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Why I Never Visit a Different Church

buddhist-temple

I’ve never been to a Mormon church, Buddhist shrine, or an Islamic temple. Sometimes when I’m travelling around the country my curiosity peaks and I think about stopping in for a service or “mass,” or whatever they call it, but I can never get the courage. Strange, isn’t it? I’d rather live in ignorance than risk embarrassment.

There are a few reasons. There are some things I just don’t know.

  1. I don’t know if I’m allowed. I mean, I know that I’m technically allowed, but I’m socially permitted. In fact, I’m not even sure I’m wanted.
  1. I don’t know what to do once I walk through the doors. Can I just go and sit down anywhere I want? Is there some ritual I need to perform before I sit down? What are the procedures and protocols?
  1. I don’t know the building’s floor plan. Will it be easy for me to find the auditorium/sanctuary/holy-of-holies/etc? Where are the washrooms? Where do I put my kids or do they stay with me? (Speaking of kids, are they allowed? What about my type of kids?)
  1. I don’t know if people will stare at me. Or will I be singled out and put on the spot to be cleansed or purified or sanctified or…
  1. I don’t know what I don’t know. Will there be surprises that I haven’t thought about yet? I sort of feel that I’m going to go all “Mr. Bean Goes to Church” on them. Alleluia… alleluia… allelu…lu…lu…yah…yah.
  1. I don’t know what I do throughout the service. Do I stand? Do I sing? Do I speak? Do I have to participate in communion? Do I sprinkle something or someone? Who gives me permission to do the things must be done? Does the priest speak English? Can I wear my shoes?
  1. I don’t know what to wear. It looks like people wear suits or robes (on television), but the people I see in their parking lot look mostly casual. So, being so keenly aware of fashion, what do I wear?

Anyway, I’ll probably never conquer my uncertainties and walk through their doors. It makes me wonder what barriers people face before visiting our churches. After all, many people think we are a cult.

This Sunday, try pretending it’s your first Sunday. How do you feel? And now, what do we have to change?

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Is Your Church a Church?

Is Your Church a Church?house-church

When is a church no longer a church? What if there are indeed some specific criteria that determine whether a church has lost the right to exist? They may be gatherings of people for fellowship, funds available to keep a building running, and a few people host a Sunday service, but are they really a church?

Just poking through Scripture I can find at least eight conditions to determine if a religious gathering is truly a church. If one of these items below is absent, the gathering might be a fellowship, club, group, or whatever you wish to call it, but it is certainly not a church. Gathering is not the requisite, mission is.

Here are eight questions to ask:

Does your church insist that Scripture is the ultimate authority? The early church, even without access to the New Testament, continually used the Old Testament to determine it morals and mission. Additionally, they used Old Testament passages to prove that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah.

Does your church have leadership? I’m not talking about management here. I’m talking about someone (and some people) who are discerning God’s plan and getting people on that plan. To be a church is to be led, biblically. Many churches have different structures and governance, but it the end there is leadership. Scripture reveals all sort of names for leaders; elders, bishops, pastors, deacons, evangelists, prophets, and apostles. Scholars will never agree on what each of these terms mean, but they will agree that early churches had someone who worked to “equip believers/saints for ministry.”

Does your church preach? To be a church requires someone to preach. It need not necessarily be a pastor, but someone must speak the truth of Scripture. This exercise is for the exclusive purpose of allowing lost people hear the truth of the Gospel and have opportunity to respond. Preaching, from the word “proclaim” is something I understand differently from “teaching.” Preaching is the proclamation of the gospel, particularly emphasizing repentance.

Does your church teach? Beyond communication for evangelism, there must be the consistent and repetitive teaching of the Word in order to develop believers in to more disciplined Christ-followers. Some people call this discipleship, which is actually an incorrect use of the term. We used the phrase “evangelism and discipleship” as if they were two different occasions. This is not the case. Evangelism is discipleship. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples,” and then said, “teaching them to obey…” I would go as far as to suggest that discipling could actually occur for a season before someone is a convert – or is “evangelized.” Discipling involves teaching, but it also involves preaching. Both of these are part of the discipleship process and are essential is every church.

Does your church baptize people in water? Water baptism seems like a bizarre exercise in our Western culture. I am sure that there have been many pool lifeguards wondering if the groups they see dunking each other in the pool is borderline crazy. Yet, this ordinance is clear in Scripture and repeated hundreds of times. A church that does not baptism in/with water, allowing a person to make a public confession of having died and rose again with Christ, is simply not a church. What may appear as a silly inconvenient ritual is actually a demand of the New Testament.

