The Popular Jesus

Popular Jesus

Over the past few years, I’ve heard an assortment of people say, “Let’s make Jesus popular again!” Hearing this has always rankled me somewhat, particularly when the words came from someone speaking them from a church pulpit. I mean, how could Jesus be unpopular in a church?

The phrase came up again today and I thought it time to delve a little deeper into what is really happening when we say this.

Take a look at words and terms associated with the definition of popular: approval, affection, well-known, common, attractive, trendy, crowd-pleasing, familiar, ordinary.

Are you cringing yet?

I sure did, and was almost in tears as I made this little discovery.

Is this what we want, fellow Christians? To reduce Jesus to the common, the ordinary, the trendy? Of course not. Yet we have done that very thing, in ignorance, perhaps, but it’s happened just the same. In our attempts to make church – and Jesus – relevant, we have disrespected Him as the Saviour, the Almighty God, the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords. We have succumbed to the world view which has long ago stopped seeing God for who and what He is.

How irreverent. How arrogant.

God didn’t send his Son to win a popularity contest. His motive wasn’t to present eternal salvation in a crowd-pleasing way to gain our approval. God doesn’t need brownie points.

He gave us his Son, Jesus Christ, because He loved us that much. Despite our sin and our stubbornness and our selfishness, the Father opened His heart and shared Jesus with us so that we could be with Him for all eternity. He’s not concerned about being popular. He just wants a relationship with His sons and daughters – us. And He wants us to bring other people into His family so they can have that same kind of relationship.

Oh, I love that!

My conclusion is that there is no such thing as the popular Jesus.

There is only ONE Jesus.

He is the One who loves me unconditionally. He is the One who sticks by me through my lowest lows and highest highs. He is the One who never lets me down, never forgets about me, and never throws me under the bus when I mess up.

There is no need to make Him popular, because there is no one higher!

 

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Overwhelm Me

Awe

I’m an avid dictionary/thesaurus user because I love words – I mean, REALLY love words. So when I want to expound on a particular word (which happens often), I go straight to these reference materials in order to look for a deeper meaning. Geeky, right? But then you already knew that about me.

Today, the word overwhelm required some fleshing out so that I could write this post. There were no surprises, but here is some of what I found: astonished, overcome, engulfed, visibly moved, blown-away, swept off one’s feet, speechless, conquered, defeated.

I think we’ve all experienced that overwhelming feeling of defeat, of feeling conquered by life. We often have too much on our plates, or yet another crisis raises its ugly head, or we become the dumping ground for every friend and family member’s problem. Then there are financial worries, health concerns, and that flat tire on the car. Every one of us has been there in some way.

But what about the flip side of being overwhelmed?

Like being overwhelmed by the presence of God.

To be so in awe of Him that we are overcome by His Holy Spirit.

To be so aware of how deeply He dwells in us that we can do nothing else but pour out to others His love and grace and peace.

To give Him control of every area of ourselves and be continually in the process of renewal and perfecting.

To seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.

To forget Him less and less each day.

To be so overwhelmed by His presence that we laugh and cry and raise our hands in worship and then fall on our knees because standing is no longer possible.

To acknowledge His sovereignty, His majesty, His power.

Overwhelm me, Lord. Astonish me, engulf me, blow me away, sweep me off my feet.

Hear my cry, O God; Attend to my prayer.
From the end of the earth I will cry to You,
When my heart is overwhelmed;
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.  (Psalm 61:1-3 NKJV)

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Holy Ground

Holy Ground

Then He said, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” Moreover He said, “I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God.  Exodus 3:5-6 (NKJV)

God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, telling him not to come near and to remove his sandals – not because the actual ground was holy, but because it was His presence  that made it holy. Moses responded, not only removing his sandals, but also by hiding his face. He understood that he was in the presence of the glory of the Almighty God, very conscious of his own sin and unworthiness. Moses was so aware of God’s holiness that he was afraid to look at Him.

We need to see something here.

When we come into His presence, whether that be individually or corporately, we should be entering that place as set apart for divine worship with reverence in our hearts, for wherever the Lord is constitutes holy ground.

Gathering together with the Church – the body of Christ – should lead us to holy ground. A place where we get to come and worship the Father. A place where we get to pour out our love to Him by serving those around us and putting their needs before our own. It’s not about us. It never was.

