The Benedict Option, God’s Will, and Why Everyone Needs to Chillax


The Benedict OptionIn Christian circles, many have been talking about Rod Dreher’s book The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. Fact is, people have been talking about it for about three years now, because that’s how long Dreher has been doling out bits of his major thesis about why Christians need to form their own remote, intentional communities. Given how much I’ve read of what Dreher has already written online, I will probably never read the book.

Nonetheless, here is my review of The Benedict Option. It’s one word:


Oddly enough, that’s my review of most Christian books advocating for widespread change or action from all Christians. At one point, I used to be keen to grasp and understand this idea of preserving Christian faith from the ravages of rapidly degrading culture. Like many Christians, I had concerns about this thing or that. I had worries. I’m sure you have or have had worries too.

But what I have come to realize in the last few years is that the reasons the Church in America is worried, or needs to worry, or doesn’t need to worry, are not really about what is happening outside the Church, but inside. You can say that’s always been the focus of Cerulean Sanctum: Church Heal Thyself.

But you read all these dystopian nonfiction books about the bad stuff arriving soon to hurt the Church, and what you finally realize is that all these books and warnings, and cautions, and handwringings are all brilliantly reasoned answers to the wrong questions.

We have this strange, self-absorbed idea in contemporary Western Christianity that the most pressing issue for the entirety of the world is that one thing that is most pressing to me. And we wonder how it is that people can be so blind so as not to see X bearing down on us like a runaway train. Why is it that you aren’t taking X seriously? Why aren’t you doing something about X? You must be in sin because X doesn’t matter to you as much as it does to me.

And after a while, it all gets silly, this one-size-fits-all approach to discipleship and God’s working in the lives of His people.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

Draw near to God.

Hear what God asks of me for my situation alone.

In response to that hearing, do what I can to achieve it with the unique resources God has provided to me.

Be at peace.

It sounds to me that God may be asking Rod Dreher to write a book about intentional communities that create a place of retreat. Maybe God is asking Rod Dreher to even start one.

That’s great for Rod Dreher.

And while it’s great for Rod Dreher, what it does not mean is that I must necessarily heed Rod Dreher’s call and follow the Benedict Option.

What is God asking of me in the situation in which He has placed me? What is God asking of you?

It seems to me that where we have gone astray in the modern church isn’t so much that we lost the culture wars and now must retreat to intentional communities but that we have made it mandatory to follow what some Christian leader, prognosticator, or pundit says. Sure we can listen, but we can also reject if that person’s message conflicts with what we know God is asking of you or of me in the situation you or I find before us.

Possessing no one-size-fits-all approach to life can be frightening. It means there isn’t a uniform plan. I think this scares us because listening to God to find our next steps can be hard. You can’t listen if you don’t draw near, and drawing near takes time and quiet. And we run the risk of getting the listening wrong.

This causes anxiety. Here is where we make our second mistake.

The Bible says this:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
—Hebrews 12:1-2

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
—Ephesians 2:8-10

“Woe to him who strives with him who formed him,
a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
or ‘Your work has no handles’?
Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’
or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’”
—Isaiah 45:9-10

Who founded the faith you have? God alone.

Who is perfecting the faith you have? God alone.

Who can force God’s hand on any of this? Not you. Not me. No one.

You and I are not in control. You and I did not start this, and we will not finish it. All that is on God.

So relax.

In fact, all God really asks of us is to show up. That’s it. And some days, we may not even do that. I think He understands that happens sometimes. What God really wants from us more than anything else is to draw near to Him and to talk with Him and listen.

It may be that in any given day, all I can do is go to the grocery store, buy some Pepto, and help a sick family member get over an upset stomach. Is that what God is asking of me? Perhaps it is. Perhaps that is the extent of today’s focus.

Perhaps that is what I am hearing from God when I draw near to Him today. And if that’s all there is, that’s OK. My eternal security does not rest on what I get done today but in whom I rest, the Lord.

It may be that God is calling some Christians to live radical lives on the fringes of civilization.

Or He may be calling some to care for the sick in hospitals or to build airplanes.

Or He may be saying to some to cease from their labors for the moment and just rest in Him.

Or He may be asking some to write a poem or a letter of encouragement to someone else.

Most likely, whatever it it is He may be asking of you or me, it may be something small, something for this moment.

Our mistake is to criticize another Christian for what he or she may or may not be doing based upon what we think we should or should not be doing. Yes, the Bible does lay out a few clear boundaries, but within those boundaries reside entire worlds of conversation and opportunity. And the conversation you had with God and the opportunity it created is unique. I won’t criticize you about mine. Don’t criticize me about yours. When and if possible, let’s do what we can to help each other make each other’s possible.

So as a review of The Benedict Option, I say, whatever. Maybe it is God’s word to you about your next step. Or maybe it’s not. Whichever answer it becomes to you as you draw near to God and listen, God is thankfully in control.

