One of the models for the Church is the Body. Bodies grow by cell division, a natural process. The Church is also called a Family, into which members may be born, adopted, or joined by marriage. We are called sheep, and Jesus is the Good Shepherd. We are a Temple, a structure being built from foundation to completion. Except for building, each grows by a natural, organic process. Excluding courtship rituals and dating, nothing about these processes is intimidating; they are natural outgrowths of life itself.
Somehow along the way, people began to think of evangelism as a job for experts. Does this imply that everyone should be a “Billy Graham?” I suspect that many feel that way. The misconception is that leading a person to Christ is a matter of knowledge and persuasive skill. While in some cases, a person may have genuine and even difficult questions that need answering, argument is not the key. Read that again: argument is not the key! We are not told to “sell” Jesus; such a notion arises largely from our modern, overly commercialized culture. Jesus is not a commodity, and faith is not a result of an effective sales pitch. The consumerism and self-centered materialism that dominate Western culture have inclined us toward similar attitudes with respect to religion and the church, but they are not healthy perspectives. Breaking free of those ideas will be a relief for those who know they should be sharing Christ, and we must indeed change our thinking.
Jesus is not a commodity, and he is not one among many equally valid options. The common rejection of absolutes and the accompanying multicultural equivalencies stand in direct opposition to Jesus’ “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the father except through me.” Indeed, few religions claim to be one among many acceptable religious viewpoints; instead, those rejecting all religions try to make them all equal…equally wrong! “Whatever works for you is true…for you” makes nonsense of a true and living God. Choosing something “true for you” is oxymoronic; truth cannot be chosen but only discovered, one truth, one reality that is the very foundation of all existence.
The message of faith in Jesus Christ is exceptional in its exclusive claims. As opposed to the notion that we know best how to please God or to the assertion that ours are the best religious works, we admit we cannot please God nor work hard enough to satisfy his demands. We confess that we cannot do enough, that we are not good enough, and that nothing we do satisfies his perfect nature. We have no religion of man; we have only faith in a Savior who has done for us what we could do for ourselves to satisfy a holy, sinless, just, but loving God. Religion attempts to offer prescriptions of ritual, obedience, and good deeds to appease God; faith in Christ requires none of that. Instead, a grateful rescued sinner, rejoicing in God’s mercy, forgiveness, and grace, seeks to respond with love, service, and worship. The Father is fully satisfied by what his Son has done, He is delighted in the rescue of his children, and He lovingly welcomes them as his adopted children, cleansed from their sin by the blood of Jesus.
Often well-meaning Christians feel they must toughen joyful response with onerous obligation. They fear Christians won’t behave as they should without duty motivated by fear. Sadly, some without such “good intentions” use their powers of leadership to control their followers, servants, and providers, using the name of God to cover their own agendas. Commonly all of this results in what is often called “legalism,” but it is also religion in the least positive sense of the word. Many of the crimes and abuses attributed to the Church and Christianity come from this. We must be quick to clarify this, while we avoid doing the same ourselves. Salvation comes only through faith by God’s grace, and the greatest command he gives is to love him and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
For example, homosexuality troubles and confuses me. I tend to cringe at certain effeminate behaviors although I rarely have trouble relating to anyone. The Bible seems pretty clear, and I trust the Bible’s revelation. However, I need to remember what I wrote in the last paragraph. My job isn’t to reform people or to reject those I cannot reform. I certainly don’t have a political obligation to impose the values of the Bible on people who don’t share them. This sort of misplaced dedication is one way to earn rejection before we have a chance to share the good news of forgiveness, grace, and peace. God hasn’t called us to change the prostitute, clean up the drunk or addict, or reform the thief. He wants us to lead them to the One who will give them new life, a life out of which many of these issues will be changed—some miraculously and immediately, others over a lifetime perhaps, some maybe not at all—but that is God’s business, not mine (not that I cannot offer to help as wanted and needed, for this love indeed demands).
