THE FOREST AND THE TREES (Part One)

THE FOREST AND THE TREES (Part One)

Here is what I hope to convince you of…

1> If you have been calling yourself a Christian, you should stop

2> If you are working at and encouraging someone to become a Christian, you should never do that again

Why do I want to convince you to stop calling yourself a Christian and don’t encourage anyone else to become a Christian?

Because, the last thing the mission of Jesus Christ needs is more Christians

Here are some brutal facts:

Canadian population – last census = 34,500,000 people
Christians – last census = 23,115,000
Percentage of the population that call themselves Christian = 67.2%

And how are those 67% doing when it comes to accomplishing Jesus’ mission?
Here is what research tells us about people in North America who call themselves Christians:

  • Those who call themselves Christians are no more likely to give assistance to a homeless person on the street than non-Christians
  • Those who call themselves Christians are no more likely than non- Christians to correct the mistake when a cashier gives them too much change
  • A Christian is just as likely to have an elective abortion as a non-Christian
  • Christians divorce at the same rate as those who consider themselves non- 
Christians
  • Even though there are more big churches than ever before filled with people 
who proudly wear the title Christian, 50% of Christian churches didn’t help one single person find salvation 
In a survey containing 152 separate items comparing the general population with those who consider themselves Christians 
Findings indicate that there is no difference in the actions of Christians and non- Christians 
If the current concept of a Christian is of someone who is no different than the rest of the world, is Christian really the word you want to use to describe your willingness to sacrifice everything you have to see God’s mission fulfilled? 
My answer: No way …

The absence of a distinction between Christian and non-Christian is a huge problem But it is not a difficult problem

The solutions are simple, though not easy

So, let’s look at the simple but not easy solution for accomplishing the mission that Jesus gave to His Church…

The solution: Recognize that we can’t see the forest for the trees
We have a lot of small ideas competing for our attention as Christians and so

focus on the trees and miss the forest – the big idea

The trees (many small ideas):

  • Pray every day – especially pray in the Spirit
  • Read your Bible every day – 3 chapters
  • Attend Mid-week Bible study
  • Ministering in the church – do something Sunday to make things come 
together
  • Come to worship every weekend
  • Tell people how to get saved and become born again
  • Live your life in a way that is moral and upright
  • Don’t gossip 
Jesus did not command or demand any of these activities 
Jesus did not tell us to do any of these – yet, we major on them – focus on them 
The forest (single big idea): • “Follow Me 
Jesus did not confuse people with a lot of little ideas (trees) Instead, He presented on big idea with a clear call to action: 
“As Jesus was talking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow Me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed Him.” (Matthew 4:18-20) 
Notice, please: 
Jesus didn’t say to Peter and Andrew, “Come, be Christians.”
Jesus gave them one big idea – the forest – “Come, Follow Me.”
Jesus included one clear call to action – one tree – “You will fish for men”

Here is how Don Everts puts it in a terrific little book titles “Jesus with Dirty Feet”

Jesus was not a Christian.
He never asked anyone to become a Christian,

never built a steepled building, never drew up a theological treatise, never took an offering,
never wore religious garments, never incorporated for tax purposes.

He simply called people to follow Him. That’s it.
That, despite it’s simplicity, is it.
He called people to follow Him….

It is never more
than Jesus’ call: “Follow Me”

and a response: dropping familiar nets and following, in faith,
this sandaled Jewish man.

It is never more than that.
Two thousand years of words can do nothing to the simple, basic reality of Christianity: Those first steps

taken by those two brothers. Peter and Andrew’s theology was as pure as it gets:

Jesus said, “Follow Me.” And we did.
When Jesus met someone for the first time, He challenged them with one big idea: “Follow Me.”

Not follow a bunch of rules
Not follow a set of moral teachings Not follow a philosophy of life
Not asking them to join something

But to follow an actual, real person – Jesus! His challenge – the big idea – was simple but not easy

<< Pause >>
If I ask you on Tuesday what the sermon was about on the past Sunday

You would probably not remember – and, if you did remember, it would be a small, single portion of what was taught

And often not an accurate understanding of the gist of the teaching

If Peter and Andrew were asked, “What did Jesus teach you today?” there is no way they would respond like this:

(Silence) “Ummm…” (More silence.) “Ummm…” (Still more silence.)” “Ummm…”

And, if they did answer like that, it would not be because they didn’t remember or were confused, not understanding…