When a Church Is Filled with Judges, Busybodies, and Advice-Givers


A great verse for today:

“…they will learn to be lazy and will spend their time gossiping from house to house, meddling in other people’s business and talking about things they shouldn’t.”
—1 Timothy 5:13b (NLT)

If you stand up in the bathroom at church, you’ve probably been to a men’s prayer meeting. Men share prayer requests and look for other men to call down God’s help for their situation.

Well, that’s the way it’s supposed to work. In actuality, when men share prayer requests in an hour-long prayer meeting, they give each other advice for whatever the problems might be and spend a grand total of 57½ seconds praying about those requests—no matter how many requests were made in total.

The ladies, on the other hand, suffer from the same problem, except in a far worse form. Amplified YammeringMen tend to keep their mouths shut unless asked for advice. Women, though, sometimes go barging into other people’s lives with their “godly wisdom,” whether it is asked for or not. To their credit, women do a better job with prayer requests, bumping up the men’s 57½ seconds of total prayer time for requests to at least a minute and a half.  😉

Life is hard enough as it is, but to have judges, busybodies, and advice-givers deluging us with their man-made wisdom isn’t helping anyone. If anything, all it accomplishes is either to upset recipients or lead them down dead-end paths that eventually have those recipients questioning God’s direction  (when they should have been questioning the advice-giver’s qualifications to speak).

I believe God offers us the best way:

1. If we are prone to be an advice giver, whether prompted or not, we should stop. No one needs our man-made advice. Undoubtedly, wisdom that comes from the minds of humans will fail. God says it will, so that pretty much settles it. In short, we’re not as smart as we think we are.

2. Chances are, we don’t know enough of what is happening behind closed doors to say anything about another person’s situation. Only God knows what a person truly needs. Instead, just listen and withhold judgment and advice (then consider #5 below).

3. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” applies to judgments and advice. Would we want to hear what we are about to share? Probably not. Then best keep quiet, especially if our advice is unsolicited.

4. In contrast to failed human wisdom, God provides perfect solutions through the spiritual gifts of word of knowledge and word of wisdom. My experience is that they are rare, but they are the only type of “advice” that is truly godly. If we are not given such a word, then we should keep still. If we are, we should not be afraid to share it gently and with tact. And also remember: Chances are, you and I were not the ones chosen to deliver that message. If we were, then we need to be humble about it.

5. Most people don’t want our judgments and advice. What they do want is us and our time. It is one thing to tell someone they need to do such and such. It is far different to actually help them do it. (Personally, I have no respect for people who tell others what they should be doing yet will not lift a hand to help them do it.) If we are not willing to help see our advice through, then we should not be giving it. All the advice in the world is nothing when compared to being there in person for someone else. Talk is cheap; walk is priceless.

In the end, talk less, listen more, and walk beside people who need help. That is the way of the Christian.

How Not to Be a Christian Pest


Dana Carvey as The Church LadyMy Cerulean Sanctum email inbox fills daily with “helpful” notes from Christian PR companies telling me about another Christian book I’m not going to read. Or a Christian movie I’m not going to see. Or some other Christian “event” that threatens to shake the pillars of heaven because of its importance in human history but which I won’t attend.

I can almost guarantee that no one sending me those emails is asking, If it were me, would I want to be on the receiving end of this spam? Is this how I want someone else to treat my inbox?

The sad truth is that those folks would probably find a way to justify a response of yes—and find Bible verses to support their position.

But they’ve simply forgotten the Golden Rule of do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

I think a lot about the Golden Rule of Jesus when I interact with other people. Anymore, I keep it ever before me. I try always to put myself in the other person’s shoes.

I wish more people did that.

And I wish more Christians did that not only in their emailing me but also in how they evangelize others.

We know that the Gospel message is the difference between life and death. Eternal death. We know.

But most people don’t get it. To them, our insistence on pressing that message only turns them off. To them, the message is spam. And we’re spamming them.

We’re not thinking the Golden Rule when it comes to evangelism.

Some people are ready to hear, and some people aren’t. The reason we’re not as effective in evangelizing as we should be is that we’re practically deaf to the Spirit. The Spirit knows which people are ready to hear. We should be listening to the Spirit. By not listening to the Spirit’s leading on who is ready and who is not, we only make the unready think we’re spamming them with the Gospel. Then they close down. Perhaps forever.

When the Spirit does alert us to someone who is ready to hear, are we remembering the Golden Rule? Are we presenting the Gospel in a way that we would want to hear it? Do we want to feel manipulated by someone else’s words or their delivery? Don’t we hate it when salesmen pull sales techniques out their bag of tricks and use them on us? Don’t we hate it when we’re made to feel like little more than one more number closer to the monthly quota?

We don’t have to come off as pests. The way to keep from being a Christian pest is to always remember the Golden Rule. In all things, how do we wish to be treated? We should then treat others the same way.

That not only applies to spammy PR emails, it applies to all interactions we have with lost people. It even applies to evangelism.

Are we pests? Or are we Spirit-attuned, empathetic bearers of the best possible news?