvation is understood, it puts everything into perspective. It makes operating in sacrificial love so much sweeter. What is following the teachings of Jesus without knowing and understanding the sacrifice of Jesus?

1 John 3:16 defines love as this, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” It first looks at Jesus sacrificing His life for us and then says that by that definition love, we are to love others. We are to lay down our lives for each other. Salvation is the tangible result of Jesus ultimate sacrifice of which we can grab ahold. When we do, we will view our own sacrifices in a more complete way.

So, while the salvific message of Christianity may indeed be perverted to cause people to be selfish and distract from the command to sacrificially love one another, the message of salvation was never meant to do so. Properly understood, it can add a brand new dimension to the idea of sacrificial love.

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Considering the Church in Your Relationship

How do you consider the Church in your relationships?

I got asked to speak on this a while back and whenever I did, I instantly thought about this time at a church youth group I used to go to. There was this guy in the youth group with me. I was about 12 and he was like 18. I was in 6th grade and he was a senior in high school. He was dating a girl (we’ll call her Jane) in the youth group as well. They had been dating for almost 2 years. That’s like 50 years in high school time. Now, the guy’s dad absolutely thought his son’s girlfriend was just amazing. He loved her. He adored her. He always talked her up to everyone and bragged constantly. Basically, he thought that she was like God’s gift to mankind, and that his son was just lucky enough to snag her. It was kind of awkward actually. We always used to joke that the dad more into Jane that his son even was.

But one night at the beginning of youth group, the guy’s dad busted in the youth room and he was just bawling his eyes out. He was sobbing, tears running down his face, snot coming out of his nose. He couldn’t even pronounce his words right. He finally got himself together enough to say some words. He said, “Guys… I have some bad news…” so we’re like freaking out! Just wondering what in the world he’s crying about. He goes, “It’s… it’s Jane…” And we all begin to ask him if she had got into a car accident, been diagnosed with cancer, or died, or something. He said, “No… no… they… they… they broke up!” And he just began to lose it while we all were like, really? Your son broke up with his girlfriend and you act like this? We just kind of laughed at him.

But the thing is, Jane never came back to youth group. Jane didn’t go back to any youth group. She didn’t go back to any church. It was a super tough break up for those guys. Not only did they suffer emotionally when they broke up… but Jane, since she stopped coming to church, suffered spiritually.

I told that story to say this; your relationship isn’t isolated. Guys, it’s not just you and your girlfriend against the world. You are part of a church family. Girls, it’s not just you and your boyfriend in some fairy tale adventure where you go far away and live happily ever after. You are part of a body of believers. There is a purpose for each of you in the body. There should be no division there. Paul says so in 1 Corinthians 12:25 “that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.”

So, when you date, when you’re in a relationship with someone,  you’re not just dating a girl or a boy. You are dating a member of the body of Christ, if they’re a Christian. And if they’re not, well then you shouldn’t be dating them in the first.

So, let’s consider these questions.

Does your relationship pull you away from others and isolate you?

This is a real question. You might be defensive and say, “Of course it doesn’t! I mean, I spend every winking moment of my life with her… but if I wanted to be with others, I definitely could!” Well, here’s my advice; if you can, then you should. Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with spending time with your significant other. But, hear me. Don’t take a relationship with one person and sacrifice it for the community of the church. You can be in a relationship and still be and commune with your friends, family, and your church family.

If you break up, will hurt feelings destroy your friendship?

This is a big one. Now guys, I’m not going to lie. I’m not a fan of dating in high school. And it’s not like I don’t know about it either. I wasn’t that awkward kid that wanted to hold a girl’s hand in high school but she didn’t want to hold it back, and now I’m bitter against dating. I dated a few girls in high school. Back in 9th grade I dated this one girl. I was thinking about how long ago that was. You wanna know something? Neither of us had texting! I had a piece of crap Nokia phone that called people and had solitaire, that was it. And, I must say, I was a beast at solitaire, so I liked it. So you can quit judging me. You’re probably like, “How did they stay in touch? You couldn’t have possibly called her… could you?” One word. Myspace. 2006. That’s how we did things back then.

