On Saturdays, I’m going to start writing my thoughts on sermons I hear. Today’s entry was inspired by Jay Utley’s sermon given at Irving Bible Church titled “When Work Feels Empty.”
It was a natural part of my childhood. We were allowed to be feral…well, at least compared to suburban kids these days. We roamed the neighborhood and knew all our neighbors. The crotchety guy across the street who hated when we hid in his shrubs during our war games. The smokin’ hot cheerleader for the minor-league football team in our town was two doors down. The widow who we were all told to be nice to. The cop down the road. The family that moved from London to our Alabama lifestyle whose kid introduced us all to soccer. Granted, I was a kid, but still knew who went to what church, if they went at all, or if they were atheists. We thought one guy might be a satanist because we went to church and heard a guy talk about backward masking being the voice of Satan, but in retrospect, that guy might’ve just been a fan of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.
It was a natural part of middle and high school. I had a lot of friends who went to the large Catholic congregation and we were pretty open about asking about each other’s practices. I contributed to the Episcopal perspective. We had the ubiquitous Southern Baptist contingent who always invited us to their lock-ins (we went, often). We knew guys on our teams who didn’t go to church at all and there were folks in our clubs who were Jewish. There were foreign exchange students who enlightened us to all sorts of religious thought based on where they were from and all that. Before I give you the wrong impression, know that the overwhelming majority of our interactions were over which teacher was awful, what the test in next period had on it, girls, sports, what we did over the weekend, girls, sports, our parents, more girls, more sports. But the religious thing came up as life allowed it to.
It was a natural part of my university experience. In fact, a HUGE part of my university experience. It seemed like everyone was trying to figure out what they believed and why. A lot of folks from my high school attended the same college I did, so we saw first-hand the wrestling with what we’d been taught against what we were coming to believe. We’d take classes that contradicted everything we thought we knew…and some abandoned their SBC upbringing and just tabled the religious conversation. A lot of folks went wild with their behavioral choices that are afforded once you’re out of your parents’ houses. Some of the Catholic guys lapsed, but others went to communion and such. Others went into the deep-end of behavoral Christianity where every…
…was a Jesus thing. Football games were evangelistic opportunity. Friday night was a worship service night. Every day after school they’d hang out at the Christian gathering hall to study & eat. Again, I don’t want to create the wrong impression. The majority of my university experience involved conversations about the university experience (which was, again, heavy into girls and sports), but to be fair, there was a LOT of conversation about what we believed (or didn’t believe) about God and all that entails. Deep discussions, too. Meaningful and thoughtful and sometimes we’d actually change our minds about something based on insights our friends fired up.
It was a natural part of my early ministry. I worked for an organization that was designed to reach out to people that didn’t follow Christ. Sure, plenty of them did, but I was in contact with the whole of high school life. There were plenty of kids from broken homes and who had never been to church and didn’t know much if anything about any religion or somehow came from backgrounds the might involve folks from what was labeled a cult. And their parents…all over the map of life experience and religious belief. Every day. All day. I was surrounded by differences in belief.
Then came seminary after we moved some 600 miles away from home. But even then, I worked a couple of jobs to make ends meet. So, while I still had contact with folks who thought differently that I did…but spending a lot of time at seminary in classes or at home reading or writing papers or working one of those jobs with my church’s student ministry and doing my best to spend time with my wife and 3-year-old and 1-year-old, well, I had less and less time to engage with my world around me that wasn’t into Christian things.
Then came church work for the next 15 years. You get in rhythms. Teaching/preparing for weekly small group of Bible study classes. Meetings where you spend time with nothing but other Christians. Discipleship meetings over coffee. Meeting with parents. Training leaders. Elder board meetings. Hanging out with your small group. Sure, there were mission trips here and there where you’d focus on making contact with those that didn’t follow Christ for an intense 3-weeks or something. But it wasn’t long before I was back in the Christian-circle rhythms.
Even now, in my new role, those rhythms are still a reality. Sure…much of my role is focusing folks on reaching folks who don’t see Christ like we do. But still. I realize that Jay’s sermon was focused on so many helpful things…
…some great insights from 1 Thessalonians 2:9.
…and 2 Thessalonians 3: 7-8.
…and Psalm 37:23.
…and Philippians 2: 13.
But what I was convicted of was this simple quote (after talking about attending law school after almost 2 decades of being a pastor):
You know what surprised me so much at school? How deeply I started to feel for the people I was going to school with. Almost all of them were unbelievers, and they were people that I found myself admiring. I found myself respecting. I found myself caring so deeply about. People I came to love in some deep place in my heart. By the way, do you understand, that having the appropriate reverence for another human being is an act of worship? Each one was fashioned by God Himself. Maybe the deepest of our worship comes from loving those that God places near us.
Um. Read that last sentence again.
And it hit me like a two-by-four to the brain: I am pretty far removed from spending my days with people who don’t think the way I think or believe what I believe…and I’m a mission pastor for crying out loud! To be sure, I spend my days training and building up others to reach out to those who don’t know Christ like we do and use their gifts and talents and resources to reach them. I get it. I’m aware of the beauty of my role.
But it hit me pretty hard to have that tap on the heart by the Holy Spirit that I need to do something proactively to start rubbing shoulders more consistently with those that don’t think the way I think and believe what I believe. A hobby. A club. A new hang out.
I don’t know specifics yet. Still praying through it.
But I gotta find something where I can engage with true friends who don’t think the way I think and believe what I believe. My world is too insular. My interactions are not natural anymore, I have to make choices to do it. Which is a hard lesson to learn and conviction to have for a normal Sunday sermon.