I hate to say this, but I lost Jesus once. Don’t worry, I’ve found Him now, but for a while I’d lost Him. Let me explain.
I grew up in the Church. Literally, I grew up in the church. My dad was a pastor, and we lived in the parsonage next door to the church he pastored. The church; its hallways, its closets, its basement, even the area underneath the baptistery were my playground as a child. As I got older, my social life revolved around friends in the church. Many of the girls I dated in high school were from the church. The church was the center of my life. I never really knew anything else.
After high school I went to a wonderful liberal arts college, but it was one of our denominational schools, and it was pretty small. I went from one very sheltered, church centered environment to another. After college, I became a pastor and the Church continued to be the center of my universe … And that’s the problem.
For all of my childhood and for the first several years of my adult/professional life, the Church was the center of my universe, but Christ was not. The Church was the company, I was the salesman and Jesus was just the product on the shelf. As a small child I placed my faith in Jesus, and He was the center of the universe. But somewhere along the line I lost Jesus and replaced him with the Church. While I don’t blame my church or even the Church for this, I do believe that it is a potential occupational hazard for those who grow up in such a sheltered environment.
Selling Jesus, selling the Church and all of the political causes (right or left wing) that I was sure he had ordained became a way of life, but loving Jesus and those he loved and came to minister to and save had escaped me. Somewhere along the line I had lost Jesus.
I’m afraid that this is the plight of so many American Christians. We have our dogmas; we have our belief systems firmly in place and carefully proof tested; we have black and white answers to questions that very few are asking, but we don’t have an all consuming love for Jesus. Somewhere along the line, for so many, he ceases to be the source of life, forgiveness, redemption and intimacy with God and becomes a cause or a slogan to be touted, but not a loving God to be experienced. And because of this, much of the Church, HIS Church, His Body is sick and is dying in our nation. Selling Jesus doesn’t work because even the best salesman in the world will eventually lose his customers if he keeps trying to sell a product that everyone can see he isn’t using.
But it’s not a hopeless situation.
Like I said, I’d lost Jesus, but I’ve found him again. And you know? I found him in the strangest of places; the Church. I found him when I begin to actually love the people of the Church rather than try to direct them all of the time. I found him when our church sent a team of people to Gulfport, MS to serve those who had nothing to give in return. I found him when I sat in the living room of an elderly friend at four in the morning and watched two ladies from my church comfort his daughter as his body was taken from the back bedroom and delivered to the local funeral home.
When I saw the Church, the Body of Christ, doing what he called it to do, loving people and offering redemption without judgment, I found Jesus. When I began to “do unto the least of these” and forget about me I found Jesus.
I’ve found Jesus. I’m falling in love with him, and I’m daily asking him to consume me with his person and with his love. And as I fall more and more in love with him, as I become consumed with him I’m learning to live without selling Jesus. I still pastor, I still love the Church, but the Church is no longer the center of my universe. For me the Church is becoming what Christ always intended it to be; the earthly expression and continuation of Christ’s redemptive ministry to man.
You know, it’s funny. When I let the Church become the center of my universe, I lost Jesus. But when I allowed Christ to become the center of the Church, and when I allowed him consume me, I found Jesus and his church, the redemptive body he intended it to be.