Wine, Ideas, and the Problem with Relevance

What a curious conversation I had this week.  I was browsing through the wine section of a store while I waited for a large item to be delivered to the front.  A happy-go-lucky salesman came by to offer assistance and in the course of the conversation he asked me what I did for a living.   I always hesitate when I answer this question–It’s a difficult answer for a lot of reasons, but how do you boil down into the fewest possible words what my job is?  However, I sensed that this time was going to be more awkward than usual.  “I’m a pastor.”

Long pause.  Very long pause.  Long enough for the smile to drop from his face and the engagement in his eyes to pack its bag and run out the door.

“I sell wine. You sell ideas.”

I looked at him rather confused.   I hadn’t noticed “sell ideas” on my job description.  Sell ideas?  I sure hope not!

As I confessed here last week, I’m struggling with the tension between faithfulness and relevance.   And I’m concerned that more churches don’t seem to be doing so.   Instead, they seem to pitch their tent at one or the other and call it a day.

Furthermore, my most recent observation about the emergent movement and those seeking to have greater cultural relevance is that the catalyst seems to be for the comfort needs of those who already know.    Those on the inside need something different than their papa’s liturgy.  So many have been burned by the legalism of their upbringing and a fresh expression helps them to feel better and more at ease.  But does it make the gospel more relevant to those who don’t understand it?  Does it draw the lost in and if it does, to what are they being drawn?

And so the wine man may be right.  If we lose our faithful commitment to the person of Jesus Christ and we strive for too much relevance we sell ideas.  People don’t need more ideas.  Thanks to the internet there are already far too many of them.  What they need is relationship.  They need truth.  They  need love.  Relationship is the most relevant thing we have to offer.

“Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.  This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.  The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him.  We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us”  I John 3:18, 24.

We are not called to ideas–no matter how interesting they may be, they do not have arms and legs.  On their own they accomplish nothing.  They may entertain our time, but they don’t have the power to turn a cold heart warm.

I hope that I don’t sell anything.  What I have, I have been freely given.  May you and I be faithful to freely give what we have been given.

You are well loved, so love well today!

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