Don Miller in Searching for God Knows What writes:
If the Gospel of Jesus is just some formula then it doesn’t meet the deep need of the human condition, it doesn’t interact with the great desire of my soul…
But if it is more, if it is a story about humanity falling away from the community that named it, and an attempt to bring humanity back to that community, and if it is more than a series of ideas, but rather speaks directly into this basic human need we are feeling, then the gospel of Jesus is the most relevant message in the history of mankind.
I wish I could write like Don Miller. He expresses so well the fact so often overlooked in our formulaic approach to Christianity. I was raised with two very different approaches to following Jesus. They were oppositional but no one seemed to notice.
One approach was the “five finger exercise” (attributed to a frontier evangelist named Walter Scott). Starting with the thumb you had the “plan of salvation” in your open hand: believe, repent, confess, be baptized and the pinky finger was live a godly life (although Scott actually ended with “recieve the Holy Spirit”). There you had it. Want to be saved? Believe the gospel, repent of your sins, confess Jesus as your Lord, be baptized by immersion, and live a godly life. Neat, clean, no fuss except for that last kicker: live a godly life. That one kept me on my toes making sure that I made it to heaven some day.
The other approach was what was preached and taught regularly: the need to have a personal relationship with Jesus. This was acheived apparently by Bible reading and study, prayer, attending church (3 times a week minimum), tithing, taking communion every Sunday, and most importantly by personal evangelism. This, of course, was done by teaching non-Christians the “five finger exercise” plan of salvation. Oh yeah, there was a long list of “do nots” to be abstained from as well.
I am not lambasting my early church, indeed I am indebted to it for much of the Bible knowledge I have and for the high view of Scripture that it instilled in me. My early preachers and teachers were men and women of God whose love for the Lord shone through to me stronger than the formulas and rules they taught. I love them and always will.
Do you see the oppositional ideologies? They did not. Neither did I. It was only later as I grew to really know Jesus (which may not even have happened without the example of those godly leaders who gave me a thirst to know the Jesus I read about in the Bible) I saw what Don Miller expressed so well – that relationships are not formed by following formulas.
Today I believe that having a relationship with Jesus means falling in love with Him. The whole of our experience of Jesus can be described in one word: Love. Love. Love may just be the most overused word in the English language! I say: I love the Bulldawgs! I love chunky monkey ice cream! I love DragonCon! I love to play poker! I love my iPhone! I love Sheila! I love my grandsons! I love CCF! I love Jesus! What?? Sometimes I wish we had different words to describe the different things we “love”. Maybe “love lite” for food, sports, entertainment and electronics. Maybe “love grande” for worthy projects or goals. And reserve “love” for God and people. Then when we hear Jesus say, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35 NIV) it would mean more. Knowing what Biblical love is is essential because that is what defines us as Christians.
Everything we do is to be motivated by love— love for others, even love for ourselves and especially love for Jesus. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40 NIV)
Jesus taught that we are even to love our enemies. He said in his most famous sermon… You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45 NIV)
Love. It’s the one thing that everyone knows we are supposed to do. Take any non-Christian off the street—a person who has never been to church in his entire life—and the one thing he can tell you about Christianity is that Christians are supposed to be loving. The world knows we’re supposed to do it, and we know it we’re supposed to do it, but it’s not always easy to do, is it? I think this is the reason why we allow ourselves to become sidetracked with secondary issues within the Christian sub-culture. We debate about Praise Band or Choir, Exuberant worship or Quite reflection, or whether Jesus would drive an SUV or a Prius. We do this because it is a lot easier to debate than it is to love.
When I was first starting out in campus ministry, I asked a successful campus minister what it took to be a good campus minister. He said, “You have to be an entrepreneur. You have to be organized and efficient, able to manage your time well, and able to see projects through to completion.” I don’t know if he realized it, but he was basically describing himself.
A few days later I asked a veteran campus minister who was approaching retirement the same question. Without hesitation, he answered, “You have to love your students.” I said, “What about being organized and efficient? What about being a self-starter?” He said, “A person with good organizational skills will have a better chance to build a successful ministry—and you should develop those skills as much as you can. But a campus minister who loves his students will make a difference in their lives for all eternity.” This doesn’t just apply to campus ministers. It applies to all Christians everywhere. Do you want to make a difference in the world? You do it by loving others.
But loving others is possible only if we love Jesus. I’ll write more about this assertion in my next post.