Jesus Freak: Don’t Miss the Point

One of the books I’m reading right now is refreshingly pointed in reminding me that Jesus came to break down dividing walls.  Listen to some quotes:

“…the laws of religion, then and now, thrive on our need for outcasts.  They codify who’s in and who’s out, what’s a right day for healing and what’s a wrong one, who’s pure and who deserves to be struck down with a disease that makes the untouchable.”

In contrast to this, the author does a marvelous job of articulating how Jesus’ life runs in exactly the opposite direction from this as he seems to seek the outcasts and hang with them as a way of putting meaning into the name Emmanuel, which means “God with us.”  God with who?

The Samaritan woman, who by her gender, race, and reputation, was thrice an outcast.

Tax collectors, who were hated by Jews because, let’s face it, the tax collectors were unjust thieves.

A bleeding woman who was, by law, untouchable.

A dead body.

A leper.

“From the very moment of Jesus incarnation, God has been doing exactly this: restoring creation to order by entering a human body; staying with us in the darkest, sickest places; taking on social and finally physical death, so that we can all become one and rise from the dead.”

I’m thinking about this because I sometimes get this sinking feeling that, though God is terribly patient with this American enterprise called evangelical Christianity (of which I am a part, a leader even), and though God is merciful, God knows that we are missing something big, something central, knows that we have it wrong – mighty wrong.

The thing that seems to be missing is the personal crossing of the street, from the comfort zone of people like me, to the uncomfortable zone of people utterly unlike me, in order to be with them as Jesus was “with us.”  I’m glad our church sends money to Uganda to provide water, glad we support missionaries that are doing great things in Romania, Macedonia, Ghana, and elsewhere.  But I’ll confess to you that I’m not crossing the street – not nearly enough, not to listen to people unlike me, not to be the presence of Jesus for people in the midst of messes.  Jesus did this.  Some of his followers do this.  I don’t do this.  And it’s bothering me.

I’m not writing out of guilt, and hence not looking for comforting words.  Neither am I ranting, with some sort of wholesale condemnation.  I just met with some friends who lead a church in a needy part of Seattle who are crossing the street all the time.  I’m blessed to know them, and both challenged and humbled by their example.  So this isn’t a wallowing in guilt, and it isn’t a rant or a wagging of my finger.

I’m simply asking this question.  If we’re the visible expression of Christ on earth, and Christ was busting across social boundaries all the time, loving people that the religious people weren’t loving, why is it that we the church are so often like the religious people (knowing, and hanging out with people who think, vote, shop, and believe exactly like we do) and so rarely like Jesus?

We should fix this.

I welcome your thoughts.

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • Jim Boyd

    Wow….. Thank you….

  • theresa capito

    Dear Richard, Sounds like the Lord is taking you into an uncomfortable area of a ministry where you are going to have to lean heavily upon Him for strength, wisdom and courage. I will pray for you for spiritual protection because the evil one does not want you to reach out and introduce Christ and salvation to homeless, disadvantaged, dirty, sickly, street people whom he (Satan) has control over. Trust in the fact that when you open your heart to follow the Lord’s leading, He’s going to take you by the hand and walk you through it step by step. I am familiar with the area that is in desperate need of the light of the gospel. It will be challenging but Goodness will overcome the evil that is in that area. God bless you in your walk of faith. Respectfully, Theresa Capito of New Jersey

  • http://brokentelegraph.wordpress.com Ian, for The Broken Telegraph

    Isn’t it funny when you write something so gospel-centric, you get one or two comments, yet when you mention Obama or a mosque in lower manhattan, the switchboard lights up. I have the same problem on my blog. To this post: So good. Richard this was the essense of your sermon today and that sermon really REALLY spoke volumes. Truly beautiful Godly teaching today (and other Sundays of course, but also today).

    I am reminded that those of us who have left religious fundamentalism and political party allegiances behind for something more independant may be clearer thinking (or not), but we are still at risk of doing to the party-faithful and fundamentalist brothers and sisters the exact thing we get on them for doing: labeling and dividing. Isn’t it a horrible irony that we can lack compassion when we’re blasting away at our more rigid brothers and sisters about their lack of compassion?

