For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost. (Luke 19:10)
Few words come with as much comfort as Jesus’ clarity here as to why He came to us. Some scholars even believe this is the central statement of the Gospel account of Luke and Jesus’ mission.
As comforting as that statement is, a crucial question hangs in the air: what does it mean to be saved by Jesus?
The answer to such a question informs what kind of King Jesus is, the kind of Gospel (Luke 8:1) He came bringing and proclaiming, and the kind of implications His Kingdom reign mediates. The answer to this question impacts how we see every bit of our new life now because of Jesus and our promised everlasting life into eternity with Jesus. Ultimately the answer does not inform what it means to be a mature Christian, an elder or a leader in the faith. Rather, the answer informs what it does mean to be a Christian.
Because of the weight of such a question, this is where we may be tempted to do a bit of textual hopscotch jumping around the New Testament everywhere the word “saved” appears in a concordance. In so doing we seek to string together a series of one verse statements to come up with a broader answer to our question.
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for this central statement of Jesus in Luke 19 to be taken out of its context, and as theologian, Dr. D.A. Carson would often remind me and my fellow seminarians in class: “A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text.” Dr. Carson’s wordplay highlights how we can take a text out of its context and then easily import our own meaning. This is how one can support various ideologies whether completely heretical or theologically incomplete.
Therefore, the best way to navigate what any text means is to look first at its context. So first, one must ask “what does salvation mean here?”
What does salvation mean here?
Luke’s Gospel Account. In the context of holy Scripture, we find ourselves firmly situated in the Gospel of Luke, wherein Luke has sought to bring an orderly and reliable account of who Jesus is and what He came to do (Luke 1:3) .
In chapter 1, Luke sets out that this Jesus is not merely an astounding leader popping up disconnected from history. Rather, this Jesus is the promised Son of David, the Messiah (Hebrew), the Christ (Greek). He is the King who God promised years before would sit on a throne in a Kingdom that would know no end (Luke 1:32-33).
Therefore it’s no surprise that when we find Jesus declaring the Gospel (translated “good news” in many translations) He both proclaims and brings the gospel of the Kingdom. Throughout the whole of Luke we are asking what kind of King is Jesus and what kind of Kingdom is He bringing to save us from the oppression and brokenness of our world.
The title, “Son of Man,” that Jesus uses to signify His identity both here in Luke 19:10, and throughout Luke’s account, is another one of those many messianic titles (Daniel 7:13-14) that sparks interest in Jesus’ royal identity while simultaneously not allowing the listener to place their messianic ideology on Him. A lot of expectations were swirling in the first century as to what kind of messiah would finally deliver Israel.
When Jesus engages people in the narratives, these are not isolated incidents. He is ushering in His salvation and defining His reign one story at a time. One such space where this happens is with the chief tax collector, Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus’ Encounter. In Luke 19, we find an interesting dynamic in which Zacchaeus is clearly on the lookout for Jesus, but surprisingly Jesus is also looking for Zacchaeus. It is surprising because Zacchaeus’ status is that of an internal oppressor and betrayer of his own people. Then in a strange turn of events, when a “house” was more than just a home, Jesus invites himself over for dinner.
One’s house in the ancient Near East was an economic center, a place that situated one’s honor (or shame), and might actually be made of various homes of various families and servants. Jesus was the highly honored Messiah and Zacchaeus the scorn of Israel, and yet Jesus bestows honor on Zacchaeus that he did not deserve.
In many ways, the story of the rich ruler earlier in Luke 18 looms over this story. When the rich ruler engages Jesus he’s unwilling to give Jesus the final word over every aspect of his life including family and wealth. Will Zacchaeus be like the rich ruler? Will he be more tethered to his wealth or to Jesus? The tension is thick.
Then — without clear directive from Jesus — Zacchaeus offers to give half of his wealth to the poor and provide above and beyond reparations to those he’s swindled. What we may miss is how Jesus not dictating the response of Zacchaeus is important for his standing in the community.