It’s about being a part of something sacred.

Something far greater than you or me.

Let’s not settle for something as small as what we humans define as God’s presence. He is so much bigger, so much greater, more powerful, more majestic, more awesome, more holy than our brains can even begin to comprehend. When we worship Him with complete abandonment and love, acknowledging His absolute sovereignty, we do indeed stand in His presence on holy ground.

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Amazing Grace

Grace

There has been a lot of talk in Christian circles about grace over the past decade or two. The word grace has been dissected, analyzed, and picked apart until I wonder if the real  meaning has been lost in translation. So, for the purposes of this post, I am going to stick to the basics.

Grace is pretty simple. In the Christian context (definition #2 above), God extends favour/kindness/forgiveness/ love to us and we don’t even deserve it. Not at all. We come to Him with all of our junk and baggage – our sins and problems and misdeeds – while He just nods knowingly and forgives it all. And then forgets it, like it never happened. That’s Grace 101.

We get to bask in the glory of the Father’s love and acceptance – His grace – assured that we belong to Him. We are His sons and daughters, after all.

Hold on a minute.

We need to take a look at definition #1 above. Uh, what? You mean there’s something we should be doing with this grace thing?

Absolutely.

God’s amazing grace isn’t ours to keep bottled up and locked away, greedy little people that we sometimes are. His grace is supposed to be extended by us to others – showing them love and kindness, serving them NO MATTER WHAT. That means forgiving the person who wronged us, serving the person who stole from us, loving the person who insulted us. We don’t get to pick and choose to whom we show grace.

God doesn’t.

He saved you, didn’t He?

Then we come to definition #3 above, which may seem like the odd one out. But think about it for a minute. This describes a few attributes, I think, of a person showing grace to others – a person who has first received grace from God.

Perhaps it’s time we start to practice what we preach. Maybe keep our mouths shut about how much we understand God’s grace until we can be no respecter of persons when it comes to extending it.

And maybe have a long conversation with the Father about it. He’s got some pretty awesome stuff to teach you.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. Ephesians 2:8-9 (NLT)

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Gear Up

Motivation

This graphic reminded me of Hebrews 10:24-25, which says: Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. (NLT)

Our pastor quoted this bit of Scripture in his sermon yesterday and it stuck with me. (Yes, I actually do pay attention from time to time.) The thing is, we read/hear these words and we get it – sort of – but do we really?

Look at the image again and imagine it is the Church.

Do we understand that when we take one of those gears out, the whole thing falls apart?

That’s you, the green one. Or the blue or the orange or the pink one. The machinery is chugging along just great until you decide that you didn’t like it when the pastor quoted those words from Hebrews. Maybe someone in the church said something that hurt you or offended you. Maybe you’re confused. Maybe you’re just plain rebellious and arrogant. Whatever the “reason”, you decide to leave, taking your cog with you and hardly giving it another thought. Someone else will step in, right?

But no one does, and the machine stops.

You don’t care, because you’re long gone.

The church, meanwhile, struggles to get back up and running. It limps along for a while because it’s missing your gear, which just happened to be a vital piece of the machine, just as they all are. It’s going to be a struggle for a long time until another piece fits in.

And truthfully, you’re struggling too, if you’ve checked out for the wrong reason. You’re carrying your gear around, looking for a place to plug it in, but nothing is quite right.

You need to know that every single one of you is indispensable and the body of Christ cannot function perfectly without you. Nobody else can do what you can do, or be who you are. Your gear may need to be oiled or adjusted here and there, but removing it from the machine is seldom an option.

The point is that we are called to gather together, to motivate each other, to encourage and stir each other up. We are supposed to love and help one another, in good times and in bad. We are a community – a family.

To be blunt, consider someone else instead of yourself for a chance.

Gear up. That someone needs you.

 

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Alone

alone-in-a-crowd

A long time ago, someone told me that they never felt as alone and insecure as they did when they went to church on Sunday mornings. I didn’t understand it at the time, because my whole existence revolved around church life – social and spiritual. Then our situation changed, making it necessary to find a new church home. We were ill-prepared for the shock.

