What Would Jesus Do Today?


What do massive buildings and leadership conferences have to do with the church? Not much.

By Brant Hansen Dec. 19, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. EST + More 

Americans still believe in Jesus. Not everyone, of course, but most. In fact, the numbers shock people who thought we’d left all that silly Christmas story stuff behind: Two-thirds of Americans say they believe the whole thing. The shepherds, the manger, the virgin birth, the magi, all of it.

But you wouldn’t know that from our traditional media, or even Internet culture. And it’s worth saying, too, that what we really believe is not what we tell a pollster; it’s what we do. We can check all the high-minded or religious boxes, but our actions (like what we do with our money) can give us away.

But Americans remain incorrigibly religious. As a guest speaker, I shared data like this with a group of teenagers at an evangelical church. “So Americans say they believe in Jesus," I said. "Americans believe in the Holy Spirit. Americans believe in God. So why aren’t they flocking to church?
Thoughtful silence. And then a lone young man ventured a guess: “Maybe they don’t like us.”

I think he’s on to something.

Time magazine recently named, as its “Persons of the Year”, “The Ebola Fighters,” and the glowing article is largely about Christians, evangelical ones even. They’re Christians who don’t keep their faith private. Instead, they bring their faith to bear with their very lives.

Has the mainstream media suddenly found Jesus? Doubtful. What’s more likely, I suspect, is that they found Christians doing things that are stunningly, beautifully compatible with Jesus, Himself.
Frankly – and I’m writing this as a Christian, myself – so much of what we do isn’t so compatible. I’m not talking about the obvious, here: The lack of forgiveness, the anger toward our enemies or a preoccupation with politics and the levers of power. I’m talking about the things we’ve grafted into church culture: Everything from massive building projects to stage spectacles to our emphasis on “worship services” to corporate-type power structures to Christian celebrities and consumerism.

To my non-Christian friends, I can only say, “You know what? I don’t get it, either.”
I don’t see the connection. It doesn’t make million-dollar theater buildings evil, of course. It’s just that it’s not easy to see how the actual ministry of Jesus, the actual values of a God who came with good news for the poor, who chooses the humble, who favors the weak over the strong, led to, say, pastors-as-CEO’s or a hundred “leadership conferences.” Didn’t Jesus talk a lot more about following?

Perhaps you’re a Christian for the trappings of church culture. That’s okay. It just doesn’t do it for me. Ultimately, I’m doing this “Christian thing” not because I love a powerful teacher or Christian pop or even Handel’s "Messiah." I’m in it for Jesus. He’s the one that attracted me, and still does.

So when I see people acting like him, I’m drawn in. When I read about others running away from Ebola and death, but Christians running toward it, something clicks. Something looks familiar.
In Liberia, Christians converted a chapel intended for “worship services” into an Ebola ward for the sick and dying. When I read this, I don’t think, “But where will they hold their worship service?”

Instead, it’s, “Now, that’s ‘worship’, and ‘service’ I easily understand. That looks like Jesus to me.”
I recognize the Jesus who, when no one else would touch lepers, touched lepers. The Jesus who healed in the synagogue. That Jesus. I recognize him.

Jesus didn’t prioritize safety, and he didn’t dissociate from those in pain. Perhaps that’s why, when a third-century plague ravaged the Roman Empire, Christians were known for refusing to leave. While many people left their own family members to die, followers of Jesus willingly stayed to die with them, and the church grew.

Oh, this isn’t a “church growth” strategy. It’s a death strategy. And it looks a lot like Jesus.

Maybe others recognize this, too, including people who would never publicly identify with us. And maybe, rather than dismissing non-believers with disdain, we might wonder why they, too, stand up and take notice of a Christianity worthy of the name “Christ.” After all, we believers may remember, he was sent into the world not to condemn it, but to redeem it.

There’s a line from "The Village," a film about a blind woman who risks a journey for a friend: “She is more capable than most in this village. And she is led by love. The world moves for love. It kneels before it in awe.” Two-thirds of Americans still believe that 2,000 years ago, in and out-of-way, dirty, where-you-least-expect-it kind of place, people knelt before love.

And, many, if they really see it still will.


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