I’m not sure I’ve seen what I see in our country and society when it comes to the division and emotions. It seems we are all asked to pick a side, name our view and whatever little thing we may choose to say or post on social media we are immediately ushered onto a team and told that this is now our team and we must espouse the views of this team. We are quickly put into categories, black and white, right and wrong. The somewhat crazy thing to me is that while we may not agree with many of the stands of the particular team we are placed on, we are not allowed to have no team. Every view point or opinion is clearly a reflection of our team. It’s just not that easy and I think we do a disservice to one another when we villianize or applaud based on a comment or thought. This is incredibly difficult as a pastor and as a church. And it’s times like today where I am most thankful that we have chosen years ago to not make political comments as a church. Our philosophy has always been, “we know that we likely only get people’s attention for a minute and if we only have a minute we want to be known for Jesus – we are about Jesus, we want you to know Jesus and we want Jesus to be what we’re known for!!” It’s not that we don’t or I don’t have opinions, I do. In fact we all have opinions whether we know anything about the issue! 🙂 But I don’t want to be known and I don’t want our church to be known for our opinions, but for our Jesus! That is where change really is possible!
Here’s the deal – lots of people like Christmas. Sure there are some who because of memories, relational pain or other serious conditions dread the holiday, but for the most part there is generally a warm feeling about Christmas for most. I’ve heard many people comment how people seem nicer (unless you’re trying to shop on Black Friday) and there is a general feeling of “good cheer” as the song says. Yet this “good cheer” seems to only last for a few weeks around Christmas and then disappears. Why?
Here’s the truth about people – we all have both dignity and depravity. Every human being is created in the image of God, yet every human being has a sin nature. Now here is the reality – the people we interact with tend to show us more of one of those two sides. Sometimes we meet someone who is nice, kind, compassionate, loving and we tend to think well of that person – they are demonstrating aspects of their dignity from God. Other people we meet we seem to only see the negative, annoying, hurtful, sinful side and tend to write them off as people we don’t want to be around.
Both as a result of our current study through Ephesians and my recent completion of the book “Gospel” by JD Greear — I’ve been reminded how the “gospel” is so much more than a start. Growing up, the gospel was what we “shared” with unbelievers. It was the ticket to heaven, the truth you needed to believe to get “saved”. I no longer see it as that. Or better said, I no longer see it as “just that”. In fact, I’ve come to believe that there are some who “know” the Gospel and yet are not Christians. I know, I know, who am I to judge? I can’t. But I do believe in many contexts we’ve reduced the gospel to a couple of happy hops to heaven or a quick prayer to pray and have lost the significance and even the meaning of what it really is. When that happens, it doesn’t have it’s intended impact on our lives.
“The more we grapple with the darkness and brokenness of our world (and our lives) the more we will understand why Jesus came and why He still comes.” (from week 1 of the Jesus series) Jesus did not come to begin a new holiday or two. He didn’t arrive to start a new religion or give us a set of topics to sing songs about or traditions to add sentimentality to a season. Jesus didn’t come just to teach us some good and Godly things. He didn’t even just come to be a good example for us to follow. Jesus came to address a very real need. A need that you and I were and are unable to address on our own.
As most people, and especially parents, I sat speechless, horrified and broken over the senseless evil at an elementary school in Connecticut yesterday. I have 3 little girls, two of them in a local elementary school and so my mind immediately goes to how horrified and utterly broken these parents and families must be. And yes, I watch as debates rage over different policies, legislation – much of which flows from heavy hearts who want justice and want to somehow prevent anything like this from ever happening again. I get that, but I think this tragedy begs even deeper questions and reveals something more primal and real.
When I read these blogs by my friend TJ Addington, I felt like: “these are messages I want to share with the church, and I can not say it better!” So, with his permission you’ll notice some very important blog posts by a great author that fit perfectly with what we are talking about on Sundays!
Without further ado…
How do we help people grasp the fact that lost people are lost and face an eternity without Jesus?
It is not politically correct to state this. We don’t like to hear this. Many evangelicals in their bones do not believe this. Lost people (those who don’t know Jesus) are lost and without a relationship with Him they are destined for an eternity in hell. In the words of Jesus, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41).'”
So let’s talk about what it means to be a Christian. There is a lot of great wisdom for living life in the Bible. We go to most churches and hear a lot about how to live according to God’s design. We discover how to have a healthy marriage according to God’s design, have healthy families, good finances, work ethic etc etc. I too have preached this and believe it. Even if you don’t become a Christian, God’s ways are wise and right. He did create us and learning to live the way He says is the best way to live. Now we could talk about how the power and ability to actually live that way is not available unless you are a Christian, unless the Holy Spirit lives in you. But that’s not my purpose in this post.
“Come as you are” also means you bring your baggage, particularly God/church baggage. It’s true, many of us have a full set of luggage when it comes to God/church. For some of us it’s an anger towards God based on some assumption we made about Him that didn’t come true. For example, we may have assumed that if God loves us then we are supposed to be free from pain and so when pain comes we determine God is not loving. Yet, in that example, we discount or dismiss the personal responsibility of people and the consequence even of some of our own choices. We also often don’t think about how bad something “could have been” had God not been there with us. If our baggage is in this category, it becomes important to understand the impact of sin, be honest about the darkness of our world and truly take the time to see how loving God truly is. In fact as we focus this weekend on the crucifixion of Jesus, it becomes clear that not only does God know pain, but He entered into it and experienced its’ full wrath both to sympathize with our pain but also to conquer the source (sin).
I am amazed how many folks new to Grace have a hard time believing our phrase: “come as you are”. When many in our culture think about God and church we immediately think about a standard and typically one that is too high for us to reach. Church people/God people have it together, or so we think. I’m not sure why we think that way, but many do. Maybe the church has propagated that thinking? We have become known for plastic smiles and externally looking like we have it together. But has it become more of a show than a reality? Have we tried too hard to be something we’re not? And worse: have our efforts of looking like we have it together actually become a hindrance to reaching real people?