Leonard: Are you a recovering Metho-Pres-Bapt-erian-Catho-Lutheran?
I have a conversation almost weekly that goes like this: “Scott, what do you do?” I have various ways of answering that question and it depends on how well I know I the person.
I usually say some iteration of “I’m a missionary/pastor/chaplain.”
Far too often the response is, “Growing up I went to church every time the door was open — Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, etc. I was an altar boy for 10 years, got baptized when I was a baby and went through confirmation in middle school. I got enough church shoved down my throat in my first 16 years to last me a lifetime and haven’t been back in three decades.” It makes me kind of sad.
Do you fall into this category? Have you been there and done that? If so, is there any desire to reconnect with the lord?
Here’s the thing: Your parents did what they thought was the best thing for you but may have overdone it. That’s what a lot of our parents did back in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, especially in the South! What I’ve come to learn, though, is that far too many people missed the tree for the forest — as opposed to the forest for the trees. They were “Church-ians” not “Christ-ians.” And this isn’t the first time that this has happened.
Allow me to transport you to the Middle East around the year 30. More specifically to the city of Jerusalem where Jesus had begun teaching in Jewish synagogues and really began to gather quite a following. Some were simply curious as to what he would say or do, others hung on his every word, and others just wanted to catch him saying something wrong to smear his credibility.
Many of the very religious people in town simply weren’t able to “see” who he was. In Matthew 5:39-40, Jesus is recorded as saying, “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about me; and you are unwilling to come to me so that you may have life.” We could call them “scriptur-ians.” They missed the tree for the forest!
This is the scripture that comes to mind when I hear about someone who spent their early years attending church but now has no interest. They were raised in a religious home but did not understand who Jesus was and never had a relationship with him.
It’s kind of like when you want your kids to be friends with a really great kid who is in their class so you set up play dates in the hopes of them becoming besties. Much to your dismay, the friendship never really “takes” and your son or daughter misses out on a great thing. The friendship had the potential to be something awesome but, because it wasn’t organic and because your kid couldn’t see the benefit of that friendship, it fell to the wayside.
There is a saying that goes like this, “God has no grandchildren. Just children.” It means that at some point we, the “recovering Metho-Pres-Bapt-erian-Catho-Lutheran,” need to start our own walk of faith with Jesus as our savior, not just our parents. We need to go from a religion to a relationship and from being dragged to him to coming to him desiringly. That changes everything.
Another time in history that people missed the forest for the trees was in Europe in the early 1500s. This time, instead of “searching the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life…,” the opposite had taken place. The scriptures had been pretty much abandoned and rarely taught or read; mass was “pomp and circumstance” with some religious ceremony.
People went to mass and did religious things, but far too many were missing the tree for the forest. Then a man appeared on the scene who was a Roman Catholic monk, who then became a Priest, and then a German professor of theology. As you can see by those three titles, he was a devout man and very intelligent. He began to actually read the Bible instead of merely going through the motions of weekly mass.
By searching the scriptures he realized that salvation and eternal life are a free gift of God’s grace through a person’s belief in Jesus and therefore not earned by good deeds (Ephesians 2:8-9). He protested against many of the church’s beliefs (as one of their own) and began to reform the church.
This is where we get the Protestant Reformation. He protested and then reformed. His name was Martin Luther and he would go on to spend much of the rest of his life translating the Bible into German so that the commoners of his day could read God’s word for themselves. What a gift.
Here’s my two cents: if you’re a recovering (fill in the blank) I’d love to encourage you to pick up the Bible for yourself and read it through the eyes of an adult, as opposed to a disinterested teenager being forced by your parents.
I’d challenge you to read two chapters out of the gospel of John (which is only about two pages) for 11 days and see what you think about Jesus. Not because you have to but because you want to. If you want any help getting through “recovery,” I’d love to buy you a cup of coffee.
Scott Leonard is the area director for Search Vail Valley. You can reach him at email@example.com.