Monday, May 2, 2011

Christianity 101-The Prime Ingredients-An Introduction

Why are you what you are? Methodist? Catholic? Lutheran? Church of Christ? Presbyterian? What ever it may be, why are you that? Is it because you thought it over, examined the details, prayed about it, studied it, and decided that it was the right path for you to follow? Or, was there some other reason? Maybe a spouse or boy/girl friend? Or, perhaps that is what your family was?

Back in the early days of my sales career, I used to make a good deal of joint sales calls with representatives of the products that my company sold. In doing that, we spent a numbers of hours behind the windshield of a car driving from place to place. Most of those folks were aware that I was “religious” and often times the conversation would turn in that direction. When it did, I commonly asked that question above. It was sort of an informal poll.

Do you know what the answer was, more often than not?

“That’s what my parents were.”

That answer begs a follow up.

If that is the case, then whose faith do you have; yours or your parents’ faith?

In thinking this through, I think that it is quite common for a person to be a tad bit lazy with their faith. It’s easy to just go to the tradition that you were raised with and not poke around and see if there is something more. Have you ever considered why you are what you are?

I’m reminded of a story. I’m not sure where this story originated, nor can I remember who I borrowed it from, but I think it fits.

There was a woman who was cooking a Sunday ham. Just as her mother always did, she cut the ends off of the ham before placing it in her pan for baking. Her husband, being a curious man, asked her why she did that. “I don’t know” she replied. “That’s what my mom always did.” It just so happened that her mom was coming over for dinner and she arrived just in time to address the question. “Mom,” the woman asked, “why do you always cut the ends off of the ham before you bake it?” “Ummm, well, I don’t know,” the mother answered. “That’s what my mom always did.” Well, now all three of them were dying with curiosity, so they called grandma on the phone. “Grandma, why did you always cut the ends off of your ham before you baked it?” Grandma knew exactly why. “Well, dear. My pan was too short. I had to cut it down to make it fit.”

Is it possible that faith is that way with so many people? Someone, somewhere, at some time, decided to go to a particular church for a specific reason, and now, many years later, that reason is lost and the descendants are just continuing the pattern without knowing the reason why.

It is my goal with this series to attempt to help us (myself included) think through these issues and build a stronger personal faith, one that is truly personal.

For other folks, there is no specific church history. They, like me, grew up without a home church, and their parents didn’t indoctrinate them with any particular set of views. In a sense, they are like a new journal without any writing on the pages. They are free of preconceived ideas of faith, and have a clean slate on which to build their own faith. Often times, that is what they do. They build their own faith, but it is not based on scripture, but rather on the hearsay of friend, the opinions of others, or their own personal logic. If that is you, then I hope to provide you with a least the footings of a foundation from scripture so that you can build a faith based on something more substantial.

We will see. Let’s take a swing at it anyway.

Christianity is based on the “Gospel” of Jesus Christ. The word “gospel” is a religious word, but it once was a common word. We do that a lot. We take perfectly good English words and religify them. (I made up the word religify, but I think it fits. Besides, people make up words all the time. If presidents can do it, so can I.) I will point out a few other religified words through the course of this series.

The word “gospel” simply means “good news.” So, Christianity is based on the good news of Jesus Christ. If you’ve attended a church that some would label as a Fire and Brimstone church, you may wonder what is so good about the news, but it really is good. In fact, it is wonderful.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:6-8 (NIV)  All scriptures referenced will be from the New International Version of the Bible.

The coolest part of this is that He did it while we were still sinners. He didn’t wait for us to become righteous on our own, but He jumped over that hurdle for us! The GOSPEL or GOOD NEWS is that we were sinners, but Jesus loved us so much that He stepped into our place and died for us!

Another view that is becoming more and more prevalent is that you don’t need a church to be a Christian. This is becoming more and more true with the increasing media influence in our lives. After all, you can get “church” on TV, or you can watch webcasts on the internet. That’s so cool….you can sleep in and still get your faith fix….right? “Click, click” and I don’t have to go to a fancy building somewhere to punch my religious time-clock.

I think maybe we have a misperception of the point, the purpose, and the mission of the church.

