Archive for April, 2010
“Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath.” Maybe you recognize this line from “Hymn to Proserpine” by Algernon Charles Swinburne; I remember reading the poem in a high school English course.
Swinburne, living in Victorian England, felt that Christian piety had sucked the joy out of life, forbidding the very things that bring pleasure to life. He longed for the days of unbridled paganism.
Sadly, Swinburne wasn’t the first person to feel that way about Christianity, nor was he the last. Many look at Christians and see a somber lot, living a life filled with prohibitions. As the old line says, “Everything enjoyable is either illegal, immoral or fattening.”
When you look at Jesus Christ himself, you see something very different. People looked at him and complained that he didn’t follow enough rules. He went to parties with the wrong kind of people. Where other religious men lived ascetic lives, Jesus lived in a way that people accused him of being a glutton and a drunkard. The first recorded miracle that he performed involved providing wine for a marriage feast! Does that sound like a “pale Galilean”?
No! It’s we Christians who have misunderstood what we’re supposed to be. It’s easy to think that saying no to everything is the best way to be holy. Even back in Bible times, this was a problem. The apostle Paul wrote to one church: “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”?” (Colossians 2:20-21) Even then, some thought that Christians were following a pale Galilean.
In his book A Severe Mercy, Sheldon Vanuaken wrote:
“The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians—when they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths.”
If you think that Christianity is about living like a pale Galilean, you haven’t been exposed to real Christianity. The Christian life is a life of joy, not sadness. It is a life of victory, not defeat. It is a life full of passion, not boredom.
Like Swinburne, I have no interest in following a pale Galilean. Unlike Swinburne, I know that Jesus Christ offers abundant life, colorful life, zestful life. Isn’t that what we’d all like to have?
We have a great coffee maker at work. You make one cup of your personal favorite drink at a time. You can have any number of different kinds of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. Even better, you can brew your cup at whatever strength you desire: weak, medium, or strong. You can make it caffeinated, or decaf. And it only takes about one minute to make.
If Christians could ever present Christianity like that, we could interest a lot more people. Christianity in small doses… however you want it at any particular time. If you are feeling particularly religious, you can get a strong dose of Jesus one day. If not, go a little weaker. Jesus to suit your taste – just like you want him to be.
Some churches probably do present a “consumer” Jesus. There seems to be a great deal of emphasis on not offending anyone, on meeting everyone’s perceived or expressed needs. Messages are tailored to present a Jesus that is not too demanding, comes in small doses, and can fit all your perceptions.
Except that is not how Jesus presented himself. He is offended by religion that had forgotten God. He calls sinners to repentance. He calls followers to die with him. He promises persecution and suffering in this life. He asks you for a total commitment. He demands complete obedience.
He does this because he has earned that right. He came to this earth to find you because His Father wants you to live forever in heaven. He died so unholy people could live forever with a holy God. He did it because He loves us more than anyone has ever loved us. He did it so we can live forever.
I can’t help you find a “coffee maker” Jesus. But if you want to know more about the real Savior who asks you to die so you can live forever… then write me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or join our blog discussion.
There was an old country doctor who would take his dog along with him when visiting patients. The dog would remain outside while the doctor went in for the house call.
On one occasion, the physician went to the home of a man with a terminal disease who didn’t seem to have much time to live. The man confessed to the doctor his fears about death and said, “What’s it like when you die?”
The doctor thought for a moment, then got up and opened the front door. His loyal canine friend, who had been waiting patiently on the porch, gleefully bounded in to join his master.
The doctor turned to the dying man and said, “Do you see this dog? He didn’t have any idea what was on this side of that door. All he knew was that his master was there, and he wanted to be with him.”
“That’s how I feel about death,” the physician continued. “I don’t really know all the whats and hows about dying. I’m not totally sure what’s on the other side of that door. But I know who is there, and that’s enough for me. I’m looking forward to being with my Master.”
Death can be a frightening thing. There is so much uncertainty. There are a lot of things I just don’t know.
Some claim to be able to explain everything that will happen when we die. I’m not one of those people. I don’t know a lot of things about death.
Some debate what life after death will be like. I don’t join those discussions. I don’t know all the details about what will happen when I die.
I do know who is waiting for me. I do know that I will leave this world to be with Jesus. That’s enough knowledge for me.
The apostle John wrote: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2) We don’t know what we will be, but we will be like him. And we will be with him.
You don’t have to be afraid of what’s on the other side of the door. You can focus on who is on the other side of the door. Isn’t that a better way to approach the end of our life here on earth?
I enjoy visiting museums and I like church buildings. I never realized I could get them confused until a visit to Spain. I saw amazing church buildings with incredible architecture. They were old, and their history was incredible. There were monuments and artifacts from centuries past. It was overwhelming. They were featured stops on the city tours. So I begin asking the guides about attendance today. Some of them no longer had worship services. Some of them had small rooms partitioned off for current members. In most of them, there were more tourists during an average day than worshipers on a given Sunday.
There are a number of lessons to learn about why churches become museums. Who was it that forgot their purpose? Who lost sight of the mission? Who lost sight of Jesus? Did each new generation fail to make their faith genuine and personal? Were they more concerned with church buildings than building a church? Did they church building become the church? These are valuable questions and worth asking.
But I want to say a word to any of you who may be thinking about Jesus and church. Do not confuse the building with the church. Church is people. It is community. It is family. A church may meet in a building large or small. It may meet in homes. Or in a coffee shop. Or a school. You may visit a church building… but you are invited to become part of a church.
So if you want to visit a church building, I can tell where there are amazing museums. But if you are interested in being part of a living community as the family of God, then I can help you find that also. Write me at email@example.com. Or leave a comment.