Does your church participate in communion or the Lord’s Supper? New Testament communion services probably looked a lot different than modern ceremonies. When the early church ate together, they took a moment to reflect on the death of Christ by using the most common tabletop commodities – bread and wine. As Christ commanded participation in this ordinance He said, “Do in remembrance of me.” Every true church must practice this ritual.

Does your church contain a community of people who have determined to be accountable to one another out of love? The early church prayed for each other, taught each other, worshipped with each other, bore each other’s burdens, shared everything together, and disciplined each other. In fact, Paul demanded for early believers to gather together.

So far, your church probably meets the qualifications. But the next question is where many want-to-be churches fall short.

Is your church on a mission to work together to reach the lost? Token evangelism doesn’t count. To be a church, that church must be fully understood as a group of people who are not committed to “having good church” but to propagating the Gospel together as well as individuals. “The church is not the purpose or goal of the Gospel, but rather the instrument and witness of the Gospel.” (Darrell Guder) Evangelism is not just one of the things the church does; it is why the church exists! Any church that is not “missional” has lost its right to exist.

Perhaps all of this too basic of an explanation of what makes a church (little “c”) a church, but it’s a starting point. What do you think? Is your church a church? How can we make a church become a church?

Expect Conflict and Criticism

quotes-about-criticism-5iag2iwd

Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” – Mark 2:06

Not everyone will like you.

Some won’t like the way you teach, or what you teach. Your leadership style may annoy some people. How you handle yourself will make some people angry. Even if you do the right thing some people will attack you – not because of what you did, but because how you did it.

You will often feel like a failure because of criticism.

Most of the criticism will not be to your face, but in conversations about you without you. It won’t be just from people you dislike you. It will be from people who like you, people you like, and people who don’t give a rat’s ass about you. Personal attacks will occur. This will make you feel like quitting, often. Leadership brings a entirely new brand of suffering.

You will feel lonely.

You will feel lonely because you will be alone. This is mainly because you will make yourself alone. You can’t trust your feelings to your colleagues and followers so you keep them bottled up. You can’t tell you spouse or family because you want to protect them from the stress. You can’t go public with your condition because that opens a whole new set of struggles.

Still ready to lead? I thought so. Thank God that you are still naïve enough to believe that those things won’t happen to you. But they will. And you will handle it, and rise above it! For it’s not what people do to you or say about you that will determine your wellbeing. It will be how you manage your heart. Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Proverbs 4:23)

The leadership life of Jesus was inflicted with the same struggles. They didn’t like his theology. “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” they grumbled in Mark 2:7. “Why does he eat with sinners?” His own family said, “He is out of His mind,” and they tried to take him away. (Mark 3:21)

Check out these other verses. Write down your thoughts. What kind of criticism is being imposed on Jesus? What were they calling into question?

Mark 2:18 – Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”

Mark 2:24 – The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

Mark 3:2 – Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath.

Mark 3:22 – And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”

Understanding the Generations

millThe generations before you have some strong opinions about you. Their opinions are generally incorrect, but their interpretation of what they observe has some merit. Don’t be offended. You will do the same with the generation that follows you.

Because you don’t like labels, you might not like to know that they call you “Generation Y” or “Millennials.” That label is given to those who are born between the late 1970s and the late 1990s. (The Generation X people are still debating the exact date range.) Before you are the Gen-Xr’s who were born between 1965 and late 1970s. Before them were the Baby Boomers who were born between 1946 and 1964. Those born before the Boomers are called Traditionalists or Veterans.

The Veterans know about hardship and discipline. They understand the military world and respect authority.

The Boomers know about hard work and education. They are the “workaholics.” They have lived their lives in order to get ahead in the workplace. It was this group began the personal development craze.

Generation Xr’s have watched the Boomers and are concerned about the work/life balance. They are the “latch-key” kids who have grown up to be independent and cynical.

Your group, the “Y’s,” have been able to see the Boomers and the X’rs, and you have made some conclusions about how to live life. It seems that your kind do prefer challenging work, as long as it is meaningful. You are a generation defined by the Internet; connected to everyone everywhere.

The Veterans enjoy you. The Boomers think you are dysfunctional. The Gen-X’rs think that you are annoying. Here are some other views from those older than you have about you.

Opinion #1: Millennials are lazy.

