April 22, 2008

Running, and points, which generally don’t mix well

Posted in Christian culture, Commentary, Theology at 6:54 pm by Matt Porter

My original introduction consisted of some hand-waving and optimistic generalizations about how nice it was to come to the end of this series on presenting the gospel. I should have known that, like all my posts, it would grow into a monster when I attempted to corral it into a text box. I intended to answer two questions about the gospel—What do the lost need? and How do we give it to them?—but I fear I’ve only managed to break the surface of the first one. I think the answers to these questions tell us a lot about not only what we say we believe, but what we actually believe as demonstrated through our actions. I’m going to resist the temptation to stick my toes in to test the water; I’ll just recklessly cannonball in and let the splash go where it may. Rant zone just ahead; you’ve been warned.

What do the lost need? They need to see us live normal human lives, accepting that we are part of the culture that we live in instead of acting like paranoid cultural hypochondriacs, fearful of being contaminated with all the “worldliness” around us. They need to see that we don’t expect them to act like Christians before we’ll talk to them like human beings. They need to see that we are capable of acknowledging their participation in sinful activities without approving of it, and that their participation in no way changes our view of them as people created with value by God. They need to see that we really do care for everyone around us, taking time to help others, spending time with family, loving other Christians, without necessarily having to like them first.

They need to see that we enjoy our life now, realizing that if Christ came to live in a physical body, that the physical world must not be evil but was created to be enjoyed. They need to see that we are not so focused on the spiritual that we cannot see or help with others’ physical and emotional problems. They need to see that we realize we live in an imperfect world, where terrible things happen purely by accident, and that we don’t have to rationalize them or spiritualize them or proclaim them as God’s judgment on America for &nbsp&nbsp&nbsp(fill in the blank)&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp. They need to see that we still have the same basic concerns—family, work, neighbors, country—as they do, the ones that mark us as human instead of some strange mechanical construct.

They need to see, in short, that we live our lives as Christ lived his. We have what, maybe 300, 400, hours of his life recorded in the Bible? What happened in the rest? I’ll tell you what—he had colds, and heartburn, and got up stiff from sleeping on a strange bed or no bed at all, and suffered diarrhea, and loved his mother and father and brothers and sisters, and thought Uncle Levi liked to talk too much and too loudly, and hated to eat Cousin Elizabeth’s overcooked falafel, and wished his new sandals would finally get broken in and quit chafing his ankles, and talked to Peter about that one time Peter nearly threw John overboard with the net, and went to weddings, and cried at funerals, and ate, and drank wine, and celebrated, and woke up hungry in the middle of the night and sneaked out to see if there was anything left from dinner, and played games, and skipped rocks off the sea of Galilee, and wrestled Thomas to the ground when Thomas’s rock skipped further than his did, and told jokes, and laughed at jokes, and worked and sweat and breathed and bled and sighed.

You know, kind of like we do. Well, like normal people do, like we used to, like we try so hard not to. When we became Christians, it seems we forgot that life is not contained within the four walls of our church. You know, “old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new,” so we have to act spiritual or prayerful or concerned about souls all the time, even if that means acting like a Martian. We have two ways of dealing with this conundrum. The first approach is schizophrenic. Some of us deny reality and hold up this extraterrestrial behavior as ideal, since, after all, “this world is not my home,” so we should be completely different from the “world.” Which, in practice, means all those wicked lost people out there who are trying to tear our homes apart and murder our babies and bring God’s judgment down on America. You know, people like our neighbors? So we need to spend our time either at church patting ourselves on the backs, or barricaded in our houses, or (if we’re prayed up enough) going out street preaching or door knocking, planting the good news of the gospel smack between their eyes. Because, after all, our life here is pointless if it’s not spent doing something spiritual.

The second approach is more bipolar or multiple-personality-disorder-ish. We realize there are non-churchy things we should be doing, so we compartmentalize our lives into Church Mode and Not-At-Church Mode. (The schizophrenic approach would call this hypocritical cowardice, being ashamed of the gospel of Christ, and other similar things.) We do Church Mode things with churchy people, and Not-At-Church Mode things with neighbors and co-workers, and never the twain shall meet. This approach completely fails to integrate our faith into our lives.

These approaches share one commonality: they see the spiritual and physical worlds as incompatible. This is an old problem, dating back to the first or second century of Christianity. Dualism, as it is known, holds that the spiritual world is good and the physical world is inherently bad, even evil or sinful. The first approach tries to reconcile things by drowning out the physical world with the spiritual; the second by compartmentalizing them. Both fail to live as God created us, as beings uniting both spiritual and physical aspects. Our faith should be comfortable operating in both realms. There is no division between sacred and secular. Not because everything must be spiritual; but because, being part of God’s creation, all of life is automatically sacred.

Jesus saw people with problems, and it broke his heart, and he—wonder of wonders!—actually stopped and did something about them! Not just the spiritual problems, either; he tended to people’s physical and emotional needs all the time! How often do you see Jesus preaching at the people he’s healing, either before or after? Almost never? You mean he missed an opportunity for evangelism? Didn’t he know he’s going to be held accountable for that person’s soul when they die and split hell wide open? Didn’t he realize every moment needs to be redeemed, every encounter needs to point people toward heaven? Didn’t he keep his pockets stuffed with tracts to hand out? Didn’t he run his ministry like a rescue mission, meeting physical needs only after people had heard a good sermon with an altar call? Didn’t he know that Jesus is the answer for everything, and if they’d just get saved, God would turn their lives around? Didn’t he know it doesn’t really matter if they died from their diseases, as long as they got saved first? How could he not see that our priority is dragging people kicking and screaming into heaven, taking care of their spiritual problems, not their earthly ones?

Maybe, just maybe, Jesus knew something. Maybe Jesus knew that his people had seen plenty of religious teachers who had plenty to say about God, but couldn’t care less about the people who followed them. (“Master, who hath sinned, this man, or his parents?”) Maybe he saw that seeing people as souls involved seeing beyond another potential conversion, to seeing them as they actually are. Maybe he realized that ignoring others’ physical and emotional needs was really a hindrance, not a help, to their spiritual awakening. And maybe, just maybe, there was a reason Christ came as a man, not a superman or an angel or an android. Maybe God’s plan involved using people to bring other people to him.

Maybe we’ve run off with God’s gospel in a completely wrong direction. Maybe we’ve missed the whole point of God’s plan.

And maybe, if we really want to see more people come to God, we should take some time to remember what it’s like to be people, not just Christians.

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4 Comments »

  1. Lisa Gutierrez said,

    …still thinking…. …cannot yet comment…..

  2. Matt Porter said,

    Keep thinking, and let me know! BTW, I discovered today that starting my day with chocolate chip cookies helps it go GREAT! Maybe you should try that.

  3. Lisa Gutierrez said,

    Haha! Thanks for the tip! I think you have good points in this post. I didn’t find it too rant-y. It’s odd to think of Jesus as having had diarrhrea, yet you are totally right now that I think of it – he couldn’t have skipped all those “joys” and still fulfilled the 100% man part. This was a good and timely reminder to me that we cannot be afraid to fraternize ( 🙂 ) with non-Christians if they’re ever supposed to see Christ in us. I guess the scary part is the lack of Christ in us, at least in our (my) daily lives. I’m putting it on my to-do list to call a lady I met a couple of weeks ago, just to get together, with no ulterior motive other than to just be a friend to her. Thanks, Matt!

  4. Lisa Gutierrez said,

    so….

    When shall you bless us yet again with more posts?

    BACK TO WORK, BOY!!!


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