Escaping the Christian Ghetto of “self”

Get out of the Ghetto

Are there times when you feel isolated and alone? Even amid family, friends or y our church community? When you hear your pastors preach and teach about outreach and hospitality and servanthood – do you feel a lack of resources prevent you from taking our calls and admonitions seriously? Do you feel ill-equipped to obey in all that God has called you to do through your ministers? Do you keep people at a distance because you have experienced pain or difficulty in relationships?

Have people let you down? Abandoned you? Sinned against you? Judged you? Or perhaps you are so judgmental, that people aren’t worthy of meaningful friendship because they are prudish, arrogant, self-important and self-righteous? Pretty much, do you keep people at arm’s length where it’s safest?

Isolation. A lack of resources. Ill-treatment. These are all characteristics of a community, which since the sixteenth century, has been referred to as a ghetto. Modern use of the word tends to mean an ethnic, racial, low-income and inner-city. We don’t refer to trailer parks as ghetto – the word now as certain connotations. But the more accurate definition of the word is an isolated community turned inward from a city that is hostile toward it.

We did not set out to build ghettos. Suburban churches in our denomination are small, generally 30-100 people. We don’t have access to the wheels of cultural or political power. We are spread over a vast geographic area, in Seattle, we are in one of the most expensive regions to live in. We like big families.

We are surrounded by unbelief and darkness in the Lynnwood area. Secular progressivism is a potent force in the PNW. 80% of the area’s people do not believe in God. The church is full of young families. We have, in our own way, experienced trying circumstances. Hurt, pain and brokenness have given us scars and slowly healing wounds. Upon these foundations, we began to build walls, narrowing our reach and influence. We look at the regional influences, the circumstances of life, the disappointed relationships, the brokenness of the world and we confess that there are giants in the land that can’t be overcome. So, we hunker down and build walls. We grow apathetic and inactive as we fill our lives with more and more busy work, distractions and entertainments to dull the pain of falling so short of our Christian calling. And in these walls, our own little ghettos, we are ashamed of the reminders to go into the world to minister, to serve our neighbors, to reach out, to love one another.

Who can? We need a plan to escape the ghettos we live in. I am not here to free you, but to remind you that in Christ you are already free. But first we need to rally around this confession – we live in ghettos and rally around this cry – it’s time to get out of the ghetto.

Getting out of the Ghetto of our “self”

John 15:16-17 “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”

God chose you, you didn’t choose Him. God has appointed you to have a relationship with the Father that is personal, affectionate and eternal. The kind of relationship in which you take your needs to the Father in honest and frank vulnerability. You do not approach the Father not on your own merits but in Jesus’ name. You do not stand before the throne of grace because you chose God. You don’t stand before the throne of grace because you’re a good guy or a wonderful woman. You stand before God, you approach the Father – because Jesus chose you and the father equips you to fulfill Jesus’ mission in the world – salvation and dominion. So, are you isolated and alone? Where do you go in your need? Is the isolation and lack of resources you struggle with a result of God’s insufficiency?

Approach the Father in Jesus’ name and what would be denied you? As it says in Romans 8:32 “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” There is no need to feel isolated or lacking in resources because Jesus is yours, the Father is yours, the throne of Grace stands before you and the Father, who did not spare His own son, is ready to fulfill your every need that is consistent with Jesus’ character and will.

And what is Jesus’ character and will? That you should go. That you should not build ghettos, but go into the world. Jesus didn’t stay in heaven but went abroad upon the earth.

Going – is essential to faithful Christian living. Furthermore, you should go to bear fruit and love one another. Jesus calls and equips us for an active ministry of service to others. That is your ministry. As a servant, you can access everything you need to fulfill that ministry.

The blessed man is not a man who is concerned with his own welfare while focused on self-preservation and self-determination, but as it says in Psalm 1:3 “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” The blessed man thrives. The blessed man bears fruit in its season. The blessed man never withers. Not because he is self-equipped but because he is planted on the bank of the river of life –from which all blessings flow – and he is planted there to bear fruit.

So, if all of this is true, how could you ever feel isolated? Why do we feel like withered and fruitless trees? What’s with this overburdened isolation? We are the servants of Christ. We are the People of God. We are called and appointed to be a glorious forest of blessed trees.

As it says in Numbers 24:5-6 “How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your encampments, O Israel! Like palm groves that stretch afar, like gardens beside a river, like aloes that the LORD has planted, like cedar trees beside the waters.”

But don’t we feel like a lone tree at the crest of a weather beaten and desolate hill? Whipped by the wind, without water and bearing little to no fruit? This is what it is like living in a ghetto. A walled off, resource-less neighborhood of one. We are so focused on self that we either forget our calling and equipping to bear fruit and love one another or we purposely neglect our calling and equipping to bear fruit and love one another.

We neglect our calling and equipping out self-preservation. Maybe you were at a women’s study or discussing home births versus hospital births and it got so heated you were burned badly and still bear the scar. You were at so-and-so’s house, drank too much and talked too much and made a donkey’s seat out of yourself. You’ve repeatedly gotten close to people and then they move to another church. “I would talk to that guy but I don’t know his name, he seems to talk too much, I don’t know what to say…they seem like a lot of work…” – all the excuses coming from the ghettos.

You are waiting for that big IF/WHEN to obey God’s commands. If I lived somewhere we weren’t all spread out. When the kids are older. When our house is nicer, when we have more time, if we get the house cleaned up, if I’m not too tired…when, when, when, if, if, if – we will host families for dinner. We’ll go to a church scheduled events. We will serve the church in some capacity.

Maybe you’re an introvert and talking to people causes you actual pain – we’re immature, we’re tired, we’re embarrassed, we’re arrogant, we go to someone’s house and we can’t stop judging them, judging ourselves, being judged…who has the energy to deal with all of this?

Jesus. He says I have called you – which requires obedience. He says I have equipped you – which requires submission and faith. We either forget our calling and equipping or we purposely neglect it. It’s a high calling to love others as our self. Its tiring, its hard work, its dangerous business for egos and resources – real vulnerability and compassion are exhausting. Through negligence or self-preservation, we build walls. We insulate a community for our self. And in these tiny ghettos of self we are starving. We are relationally emaciated and lonely. And so are the people around us who are kept at bay. We are agonized by wanting to fulfill God’s mission and being unable to by our own actions. Or we grow so apathetic it’s hard to be roused out of our ghettos by anything: sermons, exhortations, calls to worship or the plight of others.

It just heaps up the burden. The pressure is intense, something needs to give. Self-renunciation is how you break down the walls of your ghetto and love people. And loving people is how you bear fruit in Jesus’ name. Looking to Him on His throne of Grace to provide everything you lack. It’s a dangerous business but the alternative is even more dangerous.

As we learn from C. S. Lewis in ch. 6 of the Four Loves: “Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket— safe, dark, motionless, airless— it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and [distresses] of love is Hell. I believe that the most lawless and inordinate loves are less contrary to God’s will than a self-invited and self-protective lovelessness.”

The ghetto will become your tomb unless we find the way out. And the way out is – repent and believe – that you are called and equipped to go bear fruit and love another.

Author: Michael Kloss

There is a Sunday conscience, as well as a Sunday coat; and those who make religion a secondary concern put the coat and conscience carefully by to put on only once a week. - Charles Dickens

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