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Relatively Irrelevant

July 27, 2012

Fozzie: Hey, why don’t you join us?
Gonzo: Where are you going?
Fozzie: We’re following our dream!
Gonzo: Really? I have a dream, too!
Fozzie: Oh?
Gonzo: But you’ll think it’s stupid.
Fozzie: No we won’t, tell us, tell us!
Gonzo: Well, I want to go to Bombay, India and become a movie star.
Fozzie: You don’t go to Bombay to become a movie star! You go where we’re going: Hollywood.
Gonzo: Sure, if you want to do it the *easy* way.
Fozzie: [to Kermit] We’ve picked up a weirdo…

— from The Muppet Movie (1979)

I spent the weekend in Silvis, Illinois at one of our supporting churches, and what a great weekend it was! Great discussions, great fellowship, and great worship! But what wasn’t great was the twelve-hour drive home. As the sun warmed the car, I struggled with boredom and drowsiness. To battle these, I resorted to stopping at every other rest area. This permitted me to pace myself in hour long intervals, and it gave me a chance to get out of the car, stretch, and walk around. And during those stops, I played a little game, challenging myself to see if I could engage someone in conversation and learn something unique about him or her.

I struck gold at a rest area just outside of Chicago. I was waiting in line at a fast-food restaurant when a lady walked up behind me, smiled, and said hello. She was middle-aged, probably forty-five or fifty, dressed in business casual, slim, rather plain, and unmarried (if the absence of a wedding ring tells us anything these days). She was also sporting a 2012 campaign-style button on her shirt, one that named two people I’d never heard of as presidential candidates. I returned the smile and the greeting.

There was an awkward pause as we both studied the menu above the cash register and waited. Then she cleared her throat and said, “Are you planning to vote in this year’s election?”

“Yep. Planning to,” I answered.

“Then can I give you these?” She handed me several business cards. They were embossed with a large green and yellow logo that featured a circle, a dollar sign, and a snake wrapped around the central vertical line. Beneath the logo was printed the name of a political party I did not know.

“We’re conducting a ‘write-in’ campaign for the presidency,” she continued, “and we’re sure our candidates are really going to turn the country around.”

Hmm. A ‘write-in’ campaign. Didn’t Bozo the Clown do well in one of those campaigns years ago?

I asked a few questions to see whether she really thought her candidates stood a chance.

“Oh, yes,” she answered. “All it takes is word of mouth, and we’re confident that, as the word goes out, everyone is going to recognize that this is what we need and elect our candidates.”

I reexamined the business card and read the slogan printed in small print: “End the ruling class to launch the wealth of mankind.” And on the back, I found more text. It read: “Would you support a law that guarantees the conditions for you to prosper and live happily? This is what [this party] is all about. The Prime Law, the 3000 Year-Old-Secret guarantees those conditions in your life.” Uh-huh.

“I’m just now coming home from our convention in Chicago,” she added. “It was such a wonderful time! I just know that our candidates are going to make this country great!”

At that moment, the worker behind the cash register motioned me forward. I thanked the lady for her card and moved on.

As I drove away from that rest area, I kept hearing in my mind Fozzie’s comment to Kermit: “We’ve picked up a weirdo!”

This interaction reminded me of something I have witnessed in my Christian life, the tendency of some Christians to be sidetracked and sidelined by irrelevant or unhelpful causes, rendering them barren or unfruitful.

Let me start with an analogy. Picture in your mind a flowing river. Everything flows along nicely until the river encounters a large rock. The waters separate and then rejoin on the other side of the rock and continue their journey. Occasionally, the disruption leads to more disruptions and the waters separate for a prolonged time. Sometimes that separation is permanent and the river is no longer one river. It has become two. And then, at other times, the water that separates finds no outlet and stagnates, having become separated from the river. These eddies need not be permanent, but, often, they are.

I think of the history of orthodox Christianity as a flowing river, starting with Christ and the apostles and flowing down to our present age. Throughout history, that river has encountered obstacles, and there have been times of separation and reunification as well as times of separation and ultimate departure. But my focus here is not on those. My focus here is on the times Christians have become unhealthily consumed with minor issues and have become irrelevant and unfruitful in their generations.