You get this tag because of the importance you place on friends, fun, leisure, and rest. This causes people to think that you don’t want to work hard, or even work at all. You also tend to mentally “check out” when work becomes boring, mundane, or un-meaningful.

The truth is that you are not lazy. Research suggests that your understanding of work ethic is on par with Boomers. The difference would lie in areas of passion and stick-to-it-ness. (I have added a chapter later in the book.)

Opinion #2: Millennials are selfish.

They call it Affluenza. Some are now arguing that it should be considered a disease. Affluzena is claimed to be a psychological disorder affecting wealthy young people, symptoms of which include a lack of motivation, lack of remorse, feelings of personal guilt, and a sense of isolation.

Recently, Judge Jean Boyd sentenced 16-year-old Ethan Couch to 10 years probation for drunk driving and killing four pedestrians after his lawyers successfully argued that the teen suffered from “affluenza” and needed rehabilitation, and not prison. Couch was witnessed on surveillance video stealing beer from a store, driving with seven passengers in his father’s Ford F-350, excessive speeding, and had a blood alcohol content of 0.24, three times the legal limit for an adult in Texas, when he was tested 3 hours after the accident. Traces of Valium were also in his system. A psychologist hired as an expert by the defense, testified in court that the teen was a product of “affluenza” and was unable to link his bad behavior with consequences due to his parents teaching him that wealth buys privilege. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affluenza)

All Millenials aren’t selfish. The extremists and oddballs of any generation, culture, or crowd, often hijack how that group will be defined. For instance, many people dislike Christians. But the majority of Christians are likeable. They are tolerant, loving, giving, and accommodating. It’s just that a few wing-nuts make the news. A church of less than 40 people, with their “God Hates Fags” slogan, draws constant media attention, while thousands of other churches continually transform the lives of the poor and brokenhearted. Most Christians aren’t like Westboro, nor are all Muslims aren’t terrorists.

The above accusation of entitlement and selfishness is a challenge you will face. It may not be a fair accusation, but it means you have to treat perception as reality. You must, for the sake of your generation and the Kingdom, destroy the allegation that you are selfish. You must be generous; more generous than Boomers and X’s. You must let go of materialism. You must serve. Jesus MUST increase; you MUST decrease.

Opinion #3: Millennials are spoiled.

There is no question that Y’rs are the most over-celebrated and over-trophied generation ever. The first time you dropped a log into the potty, you were given a new iPad and a puppy. You had a full graduation ceremony with regalia when you graduated from kindergarten, and every grade there after. Every sheet you coloured was a masterpiece worthy of worship. Your Boomer parents (aka “helicopter parents”) parents have catered to your every need and wish. They told off your boss (or professor) for you. They set your teacher straight. They helped you, a lot, and now you count on your parents help forever. Soon they may be fixing up a room for you and your spouse in their basement.

Of course, this is just a myth. Oh wait. No it’s not. You are spoiled. How are you going to process the affects of this spoiled-ness echoing into your leadership life?

Opinion #4: Millennials need instant gratification.

But this accusation, while true, may not necessarily reflect a disadvantage. In fact, you are masters of the environment created for you by the Gen-Xrs. Rapid changes do not scare you. You adapt quickly to new technology, new thought, and new situations. Things become second nature to you almost instantly.

Have you ever tried to teach your grandparents how to send an e-mail or “use the Google,” as my mother says? It takes time. It takes repeating. But not so with you, because you cannot remember not knowing how to e-mail. In fact, even email has come and gone in your few years on the planet, and you communicate through other preferred media.

The terms “fast” or “quick” mean something different to you than they did for the Boomers, and even the Gen-Xrs. You are the generation that straddles the old world and then new world. You may know what it is like, for example, to do slow research work in a library and have also experienced the quick research accomplished via the Internet. As a child, you may have seen someone coming to your door to sell your parents a set of encyclopedias. Now, you get the same information, for free, through Wikipedia. When I give talks and seminars, listeners are checking my facts in real-time with their smartphones. And they multi-task as they check Facebook news, text a classmate, and scroll through Twitter feeds.

You’ve always known your food to be instant. Banking is instant. Communication is always in real-time. News comes immediately. Information flows at 200mbps. Technology has made you accustomed to getting what you need swiftly and effortlessly. You can process information at a breath-taking rate. You can make concise statements using 140 characters or less. You have a speed of cognitive ability beyond the last generation. Your brain is physically different.

