Today, 052014, I read a blog by Roger E. Olson, about MTD, short for Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism, which says, in layman’s terms that the Christian youth in America have succumbed to the cultural influences of affluence, free-enterprise and democracy and have left their roots in the New Testament to follow the American Dream. Olson reviewed the research of sociologist of religion Christian Smith and his colleague Melinda Denton. I was surprised at how well they summed it up. I was able to follow their tracks easily because I had written a piece about this very subject a few years ago. What follows is the provincial version of MTD.
“True obedience is Luke 9:23. Jesus said, “If any man would be my disciple, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; but whoever will lose his life for My sake, will find it. For what does it profit a man if he should gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”
What does this mean, “take up his cross?” Look at Galatians 2:20, where it says, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me, and the life I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of (trust in) the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Take up your cross, means to die to yourself so that Jesus can live His eternal life in you. Whoever is willing to die to himself daily is the one who is being obedient. Quit trying to get your way, and let Jesus live in you so He can have His way with you and with those around you. It’s a daily act of surrender; of humbling yourself; of giving plumb up.
Why is it so hard to be obedient to God? Why is it so hard to “deny yourself, and take up your cross daily, and follow Him?” The free-enterprise, democratic, materialistic, individual-istic, independent character of the culture of the United States of America in the 20th and 21st centuries is directly at odds with this passage. There is a cognitive disconnect between this passage and the way we live, think, and organize our lives. Apart from a few, minor religious societies such as the Amish and Mennonites, Orthodox Jews, and some of the ‘fringe’ Mormon sects; we have all turned away from focusing on God. We have made a religion of focusing on ourselves. Our whole society has turned from God to money, possessions and self promotion of the grossest kind.
There are exceptions to every rule, but I’d say my background, my upbringing and my social situation are pretty representative of a great cross-section of people in America; not just white, European, nominally Christian, people; but many Asians and Africans (of many religions), who have come here seeking their education and their fortune over the past 100 years. With most, if not all of them, as with me, there is a great conflict between the teaching of our former cultures and the religion(s) on which those cultures were based, and the present culture of America, that is based on the religion of the self, of possessions, of control by men, rather than surrender to God. ‘Scuse me, but the short version of this philosophy, this religion, is ‘Yea me and screw you.’ And we support this culture with all kinds of good sounding, well meaning, lies about what great people we are for organizing and running our lives this way. There is a cognitive disconnect between the ‘American Dream’ of ‘self, money and stuff’ on the one hand; and ‘deny yourself, take up your cross, daily, and follow Me’ on the other.
What do we do to reconcile this conflict? Well, we have three choices, 1] Give plumb up and follow Him; 2] Pursue education, money, power and control; and the devil take the hindmost; or 3] keep doing what most of us have been doing our whole lives for generations; give lip service to God; but continue our lives of good college, good job, good spouse, good house in a good part of town, good schools for our kids, good clubs, good insurance, good investments, good vacations, good retirement; independence and control of our own lives; don’t be beholden to anybody else, least of all our families, our parents, our kids, or our God. If you’re a middle class American, from middle class American stock, and you don’t fit #3 above, like a glove, I think you are either conning yourself or you’re ignoring reality.
Let me tell you how I measure up to #3. I’ve been going to church more on than off since I was born. My parents’ families have been professing Christians as far back as we’ve been able to trace them; some lines as far back as the 1600’s. Some were true believers, genuine trusters in Jesus. A few were pastors along the way, Catholics turned Baptists.
My paternal grandmother, Meta, trusted Jesus. She was fully involved in all the activities of her church. She took all her kids to church; all nine of them. She took care of the poor and the sick in her community. She read the Bible, studied it, meditated on it. When I was a child, she was in her 80’s, nearly blind; and every time I’d come to visit she’d get me to read the Bible to her. Her Bible was wore plumb out. It had duct tape down the back to keep it together. But she wouldn’t let us get her a new one because the old one had all her notes in the margins. She was relentless in her pursuit of God. She prayed long and hard every day. Not all her kids came to God, but it wasn’t for lack of her praying for them, and telling them about God, and showing them what it was like to be someone who truly ‘denied herself, and took up her cross daily, and followed Him’. Four of her sons surrendered their lives to God. One early, three later. Three deacons, all true trustors in Jesus. Raised their kids to trust God, though some fell away. They loved God with all their hearts.
That’s the kind of people I came from. That’s the kind of people that influenced me. My momma came from a different branch, but her family was also committed to Jesus for generations. My momma was standing beside me when I was 10; during the invitation at a church in Lubbock, Texas; when I broke down crying, and she says, “What’s the matter?” I said, “I don’t know.” She says, “I think you better go down.” (‘Go down’ means go down the aisle and surrender yourself to Jesus). And I did. I couldn’t really tell at the beginning, but my life was changed. God has been moving in my life ever since. I’ve run away over and over, but He always brings me back, closer and closer to Him. (He just won’t give up.)
