POINT OF IT ALL | JULY 14, 2005
What is heaven on earth to you: family, a juicy steak, a wonderful opera, sunning at the beach, all-day shopping at the mall, or perhaps a stroll through beautiful gardens? Me - I love a cool breeze and a good book. A good book is one that invigorates, feeds the soul, and lets us appreciate beauty and truth. I ran across a book recently that provided a fresh voice to some of my own thoughts lately about how Christianity is perceived in our culture called "Blue Like Jazz." I will get back to the book in a minute.
I constantly run into more and more dropouts to Christianity. Every semester I am on the college campus, I have conversations with students who tell me about their own experiences with Christianity. Not all are negative portrayals, but a good many are dropping out of the church. Every church has its own experiences with dropouts. Here is a common thread with most folks who have given up on Christianity: they do not like the church, but they still believe in God. They value spirituality, but have a difficult time connecting with a believing community. Certainly those who give up on Christianity and/or church can have their own set of problems, unmet expectations, and issues. For those who are not in the midst of such struggles, it is often forgotten that God is the one who transforms. Does the church stick out a white flag and surrender from taking any action?
The disciples asked Jesus in Mark 9:28 why they were unable to exorcise the demon from a boy. By asking such a question, the disciples took responsibility for the dilemma instead of blaming others or making excuses. Taking responsibility is a good place for the church to start when it comes to dropouts to Christianity. Prayer, love, and trusting God are all indispensable in the process and there is no shortcut. We can also take responsibility by working on our own perceptions.
You have heard me speak often in the last few weeks about the importance of our spiritual journey being focused on Jesus. Who Jesus is, His work, and His promises make up the core of our faith. Let us be clear. I do not mean that beliefs are unimportant and all we have to do is visualize Him and sing over and over again that Jesus is our boyfriend. We cannot experience the reality of Jesus unless there is a connection with our mind and our beliefs. This does not mean I fully understand Him, but that my journey is both experiential and intellectual. Mind change and life change are conjoined. My beliefs and my behavior are radically challenged as I seek Christ.
The older I get the more I am drawn to the simplicity and beauty and truth of Christ. As I fall in love with Christ my heart is drawn to the things for which His heart beats - such as worship, community, and mission. How these indispensable qualities of our spiritual journey are expressed cannot be neatly packaged in religious garb. We are to constantly seek to express worship, community, and our mission in response to our relationship to Christ. Having Christ as the true head of the church and operating in light of His life in the church is the difference between an evangelical religion and a vibrant faith community. Being a recovering evangelicaholic, I have pursued both and found the former wanting.
You say, "Yeah, we should all be about Christ." But hold on to your horses! When Christ comes to town, there is always change. When Christ arrives on the scene, people are always challenged. The life and vibrancy and beauty and wonder and truth of Christ do not invade our lives without the feeling that we are crossing the line and people murmuring, "Can we really do that?" No, I do not have snake handling planned for next Sunday. We know from our own experiences in following Christ and from reading the gospels that discipleship can be dangerous. I want God to bring whatever He wants for CCC even if it means we do not fit under a label many revere such as "evangelical" or "conservative." There are times when we will tick off the liberals. There are times when following Christ will mean the conservatives will not want to have anything to do with us. There are times we will look Democratic and Christian Republicans will be shocked. The point is following Jesus is never about fitting ourselves into such boxes that typify evangelicalism today. Christ cannot be confined to labels. Our supreme allegiance is to Christ.
OK, back to the book I told you about earlier. Don Miller in Blue Like Jazz wrote,
"In a recent radio interview I was sternly asked by the host, who did not consider himself a Christian, to defend Christianity. I told him that I couldn't do it, and moreover, that I didn't want to defend the term. He asked me if I was a Christian, and I told him yes. 'Then why don't you want to defend Christianity?' he asked, confused. I told him I no longer knew what the term meant. Of the hundreds of thousands of people listening to his show that day, some of them had terrible experiences with Christianity; they may have been yelled at by a teacher in a Christian school, abused by a minister, or browbeaten by a Christian parent. To them, the term Christianity meant something that no Christian I know would defend. By fortifying the term, I am only making them more and more angry. I won't do it. Stop ten people on the street and ask them what they think of when they hear the word Christianity, and they will give you ten different answers. How can I defend a term that means ten different things to ten different people? I told the radio show host that I would rather talk about Jesus and how I came to believe that Jesus exists and that He likes me. The host looked back at me with tears in his eyes. When we were done, he asked me if we could go get lunch together. He told me how much he didn't like Christianity but how he had always wanted to believe Jesus was the Son of God."
May CCC always seek Jesus. May CCC allow the fresh voice of God to speak to our hearts and if it falls outside of our comfortable evangelical religion may we love God more than what people think.
May every person we love, may every building built, may every program that is devised be a way for CCC to worship, experience community, and accomplish our mission in Christ, for Christ, and with the power of Christ. What a great adventure!
-- Kevin Short, Senior Pastor