Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Keep our eyes on Jesus

Though the Bible says that Jesus was followed around by multitudes of people, we don't know exactly how many in most cases, and the overall population of Palestine was probably three million or even more at the time of Christ, yet I doubt His audiences were usually as large as the following that most modern evangelists and church leaders have. On a percentage basis, Christ's message probably didn't attract more than 5 or 10 percent of the total population of Palestine. Most of Christ's authentic followers are even named in the New Testament. Just because Jesus was followed by crowds doesn't mean that they were even attracted to Him for the right reasons. Notice, there were only about 120 disciples immediately after Christ's ascension. It wasn't until the day of Pentecost that 3000 were added, all in a single day.

What we see in America and other modern cultures is a population that by and large functions out of religious habit, or out of irreligious habit. Most of us are educated enough to know who Jesus is and what the claims of Christianity are, and we just don't need it. I have known people who are very intelligent and yet joined groups like the Mormons because their system works, that is, because it helps create successful (I won't say healthy) family life, even though they did not believe the mythology or any of the doctrines behind it! They just go through the motions. Since they think it's impossible to know what is really true, they grab what simply works. In the same way, our sophisticated but spiritually dead neighbors can afford to be indifferent, and actually slightly hostile or contemptuous, to Christ, because they've made it in life. As an old issue of Zapped Comix put it, ‘Who needs God? I'm independently wealthy!’

Churches are stuck at all different places.

Some churches function as though they're still in a Christian world—in fact, whether or not they admit it, I think that's what most Christian churches do. They are usually houses of worship surrounded by unbelieving neighborhoods that they never even attempt to evangelize, and most of their members live elsewhere. This, I think, is a remnant of Christian world mentality. All the territory has been claimed, so there's no need to go out on forays into the hinterlands anymore. But the reality is, it just isn't so.

Still, can you imagine your church, pastor or preacher and congregation, engaging in the evangelization of the neighborhood around your house of worship? How would you do it? The neighbors aren't primitive barbarians living in the forest, to whom you can bring the light of the gospel to teach them not to keep killing each other and stealing each other's wives, or material improvements to alleviate their low standard of living. No, for most of us, the neighbors are pretty affluent and either belong to a church out of habit, or take Sunday morning walks with their significant others, their families, their pets—or just sit in the sun room with a cup of coffee, a sweet, and the newspaper, until they fall asleep. After all, Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest!

Even those of us whose house of worship is in a working class or poor neighborhood, what would it cost us as congregations and as individuals to evangelize our unsaved neighbors? Here, we really could do some good, we might find souls that need help, but the help might be too costly for us to deal with. And then, the resistance when it occurred might not be very polite.

Our world is in some ways very different from the world that Jesus and the first generation of disciples lived in. For one, they lived in an age when if you could convince a man of something, he would give in. Nowadays, you can convince a man, but he won't give in. If he loses the debate, he protects himself from being convinced by saying, ‘It's just your opinion.’ Our education system has failed us miserably, by taking away the certainty that there is a real right and real wrong, not only in morality, but in almost every other field, sometimes even in science.

I think the Church—now I'm using capital C, meaning all of us—has to realise that its responsibility is not to save the world, but to make disciples of all nations, starting with ourselves, and that making disciples cannot mean that we force our neighbors to be disciples. If it turns out that where we live, our honest efforts to share the good news with those around us are met with disinterest or hostility, so be it. But if it turns out that the good news is given a hearing and is accepted by some, but at a price, we have to be content to share what we have with them.

Finally, we have to realize that the populations around us are not static, but that there is a rate of turnover. That means, we don't just try to evangelize for a year and then give up. The work of sharing the good news goes on 24/7 because it is the responsibility of every member of the Body of Christ. There is no one who cannot share the good news with at least one person, acquaintance or stranger, every day. The sharing needn't be an overt or verbal testimony. It can be so much as a smile or a kind word outwardly, and a prayer ‘Lord, give the increase’ inwardly. Since it is all the Lord's work, not ours, we needn't trouble ourselves either about the visible results. This is where, I think, we run into trouble the most, and to no avail. Stop looking at ourselves and weighing our efforts against our accomplishments, stop looking at our works.
It's not about works, it's about grace.
Keep our eyes on Jesus.

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