USA vs. UK - Romance Style
On each of the occasions I crossed the Atlantic, it was to visit women I'd met on Christian dating websites, and had been corresponding with for some time. To some readers that may seem like an adventurous thing to do—even foolhardy. To my way of thinking it was a natural progression from what had been going on between us prior to travelling.
On the first occasion, I went to Canada to meet an African woman who had been rescued from an abusive childhood on that continent. Her background involved many years of literal slavery, but by the grace of God she was discovered by the UNHCR and given a new home in Toronto.
Our relationship didn't really get off the ground, for various reasons, but I came to understand something of the pain and trauma her childhood experiences had caused her. My own background was also traumatic in some fairly serious ways, so our meeting was like that of the proverbial porcupines—far from straightforward!
Determined not to be put-off by my lack of success on that trip, a year later I popped over the pond again, this time to meet an American woman. This time the goal of marriage was achieved—for all of 30 days! We tied the knot in a dramatic but low-key ceremony on the edge of the Grand Canyon. (You should see our lovely wedding photos, with the sun setting behind us over the rim of that amazing geographical formation.)
Unfortunately, things went rapidly pear-shaped not long after returning to the matrimonial home, and we parted company a month later. That may sound rather disastrous, but actually I learned a huge amount from that brief excursion into matrimony.
On the third occasion, I went to the USA again to meet a woman who had not long been divorced. We stayed together for about six weeks in a beautiful part of the country, and had some good times together. But again, everything in the garden was not rosy. So after mutually agreeing that things were not working out between us, I upped and travelled to Mexico to visit my good friend Sylvia here.
A Parable For Our Times
OK, now it's time to explain the 'parable'.
The two American relationships I've described shared several things in common. But the one which stands out for me has to do with the way the women made space for me in their lives and in their homes ... or rather, struggled to make space.
When I arrived at the very comfortable house of my all-too-brief wife, I found she had several large built-in closets crammed full of clothes and shoes—some of which she'd never worn, and many of which she could hardly have worn more than a few times each year.
I can't help contrasting her with an elderly couple I visited here in Covandonga, a few days ago. Their house consists of a few rooms with crumbling, badly plastered walls, in a building made of wattle and dorb (mud, essentially). Of course they were wearing clothes, but I saw no wardrobes or cupboards where those clothes may have been stored, leading me to think that possibly they only have one, or at most two, changes of clothing.
Earlier in the day the elderly husband of this couple had been on a long trip, taking several hours, with my friend Sylvia in her truck. They travelled over extremely rough dirt tracks to visit housebound people in other local villages, in order to share Christian fellowship with them. This man thinks nothing of his own comfort and safety, despite his age, but is willing to put himself out to bring comfort to others.
Needless to say, the contrast between the two lifestyles—affluent American and poor rural Mexican—is sharp and extreme. But sad to say it's all too common in our 'sinful' and spiritually mixed up world.
Both of these two householders are church going Christians, and both will one day stand before God and be asked to give an account for how they used their resources. I can't help thinking that one will hang her head in shame, while the other will be at peace, knowing that he did his best for the Kingdom of God, given his extremely limited resources.
If the American lady were to take 90% of her clothes and bring them to Covadonga, and give them to the terribly poor people here, on Judgement Day she might be able to kneel at peace before God, rather than fall at His feet in dismay.
On the basis of Christ's teaching in the gospels (Matthew 6:19-24; 19:16-26; 25:31-46) she, and so many like her in rich Western countries, are at great risk of serious judgement for their unthinkingly wasteful lifestyles. According to Jesus' words, without doubt the poor man has a mansion prepared for him in heaven. As for my American ex, I can only hope and pray that God will deal with her in such a way as to change her heart, and enable her to see that being truly generous in her gifts to the poor is the way to build up riches in heaven.
So, let me summarise the first point of my modern day parable. We might think that because our lifestyles are much the same as everyone else's in our society, God won't bring us into judgement if we fail to consider the needs of those who struggle financially in this world. Nothing could be further from the truth. On this subject the Bible speaks again and again and again. If we fail to heed its warnings we will only have ourselves to blame if we miss out on the amazing riches of heaven.
Unless we start "laying up for ourselves treasures in heaven" right now, we risk never seeing that eternal paradise.
Personally I struggle with doubts about many issues which seem so important to other Christians. But on this one issue I have no doubts at all. Get this one wrong and you've lost the race, or the battle, before you've even begun.
