The pendulum is swinging
"Go to Church on Sunday and avoid the Christmas rush".
It's disappointing for those of us who take our religion
seriously to acknowledge that for most people, the only relevance of
Church or religion is for theatrical entertainment or simply as a gathering
place for festive celebration. Respectfully -– other than us, who cares? More
importantly, what was it that stopped people caring -about the love of God and
His acceptance of them...? Is there anything we can do to improve 'our
image' or are we bound to continue with a pattern of evangelism which really
needs to be tweaked a little.
There are those in our ranks who quickly explain "Yes, but
there were only ever meant to be a few faithful followers on the narrow road, as
opposed to the hoards of pleasure seekers living it up out on the wide road -–
who rebelliously choose sinful lifestyles as opposed to the will of God...".
Yet when I take time out to hear the heartbeat of God's Word -– when I take
the time to seriously ponder the purpose for God's 'plan of redemption'
(to buy back that which was God's -– but was lost), I cannot help thinking
that there is more to this picture than the concepts of the lucky and the
lost -– or the winners and the losers -– or the elite and the
peasants -– or the privileged and the underprivileged -– or the
blest and the non blest. Yes, we believers can hit each other over the head
with Scriptures -– but so what? Too many of us focus on the Scriptures as if
they were the source of life! John 5:39 "In them, you think you have eternal
life"...NO! This is playing Word games. Eternal life comes from knowing the
only true God, and Jesus whom He sent! The heart of the author must be
considered if we are to understand His writings. We say we are presenting a
relationship and not a religion, and then we proceed to present a religion. By
the way, if we truly want religion -– James tells us that pure religion is to
take care of the widows and fatherless in their affliction...even this
description differs from what has become 'the accepted traditional gospel'
When I read that God is not willing that 'any should perish'
I feel happy! I feel happy because this simple statement puts into context the
heart of a loving God. Without the heart of God being discovered in His Word -–
the Words become as useful as a piece of beautiful orchestral music being
put into the hands of a kid whose been given a new synthesiser...how will it be
expressed...will it be accurate...will anyone want to listen? Quite frankly, I
believe the 'Gospel' is often changed from being the really good news
Jesus shared with people, to insensitive, impersonal 'bad news'. Yes, I
realise -– "this gospel has been preached for hundreds of years by 'right
down the line' hard men of the faith, if it was good enough for them -– it's
good enough for us". I don't know anymore! I'm not an expert on world
evangelism, but it does seem in the Western World as if not many people
really care... And it's not because they think they have it all together
or don't fear death, or don't acknowledge an emptiness or inadequacy...the
needs of men and women have not changed!
We had a Jehovah's Witness visit this week. It was a brief
visit, and as the 'witness' walked back down our driveway I thought to
myself, if we were to take away the merit points you receive within your
religious organisation for getting out witnessing, would you have any
heart for the lost -– would we still see you out walking the beat sharing your
faith...what would we see of you? Jehovah's Witnesses believe in grace,
provided it is accompanied by witnessing! Looking from outside their system it
seems obvious -– they're motivation is not love or concern for me, it is
fear! Fear of missing out on God's grace for themselves.
What do we evangelical Christians believe? What motivates
(drives) us -– truly? Listen to our messages -– they way we speak to people.
Are our words gracious, caring, from a heart of empathy and concern or have we
continued with the romantic traditions of some of our predecessors.
You probably heard about the young guy who came home from his
first visit to church. His Mum asked him what he thought about it. He said "The
music and singing were pretty good, but I didn't think much of the news"!
The gospel is good news. We should share it as such. It touches our human hearts
to be accepted and loved by the creator; it warms us to receive promises of hope
and a future; even the knowledge of trials and hardship is tempered by a
knowledge that Jesus is yoked to us...eternal life is ours instead of eternal
death. This is great news! Jesus actually preached a message of hope...we must
do likewise...touching the very issues of life.
I read an interesting article in the NZ Sunday Star (Jan 07,
2001) called 'Searching for souls in a spiritual wasteland' by Michael Laws.
He begins by expressing curiosity toward the sudden resurgence of the
supernatural - a trend towards astrology and psychic information... Sadly, some
of his cynical shots at life should be heeded by those of us who ourselves claim
to be searching for souls. "...Indeed with the decline of conventional
Christianity, it's been interesting to note the various forms of alleged
enlightenment that clamour to fill the spiritual void...most of the self help
industry is aimed at affluent middle-class whites, those with the money to
attend the seminars and buy the software. It's left to the fundamentalist
churches to target the equally gullible poor. At least their righteous brand of
"do as I say" has the virtue of being explicit. Unlike self help manuals,
fundamentalist preachers know most people seek spiritual direction rather than
spiritual wisdom. Which allows them to get away with their loathsome practise of
tithing -– particularly in Pacific Island communities. The flock are mere
aphids...to be milked and bilked, albeit in the Name of God...".
I'm speaking 'For Evangelism' -– not against
it. Unless our forms of evangelism are saturated in God's love and concern for
His creation, our message will fall on deaf ears. Some might appear happy to
ignore the warnings, but are often just ignoring an image which is
neither attractive nor relevant..."would you buy a new life from this person?"
Our message can be like pouring water on a drowning man. Paul talks about
becoming all things to all men -– in order to give people an opportunity to
find Christ...now there's a balancing act!
Perhaps part of the problem is we forget what this game
(life) is all about! Perhaps we have mixed the rules and objectives - and even
job descriptions, so that everyone must look alike! We need clarity so that
individuals can be absolutely comfortable sharing their faith naturally -– just
as they are. The curse of Ezekiel, which is often used to motivate people in
certain denominations to evangelise, cannot be put on God's people to cause
them to evangelise! God doesn't utilise guilt to achieve His ends.
God's gift of relationship is good news, and when we
understand it as such it will colour our thinking: Man became separated from
God through sin...God still desired relationship, and put into place a plan of
redemption...Jesus came in the flesh and revealed the plan to us. He also
revealed a picture or example of what we should 'look like' (be like) -–
Jesus Christ... This friend of publicans and sinners was effective in impacting
the lives of ordinary folk, without compromising His holiness -– or looking
like a Pharisee. We are not perfect, just forgiven...and learning everyday.
I would go as far as saying, that if our evangelism lacks the
heart beat of Jesus -– we should take time out, and ask God to purify our
motives so we can operate without the human leaning towards superiority, pride
or a need for personal results. God loves people, people need God...we can
assist the process or get in the way!
True Christianity was never going win at the popularity polls
-– but our role is to shine as lights in a dark world, to speak the Word 'naturally'
in season and out of season. To be Christians -– not replica's of historical
evangelists! The message hasn't changed -– the world has, and just perhaps the
method must change as well!