I once attended a church where the pastor had associates and interns who all seemed to look and sound just like him. Many teach that way, trying to make others into their idea of the ideal Christian. Indeed, we are called to become like Christ; “Christian” means “little Christ!” Conveniently, providentially in fact, we don’t know what Jesus looked like, how he dressed beyond the general, how he walked or talked or acted personally. We aren’t to become like his individual personality or adopt his peculiar mannerisms, nor those of any other human! God created individuals, each one-of-a-kind, each uniquely gifted. We are to holy, set apart to God, like Jesus His only son was, but otherwise we are each to become the best of what he intended us to be, to contribute our uniqueness to the whole body of Christ, to complete the mosaic that is the people of God (For more on this, check this out
Here’s our opportunity to offer people something they lack but truly desire, not just a sense of purpose, but an awareness of true value as a person. Do you have that? You should. That’s a big part of what it means to be a child of God, adopted to be a loved and wanted part of the family, indeed a prince or princess in the royal family of God. In this we are forever humbled in knowing we could never deserve or earn our place but also forever exalted by God’s love. We should never be able to look down upon anyone, for like Paul we know what our sins deserved; yet we should always be confident and bold in God’s gracious provision and acceptance. In this, unbelievers should feel accepted…by you!! Loved…by you!! As they to know that your loving welcome is genuine, they will also see your confidence and sense of true worth that you may explain comes from Christ. This is a far cry from the shaming message of sin that many try to use to scare people to faith. Think again about Jesus. When did he ever try to frighten or threaten people to gain their worship?
Jesus did occasionally engage in righteous indignation, but it wasn’t directed at the government or the unsaved public. He directed his wrath at the religious hypocrites, those who should have been following what I’ve written but preferred to lay religious obligation on the people and perhaps profit off the results. That upset Jesus! I have been a pastor, and I have sat under the ministry of pastors, some I respected more than others. Do we dare challenge their authority? I find myself reluctant to suggest we should for I have seen so much critical and disrespectful abuse of pastors. Sadly, I seldom hear naysayers offer legitimate, Biblical grounds for their poor treatment; typically they are like children selfishly demanding their parents’ attention: “Mommy, I want this. Daddy, give me that.” Pastors serve the Body of Christ to please God, rather than men, but people make it very hard to do so.
Ideally, pastors and church leaders would be accountable to each other, encouraging those who struggle with “unruly children,” while calling to account those who aren’t following agreed Biblical standards. Yet I’ve seen pastors with known problems maintain their jobs and reputations even in connected denominations, substituting a “good old boys” network for accountability. At the other extreme, I fear pastors rarely even have close friends or confidantes; they are often both too competitive and too insecure to allow anyone really close. I recall being in the company of two pastors at a family gathering, one Easter, and thinking I didn’t like pastors very much if these were typical.
I was impressed when I learned of a small church that convened a church council of representatives not of their congregation to deal with a pastor’s misbehavior. He was removed from his position in what seemed to be a proper manner.
Pastor, you can be a support or a detriment to what I’ve written here…unfortunately. It is so important, and I beg you, do not push, pull, or otherwise manipulate God’s people into religion and the kind of recruitment that goes with it. Will you understand if I say that God doesn’t care about church growth. He is growing His Church. I doubt the wisdom of much of what the “experts” say. Oh, they may help you to establish a larger facility, more people, and a fine reputation, but is that what God seeks? Is the key to reaching people for Christ splashy programming and a good ad campaign? Must the church yield to this consumerist age and adopt its methods?
Paul answers, “If I…do not have love, I gain nothing,” and the activities he lists seem far more spiritual. Is the love of Jesus evident in a TV commercial? Does a brochure or even a tract make the recipient feel His grace and forgiveness? Does a soul who bears the weight of sin and guilt and who feels unloved and unworthy of love perceive otherwise merely from words spoken from a pulpit? You see, I believe we have no acceptable alternative to loving our neighbors as the key to reaching and discipling our neighbors.
How clever do you need to be to love someone? We have come to think that persuasive words are the key, but God knows that love is far, far more persuasive. Words reach the head, but love reaches the heart and the soul. Don’t get me wrong; love is indeed a whole person process—heart, soul, mind, and will. Words may express love, although words may also lie about it. Actions consistent with words will carry the truth. The mind that must be convinced isn’t your neighbor’s; it is your own. You must teach yourself truly to love. This is a topic unto itself, but perhaps something I have created will help.
