I’ve attended a lot of different church services in my lifetime and the spectrum of believers goes from Traditional to Pentecostal… from Catholic to Presbyterian. From common everyday sensible including the Doxology all the way to wacky screaming and pew jumpin smack yo mamma wif a Bible in da head Holy rollers. In most cases and across the entire universe of Christian denominational spaghetti-intertwined doctrinal statements of faith…(say that five times quickly), I find only a few things really important for me to stand firmly behind. Of course; the Lordship of Jesus stands above all as well and the Lordship of His Word.
Which brings me to a conversation I had today with a guy named Earl, (He goes by the name “Shark” because of the gorgeous tattoo of a shark on his right arm and, in his own words, “my male parental unit must have been effing crazy to have named me after himself!”) Shark was with his wife Tondra, (no not Tundra) and their child…Rocket, (and yes all three of these names are real and yes I’m not lying and please don’t ask me if those were really their names and if I’m lying!) so…back to the conversation.
Shark and I began our conversation over a graphic novel he was reading and that had caught my eye while walking by his table at Barnes and Noble… (be sure to check out their biographies this month…25 % off!). The graphic novel was; I discovered, the very FIRST of books to be called graphic novels from all the way back to 1978 called, “A Contract with God” by author Will Eisner. Shark had purchased the book from a used book dealer in Nashville and was carefully leafing through it while his wife and child ate chocolate chip cookies and Tondra sipped a cappuccino.
Being intentionally nosy, I asked what a book entitled “A Contract with God” was about. Shark explained it was an anthology of four, non related stories about Jewish inhabitants of a tenement building which were largely made up of Eisner’s memories growing up. It seemed to be a very melancholy book and Shark sipped his demi tasse with an air of discernment as he looked at me curiously.
“What makes an obviously Protestant looking gentleman like yourself take interest in a graphic novel sitting furtively on my table?” adding to his comment quickly, “no offense intended.” I was so completely impressed by both his demeanor, his honesty AND his use of the word “furtively” while referring to a book, that, I smiled and answered I would tell him if he would let me buy him another espresso. Shark nodded appreciatively.
I returned to the table to find Tondra and Rocket sitting at the two-seat table. Rocket sat on Tondra’s lap. Shark reached out to take his coffee and asked me to pull up a seat. I introduced myself and explained what “BioSweep” meant monogrammed on my shirt. (Let the reader understand, BioSweep is the name of the company I work for…yes I’ve changed jobs again…no I won’t elaborate right now.) Shark pulled at his goatee and said, “Okay, so, why the question, why the coffee and why the interest at all?” Again; impressed with his honesty, I felt he deserved the absolute and complete truth to his question. So I told him.
“I wanted to know what the book was about, because I wanted to discuss views about God with you. That’s it…no other reason.” His eyes narrowed somewhat and he pushed his weight back on the back legs of his chair as he said, “Wow…you didn’t try to even hide it!” I laughed and said, “so you already knew the answer to your own question?” Shark looked at Tondra, “Tondy…an honest Christian!” smiling and gesturing toward me with his head. His wife looked at me and said, “Imagine that…” I decided to not ask what he meant…because I already knew.
We live in a time when people are skeptical of anything that sounds like traditional Christianity, especially if that Christianity has to do with a salt box church, being preached at every Sunday and the lack of results in society. Who can blame them? I don’t. Millennials comment they have seen too much hypocrisy and want something “authentic”, which means; I suppose, a search for a genuine lifestyle that lives what it purports to believe. Again, I can’t say I disagree with them.
For too long, it has been my observation that Christianity is a “graying” religion without adventure. There seems to be a lot of activity and bigger and bigger “Mega” churches, with lots of programs and large attendance numbers. But when one gets right down to it, who wants to belong to an organization? Is that what happened in Acts chapter 2 when the Holy Spirit fell upon the disciples in the upper room? Did the Holy Spirit create an 501c3 that held itself alloof from society, spent most of it’s money on itself and it’s buildings and whose understanding of friendship centered on trying to get your acquaintances to a point where they would convert to your flavor of Christianity and start doing the same thing?
Did Jesus intend the Christian to relate mostly to those within the Church’s walls and look with judgment upon those on the outside? If you ask modern outsiders today, they say a unanimous “yes.” The “Church” in their opinion, appears to be unwilling to develop friendships with non-Christians. There appears to be a “self-centeredness” that is not really interested in others except how they can get them into the church. They feel the church does not reach our culture because the church isn’t a part of our culture, it is “apart’ FROM our culture. Of course there are wonderful exceptions to this rule, like Crossroads Church in Cincinnati, Ohio and others starting to pop up across our country.
In an online blog called, Thom S. Rainer, “Growing Healthy Churches Together.” (thomrainer.com) he has nailed the problem exactly in his blog,
“What Do Non Christians Really Think About Us?” (https://thomrainer.com/2013/06/what-do-non-christians-really-think-of-us/). He writes:
“I consider myself a very blessed man in a number of ways. This blog has become one of my great blessings. One of the reasons I love this blog community is the variety of people who interact on it. There has been an increase in the number of people who aren’t Christians who comment on various posts. I want to share with you the perspective of one young woman on how she views Christians. These comments come directly from her comments on some of my posts. They have not been changed.