Yet, Annette Liska, an emerging-technologies expert, observed, “The idea that rapidity is a [cure-all] for improved cognitive, behavioural, and social function is in direct conflict with topical movements that believe time serves as a critical ingredient in the ability to adapt, collaborate, create, gain perspective, and many other necessary (and desirable) qualities of life. Areas focusing on ‘sustainability’ make a strong case in point: slow food, traditional gardening, hands-on mechanical and artistic pursuits, environmental politics, those who eschew Facebook in favor of rich, active social networks in the ‘real’ world.”[1]

This accusation boils down to impatience. Experts think that your upbringing, and your ability to process information quicker than previous generations, affects your ability to be patient. Thus, your attention span will be diminished in meetings, planning sessions, and other leadership obligations. You may too hastily rely on the first bit of information as the “fact.”

However, the impending attention deficit that you will inevitably face, and are facing, may actually be a tool as you master the ability to understanding and share information rapidly.

Opinion #5: Millennials are disloyal.

This is a myth. The truth is, Millienials are fiercely loyal. It’s just that loyalty is not a given, it is earned. Hierarchal systems, positions, or celebrity status do not dictate loyal allegiance. They don’t respect authority “just because.”

For Millenials they may actually be anti-loyal at times. They’ve seen the way the previous generation has behaved. They witness the current collapses in the economy, environment, and politics. Skepticism and cynicism have grown.

Millennials are rumored to be a group who are quick to move from one ministry to the next, and church leaders are having a tough time keeping them. One of the biggest issues that senior pastors have with their young workers is what appears to be their “lack of loyalty.” But Millennials are very loyal. They’re just not loyal to an organization. They’re loyal to a person. Successful relationships with their leader/mentor are the number one reason why Millennials stay in once place. They don’t want a micromanager who thinks of them as just another hireling. They want someone who inspires them, values them, and partners with them.

What does this mean for you and your leadership?

You may not agree with everything said about you above. However, whether valid or not, this is how the previous generation views you. That will be both a disadvantage for you and, at times, an advantage.

Because of all of this, I am excited that you, as a Millennial, inherently possess some natural proficiency that you bring into ministry leadership.

  1. You have a tech/software proficiency that can propel the church forward. You can communicate quickly, thorough various means. You connect seamlessly. It is exciting to think of the ways you can reach unbelievers.
  1. You are independent. This may be a bad thing, but when you’re at your best you are calm and confident. So many Millennials have been raised in single-parent homes, in daycares, or have spent so much time alone, that they have the ability to thrive and survive alone – especially if all they have with them is their smartphone.
  1. You are ambitiously experimental. “We’ve never done it that way before,” is just a dare to you. You want to try new things, and failing at them doesn’t bother you very much. When time permits youthful idealism to fall away, and the realities of life temper your enthusiasm, you will be a force of unimaginable wisdom.
  1. You understand diversity. As I imagine you reading this book, I’m picturing a young white male Bible College student. That’s my default think, and it is wrong. I must deliberately remind myself of the diversity in our world. Fortunately, you haven’t been programmed that way. That makes you a benefit to any ministry organization, especially the church. You think more like Jesus thought when He lived multicultural ministry.
  1. You have natural instincts about the “market.” Your hyper-connectedness allows you to be so aware of so much. You know what needs are “trending” and where ministry opportunities are popping up. If you leverage this, you can lead your church to ripe mission fields.
  1. You think differently. Because of this you refuse to accept a business-as-usual culture in a church. Status quo won’t cut it. You will create new methods and models for reaching lost people.

You bring you to the leadership table. You deserve to be there. Sit up straight. Square your shoulders. Be confident, not cocky. Go ahead make a contribution out of all the aspects of who you are as God seasons your personhood with His excessive grace.

BONUS TIP: How To Not Be Seen As A Total Slacker At Your First Leadership Gig

Do a quick Google search for the phrase “Millennials are…” and the autocomplete adds “lazy”. They fifth search result says, “Millennials are idiots.”