King Jesus extends honor graciously. It therefore allows space for Zacchaeus to respond on his own initiative to the gracious honor bestowed upon him by Jesus, which in turn sets the stage for Zacchaeus’ reconciliation to the community.
It is only then that Jesus says (and the order of the narrative is important), “Today, salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9).
There’s that word “house” again. Salvation has not just come to Zacchaeus otherwise that is what Luke would have recorded. But that is not what Jesus sought to communicate. As we follow the text we read that salvation came to Zacchaeus’ house. It has impacted his person, his economics, the community’s economics (those who experienced theft were restored), and even his communal belonging. Within a contextual reading of Luke 19:10, we quickly come to understand that Jesus’ salvation involves more than just our ethereal souls.
For King Jesus, when His salvation breaks in He not only saves us from our broken past, He also saves us for new life which encompasses our personal, spiritual, communal and financial outworkings of everyday life both now and into eternity.
This is a deeply biblical framework for salvation by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. But is that how we often think of salvation?
If when we say “I’m saved” we only mean our souls and not the radically reoriented whole life of repentance and reconciliation, then we’ve left Jesus’ thought of salvation incomplete.
Someone then may say, “But in Romans 10:9, I read, ‘…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’” Of course we must detail out what “heart” means in Scripture, what belief means in Scripture, which is more than just mental assent, and how the declaration that “Jesus is Lord” has lordship implications. For what is Jesus not Lord over? What was the overall argument Paul was making in Romans? Once again: context, context, context.
If this robust nature of salvation is in view here and has implications across Scripture, how is it that this view of salvation is foreign to so many of us?
Salvation as a Bridge
As I grew up in the church, I often saw an illustration that was meant to communicate how Jesus came to save me. It is both helpful, but also incomplete.
I grew up hearing that I am on one side of a great canyon too large to cross on my own. The reason I stood on one side of the canyon was due to my sin. On the other side of this impassable canyon was God. He stood there because of his holiness and perfection. No matter how many good things I did, I could not cross the canyon.
So — as the illustration displays — when Jesus died to save me from my sins on the cross, if I trust in Him and His sufficient work on the cross, I am able to be saved. My sins were forgiven because of Jesus’ death in my place, and Jesus’ work on the cross on my behalf was the bridge to reconciliation with God.
The result of my salvation is that I get to spend eternity with God in heaven. Period.
Growing up if someone asked me, “Are you saved?” They meant this kind of salvation.
Now, that is good news, and it is a crucial part of the good news. But, as we saw with Zacchaeus, that is not all the salvation that Jesus came to bring.
Saved from Other… Saved Folk.
For starters, Jesus came not only to save “me” but to save “us.” The image above shows a picture of an individual and God, which can easily (even if not intentionally) communicate that the salvation Jesus has come to bring is now a “me and Jesus” life and community is “optional.”
As the old saying goes, “What you win people with, you win them to.” In the midst of our individualizing salvation, is it any wonder that Christians on a massive scale erroneously believe they can plumb the depths of their salvation in isolation from a church community and actually be closer to Christ?
This is a serious concern because we have made a crucial component of salvation the exclusive summary of salvation, and the outcome is a salvation without a church. Maybe a more snarky way to put it is a misunderstanding of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone through an individualized lens has led some to be all alone.
We need a more biblical picture of salvation.
A Better Picture of Salvation
In Amy Sherman’s Kingdom Calling she offers a more biblical illustration to mine the depths of the salvation Jesus came to bring in His Kingdom. She shares this graph from Intervarsity leader James Choung to guide us in a better way.
First, we see we are damaged by evil and sin (upper right circles). Sin we have committed and sin that has been committed against us. We see it, feel it, and long for it to be made right. (Which if you are talking with someone who is not a follower of Jesus, this as a starting point builds common ground to share the gospel). But the difference is in how this image communicates the broader breakdown of God’s world. Our sin and evil not only separates us from God, but also from each other, creates fragmentation within ourselves, and cultivates a distortion of creation and our call to care for God’s world.
