Project Conversion

Project Conversion


A Former Enemy of the Church Makes Room for Christ.

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My wife, Heather, is currently obsessed with a song by Kutless called “This is Christmas.”

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The lyrics suggest, as many Christian songs and clergy do around this time every year, that Christ is missing more and more from Christmas. Whatever you do, don’t tell St. Francis of Assisi.

St. Francis of Assisi, a man known for his deep humility and poverty, was inspired to build the first nativity scene in 1223 in a cave near Greccio, Italy after a pilgrimage to Bethlehem. There was a live ox and ass and perhaps even a live infant. Locals hearing about the construction later brought torches and candles to help illuminate the event. St. Francis of Assisi wanted the focus on the infant Christ in the midst of the Mass. I believe he would be sympathetic to the cry of many Christians today.

Indeed, keeping Christ in Christmas is the perennial struggle of the Church across denominations and traditions. Given Christ’s incognito entrance into humanity, it’s no wonder we still have an issue recognizing the “king of kings” in our busy culture. There wasn’t much room for Jesus in those days, and there doesn’t seem to be much more now.

No vacancy folks.

The Christian band, Casting Crowns, has a popular song which compares ancient Bethlehem with America today, saying that we’ve made no room for our king. There’s a religious and political charge here and even though I understand the impetus of the message, it makes me uncomfortable.

Does Christ want to be king of a nation–of the world–or ruler of each individual heart? Indeed, remember when Satan tempted Christ in the wilderness? Did Satan not promise Jesus the kingdom’s of the earth if he worshiped him? Jesus was more interested in worshiping God alone (Matthew 4: 8-10). And what about at Christ’s trial with Pilate? Jesus flat out tells the man that he is in fact a king, but not of this world (John 18: 36).

Jesus and Pilate

When I was a Christian in high school, I wanted Jesus to rule the world. More specifically, I wanted my version of Christianity to rule the world. I didn’t want Christ in the hearts of others, I wanted to stuff him down their throats. I had forgotten about his humble, non-intrusive birth. I had forgotten about his words in the Book of Revelation:

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” –Revelation 3: 20

Christ wants to be invited in by individuals, not superimposed upon our culture by aggressive politics, pulpit darlings, or social pressure. Perhaps that’s one reason we have the anti-theist movement now, because human nature will always push back when forced upon. Even something that may be good for us.

May I be so bold? Yes I can, because I used to be one of these. Christians: Jesus doesn’t need a pimp. He works best in the shadows and the alleyways of the human condition. This is why he was born in the worst of conditions, in the worst of times, among the savage evils and cruelties of humanity. Because that’s where he thrives.

He doesn’t need you stuffing him down society’s throat.

I can tell you now, that Christ–at least as a character in the Bible–has impacted my life more in these last 24 days than he ever did while I was a Christian in high school. That isn’t to say that it’s all because of the Catholic influence this month, however the approach is totally different. By encouraging me to read the source material, to study the lives of the saints, to pour into the gospel as a meditative practice, to participate in the Mass (instead of show up due to social obligation and go through the motions), to totally buy into the message and purpose of Christ, read the two thousand year’s worth of scholarship and struggle…

All before going out into the world and trying to tell others who or what to believe. That’s the difference. I had to hear the knock of Christ, invite him in, and share a meal (and conversation) before anything else could happen. Turns out, I was doing things backward. I was trying to put Christ back in everything around me before first having Christ properly in me. We are what we eat, after all, and if Christians haven’t properly taken in Christ, how can they possibly expect others to even put up with their sales pitch?

Jesus looking for a room. Again...

Notice that he’s not using a battering ram. He also doesn’t have some preacher off his Ritalin jumping around behind him. No special interest group hounding the neighborhood. No politicians trying to force feed the gospel to the nation. No one protesting funerals. No one demanding money on television. Jesus is knocking, just loud enough for you to hear, but not enough to intrude.

So perhaps the Kutless song needs an amendment. Perhaps we should ask instead, “What is a Christian without Christ?” Because before we can ask where Christ is in the season, we must ask ourselves if he is in fact in the Christian’s heart.

Have a merry Christmas everyone, and save some room for Christ at your table. Even if you aren’t a Christian, I’m sure you’d have a good time in his company. After all, I hear he’s popular at parties.

 



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abowen

posted December 29, 2011 at 12:16 pm


Sharon,

I’ve heard that quote many times this month, and it’s golden. Happy Christmas to you too!



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Sharon

posted December 27, 2011 at 4:25 am


Your article reminds me of a quote which may or may not have been said by St Francis of Assisi;

“Preach the Gospel at All Times; When Necessary, Use Words.”

Beautifully said Andrew..

Happy Christmas to you and the family Andrew!



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abowen

posted December 26, 2011 at 4:01 pm


Christopher,

Strange how things work out, isn’t it? Thank you so much for sharing your story with us and a merry Christmas to you!



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abowen

posted December 26, 2011 at 3:59 pm


Mike,

And a merry Christmas to you as well!



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abowen

posted December 26, 2011 at 3:58 pm


Helen,

As Sam said, that wasn’t the intention at all. On the contrary, I’ve invited folks to explore and apply many aspects of other faiths throughout the year. In many ways, as with other spiritual leaders, we could all use a little “Christ-like” alterations in some ways.



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abowen

posted December 26, 2011 at 3:56 pm


Carol,

You’re very welcome. Merry Christmas to you!



