The other day I was at Shore Rd park with a good friend of mine and our kids. The kids were running back and forth in the froggy sprinklers, staying cool on the hot day. (See picture above!)
At one point, one of my kids (Amos) was near the frog as another kid ran towards it. Amos stuck his finger over the spray, which turned the light, refreshing mist of the frog into a laser aimed at the face of this other kid. Needless to say, there were tears and then apologies, but afterwards life returned to normal!
What the second child expected to be a source of refreshment and joy felt like a firehose of pain. Unfortunately it reminded me of what some of my friends imagine when they think of going to church.
You call that hope?
The message of the church could not be more full of hope - even though we are more broken than we realize, in Jesus we are more loved and accepted than we could ever hope. Because Jesus laid down his life for us, we can experience the deepest possible freedom from our sin and shame, enjoy a life full of purpose and, most importantly, be welcomed into the family and presence of our loving God forever.
AND YET, that’s often not what people experience when they go to church.
They are greeted with sideways glances because of how they dressed or who they showed up with. Instead of a message of hope, they hear what almost sounds like a different language. The eternal truths have been translated into “Christianese,” a language only understood by the “in crowd”… and they are now painfully aware that they are not “in.” The musical and artistic expressions are yawn worthy and seem to be stuck in a time warp. The truth they do hear often doesn’t account for their own story - the bumps and turns in the road, the bruises and wounds they’ve taken on along the way - and sometimes seems to have forgotten about centuries of scientific discovery.
And the plastic smiles…too many plastic smiles.
A Religious laser gun
For most of my life I haven’t been a Christian. As a teenager I heard about “born again Christians” and I literally thought it was a form of Republicanism. Or that to be a Christian meant you were sexually repressed and didn’t believe in dinosaurs. I’m not joking - I didn’t even know that Easter was a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus! Clearly I had never read the bible, but those were the tidbits I had picked up from people around me.
The Christians that I saw had a habit of majoring on the minors. Instead of allowing me to experience the transforming, life-giving “mist” of the gospel, like Amos they stuck their finger over the hole and shot at me with a religious laser. And it hurt. I remember actually getting into a fist fight with one kid in high school because of some of his “Christian” claims. After those experiences, the last thing I wanted to be called was Christian.
A Jesus I didn’t expect
But then I was exposed to Jesus. I was going through a very difficult season of life and a kind co-worker gave me a bible. When I started reading it, Jesus was totally different than I expected. I expected to read a list of people we were supposed to hate and political views were were supposed to espouse. Instead I found someone that was kind and gentle, who welcomed outsiders and included people everyone else had written off. I often felt misunderstood, and it seemed like Jesus and I had that in common.
Instead of telling people to pretend everything was perfect, he talked about living honestly, not judging others, caring for the poor and growing to love. Not just loving people that were kind to us, but even loving people we consider our enemies! Instead of the church being a place to go when you’re all cleaned up, we were invited into God’s family when we were still a mess - even when we were running away from Him! And instead of using his power to put others down, he used it to heal, restore and empower. More than that, he is best known around the world for the greatest sacrifice the world has ever seen.
The Jesus Bay Ridge needs
What if we, as a church community, lived like Jesus? What if our mission was to push back darkness with light and love just like Jesus? What if we were a source of unity and love amidst our disunited community? What if we connected every aspect of our lives to him - our family life, our career, our recreation and friendships, and the way we engage the city to promote justice? What if we enjoyed what Jesus promised, a spring of water welling up to eternal life deep within our hearts? What if we invited our friends and neighbors to enjoy the sweet, refreshing grace of God that we have found in Jesus?
That's the kind of community we are creating here at Christ Central.
Every Sunday evening, we are gathering to pray into this vision. We’ll spend time singing and enjoying God's presence and then ask God to let his Kingdom come in Bay Ridge as it is in heaven. We’d love for you to join us. Contact us for more details about these Sunday night gatherings.