Does it work?
Let me tell you about my new (ish) lawnmower. Just before we moved to Devizes our old one broke, so it gave me an excuse to buy one of the new battery ones. Our new garden is larger than our old one and, having read rave reviews saying how it would cut (pun intended) the mowing time by half, I purchased a shiny, red lawnmower. And initially, I was very impressed. You charge the battery for a few hours, then pop it into the lawnmower and off you go, up and down, not worrying about severing the electric cord.
However, over the winter, something happened... When everything else was bursting into life at the start of spring, the battery had done the equivalent of crawling into a corner and dying. Emails, photos, receipts, courier deliveries later, and the battery was working again. Hacking through the foot-high grass was an effort, but I was still in love with the lawnmower.
We then had the heat wave, and the lawn transformed into a savanna scrubland. This was good news as I didn’t have to cut the grass for a couple of months! However, the punchline is inevitable – Elaine took the lawnmower out and unsurprisingly, the battery was not playing ball. The love affair was over.
Ultimately, we judge things on whether they work. I know at the beginning we fall for the shininess, the logo (the bite out of the Apple), the wild claims, but ultimately, for a thing to work it has to do what it was intended to do: Google Glass, the Segway and Windows 8 might have been released with a lot of hype, but when people actually checked them out, they weren’t much good. They didn’t really work.
It’s a good question for us to ask of Christianity. Does it work? For many years I have been interested in apologetics: the defence of Christianity. There’s lots of branches of apologetics, and the emphasis changes over time. For example, when I was a child it was all about the (dubious) mathematical probability of Jesus fulfilling all the Old Testament Prophecies. There were ontological, cosmological and teleological arguments claiming to prove that there is a God. Recently, there has been a resurgence in natural theology.
Now this is an important point: I’m not criticising these branches of apologetics; for example, if you don’t believe in God, how come there is something out of nothing (I listened to Richard Dawkins trying to painfully weave his way out of this conundrum last week on a Podcast). However, in a post-Christendom world, we need to be careful that we’re not answering questions no one is asking: I find it awe-inspiring that Jesus fulfils so many Old Testament prophecies, but I doubt the average person in Devizes is wrestling with the probabilities involved. But what if, as John Stackhouse urges, we make our focus, on whether Christianity works?
What about the claim that Jesus forgives sin?
If we admit our sins—simply come clean about them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins – John 1:9 (The Message).
A bold claim. We can’t prove it with a microscope in the laboratory. And yet chat to people who have been transformed by Jesus, and they’ll tell you, that they feel forgiven. The guilt burdens have gone.
Or how about the claim, that, as followers of Jesus, we are promised the power to overcome things which we don’t want to do?
God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it – 1 Corinthians 10:13 (The Message).
Please don’t think Jesus followers are going to become perfect overnight – we’re really not! We all have different starting points, but, people who seriously follow Jesus’ way are transformed over time, making dramatic progress.
Or what about the promise that as a family of Jesus followers, we will grow in love for each other?
This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other – John 13:35 (The Message).
We are a diverse group of people at Sheep Street, yet, when we allow the Holy Spirit to do His work, we grow in love for each other. Put bluntly, when churches don’t love one another, they’ve stopped being church.
I could go on but I’m sure you get the message – Christianity works. And if it works, it means we do not need to fear the secular outlook, which clearly doesn’t work. Just think about the hurt and pain people are going through here in Devizes, be it through addictions, loss of meaning, loneliness or depression.
We can have confidence in Jesus – what he says is truth because he is the truth. So let us share this truth with humility, kindness and love. A great way to do this is to invite people to Café Church, the third Sunday of each month: a safe, friendly space where people can hear about the wonderful news of Jesus. This coming week, I won’t be putting my confidence in my lawnmower battery – it doesn’t work. I will however, be putting my confidence in Jesus.