Truth in Advertising: Is Christianity a sad or happy religion?

Some of you recognize the image and quote above.  If not, it's from the animated Christmas movie The Polar Express.  In the movie, a magical train picks up children and takes them to the North Pole to party with Santa. Kids of all colors and all backgrounds are picked up by the train. On the way out of town, the train makes a last stop for a little boy who lives in a rundown house. Along the way the kids share about their experiences with Santa, Christmas and gifts.  The boy sitting down in the picture above is a little depressed and a bit agnostic about Christmas. Christmas hasn't worked out for him, which we assume means that his parents can't afford to give him any presents.

There have been times in my Christian life and in the lives of those I minister to that could be summed up in a very similar way:  Christianity just doesn't work out for me.  It's not that we disbelieve, it's that it hasn't turned out "as advertised".

Quite a few approaches to church and evangelism in the last twenty years have focused on an "Everything is Awesome with JESUS!!!!!" theme.  A better life now.  Be your most awesome self.  Ask Jesus into your heart and you will have a best friend forever.

Quite a number of young people have found a "fellowship of the disappointed" at the bottom of this mountain of hype.  These make up a large percentage of people who identity as "Nones"- people who had a former involvement with or commitment to Christianity, but find that "it just doesn't work for me." 

Gospel Christianity is a mixed bag. We rejoice. We weep. Our greatest rejoicing comes after we see the bitterness of sin and the overwhelming grace of Jesus. The grace we receive is trail food - as we live between our Justification and Glorification, the sweet and salty experience called Sanctification.

One of the ways that we can help people grow and continue in their faith is by approaching our teaching and evangelism like a dietician in a hospital prepares a patient's meals.  Sometimes diet has brought them to the Hospital!  Maybe they have been choking on the false promises of "feel good" Christianity and need to hear the simple good news of forgiveness and newness of life we receive by faith. Others came in healthy but are in hospital because of a life-altering accident and they need healing, rehabilitation and nutrition to mend. Maybe their patterns of rebellion or addiction or someone's treachery towards them have broken their hopes and sense of identity.  They need to rebuild life from the ground up - made in the image of God, redeemed by the death of Christ and renewed to walk in hope and grace-filled community.

The Apostle Paul had some friends in Greece.  They were wrestling with both discouragement and imbalance.  He encouraged them to have a ministry to various kinds of strugglers.  He didn't offer them a sloganeering approach, but a loving, patient "nitty gritty" approach to "life together."  

14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.

23   Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
— Paul (1 Thess. 5.14-24)

One of the ways we can journey with people in this "truth in advertising" way is introducing them to the language of faith that makes up a good portion of the Psalms.  Often within the same Psalm there is the "sweet and salty":  rejoicing and complaint/lament. Shouts of joy and dancing and tears. Sound like a rollercoaster?  Nope.  Real life.  All of that can happen in one day!!

I'll end with a musical treatment of Psalm 126 that talks about weeping while sowing, and reaping with shouts of joy.  He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.