When Jesus came (bottom right circles), He came to restore the good we were designed for in the beginning (upper left circles) which encompasses all aspects of life. Is there reconciliation with God on a personal level? Yes! But there is also reconciliation with others, with broader creation, and yes, even within ourselves.
And that isn’t the end. We are not just saved from evil but for good (bottom left circles)! We have been saved as a community of believers to be agents of reconciliation this world over. The church is a redemptive community on mission together.
In the words of James Choung, “Jesus enticed people into a kingdom mission from the outset.”
This is what salvation in Jesus means. This is the salvation Jesus came to bring. This is King Jesus’ Kingdom agenda to reconcile all things to Himself (Colossians 1:20). This is what Jesus means when He says salvation came to Zacchaeus’ house.
And rather than robbing us of our personal relationship with Christ, it adds another level of comfort to the astounding claim of Jesus that He came to seek and save the lost in a robust way.
Are we willing to be saved like this?
Now the question becomes frankly a question that is posed to people who approach Jesus in the gospels again and again: are we willing to be saved like this? Will we let Jesus’ grace reorient everything, or nothing? Will we embrace this kind of Kingdom and this kind of King?
Because Jesus wants all of us to be saved, not just parts of us. He wants all the broken, mangled, and messed up areas of our lives both personally and corporately as a church, and He longs to save.
And He will take any of us as long as He can have every part of us. That’s the beauty of Zacchaeus’ story too. Jesus sought the worst and His grace led to whole-life repentance and salvation.
Will we let Him save us like that?
If we do, we won’t just be waiting for heaven to come one day, but will experience the reign of Christ in the everyday. We won’t just know a deeper joy within ourselves in our personal private disciplines, but also experience a greater depth of joy with one another. We will see the reconciliation that Paul was zealous about within the church, the poor and vulnerable who James was concerned for would be cared for within the church, and those with great power, wealth and status, like Zacchaeus, would go to great lengths to leverage their power to make their communities more whole.
On top of all that, we will see a whole host of people who don’t know Jesus and are uninterested in a salvation of disembodied souls, finally hear and see all that Jesus has come to bring and proclaim in His Kingdom. We will finally see more Zacchaeuses’ come to know and trust Jesus and more Jerichos (Luke 19:1, 8) experience restoration through repentance.
And in the end, that is good news for one’s soul.
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For Further Study:
Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good by Amy Shermon. The chapter of note above is How the Gospel of the Kingdom Nurtures the Tsaddiqim. Also within this chapter, James Choung talks of how sharing the gospel with unbelievers using the circles paradigm has been catalytic in their gospel conversations.
The Great Failure
Some of the greatest failures in the church over the past few years have had less to do with what is professed in our words and more around what is performed in our lives.
Nationally visible leaders who were bulwarks for truth were found to be living a lie themselves, and the revealed hypocrisy shook the church. Many championed mouthpieces of Gospel information lacked deep Gospel formation and so brought defamation to Christ’s name.
That in no way is meant to be a judgment on others, but it should raise the alarm on our framework of discipleship. We cannot merely know information about God. While information is important, it is not sufficient for the salvation which we long for and need (James 2:19).
One sign of true salvation and evidence that we know God relationally is to experience His transformative presence in our lives (Romans 8:1-11). And yet, in our well-meaning emphasis to highlight true information, we can all too easily neglect rich Spirit-empowered formation. The two are not to be divorced. We are both saved from sin and also to new life in Christ. A disciple of Jesus knows who Jesus is as described in God’s word; professes the good news of Jesus life, death and resurrection; and is also marked by both the precepts and practices of Jesus.
The Great Invitation
This kind of vibrant gospel-shaped life flows from an intimate relationship with Jesus and His people. Jesus did not just give us the Great Commission and affirm the Great Commandment, but He invited us to live with Him when He gave His Great Invitation found in Matthew 11:28-30:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (ESV)
The brilliant gospel writer Matthew makes Jesus’ desire abundantly clear. Jesus doesn’t want us to just know about Him from afar but to walk with Him and learn from Him intimately.