    Everyone loves their worldview, that’s why it’s theirs. It’s tempting to become a bit too delighted in one’s own perspective, I am certainly guilty of this at times. Then we find like-minded people and feel unity and a part of a club and all these other pleasant sensations and pretty soon we’re pointing to that as proof that we’re on the right path when all along, Christ warned us about the wrong kinds of comfort. And when we start down that road, which is as easy as slipping into a warm bath, we likely are molding Jesus around us instead of us being the pliable ones. It’s all a trap. Jesus is the one hand waiting to pull us out of our own snare. Thank God for God.

    Final thought: being right (or so we think) feels good, maybe too good. I wonder if we don’t replace intimacy and worship with God because we either assume being right is the same thing, or because the feeling of devotion to what’s right is “good enough” for us. How sad. I can think of nothing more tragic than spending a lifetime “converting and doing for God” without ever slowing down to know and surrender to Him. A life on the religious hampster wheel without walks in the woods with our friend and Savior sounds desert dry and totally hellish. Forgive the lengthy comment; this got me inspired.

  • Kelly K

    It’s really hard to voluntarily put oneself into a position that feels uncomfortable. I know I struggle with wanting to stay in my areas of comfort but knowing that I really need to push myself into areas of discomfort. My own life experience has shown to me over and over again that every time I’ve ventured into discomfort land, I’ve experienced the most personal spiritual growth. It forces dependence on God and helps me to see that I don’t have as many answers as I thought I did. I think I’ve also experienced a great deal of privilege in my life, and the only way I recognize that privilege is by walking in someone else’s shoes who hasn’t benefitted from the same privilege.

  • http://landon.maslyn.us Landon

    wise. very wise.

  • fluger

    Unfortunately, we, as fallen people tend to do whatever is easiest and pain free. Dealing with those unlike us is always a struggle in some regard, so most avoid it. I think the Christian bubble is something that is hard to deal with as it is so enjoyable to get together with believers and worship (whether in Church or just in gatherings) together; but its so much more difficult to get together with outsiders (of any stripe) and have a real discussion that doesn’t turn into shouting bumper-sticker slogans at each other.

    I thought this message, coupled with your earlier comparison of modern American Evangelical Christianity in comparison to the various Jewish reactions to the Roman occupation have been especially moving.

    One thing I personally struggle with is how do you bring your faith to the workplace in a way that is impactful, yet doesn’t go beyond proper protocols if you will. Especially if you are in a position of authority. How do I reach out to those here, all around me?

    Also, Richard, I have been feeling moved to pray for you specifically to encourage you. I’m not sure what is going on in your life, but remember the joy of the Lord. He will always sustain you. You are in my prayers.

  • Amie

    Thank you for your openness, this too is a struggle of mine. I just left your lovely city to head back to my ”safe” and ”hidden” suburban town and being in your city makes me want to be more Christ like because I feel so uncomfortable wandering around and seeing so many people different than me, yet Christ would reach out and meet people where they are and help them transform. My husband and I will be praying for you as we all go out on this journey all around the country.

    Sharing and how real you are makes me want to cry with joy because I have hope more pastors can become more real and open with the people they lead.

  • http://www.jessebrogan.com Jesse Brogan

    I am a follower of Jesus. I openly challenge the idea that Jesus came to restore order to the World.

    Why?

    Because it did not happen, even when he had announced “it is finished.”

    Our God is not a failure; nor does the Word return without accomplishing what it was sent to do. I would look to what was accomplished.

    The challenge I see is deeper than you present. It is inherent in the Christian concept of discernment. Jesus told us to believe on Him. We seek discernment of truth; but it is not that singular Truth that came down from Heaven.

    My stated challenge: even a dog knows his master; it is only the educated Christian who has trouble discerning his. The dog does not study to know his master, he spends time in his presence.
    The tool I developed to spend time with Jesus was an extraction of the words and witness of Jesus from the scriptures – as close as I can get to him without the intervening teachings and witnesses of others.

    This work is freely available for download from http://www.jessebrogan.com/JWB/books/wwjesus.pdf.
    Discernment is to be of God, not of what is true. Jesus is so unlike any other in spirit that there is no mistaking His spirit for any other.

    It even challenges modern biblical truths. Jesus did not forgive sins; he forgave sinners of all their sins. It was the sinners who were important to God, not their transgressions. The one time a specific sin was shoved before him – he did not forgive. What he (as Emmanuel) did was so startling and contrary to common Christian understandings that it leaves me breathless to this day.

    Walk with him a while. Sit at his feet and listen. See how he deals with his disciples and others. Marvel at how that spirit is so different.


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