I live in the best of places and the worst places.
OK, maybe that was a little overdramatic, but living in a privileged area like Orange County brings its share of blessings and cursings. In a land of diverse people and wealth, there is a significant upside to this area. Nice roads, manicured land, and an abundance of things to do and see. It truly is an incredible place to live.
But with the brightside, comes the shadowside. It’s tough being a young couple in this area that is not making a ton of money. It’s tough trying to live like no one else now, so that later on we can live like no one else and be debt free. It’s tough trying to plan to live on one income when you don’t work for a large biotech company or law firm.
You know what? It might be tough, and it might get old that the high schooler at the stoplight next to you is driving a Mercedes, but I know that I don’t have to be trapped. I don’t have to be caught in the vicious cycle of jealousy. I will never compete with trust fund babies and those who might have had a few extra opportunities than me. I don’t want to be crippled by envy, I want to be different.
Francis of Assisi came from an emerging family. His father was in the merchant class, a middle class group that was growing in the 13th Century. After several trials on the battlefield, Francis underwent a conversion to Christ. He renounced his possessions and his former life, even going as far as stripping naked to make a point to his father and Bishop. Francis was done with commerce and military valor. Francis chose to live as an impoverished hermit, becoming a totally different person than what society thought he would be.
His life of prayer, preaching, and helping the needy attracted other people. He soon had a fraternity of sorts, and they all got hammered every weekend. Er, I mean, they all lived a life based on the life of Jesus.
Francis lived differently in his time. St Clare of Assisi also lived differently, in coming from a prominent household and choosing to follow the footsteps of Francis. Both were reformers of the church at that time, and their band of brothers and sisters spread the love of Christ across the region. Francis even ventured into the Middle East (during the Crusades!!) to share Christ with the sultan in Egypt. That’s being different!
Yes, he preached the gospel, and he used words because they were very necessary. But he also attracted other people to this message through his life. He lived differently and through this life he was able to share good news with others.
I wonder what this might look like in our world. Whether it is in suburbia, a major city, or rural setting, I wonder what living differently would appear to be. How might followers of Christ in modern society attract others, apart from bumper stickers and those people holding condemning signs outside sporting events.
What do you think?
I think sometimes regular people like you and me can put ourselves in the awkward position of comparing ourselves to others, especially those who have gone before us. We might compare our mundane life with the glamorous version of another’s life. For example, some might say, “Francis was clearly holier than me, so there’s no way I can impact the world for Christ like he did!” Others might lament, “Clara is bright and loving, no wonder she did so many great things for the Kingdom!” ENOUGH!
Yes, Francis and Clara did incredible things for the Kingdom of God. I am so thankful that they left a remarkable example of faithfulness to Christ in word and deed.
But dear reader, please hear me. Don’t compare your situation to the life of another. You will never be like those two, so be more like the person God wants you to be.
These great saints were not miraculously gifted with more spirituality than you. Sure, they might have worked harder in the sense that they carved out time to be with God, that can certainly be said. But the gifts that God has given you can be used in incredible ways. You or I might not be the next great reformer of the Church, but that’s OK.
Be who God wants you to be, be the person who is rooted in Christ.
You see, God wants you to honor him with your talents. I will never match the feats of Bach or Michelangelo, and I need to come to terms with that. What I need to do is be faithful in what God has given me, and use my life to honor him. I don’t necessarily need to model my life after Francis or Clara, stripping myself of all my possessions and roaming the countryside preaching.
We don’t have to be radical like that to be faithful to the gospel of Jesus. As I have mentioned before, God deals with us individually and not all in the same way. While some might need to sell all they have and move into an inner city somewhere, others will need to remain in their jobs in their respective industries. As Matthew Lee Anderson wrote in a recent article in Christianity Today, we can embody a radical faith when we travel like the “Good Samaritan” and help those we come across. We come across people in need every day, whether it is in a corporate job, a vacation to Yosemite, or a short-term missions trip. And it is in those times that we can do something radical, taking the time to stop and help those we might meet and reach out to them in “quiet, practical, and loving ways.” That is how we can honor God in our lives.
Many people who have heard the name Francis of Assisi associates the man with the phrase, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” I heard this phrase many times in my undergrad education and decided to adopt it for a period of time. I thought it was brilliant and that it captured the essence of Jesus’ message.
But you know what? I soon found out a secret. That line was more than likely never uttered by Francis.
And then I came to the conclusion that that line is actually very dangerous. Let me unpack that.
If that above phrase is only used to mean “preach the gospel and back up your words with your actions,” then that is a very helpful phrase. But if we mean that the good news of the Kingdom of God coming through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus will be preached through our actions alone and never communicated through words, then I think we venture into dangerous territory.
Paul wrote to the church in Corinth about this good news, saying:
that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
Yes, giving a cup of water to a thirsty migrant is very important and powerful, but this summary Paul gave cannot be communicated through that act. Helping people is very huge, but the good news of Jesus comes through a verbal (or written, in this instance) witness.
Let me be clear, our words need to have actions that back it up. If we say we ought to be loving because Christ loved us, then we ought to demonstrate love as well. But if I say we need to live peacefully with my neighbor, but drive in a constant state of road rage, then there is an obvious disconnect (I can neither confirm nor deny that I drive in a state of perpetual road rage. All I’m going to admit is that I listen to the classical radio station for a reason).
If you don’t read anything else though, read this: You are not the gospel. Your actions, as pure as they might be, are not the gospel. The gospel comes to those through the Holy Spirit’s application of the words into the life of the individual. The Spirit applies the message we proclaim, as the good works we do help verify the hope that lives within us. As Pope Francis once said, “if we don’t proclaim Jesus, something is wrong. We would become a compassionate NGO & not a Church which is the bride of Christ.”
Let’s do good, and talk about the Good One.
With the recent installation of a new Roman Catholic pope named Francis, a lot of people have been digging into the roots of the namesake saint, Francis of Assisi. So in this month, in honor of the new pope, this Protestant writer will bring out some elements from the lives of both Francis of Assisi and Pope Francis.
You might ask me, a Protestant Christian, why I would focus four Wisdom Wednesdays on a Roman Catholic pope. After all, since I disagree with my Catholic brothers and sisters on more than a couple of issues, why would I praise this man and his namesake saint? Why would I do such a thing? Simply, because he is a great spokesman for what Christianity.
Whether evangelicals like it or not, when the average non-churchgoer thinks about a leader within Christianity, their mind typically goes to a few people. Billy Graham might be in the mix, perhaps Desmond Tutu or Rick Warren. Most, I would guess, would think about the man in St. Peter’s. This man has the largest platform to speak on behalf of the Church. Pope Francis has the ability to speak on many issues that might be of interest to evangelicals as well, like the sanctity of life and the defense of the weak against an unjust strong. Francis is an articulate speaker who matches words with his lifestyle.
According to a lot of accounts, this Jesuit pope is theologically conservative in a lot of respects and is also a strong advocate for helping the poor. However, his advocacy for the poor is not some platitude or passing fad. No, he chose to live humbly, took public transportation when he didn’t have to, and frequently met with many people in weak social positions. He performed sensible things when he could have lived so much more comfortably.
I understand the tension between Roman Catholic and Protestants, believe me, as a student of Church History and Theology, I get that. But think about the things we have in common, not just the Nicene Creed. Pope Francis, at this stage in his papacy and life, should be a great leader for our faith, even if we might disagree on a myriad of issues.
What are your feelings on Pope Francis?