Thursday, December 18, 2008

He Came to Say, “I Love You.”

He Came to Say, "I Love You."

That's not the picture that everyone has of Jesus. UnChristian (David Kinnaman, Baker Books) reveals that people think the church is hypocritical, antihomosexual, too political, and judgmental, among other things. And many unbelievers develop their impression of Jesus from their impression of us. Many people who are not of us, don't believe that we like them, much less love them. Therefore, they don't understand that Jesus loves them. They think he came to condemn!

Maybe some of us are part of the body not because we believe that we are loved. Maybe we are in the body mostly because we are trying to escape condemnation. It's OK to want to escape condemnation, and Christ is certainly the way. It's not OK, though, to think that you need to be a Christian to escape condemnation because Jesus is so eager to judge and condemn.

If you've wondered about this, you are not alone. John recorded this significant truth, "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him" (John 3:17). And the most famous verse in the Bible, just before this great truth, reveals God's motive for sending Jesus to save, "God so loved the world."

I've gotten to read a couple of things recently that teach this message of God's love. In Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller recalls the questions of his friend Penny about the love of Jesus. "Penny began to wonder if Christianity, were it a person, might in fact like her," he wrote. That was significant for Penny because she wasn't at all what she perceived the television preachers/political figures to be. She thought that Jesus was like them, so she thought Jesus probably wouldn't like her. Then, in The Shack, as William Young writes about the dream of his friend Mac, he recorded the words of Papa, "I'm especially fond of you." Do you believe that God is especially fond of you? Do you let the love of Christ shine in you so that others will know that Jesus does, in fact, like them?

Are you a follower because "Christ's love compels you" (2 Corinthians 5:14) or because you are trying to escape his condemnation. He came to say, "I love you." He didn't have to come to condemn. We were already there. He came because of his love to save us.

We can quit debating whether the unbeliever's perception of us is true. If we are the lover, it is our responsibility to show it. If they don't know it, we have to communicate differently. Some may never get it, but we have to keep trying! Jesus has never ever given up!

That's Life at Work!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Question about Christmas

A friend asked recently about churches of Christ celebrating Christmas. He noted that few celebrated and that some vehemently opposed it. He had mentioned the argument that celebrating Christians created "2 day Christians" but wondered still why it is so rejected by many of us. I've posted my response to him below. What do you think?

I find it difficult to defend the idea of "celebration" because "celebrate" means something different to different people.  Some believe that having a tree and giving gifts is celebration and it's wrong.  Others believe that having a nativity in the foyer and singing "Silent Night" and "Happy Birthday" to Jesus is wrong, but do have a tree and give gifts.  So what does celebrate mean to you?

The tendency that some have to become "2 day Christians" is probably secondary to the "speak where the Bible speaks" argument for most who think it is wrong to "celebrate" Christmas.  It is true that some make a holy day out of Christmas and believe that some sort of piety ought to exist on that day that doesn't have to exist on other days.  Same with Easter, as you mentioned. And Christians have no holy days that we are required to recognize (notwithstanding Sundays).  We don't have Sabbaths, Passover Days, feast days, etc.  Some feel strongly, then, that since Christ (through Paul) removed us from responsibility to Jewish holy days, and gave us no others to keep, then to create some is wrong.  "Be silent where the Bible is silent." So fundamentally, it is wrong to "add to the Bible."  The fact that some who do it develop into "2 day Christians" just piles on the problem. Those who don't celebrate understand "speak where the Bible speaks" to mean that if something isn't authorized, you can't do it."

On the other hand, some take "speak where the Bible speaks" to mean that if scripture doesn't forbid it, you can do it.  Therefore, if someone wants to declare December 25 as the adopted birthday of Jesus and celebrate it with Christmas songs, special services, nativity scenes, singing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus, decorating trees, and giving gifts they can.  They can't make it a requirement that everybody do it, but they can do it.

Though in Romans 14, Paul is addressing the Jewish holy days and Gentile involvement, I think his principle still applies.  If some have that as their tradition and want to continue it, don't judge them.  Jesus is their Lord and they do it unto the Lord.  They are not your servants, they are Christ's.  If some reject that tradition and don't want to do it, accept them.   Jesus is their Lord and they do it unto the Lord.  They are not your servants, they are Christ's. I believe those teachings can be applied to Christmas.

Principally, then, you will discover that some churches don't have nativity scenes and special service because, as you note, there are so who vehemently oppose it.  Those who would celebrate acquiesce for the conscious's of  those who can't.  Other times it's because those who can't have the decision making power.

At the May house, we "celebrate" by giving gifts, erecting trees and other decorations (we're green by the way), thanking God for the coming of Christ, and singing Christmas songs – spiritual and otherwise.  At South Yukon, we "celebrate" with Christmas parties, songs (even in the December assemblies), and sermons about the coming of Jesus.  Some churches and individuals, by the way, would be critical of my sermon choices for December.  As you note, this is a great time for reaching out.  "Help people catch the Spirit's fire while God is on their minds," I say.  I personally try to relate to the Christmas season without shoving the "celebration" in the face of those who reject it.

What do you think?  Is there a limit to appropriate "celebration" to you?

Would Jesus Like Me?

"Penny began to wonder if Christianity, were it a person, might in fact like her" (Donald Miller in Blue Like Jazz).

Those words from Miller, as I listened to them on audio CD driving in Yukon the other day, struck me. I'm the kind of person who likes to think that everybody likes me. It's not a "what's not to like" attitude. I know there is plenty about me to not like, I'm just optimistic that everybody is going to overlook my faults and like me anyway. That's what my heart tells me. My brain knows different.

But would Jesus like me if he were here? If we struck up a conversation in line at Starbucks, would he ask me to sit at his table because he wanted to know me better? He liked the woman in Simon's house that nobody else liked. He liked the woman at the well and there were apparently a number of former husbands who didn't like her. He liked Zacchaeus when nobody else did. The answer is "yes!" Jesus would like me, but it's because of who he is rather that what we have in common or how cool I am.

Penny was wondering, though, if Christianity were a person, would it like her. Though it may be difficult to understand, Christianity is a person today – or a group of people. The church is the Body of Christ, and we want to be as much like Jesus as we can possibly be; and that means that we will like you. If we knew where you lived, we would come to your house; but it's more likely that you know where we live. Come for a visit. Maybe we'll go to Starbucks later. That's Life at Work.