But here’s the hitch. At the same time I was being raised to get along in the American culture. I got a vision of how this comparison works out. The ‘culture’ side looks like it wins, but the ‘God’ side is the way of true obedience. Here’s the way it was in the 1950’s in the good ole U.S.A.
From my earliest memories, I was raised with certain expectations. In the beginning it was my parents’ expectations for me; but as I grew older I imbibed their expectations and they became my own. Before I started to school I knew that I was expected to do well there; to make good grades, to be obedient, to work hard on projects; to be respectful to my teachers and all authorities. I didn’t just practice this in school, I lived it. My momma had been teaching more than 20 years when I was born, and she got her master’s degree in education when I was in the first grade. So I knew what was expected of me and I generally lived up to the expectations. In fact, by the time I got saved, at 10, I really felt the ‘calling of God’ to be a lawyer. I did well in school; graduated 4th in my class of 400 from high school. I finished two years of college; then had a few interruptions, including marriage, the Army, and the Viet Nam war; before I got in the “oil bidness”, and I was off to the races.
From early in life, maybe junior high school, I thought I’d be a millionaire by the time I was 30. And I was well on my way. Had a big, distinctive house, rental property for extra income, great job with opportunities for more money on the side. ‘Course I was out of town a lot, and worked long hours when I was home. Not much ‘focus on the family’, but I was certainly living up to everyone’s expectations about education, job, money and stuff. Like I was saying, I was reading and applying the principles of Napolean Hill’s Think and Grow Rich,20 from an early age. You know, “whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, he can achieve.” I was right there. (Wait, where was God in all this? You remember, lip service) Served on many civic, church and charitable committees. Wait, what about family? Sad to say, I hardly thought about family. ‘Course even at that, I was right in the middle of almost everyone’s expectations for success in our culture and society.
But back to the original issue. Where was God in all of this? Where was “Deny myself, take up my cross daily, and follow Jesus?” You probably already got the answer. He was nowhere. The only time I turned around to talk to, or listen to, God was when He did something to get my attention and make me remember how little I was really in control. And He did too. He came when I was 27, and I followed Him til I was 32, and then fell away for 5 years or so. Went back to my life of trying to make money and get stuff, and run my life. He came again when I was 37, when I nearly died of intestinal disorders. He resurrected me, almost from the dead; but I didn’t take long til I was hard at it again, money and stuff, money and stuff.
Finally, about 40, I got a second divorce from my first wife; and decided that God was calling me to go to law school (my words, not His); and I did it. I decided that I could really do something for other people, and probably make a lot of money at the same time. But in the process, God was leading me down the path to Him. Pretty late in life, about age 50, after practicing criminal defense law for about 6-7 years, I finally gave up to God for good. Been going on with God about fifteen years now; and I think He’s finally got a good scald on me this time. Kinda like when Jesus asked them if they were going to go away like the others, and Peter said, “Where would we go?”
I finally gave up. 50-something, and I quit living the divided life. Trying to do my own thing while struggling to satisfy God without ever “denying myself, and taking up my cross daily, and following Him.” I finally decided that I’d just give plumb up, like God had been asking me to do for most of my life. It was hard to do, but I did it. Yes, I still have a job that God uses to give me money. And I am still involved in ‘activities’ that don’t look much different from before. But my heart (and my head) are in a whole different place. I spend a lot more time seeking God’s face and practicing trusting Him than ever before. And sharing God’s love and mercy and grace. Like some old rock song says, “I guess you have to finally decide, Say yes to one and let the other one ride.” Well, I did that. I have said yes to “The One”. I have let the other one (my self) ride. Deny myself; take up my cross (the cross of death to me and life from Jesus), every single day, and follow Him. Now THAT is what obedience is all about.
What do you think . . . What do you do?
1] What does “be My disciple” mean to you? 2] What does “deny yourself” mean to you?
3] What does “take up your cross, daily” mean to you? 4] Why is it so hard to truly “follow Jesus” in our society? 5] How do you measure up on the question of reconciling yourself to God, following Jesus, in this culture and this society? Which of the following do you choose? (Try to be honest with yourself, even if you can’t say it out loud)
a] Completely surrender to God? b] Sell your soul to the devil to gain control
c] Play both ends against the middle; try to walk that impossible line to satisfy both sides? (trying to serve two masters, God and money) WHICH IS IT FOR YOU?
6] Are you living a divided life? Trying to serve two masters?
7] Do you, have you decided to: 1 Deny your-SELF, 2 Take up your cross, the cross of death to your sinful nature and life from Jesus; and 3 FOLLOW HIM DAILY?