Monday, October 26, 2015

The Cross Is....Crazy

A week or so ago, I was out in downtown Camarillo, going door to door, store to store, hanging up banners for our church's one year anniversary celebration.  It's hard work doing "cold calls" to stores in this way.  Usually a store employee is busy helping other customers, and doesn't have time to decide whether or not to hang a banner in the window or not.  Encounters usually go something like this - Graham: "Hi, we are letting our friends know about our one year anniversary" (it's best not to include too much God stuff in these exchanges, it's almost certainly too loaded, and the poor employee can't handle a polemic theological discussion while at the same time trying to sell someone a pair of shoes).  Employee: "Oh well, ok, hang it over the kitty litter."  And that's how it goes.

Occasionally, though, a person will want to engage in a deeper question about faith.  Occasionally, they will want to know answers to the deepest questions of life.  This was the setting for one such encounter this past week.  Here is how the conversation went when I tried to hang the banner in a store window of a computer/tech store:

Employee: "What is this banner for?"

Graham:  "It's for a new church.  Mission Street Church.  We meet in the movie theater on the edge of town.  We've been going about a year."

Employee:  "What kind of church?"

Graham:  "Well, it's a Christian church.  Bible based."

Employee:  "What kind of Christian church?"

Graham: "Well, our origins are Presbyterian, we come from Scotland, but really we have people from all different denominations, backgrounds.  We have Catholics...etc..."

Employee:  "What does your church believe?"

Graham:  (thinking to myself, I really don't have time for all of these questions about God...I have to hang more banners...:-))

Employee:  "Do you believe in Jesus? What do you believe about Jesus?"

Graham:  (gulp, thinking to myself that this person wants to hear the real stuff about what we believe as Christians...and I have more banners to hang....:)

Graham:  We believe that a man named Jesus lived 2,000 years ago.  That man was both fully God and fully man.  That man lived perfect life.  Was the kindest person there ever was.  He was the most loving person.  Was the best preacher ever.  The greatest healer.  The greatest teacher.  And then he was killed on a cross.  Jesus was killed and tortured.  In dying, this God/man overcame death, a couple of days later.  By dying on a cross and coming back to life again, he reversed death forever.  We believe that if you believe in this God/man (Jesus), that somehow our own eternal trajectory can be changed forever.  That' a nutshell what we believe....

And I will never forget the employee's response....after a long pause....

Employee:  "That's CRAZY....."

Graham:  "Yes, I suppose you are right.  It is a little crazy....but you know, that's what we believe."

Employee:  "Well, go ahead, put up your banner over there on the board.  I think there is room next to the Yoga sign..."

As I have thought about this exchange, I have pondered the utter "out of the boxiness" of what we Christians believe.  This employee was correct, what we believe is CRAZY.  To put it in the words of C.S. Lewis, who for most of his own life viewed Christianity in the same way as my employee friend; "A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said [that he was God], would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic [crazy], on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg, or else he would be the Devil of hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse."   In my opinion, Christians should just admit to those who are not Christian that, yes, this thing we believe in is...crazy, it's totally radical, and nonsensical...but it is what we believe.

I have also been thinking about how we live in a world today that doesn't really think about this central narrative about the cross, let alone believe in it.  Shoot, many Christians don't really believe it.  They just go along with it.  They never really wrestle with it, or contemplate it, or think deeply about it.  They just go along with it.

But they do believe in the rules of Christianity.  Rules are easy to believe.  The cross is tough to believe.  And so, many Christians today are more associated by the rules that we live by than the central belief system (doctrine) of the cross.  Entire new denominations have been formed over the rules of Christianity, but few have been formed over the central narrative and question of the cross.

Yet, you do not have to believe all the rules of Christianity to be a Christian.  The rules (do not covet, do not drink in excess, do not lust, honor your father and mother, keep the sabbath holy, etc...) are rules from God, but they do not determine whether you are a Christian or not.  In my experience, it is best to follow those rules, because following them is a way of living out belief in the cross, and in Jesus.  They are a good path of life, in general.  Jesus himself said that the law (rules) were an essential connection to himself.  But the rules do not make you Christian.  Lots of religions have rules.  Frankly some religions have better rules than Christians do.

However, you cannot truly be a Christian unless you believe in the central narrative of the cross.  Jesus, a God/man, lived and died and came back to life again, and believing in Him can change your eternal trajectory.

The Christian faith, at least in America, is at a cross-roads.  Do we want to be associated as a group who has a lot of rules, or do we want to be associated as a group who believes in and lives by an extremely radical, CRAZY, out of the box idea?  The Cross.  I prefer to go down, if we are going down, by grappling with, wrestling with, clinging to and believing in the cross.

What about you?

All For Now,


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