Main Street Theology

There is a lot of conversation about Christianity that could be labeled, “Main Street Theology” meaning it is not related to anything Jesus ever taught or practiced. The following are some of the dogmas of this “Main Street Theology.”

A public relations expert said, I am a religious man. One thing I believe is that all religions are good. We are all trying to get to the same place and that is the main thing. Such a statement is completely foreign to what Jesus taught. In fact, He said, “I am THE way.”

Sitting around the table at a service club meeting, the moralist says, You just can’t beat the golden rule. Live by that and you’ll be alright. This is the best summary of Christianity there is. Jesus said in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life,” summarizes the Christian faith.

A grieving spouse who has just returned from the cemetery tells her friend, He was such a good-hearted person. If anyone gets to heaven, he will. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

The Sunday morning golfer justifies his absence from worship by saying, “I feel much closer to God on this beautiful golf course than I would sitting in church listening to a boring sermon.” Christ was at worship each Sabbath day.

The emotional athlete tells the press, God was with us and guided us all the way. He gave us the victory. Wasn’t God with the team that lost? This is Main Street Theology. If these statements were not so pathetic, they would be humorous.

It is evident that those people who have made the above statement have little knowledge of the Bible, but listen carefully and we detect some of this Main Street Theology in the thinking of the faithful. These people should know better if they have caught the spirit of God’s Word. Here is the other side of Main Street Theology.

A woman is asked, Are you still in the bridge club? She replies, “Oh, no! Since we became Christians, we haven’t had much to do with our old friends. It seems that we have little in common with them anymore.”

Here’s another one. The committee at the church is discussing Becky, who has asked to be a Sunday school teacher for small children. Here’s the conversation, “Why don’t we give Becky a few years and see if she is really sincere about Christ. You know her past life was not too good. She has little church background, and it is questionable how spiritually mature she is.”

“Wow!”, the preacher of the Gospel says. “How did I do such a poor job in communicating the basic truths of God’s Word to the people serving on this committee?”

Well, let’s look at some of the Main Street Theology in Jesus’ day. Our Lord was teaching a large crowd beside the Sea of Galilee. As the meeting concluded, Jesus walked by the tax collector’s booth. There sat Levi, the tax collector. “Follow me,” Jesus said. David McKenna, a biblical scholar, writing on Jesus calling Levi says, “If the Galileans had a contest to choose the most hated man in town, Levi would have won hands down.” Levi had acquired a fortune while selling his soul. He stole from the people. No one except his fellow tax collectors would have anything to do with Levi, but this didn’t matter to Levi because he was becoming a wealthy person.

Why would Jesus call a person like Levi to be an apostle? McKenna answers by saying, “Jesus specializes in rejects. He saw the great potential for spiritual growth in Levi.” Jesus teaches us the great lesson never to sell anyone short. Always remember what Jesus can make out of a person.

All of us who have seen Him at work in our own lives would bear testimony to the truth of His power to change a person. We might not be what we should be but think of what we would be if Christ had not made drastic changes in our lives. There once was a brilliant lawyer with a powerful job in the Nixon administration whose life was changed by Jesus Christ. His name is Charles Colson, founder and head of Prison Ministries. Chuck spent time in prison for the crimes he committed as a part of the Watergate scandal. During that time there were those friends who believed that Christ could change Colson and he could become a powerful servant of Jesus Christ. People like Tom Philips, President of Raytheon, and Al Qui, Governor of Minnesota and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, introduced Charles Colson to Jesus Christ and the Lord did the rest. Chuck was the Levi of his day. Had you asked who were ten of the most hated men in America when the news of Watergate was breaking, Colson would have been one of them. But Jesus said, Chuck, follow me. He did, and from that time on, through his ministry to prisoners and thousands of others, this man, by word of mouth and a gifted pen, has told the world about Christ. If you are not acquainted with what the Lord has done for this man, read one of his books, especially Born Again.

Levi walked away from the tax tables never to return. He had seen its emptiness. The Pharisees thought that a person had to prove himself before the Lord could use him. That was Main Street Theology and never got the endorsement of Jesus Christ.