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mike p

posted December 26, 2011 at 2:07 pm


Good words, Andrew. The way I see it, Jesus didn’t come to legislate morality or make laws – He came to live in the hearts of men and women who were far from Him, people who need Him and have looked everywhere except TO Him for their joy, peace, provision and most importantly, salvation. I’m thankful that this month has given new perspective and helped you to see that you were “trying to put Christ back in everything around me before first having Christ properly in me.” Selah. And Amen.

Merry Christmas to you and your family, Andrew.



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Carol

posted December 26, 2011 at 6:34 am


Andrew, this is a great post, and provided some insight into my own struggle with Christianity and faith. Thanks so much. Happy Christmas to you and your family.



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Sam Karvonen

posted December 25, 2011 at 1:45 pm


Dear Helen,

I didn’t get that impression but rather the impression that Andrew was doing the very contrary — being critical to a “sales pitch” kind of approach to Christ. I didn’t read him inviting others to accept Christ in their hearts.

With kind regards,

LilWabbit



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Helen/Hawk

posted December 25, 2011 at 10:04 am


Thought provoking.

But there’s one aspect that’s a bit disturbing, Andrew. Other months you were reporting what your experience was. In the post above….you’re inviting us to invite Jesus in (well, you said Christ, His title).

That feels a little uncomfortable. Even on the night when Christians celebrate His birth.

Meaning, I’m happy for you that this has been a fruitful month for you. OTOH, suggesting we invite Jesus in feels like more than reporting, ya know?



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Sam Karvonen

posted December 25, 2011 at 5:15 am


Thank you Andrew for your wise and penetrating post. You wrote: “May I be so bold? Yes I can, because I used to be one of these. Christians: Jesus doesn’t need a pimp.”

Very astute indeed. I would add that the reason why there’s a lot of “pimping” going around in the name of Christianity is the degeneration of God into a spiritual life insurance policy that needs to be sold door-to-door. If God is reduced into a personal cure in one’s own life, such will regrettably be the way He will be “sold” to others too. While it is absolutely true that God *is* the remedy for our personal ills, God is also *far* more than that, and should never be viewed merely as a personal panacea. Such an impoverished concept of God is an innovation of an impatient and materialistic generation. Faith has become an essentially human-centric, even ego-centric, affair.

It is my firm belief that true faith does not proclaim what God can do for you, but what you can do to serve God.

A faith that needs to be desparately marketed has lost its natural vitality. True faith, and therefore true Christianity, is something else. St. Francis of Assisi is a case in point. He seemed to derive the vitality of his faith ratjer from the very notion of joyfully sacrificing his own desires to the will of God. Paradoxically, by forgetting what *I* want even our own desires are often met.

Almost a decade ago I had a passionate debate with my evangelical Christian mother-in-law about true Christianity and faith, and was subsequently inspired to jot down the following. (BTW, I love my mom-in-law and we really enjoy each other’s company.)

A Christian has Faith in Christ
Not in the want of salvation,
for Faith seeks no gratification;

Not for miracles and wondrous works,
for Faith needs no proofs;

Not in the dread of damnation,
for Faith fears no fire nor sorrow;

Not as a mere Gift of the Spirit,
for Faith devoid of Will is dead;

Not blindly because the Book decrees,
for Faith devoid of Heart is hollow.

A Christian has Faith in Christ
Because of His abounding Compassion,
for He loved a child unlike any mortal;

Because of His penetrating Knowledge,
for He made mere fishermen the teachers of men;

Because of His sublime Dominion,
for He spoke with authority not vested in mortal men.

For Faith rejoices with a single word of His counsel to the Apostles,

And with His bold rebuking of the Pharisees;

With the breaking of the bread at the Last Supper,

And the silence of His suffering.

For the mortal eyes see God where Faith sees dust,

And Faith sees God where the mortal eyes see dust.



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Kate

posted December 24, 2011 at 6:32 pm


Andrew, I love this post because it speaks clearly to why I’m a Christian, but why I dislike & distrust organized religion, especially the evangelical community I was born into. After 20+ years of refusing to “open the door,” I had an experience (in Israel, how cliche!) in which God literally touched me & showed me the way.

Suddenly, I found myself with an undeniable & unshakable belief in God, but I still can’t reconcile God’s approach with that of many churches & movements. I agree that anything must start with the individual, and that that’s more important than anything else that one might say or do or profess in public.



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Editor B

posted December 24, 2011 at 5:40 pm


Nice one.

I think I understand some of the Christian anxieties around Christmas. But, looked at from another perspective, the wild secular popularity of Christmas means that even non-Christians repeatedly make reference to Christ at this time of year. It may be indirect, it may not be particularly reverent, but it’s happening again and again. I’d consider it a major success from a marketing standpoint.

Oops, I think maybe I’m missing the point, eh what? But I like this post. The line about not needing a pimp is funny, but the words following are wise.



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Christy Schaefer

posted December 24, 2011 at 3:58 pm


proof yet again that Christian doesn’t have to be synonymous with “closed minded”…wish more people of ALL faiths embraced this philosophy…



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Christopher(Guest)

posted December 24, 2011 at 3:46 pm


Andrew,

Really, really great post. I grew up on the flip side of you, it seems: I did not grow up Christian but did grow up in a very devout town. I was constantly being “witnessed” to, and by that I mean I was told in every way possible that I could either “turn [to Christ] or burn [in hell].” It really left a bad taste in my mouth regarding Christianity, and it was several years before I was able to objectively look at any Christian church again. Lo and behold, I am now entering the Church, not due to any of these witnessing attempts, but instead because I let myself be still and quiet long enough to hear that knock. I appreciate

A very Merry Christmas to you and your family!

Chris



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