Bo Duke and Jesus…
As I was scrolling through my news feeds this morning looking for anything interesting, anything that might spark an idea or two, maybe something to help me understand world events or a story to help me think deeply about an issue of importance. There’s all kinds of important news happening around the world: Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Central African Republic, Congo, North Korea, Israel-Palestine, Venezuela, Sudan. And there are all kinds of issues to explore: same sex marriage, immigration, poverty, political corruption, health care, economics, and crime. The choices seem endless and mentally engaging.
But I breezed right past all the real news to an article on Bo Duke, er, hmmm, I mean John Schneider. (You can read the article here) You may remember some pictures of him in the midst of deep grief going viral recently. They were deeply compelling pictures. That coupled with the nostalgic awesomeness of The Dukes of Hazard just drew me into the article. Come on, how could I pass on Bo, Luke, Daisy, and Uncle Jesse? Just pure 80’s awesomeness! I can see the General Lee jumping over a creek right now…
The interviewer asked an intriguing question to Schneider, ‘You’re born again?’ Now that’s a question that catches a preacher’s attention! After all it’s not that kind of spontaneous question that most news reporters would ask. Schneider’s response, ‘Yup, it’s been a while since I’ve been to church, but you don’t get unborn again.’ My first thought, ‘well, he’s clearly not an Arminian. Too bad, oh well I guess everyone’s not moving on to perfection.’ But Schneider continues on to say something that has stuck in my mind all day:
“Christians do not like me that much anymore because I drink whiskey and I believe that my relationship with God is between me and God, kind of a Johnny Cash thing. I’m not a Christian for your benefit. I’m a Christian for my benefit and how I walk my walk is my business, and how you walk your walk is your business.”
It’s kind of a haunting statement. I’m sure it resonates with lots of people. We are often taught in our culture that faith is a private affair. In some circles the only topics off limits are religion and politics. As a pastor of a growing mid-sized church l know that much of my life is in the public eye. I may even be something of a public figure in my little neck of the woods. I can’t imagine what it must be like for someone like John Schneider. Maybe the desire to have faith ‘under the radar’ is completely understandable when the national media or the paparazzi could scrutinize your life at any moment. Perhaps that explains his comment, ‘my relationship with God is between me and God.’ However, I think there are even deeper issues that Schneider’s comments bring to the surface. And they are more important issues than personal privacy. These issues are best expressed as a couple of questions, ‘who benefits from my faith in Jesus?’ and ‘is your walk with Christ any of my business?’
So let’s take a step back from Mr. Schneider’s personal experience. Most of us will never be really famous so we can’t truly understand what that kind of life is like. Instead, let’s consider the last two issues. First, ‘who benefits from my faith in Jesus?’ The Apostle Paul states in his second letter to the Corinthian church:
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:18–20 NRSV)
For the Christian there is a deep reality that our faith in Christ exists to impact the lives of other people. In fact, as Paul says we are ‘ambassadors for Christ.’ The message we carry is an invitation to be reconciled to God through Christ. This is an explicit call for our faith to be public and our message to be clear. There is no such thing as private faith for the Christian. When we attempt to live our faith in Jesus privately, we are not living in faith at all. We do well to remember the scripture, “So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us.” For Christian faith to be real it must be public.
Second, ‘Is your walk with Christ any of my business?’ We are a rigidly individualistic society. Sometimes that rugged individualism inoculates us against the call to live in Christian Community. When that is coupled with the mistaken assumption that faith should be private we experience great frustration in living the Christian life. We think that we should be able to just pick ourselves up by our own spiritual bootstraps. This is so far from the Scriptural invitation to life in community. We need each other to become who God created us to be. The Proverbs tell us that, ‘as iron sharpens iron so one man sharpens another.’ In Acts the early church gathers for worship, fellowship, sacrament, teaching and simply to live life together. In Hebrews we are told to ‘not give up meeting together as some have done, but rather to encourage one another toward love and good deeds.’ Over and over again we are called to be a part of one another’s lives and to live life in Christian community. In Galatians 6 we receive the follow instruction, “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path.” (Galatians 6:1 NLT-SE) My walk with Christ is your business and your walk with Christ is my business because we have the responsibility to help another walk with Christ.
Our faith, the Christian faith, must be lived out publicly and in the context of Christian community. We need each other and the world needs the message we carry!
Well, that’s a lot for bypassing the real news…