Before leaving the area, Levi had some of his friends, tax collectors and sinners, in for dinner, and he invited Jesus to join them. Seeing this the Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus heard their question and answered the question, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick? I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Evangelical theology is anxious to reach out to the lost. Phariseeism, which is a part of Main Street Theology, whether in Jesus’ day or ours, looks at a lost world and walks away convinced that these people are “not our kind of folks.”

What a picture Jesus gives us regarding our relationship with friends and relatives who do not know him. Many of us have a tendency to isolate ourselves from the old world and its sinfulness. I do. Let me tell you about an evening at the country club. It was at Christmas time and I had been invited to address a group of men on the “Real Meaning of Christmas.” I made my message as simple and direct as possible telling them that Jesus is God and the Savior of the world. He alone is able to bring us into a personal relationship with God.

When the meeting was over, all the men left save one who asked if I would join him at the bar for a drink. He wanted to discuss this matter of salvation in greater depth. I accepted his invitation and went to the bar with him. As we sat there visiting about his relationship with God, it dawned on me, What if someone saw me sitting there drinking with the man. I was sipping on some 7Up, but from a distance they would never know what I was drinking. I became uncomfortable as I succumbed to the dogma of Main Street Theology.

Most people who have little interest and no relationship with Christ will not seek out the Church to visit about their spiritual life. We have to go to them. It is when we reach out with the message of God’s grace and see how marvelously God works in their lives that our Christianity becomes exciting. So why not leave a routine type of Christianity that borders on Main Street theology and walk among those who do not know Jesus. Share with them the blessed hope that fills your life. Let God give you a sensitive ear to the dogmas of Main Street Theology and the power to run from them.

What Does God Want?

This statement tells us that not all people are in a living relationship with God, both for now and all eternity. In today’s culture, such a biblical statement is not taken seriously or is offensive. Many would say that if there is a life after death, all will be present to enjoy it. The teaching of universalism is much more acceptable. Well, if it be truth that God wants all people to be saved, and He is the Almighty, will not His desire prevail?

The answer is no. We have been given the right to say no to God. Therefore, our salvation is conditional. The Bible says, “If you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

It is with this biblical understanding, that people can be saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, that our Lord challenges His Church to bring the Gospel to our world. So, let’s think through this challenge.

Faithful members of the Church say we must be concerned about our youth. For our purpose, let’s assume that youth is broad and it consists of the infant through people who are 25 years old. This age group is sometimes referred to as “the Church of tomorrow.” I believe they are also the Church of today, but they will lead the Church tomorrow.

We not only need to baptize our youth, but, in the home and the congregation, do the best job we can in introducing them to Christ. I am sure that in many homes this is not being done. But I do believe a lot of congregations are putting forth great efforts to present Christ to the people as the only way to live.

We have youth directors who specialize in how best to communicate God’s Word to young people. My 18 year-old grandson goes to a “lug” meeting weekly where he and 7 other people his age meet with the youth leader to discuss their week and how Christ has been a part of it. We take our youth to conventions and camps, not only for good recreational opportunities, but to share God’s love and how it has a central place in all parts of life.

We provide them with excellent facilities in which to meet. We have even brought in new forms of worship that catch the interest of our youth that we might share God’s Word with them. It has not always been easy for older people to give up some of the great hymns of the church, and to watch the altar removed from the chancel to give room for the band that will provide the music. But they have acknowledged that if this will hold our youth, the price is not too great. God wants them to be saved. He wants to walk with them through those wonderful but difficult times known as the years of youth. In spite of these efforts, some youth turn their back on Christ and His Church and walk away. But the people of God will not forget them.

We must be concerned about the youth who we lost in the 1960s and 1970s. These people are now in their 40s and 50s. They lived through those years from 1967-73 when the war in Viet Nam was being fought. Fifty-eight thousand were killed and another three hundred thousand were wounded. They had sat beside these people in school, socialized with them as the youth of America and developed strong

relationships. The war made some of them bitter. There were those who wanted no more to do with the Church feeling that the people of God had not lifted their voices condemning the war.