But, the older I got, through each year of high school, the worse the relationships became. And I can honestly say, sadly, that I’m not friends with any of the girls I dated back then. I’m not friends with one. Now, they’re not going all Carrie Underwood on me and threatening to key my car and set my dog on fire or anything. But we’re not friends! That’s what matters! Some people ask me if I regret it… and I wouldn’t say I regret it, because it taught me a lot for the future and made me who I am today. But, personally, I’d rather learn from other people’s mistakes, not first-hand. So, I offer my experience to you. Don’t date someone if you know it will end badly. Hear me, trusting someone else with your heart and then letting them take it away never ends good. Consider that dating can likely end in break up, and how will that end up?

How will your relationship impact the unity of the Church?

This can be thought of in two different ways. First, will your relationship, will you and girl or boy coming into a relationship, ultimately cause bitterness in your church? Will it ultimately bring drama? Even though it’s going to bring you two guys together, is it going to tear more people apart? Is it ultimately going to do more harm than good? If the answer is yes to any of those, then I’m gonna be blunt. Going into that relationship is both selfish and stupid. It’s selfish and stupid. A relationship is meant to edify the Body. Not break it down.

Secondly, like we’ve said earlier, is your relationship going to lead to severing ties from the church? Either during or after break up. It does so during your relationship if you put your boyfriend or girlfriend as something ultimate above God. If they are more important than God, then that will lead to harm to the unity of the church, not to mention harm to yourself. Also, like I’ve said, If you know that things will be awkward if/probably when you break up, then you need to take that into consideration. Everything you do is to honor and please God… not yourselves.

So, I’m going to be real. If you date in high school, in all probability, your relationship will not lead to marriage. It probably just won’t. There are exceptions and praise God for those who meet in high school and live their whole lives together! But remember, they’re just that… exceptions. They aren’t the rule.

And another thing, I know that a lot of you have this Jerry McGuire attitude with your boyfriend/girlfriend and you’re like, “Oh no, Blake… you don’t understand! They complete me!” Please. No they don’t. That’s the thing that kills relationships! We elevate them to be something that they aren’t and expect them to do something that they were never meant to do! Our fulfillment is to come from God and God alone. We don’t search for that in others. Ecclesiastes 3:11 talks about how God has placed an eternal hole in our hearts. Now, human nature is prone to try and fill that hole with the things of this world. Sometimes, it’s drugs, food, success, acceptance, self-harm, sports… you name it. But sometimes it’s another human. Sometimes it’s a relationship. What’s the problem there though? A human isn’t eternal! A relationship isn’t eternal! Only God is eternal and only He can fill that hole.

So, after this break up, how will you guys return to being just friends in a godly manner?  I know it’s hard guys. And I don’t have much room to talk, since I haven’t done the best job at it. But, as I said earlier, I would rather you learn from my mistakes than you have to experience them yourself.

Maintaining the friendship is very difficult, especially if certain feelings have been expressed prematurely or if physical boundaries have been crossed. It’s weird seeing the person you said I love you to a month ago walk down the hall and them not say even hello, right? It’s strange being in youth group, and sitting close to the guy who touched you inappropriately not too long ago, and now he won’t even shake your hand? It’s awkward being in a relationship with someone who you thought was “the one”, but now they won’t even give you a passing glance! What do you do with that? How do handle things like that? It’s tough… man, is it tough. But remember, you’re forgiven. God has forgiven you! And if holy, almighty, sovereign, omnipotent God can forgive you, then you sure as heck can forgive your boyfriend, and you can surely forgive your girlfriend. And, most importantly, you can forgive yourself. You belong to Him. You’re His. And If God doesn’t hold anything against you, then no one can.

Remember guys, relationships shouldn’t cause division. In anything. Consider the Church. Consider the Body. Consider the community. Date wisely, my friends. Date wisely.

Church Numbers: God’s Favored Statistic or Non-fruitful Instrument of Hades?

Obviously, the title was a bit sarcastic on both ends. But this is a legitimate idea that needs to be thought about… how important are numbers when it comes to the church? Does shooting for higher numbers sacrifice the individual impact? Or does God want us to reach out to as many people as possible?
There is even an argument about this among many popular names in the evangelical world. People like author and preacher Francis Chan say, “God is not interested in numbers. He cares more about the faithfulness, not the size, of His bride”. But then there’s people like Steven Furtick of Elevation Church, who made a core value of his church, “We Are All About the Numbers – Tracking metrics measures effectiveness. We unapologetically set goals and measure progress through all available quantitative means.”

