Have We Settled For Cheap Faith?

by Christine Sine

Death to the World

This morning in my post The Ugly Tomato, I included a link to a post that I did on Cheap Faith a few years ago. I have been thinking about that ever since and decided that I would update and republish it. Part of the reason for this is that I am struggling because more and more speaking invites expect us to work for free. The real cost of a conference or event is not really taken into account. And Christians don’t want to have to pay the full cost. Yet I know that in the secular world people expect to pay much more because they know and accept what it costs to put on a conference.

MSA has not held a large conference in the last few years mainly because of some of these concerns. We have always liked to start planning a conference by asking “What are God’s kingdom values we want to represent at this gathering?” It is often an uncomfortable conversation, hopefully not just for us but for everyone who is involved.

In all that we do, I grapple with how to provide resources, technology and events within the constraints of a limited budget. I struggle with how to live and operate our ministry sustainably without jeopardizing our concern for the environment and for the poor.  Fair-traded tea and coffee is more expensive than regular coffee.  Lunches from Fairstart that provides jobs for the homeless are more expensive than the local supermarket that only pays workers minimum wages. Environmental concerns create even more constraints as we struggle to reduce waste & provide environmentally friendly alternatives.  How do we bring in speakers and participants from around the world in fuel guzzling aeroplanes and still show respect for the environment?

I love the way Shane Claiborne approaches some of these concerns.  Whenever he travels he gets people to commit to reduce their fuel consumption in compensation for the additional fuel he is using by flying.  Not easy but I think it is a great way to show how seriously we take these issues.  Or maybe we should all cut back our fuel consumption for a month beforehand to compensate. Maybe we should hold more local events that don’t require a lot of travel or expensive accommodation and encourage us to cooperate with each other in what do.

Not easy but why should I expect it to be easy?  It is never easy to choose deliberately to live by God’s kingdom values in all our actions.  Unfortunately we live in a world that wants everything especially food, clothing, household goods and technology at bargain prices but, at what cost to the poor and the environment?  For us to have access to bargain priced food, technology and resources often means that those who produce and sell our goods are not paid a living wage.  Our bargain goods often are produced in conditions that devastate the environment and add to our polluted air.

What concerns me most is that our obsession with bargains extends to our faith as well.  We want to buy salvation and Gods grace at bargain prices too.  My quest for bargains encourages me to believe I dont have to pay the full price for redemption either.  Which is great because I would much rather settle for a relationship that demands little of me in terms of penitence or repentance.  Like many Christians, I would rather experience Gods grace and forgiveness without sacrifice, without commitment and without the need to change.

It is not surprising that in a culture like ours, few people practice fasting and self-sacrifice during Lent anymore.  Deliberately walking with Christ towards the Cross never comes at bargain prices, it is very costly.  In fact it demands our whole lives but it is absolutely necessary if we want to become the disciples God intends us to be.  It means recognizing that the true self is made in the image of God and reflects the characteristics that are true to Gods image love and compassion, concern for justice for the poor and freedom from oppression…considering the needs of others as more important than my own.

I think many will get a shock when they enter the kingdom of God.  It will be a real cross-cultural experience for them because the bargain price values they have lived by will be totally worthless.  Fortunately, Gods spirit continues to work within all of us enabling us to confront the false self and its cheap values.  It constantly breaks down the barriers that distort our ability to lead a life that is fully integrated with God and Gods ways.

The question I find myself asking this morning is “Where do I still go after a bargain and sacrifice God’s values as a consequence?”  Maybe you would like to ask the same question.  Where is the spirit of God nudging you to change so that your false self will be transformed into the true self that reflects the glory of God?

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cindy July 25, 2012 - 2:37 pm

Great post today Christine!

Christine Sine July 25, 2012 - 2:59 pm

Thanks Cindy

Jeri Bidinger July 25, 2012 - 6:20 pm

I appreciate your acknowledgement of the difficulties regarding payment for conference costs (whether from the perspective of the addendee or the speaker/teacher, as we and others certainly experience the same. Also thinking more and more about the energy costs of what we do. I’m not sure about the idea of asking others to reduce their fuel consumption, but I do think there is a place for much more serious evaluation of “ministry” travel–especially given what we witness with short-term mission. All while feeling nervous to even comment given our global lifestyle.

Cheap grace, or cheap faith? I was challenged in our contemplative day today by Jesus’ exhortation that the student should not aspire to be greater than the Teacher or Master. For me, it was a new angle to consider what comforts and provision I think I should have in order to live a sustainably hospitable life at Spa for the Soul: husband full-time, stable sense of place and local belonging, ease with language, support of the wider religious community. Hmmm…. Jesus did without, trusting and proving that the Father’s provision was enough. Yes, He has richly blessed what we do with ample provision and then more, but to believe that I NEED those things and more, and perhaps to become petulant when I lack–well, a good day to think again.

Christine Sine July 25, 2012 - 8:20 pm

Jeri, I struggle with many of the same issues. We have so bought into the world’s way of doing things that we don’t often stop to think about how Jesus might have done it differently.

Janet Porcino July 26, 2012 - 8:10 am

Thanks for sharing these thoughts with us today.You raise important issues. I have been wondering about the face of evangelicalism in the West with all the advertising for large conferences in posh surroundings, with a program of big name speakers flown in for an event of a few days, while so many go hungry. (The Urbana Student Missionary conference sponsored by Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship is one large event that gives an opportunity for university student attendees to give an offering for the poor during the conference.The amount of giving has been inspiring to those who have heard about this practice.)

Can we do more than ignore these events that consume so much of the resources of the church and her people? I have been led to attend a local church within walking distance, to support local events of the area churches and organizations. I know I need to be sensitized to more I can do to follow Jesus in the use of my resources.

Christine Sine July 26, 2012 - 10:20 am

Janet I struggle each time we speak at a big event like this -especially when they supposedly advocate for the marginalized in what they do. Unfortunately there is a whole Christian culture that has grown up around the Christian conference and I confess I have been part of it – that has been where some of my income comes from. I do struggle with that though and think that we need to rethink what we communicate, how and why. There is more communicated about our values in how we gather than we realize and often there is little thought or reflection given to the kingdom values we want to present. Thanks for your thoughts on this.

Vicky Wong February 13, 2013 - 5:14 pm

Just so you know, you’re quickly becoming one of my new favorite writers

Christine Sine February 13, 2013 - 5:27 pm

Thanks Vicky

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