Last night, I went to one of my favorite local spots to sit and decompress after a long meeting at church. I sat at the bar, where I usually do, and the guy beside me struck up a conversation. Honestly, I wasn’t interested in talking but he was too nice to shut down. He was in town for a few days doing work on Fort Gordon, a large military base, and he was asking about Augusta. Where should he eat and what should he do while he was in town? After a few minutes of chatting, the moment arrived when he said, “So what brought you to the city?” I told him about my job at First Baptist Church and the bartender, who knows me well, says “Dude, are you serious? That big church on Walton Way? I didn't know you were the preacher at that church. You are famous!” it definitely made me uncomfortable, but he said it in good fun. I smirked while they laughed for a minute and then something fascinating happened.
One of the other bartenders looks at me and, very seriously, says, “Religion is so primitive and you seem intelligent, you don’t really believe that stuff, do you?” I was shocked, but pleasantly so, in part because of her willingness to be honest about her ideas on faith. I wish more people were willing express their doubts, because the fact is, they are asking the same questions but they aren’t brave enough to ask them out loud. My response wasn’t eloquent or profound, I simply said, “Yes, I know it sounds crazy, but I do believe it. I believe that Jesus gives me life, hope, and joy each and every day of my life. I am a better human being because of Jesus.” Could I have engaged in apologetics and given scientific proof for the rationality of faith? Definitely, I could have approached our conversation that way, although I am certain she wouldn’t have paid any attention. My only real goal was to point her toward Jesus and how my life is different because of him.
Over the course of a sermon series I am preaching at FBC, I have been reflecting on what it means for the church to be different than the culture around us. So far, we have talked about joy and community. Over the coming weeks we will talk about how our faith pushes us to be people whose hope is lived out in action. But there is something behind all of those differences, which is ultimately the only reason any of us should be a part of a community of faith. We are different than the world around us because we give our allegiance to the Resurrected Son of God, Jesus Christ. We have our hope in the One “who was, and who is, and who is to come, the Almighty”. It is our faith in Christ, and that alone, that separates us from the world around us.
Do we live by a higher set of morals than popular culture? Yes, but so do Muslims and Jews. Are we kinder and more hopeful people than the culture around us? I sure hope so, but the few Buddhists that I have met over the years are also kind and hopeful people. Ultimately, the one and only thing that truly differentiates us from the world around us, as well as other religions, is our faith in Jesus Christ. That has been true from the beginning of the Jesus movement. Paul knew that this was defining mark of a Christian. He was also well aware that when we truly put our faith in Christ, then people will think we are out of our minds. As he said in 1 Corinthians, “Jews look for signs, you see, and Greeks search for wisdom; but we announce the crucified Messiah, a scandal to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, the Messiah- God’s power and God’s wisdom. God’s folly is wiser than humans, you see, and God’s weakness is stronger than humans.”
Friends, let’s keep our focus and attention on the one that really matters, Jesus Christ. It is through him that we have found life, hope, joy, and fullness in our own lives. His love for us and for the world is why we exist as a unique group of people in the world. When I read the Gospels, I am convinced that the Gospel is more compelling today than it has ever been. Yes, we will be considered backwards and naive, but I promise it is worth every smirk and eye roll you receive. My greatest hope for the church is that we would remember our calling, higher and greater than anything in all of creation, to go and tell the Good News of Jesus Christ. What is the difference? Friends, the difference is Jesus, who is the Christ.