  1. Write stuff down. Even if you have a great memory, writing stuff down shows your supervisor that you are serious about being a good leader and making a contribution.
  1. Don’t forget stuff. Just don’t. Be a reliable person. Stop apologizing for forgetting to do things. Just do whatever it takes to remember things.
  1. Show up early. Allow extra travel time in case of traffic or disruptions. Never be late. Never.
  1. Be ready. Whether it’s a meeting, a service, or and work project. Have everything ready to go. (Think: chargers, office supplies, tools, handouts, previous notes, etc). Communicate to other that you highly value their time.
  1. Stop thinking about hour many hours you’ve put in. You can’t do that anymore, because much of our “working” hours are interspersed with Facebook, texting, personal banking, etc. Instead, think about the contribution you have (or have not) made. Be productive.
  1. Go the second mile, and never whine about it.
  1. Be valuable. Make sure that your boss, and your colleagues, and you church would miss you if you left. Add something to the organization – even if that means exceeding the boundaries of job descriptions and expectations.
  1. Solve problems. Don’t just identify problems. Try to present options for solutions whenever you have a problem to discuss.
  1. Grow your ministry. Everyone might be happy, and in love with you, but if you haven’t grown your group/church then you have not succeeded.
  1. Ask for performance reviews, but not every week. Once or twice a year is plenty. It is often helpful to present your supervisor with an evaluation form that they can complete and return.

[1] http://thefrailestthing.com/2012/03/14/the-internet-the-youth-of-tomorrow-highlights-from-the-pew-survey/

Dream Sensibly

dreamAnd so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” – Mark 1:14

“So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head.” – Mark 6:27

In dreams begin responsibility.” William Butler Yeats

“The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” – Proverbs 16:9

Your life is going to be full of situations that are not going to turn out in the way you hoped they would. Be careful with your dreams. Dreams are delightful, but every dream is embedded with inevitable disappointment. Yes, for a rare few, their dreams come close to being reached, but none ever fully. Even if you don’t achieve your dream, you will still learn a lot of good things in the pursuit.

It is a longing for that which is not yet. This desire moves us to do now what we must do in order to land somewhere close to our imagined future. This orients our preparation. What you think about your future is already impacting who you are today. A dream is simply a desire.

Dreams have a sneaky way of becoming expectations; and unmet expectations can be a stale soup of discouragement, depression, and disillusionment. If your life heads in the direction of your dreams, you become more optimistic but if your dream-path begins to deviate, or obstacles pop up, discouragement can set in. If dreams are partially met, and you have experience good success, you may still find yourself unsatisfied. This happens because you never kept your expectations in check. You become the sum of your dreams, even before you achieve them. The wise leader manages both their met and unmet expectations. Many leaders are unable or unwilling to comprehend that the fulfillment of their dreams may look nothing like what they initially imagined. His plans are better than your dreams.

We still must dream. A dream is a delicious thing that nourishes the soul and strengthens the heart. Most of us know a dream by its other name: hope. Dreams turn the head in the direction one should take, but it is applied wisdom that defines the path.

Thankfully, there are also many undreamed dreams that come true. For you, there are great things in store. There are blessings beyond which you could ever imagine, expected, or dreamed. You already know that you’re destined for success. That is your blessing. That is your curse.

Your call to ministry, while you may get to keep your head, is similar to John the Baptist’s. You must prepare the way of the Lord. Your dreams and expectations must bow to the Will of Christ. As John said, we must decrease and Jesus must increase. We can have our dreams, but our dreams must submit to His plan. We are not the Savior. He is.

Keeping our motive clean is fundamental for dreaming. Albeit, all dreams have some false motive. It is impossible to separate our selfish desires from our godly ones. There is so much self in our desire to be a success for the Kingdom. Ego is so intertwined with our calling that it hard to separate. It is like trying to do brain surgery (which I have yet to ever do successfully). The parts just don’t seem to come apart easily.

Christmas Cheer

10947201-christmas-nativity-scene-with-holy-family-isolated-vectorAlthough it is too ugly to be called art, it is perched on my office bookshelf. It’s a sculpture of the Nativity. I bought it in Mexico on my first mission trip. I buy ugly souvenirs. I don’t mean to, it just happens. I return from countries with outlandish artifacts. My wife says they’re horrible. She’s right.

Once I had this great idea to buy clocks from each visited country. I was going to leave each clock set on its country’s time zone. It would remind me to pray for that field. So, I bought my first clock. It was an “Aztec” clock. “Aztec,” loosely translated, means “ugly.” My wife made me give it my mother. It was hideous! (The clock I mean, not my mother.) She put it in her laundry room. It’s very important to know the time when you are doing laundry. More importantly, the laundry room is a fine place to put ugly things.

