Pastor's Blog

When you believe in Jesus, you’re not a Lone Ranger riding into the sunset to figure out Christianity on your own.  You become part of a group – an alternate society that wants to live life (not just “do religion”) God’s way.

The idea that Christianity is not merely a religion I find significant.  It’s popular to say “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.”  But the two are not mutually exclusive.  Christianity is both.  It is a religion. 

A religion is just a conscious practice of life, including certain ritual behaviors, that reminds me there is a higher aspect of life in the universe, something beyond life based on the creaturely senses.  That higher and extraordinary aspect informs, directs, and guides the way you live “ordinary” life.

That means that everything in my ordinary life has some connection to that higher extraordinary aspect.  It’s not just “church things” that are touched by God’s hand and it’s not only in church that my faith matters. 

When we talk about “the great commission” to evangelize, we usually start with Matthew 28.19:  Go into all the world…

But before that, Jesus says “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  Jesus isn’t just on the throne in the church.  He has authority everywhere and over everything in the world.  When I go to my son’s ballgame or my daughter’s band concert – when I go anywhere to anything in the world, Jesus’ authority is there.  I’m not just there for the event; I’m His representative, His ambassador, as it were.

Every connection I make with people holds the possibility of significance for the kingdom.  And how I represent that kingdom, God’s people, becomes significant.

We are living in a time where many individuals and churches that have used the magic words method have made Christ stink in the world.  That has put an extra obstacle in the way of winning those offended by religious hypocrisy.

The first thing I want them to know is that I’m an ordinary human being.  I’m normal.  I’m not part of some creepy cult that refuses to interact with the world.

The second thing I want to do is demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit in my interactions.  I want to be kind.  I want to be patient and willing to listen.  I want to express my differences and disagreements graciously and wisely.  I want to ask thought-provoking questions.  I don’t want to gossip or slander or speak ill of others.  I don’t want to be arrogant or haughty or condescending or rude.  I don’t want to be pushy or obnoxious.

I want to be to them the way I would want others to be with me.
And when we part, I want them to leave thinking, “I like him (or her)”.
If possible, I want the door open for another opportunity to build that friendship, to be able to share in the things in life out there that we have in common.

I want to just be a good and decent human being in their presence.

This may seem unimportant.  But in truth, I don’t think that most people think of these kinds of things.  They don’t think about their character or who they are or how they talk or behave.  They just expect to be accepted for “who they are”.

That’s very American.  It’s also why Americans are often deemed obnoxious.

I believe when you’re different in the ways I suggest, people notice.
And the worse society gets, the more starkly good people will stand out.
Ask any employer or schoolteacher.

And what makes you different?  Your ordinary life is directed by something – Someone – extraordinary.  And you’re not alone.  You’re part of a body of people that all live the same way.

At least that's the theory...and the hope.

I don’t want either of my readers to lose sight of why I’m writing.  I am trying to pass on a way to think about church – a philosophy of ministry – because I’m not going to last forever.  I’m temporary and the next generation must know not only what to do, but why.

I am suggesting that in the pendulum swing of history, American evangelicalism may have swung too far toward an individualistic and libertarian approach to the Christian faith, i.e. my faith is merely, primarily, or only personal – just between me and God – and needs to move back the other direction and grasp the importance of the role of the church as a body, of what we are as a people together.

I can’t speak for the whole world – only from the perspective of my own life and my own eyes.  The world that I grew up in – the society that I grew up in – seemed to me more trusting, more friendly, more caring, less suspicious of others.  Not that there weren’t problems; just that they didn’t take center stage and they weren’t constantly being thrown at you by the media.  You dealt with your own life – the world around you – not what was happening every moment in Washington or at the southern border or in China or Russia.

That has all changed now – and it seems that we are more in touch with the larger world, but almost removed from our next-door neighbors – or even from the people we go to church with. 

And that is not a good thing…

Our society is not just divided; I believe we are fragmenting and isolating.  We are told to be suspicious of others.  We are afraid for our children, afraid to let them run and play, afraid they might be kidnapped and have awful things done to them.

Not that those fears are without foundation.  But as Adam Smith said in his Theory of Moral Sentiments :  “Society cannot subsist among those who are at all times ready to hurt and injure one another.”  It gets harder and harder to live among people that we can’t trust, if we are constantly on our guard, like finches at a bird-feeder that struggle to pluck out a few seeds because so much time is given to alertness to predators that might snatch them up in a moment of heedlessness.

As creatures, we struggle with that level of suspicion.  We need people around us that we can trust – people with similar values, people who support and encourage us in our way of life.

If the USA continues in the direction it is going, despite the cries for unity you are not going to see unity – except by government force.  The perspective that is in power right now is primarily about destroying things, not creating things.  It survives by creating chaos, tumult, and revolution.  It believes this is the way the world must work.

But WE believe real unity cannot be created by force from the outside in or imposed from the top down.  It comes from inside hearts united around that which is true and works its way out. 

I believe that people struggling in the harshly constructed desert of a tyrannical world will instinctively look for what we have; they will look for good people and for people who understand, not a theory of goodness, but the actual living out of the goodness of love for one another.

“Springs of living water” I believe Jesus called it.

That’s what the Spirit working through the church is supposed to be.  Just being what we are called to be will become a powerful evangelistic outreach.

 

 

 

Years ago I worked in a chocolate factory.  One day I was dumping blocks of solid chocolate into a heated tank – a hot, slippery, messy, and mindless task.  I was surprised when the guy working with me asked, “What does John 3.16 say?”

I quoted John 3.16 to him and asked why he asked that.  He paused a moment, confused, and then said, “So…what does that have to do with football?”

I would love to say that in the conversation that followed I led my co-worker to believe in Jesus.  Instead, I had another slippery and messy task -- explaining why Christians felt a need to shove religion down his throat at a football game.

Evangelicals who do this sort of thing subscribe to what I call “the magic words theory”.  Utter the magic words – “God loves you!” or “Jesus died for you” (or hold up a placard with that reads ‘John 3.16’ in the end zone so it gets on national TV) – and maybe the magic words will save the soul of someone who sees it.

The task of the church is not to help people understand the words, or to put the words in a context to be understood, but to make sure the public sees (or hears) the words.
            Tack them onto the end of a sermon or slip them into any conversation.
            Write them on notes or birthday cards or spray them as graffiti on a wall. 
            Post them on a billboard or a banner behind an airplane at the shore.
            Write them on the cash you leave as a tip.
            Insert them into movie scenes or song lyrics.
Just say the magic words whenever the opportunity presents itself.
Or even when it doesn’t.

I believe this idea and this practice to be well-intentioned, but more of a stumbling block to the gospel than a helpful vehicle for it.

We are not here to merely shout magic words at the unbelieving world in hopes of magically altering eternal destinies.

Our destiny is changed because our relationship to God changes when we understand the gospel (not just hear magic words) and believe.  When we understand and believe, God saves us and alters, not just our destinies, but our everyday lives.  Christianity is not about eternal life insurance.  It is about eternal life – life begun now that will be lived for eternity, doing God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.

And eternal life is not life lived in isolation, but lives lived together in relation to God and to one another – lives lived out of love. 

The greatest commandments are “love the Lord your God with all your heart” and “love your neighbor as yourself”.

Jesus said that all people would know we are His followers if we have love for one another.

It is not good for man to be alone.  Never was and never will be.

The work of evangelism isn’t founded on the proper uttering of the right magic words, but on Christians living out a new life together as a sign of the truth of the existence of God’s new creation.

 

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