At Christ Community, we believe we become the people God designed us to be in the yoke of Christ. The Christian life cannot be summed up in a theological pop quiz (although true information often precedes worthwhile actions), but to profess Jesus as Lord and Savior is a long obedience in the same direction.
It is out of this biblical conviction Christ Community has developed theFormed.life. TheFormed.life is a daily resource that helps equip us to more thoughtfully and consistently be formed by God’s Word and God’s ways with God’s people.
What to Expect
Every day there is provided a small step we can take together to be intentionally cultivating various spiritual habits in our lives. Some days will have video teaching or articles to go deeper. Other days, there will be guidance in practical spiritual disciplines. There may be repetition to help cultivate a new weekly rhythm, while other parts of the week may rotate through fresh practices.
Every bit of theFormed.life is designed to provide everyday steps toward greater wholeness and influence in Christ. Our prayer is that the Holy Spirit would work through this resource to form us into more faithful followers of Jesus in all of life.
Because — to be sure — we are all being formed by someone or something. Whether it’s by your choice of media, news, daily rhythms, or relationships, all have a part to play in who we are becoming. Our perspective, posture and practices are all being tweaked by our cultural location. If we are not intentionally setting our sights on the practices and precepts of Christ daily, we may find ourselves deformed in alarming ways only after we’ve experienced the damage in our lives.
How to Join
We hope you’ll join us on this journey to a more faithfully formed life into Christlikeness and so know more deeply God’s presence among us. To join us, you can sign up here, and theformed.life will be in your inbox every morning waiting to help each of us take that next step together. You can also visit our website if you’d like to explore more.
Let’s put the “formed” back in biblically “informed.” Let’s take that next step together.
What’s the primary difference between a classic Bollywood and Hollywood love story?
More than the amount of dancing, the difference lies in what makes the ending truly happy.
In a Hollywood love story, at the center are two individuals on their way to finding each other and a truer version of themselves in the process. “Following your heart” comes first. In a classic Bollywood love story, it’s never just two people. The family comes first. Actually, falling in love is often what lands the key characters in trouble, and if there is to be a happy ending, reconciliation with parents and family must take place.
Art and film can reveal some of the deepest but most invisible everyday realities. In the United States, we swim in the water of individualism. Individualism puts the self at the center of the world, and we are often unaware how this perspective informs (and even deforms) our understanding of the Christian life.
If you take note of the pronouns in nearly every major contemporary worship song in the US, you’ll notice a trend. Just looking at sheer frequency, it’s easy to conclude “me,” “I,” and “you” are the focus. We tend to emphasize the Christian life as a “me and Jesus” affair.
For example, Fernando Ortega’s chart-topping song, Give me Jesus, highlights this focus.
When I am alone, give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus
Give me Jesus
You can have all this world
But give me Jesus
And yet interestingly enough, so does LANY’s recent song, i still talk to jesus:
I don’t change my ways, I don’t change my shirt
I go from the club straight to the church
It’s the same prayer, it’s the same hurt
Maybe I drink too much
Fall in and out of love
There’s been a couple of times
I’ve done a couple lines
I lie to my mama, I smoke marijuana
Most of the time I do what I wanna
You might not believe it
But I still talk to Jesus
And herein lies the biggest divide between older and younger Christians in the US. As I talk to younger Christians who are frustrated with their parents, or parents who are discouraged by where their children are at in their faith journey, I’ve come to see it’s less a different understanding of the gospel, and more a different cultural application of the individualistic framing of the gospel. While there are clear differences, the main point is the same: the Christian life is between me and Jesus.
Where do we go from here? The answer is not a return to a former cultural application of an individualistic framework. Rather, we need to return to a more robustly biblical framework of the gospel which also includes the collective alongside the individual.
Hollywood has something to learn from Bollywood.
Rather than understanding salvation and the gospel in purely individualistic terms and reading the Bible looking for what the text means for “me,” we need to learn to swim in different water. We need the sea of Galilee, not a chlorine rich pool. In an ancient near-Eastern (not Western) framework, the biblical authors didn’t think about life or write Scripture from a primarily individualistic frame.