Regardless, I have kept my sculpture. Everyone thinks it’s awful, but I like it. Well, I don’t really like the sculpture. It’s just that it makes me laugh. The baby Jesus, in the manger, is a Mexican. Mary and Joseph are also Mexicans. Behind the scene are the mountains of Mexico. Just behind Mary is a cactus. There is a cactus behind Joseph as well.

Before you chuckle, remember there are times we have put our own “spin” on Jesus. We may argue that our beliefs about Jesus shaped by scripture, but they are shaped by lots of other things too. We have assigned Him a personality and invented Jesus into the person we wanted him to be. But he repeatedly breaks his culturally assigned identity. He doesn’t fit. He’s different. He has strange ideas: Turn the other cheek. Give all your money to the poor. If someone wants your shirt, give him your coat as well. Strange. I guess we must begin by gaining a more accurate understanding of the real Jesus – one that is free of our traditional understanding and religious presuppositions. We say it so loosely, that we underestimate how big it is to aspire to be like Jesus. “Be imitators of God, as dearly loved children.” (Ephesians 5:1)

Perhaps it is time to reread the gospels with fresh hermeneutic in order to see what we might be missing. Jesus might be a little easier for people to follow if we didn’t keep changing Him so much. As a child I knew Jesus to be a light-skinned, handsome, bearded, kind man. He avoided places like movie theatres and dance halls. He never made real wine. He wouldn’t even eat in restaurants where alcohol was served. He only listened to Sandi Patti and Carmen (especially “The Champion”), and he liked to remind people that hell was their fate should they be inflicted in an automobile accident. Today, Jesus is much more easy-going and friendly. Now they claim he would make real wine, and go to the movies if he was accompanied by an unsaved friend. Sigh. I wonder when our silly religious assumptions will become less important than our pledge to love people.

As I write this, I’m sitting in an airport, delayed, sitting near a grown man who is playing with his children in the play structure. (The man I’m staring at is famous – an actor or musician or something. I recognize his face, but I have no idea who he is. Excited people are asking him for autographs. Airline agents are giving him extra care.) Other parents are just watching, but this man is playing. He is too big to fit in the play thing but it doesn’t matter. The kids are happy to have dad helping them avoid angry sharks that live in the airport’s faded blue carpet. He hops from chair to chair (I mean, life-raft to life-raft) to the delightful squeals of the children. It makes me think of Jesus.

I look at this man and think about his departure from his comfortable environment – the place made for him – and his attempt to fit into someone else’s world. He doesn’t quit fit, but those who love him are delighted with the effort. He says to his kids, “I’m going to see if we can get a different flight. If we get home earlier that’ll be good news! And, if we can’t get home earlier, it’ll still be good news because we get to play longer!” That seems like Jesus. He left heaven for earth. He left eternity. Chose time and space. He came so that we could be with him a little longer – well, forever.

Secondly, we must love. For whatever else Christians are known for, we are not known for our love. We must love harder and better. Love is a tremendous apologetic. Jesus loves the celebrity and the obscure. Philip Yancey wrote, “The more unsavory the characters, the more at ease they seemed to feel around Jesus. People like these found Jesus appealing: a Samaritan social outcast, a military officer of the tyrant Herod, a quisling tax collector, a recent hostess to seven demons. In contrast, Jesus got a chilly response from more respectable types. Pious Pharisees thought him uncouth and worldly, a rich young ruler walked away shaking his head, and even the open-minded Nicodemus sought a meeting under the cover of darkness. [How] strange this pattern seemed, since the Christian church now attracts respectable types who closely resemble the people most suspicious of Jesus on earth.

What has happened to reverse the pattern of Jesus’ day? Why don’t sinners like being around us?” If we do not love, nothing else matters. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” We must not judge. Religion can become judgment, and judgment is the enemy of love. If we judge people, we have no room to love them. Incarnation is an ageless miracle. Just like the celebrity who shrank himself to fit into a play gym, or Jesus who reduced himself to the size of a baby to redeem us, we are told to leave our usual environment and enter foreign lives – as pilgrims and strangers – and reflect an authentic Christ. It is possible to follow Jesus without embarrassing God.

“Suppose we hear an unknown man spoken of by many men. Suppose we were puzzled to hear that some men said he was too tall and some too short; some objected to his fatness, some lamented his leanness; some thought him too dark, and some too fair. One explanation…would be that he might be an odd shape. But there is another explanation. He might be the right shape…Perhaps (in short) this extraordinary thing is really the ordinary thing; at least the normal thing, the centre.” (Chesterton)

Update: The celebrity dude was Ethan Hawke.

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