These issues have varied over the years. Let me mention a few issues in ‘Christendom’ I consider whirling eddies of our day: music in worship – traditional vs. contemporary, translations of the Bible – King James vs. New King James vs. ESV vs. NASB vs. … (ad nauseum), lifestyle issues (what’s modest vs. what isn’t, and what’s worldly vs. what isn’t), and perhaps even areas of theology (i.e. angelology, eschatology, etc.).

Now please don’t misunderstand. I am not suggesting that these issues are not important. They are important, and we should each be convinced in our own mind concerning them. We should study the Scriptures about these matters and seek to glorify God in our obedient responses. All these issues are part of the Christian life, the flow of historical river of orthodoxy, and we must interact with them and respond to them with contextualized lives grounded in orthodoxy.

But the problem, it seems to me, comes when these matters become central in a Christian’s life. When studying and preaching these parts becomes a substitute for the whole Christian life and the overall Christian commission – to make disciples – stagnation has started. And those who engage in such behavior will become increasingly irrelevant, separated from the flow of orthodoxy and unhelpful in the advance of the Gospel.

Now, the reality is that we all have a tendency to move into doctrinal eddies. We all fixate at times on one aspect of the Christian faith. This seems to be part of the normal up and downs of the Christian life. But what is vitally important is that we do not permit ourselves to be permanently sidetracked. We must not allow ourselves to be consumed by the minor issues and neglect the major ones.

How can we avoid a life spent in the eddies of the Christian river? Well, first, we must regularly interact with the whole counsel of God. This means that we must find ways to read the Bible regularly in its entirety, avoiding the tendency to return repeatedly to a few favorite passages, thereby neglecting the more ‘difficult’ or ‘boring’ sections. Second, we must be careful to interact with the larger community of Christian believers. Christians in isolation can forget that God is also working in the lives of other Christians, and they can forget that God’s purposes and plans are both big and small. We can avoid that by interacting with other Christians at church, through the Internet, and by reading books and listening to audio programs. And, third, we must remind ourselves forcefully and frequently that our primary assignment is the making of disciples of Jesus who know and follow Him in everything!

Well, let me bring this to a close by returning to the lady at the rest area. After talking with her, I checked out the website on the business card. I was surprised to find that there were a few good ideas mentioned there. And, sure, there were some ideas with which I didn’t agree. But, the issue wasn’t whether their political party subscribed to a few decent ideas. What mattered to me was that it was all seemed so irrelevant. This party will never win the next election, and the vast majority of voters will never hear the names of these two candidates. Indeed, I think most people who do hear of these folks will think they’re part of a cult. So, as I thought back to the lady, I felt sad for her. I felt sad that she, for good motives (perhaps), had invested so much time, money, and energy into a profitless cause.

When it comes to politics, I don’t know much. Maybe some folks would say any time, money, and energy invested is a waste. I don’t know. But I do know that I do not want to be a Christian who neglects the most important matters of the Christian life by focusing too much attention on the minor matters. I do not want to spend my life campaigning for irrelevant causes. I want to spend my life campaigning for Christ. How about you?

 

NEWS YOU CAN USE… audio programs!

§Adventures in Odyssey. Most Christians know about Focus on the Family’s Adventures in Odyssey, but if you don’t, let me introduce you to one of the best Christian radio programs available! Adventures in Odyssey tells stories from Odyssey, an All-American city, and shares Biblical truths in engaging, entertaining ways. Listen to archived episodes, play games, and more, at: www.whitsend.org.

§HisKids.net. This website is an alliance of ministries whose cornerstone is Jesus Christ and whose passion is reaching kids with Biblical truth through excellent media resources. At this website, you can listen to current broadcasts of “Down Gilead Lane”, “The Pond” and more! Find it at: www.HisKids.net.

§Unshackled! This radio program dramatizes true stories of men and women who have turned to Christ. This program is produced by Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago, Illinois, and has been around for a long time. I remember listening to this program while I was attending Bible College – so you know it’s been around a while! Find archives of past programs at: http://www.unshackled.org/listen_home.html.

§Keys for Kids Daily Devotionals. Desiree Dawley forwarded me an online devotion from CBH Ministries, and I wanted to share the link. This is a GREAT resource! CBH Ministries is the home of “Uncle Charlie” and Children’s Bible Hour. Bookmark it! I’ve always enjoyed listening to Uncle Charlie. These devotions can be read or heard at the website: http://www.cbhministries.org/ForKids/KeysforKids/ReadListen.aspx.

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