Just finished watching The Voice and man, do I love that show! I just started watching it a few weeks ago and I'm totally hooked. I know a lot of people who say "you know, I just don't have time to watch TV." To which I say, "you know, I just don't have time to watch TV but I watch it anyways." I mean, really, let's have our priorities in order here! Also my kids are alseep at a decent hour which is awesome. Daylight savings threw them for a big ol' loop and they've been up way, way, way too late the past few nights and mama is not having that. So although we all woke up a little sleepy today, I knew it would all be okay because it's Tuesday. You see, on Tuesday mornings a total miracle occurs at the Leathers house - I am home alone for 2.5 hours. Seriously, just me. It is the one day they are both in school and it's a beautiful thing. I'm sure I should be getting a lot done in this precious chunk of time like meal-planning or laundry-folding or something life-sucking like that, but I don't. I might put the 18 dirty sippee cups in the dishwasher but that's about it. On most Tuesdays I choose instead to set up camp in my house somewhere and do a whole lot of nothing. If it's cold outside, which sweet Jesus it sure has been lately, I put on the fire and sit unusually close to it. Sometimes I read. Sometimes I journal. Sometimes I pin (as in Pinterest, ha!). And while this may look like a waste to some, it is a total victory for me.
Lately, I've been pipering. Okay, that's not a word. What I mean to say is that lately I've been listening to John Piper. Piper is one of our favorite authors and lucky for us, you can listen to his sermons online. He is a total wordsmith, which is not lost on me. And his passion for the Gospel hits all the right notes. So for the past 3 Tuesdays I've been downloading his sermons and laying my head on my pillow and letting it soak in. It's really rare that I get to play such a pleasantly passive role in my life. Even at church I'm taking notes or talking to folks or thinking about whether my child is still crying in the nursery. But on these mornings I do none of that. I don't usually even keep my eyes open. I just lay there, listen, and pray for osmosis to kick in.
Piper is getting ready to retire as lead pastor at his church, which seems to have made him even more feisty than normal, which I totally love. He hammered home some incredible, incredible points about joy in suffering. Not even a secondary point, but one that caught my attention, was his mentioning of churches that try to market the Gospel by creating worship services that are full of flashing lights, lame jokes, and very little truth. Some friends, who live a very similar life to ours in a small town in eastern NC, told us of a time they visited a church. They entered the common room where the service was being held because I think it took place in a YMCA or something (which is totally fine) and they took their seats in their folding chairs because there wasn't permanent seating (again, totally fine), and then had to take cover as the worship team launched brightly colored frisbees into the audience to try and get them hyped up (NOT fine). I also vaguely remember a church experience where the associate pastor raffled off a pair of Oakley sunglasses (back when those were the deal, which, if you still are rockin' the oakleys, by all means, rock on) in an effort to draw more people in. And since I hope to dedicate an entire blog post to the HILARIOUS church signs that dot the highways and backroads of the south, I won't go into it just yet, but just remember when Halloween rolls around to not let Satan TRICK you into sin, but instead let Jesus TREAT you to salvation.
Oh. Help. Us.
But here's the deal. As much as these misguided attempts to draw people to the Christian faith make me cringe, whince, and want to make apologies to the masses, I kind of get it. I get that they're just trying to bring folks in the door and shed a little light. And good for you for that. I just don't know if neon frisbees and cheesey slogans are really going to do it for someone who has a genuine need for something more in their lives. The intentions may be good (well, almost good), but I wonder if it doesn't set people up to fail. I wonder if, when we peddle the Gospel as a fun, prize-winning, lights flashing kind of life, are we not setting folks up for radical disappointment when they face real trials and all we've offered them is a frisbee that says "God loves you." I sound critical, and I don't mean to. In Young Life we go to great lengths to draw folks in, to create a dynamic atmosphere where they feel alive. And this approach may not seem that different than the ones I'm poking fun at. But I hope, I really really hope, that we only do these things in an effort to bring them closer, inch by hard-fought inch, to Jesus. And I hope, and I mean really, really hope, that once we get them there we are telling them about Jesus AS HE IS and not as we think they want him to be.
I know too many people who said yes to Jesus sometime ago, who tried hard at the Christian faith, and ended up in state of relative apathy. They wanted it to work out, but it just didn't. Perhaps they had a bad experience with a Christian friend or leader. Perhaps they felt burned by a church or a ministry. Or maybe they signed on for the full, abundant life they were promised and their life since then has been anything but full and abundant. Now granted, there are countless factors that play into someone's faith journey. There are issues of entitlement, there are prosperity gospels being handed out left and right, and the list goes on. But I wonder if it also has a great deal to do with how the Gospel was presented in the first place. We think we are doing right in our eager attempts to bring people into the faith. I mean, eagerness is a good thing, right? But sometimes eagerness is really just nervous energy motivated by guilt. And what we end selling people are a whole lot of half truths that all add to this one false notion: God loves you and therefore wants you to be happy.
The first part of that statement is true. God loves you. Yes, yes He does. As Baker would say, "dis I know, fo da bible tell me so." But please hear me say this: you should expect SO much more from the God of the universe than just someone who wants you to be happy. My hairdresser wants me to be happy. My mailman, Gary, wants me to be happy. I don't need someone else in my life who wants me to be happy. I don't even need someone in my life who can MAKE me happy, although God certainly could do that if he wanted to. I need someone who can make me FREE.
So what if, instead of making clumsy attempts to sell people a manufactured Jesus who is part Santa Claus and part male model, we just told them the truth. What if we told them that it's going to be unbelievably difficult. What if we told them that following Jesus will, in no way, safeguard them from difficulty. What if we told them that blessings do not equal shiny new toys. What if we told them that other Christians will probably hurt them and let them down. But what if we also told them that Jesus will use every moment of every day, every single part of our lives, to make us NEW and to make us FREE. What if we told them that they needed to lose their life. You know the life I'm talking about. The life where you have to micromanage your pain and anxieties and unmet desires by whatever means necessary. The life where you have to work tirelessly at meeting your own needs, because no one's gonna do it for you. The life where you are defined by the opinions of others. What if we told them that they needed to lay down this life. But what if we also told them that when they do this they will not be laid bare for long. What if we told them that Jesus will give them new life in its place - life that offers them a bedrock of truth to stand on that is a thousand miles wide and a thousand miles deep. What if we told them that that God doesn't want them to be happy. But what if we also told them that He wants infinitely more for them. He wants them to have joy that withstands great adversity. What if we told them that because Jesus actually conquered death, that all of God's promises to them are YES in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20). What if we told them that a risen Jesus means we not only can see God, we can KNOW Him and know Him well. What if we told them that "we have this HOPE as an ANCHOR for the soul, firm and secure." Hebrews 6:19.
And then we get out of the way and let them count the cost. Moreover, we trust God to draw them to Himself however and whenever He wants. What then?
More truth and less frisbees. That's what I'm hoping for tonight. For myself and for my friends who've gotten a little lost along the way.