“To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some.Now I do all this because of the gospel, so I may become a partner in its benefits.”
(1 Corinthians 9:22–23 HCSB)
This one’s just a personal thing but it’s attached to this verse in 1 Corinthians. Now don’t get me wrong I get it. I know that I’m kinda pulling things out a bit on this one. I know that this particular scripture has been used for all sorts of reasons, usually the wrong ones. People use it as an excuse way to many times, when Paul talks about following the letter of the law, when he tries to reach one set of people, and not following it to reach another, people on both sides of whatever issue they have with law and grace have a field day. The concept though is solid, Paul realizes that the intended audience is important, and how we interact with that audience matters when we are presenting something as important as the Gospel of Christ.
The problem for most of us is we don’t really know who our intended audience is. Which brings me to the title. Why do so many people who are supposed to tell others about Jesus do so in ways that either make Jesus and more importantly his words inaccessible, or completely alienate them from the one known for hanging out with people not in religious in crowd.
“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.””
(Matthew 11:19 HCSB)
Pretty harsh words for many of us, mainly because for years the church has done it’s best to not be a friend of sinners, to be more worried about not smoking, not chewing, not drinking, not, not, not, not, not. The church doesn’t really like that Jesus. That Jesus makes the church uncomfortable, because that Jesus wouldn’t really spend Sunday morning singing Heart of Worship, or Amazing Grace.
Phrases and words that bother me include but are not limited to “beloved,” “Oh Church,” “My People,” “friends,” “lets enter in,” “close your eyes,” “let’s all join hands,” the list goes on, I could sit here and come up with whole sentences that don’t make sense but that’s just a waste of time.
Perhaps the worst part of the title is that I have said those very same words at one time or another in my life as a Christ Follower and as a church leader. It’s easy for us all to get to a place where the phrases and words we use become more important than the message we are to give. That playing to the base becomes easier than evaluating every part of what we do and finding the disconnect. Sometimes it’s language, sometimes it’s programming, it could be structure, or music, or decor. There are all sorts of ways that we talk to people, many times trying to make our language more important than theirs.
Coffee shops are cool right so lets serve coffee shop coffee and make a cool sitting area like they have at the new place down the street, then the people at the coffee shop will come here on Sunday, except that the people are already going to the coffee shop. Lights and sound and smoke are really cool, look at all the people who go to concerts, they like those things, let’s incorporate them into Sunday Worship. Except that in many cases we can’t do it as well as they can, can’t afford what it takes to make it really great, and if we can, we run the risk of looking desperate. When we were growing up kids were seen and not heard, that’s the way things were for us and what was good enough for us is good enough for them. Except that people with Kids now, especially Gen X’ers and Millenials don’t want their kids to be treated the way they were treated when they went to church or any other function. Look around the church, see the lack of young people, the mass exodus as soon as 18 hits and think about how you treated them when they came to church, that one can be painful.
The real problem that I see is that we try so hard to wrap the message of Christ in a package that is relevant, and attractive, and easy to understand and embrace…except that there are whole aspects of that package that are not attractive, not relevant by what churches assume are relevant standards, and are down right confusing to the people who spend their lives studying them, even if they won’t admit it. Sure the whole love thing is great. and it’s true. If we would spend as much time loving people as we do telling them all the things we don’t like about them, because face it when we point out a persons sin either to them individually or through a sermon series on Levitical laws and why they work for you, what we’re really saying is “these are the things we don’t like about you, if you want to belong, if you want to fit in, if you want to get to know the guy that we keep saying loves you unconditionally then you have to met OUR conditions. Really loving people and talking about the love aspect of our faith is true and great but then you come to the harder things. Love is easy to make relevant and attractive and easy to understand. Repentance, sacrifice, taking up the cross daily, turning the other cheek, going the extra mile with the person that hurts you and hates you, standing up for what’s right and just even when I’m uncomfortable with it, even when it’s not my interpretation of, even when I don’t feel like it. Those things are harder to sell. Which is why it’s not our job to do so. Look what Paul says…
“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:6 HCSB)
We plant and water with love and grace and mercy, then God is the one that takes it from there, he’s the one that brings about the realization that there are things in a person’s life that need changed, he’s the one that pushes a person to the point of picking up the cross. The problem is we don’t always like waiting for God to do the work, and so we start saying things that build walls around the very one that can and will make a person into what they were designed to be. Romans 8 is one of those chapters that people use to prove their points about law, and faith, and love and freedom, but I am beginning to think it’s more about what we say and what God wants us to say. Starting in vs 26 and going to the end of the chapter we find an idea that I think is lost to many Christians today.
“In the same way the Spirit also joins to help in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings.”(Romans 8:26 HCSB)
If all the stuff we have decided is important to say is so important why bother with the God part of our faith. If we were really that articulate why does God have to intercede for us? Why bother with verse 27 or 28 or 29. Why say all things work together for good when so many things don’t. I hate it when people say that to me when things are going bad, mainly because that statement holds truth in regards to my eternity with God, not in my finite journey on this earth. If I have a relationship with him, even when things go horribly wrong here I know that there will come a day when the there will be no more tears, no more sorrow, no more pain. but that’s not necessarily today. I fail to see the good that comes from a child diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, fail to understand the blessing that comes from that same child wasting away to nothing and dying, and from what I read and what I see I’m not supposed to be okay with it, I shouldn’t understand it and I definitely shouldn’t use scripture to explain away a persons grief or anger or resentment toward God.
Admitting we don’t know, or don’t understand is seen as weakness in the church world, but it shouldn’t be. We think that admitting a verse doesn’t make sense to us, or that taken in today’s context it may mean something different, must mean we don’t believe it. We think that we have to have all the answers, that we have to say all the right words and if we do if we talk the way churches have talked for centuries people will flock to God, and by proxy to the church, except it isn’t working, in fact the opposite seems to be happening in a vast majority of churches and it’s happening because we have tried to take our language, spoken, visual, and unspoken, turn it into cannon, and tell the people that if they will just listen to us, adopt our language, and do it our way then we will accept them, they will be loved, and we can then introduce them to the God we serve, the only problem is, in most cases, if we were really honest with ourselves and them…the god we serve is the one that is shaking their hand…