With this in mind, we turn to the final chapters in the Gospel account of Luke seeking to understand what the original authors meant to convey, and what the original audience would have heard.
In one sense, all of the Gospel of Luke is written from a collective perspective with an emphasis on “us” and not just “me,” and the language of the kingdom puts the collective emphasis front and center. Fascinatingly enough, Luke’s Gospel doesn’t end with Jesus just equipping individuals to have a personal relationship with Jesus on their own. He’s inviting them to embrace Jesus as King of a kingdom over His people throughout the world. This becomes more explicit in Luke’s “Part 2:”, the book of Acts, but it’s also right here in Luke’s Gospel account if we can relearn how to see through Luke’s eyes.
Once we have a different perspective, we begin to understand why one rich man is called to give everything he has to the poor to follow Jesus, and why Jesus says salvation has come to the house of a particular tax collector only after that man announces he’ll give reparations. It gives insight as to why Jesus tells us to pay our taxes, and why leadership is cultivated primarily with a basin and towel service in the community.
In Luke’s Gospel (and every gospel account for that matter), if you want to know Jesus and follow Him, then you can’t just embrace Jesus. You also need to embrace His kingdom, which He is bringing. For Jesus didn’t come to help us escape the world, He came to reclaim it.
But what does His kingdom look like? Do we even know what we’re asking when we ask as we are taught to ask by Jesus Himself: “Your kingdom come” (Luke 11:2)?
Jesus and His kingdom seem absolutely backward from the way everything else operates, and yet it’s both Jesus and His kingdom this world needs. It’s what we need. It’s what our city needs. And yes, it’s even what you and I need personally.
Join us as we Rediscover Jesus’ Kingdom through the Gospel account of Luke.
If you would like to read and process Scripture with a frame closer to the original authors, here are two resources that are a great place to start:
- Misreading Scripture with Individualistic Eyes: Patronage, Honor, and Shame in the Biblical World by E. Randolph Richards and Richard James (pseudonym of a cross-cultural trainer who is also involved in leading church planting teams in the Middle East)
- Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels by Kenneth Bailey
From the beginning, Christ Community has sought to not only share information about Jesus but also be a catalyst in spiritual formation toward Christlikeness. Core to our DNA is the longing to multiply whole disciples, not just inform the masses.
Open Here has been a helpful tool for church-wide discipleship into the habit of daily Bible reading for the last several years. The purpose has never been about content or quantity (though those are important), but to form a spiritual habit.
Why focus on the habit of Bible reading? We believe that reading the Bible daily is an astounding place to glean truthful information. The Bible informs God’s people (John 17:8), and we want to know who God is and what He has done through His son Jesus.
In addition to being a source of truth, we believe the Bible sanctifies God’s people, or grows us in godliness (John 17:17). More pointedly, the time spent in consistent Bible reading is where the Holy Spirit goes about His work of transformation. We see how the Bible powerfully transforms God’s people (Ezekiel 37:1-8) into more whole and holy people, and we want to dwell in the source of His transformation.
Needless to say, we love the Bible at Christ Community, but our hunger to grow in Christlikeness and equip our church to do so together has sparked a desire to expand our focus into additional disciplines. We want to grow in prayer, fasting, meditation, and more! The spiritual habit of reading the Bible, while extremely important, is not to be the only spiritual habit in the lives of Jesus’ apprentices.
Therefore, the month of December is the last Open Here Bible reading plan. While that will no longer be a resource we provide, our goal of spiritual formation will take on new life. We are hard at work creating a new resource that still engages the Bible, but will also further equip our church with a more robust list of spiritual habits informed by Jesus.
We are excited about who God is forming us to be as a church together. Head over to theFormed.life to sign up for this new resource. We believe it will help us all become more formed into a people like Jesus.
If you would still like to follow a Bible reading plan, here are a few exceptional options to consider for the new year:
- The Bible Recap
The Bible Recap “Chronological” reading plan follows the story of Scripture as the events occurred. This one-year plan corresponds to The Bible Recap podcast (available wherever you listen to podcasts). We recommend listening to the corresponding podcast episode after you do each day’s reading.