I remember a rather outspoken evangelical Christian young woman I worked with – I’d just moved to town, and we went to a movie together. Each week she invited me to her church, and I didn’t want to offend her by saying “No thanks.” As it was, I had Buddhist activities one Sunday and I was mentoring a young girl two other Sundays, but that theoretically left a Sunday open. We only worked together for 3 months, and it never worked out. I went to a different job.
She showed up there one night, and jumped right to the church invite. No “Hey, how’ve you been? Haven’t seen you in a while!” Nope – just “Do you want to come to church with me this weekend?” Since I was on to her game, I decided to play. I said, “Sure, I’ll go to church with you, because I’m interested in seeing what you’re interested in. That’s what friends do, after all. And I’m sure you’ll want to come with me to a Buddhist meeting to see what I’m interested in, right?”
“Oh no!” she replied. “I just love the Lord so much!”
“Well,” I said, “then there’s no point in me going to your church because I’m not interested in either becoming a Christian or joining your church.” I never saw her again.
That’s how far Christian friendship extends – I’ve seen it over and over and over. Christians look at everyone else as if they’ve got targets painted on their foreheads. Nobody likes being hunted down or treated like someone else’s project. We don’t need to drop all our beliefs just to accept yours, and we don’t need to become more like you just to be acceptable people, worthy of being regarded as people instead of targets. Love does not seek to create clones of itself. Selfishness does.
Keep your religious beliefs to yourself. If I have any interest in what you believe, I’ll ask you. And if I don’t ask you, then go right ahead and assume that your “witnessing” will be unwelcome. I’m sure that you like whatever you believe very much, and I’m very happy that you like it. However, just as your favorite flavor of ice cream is not necessarily going to be mine, I wish you would assume that I’m just as content with my own beliefs (or lack thereof) as you are with yours. Why not ask me first what *I* believe? Why not show an interest in what’s interesting to me instead of expecting me to always be interested in what YOU’RE interested in? Christians are so selfish and self-centered! Tell me – when was the last time an atheist rang your doorbell to tell you about his worldview? The reason the world hates Christians is because they behave badly, they’re rude, boorish, arrogant, conceited, full of themselves, ignorant, and judgmental. Go ahead – accuse me of being judgmental now. Doesn’t matter – I don’t claim to follow a belief system that has actual rules AGAINST being judgmental, so it’s *fine* for me to be!
As a mother of young children in a homeschooling environment, we found ourselves surrounded by Christians. Of course, the kids would become friends and we moms would chat while they played. Without a single exception, this “acquaintanceship” only progressed to the point that I had to make it clear that no, I would not “acceptjesusasmypersonalsavior” (quotation marks, mine) and no, I would not be attending their church. Then the Christians never called again, and I was left to explain to my sad children why their new friends wouldn’t be playing with them any more.
When my son was just 6, the boys down the street told him he was not allowed to play with them because he wasn’t a Christian. I went down to see what was going on (because my 4-yr-old daughter was going to go down there and teach those boys a lesson!) and I confirmed that what my son had reported was indeed what they’d said. And the mother of one was right out in the front yard, 25 feet from me, pretending to be very focused on trimming some plants. She never said a word.
Finally, the 6-yr-old girl across the street told my kids, ages 7 and 9, that if they weren’t Christians, they would be going to hell. She certainly learned the “Good News”. And you Christians wonder why we non-Christians avoid you?? HINT: It’s not because we’re intimidated by your awesomeness and are just sitting here, pining for you, wishing you would like us. We already know you don’t.“
Stories like those sting…
I can tell you from personal experience that every story in that blog is true because I have personally seen countless examples from my own life where almost the same identical things happened…except I was the perpetrator! As I look back on what my idea of “witnessing” was, I recognize that instead of seeking out the lost and loving them unconditionally, I had been just another reason for a non-Christians to throw rocks at every church they passed by.
Well, I finally went through a time when, for numerous reasons, I took a break from church attendance. I had gone through a divorce, I had been told by many of my old friends in the church how “selfish and self centered” I was for divorcing, and from having a friendship where we spent fun evenings watching movies with each other and sharing meals at each others homes, I was shunned, and not only by them, but having felt it was their duty to inform the rest of the congregation; the rest of my old church friends rejected me as well.
I moved back to my old hometown and in a time of gut wrenching depression, I sought to rebuild my personal world. I began a business; a winery and renovated a 1930’s gas station into a dining room. I stayed away from church in all honesty due to the sting of the relationships that ended when they considered my Christianity “tainted”. I felt no desire to ever build that kind of shallow relationship again. There are many whom i still block on Facebook.
I met my wife, Mary Ann and we began facing the world and connecting with new friends and started our lives together. Along the way, the people who I had previously sought to “win to Jesus” were the only people I had relationships with. I worked with them, and laughed with them. I heard em cuss and they heard me cuss too. I discovered my “worldly” friends took a genuine interest in me. They were fellow travelers, and listening and being listened to were the dues we paid to become a part of the fraternity. And it WAS a fraternity!