If people are getting the idea that the church isn’t relevant anymore, then maybe it is because the church has lost sight of these things as well. Let’s take a closer look. First, it would be good for us to be reminded that “church” was the creation of Jesus himself. He told Peter in Matthew 16 “…and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Mt. 16:18. Second, it would be good for us to realize that the church of scripture was never made of stone or wood or brick. It was made of flesh and bone. Read Ephesians 4 and 5 and I Corinthians 12. The church is the body of Christ, the people, the followers of Christ. If you are a Christian, then you are a member of THE church, His body, and you have a responsibility toward it, the other members of that same body…whether you like it our not.


What is the point?

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25

It seems even in the days of the writer of Hebrews, people were starting to flake on church. Apparently, some were in the habit of skipping out of meeting together. They had missed or lost the point already.

What is it? What is the point?

Spurring one another on toward love and good deeds. Mutual encouragement. A sense of having one another’s backs. A level of accountability with one another. The point is to support and encourage other Christians.

I wonder…how many Christians today take that point seriously? How many slip in the door at the last minute, crawl into their pew, punch their spiritual clock, and then check back out after worship without ever having a encouraging or spurring interaction with another member of their congregation? How many members of local churches are never active in any function outside of Sunday morning? How many don’t even know the name of that guy who sits next to them every week?

How are we doing in getting the point of church in our personal lives?

What is the purpose?

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:3-14

Did you see it? Did you see why the church, the body of Christ is assembled? We are here for the praise of his glory. Our purpose in being as a church is to bring glory to God.

I wonder. How are we doing with that? When people look at how we live our lives, does it spawn praise for God? When visitors come to our churches, does it make them fill with the wonders of the glory of God?

Are we praising God for the glory of his wonderful grace?

What is the mission?

Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Cor. 5:11-21

The mission isn’t to build fine buildings. It isn’t to start endless programs. A great children’s program wasn’t in the original plans. No where is there a food pantry in the strategy. Now, all of those things are fine. They make excellent tools when kept in perspective, but the mission is spelled out for us. We are to help people become reconciled to God. Everything else we do is a tool to that ultimate end.

The question is, do you and I have that mission on our minds and hearts? How are we doing?

The Church…

What is the point?—To encourage one another.

What is the purpose?—To bring praise and glory to God.

What is the mission?—To help others become reconciled to God.

Is that relevant? Is that something that should demand our participation? You have to decide for yourself, but I think so.

So, we have defined Gospel, and we have discussed the point, purpose, and mission of the church. But, if we boil it all down, what are the most basic and most important things that any and all Christians should focus on?

Let me start with a question. What is the most important ingredient in making a chocolate cake? The answer may seem obvious. You may be drawn automatically to the word “chocolate.” That is obviously the most primary ingredient. Right?


Chocolate is a descriptive word. It is describing the object, a cake. First and foremost, you are making a cake. Chocolate gives it flavor, but if you leave it out, you still have a cake. There are other ingredients that if left out would leave you with a big pile of messy chocolate flavored goo.

So, what are the basic ingredients to Christianity? What are the ingredients that you just can’t leave out without spoiling the whole thing?

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?”

Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Mt. 22:34-40

I don’t care how many songs you sing. I couldn’t care less about how much money you give. It really doesn’t matter how many good deeds you do. If you don’t have love for God and love for your neighbor, you’ve missed the boat. Your ship has left the dock and you’re still standing there on the pier.

And, notice, it doesn’t say to obey God with all of your heart. It says to LOVE God. If you love you will obey. If you just obey, then love doesn’t need to be part of the deal. You see, with God, it is ALL ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP!

The first two key ingredients that cannot be left out of Christianity:

1. Love God
2. Love your neighbor…you know, that person next to you…even if he does have body odor and yellow teeth.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Mt. 28:18-20

The above is known as the Great Commission. It is among Jesus’ last words on earth. It is our marching orders. It is our mission. How can we consider ourselves to be followers of Christ if we are not taking this to heart?

3. Make disciples of all nations…start next door please.

How many of us feel competent and equipped to do that? Do we know what to do? Do we know what to teach? Could you take someone from step one and help them ‘be reconciled to God?’ Hopefully, this series of classes will help with that. In the coming weeks, we will examine some of the first principles of Christianity. My goal is to challenge you (and myself) to more fully live out those principles, and hopefully give you some tools to help you pass this thing we call Christianity on to someone else.

See you next week.

1 comment:

  1. Mike, Interesting and causes me to really take stock of my own beliefs and actions. So much of what you have written in on the same rabbit trail as I currently am following. Looking forward to your next post. God be with you!

    Okay, so I can't figure out the "comment as" thingy and I don't want to sign off as just anonymous! Cindy Riley