- Read through the Bible Chronologically
The Blue Letter Bible “Chronological” plan is compiled according to recent historical research, taking into account the order in which the recorded events actually occurred. This is a fantastic plan to follow if you wish to add historical context to your reading of the Bible. If the schedule provided is followed, the entire Bible will be read in one calendar year.
- Read through the Bible Canonically (as laid out in most English Bibles)
The Blue Letter Bible “Canonical” plan goes straight through the Bible — from Genesis to Revelation. You will be supplied with reading for each day of the week as a steady guide toward finishing the entire Bible in one calendar year.
“I guess it’s been about a year now since I’ve been at church. Has it really been that long? I guess so. Man, that’s crazy.”
After I prayed to open a lunch gathering for a dynamic organization in Kansas City, I sat down at my assigned table. The gentleman next to me said he really appreciated the opening prayer. In my attempt to make a connection with this stranger, I asked him if he was engaged in a church in the area. That’s when he gave his response above. He looked surprised at himself. It pains me to say: I wasn’t.
Since he was so transparent, I went ahead and asked him, “Why? If you think church is important, why haven’t you been engaged? I mean no judgment. I’m just genuinely curious.” His response was epic: “No one in my family wants to really go. My teenagers have their plans with their friends, and Sunday’s the only day to work on my golf game. I guess life just happened.”
It was the most honest response I’d heard in a while, but since then I feel like I’ve heard that a lot. “Life just happened, and time got away from me. Has it been six months since I’ve been to church? Geez.” Life…just…happened.
There are a lot of folks who are frustrated with church for one reason or another. And I get it. Different local churches have done some terrible things. Pastors and priests have abused power and people. For those of us where that’s been true, I’m sorry. Seriously. Alongside of this, though, more and more people are just “over” church. Church just isn’t as compelling as _________(fill in the blank with literally anything else).
Attending church has become erratic for most and nonexistent for many in the United States. Whether it’s the rise of nones (not nuns) or empty church buildings, self-proclaimed Christians are looking to other options to fill their Sunday. And maybe that’s you as you’re reading this.
Ok…so why church anyway? Why meet together with other believers like Christians have for over 2,000 years? We could talk about commands in Scripture that highlight the community of faith. When Jesus commands us to do something, it is always for our good. It may not seem like the most obvious proximate good, but He always has our best good in mind even if we can’t see it from where we’re standing.
We could focus on duty, where there is always responsibility with privileges. But instead, let’s focus on value. Let’s not center in on duty but delight. I’m convinced we’re missing out when we’re missing gathering together to worship every week.
Now to be clear, I’m not pumped about Sunday mornings because I’m a pastor. You should have a healthy skepticism when a pastor pushes Sunday. I didn’t become a pastor because I love the pageantry of Sundays. I felt called to pastor, and I delight in seeing people follow Jesus and become more whole in Him.
The biblical authors had a conviction for deep intimacy within a community of faith as essential to following Jesus over the long haul. And you won’t get that without making being there a priority on the regular.
So why is going to church on Sunday greater than everything else you could fill your time with on Sunday? Here are at least three reasons that have kept me believing in the church gathered as better than anything else I could do on Sunday morning.
1) Communion with God.
Far too often we focus on the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence of the individual Christian at the expense of the Spirit’s unique presence with the people of God when we gather together. The Holy Spirit doesn’t just dwell in ME but also dwells among US.
In Ephesians 2:22, the Apostle Paul paints a picture of the church as individual stones laid together to build a temple where the Holy Spirit dwells. The Spirit of God is uniquely present when His people come together! Then in Ephesians 4:18-21, this “filling of the Spirit” is cultivated by the community of Jesus engaged together in activities that invite His presence.
This is more than having a quiet time by yourself or meeting with a friend over coffee. The church is an invitation to experience community with people who aren’t like us but are one with us by the Spirit of God.
Maybe you’re thinking, “That’s not my experience when I go to church.” I get it. What I will say, though, is that when I’m looking for it, God has met me in some of the most boring and surprising of places where His word is preached, songs are sung praising His Name, and God’s people gather around the Lord’s table to receive and remember.
