Becoming More Christlike Than American: Part 1

Part 1: Questions about why

“Why are you standing here staring into heaven?” Acts 1:11 NLT

If you’ve read Acts 1, this is such a pointed and powerful question. [If you haven’t read Acts 1, go read it now]

The disciples have just finished 40 days with the resurrected Jesus, which concludes with one “final” recorded conversation with him about the kingdom of God. This is where he reminds them that they will be his witnesses [martyrs is the Greek word] all over the world after they receive the Holy Spirit.

And then he ascends. Right in front of them.

And there they are. Standing. Staring into heaven. When two “white-robed” messengers ask them this simple, and yet profound, question: Why?

This “Why?” question has always gripped my attention every time I’ve read the story. And it makes me wonder if I too have found myself staring up to heaven instead of looking to what’s right in front of me – to people right around me and most of all to God who is with me.

This “Why?” question centers me upon potentially the most important part of the Gospel: the incarnation – that God “took on flesh” in Jesus, and is still “taking on flesh” today thru His Spirit within His people. This truth of the Gospel really changes everything.

This “Why?” question sets the trajectory for the disciples living out this reality of incarnation in their day. And it can do the same for us today.

And it’s really less about answering the question (I’m sure we could psychoanalyze why we think the disciples were staring into heaven) than it is about that asking of it to bring about awareness – awareness to what we find ourselves doing.

If you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of questions being asked right now in our culture. Especially among the younger generation of Christians in America.

Questions about faith. Questions about life. Questions about how faith works itself out in the midst of life.

Questions about the church. Questions about society. Questions about how the church lives out it’s values in the midst of society.

And on we could go.

Almost everything is being questioned. And most of the questions are really “Why?” questions.

And that scares some people, or at least unsettles them. But I don’t think it does God. Jesus himself asked many questions. And God fields questions constantly from those we read about in the Bible.

Questions are important. Questions can bring awareness. Questions can cause self-reflection. Questions can set a trajectory for the journey ahead.

And the questions being asked right now – especially the “Why?” questions – will shape the way forward for many people.

And even more so, the posture of asking questions – and the journey to understanding that comes from asking them – is shaping the church for the next generation more than even the answers themselves will.

As I observe the questions that are being asked today, they all seem to be about identity.

Which really relates to what this question in Acts 1 is getting at.

Are we people who are standing and staring toward the heavens? If so, why?

For many of us, it feels like much of our lives have been shaped by a teaching that says God is personal (God is with us) but also by practices that depersonalize God (“staring into heaven”).

Does being invited into a “relationship with God” in a non-relational context where you “pray a prayer” during an “altar call” really connect us with a personal God?

Does prayer being treated as how we “talk at God” and Scripture being used for how we “receive a word from God” really connect us with a personal God?

Does the church being so concerned with attendance and attraction, with buildings and budgets, and with numbers and nomenclature, really connect us with a personal God?

As myself and others have been asking these kinds of questions, I’ve found myself returning consistently to the book of Acts. Which always brings me to this question: “Why?”

And as we look to the stories of Acts as our guide, we will find the answers to so many of the questions we’re asking.

But, even more so, as we look to the stories of Acts, we will rediscover the posture of disciples and of a church that concerns itself far more with “God with us” than the desires and scorecards of this world – or even just our staring up to heaven.

The simplicity of the question asked of the disciples in Acts 1 is only matched by the simplicity of the community we see God form throughout the rest of the book.

And it’s that simplicity – that clarity – that questions like “Why?” can bring to our lives, to our faith, and to our churches. 

If we let them.

If we don’t run from them.

And it’s those sorts of questions we will be exploring as we navigate thru the stories in Acts in this blog series.

Let’s become more Christlike than American together.

*This post is the beginning of a series of reflections I have written that focus on “Becoming more Christlike than American.” They are based specifically upon the examples of the disciples of Jesus we read about in Acts. It is a follow-up series to one I did previously asking the question: “Do we look more American than Christian?” [Click here to read the first blog in that series]

I’ve spent over 15 years with that question, and have also walked with people who have been asking similar questions as well. I’ve found that the “crisis” we are in is really about our definition of Christlikeness. Many of us grew up in a church culture that gave us a lot of information about Jesus, and taught us to live moral lives, but we were mostly formed by religious programming more than a personal relationship with Jesus. A relationship that works itself out in personal relationships with those around us.

In my own journey with the questions in this series, I’ve found that ultimately I had learned to depersonalize God. And I find many are struggling with the same experience – and thus, why they are “deconstructing” with their faith and “disconnecting” with the church. For them (and for me) too many times the church has not “put flesh on” Jesus, but has just been a “place” (a building or time during the week) of looking to the heavens.

I hope this series will help others, who are on the same path as I am, to see God be fully “incarnate” in our lives once again.

God is with us. May we have the eyes to see Him and the ears to hear Him.

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Son. Brother. Husband. Father. Friend. Mentor. Spiritual Director. Consultant. Student. Communicator. Organizer.

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