So which is it? As a leader, does God care about numbers? Or does He want faithfulness? My answer would be: yes.

Many times, I think churches see these two idea at odds with one another. The two become mutually exclusive. It is either one, or the other. We cling to the idea that either, God wants us to herd in as many people for His name, or simply focus on pouring in to a smaller group of people. I believe, however, that churches can effectively do both, if done correctly.

It can become a matter of the church existing to build attendance versus the church existing to build attendees. When you leave one of the two aspects out, dangerous things can begin to arise. Let’s look at a few.

When you leave out the idea of existing to build attendees, and only exist to build attendance, you run into these problems:

  • The leader or pastor may only be running the church for his own personal gain. He is not interested to personal relationships or lives changed by the power of the gospel, but simply how his ministry can benefit himself. He may end up becoming egotistical and narcissistic. And then, if something happens to him, the church will fall apart because it was all based on him, not something greater.
  • Many times, truth may be sacrificed in order to draw a crowd. If something doesn’t come across as “seeker friendly” or is something that the pastor thinks will not go over well with the crowd, then it may not get preached. Things such as sin, wrath, justice, and the law are often times avoided. This not only denies the Bible of its authority, but it only provides the people with an incomplete gospel.
  • When hard times in life come, the people of the church will suffer. Since the church was only about numbers and not providing the people will truth, they will have no solid foundation in which to base their hope. Hope is not found in a particular church, but in the gospel and truths of Jesus Christ.
  • Pride may set in and big churches will begin to judge smaller churches for not being as “fruitful” as they are. The bigger churches may think, “Well we have more people and bigger buildings, so we must be more favored by God!” No one would ever say that (or maybe they would), but they would be thinking it. However, numbers are no grounds for bragging rights. In fact, there’s an idea in scripture that even false teachers will still accumulate numbers.” “And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray” Matthew 24:11.

When you leave out the idea of existing to build attendance, and only exist to build attendees, you run into these problems:

  • They forget that numbers are not statistics, but represent actual souls. There is a quote by Josef Stalin (don’t worry, I don’t throw those out there too much) that says, “When one man dies, it is a tragedy. When millions of people die, then it is just a statistic.” Is that not terrible? But how true is it? However, it should be the church’s mission to put a halt to that attitude. Growth in a church does not equal lack of relationship. Growth in a church should equal more people being exposed to the good news that they so desperately need to hear.
  • The church may become like a private club. If you’re not dedicated to seeking to get more people to come to your church, then it can become very exclusive. Yes, you may be feeding the people that do come, but there is people all in your city that are slaves to sin and need the gospel in order to be saved. Do not ever sacrifice truth or cater to unbiblical desires, but strategize to get more and more people to come. The church should never become a place for certain people and it should never be content with the number of people that come.
  • Your church might cater to faithful members, instead of sacrificing for the kingdom. While the seeker sensitive churches stated above cater to seekers, churches that don’t emphasize reaching out may cater to those who pay major tithes or something. This is just as bad as the opposite route. The church should never cater to anyone. It should be faithful to proclaiming the gospel to all peoples.

So, we see that each end has its problems. This is why there must be a middle route.

Matt Chandler, who has a huge church in Dallas, TX, has a great philosophy on church numbers. He always emphasizes that the bigger his church gets, the smaller that they need to make it seem. This is why they do not have some huge arena that they have services in. They have four locations of somewhat modest sizes, and do multiple services at each location. They shoot for the small church feel while still impacting thousands of people.

Small groups are also an amazing tool to use. It is much like the early church, who met on the Sabbath together in the temple, but then met in each other’s houses during the week as well. It provides the coming together of the big church body, but then the accountability and relationship of a small church and group of believers.

So, we have concluded that the church should love numbers, yet not sacrifice truth in order to gain them. Each number represents a life to which the church is ministering. If a church is focused on numbers alone, then it will not sustain or impact lives with truth. If a church is focused on feeding truth to a small number of people, but not willing to reach out to others, then it excluding the good news that so many around them need.

I hope that those of you preparing for ministry can find this helpful and know that the Church is God’s way of impacting the world… now let’s do it right.