My very first sermon as a high school student used I Corinthians 13 as its text. I cannot recall a single thing I said, but I still consider it clear and unequivocal. Ministry without love is nothing. Evangelism without love in powerless. A life lived without love is vanity. That much is very clear, but the words are so familiar, I fear they often pass without smacking us up side the head as they should. This blog post was nothing more than a series of contrasts between what love is and what love is not!
As you read it (and I hope you will), your first impression is about those nearest and dearest, and of course it does apply there. Read it again, please, and think of your neighbors, those with noisy dogs who poop in your yard, the ones whose children leave their toys in your driveway, and those who live lives of shame and disgrace. Think of those at work—the goof offs, the cheats and sneak thieves, the arrogant boss who won’t listen, and the ones who make your job all the harder. Think of the family member, the black sheep, the one who disappoints everyone. Think of that annoying Facebook friend who snidely disagrees with everything you post. Think of the girl who aborts her baby and the boyfriend who pays for it. Think of the gay waiter with his effeminate manner. Think of the drug deal down the street, the alcoholic who hits you up for a buck, and that one person that you just can’t stand! Make your own list; you know who they are, and they are all broken people that God calls you to love.
I began with the hope that you might see that outreach in God’s manner need not intimidate you. It’s not about training or cleverness or being extroverted. Perhaps now you feel a bit intimidated by my thoughts on loving. I had one reader, when I originally wrote that I Corinthians 13 amplification, who commented that she realized that she knew nothing about love; she even asked me to spend some time with her to help her learn. I hope your thoughts aren’t that extreme, but let me make this one observation. You don’t need anyone to teach you about love. Just look in your own heart and soul and ask yourself, “What makes me feel loved?” Pass over the chocolate and flowers to the deeper things…being accepted, being affirmed, not being criticized, not being used, being valued, people taking time for and with you, hearing words like “thank you,” a gentle touch, understanding… These aren’t precisely the same words as Paul’s, but they amount to pretty much the same thing.
I have always been impressed by John’s emphasis on love in his epistles. Self-identified as “the one whom Jesus loved,” he seems never to have forgotten Jesus’ words recorded in the 13th chapter of the Gospel according to John. He asks, “How can you say you love God whom you cannot see and hate your brother whom you can see?” We live in a time where hateful words seem to abound in our culture, and I’m disappointed to hear them, all to often, in the mouths of supposed Christians. By what provisions dare they express hatred? If “love your neighbor” and “love your brothers and sisters” and “husbands, love your wives” and numerous other passages aren’t inclusive enough, surely “love your enemies” leaves nothing to doubt. Does anything more need to be said?
Actually, much more could be, but this I will add. The opposite of love is not just hatred. We will not be people of love simply by refusing to hate. We must also reject apathy. After all, what sums up apathy? Is it not the words, “I don’t care”? Uncaring, inconsiderate, thoughtless, and neglectful behavior just as strongly withholds love as hatred, is perhaps little more than silent, unspoken scorn. It is what I consider to be the opposite of love, simple selfishness, what the Bible often calls pride. If I’m too busy taking care of myself, then I have no time for anyone else. I think that explains a great deal of what characterizes American people; at its worst we see shallow self-interest, narcissism, and hedonism. I can not recall which generation was the “me generation,” perhaps because it has spread to all generations.
Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life,” but our task is not to convince people of that or sell him as a commodity, something many people feel unable to do. Through his grace and by his love, we may be fully forgiven and freed not only from the burden of our guilt but from the onerous obligations of religion. This freedom is not a license to self-indulge but an opportunity to serve others in love. We are freed to become the unique individual God intends for us to be and to use our unique gifts to love others, enrich the body of Christ, and honor the Creator of it all. Here is the basis for discipling that is as natural as the miracle of new life; indeed, it is the miracle of the new life in Christ! We must not let poor leadership or out own poor inclinations keep us from loving our neighbor or introducing them to the One Whose Name Must Be Spoken with reverence and awe, yet also with love and devotion, the One who made it all possible by His loving sacrifice, the author of love, who is love, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Our task is as simple as sharing about our amazing friend whom we trust, follow as disciples, love, and seek to love others in kind, to invite them to trust him with their problems, fears, failures, and sin, their very lives, and to become “little Christs” themselves. No strategies, no tricks, no profound inner secrets, just love!