Recreational Christianity

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 16:24-25 ESV

Hobbies are big business these days. As Americans, we spend massive amounts of time, energy, and finances on our hobbies. I find it humorous how we are constantly seeking new ways to justify our worship of our hobbies. From health benefits to relational enrichment we repackage our toys to justify our obsessions.
I don’t have a problem with hobbies. As a matter of fact, I have way too many of them if I’m being honest. However, I’ve never been one to take my hobbies too seriously. I’m more of a dabbler. I pursue many different hobbies at the same time and switch frequently. I refuse to spend too much money or time on my hobbies because, well, I’m cheap busy. I wish my reasons were more mature or spiritual. Essentially, I know just enough about the hobbies I pursue to be dangerous. I’ve learned this tends to drive serious enthusiasts crazy.
Take golf for example. Several years ago some friends encouraged me to take up the game. To this day I have never purchased a club or any accessories. The only money I have spent is on greens fees. However, there were those who were more serious about my golf game improving than I was and blessed me with clubs and a few accessories. Now golf isn’t a game for the dabbling type. To attain even an average game, serious attention is required. Yet, I was happy to be a hack. All I wanted was to enjoy the outdoors, make a few jokes, make contact with the ball on my first swing at every third tee, and leave the course with almost as many golf balls as I arrived with, even if they were different ones (I am a firm believer in the gentlemen’s golf ball exchange. Your loss is my gain, as is mine yours.) To this day I am happy to go out once or twice a season, blow the dust of the clubs and remember what it feels like to swing. Unfortunately, my golfing buddies wanted so much more – silence on the tee box, use of the same ball throughout the round, and scores within a cul de sac of par. Imagine that!? Needless to say, they don’t invite me to golf with them much anymore.
As a pastor I am immersed in church life and as I look around at things today I am often reminded of my golf game. It seems as though many church attenders are content to treat Christianity as something to dabble in. Hobbies sometimes seem to take a higher priority than living out the Christian life. There are times when I get the sense my aspirations for many church attenders are much higher than their spiritual aspirations are for themselves. While I want to see them voraciously hungering to know God through prayer, His Word, and meaningful relationships with other believers, they give the impression that attending church once or twice a month and throwing some loose change in the plate as it passes is more than enough to satisfy them and God. In reality, just enough is invested to keep the dust from accumulating on their Christianity, but not enough to make any kind of lasting impact on a life.
Even a brief survey of the teachings of Jesus seems to contradict this recreational approach to our faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus repeatedly teaches that we are to prioritize him first and then allow everything else to filter through our relationship with him (Matthew 6:33). His message seems to be reverberate repeatedly that Christianity consists of enthusiasts not dabblers. If this is the case then what are we to make of the recreational approach to Christianity? Are we ignorant, are we falsely interpreting Jesus, or are we simply choosing to ignore him? Whatever the case, there appears to be a significant problem brewing among the Christian population.
A deeper look at Jesus teaching becomes even more compelling. At one point he told his disciples that following him meant denying oneself. He took things even further by explaining to those listening that following him meant taking up a cross daily. In Jesus’ culture, the cross was one of Rome’s most grotesque forms of execution that left the most hardened criminal humiliated. It was used to keep conquered peoples from rising up in rebellion, reminding them of what happened to those who attempted something so foolish. Jesus uses this image to propose a daily death, a total sacrificing of self: self-promotion, self-pride, self-exaltation, and self-comfort to follow him. Perhaps you have friends who treat their hobbies in this way. Daily taking up their “cross” and following ____________ (feel free to fill in the blank with the hobby of choice.). They sacrifice family, friends, church, health, and anything else that hinders the pursuit of their “hobby.” As extreme as it may sound to us, this is exactly what Jesus says being a Christian requires. There was a time when Jesus told his followers that Christianity would require denying family. There was a time when Jesus told his followers to let the dead bury their dead. This is hard teaching, which may be why some choose to ignore it, just like many did when Jesus first said it.
My choice to be a dabbler in golf means that I will probably never experience the euphoria of dropping a hole in one. A have friends who light up when they tell of their experience of this feat on the golf course. I’m OK with that. What I am not OK with is dabbling in my Christianity and missing the euphoria of seeing the fruit of a life completely sold out to the glory of Jesus Christ. My prayer is that I will one day have the privilege of being a part of a group of believers who, together, are living lives completely sold out to the glory of Jesus Christ and by grace, experiencing the fruit of this kind of life. If that is your desire as well, let’s lock arms. Recreational Christians need not apply!