One afternoon three young men, whom I had confirmed, came to my office and expressed their feelings about me, calling their pastor a hypocrite. It angered me at first, but then I listened. Much of what they were saying was true. The voice of authority was broken down. Buildings were burned, there were killings on our college campuses, and demonstrations of all kinds in our city streets. There was little respect for those who occupied some of the highest offices in the land, feeling they could no longer be trusted. They also questioned the authority of God, if there were a God.

The war ended and these people quieted. Some became successful in their work. Now they are raising their children. To please older relatives, they brought their children to the church and had them baptized, but in some cases they are not spiritually qualified to introduce their sons and daughters to a Savior whom they left 30 years ago.

What about these people? God desires that they be saved. The Word of God was sown in their hearts and the Spirit of God continues to work through this Word. It is our mission to bring the message of God’s love to those of this age group who are still away from the Heavenly Father who loves them.

What about the youth we lost in the 30s, 40s and 50s. They are now 60-90 yeas old. That’s my crowd. They went through two wars. Some of them had never been fifty miles from home. Then Uncle Sam drafted them, sent them to a camp for a few weeks, and in less than six months from the time they left home, they were fighting in Europe and the south Pacific. The tortures of Normandy and the Bulge, and the battles of Leyte Gulf and Iwo Jima, plus the hell of Korea saw hundreds of thousands killed and injured.

What about these people? They came home and did great things. Tom Brokaw labeled them “The Greatest Generation.” Many of them became our leaders in government, business, academia, the Church, and other parts of our society. Much can be said to praise these people, but it is also a fact that those who left home as kids left Christ and His Church behind, and are still away.

They are old now. They have health problems. Death draws near. Some are alone and agonize in their lonesomeness. Others live in nursing homes, back on a routine that reminds them of life in the military. Some have prepared well for everything but meeting God. We can’t let them die without once more telling them about Jesus’ love for them. And here is the good news. Many are ready to listen for the first time in many years.

What are we saying?

God wants all people to be saved, even those who have lived a life apart from Him. The Gospel is for all people. The plea to every committed Christian is to share Christ with those whom you know and love. The age makes little difference. Perhaps it is a grandparent telling a grandchild what Christ has meant to him or her and pleading with their family to receive Christ and live with Him. On the other hand, it might be a grandchild who has experienced Christ and wants to share it with grandma and grandpa before they die.

What does God want?

For all people might be saved.

Filled With Compassion

If your little girl crawled up on your lap this week and asked, “What is God like?”, how would you answer?

I hope after today’s sermon you would say to her, Let me read you a story, Sarah, and then you would turn to the narrative where Jesus healed the leper. It would teach your child her Heavenly Father is a God of love and has great compassion for her and all people.

This story of Jesus cleansing the leper has three parts:

*People’s needs.

*God’s compassion. (The most important part of the story.)

*Our negligence in obeying His Word.

In verse 40 we read, “A man with leprosy came to Jesus and begged him on his knees, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.'” Leprosy was a horrible disease. It had ways of disfiguring the face and eating at fingers, toes, even arms until they fell off the body. The leper was terminally ill and socially an outcast. He was not allowed to mix with the rest of society and perchance someone did come near him or her, the leper had to say, “Unclean, unclean, unclean.” Hearing that Jesus was in town, he ran to the Lord and begged Jesus to heal him.

It is a picture of desperation, which all of us experience in one way or another as we walk through life. I’m at the end of my ropes. No one seems to care about me, and so we turn to the Lord Jesus for help.

Hearing his plea, Jesus, filled with compassion, said, “I am willing, be clean.” Immediately he was healed. Note that word “compassion.”

Compassion is more than pity. Pity can be condescending. We have a superior feeling to the one we view. Years ago I attended some lectures at Uunion Seminary in New York City. We sometimes walked from the seminary to a park where we could look down into Harlem, one of the most poverty-stricken parts of the city. Seeing the conditions in which these people lived, it was easy to say, “How pitiful.” Our living conditions were much better than theirs, which gave us a superior feeling. This was not Jesus’ feelings when he looked at the leper.

