Thursday, July 17, 2008

Fascinating Book I'm Reading...

I've been "stuck inside a book" by Dan Kimball most of the day. Its title: "They Like Jesus But Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations."

I have a couple other books along the same lines: "Lord, Save Us From Your Followers! Why Is the Gospel of Love Dividing America?" by Dan Merchant and "Damage Control: How to Stop Making Jesus Look Bad," by Dean Merrill.

These are important books. Anyone who's interested in learning what to do -- and especially what NOT to do -- with our love of and passion for Christ needs to read them. And people who have a negative concept of Christians should also read them. In them, they'll meet Christians who offer a whole new perspective on what most Christians are really like. (Hint, hint: Most are nothing like the "talking head" Christians you see on LARRY KING LIVE occasionally, nor are they the disheveled "hellfire and damnation" street urchins you occasionally see on busy sidewalks. If they were, I certainly wouldn't be among 'em or espousing Christianity to anyone!)

Knowing what I know now, I would have started with "They Like Jesus But Not the Church." Dan Kimball has been a pastor for more than fifteen years. One day he set out on a quest to find out what the disconnect was between the gazillions of young people (teenagers to age 30 or so) who love Jesus (wearing images of him on their t-shirts, getting tattos of His face and/or crosses on their bodies, etc.) yet cannot (and resolutely will not) be found within miles of a church on Sundays -- or any other day.

Jesus is wildly popular as a cultural icon -- even Madonna (whose religion is Kabbalah, a sect of Judaism) and Mahatma Gandhi (who was Hindu but had a picture of Jesus over his desk) consider him a marvelous soul with fabulous values, virtues and validity.

Madonna: "I don't think there's anything wrong with the teachings of Jesus, but I am suspicious of organized religion."

Mahatma Gandhi: "I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ."

Bill Maher: "I'm a big fan of Jesus. I'm not a big fan of those who work for him."

Woody Allen: "If Jesus came back and saw what was being done in his name, he wouldn't be able to stop throwing up."

Kimball's book is a wake-up call to the powers that be in churches across the land who feel okay that their pews are occupied mostly by middle-aged and elderly folks; those who think they're doing okay and holding their own; those who think nothing needs to change to carry the gospel another hundred years.

Young people adore Jesus, and say they want to be like him. But they are operating in a vacuum, largely bereft of biblical guidance because they don't want to be in a church building where they feel they have to rub shoulders with people who (they perceive) are intolerant of different perspectives and faiths, who judge others without remorse (sometimes who judge, in fact, with glee), who hate homosexuals, and on and on.

They love Jesus as a person. They know he loves them without limit, no matter what their ideologies, sexual orientations, or what-have-you. But they don't necessarily see in him anything beyond that. And they think that's plenty to see in him. (It would be plenty to see in most people.) To them, he's no "different" than the Pope, the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, Confucious, Buddha, and other spiritually enlightened souls who tread or have have trod the planet. (One major difference: Of the aforementioned guides who have died to date, only Jesus can boast an empty tomb!)

Do the young of today know that there is a difference between being worldly wise and spiritually discerning? Or what difference an empty tomb makes in their own, personal lives? Do they know how the reality of Jesus' resurrection and ascension can transform and transport them, not just after death but right now on this side of eternity?

Too many Christian "talking heads" seem so busy trying to influence politicians and voters -- and their own coffers -- that they have lost sight of the GOOD news: grace, peace, joy, patience, mercy... No one says, often enough on live, secular television, that we are living in days of grace and that the God of love is beckoning one and all to prepare for the day when he'll return and rekindle the type of relationship with him that he had in mind all along...

Christians are supposed to love God and love others. Most of the ones I know do. But you don't see them on television. Christians aren't usually depicted in the media in ways that lead others to think of us warmly or to appreciate the ambiance that so many millions of us bring to a planet bristling with warriors. (Granted, some Christians are also warriors, and we usually hear a lot more about them than we do our peacemakers, because "If it bleeds, it leads," in the realm of news coverage.)

Anyway, I don't want to get off on a tangent. I just encourage you to read the three books I mention above. If you're a Christian, it will be a real eye opener to see how unflattering the younger generation's (and other cultures') opinion of you is (unless you're out and about among them proving yourself to be so much different than they thought a Christian could be).

If you're a non-Christian, perhaps you'll discover so much about the Christian heart and about our passion for saving souls that it may endear us to you. Even if, in the end, you decide we're off our rockers, you'll discover that our hearts really are, for the most part, "in the right place."

For you see, we just want everyone to know about the saving grace of trust in the Lord so that you can never again be separated from the love of God, either now or in eternity.

Our cause is good. Our aim may be off... our words may be dopey... but our hearts, for the most part, are true blue. We feel certain that God wants to embrace you, because he has embraced us... and we're no better and no worse than anyone else.

God is crazy about us all. He'd just love to see the adoration returned and the passion between Him and all of us rekindled into a roaring fire.

But it takes two to have a dedicated, truly mutual romance -- you and Him!

He's been waiting for years for you to say, "Yes!"

I urge you to go for it.

You'll never be the same.

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