Do you know Jesus? Or do you know a lot about Him?
Could people tell that you've been with Jesus? If a stranger spent fifteen minutes with you, would they come away saying you know a lot about God, the Bible, Christianity? Or would they come away saying they felt refreshed and lighter in spirit, more hopeful about life, because of the few moments their life met with yours?
Would they be impressed with you, either favorably or unfavorable?
Or would they be impressed with God and His great heart of love?
My teens and I were discussing these questions this morning. They are good questions.
Of course we all know what the right answer would be. But what would be the honest answer? We are all so good at deceiving ourselves, but I wonder what the neighbors would say? About me? About you?
I know what my children would say about their fundamentalist missionary/pastor grandparents. My daughter said that she thinks they are most selfish people she has ever met. She spoke about how she was looking forward to her first sleepover with them, expecting to hear great adventure stories of how God had moved mightily in their lives in some way. Or even just about the wondrous beauty of the jungle. Or perhaps about a person that they had come to love during their time of "ministry" there.
What she got was boring, boring silence. Now if she had asked a question about doctrine, either grandparent could have answered any question at length.
But she was looking for stories about their having been with Jesus. And you know what, they don't have any to share.
I think that is a tragedy of epic proportions.
They sacrificed everything for religion. They abandoned their sons to the care of strangers because religion held that up as a virtue. They left every modern convenience and suffered poverty on a scale unknown to most Americans, because religion held that up as a virtue. They spent years treating minor illnesses and creating an alphabet and a written language for a remote tribe, because religion held that up as a virtue. They spent their whole lives striving to be virtuous.
But they never cared about anyone. Not their children, not the indigenous people they "served", and not each other. No one ever saw Jesus in them, and so, no one was ever drawn to Jesus by their ministry.
Their own grandchildren felt just as unimportant to their grandparents as those tribal peoples must have felt in years gone by. Time spent with grandma and grandpa is a drudge to be endured, not a refreshing time of being in the presence of one who walks with Jesus.
What a sad, depressing legacy from the "ministers" of the good news in my children's lineage.
And what did I, their starry-eyed daughter-in-law, find in the lives of these "men and women of God"? How lucky I thought I was to get to marry into a family of committed Christians! I was expecting compassion, mercy, kindness, joy- all those things that I saw in Jesus when I read the gospels. After all, they were ministers of that very gospel! Wow.
I found a man who openly and regularly belittles his wife- her thoughts, ideas, projects and dreams. A man who fills the car with noxious farts and doesn't even say "excuse me" or roll down a window. A man who expects people to treat him with respect, even though he personally doesn't respect others. He has never once asked my husband an important or personal question. He watches football on television, studies his Bible, eats and never ever shows a personal interest in anyone's heart, hopes or dreams. He does, however, do the dishes at his house. For what it's worth. I think he believes it's the proof of his "servant leadership".
I found a women with pinched lips, who silently endures her husband's ridicule. A woman who is really into setting tables and having regular mealtimes with all in attendance, though there is no life-giving conversation at these meals. A woman who is very proud of keeping to her schedule of annual Bible reading, and the many, many times she has read it cover to cover (Scofield Bible, of course!). A woman who is a diet Nazi, referring to the book "The Ten Commandments of Nutrition" to explain why her cookies are better for you, even if they do taste awful and the grandkids can't stand them.
It is a strange, strange world where righteousness is not defined as walking "even as Jesus walked", but by a lack of debauchery. By this definition they are very righteous. They don't smoke, don't drink, don't dance other than square-dancing, don't read popular fiction or go to movies or listen to the radio unless it is labeled CHRISTIAN. They are fine CHRISTIAN people.
And still my teens, their grandchildren, are left wondering. Will Jesus say to their grandparents, "Depart from me, I never knew you?"
If doctrine is the important matter, then no, the grands have said the sinners prayer and so are "saved" according to their doctrine. If it's about fitting in to the strict Christian subculture, championing the Christian political causes, joining in the right boycotts, etc. they are in like Flynn. No one can doubt their commitment to fundamentalism.
But if Christianity is something more, if it's about really pressing in to know God and personally seek to become like Him, to walk even as He walked, well then, that's a little murkier.
In the end only Jesus knows a person's heart, but he also told us that we would know each other by our fruit. So it's a muddle, and one I can't clear up.
But it is a question I should ask about myself every day, and one I resolve to keep before me regularly. Do I know Jesus? Can people tell I have been with Him this morning? Will people be impressed by the love of God for having spent time with me?
Good question. Very good questions.