But rather because they were stunned at the boldness and size of Jesus’ request

His big idea (forest) was always very clear, and the call to action (tree) could not be misunderstood

“Go into all the world and make disciples…”
“Love God with your whole being – with all that you are and all that you have” “Love your neighbour as you love yourself”
“Forgive those who hurt you and sin against you – 490+ times”

And, of course, each daily big idea and the challenge and call to action was rooted and grounded in the initial big idea and call to action

“Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men…”

The simplicity and clarity of that big idea, “Follow Me,” was what propelled a moment of Christ followers into action

And these Christ followers knew what was expected of them and would do anything and everything, including trade their very lives, to accomplish the mission of Jesus

They saw the forest … and not just the trees
The big idea and the call to action and commitment

Sometimes we get sidetracked and focus on one tree… and totally miss the forest and the call to action (the tree Jesus is pointing out)

We all know people who are focused on a specific issue or theological approach… Focusing on the Book of Revelation and the anti-Christ
Focusing on an issue facing society and the Church – abortion, gay marriage Focusing on God’s supposed promise to prosper all of His people all the time Focusing on the prophetic gifts

Focusing on helping care for the poor
All trees in the forest – definitely a part of the forest – but you can miss the forest for the trees << Pause >>
We all know people who want “deeper teaching”
That is what the rich young ruler in the Gospel accounts wanted

He came to Jesus and began to explain that he already knew the commandments

“Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honour your father and mother…” (Mark 10:19)

And that he had obeyed these commands (trees) since he was a boy He wanted more – more trees

He wanted a mid-week service
He wanted graduate-level teaching
He wanted a course on the book of Revelation and the end-times

With clarity and simplicity, Jesus challenged Him to see the forest Jesus challenged him with one big idea and a call to action

“One thing you lack … Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” (Mark 10:21)

The message was clear

It was a call to action
A big idea that was simple but not easy

He was being asked to trust God with his life (forest) Sell it all – give it all away to the poor – live by faith -(tree)

You see – if he truly trusted God he would know everything would work out alright

Book of Proverbs: “Whoever gives to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will repay…” (19:17)

The big idea (forest) and a call to action – a challenge to apply today (a tree in the forest)

So why does the Church in Canada have 23,115,000 people who declare they are Christians yet not enough Christ followers to influence and impact our community?

And why is it that we have access to the best and most thoroughly thought-through theology in all of history (available on our smart phones) they still are not gaining ground in accomplishing the mission of Jesus?

Could it be that we have lost the forest and are too focused on specific trees Lost the daily big idea and gotten lost in too many little ideas?

Is it because the Church of Jesus Christ has not challenged people the way Jesus challenged them – one big idea, simple and clear: “Follow Me”

And, a call to immediate action: “I will make you fishers of men”

I am on a journey … as I said last week … and this thinking and examining of Jesus’ life and ministry with fresh eyes (Non-religious eyes) is part of that journey

<< Pause >>

So, I no longer call myself a Christian

I no longer try to convert people to Christianity

It’s not that the title is wrong but that, as a label, it has come to mean something far different than what it means to follow Jesus

Being a Christian has been reduced in Canada to the expectation of niceness – ‘decent folks’

How pathetic How boring
How easy
How insignificant

And, even that “expectation of niceness” isn’t really expected by others

Doesn’t need to be fulfilled because the non-Christians have an even greater expectation – they expect us to be hypocrites

Hypocrisy – the practice of professing certain beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not live out in their own life

So, when you invite someone to be a Christian – this is what flashes through their minds And they certainly want absolutely nothing to do with this kind of “Christianity”

They don’t want to be associated with the Church! << Pause >>

So, Jesus’ first big idea was to “Follow Him” and to join others who were also following (12 disciples)

Leading to “making disciples” and “fishing for men” (daily challenge – tree – associated with the daily big idea)

So, I am a Christ follower

I follow Jesus step by step as His Spirit (the Holy Spirit) moves me in His community called the Church

When Jesus steps, I follow
When Jesus speeds up, I increase my pace When Jesus slows down, I slow down too

The direction, the speed, and the ultimate destination of my life are determined by keeping in step with Jesus – the Holy Spirit

Clear

Simple

Not easy!

CLOSING STORY – LEAD IN TO NEXT TEACHING…

Story told by Hugh Halter
Outreach Magazine – July/August 2015

 

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