Instead of being embraced by our our new Christian “friends”, we were held at arm’s length and viewed cautiously, skeptically, and often rudely by a group of believers who should have been the people we could trust. We were at a loss as to how to deal with the criticisms we endured under the guise of correction. We felt so alone. I still wonder why we stayed there as long as we did, because it clearly was not a place where we experienced the liberty to grow in Christ and worship the Father as we so badly wanted to. We finally moved on.

I told that little story because I still see the same things happening in churches and Christian communities. I can’t help but look around me and see those on the fringes – the ones who are sitting alone at the far end of the back pew, or standing by themselves during the post-service fellowship, a cup of coffee in their hands and a wistful look on their faces. They may not be suffering ridicule from fellow Christians in the verbal sense, but are they suffering just the same because of our obliviousness to their needs?

I have to ask myself some hard questions, the first one being: WHAT IS MY PROBLEM? Am I too timid to approach that person who was brave enough to come to church by herself? No. Am I afraid she is going to dump all her problems on me in a fifteen-minute monologue? No, but even if she did, so what? Do I think that I am too important to bother with her? No! Then what? What is my problem?

I have no excuses. And excuses are mostly invalid anyway.

Here’s my conclusion: We. Are. Selfish. We’re self-centred human beings who call ourselves Christians, but fail to act like it.

Okay, you probably didn’t like that, but (shrug) whatever. It’s the truth. I can say that because it’s my truth just as much as it is yours.

I’m going to challenge you. Next time you go to church, make a deliberate effort to look for that “alone” person. Instead of criticizing them (mentally or verbally), walk right up and ask if you can sit with them. Invite them out for lunch or coffee. Find out about them. And that means keeping your own opinions and life speeches to yourself for once. Ask them if you can pray with them. Invite them to your bible study or home group. And be sincere about it.

That’s how church is done, folks.

It’s not about your Sunday morning social club or your did-you-see-what-she-is-wearing conversation. It’s not about whether or not you liked the music or the pastor’s sermon. It’s not about being first in line for the chocolate donuts at the end of the service. It’s actually not about you at all.

It’s about Jesus in you and about demonstrating His love to others. It’s about being the light in a very dark world full of alone people.

Matthew 5:14-16 says this: You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. (NKJV)

Get your light out from under that basket and let it shine. Find someone to share it with.

You can do it!

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De-Conform

different

To all the wordaholics reading this, I am well aware that de-conform is not a word. I made it up for this blog post. Wordaholic, for that matter, isn’t a real word either. Just let your OCD tendencies slip a little for the sake of literary license, okay?

I read Romans 12:1-2 in The Message Bible, and this is what it says:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

I know, I know. I’ve caused you more grief by using a paraphrase instead of an actual bible translation. Live with it. But don’t miss my point.

Which is to de-conform.

Remember my last post (click here) about the crowd-following bridge-jumpers? The whole de-conforming thing fits right in. Read the two verses above again and get a small glimpse of what the Apostle Paul is saying here. In a nutshell, THINK! Use your brain.

In a world gone berserk – come on, let’s call it what it is – going against the culture is unpopular, and can even get you in trouble if your attention isn’t fixed on God. But when you ask Him, hear Him and include Him in your life, He’s going to give you some pretty specific instructions. He will change you. He will bring out the best in you.

I had the opportunity to pray with and speak into the life of a young woman today. The details of the situation are hers to share, not mine, but the amazing and completely God thing about it all was that because I put aside my own comfort zone in order to do what the Holy Spirit directed me to do, this young woman got something she would have otherwise missed. It had nothing to do with me, except that I was obedient. It had everything to do with her receiving a gift that the Lord wanted to give her.

As it says in the above passage, readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. I clearly recognized God’s direction in that moment (believe me, I don’t always), and I acted on it immediately. As a result, a precious woman was blessed. How awesome is our God!

So, what does de-conform mean? (Again, my own word, so my own sort of definition.) Rather than chugging along with the crowd, I am striving to hear the voice of my Father so that when He tells me to move in a different direction, I won’t even hesitate. It’s a process. But He is so patiently teaching me, waiting for me to catch up, nudging me along, and scooping me out of the ditches when I stumble. Oh, He is good!

I don’t want to be a photocopy of everyone else. I want to be what God wants me to be – a reflection of His Son, Jesus Christ. I want to be obedient and faithful and true to what He has for me to do. To say. To be. Holy and acceptable to Him.

De-conform.

It’s a real thing.

 

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