Live for Jesus. Get that right and you get everything right.
Evil is not a theory.
It’s not a concept created by angry, red-face preachers trying to stop people from having a good time.
Evil is what flies airplanes into buildings and drives an automobile into pedestrians.
But evil doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
No one wakes up one morning, in the middle of a fine, stable, happy life and decides, “I’m going ram my car through a crowd of people today.”
We get to places like that slowly. Piece by piece. Step by hateful step.
Jesus didn’t value crowds. He didn’t even trust them (John 2:23-24). But he valued the people in them.
Even though they chased him everywhere he went, Jesus and crowds had, at best, a strained relationship. As pastors, we need to keep this in mind as we look at how many (or few) people come to our churches every week.
It’s important to keep an accurate account of attendance numbers, offering, salvations, and more. That’s a basic component of good stewardship and proper pastoring. But we need to be wary about chasing the crowd, because numbers cannot measure ministry success.
The gospel was built on failure.
What we now know as good news started as very bad news.
It was never supposed to work.
For a long time, it looked like it never would.
Jesus was a small church pastor.
Every time I say that, people rush to remind me that massive crowds followed Jesus. Which, of course, is true.
It’s also true that Jesus is the founder, the savior, the builder and sustainer of the Church – all believers at all times and in all places. And, starting with 3,000 on the Day of Pentecost, that’s never been small.
But Jesus also had a very pastoral relationship with a specific group of people that, by virtually any definition, we would call a small church.
Small churches are a vital component of the most powerful force for goodness the world has ever seen – the gospel of Jesus lived in and through his body, the church.
We don’t need to build one more church building, gather for any more seminars or devise a new strategy in order to be ready for the greatest movement in history. Even though all of those are great.
We just need to say “yes” to Jesus.
But what is Jesus asking us to say “yes” to?
As Easter approaches, many pastors will be tempted to tell a feel-good story of spiritual renewal, personal growth and universal hope to our larger-than-usual congregations.
That’s a good story.
But I want to encourage you to tell a better story.
Tell the story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
Not as a metaphor for change and hope. As a real-life narrative.
The world doesn’t need more Episcopalians.
No one wakes up with a hunger to be a Methodist.
No child says “I want to be Assemblies of God when I grow up.”
We live in a post-denominational world. The day of being Presbyterian because we grew up Presbyterian is ending. Actually, it’s already ended. Some of us just haven’t caught up with it yet.
People who don’t go to church aren’t longing to wear any of the labels church people wear so proudly and fight about so angrily. And they shouldn’t.
But they all have an ache to draw closer to Jesus. Even if they don’t realize it. Yet.
I have a confession to make.
As a pastor, I have too much invested in getting people to attend church.
My salary depends on it.
My reputation depends on it.
My sense of self-worth depends on it.
All to a much larger degree and I’m comfortable with.
And I’m not alone.
The way most church systems are structured, most pastors have a greater stake in getting people to come to church than getting them to come to Jesus.
When it comes to Christmas, we really can have it all. Jesus and Santa. Reindeer and shepherds. The North Pole and Bethlehem.
All you need to do is use one simple word correctly:
Santa is pretend.
Jesus is not pretend.