"The Casual Christian"

This last sunday my Step dad gave the sermon in church. He talks about not compartmentalizing our faith. I usually don't give him so much credit but I think he hit the nail on the head. This sermon sums up how Christianity doesn't end in an alter call but has to be lived out. Read it and let me know what you think.

The Casual Christian

Scripture Readings:

James 2: 14-26
2 Peter 1: 3-9

Opening Prayer:
Let us pray…Heavenly Father, help us to hear Your Word this morning with clarity and complete understanding...help us to make Your Word a living part of our daily life and may Your Word be Good News for us all! Amen

Good Morning! No matter how many times I do this, it is still pretty unsettling at the beginning. So let me break the ice a little bit. I would like to share the top 10 things you are not likely to hear in Church:
-Hey! It’s my turn to sit in the front pew!
-I was so enthralled; I never noticed the sermon lasted 20 minutes longer.
-Pastor, we’d like to send you to this Bible seminar in the Bahamas
-I’ve decided to give our church the $500 p/month I usually send to the television evangelists.
-I wish I could be chairman of the Harvest Fair this year.
-I love it when we sing hymns I have never heard before.
-Since we are all here, let’s start the worship service early!
-Personally, I find witnessing much more enjoyable than golf.
-Do you think anyone would mind if we gave more than 10%.
-I would like to volunteer to be the permanent teacher, for the Junior High Sunday School class.

What a pleasure it is to be up here today and have the opportunity to share with you. Let me tell you briefly why it is that I am up here. First, God seems to put these topics on my heart, I usually tell Him I can’t do it, he pretty much agrees, and then tells me, Oh, but in Him I can. So, I humbly ask Alex if anyone else in the congregation is waiting for the opportunity to share the message. He then describes the state of the waiting list for sermons, and needless to say, here I am!

I hope the topic of this morning’s message didn’t alarm anyone, like Uh-Oh, better hide; this one’s going to get personal. Well if it did startle or alarm you, join the club, the casual nature implied by the title, exists to some degree in every one of us. Likely there are times we can all be thought of as “Casual Christians”…and for that matter could work harder to limit the frequency and magnitude of those times.

So, what is a “Casual Christian?” I doubt there is a Webster’s Dictionary definition for this, but I will gladly share Hal’s point of view with you…when Alex lets you give the message, you can tell us your point of view. Anyway, when I think of a “Casual Christian”, I think of someone who feels they have a faith or belief in God…and feel…that…in itself is enough. They don’t see the need to discover or understand what is expected of us as Christians, or to focus their life on the values and teachings dictated to us in the Word. They have the tendency to inadvertently meld or weave their own thoughts and ideas into Christianity and the end result can really be a stretch. Likely, we have all experienced this. It seems whether it is apathy, busy times, or just poor priorities, most things in the “Casual Christian’s” life are given a higher priority than the priorities of our Lord. Do any of the following thoughts sound familiar? “If I am basically a good person, I think I should fair okay with God.” or “I try to follow the key directions in the Bible, but He certainly couldn’t expect us to follow it all!” and perhaps this one, “I go to Church most Sundays and try to give what I can, when I can.” The “Casual Christian” is usually pretty good at quoting…or more likely misquoting…portions of the Bible for their benefit, when in fact they have spent very little time knowing or understanding the Bible’s content. “Casual Christians” use an abbreviated form of the Bible. Have you heard the term, Pencil Bible, which is when you erase the parts you don’t totally agree with and only comply with those that you do? You get the picture. Well it’s by no coincidence that most of this definition or description involved the word “I”, “you”, “me”, “us”, as the one’s determining how the game of life should be played. It is not likely the Creator of the Universe intended for us to make up the rules. I think He already has.

I am going to assume that most of us here today believe Jesus Christ to be our Resurrected Lord and Savior… and by virtue of this belief, our sins are forgiven and we are granted life everlasting. It is because of God’s Grace that we receive this wonderful gift. This is a core principal of the Christian faith. However, let’s examine further what is asked of us as believers. In our reading from James we learned that “faith by itself, if not accompanied with action, is dead”…what actions are you taking to give life to your faith? Are you setting aside an hour a week at Church, perhaps another hour or two of good deeds or well intended actions?...maybe even some occasional Bible reading. I am sure it varies greatly with each of us. What we need to ask is “How does this compare with our dedication to other aspects of our life?” Do you think we should take our Christianity more seriously?

Let’s think about this further. “God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believe in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The “Casual Christian” may believe that the mere utterance of those words takes care of things, but the Lord knows our heart…whether or not we really believe? When we truly believe in something, our actions usually match or mirror our belief.

