60% of young Christians, ages 16 to 29 are leaving church. 60%! Why are young people leaving churches today more quickly than ever before? What do you think? I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts at the end of this blog. Please leave a comment.
Maybe some of you came up with people being too busy. Maybe others guessed changes in life situations. Maybe still others guessed hypocrisy. Truth be told, it’s all of the above. But there’s an underlying reason for that. Look at the reasons people give: too busy, life change, hypocrisy. Do you see the common denominator? The church no longer is important to them.
Sadly, the perception of churches in our world today is that churches are irrelevant. Can we blame those who feel this way? Too many times the people who are on the outside of a church see people on the inside living inconsistent lives. We put on a good show, but don’t live what we believe. A couple of years ago, I even had a young woman come to church and after the second time she visited she said to me, “Pastor, I just don’t feel like I belong here.” When I asked her why, she said, “I’m too messed up to be here. When I look around it just seems as if everybody’s life is put together but mine.” That deeply troubled me that she felt that way.
Then I began to evaluate the atmosphere of our church. But you know what, that was a mistake. I shouldn’t have started with the church. I needed to evaluate the atmosphere of MY heart. Do I give the impression that everything is going great in my life? Am I willing to reach out to those who I can sense are troubled? Do I enter other people’s worlds and offer them the godly advice they need to hear? Or am I afraid to engage? Those are great questions, aren’t they? Seriously, what if we became more intentional about truly sharing our burdens and celebrating our joys? What if we became more intentional about making this place a “hospital for the broken”? What if we became more authentic Christians? Brothers and sisters in Christ – that is what Jesus wants! Jesus wants authentic Christians.
Look at Luke chapter 14, starting with verse 1, “One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.” The Pharisees were what we would call “church-going people.” They went to the synagogue weekly and so did Jesus. They were hard workers. They were very moral people. Guys with daughters, they were the kind of people you would allow to date your daughter!
One would think that Jesus would have admired their version of holiness, but he didn’t. He was not impressed by their external morality. He considered it to be self-righteousness rather than Godly righteousness. Yet, that didn’t keep him from reaching out to them. On this particular Sabbath, Jesus had been invited by a Pharisee to come and eat with him. It was customary in those days to invite the visiting rabbi, or teacher, to their house after the worship in the synagogue.
Luke however tells the real reason they invited Jesus. “He was being carefully watched.” That’s because just weeks earlier, Jesus had offended the Pharisees with His scathing indictment against their hollow religion recorded in Luke chapter 11, starting with verse 37. I’d encourage you to read that section of Scripture at home. After that, they tried to catch him in something he might say (Luke 11:54).
When invited to their homes for a meal, a formal affair with many rules of etiquette, Jesus went anyway. Knowing that he was being set up to be scrutinized and criticized, even trapped into being labeled a “heretic.” He went anyway. Why? Jesus ate with his enemies because he loved them. Now, stop and think about that for a moment. They hated him. He loved them. He was unwilling to give up on them. Because He knew that deep down inside they just couldn’t believe that they were loved without earning that love. That’s why they tried so hard to please God. And here’s the deception: they honestly believed that they could make themselves lovable by what they did.
Can you identify with that? I can. Truth be told: all of us have a very unlovable side to us. All of us have a very selfish, loveless side. It’s ugly. It’s ugly in God’s sight. And it’s down right damnable! We are a lot like an iceberg. There’s about 10% of us that we let everyone see. That’s the really good stuff. But there’s 90% beneath the surface that, if we’re honest with ourselves, makes us feel ashamed. And it makes us feel like we have to prove our worth to God. Can you identify with that? I can.
Do you realize that Jesus sees all 100% of you? He sees all the ugliness. And He loves us anyway! We are loved. In fact, we are adopted by God into His family by faith in Jesus Christ. That doesn’t just make God our heavenly Father. That makes us His adopted sons and daughters. And did you realize that in Jewish culture, a father could actually disown his blood children? But if a father adopted a child, he could not disown that child, no matter what. We are loved.
Obviously, no where do we see that more clearly than on the cross. The whole reason why Jesus died isn’t because of our sins. That’s only part of it. The whole reason is because of His love. Maybe you’ve heard this statement before: It was our sins that put Jesus on the cross. But it was His love that kept Him there. Do you believe that? My friends, that’s the first step to authenticity. When we begin to believe and realize that in spite of our brokenness and ugliness, we’re loved, then we can begin to actually share and care for one another like Jesus did. Jesus wants authentic Christians who believe that we are loved.
But there’s more. Look at verse 2, “There in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy.” It was no coincidence. The Pharisees had brought this man in so that they could trap Jesus. This man’s condition was very serious. Today we would call dropsy – edema – which would also be a symptom of a more serious condition called congestive heart failure. He was not only suffering. He was dying.
So Jesus poses a question, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” (vs. 3) You might not realize this, but the Pharisees’ sect was made up of people who came from the two most prominent schools of rabbinic teaching, the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel. The reason Jesus asked this question was because these two schools of rabbinic teaching vastly differed on how to answer that question. That would explain verse 4, “But they remained silent.”
Jesus didn’t care what they would say about him afterward. He showed that loving people trumps what others think. “So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him away. Then he asked them, ‘If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?’ And they had nothing to say.” (vv. 4b-6) Again, they had nothing to say because they differed in how to answer his question. But the real problem was what was in their hearts. They honestly cared very little for this man’s welfare. They were too busy trying to earn God’s love that they couldn’t possibly love this man properly! You see, you can’t give what you don’t have! We can’t possibly love others, if we don’t have love ourselves.
Jesus loved authentically! He had compassion on this man. He healed this man, not only of his broken body, but also his broken heart. That’s what turned people’s heads. That’s what made people notice Jesus, because He actually cared. He actually loved and changed people’s lives.
Jesus wants authentic Christians who are known by His love. Jesus put it this way on a number of occasions, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). Are we known by Jesus’ love?
So tell me, do you have a co-worker whose marriage is falling apart? Do you have a teenager who is struggling with acceptance? Do you have a friend who’s addicted? Love them. Get messy. Be bold. Ask them the searching questions about why they are struggling. Don’t be judgmental. Show them authentic love. Don’t just tell them, “I’m praying for you” and then walk away. Pray for them, but invest in them. Talk to them, but listen to them. That’s what Jesus did. That’s what will make this place a “hospital for the broken,” where we are willing to share our burdens and share Jesus’ healing love. That’s authentic Christianity! That attracts people to Jesus! That’s what will bring people back! So, tell me, who are you going to invest in this week and bring to church next weekend? It’s time to get messy.
-Chris Johnson, Outreach and Young Adult Pastor