Sunday Soccer and Small Christianity

Reading the New Testament, I see that Christianity is many things. But one thing it isn’t: a weekend option between soccer practices.

I am not against soccer practices or weekend pastimes. But I do believe that real Christianity is a compelling power so great it gets us beyond such small calculations. The early Christians were caught up into something from beyond this world, something gloriously all-encompassing. Real Christianity is massive. But is that our Christianity?

Christian conversion is not God sprinkling his pixie-dust blessing on our typical routines. It is a paradigm shift for the whole of our lives, with new categories and new capacities. We see this throughout the New Testament.

Ephesians 3:14–19 is one representative sample. Paul prays three requests for all Christians everywhere:

I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Christianity: Nuclear Fuel in Poor Paper Bags

First, in Ephesians 3:16, Paul prays that, according to the riches of God’s glory, we may be “strengthened with power through his Spirit.” And why do we need to be deeply strengthened? “. . . so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”

It is not easy for frail human beings when the risen Christ brings into our tiny hearts a new sense that he is real and wonderful beyond all this world can offer. Picture it this way: if I drop a piece of white-hot nuclear fuel into a paper bag, that paper bag needs to be strengthened to hold that fuel.

As Dwight Moody (1837–1899) was struggling with his own personal shortcomings, God met him one day in New York. He later wrote, “I can only say God revealed himself to me, and I had such an experience of his love that I had to ask him to stay his hand.” Christ does not make our lives easier. He makes our lives wonderfully harder as he cares for us with a love so great that we need strength to endure him.

Christianity: Overwhelming Love Experienced in Community

Secondly, in Ephesians 3:17, Paul prays that we will become “rooted and grounded in [Christ’s] love.” In other words, that we will feel under our feet the solid bedrock of his unchanging love for us.

As we are settled and secure in this love, Paul then prays that we may “have strength to comprehend with all the saints” (Ephesians 3:18) — not aloof from other Christians, but in community together — what is the generous breadth of Christ’s love including us, the eternal length of his love bearing with us, the all-forgiving height of his love surpassing our worst sins, the sacrificial depth of his love lifting us out of our most inexcusable failure.

And Paul prays that we will know this love of Christ with heart-level feeling, taking us beyond our own small thoughts and expectations. That’s the second thing Paul prays for us — that we would enter into the magnitude of Christ’s multi-dimensional love surrounding all his people.

Christianity: The Fullness of God Displacing Our Life-Dominating Sins

Thirdly, in Ephesians 3:19, Paul prays that we may be “filled with all the fullness of God.” That is, that we will be so satisfied in all that God is for us in Christ, that sin loses its power, the things of this world lose their charm, and we find in God our final happiness. Then we are free at heart to live all-out for him.

This early Christian prayer paints the picture of real, original, non-optional Christianity. We see theologically responsible, non-weird Christianity calling us out of our natural smallness up into the felt presence of Christ, a powerful sharing of his mighty love together, and such confidence in God that nothing can stop us now. And this is just one sample of the massive reality we call New Testament Christianity.

Following Jesus: Feast or Garnish?

So let’s face the hard question: Comparing our American Christianity today with what we read about in the New Testament, are we Christians? Is our Christianity today something Christ himself would identify as Christian? Or are we treating God’s feast as a garnish on the side? And if our consciences find these questions unsettling, then in honesty let’s admit it.

True Christianity begins here: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). God is calling every one of us small, broken, petty sinners into the greatest love in the universe. Do we mind being swept up into that, even at the cost of next weekend’s soccer practice?