I suppose if you want to know the truth, I shook off every vestige of Western Christianism, (notice I didn’t say Christianity), in other words I shook off “Churchianity” along with all of its false friendship and self righteous nose lifting and became an authentic person again. I stopped associating with those who, if I didn’t quake and shake like they did, they questioned whether I had been filled the Holy Spirit. Someone who was not afraid to rub shoulders with sinners, because I finally had recognized I was a sinner too! And something wonderful began to happen…
I began to discover my personality coming alive without the pressure to “invite people to church” and without the need to always mention how “Jesus had changed my life”. I began connecting individually with Jesus again and as I did that, I began to really connect with the people that I worked with and total strangers in the marketplace. I began to realize that I felt free, and I don’t mean free to sin, but I knew that the perfectionism of being a” perfect Christian” had been a hoax. It was a lie of the devil to convince me I would get infected by the world if I let my guard down and became friends with people in the world who didn’t attend church. The hoax was designed to keep me away from the very people Jesus wanted to to reach…with love.
You and I are fallen creations. Even with the Blood of Jesus, we are going to sin and mess up and hit our fingers with hammers and cuss and the Lord loves us and asks us to surrender again…and we do. But holding ourselves up to the world as some nice smelling, clean fingernailed dandy doesn’t do anything but tell them, “We don’t want you or your kids to infect our children!”. And when we do that, whether or not we realize we’re doing it, people will stay away from us in crowds. Our “Fallenness” is about all we have in common with the world and while Jesus said “Love not the world, or the things of the world”… He was not talking about withholding love from the people IN the world.
If all you needed to do in order to fulfill the Great Commission was to love people, engage them in conversation, help them fill their gas tanks with gas, take the initiative and smile and see each one as a unique creation of God without inviting them to church or inquiring whether or not they were saved…COULD YOU BE ALRIGHT WITH THAT? Could their prolonged exposure to that type of Christian behavior bring them to the point where they might want to know about the God you serve? Could that be making disciples?
I am convinced Paul’s message in I Corinthians 3:6 is 90 percent PLANTING and WATERING, “What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? They are servants through whom you believed, as the Lord has assigned to each his role. I planted the seed and Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.….”. I think the reason the church has turned off the world in some part is because everybody want to be the reaper…everybody ahs a warped idea about what their “Christian Duty” is. I have seen God do some very incredible things as I have just loved people and enjoyed relationship with them. I have stopped trying to be responsible for everyone’s salvation and I now leave that up to God.
I am titling my new book, “God Lives in the Unremarkable Moments” because all of us have prayed at one time or another “God, I want to do something great for you in this life”. If you haven’t prayed that, then you have prayed something close to it. The only problem with the prayer is, God doesn’t need you to do some great big thing…He needs you to do the daily, relationship thing in unremarkable moments throughout your life with people you meet every day. God lives in the quiet, unseen, unremarkable moments of our lives…and it is precisely in those moments, where; if you are in relationship with Jesus, God will use you and your humanity to touch people in supernatural ways. It has been a real joy to see people open up like flowers since I began this experiment, and God amazes me everyday with opportunities to show He cares about people. I ask you to read about some of those opportunities in my upcoming book.
By the way, I am back at church, and loving the freedom of worshiping Jesus because of who He is and my new understanding of what: in my opinion the Church was designed to be. As John Jefferson Davis in his book, “Christ’s Victorious Kingdom” states:
“…any amelioration of social evils is not the result of immanent forces at work within history, nor primarily merely human effort, but essentially is the result of the supernatural influence of the ascended Christ through His Word and Spirit, working through His people. A spiritually revitalized church is understood to have an increasingly positive impact on the surrounding world and it’s structures through its PREACHING, SOCIAL MINISTRY AND THE EXAMPLE OF ITS OWN INNER LIFE.” 
I spoke for another 20 minutes to Shark and Tondra…without attempting to invite them to a church or trying to lead them in “the sinner’s prayer.” Before I left, I DID do something unashamedly Christian. I walked to the Christian inspiration section and pulled down a book about a Jewish holocaust survivor who became a Christian and consequently changed millions of lives with her story. Her name was Corrie Ten Boom and the book was, “The Hiding Place.
I dropped it on Shark’s table and asked him if he was an honest man. He shook my hand and said, “You won’t find a more honest man!” I asked him if he had ever heard of Corrie Ten Boom. He said no. I asked him, instead of buying me an espresso, if he would buy the book and read it. He walked up to the cashier and paid for it immediately.
On my way out, he shoulder bumped me…said I was “white cake personified” at which I laughed until tears came to my eyes. I told him his picture was by the word “Bohemian” in the dictionary and he smiled really big and said, “Mazel tov!” I invited he and Tondra to dinner and we waved goodbye. Peace my Jewish brother…May the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob bring you to a true knowledge of the Living God Yeshua…and may you trust only in Him!