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!

The Story series #21 “The Fortress of Joy”

Nehemiah 8 and 9 record one of the greatest revivals that took place in Scripture. These chapters trace the journey of those who have returned to Jerusalem from repentance to joy. The account reveals the natural progression that will take place in our lives when we experience a return to God. When confronted with the Word of God we recognize our sinfulness, His holiness, and find ourselves broken in His presence. But as we find ourselves broken we also find that our God meets us in our brokenness to raise us up and restore us to the joy of salvation through what Jesus Christ has accomplished for us at the cross.


The Story series #19 “Return, Rebuild”

After 70 years of living in exile, God works through the king of Persia to orchestrate a return to Jerusalem for a remnant of Israel. God sends them back to rebuild the Temple, keeping God’s big thing as their big things too. But opposition and discouragement get the best of the people and they spend over a decade focusing on secondary things until God sends the prophet Haggai to get them back on track. This remnant teaches as that even when we are obedient to God’s purpose we can become discouraged and lose focus if we get our eyes off of God, but God will restore our focus and get us back on track.


Hearts Ablaze Easter message

On the very day of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead two of his disciples were traveling home after spending Passover week in Jerusalem. On the day that was filled with hope realized these two disciples are overcome with grief and mourning that Jesus has been killed, unable to believe that He has risen from the dead. At this low point Jesus meets them and God opens their eyes to the realization of hope through the risen Christ. On this very day God can do the same in the life of those who have had their hope extinguished by the crushing circumstances of life.


Inside the Circle

I’ve been talking about revival on Sunday mornings at church from the Old Testament books of Haggai and Zechariah.  During my study I came across a story from the life of traveling evangelist Rodney Smith.  He was a Brit who’s ministry spanned the late 19th and early 20th century.  He made over 40 trips abroad to places like American, Australia, and South Africa sharing the gospel.  Most of us wouldn’t recognize him by his given name because he went by the name Gipsy Smith, which I happen to think is an awesome name for a traveling evangelist.  Anyway, during one of his meetings, Smith was approached by a young man.  The young man asked Gipsy how to have revival.  Smith responded by asking the young man, “Do youchalk_circle_jpg have a place where you can pray?”  The young man replied affirmatively.  So Gipsy said, “Tell you what to do, you go to that place, and take a piece of chalk along.  Kneel down there, and with the chalk draw a complete circle all around you – and pray for God to send revival on everything inside of the circle.  Stay there until He answers – and you will have revival.”

There may be a lot of words we could use to describe Smith’s response from sarcastic to frivolous to trite, but the truth is it is a deeply profound and compelling statement.  In my observation, our tendency when talking about revival is to talk about how everyone else needs a good dose of it; our neighbor, our community, our nation, the church down the street.  But seldom do I hear individuals proclaim with deep sincerity their need for revival.  Imagine the outcome if every one us would find a place to pray, kneel there, draw a circle around ourselves, and pray that God would send revival to everything in the circle, then not leave until it comes. 

If I genuinely want revival then I must realize it starts with me.  If you genuinely want revival then you must realize it starts with you.  And as God stokes the individual flame of our hearts and they come together the divine flickers will turn into a raging inferno blazing across the landscape and all people will see and hear that our God truly is a consuming fire.  With that said, pardon me while I go draw my circle.