Parable, Part Two
Now to the second point of my 'parable'.
When I arrived in what was to be my brief matrimonial home I only had a couple of suitcases of clothes. Nevertheless my new partner had made no attempt to clear a space for me to put my things. Despite my protestations she struggled to make room in her closets and drawers for me to put anything away.
What gives? Did she expect me to live the rest of my life with her out of a suitcase??? The fact that she hadn't prepared any space for me in advance should have warned me that she really wasn't serious about our relationship. But I gave her the benefit of the doubt, and went ahead and married her anyway. (Ahhh ... love is blind!)
Well, the next problem that came up was that I needed a memory foam pad to sleep on, because of back problems. I had used one in the UK for several years, and told her I needed one at her place also. But would she get one for me, and allow me to place it on my side of the bed? Oh no! Despite the fact that we were now married, it was HER bed, and she wasn't going to allow me to mess up HER bed!
Even when I moved into the spare room and slept on a hard futon bed, which worked for my back, she still didn't get it. She thought I was rejecting her, and couldn't see that it was her stubborn attitude which had driven me from her bed.
Are you beginning to see the parallel between this strange state of affairs, and the Christian's relationship with God? You see, we want Jesus to be in our life so that He can 'fix things' for us, but as often as not we're not actually willing to move over and make room for Him. In fact we expect Him to sit quietly in a corner, make no noise, and live out of a suitcase!
We have the attitude that we'll tolerate Him—this God-man-person—as long as He doesn't make any waves and demand anything very much of us. But as soon as He starts making demands we remind Him that we only signed up to make ourselves feel good, and if He wants to leave he's welcome to do so!
Of course, the truth is that just like me and my ex, Jesus doesn't want to move into our lives and have a few shelves in a cupboard, a quarter of a wardrobe, and place to put his shoes under the bed—MY bed! No ... He actually wants us to give Him the whole damned caboodle! He wants to be the master of the house. He not only wants to decide who sleeps where—and on what—but He wants us to hand the bed, and everything else, over to Him. He wants us to give Him everything, including the house keys, the garage keys, and the car keys too!
Oh yes ... Jesus wants to be LORD! (Gulp!)
Just in case we don't get it, when He was here in bodily form he said things like: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me" (see Matthew, Mark and Luke).?
That kind of language allows for no compromise. But we still take our time to reluctantly clear a drawer here, and empty a small cupboard there. We might even make the spare bedroom over to him, as my ex did when she saw that I really couldn't sleep on her soft soft sink-in-the-middle bed. But Jesus doesn't want the spare bedroom. He wants all the bedrooms, and the lounge, kitchen, bathroom, basement and garage too!
Well, the next time I crossed the Atlantic to meet a woman the situation was slightly better. It's true that she also hadn't prepared any space in advance for me (*sigh*), but it's also true that her house was smaller, and she had a less profligate number of shoes, clothes etc. But even so, she too struggled to make room for me, and it was only after some humming and haa-ing that she gave me the shelves of a small cupboard, and a desk for my laptop computer.
Now ... contrast these two women with Sylvia, the good lady I'm staying with here in Covadonga, Mexico. She's given me the whole of her precious office to be my bedroom and workroom while I'm with her. Considering the small size of her property that means she's given me virtually half of her home!
Like the people in this village, Sylvia lives a simple lifestyle. She doesn't have constant running water, and has to flush the toilet from buckets filled up when it does flow. She doesn't have air conditioning for when the temperature reaches 100°F. She doesn't have heating and double glazing for when it gets down close to zero. All in all she's almost as poor as the rest of the population, but nevertheless, she's as generous as they are too.
Why is it that the poor, who have so little, are far more generous than the rich who have so much? Is it because their hearts are not weighed down by their wealth? (Yes!) Is it because they're closer to God, since they depend on Him so much? (Yes!) Is it because they look forward to a Kingdom no one can take away, and a Home where they'll be at peace for the rest of eternity? (Yes!)
The answer is a resounding YES! to all of those questions. Truly the Lord Jesus Christ was speaking the truth when He said: "Blessed are the poor, in spirit, because theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven!" (see Matthew 5:1-12)
In defence of the two good American women I crossed the water to meet, they did pay my air fare over there. So I shouldn't be too hard on them. But given that we were testing each other out—I them and they me—it does seem strange that they didn't go out of their way to make it clear to me that they were serious about making room for me in their homes, and in their lives. Why fork out all that money, which seems a generous thing to do, only to give me a contrary message when I arrived?
