In the seventies, it was popular in some Christian circles to publicize the cause of Christ by pushing the slogan “Jesus is the answer.” Of course it didn’t take long for some one to retort in reply, “But what is the question?” This morning I revisited the question when I had the privilege of sharing a devotion with my church board at a planning retreat. I thought it was a question worth revisiting. We know that Jesus is indeed the answer to humankind’s deepest needs. but how do we minister in a way that makes this clear to a hurting world? By ensuring that our ministries take seriously four hungers that I see in the world around us.
First is the hunger for transcendence. One symptom of this hunger is the persistence of stories and movies that deal with supernatural themes. Many Christians are disturbed by the depiction of evil in many of such movies. Some are better made than others. (I maintain that the first six seasons of the X-Files are still to be bested in any genre of TV film making.) But as Tim Keel reminds us, there is more here than meets the eye.
I believe these movies awaken the soul to realities that exist beyond the hyperrationalistic and material world and testify to the spiritual hunger inherent in people who intuitively sense there is more going on than meets the eye. (Intuitive Leadership, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007, 179.)
When people come to our meetings do they encounter the Holy? Do they go away thinking “God is really among you? (1 Corinthians 14:25 NET)” Or do they see slick presentations that are technology dependent, showmanship that wows whether God shows up or not? I am always haunted by the fact that the early church grew fastest at a time when the church was basically poor and had little of the resources of the world.
Then there is the hunger for community. Daily we read of studies that tell of the destructive effects of social isolation. Truly, it is not good for humankind to be alone (Genesis 2:18). The bible says so. So does empirical science. We live in an increasingly lonely society. People are dying of loneliness, sometimes literally. Are our churches communities where people will find the human relationships they need?
Often our churches are impersonal lonely places where the emphasis is on learning the right things, or doing as much as you can, for the Lord of course. Relationships are assumed and are often missing. The experience of loneliness in a church can sometimes be more acute because we talk so much about love. But love is a verb and we do it too little.
I am glad that we spent the first part of our planning meeting this morning having everyone share their conversion story. The exercise took some time. It was awhile before we got to the business part of our day. Wasted time? On the contrary, the time of sharing helped us to know each other better and contributed to a good day’s work.
The church father Tertullian reported that the Romans had this to say about the church: “See how they love one another.” Would the onlooking world say that about your church?
Third, there is the hunger for truth. The world is going through rapid and tumultuous change. In times like these, people are asking again, what is true? How do we live? Indeed the very stress of rapid change surfaces old questions: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Why must we die? What is right? What is wrong? Does life have meaning?
We are told that in a post modern world, people resist the notion of absolute truth. Truth is now personalised and subjective. What is true for me may not be true for you. Post modernism is a complex phenomenon. I believe that it is largely a reaction to an arrogant modernism which taught it had all the answers, a modernity that was often based on a materialistic approach to life, believing that all that is true is all that can be studied with the scientific methodology of the day. Hence the post modern reaction.
However beneath the romantic notions of post modernism, the age old questions remain. This is how popular singer Jackson Browne puts it:
Hunger in the midnight, hunger at the stroke of noon
Hunger in the banquet, hunger in the bride and groom
Hunger on the TV, hunger on the printed page
And there’s a God-sized hunger underneath the questions of the age
Do our teaching and our lives reflect the fact that we know that “(God’s) word is a lamp to walk by, and a light to illumine (our) path” (Psalm 119:105 NET)?
Finally, there is the need to make a difference. We all want our lives to count for something. We want to give our lives to something bigger than ourselves. We may cringe at news of the latest suicide bombing. Yet surely the suicide bomber must have seen his or her supreme sacrifice as aiding some cause worth dying for. I am very conscious that we do not get people into our churches so that we can use them for our plans and programmes. Yet part of following Christ is to hear His call for us to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) and to love others because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Jesus calls us to the most important cause of all. Do our churches encourage and help people to be connected to God’s call to make a difference in His name?
These then are the hungers that we need to take seriously because they are the questions that lead us to Jesus.
Hungry for transcendence? In Christ we encounter the living God.
Hungry for community? In Christ we encounter our Lord and our Divine friend who connects us with His community.
Hungry for truth? In Christ we encounter the author and the illuminator of the Word.
Hungry to make a difference? Jesus says be salt and light, be fishers of men.
Yes, Jesus is still the answer. But let us be clear as to the questions. May they guide us as we plan our ministries for a new year.