I believe I like to eat, so I put in 40 plus hours per week to insure I have the means to do so, as well as another 15 plus hours actually doing it. I believe my kids should receive an education, so Dolores and I have sent them to school 5 days a week for over 12 years each and we are still doing our best to encourage them to attend college, even at considerable expense. We spent countless hours of our own time helping them to make it through school. I believe in the San Diego Padres and the San Diego Chargers. I track them daily via television, newspapers, radio etc. I spend a considerable amount of time following them, even during their off season. My point is that belief in something without any substance or subsequent action; is like no belief at all. I don’t know about you, but I do not want to stand before the Lord and say, well I spoke the words I thought you required, I raised my hand in church when asked if I believe...you mean that wasn’t enough? Imagine if I spent as much time in the Word of God as I spend on other activities. That would be a terrific start, but I believe God still wants more from us. He doesn’t want a bigger part of a portion of our life; He wants to be the center of our entire life. In a recent Bible Study, I remember an excellent visualization of God’s desire for us. Picture your life if we were to graph it on a pie chart, with the amount of time for each aspect represented by the size of each slice…for example yours might include a percentage for your job, family, sports or hobbies, even God time. How would God’s slice look? Our first thought would be; probably not big enough, I better make that slice bigger. But even that might not accurately represent God’s true desire for us. Follow me on this one. Suppose we chart our life again, this time excluding the piece representing God; are you with me so far…and then draw a circle around the center of the pie, similar to a hub cap on a wheel…and let this represent God…we have now placed Him at the center of all of our activities. I believe that is what He asks of us and a “casual” demeanor can greatly hinder our ability to do this.
What is a proactive way we can insure God is the center of our life? We can work at it. His Word is very clear, there are responsibilities attached to our Christianity. In 2 Peter 1: 3-9 from our reading this morning, we are instructed to add to our faith, goodness (in other words; we should not be content or complacent with our faith alone, but add to it, goodness); can you imagine how much work and discipline it would take to be faithful and good? It doesn’t stop there, and to goodness, we must add knowledge; knowledge of His Word, His teachings, His ways… and after knowledge; we need to work on our self-control, I don’t know about you but I could spend the rest of my life working on self-control…and there is more; to self-control we are asked to add perseverance, and then godliness, brotherly kindness, and then love…we have our work cut out for us! What tremendous responsibility. These are all Godly qualities, qualities we should aspire to have. This is by no means an easy task, in fact more like an endless battle…but a good battle with a just reward. God recognizes that we are always a work in progress; but, for us to be successful in our growth, it doesn’t leave a lot of time for “Casual”, does it?

So, what are the roadblocks, what are the things in our way, which prevent us from overcoming this innate tendency toward “casual”? Earlier I mentioned three; apathy, busy times, and poor priorities. If apathy is our problem, we need to honestly ask ourselves a couple of simple questions…first question, for the right here and now, “Do I want peace beyond all understanding”, because I am promised that in God’s Word?…and for the long term we can ask ourselves, “Where do I want to spend eternity?” and with our answers to these questions, decide how actively we should pursue these blessings from God. If we find our lives to be just too busy, think of this wise old adage…”if the devil can’t make us bad, he will make us busy!”…we then must do everything in our power to not allow the Devil to do so.
As for poor priorities, we need only to remember Jesus answer to the Pharisees when asked, which is the greatest commandment? Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself. Very simply, all the priorities we ever need.

Should we be bitterly disappointed that we are somewhat casual by nature? Absolutely not! The Bible says in Romans 3: 23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God”. From 1 Timothy 4: 7 we are told to “train yourself to be Godly”…an implication that it doesn’t come naturally. You cannot just try to be Godly. To run a marathon, you don’t try to run it, you train to run it. It takes discipline. Believe me, God understands we need work. The beauty of His plan is that each of us can have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, a relationship where He accepts and loves each of us for who we are. Picture a continuum that represents each of us and our walk with the Lord. We would all be at different points… some in their infancy, some very mature in their walk, and others scattered somewhere in between. I believe God is extremely pleased when, no matter where we are on that continuum, that we are moving closer to Him on a daily basis. This walk is not designed to be a lackadaisical journey; but a diligent, motivated, proactive journey, where our efforts will be justly rewarded beyond our wildest imagination.

In closing; I once heard a very interesting question that would be good for all of us to ponder. If you were put on trial today and you were being accused of being a Christian, would there be enough Evidence to convict you?

Let us pray…Lord, we pray for those among us whose faith may be weak or absent…may your presence become so vivid in their life, that ignoring you becomes impossible…Lord we pray too for those whose faith is strong, but struggle to live out your true desire for us. We pray for clarity of your will and the strength needed to accomplish it…and Lord for those whose faith is strong and whose life reflect your love and wonder, may they serve as an example to us all. In your name, we pray. Amen.