What if before you joined with the community of faith on Sunday, you asked God to meet you as He promised He would? What if you went expecting His presence with His people? What if you went looking for Him? He might just surprise you.
2) Belonging to a family.
A lot of times we can talk about the church as a community, which is important. It is! But Scripture talks about the church WAY MORE as a family. Jesus calls those who obey the will of God the Father His brothers, sisters, and mothers (Matthew 12:46-50). And like every family, there are crazy aunts and weird uncles. Family fights, meals, and parties.
It seems like today so many of us are like a college freshman who returns home for the first time. You come home after being gone for a few months and things feel really awkward those first few hours home. You’ve changed and so has life back home. When all we do is go to church sporadically, church is the incessant awkward experience. And who wants that?
One of the most oft quoted passages about church engagement is Hebrews 10:19-25. But that isn’t talking about church attendance full stop. It’s talking about meaningful relationships within the church family. You can spur one another on to love and good deeds only if you know each other, and really 90% of relationship is just showing up consistently with enough proximity that relationships can build over time.
And that’s hard when a trip to a Caribbean resort for a weekend is available on Groupon or your college friends are getting married every weekend of the spring. Travel is exciting, but it comes at a cost. Are you counting the cost of each trip you take?
Now maybe you’re thinking, “Gabe, I’ve gone to church for years, and it’s never felt like a family.” First, I’m sorry. Families are hard, and sometimes local churches can be exclusive and closed off. But there might be another reason. Maybe it’s because you’ve wanted someone to father you, when instead you were the one who needed to take initiative in being the big brother or sister? Families never thrive when everyone is looking to everyone else to make connection happen.
What if you took the step towards family? Maybe you’ve been burned before. I’m so sorry. But it doesn’t have to rob your joy in the future. What if you didn’t just show up but you dove in headlong? You might find that the church family you have is the one you need.
3) Reorientation to the real world.
Everything in our world is forming us into a particular kind of person with a particular outlook on life.
If you pull out your iPhone, it can feel like one of the most liberating tools we own. I can mitigate nearly all my problems and fulfill most of my desires with a few swipes on the screen. And yet, social scientists and computer engineers have tailor-made algorithms with extraordinary accuracy to make us feel free and simultaneously guide our decisions.
The question is NOT whether you ARE being formed. The question is WHO is forming you. The church gathering was always meant to be a family gathering in a particular place engaged in particular practices to help the Christian be reoriented to the real world, God’s world.
Something interesting to research is how every New Testament letter was written either to local churches or to those who led local churches. Early followers of Jesus had no category for someone who claimed to follow Jesus and was disconnected from the church, specifically a particular local church.
We are, as the old hymn reminds us, Prone to wander. Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love. And when left to ourselves, like a lone gazelle on the African tundra, we are vulnerable prey for the deformation caused by our own self-deception, the surrounding broken systems of the world, and the evil plans of the evil one.
We not only need God’s Spirit and God’s family but God’s word spoken to us, shared with us, sung over us, reorienting us to the real world. In a world growing in despair, we need the gospel’s promise. In a world with growing rage, we need the gospel’s forgiveness. In world of growing unrest, we need the gospel’s reconciliation.
More than an intriguing book or thought-provoking podcast, we need the liturgy of the church gathered. C.S. Lewis brilliantly described learning the liturgy of the church like learning a dance. It’s awkward at first. There’s dissonance from the other dances we’ve learned elsewhere. But the longer we dance, the more we can just lean in and enjoy the rhythm.
And if we let this dance shape the way we move, we’ll find we’re dancing to the music of the universe with trees clapping and clouds shouting, all making melody to our Creator King.
Do you want to experience God more deeply? Do you want to rediscover a family you didn’t know you had? Do you want to learn the dance of the universe? This Sunday put those travel plans on hold, pull off the covers, put on your dancing shoes, and make it to church. Then do it again next week. And the week after that.
Don’t let life happen. Make church happen. It’s just better that way.