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The Center of the Bridge 04/01/2014

Due to spring break, we are re-publishing some of  Pastor Rick's most popular blogs of 2014. This post was originally published on 02-13-14.

We might not think of humor as highly critical to our faith. In fact, we might be tempted to think that humor works against the weighty, grave, and serious matters of theology and biblical truth. For many people, biblical studies, theology, and apologetics conjure up images of boring lectures and theoretical discussions that have little to do with the “real world.” One of the greatest Christian thinkers of the twentieth century proved otherwise. His name was Gilbert Keith (G. K.) Chesterton, which sounds serious enough, but G. K. was a living testimony that a brilliant mind is not antithetical to a joyful mind.

G. K. Chesterton was a self-professed pagan at the age of twelve and considered himself an agnostic by sixteen. But then Chesterton’s intellect could not escape the flaws of his logic, and he backed his way into Christianity as the only plausible explanation to reality and human existence. Chesterton became an author, apologist, journalist, lecturer and radio personality who deeply influenced C. S. Lewis and other critical thinkers with his timeless argument for the simple plausibility of the Christian faith.

One of the sharpest tools of Chesterton’s craft was his disarming use of humor. Philip Yancey, a Christian author of more recent years, tells a story illustrating Chesterton’s unique ability. At the start of World War I, Chesterton was denied military service due to his weight, which hovered around 300 pounds, and his general poor health. This led to a rather brusque encounter with an elderly woman who was quite the English patriot. “Why aren’t you out at the front?” she demanded. Chesterton coolly replied, “My dear madam, if you will step round this way a little, you will see that I am.”

When culture and churches become as polarized as they are today, people with opposing views stand on opposite sides of a great chasm shouting at each other. When we face uncertainty we move to anxiety, and anxiety breeds suspicion. We take our stand in opposition to others, and, believe me, there is no humor involved. Chesterton took a different approach: he would move to the center of a bridge and demonstrate a remarkable ability to plumb the depths of profundity and bring truth to the surface of clarity. And he did so with much wit, good humor and generosity.

For those who are a part of our church family, over the past few weeks we have been faced with news of yet another change. I, for one, am ready to be done with change and enter a season of stability, health and growth. Change is hard. Change is serious. But change is also central to the Christian faith (2 Corinthians 3:18) and, I might add, our human experience. My prayer for us is that we can follow Chesterton’s approach and move to the center of the bridge as we plumb the depths of profundity and bring truth to the surface of clarity. And may we do so, as Chesterton did, with much wit, good humor and generosity. As the proverb says, “A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed” (Proverbs 15:13).

Bumper Sticker Christianity

Bumper stickers are intended to be a way to show personal expression. Nothing wrong with that. I get a kick out of some of them. Here are a few I’ve seen recently: “My kid skateboards better than your honor student.” “Don’t worry what people think, they don’t do it very often.” “Lost your cat? Try looking under my tires.” And, of course, there are bumper stickers of the more religious variety: “Warning: In case of the rapture, this car will be unmanned.” “I bet Jesus would have used his turn signal.”

Bumper stickers communicate a message, but they also give us insight into the person behind the message. Not everybody would put a bumper sticker about looking for a cat under car tires. That message gives us a window into the personality and opinions of the person who placed the sticker on the bumper.

My concern is that many Christians view their Christian faith as a bumper sticker—an external message that may (or may not) reflect the person on the inside. For a lot of us, and probably all of us at times, this is a familiar picture of our lives. We have a good “bumper-sticker message,” where we may look the part of a church-goer on the outside. We know the Sunday routine, and we even know “Christianeeze.” But what are we like on the inside?

What Jesus was interested in was getting past the bumper-sticker message to see what was going on with the person behind the message. Likewise, we need to go below the surface, and see what we’re really like on the inside. If we don’t like what we find, what are we going to do? Are we going to keep on pretending, or are we going to get real with God, let go of our sin, and have what’s on the inside match up with what’s on the outside? We need to drive more deeply toward the heart of God. Don’t settle for a bumper sticker image but look below the surface at where you are in your walk with God.

Jesus had a lot to say about this. In Luke 18, Jesus told a story to people who thought they were okay on the outside, but in the process they looked down on everyone else. His story went like this: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, that this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14).

We learn early on with Jesus that He doesn’t label “righteousness” as “right doing.” Now, this is very important for us to understand biblically, because churchgoers today can easily get caught in this trap. Look at the external parts of this Pharisee’s life. He prays. He fasts twice a week. He gives 10% of his income. All of these are good spiritual disciplines. Jesus had a regular practice of getting up early in the morning, while it was still dark, and going off to a place where He would be alone to pray (Mark 1:35). Jesus fasted for 40 days (Luke 4:2). And Jesus commends those who not only gave 10% but all they had (Mark 12:43-44)!

So on the one hand, Jesus models “right doing,” but on the other hand He also uses “right doing” in conjunction with hypocrisy in Luke 18. So when does “right doing” become “wrong doing”? It is when the inside does not match what is on the outside. This is Bumper-Sticker Christianity: when you have the right label but the wrong heart. According to Jesus, right relationship leads to right being, and right being leads to right doing. Righteousness, therefore, is an outflow of right relationship. When we come before our Lord Jesus Christ as sinners incapable of cleaning up our own lives (Romans 3:23), we acknowledge that we are desperate for Him. We confess that we are made right, justified “by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). We place our trust in Jesus Christ through faith, and we then “have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). He changes us from the inside out, so that what is on the outside reflects what is on the inside. Goodbye Bumper-Sticker Christianity. Hello authentic faith through a relationship with the One who transforms us, the “Founder and Perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2), even Jesus the Christ.

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