Again, there's a spiritual parallel there. Christians, especially evangelical Christians, often go out of their way to invite people along to their churches. "Come and worship God with us!" they cry. "It'll be the best thing you've ever done!" But when the unsuspecting 'victim' comes along they quickly find that the money isn't being placed where the mouth is.
For a while they're made to feel welcome, and they may even attend a mid-week group and start to take this Christianity thing seriously. But when they hit a sticky patch and need some real help—perhaps financial help—they discover that the 'generosity' has quickly petered out, and the welcome is not longer as warm as it used to be.
"You're OK, if I'm OK" is the unspoken rule by which the Church operates. "If I don't have any big problems in my life, then most probably you don't have any in yours. But just in case you do, you can tell me about your problems and I'll pray for you. But just don't expect me to DO anything about them. Your problems and YOUR problems, and that's the way it's going to remain!"
Well ... with an attitude like that is it any wonder that so many Western Christians are feeling that Jesus is no longer sleeping in their bed. They no longer feel the warmth of the close spiritual intimacy they once used to feel. Jesus has moved out into the spare room, and they can't understand why.
Even when God brings needy people along to give them an opportunity to learn to love again, they still don't get it. The needy person is given a pat on the back, and told to 'have a good day'—just as James, the half brother of Jesus, described:
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.Faith without works ... the works of love ... is dead!
For the Christian faith to 'work' we must have an all-or-nothing attitude to it. It's like a marriage. When two people get married, if there´s any chance for their relationship to work they need to have an all-or-nothing attitude to the marriage. What prospect can one hold out for a relationship where one partner says to the other:
"Darling, I love you so much! Really I do! Now... you can this little bit of my life, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays... but the rest of MY time is MINE... OK?"Of course, such an attitude dooms the relationship from the start. Yet, that´s how so many Westerners approach marriage... and it´s also how many affluent Christians approach God.
Evangelical Christians talk about inviting Jesus Christ into our lives. But the truth is that we don't do the inviting. No, He does the knocking, and we just have to open the door.
Now, when He comes in He wants everything! He wants every closet and every chest of drawers in our spiritual bedroom - and the clothes they contain - and the bed too! He wants every knife, fork, spoon, plate and cup in our spiritual kitchen -- and the coffee machine as well! He wants every spanner, screwdriver, allan key etc. in our spiritual tool shed. In fact, He wants every room in our spiritual house... that's to say, he wants EVERY part of us.
Instead of asking, "How much of my life shall I give Him?", we should to be asking, "Is there any part of my life I can call my own?"
Only having made that mental and spiritual transition are we really ready for a serious relationship with God. Many of us will have sung the hymn: "All for Jesus"... with it's uncompromising refrain:
"I surrender all... I surrender all... All for thee my precious Saviour... I surrender all."Really?
Is that really true, or are we deceiving ourselves when we think we've surrendered everything to Jesus?
I travelled over the ocean to be with those two American women, only to find that they had a half-hearted commitment to exploring a serious relationship with me. Jesus travelled from the glories of Heaven to the squalor of a poor earthly family, in order to open the way to life, in your heart and mine. How much of that heart will we give over to Him? Just a few shelves and a drawer perhaps? We might even give him a desk so that He can sit at it and use it to write big fat cheques to us!
What does this mean for me in practice, and what does it mean for you? We need to come before God in prayer - serious prayer - if we really want to find the answer to that question.
When you do, try going to all the rooms of your 'inner house' and opening the doors of them to Jesus. Those might include your finances room ... your career room ... your romance room ... your sex room ... your eating room ... your drinking room ... your housework room ... your hobbies room... and whatever other rooms you know are applicable for you.
Simply open the door of each of them to Jesus, and invite the Holy Spirit into them to make them his own. Surrender each room to Him and tell Him that you want Him to take it over and make Himself comfortable in it. Tell Him you want it to be His, and that you want Him to invite YOU into it when He sees fit so do so. Then walk away and leave it up to Him to organise everything.
You may think that it´s really your house and that you have the right to organise it as you choose. The problem with that thinking is that any house not devoted to Christ ... and given over to Him totally ... is destined for demolition. At least, that's what the Bible says! Do you dare take a gamble on my being wrong?
A famous missionary, who learned what it meant to give up everything for Jesus, once wrote:
"He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, in order to gain what he cannot loose."(Jim Elliot)Give the title-deeds of your house to Jesus, and you´ll be amazed at what He does with it!