Compassion is more than sympathy. Sympathy can be on the surface. We feel badly for the person who is afflicted with some pain, but we do little or nothing about it. Let’s say that your neighbor dies. When you greet the family, it is common to say, I want to express my sympathy to you. It’s a kind gesture and you are genuinely concerned. You would like to help the person in some way, but it just doesn’t happen.

Compassion is an expression of the heart, which moves one to act. It can be very costly. In our story Jesus reaches out and touches the leper. He was not concerned about catching the disease. This man was in need and Jesus was going to heal him.Ê

The Lord identifies with him and so He identifies with us. It was Jesus’ compassion for a sinful, lost people that brought Him to earth that we might be saved from our sins. The writer of Hebrews describes Jesus well when he says, “Christ was tempted in all points as we are and yet without sin.” He takes our sins upon Him. He dies for us. He restores us into fellowship with God. This is compassion.

Frank Reed tells us that caring is a powerful force. In an article Reed writes, “From 1986 to 1990 I was held hostage in a Lebanon cell. For months at a time I was blindfolded, living in complete darkness or chained to a wall and kept in absolute silence. On one occasion I was moved to another room, and although blindfolded, I could sense others in the room. Yet it was three weeks before I dared peek out to discover I was chained next to Terry Anderson and Tom Sutherland.

“Although I was beaten and tormented, I felt most the lack of anyone caring. I said in an interview with Time, ‘Nothing I did mattered to anyone. I began to realize how withering it is to exist with not a single expression of caring around. I learned one overriding fact; caring is a powerful force. If no one cares, you are truly alone.'”

Christians, who are never truly alone, are also fortunate to receive God’s gracious care

through the church. This care can provide the strength to endure. This is the picture of

our Heavenly Father that your granddaughter needs to know. But there is one more interesting note in our text. In verse 43 Jesus said to the leper, “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” Our Lord was very firm. He didn’t say, “I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t tell anyone that I healed you.” Luke, in his gospel, says, “Jesus ordered him to tell no one.” If the crowds knew that Jesus could heal them, there would be no time to teach them who he was and what His mission to this world was.

With this order, the healed leper went out and told everyone he met what Jesus had done for him. Now it is indeed possible that the healed man was so thankful that Jesus had healed him and was singing his praises, but Christ did not want him to do it. Strange isn’t it, that after Jesus had blessed him with this healing, he would not be obedient to His one request? Someone has made an interesting insight and has said, Jesus cured him from his leprosy, but had not won his heart.

All of this reminds me of the dermatologist who once observed that his patients wanted medicine to cure the disease, but resisted any prescription that would change the diet or way of life. We like to have symptoms treated and healed, but resist the deeper and more changes. Radical transformations are brought about only by the cross. The leper got what he wanted and walked away, forgetting that Jesus had told him to be quiet.

Have you ever wondered how many people who were healed by Jesus kept any contact with Him? How many do you suppose stood beneath His cross the day he was crucified? And what about us? We too have been healed. Having received what we want from Christ, have we been content to walk away in disobedience to His commands? Jesus told the healed leper to tell no one what He had done for him. The man did not obey. After His ascension, Jesus told His disciples of all ages to tell the world what He has done for all people. Have we obeyed?

And so you can say to Sarah, I am so happy to talk to you about God. Sarah, always

remember that He is your loving Father. He has compassion and when you need Him to help you, and you will need that help every day, God will always be right there. Because He has been so loving to us, let’s remember to do what he wants us to do.Ê

Controlling Our Moods

Are you a moody person?

Mary is paid a great compliment when a friend describes her as “always the same.”

Being a human being, Mary would probably say, You don’t know me. I have my ups and downs too. You ask my husband and children. They will tell you all about my moods.

If you are concerned about giving serious thought to your moods, take a look at our text today, for God is speaking to Israel about her depression and what can help control these feelings which often get out of control.

