The one thing that trips up and stunts Christians in growing closer in their walk with Christ is the stunningly unchanging ugliness of the reality of things. No matter how much soap and disinfectant one can muster and effectively administer, this world defies our ability to clean it up.
I have the privilege of watching this both in the larger part of the Church to which I have been called, in the congregation, in our city, and even in myself. I am trying to find a way to connect Christian folks to one another across theological divides in the PC(USA), across racial divides in Dallas and in OCPC, and trying to find healing for my own sin-stained soul. In each case, there is plenty of evidence to support the case that despair is the only logical outlook.
We talk happy talk while presbyteries, congregations, and pastors continue to die in the midst of these calamitous times. I have sat through six months of meetings on how to improve our neighborhood, happy talk and hope that somebody will rain money down on us and make everything better being our preferred solution-- when the pastors in our neighborhood won't talk to one another unless there is a camera or some other form of reward present. Black and white, the congregations just keep on doing what they did, telling Jesus that talking to the other person is somehow Christ's work, not ours. The old truism that"there's a black Oak Cliff, and a white Oak Cliff..." is just crushing my ability to shout back, "in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, black nor white..."
We talk love, and we live comfort. We talk reconcilation, and live out-- at best-- measured revenge and isolation. We praise Jesus Christ for taking the weight of our sins, and then decide He won't mind if we add a little more to His burden. We thank God that we are right, and at best pray for the miserable sinner who disagrees with us, "Lord I thank you that I am not like other people, like that....there." We continue in the pastors' union to, as William Sloane Coffin put it, "assuage the conscience of the law-abiding prosperous" and to measure ourselves by their self-satisfied happiness.
In the face of all this, what is the faithful Christian to do? Faith which finds its reward quickly is rarely ever genuine. Faith in Christ leads to the cross, not the throne. Yet we are constantly needing Peter's reminder, "do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you." Like it or not, running into reality with your heart filled with Christ's love always feels strange.
This world's power to hurt and destroy will never cease to take our breath away. Our job is to not stop breathing. This world will always have an uppercut that can put love on the mat in one vicious, powerful contact; our job is to get up again, and let the world land the next blow saying as it has said to all of us, and to the One Whose path we follow, "Prophesy! Who is it who struck you?"
Christ alone can clean this miserable sin-stained world. Christ alone cleansed my sin-stained soul-- He alone can keep it that way. So, I get up, catch my breath, and go out to help a young man who has mountains to climb before he can reclaim a life on this earth, and an old man whose son he cannot help as the son's wife struggles with a cancer that may shortly take her from this earth. And the only thing I have is, "be not afraid...Christ is here," and to say with Him, "Take courage, and be of good cheer-- in this world you will have tribulation. But I have overcome the world."
That's all I need. Saddle up your horses, as Steven Curtis Chapman sings. We've got a trail to blaze.