“… About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.” When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” So the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s companions in travel…” – Acts 19:23-29
The message of the Gospel has the power to transform the world for the glory of God and for the good of all people. We see in history, especially from the record we have in the book of Acts, that because of people who believed in Jesus subversively, over a period of time, the very moral fiber and business practices of a continent were transformed, not by getting the government to legislate it, but rather by the people who believed in the good news of the Gospel being the salt and light of Christ in the world.
One of the things I’ve seen in this weird Christian subculture that is so disturbing and prevalent in the United States today, is the odd characteristic that so few who claim faith in Christ want to share the gospel to everyone, or with anyone, rather they want to gripe about the government’s failure to uphold our values instead. Give me a break, please, give us all a break from that ignorant ideology. It has never worked that way. It never will work that way. It’s as if we as Christians have never studied Roman history… or any history for that matter.
When the Roman Emperor Constantine declared, “We’re a Christian nation now,” he wasn’t legislating faith, but announcing and acknowledging something that had already taken roots in the Roman Empire. His declaration takes place after Christianity has already spread throughout the Roman Empire and become the dominate faith among the people. Christianity wasn’t legislated or forced upon the nation. (Besides, wasn’t it like 100 years later that Rome ceased to exist?) It doesn’t work that way. You cannot legislate Christianity. Nor can you legislate morality. That’s all a pipe dream. We think we can get people behaving better with laws and strict rules that govern a country? Really?! So then we’ll get better behaving people outside the kingdom of God? People following strict rules and obeying rigid legislation, yet not having any relationship with or love for our God? But some argue this would at least create a safer place for our children… No, it’s a rough place out there no matter what the law says. So, what if instead of saying, “When is our government going to do this, do that, pass this law, abolish this law, blah, blah, blah…” What if we just did what the Bible asks us to do and be salt and light, and grace-filled people in a lost and dying world? What if we tried it that way?
“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” – Jeremiah 29:7
What if we thought through the implications of grace and let that beautiful truth motivate us to engage the world and seek their good? What if we stopped boycotting stuff constantly, and criticizing everyone who lives contrary to how we believe we should live and showed them love and grace instead? What if instead of drawing up signs to stand outside movies like “The DaVinci Code?” What if instead, we actually saw them? What if we actually paid $14.50 or whatever it costs to go to a movie now; went and saw it, but saw it through the lenses of Scripture so we could better discuss things with our neighbors? Why? Because they’re going to see it. Heck, go with them! What if we stopped making Christianity about beer and rated-R movies? What if we did that? What if we didn’t make our measure of faith and devotion about where we get our chicken sandwiches? What if we let the peripherals be the peripherals and concentrated on the gospel? What if we quit being ignorant moralists trying to police everybody and started trusting the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ to be enough? What if we said, “Hey, we are missionaries in our own neighborhoods, we don’t have to go on a special trip overseas to tell people the good news of Christ Jesus.” What if we did that?
What if we created an environment where you’re welcome to come as you are? What if we didn’t expect people to perfectly live a certain way before we’d have them at our house for dinner? What if we didn’t go, “Oh, you believe in Jesus, well then, here’s some soup.” But rather are posture was, “We believe in Christ Jesus and the work He has accomplished for us, so here is some soup, and how else may we serve you?” What if we wouldn’t beat people up with the gospel and just shared the love of Christ? You can’t save anybody. That’s God’s business, but you can be salt and light. What if we did it that way? What if we tried to do it differently, or maybe originally? What if we went underground, one heart at a time, one neighborhood? And I’m not talking about proselytizing, I’m talking about living the gospel of Christ, having people to your house and praying.
I’m not saying we apologize for who we are, or for what we believe, but rather display it like we mean it. What if we prayed for our dinner no matter who was at the table? We’re not trying to convert a guest by our prayer at dinner, like, “Father, we thank You for this pagan. And we thank You that You could save him if he would but listen. In Romans 8, You say…” No, instead: “Thank You for this food, thank You for Your Son, all the beautiful common grace You have given us, and the grace upon grace You show us daily,” because we thank Him for the food and we thank Him for friendships and we eat. What if that’s how we viewed this thing? What if instead of spending all our money on bigger and nicer church buildings… what if our churches didn’t do the “Oh, once we’re at 75% capacity for one service, let’s build a building that gets us into horrific debt so that we can no longer concentrate on doing what’s good and right in the world?”
“Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before Me. So I removed them, when I saw it.” – Ezekiel 16:49-50 [also reference Isaiah 1:10-31]
What if churches that were growing exponentially just bit the bullet and kept adding services before finally breaking down and using funds that have been saved (and/or pledged) to build a new building that could accommodate the growth. What if churches didn’t go into crazy debt to build an enormous building that sits empty 6 days a week? What if they built a building that didn’t have seat warmers, a rock wall, or a coffee shop in it, have a separate school so our kids didn’t have to rub elbows with a bunch of little heathen hoodlums in public school, along with a series of basketball courts, bookstores, and the nicest amenities money can buy?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with having those things in a church building, there’s nothing inherently wrong with atractional-based ministry, but what if there happens to be a Lifetime Fitness, 24-hour Fitness, L.A. Fitness, YMCA, Gold’s Gym, etc. all nearby and they already have accessible basketball courts? Maybe we could go play ball in the public gyms rub elbows with people who don’t know the gospel? What if the public school systems would benefit more from having your kids in them, and you rolling up your sleeves to join in the mess in an effort to help and serve the community?
Maybe instead of going to church to get your six shots of espresso or your triple latte, maybe you should just pick a Starbucks. Seriously, there’s probably at least 20 of them in your immediate area. Maybe you could learn your barrista’s name and begin to pray for them. What if we did that instead of spending fifty grand to have a coffee shop in the church building? Why don’t we go to the same restaurants every week and ask for the same waitresses and waiters? (And tip them well, and quit being cheap!) Why don’t we throw block parties? When did we as Christians become the anti-partiers?! In Leviticus 23, God says, “If you don’t party, I will kill you.” Read it. Why don’t we put up some stuff in the yard, gather some good friends together, set out a bunch of food and drinks, and throw a party for the neighborhood? Why don’t we be those people? And I’m not talking about getting out of control, and throwing wild parties that lead to debauchery. But why aren’t we celebrating life and all the common grace to be enjoyed with some BBQ and a game of corn-hole?
I’m simply talking about instead of going, “This is who we are, and if you want to know more about us, you should come to Sunday School with me at 7:00am on your one day off from work.” What if instead of doing that, we just started to engaged people where they were? What if we did it that way? Well, if you did that, you wouldn’t need so many church programs, would you? What if you went more bare bones with meeting space for the church? This would mean you could save a ton of money and put it towards something else, maybe something a little more constructive. What could one do with a million dollars they saved from not having twenty separate Bible study programs going on every single day of the week and an enormous building with a coffee shop, book store, restaurant, post office, school, and basketball gyms? Maybe start a hospital, or school, or sponsor children over seas through a trusted program, or feed more people that would otherwise go hungry, or supply medicine and medical treatment to those in need, or something like that? What if we tried it that way? And what if it overflowed out of the little area you live in, to the farthest parts of the Earth?
What if we didn’t apologize for what the Bible says or for what we believe, but we were more quick to acknowledge and grieve the church’s historical failure to always operate and serve in Christ-like love and humility? What if we admitted that we’re human too, and we will likely continue to make mistakes? But our hope is in Christ, and His grace is the motivating force that leads us to repentance. What if we yearned more to be salt and light in a decaying world of darkness, to love God and love people because He first loved us? What if we stopped seeing things as “us versus them”? We all come from dust, and to dust we will return. [reference Isaiah 58:1-14]
Okay, so I don’t have all the universal problem-solving answers for these questions, or fail-proof logistics on how to practically accomplish it all. Shouldn’t we, as believers in the greatest news in the world, be striving to operate a little more like this though? Shouldn’t we be engaging the world to push back the darkness? Love is not static, love moves. I mean, hasn’t this kind of thing worked in the past for numerous churches? Some people who have studied history would say yeah. I live in the “Bible Belt” though, which means we have to wade through a whole slew of people who are going to churches on Sunday just to punch their attendance clock, because for some reason down here you just go to church on Sunday. (It seems like a pretty lame hobby if that’s all it is. If it’s just a hobby you’re after, I’d rather get a boat and go out to the lake.) But we’re not after attendance, we’re after transformation. It’s not working if people aren’t being transformed. If you think this post is interesting or funny, but it doesn’t engage your heart and mind at all in any degree of a transforming nature… that’s a lose for me, that’s a loss for all of us.
Because really, what kingdom are we seeking? Are we seeking to enjoy and be a part of the extension of God’s kingdom, or trying to build our own little kingdom in fruitless vanity? Are we seeking the Father with reckless abandon; because we know that Christ doesn’t promise to make our life better, but He promises that He is better than life. Do we love God and want to know Him more? Do we want to play in His grace and work with grace-driven effort to build His great kingdom, not our own finite kingdom? Or are we constantly forgetting that all the Father has given us is not meant to terminate on ourselves? Are we still living with this amnesiac-type faith, forgetting that the Gospel is for our joy, even when we can’t see how in the moment; and our joy is not the purpose of the Gospel, but an inevitable outcome of it. Since the chief end of man is to enjoy God, and enjoy Him forever. Because we are far worse than we ever dared to believe, yet in Christ, we are far more loved than we ever imagined we could be.
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:13-16