Friday, January 4, 2008

What if we really followed Jesus?

There's this group of religious people. They are highly influential in their culture. Admired by some, despised by others, but utterly convinced that they are God's appointed agents to keep their nation close to Him. They are courageously patriotic, socially conservative, and absolutely committed to the authority of God's Word...of which they possess encyclopedic knowledge. They are conspicuously moral and devoutly religious: Every time the temple doors are open, they are there. They tithe over and above their ten percent and pay close attention to all the thou-shalts and thou-shalt-nots. And they are quick to impose their views on the key controversies in their society--both political and cultural--citing God's Word as their backing.

Am I speaking of we 21st Century evangelicals? Nope...1st Century Pharisees. That's right, the very people Jesus spent much of His ministry opposing, who later conspired to put Him to the death. It strikes me that for all the good things about Bible-believing Christians like us today, we have more in common with the Pharisees than with the apostles of our Lord. In the way we view God and His Word, the way we view ourselves, and the way we look at the unredeemed world, I see more points of contact with the enemies of Jesus than with His original followers. I don't mean to say that I think most professing, practicing Christians are really lost...that's not my call to make, and I don't think that's true anyway. But I do think that most of us American evangelicals are missing the best thing about Christianity. We're settling for the religious part, the rules and rituals, but forgoing the relationship, the adventure, the joy and freedom and world-changing power of really following Him.

That's what I'll be preaching on in 2008 at Westbury: How we can renounce our religiosity and start following Jesus like we're supposed to. What does that really mean? What difference would it make in us--and more importantly, in the world--if we did it? Starting this Sunday, January 7, we'll do a quick overview of how following Jesus differs from merely being religious. I hope to see you there.

In the meantime, and afterwards as well, I would love to read your thoughts on the subject. What is the difference between being religious and following Jesus?


Steve said...

Ouch! You are painfully correct, Jeff. When I read the gospels and really try to put myself into the setting, I have to admit that my initial reaction to people and situations is, candidly, often the very opposite of what Jesus does. Following him in His ways does not come naturally.

Martha said...

Hi Jeff,
Happy New Year! Glad you got some well-deserved (and I am sure much needed) rest and family time after Christmas. I love your topic for 2008 and it should provide each of us with opportunities for thought provoking soul-searching, as well as an opportunity to reevaluate and restructure how we believe and act. On my Amazon wish list I have this book that I am intrigued by...have you read it yet? (I haven't or I could give a better assessment of its worth...)! It might be an interesting adjunct to your 2008 topic, I don't know:
"The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church", by Gregory Boyd. Just a thought. And by the you thank us, let me thank you for following that call of God and for being our pastor!

January 4, 2008 12:45 PM

Jeff Berger said...

No, Martha, I haven't read that book. The title sounds familiar, though. Right now, I'm reading one called, "They Like Jesus, But Not The Church," by Dan Kimball. It's about how younger adults (ie, under 35--guess I'm not young anymore...sniff, sniff) are leaving or avoiding the Church in droves, but they are very interested in learning more about Jesus. It is a disturbing, challenging book which I will certainly mention this year in some of these messages.

Kristy said...

Jeff--Your blog was really helpful last week as I was preparing the Sunday School lesson. It was amazing how God pointed out the similar trends in the lesson and your sermon. Nice to have a 'preview'.

tommon said...

This will be a challenging series for you, Jeff, but what a topic. . . I am looking forward to 2008 Sundays. Just today, someone said to me, “Southern Baptists seem to think they are better Christians than I am.” Religion vs. Christianity? Every day, I need to ask if my religion has made me better than anyone else. It has not. But I thank God that He holds me in His hand.

I also enjoyed your sermon this past Sunday, January 13. About 70% of the people I work with are non-Christians (Muslim, Hindu, Jewish), agnostics who were raised in the church, or atheists. I know people who want to be Christian, but think it is not OK. So, they hide. I know people who were raised as fundamentalists and who now think that all Christians believe in a young earth (or a similar belief), and that you can’t be a Christian if you don’t. How do we reach people who have rejected Christianity because of religion?

Jeff Berger said...

I'm certainly no expert--and I'd love to hear comments from others on this very question--but the only thing I know to do is to befriend them, show them unconditional love and humble integrity (and all the other things that should be the fruit of God's presence in our lives) and try to contradict all the negative things they have concluded about Christianity and Christians. I suppose you could say that is the real subject of this first sermon series of the new year...trying to respond to unbelieving people in the way Jesus did.

Anonymous said...

Hi all,

One biggie unbelievers HAVEN'T seen from us is how we "love one another." Remember, "Behold how they love one another?" What ever happened to that, anyway?

To get really personal, what about all the name calling, even within the ranks of our own tradition?
Anyone ever referred to a brother as a fundamentalist? Hmmm? Purely academic...I think not. Do we think of these folks as socially inferior to us, perhaps? Can we repent of this sin or is our pride going to be make this the acceptable sin of the day?

Point is we need to restore the love of the brothers and sisters, and this will no doubt be a miracle of which outsiders will take note -- a good starting place, indeed.

Your sibling in Christ

Jeff Berger said...

Me thinketh thou art onto something!