It's All Good - Week Four - "Good Actions"
Ever thought about that? I have been lately.
Can you name it? The point of Christianity, I mean. The purpose of it.
Say this is Family Feud and you are sitting with Richard Dawson (the creepy, womanizing original host) at the final challenge where 100 people were surveyed to come up with the purpose of Christianity...
What would you think?
Eternal Life, you say? Escaping Hell, you say? Survey says! 60
Peace that Passes Understanding? Survey says! 15
Having a ready-made Community? Survey says! 10
You get to sing hymns? Survey says! 1
Doing good deeds, you think? Survy Says! 5
Worshipping God? Mmmkay. Survey Says! 7
These are entirely made up stats. But I bet my eye teeth that if we did a real survey it would look sort of like this made up one.
Because most Christians think the main purpose of Christianity is to save their own... ahem.
Do you think we need a better story? Seriously. Escaping Hell doesn't seem to have the kind of impact that it did back in the day. We've seen too much of Hell on Earth, haven't we?
Besides, when you define your entire belief system in negative terms, why would you be surprised when people feel negatively about it?
Changing the focus of Christianity is not going to be easy, though.
I read an essay written by Malcom Gladwell about Korean Airlines and how it turned around from a complete failure of a company to wildly successful. There was a time when many international airports refused to let Korean Airlines land on their runways. It seems that Korean Airlines had the worst crash record of any other airline in the world. They finally hired some American consultants to help them. What the consultants discovered after researching crashes and accidents of Korean Airlines airlplanes was that the fault lay directly in Korean culture.
Co-pilots and Navigators in Korean culture never contradicted the pilots of the plane---even when the pilot was dead wrong. It was their culture to respect the pilot, defer to the pilot, never question the pilot's decisions... they even carried the pilot's luggage at the airport.
So without anyone to challenge their decisions, Korean pilots were pretty much on their own in the cockpit. If they made a mistake, several hundred people paid for it with their lives.
It took an entire paradigm shift, a monumental change in culture, a shift of epic proportions for Korean Airlines to turn things around. But they did. Now they are one of the most efficient, advanced, safe and well-run airlines in the world.
Christianity needs this kind of monumental shift when it comes to realizing it's purpose.
Here's what I think it is: You are Called, You are Redeemed, You are Equipped for a Greater Purpose
And that Greater purpose is to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the world by both speaking it, and showing it.
Read Titus 3
Basically what the Apostle Paul is doing here in this part of his letter to Titus is answering the question, "What good is it to be a Christian?" or "What's the purpose in all of this?"
Essentially he gives a three pronged answer, one that we've already alluded to.
Paul says that Christians are Called. We should be ready to serve, above reproach, kind and grace-filled. We are called to be different, to do what is often counter-intuitive when it comes to the way our culture dictates we act.
Paul says that Christians are Redeemed. And this is not something that we did ourselves. Our redemption is due to the "goodness" of God---the Greek word here is "christotes" which means always eager to give whatever gift might be needed. Awesome.
Paul says that Christians are Equipped. We are equipped, given the authority, commission, resources and tools to practice "fine deeds." Paul uses the word "proistasthai" to describe this. It's a word that means something like a shopkeeper standing in front of his shop showing his wares. Further it carries with it the sense of doing something beneficial.
When Christians talk about evangelism--sharing their faith---they tend to refer to a passage of Scripture known as The Great Commission. This is the passage of Scripture where Jesus tells his disciples to "go into all the world," "make disciples," and "baptize."
The problem with focusing only on this passage as the guide for our greater purpose is that it can tend to turn people into objects. Many Christians get the sense that we are in some sort of race to get as many people saved as possible before it all ends. So they take Jesus words, and they focus them narrowly and the next thing you know Christians only see people as numbers, ticks on a tally sheet... objects.
But Jesus' goals for evangelism were much different. Before Jesus gave the Great Commission, he gave The Great Commandment. He was asked to weigh in on a religious debate about which of the 600-plus Jewish religious laws was the most important. He told them, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength." This was fairly orthodox. Then he goes on to say, "And your neighbor as yourself." This led to a whole discussion about what he meant by "neighbor," but I'll let you read Luke 10 on your own.
Here's how The Great Commandment gives us a framework for evangelism.
Jesus appealed to our instinct to love and connect relationally first with someone and then with something bigger than ourselves. There is something deep in each of us that calls out to the deepness of God. We want that relationship. Even those who deny they want it, deeply desire it at some point in their life. We also want to be connected to others, to know that we are not alone in this.
Jesus' ideas for evangelism begin with love. This is what the Gospel essentially does, really. It asks, "Who else?" and "Where else?" It doesn't settle for the people who are already in church (although there is a continuing conversion taking place with that group, too). It also doesn't allow those of us who call ourselves Christians to stay right where we are. The Gospel moves and motivates us.
How can we tap into that kind of motivation? How can we truly change our focus?
1st we need to turn up the dial on Wonder and Passion in our faith. We have a shortage of both in the Church. You see when we do this we will truly learn what it means to be the Church and not just go to church.
We also need to have a real burden for people who need the hope that comes through Jesus. I heard this story some years ago about a small town in Germany during WWII. It seems that this town had a railway station that was a stop for the many trains that were taking Jews to concentration camps in Eastern Europe. On Sundays a train would stop at the train station loaded with desperate, doomed people. The station was so close to the church that worshippers could hear the groans and screams of the people on the train while they were in church. Their solution was to play the organ louder and sing more hymns while the train was in the station. Is this what we do? Do we focus so much on our own church experience that we ignore a lost and hurting world?
We also need to leave room for doubts and fears. Expressing doubts and fears in church is not exactly a safe thing to do, which is why most people on the outside of Christian faith shy away. We all have doubts. We all have fears. We need to move beyond absolutism. Listen, if two people board a plane and one is deathly afraid of flying and one isn't, will either of them change the direction of the plane? No! One might enjoy the trip more than the other, but they'll both land in the same place. Doubts don't damn us. We've got to stop damning those who have them, including ourselves.
We need to claim God's story. Have you ever gone to a restaurant and the server had no idea what was on the menu? Doesn't exactly make you feel good about ordering the food, does it? Contrast that with a server you've had who knew all about the food. You dug that didn't you? So how do we expect people to embrace the Christian faith, when we aren't drinking the kool-aid?
And to that end, we also need to align our life with the "better story" that God is telling. I heard a story recently about a dad whose daughter was dating a guy he didn't approve of. The guy was just "wrong." The dad went to a friend in despair and asked, "Why would she want to date that loser?" The friend surprisingly told him, "she thinks there's a better story with him." The dad thought about that, and realized that the story of his own life wasn't very compelling. He worked too much, and didn't really live out his faith. He signed his family up for a mission trip to Mexico, making his daughter go, too. The trip changed her life. When she returned she broke up with the boyfriend. "I don't know what I saw in him." she told her father.
You are Called. You are Redeemed. You are Equipped for a Greater Purpose---to tell the story of how God has transformed your life through Christ.
Bring your passion. Bring your wonder. Bring your doubts and fears. The world needs you to tell your story.
Get to it.