Keith Green, a radically converted Christian and gifted musician was a one-of-a-kind figure until his death in an airplane crash in the early 1980s. He was bold, reminding me of the apostle Paul’s courage and vision. Here’s a “Greenism” that gives a feel for what he represented:
“If your heart takes more pleasure in reading novels, or watching TV, or going to the movies, or talking to friends, rather than just sitting alone with God and embracing Him, sharing His cares and His burdens, weeping and rejoicing with Him, then how are you going to handle forever and ever in His presence? You’d be bored to tears in heaven, if you’re not ecstatic about God now!”
What I recall most about Green, beyond his lively music and spirituality, was his ambition to use music to spread the gospel of Christ’s love. And with that came his conviction that ministry is not a commodity. It always needs to be an expression of love, given freely. I don’t know the particulars but his reputation as genuine ‘giver’ rather than a ‘taker’ set him apart from many other Christian artists of his era.
The early and mid 70s saw worship events turn into performances. Popular gatherings of hundreds of students for “singspirations” at large churches were displaced when exceptional vocalists and musicians hired agents, set up tours, and sold tickets for worship performances. Worship gatherings became monetized.
So here’s my odd reflection this Christmas season. What if God made salvation a commodity to be bought or earned? If, for instance, Jesus had the good sense to charge an entry fee when he gathered his groups of thousands to hear him speak, maybe his ministry might have grown faster and had more impact. Imagine what an agent might have done with him: “God’s Son is in town! Come for healings, preaching, and prophecies! Healings are promised to the first dozen who sign up for the premium seats!” With a good agent he might even have avoided being killed on the cross.
I don’t mean to be caustic or mocking here; just to ask a hard question about how we’ve drifted. And I certainly understand that ministries all have a cost involved. In my own work with Cor Deo in Chippenham, England, I’m supported by many dozens of sacrificial donors. It takes funding for me to travel to the UK, rent a flat, and cover expenses. Yet we push for integrity here. We invite—but never require—our members to consider donating something in order to help us cover costs. We want to make sure anyone who might ask, “How much are you being paid to do this ministry?” can be told, “It’s a free gift; and we, in turn, rely on the gifts of others to be able to do it.”
Let me acknowledge, now, the seasonal context for this entry: Christmas. Remember that wonderful verse that offers such comfort to all of us?
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Jesus did ministry that was free to me and to you but was terribly expensive to God. It disrupted the communion of the Father and the Son when Jesus swallowed death for our sake. It was free to us, but expensive for God.
But now the main Christmas news we hear from our post-Christian culture is how much money is being made by stores and trades in this, our most consumer-driven time of year. Their big question is how much financial value can be extracted from Christmas in order to stimulate our world economies.
I’ve also taken advantage of some of the seasonal sales: it’s a good time to buy some needed items. But what I want to avoid is losing sight of the bigger question of faith: do we love the savior who so loved us that he died for our sake? Are we, as Keith Green put it, “ecstatic about God” in the here and now? Or is eternity something very separate from what we love right now? So that Christianity has become a monetized commodity for us?
If we struggle here, maybe it’s time to push back a bit. To ask, “Lord, what can I give to you this Christmas?” The gift I know he wants most is our response to his love, given so freely in Bethlehem and at Golgotha.
So I pray God’s richest blessings on you this Christmas as you give yourself away . . . freely.
Thanks, Ron. This was a great reminder to wake up to this morning. I think it’s also a good time to remember that, for many, this time of year is especially difficult—a reminder of loved ones lost during the year, of broken relationships, of loneliness, or, as I’m reminded of in my line of work, spending Christmas in the hospital. May we give the gift of love which has been so freely given to us to those who are in such need of it, especially at this time.
Tnanks for sharing this, Gretchen.
As wonderful as it is to be surrounded by family at Christmas, I’ve found there is a blessing in the “loneliness of Christmas”. The last few years I’ve been unable to see my family on Christmas eve, and it was heartbreaking for me. Christmas in the past was always about preparations, endless shopping, getting into a frenzy over time management and spending. In other words, a lot of stress. Through the pain I’ve learned what Christmas is. Christmas is Jesus.
Thanks Ron for your thoughts. I find them always inspiring. After many years of difficult Christmas times, overwhelmed with pain and grief, this year was different. There weren’t tears almost at all, except this morning at church when we sang a song about Jesus. This evening when I shared my experience and I thanked to one of my friends the last beautiful days, she said: ‘I am glad but all of these are from Jesus’. I wish I could grasp much more God’s love towards me and help me to give myself away not only to those people who love me deeply, but to those groups which I find very difficult and uneasy.