The people of Judah lived as exiles in Babylon, and there is no question that they were in a bad mood. They were not only complaining about life with the Babylonians, but they also wanted to know why the Lord didn’t see their troubles and do something about them. We live here among these pagan people. We want to go home. Why, God, did you let these Babylonians carry us away as exiles. We thought we were your people, the people of promise. If so, why is this happening to us?

Sensing their bad mood and hearing their complaints, God replies, Don’t you understand that the everlasting God never grows faint or weary. I understand what is going on. I haven’t forgotten about you. I am your strength. Human strength will not lift you out of your moods. Even youth, with all of their strength, grow tired and weary; and young men stumble and fall. Then God gives a promise that is good for us to hear today:

“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.

*They will soar on wings like eagles;

*They will run and not grow weary,

*They will walk and not be faint.”

From this Scripture verse Michael Joncas wrote this marvelous song:

“You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord,

who abide in this shadow for life, say to the Lord:

‘My refuge, my rock, in whom I trust.’

And I will raise you up on eagle’s wings,

bear you on the breath of dawn,

make you to shine like the sun,

and hold you in the palm of my hand.”

This is God’s message to all who live with moods that are up and down. What does this have to say to us who live with our moods?

First, let me say I confine my remarks to “moods” or “depressions” which are not related to physical or chemical problems in the body. My reference is to plain moods that can come from something as simple as dark, gray weather or a poor golf game to something as catastrophic as serious illness, death, family grief, or financial needs. I imagine that this would cover all of us to a greater or lesser degree. Don’t we all have these depressing days where we question everyone’s love and concern for us from mother to God? It is then that our moods show and make us, and all those around us, quite miserable.

It is for these hours that God has a word for us:

“Don’t you know

Haven’t you experienced by now that

God does not grow tired or weary and his understanding

no one can fathom?”

There is that first word, know.

A Christian who is without a firm biblical understanding has no foundation and deteriorates into emotionalism. This passage shows us the importance of strong educational programs in our congregations. I am thankful for my years in a church that places great emphasis on the doctrinal teachings of God’s Word. We need to be well indoctrinated in those early chapters of Genesis which tells us God is the Creator and the human being is the crowning work of His creation. We need to learn from Scripture that we have been born and live in sin, but Christ, who is the Son of God, has suffered, died, and been raised and those sins are forgiven, making it possible for us to live in fellowship with God. We need to know that while Christ has atoned for our sins, in faith we must receive Christ in order to be saved.

As God’s redeemed children we learn that God is our refuge and strength. He is our Shepherd and has promised never to leave nor forsake us. We know the days can be long and difficult, but we also need to be aware that our strength will be sufficient for the day.Ê

These are the truths to which we will return to chase away our moods. God was telling Israel through Isaiah the prophet that it would not be long before they would return to their homeland and the temple would be built. He is saying to all of us that the day may be depressing, but there will be a tomorrow and God will sustain us as He leads us to the homeland.

There is the second word – experienced.ÊÊ

An intellectual knowledge of the Christian faith is absolutely necessary, but it is not enough.Ê

A Christian without an experience which leads to a personal relationship with God has no power. The meaning of the Biblical passages have to be experienced in daily living before they take on true meaning in our lives. I recall meeting a young woman coming back from a Bible class who said to me, “I became a Christian at Bible camp. Why didn’t you teach me these wonderful truths in your confirmation class?” We had spent hours talking about Christ dying for our sins and being raised. She knew the Bible passages dealing with her salvation, but it was at the Bible camp that she first experienced these truths. She had learned about the Savior. At the camp she had met Him.

Returning from the cemetery after burying her father, Michelle told me that her confirmation verse was the text I had used for the sermon. They were the words of Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live; and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” It wasn’t until that day that she experienced the meaning of those words. Her life had been changed.

When our moods are heavy, God does not admonish us to get going. Rather, He proclaims to us a fresh Gospel and says in the words of our text, “Don’t you understand that the everlasting God never grows faint or weary, He understands what is going on. He hasn’t forgotten about you.”

Trust Him and you will soar above your moods on wings like eagles.