Even the Pagans Do That

December 19, 2011

What makes a day in your life?

If you didn’t catch Ridley Scott’s Life in a Day when it was released, it’s now on Netflix.  It’s that movie made of hundreds of home movies from all over the world, clipped together, to make a complete picture of human life in one day.  People sleep, go about their morning routines, play with their kids, go to work, worship and pray, have dinner with family, and all the other imaginable human activities.

It’s kind of a remarkable movie, if only because it’s a film made of a bunch of smaller films that no one would ever want to watch.

But it also made me think.  What does a day in my life look like?  What about yours?

And more importantly is this: Christians boast that Jesus is the most important part of our lives.  But is he this most important part of our days?

A Day In My Life

What would a day in my life look like?  I get up around 6 am.  I dress in a shirt and tie and go to work.  I stay there for eight or nine hours, work hard, and drink coffee.  On the way home, I go to the chiropractor or the grocery store.  I get home and write a blog entry.  Sometimes, I make dinner, or we eat out.  Thursday is frozen pizza night.  When my wife gets home, we read together or watch some TV while doing housework.

You could say that my day is extremely typical.

Sure, there are some disruptions to the schedule.  I go to church every Sunday.  That’s a couple of hours, or 1.19% of my week.  On Friday afternoon or Saturday morning, I’m preparing a lesson for church.  That’s another 2%.  While I’m getting ready in the morning, I say some prayers for the day.  Another 1%.  Every once in a while, I’ll do a good Christian deed.

But except for some Jesus sprinkled here and there, yes, my day doesn’t look a whole lot different from any ordinary, non-Christian.

It makes me wonder if Jesus were watching a movie of my life, would he say, “Even the pagans do that!”

Even the Pagans Do That

We’re a week away from Christmas, and I really am feeling good about it this year.  I have tried to soak in the meaningfulness of the holiday.  Our gifts are wrapped and under the tree.  I am enjoying family gatherings.  I am eating too many cookies.  I tried to spread Christmas cheer by doing something charitable for less fortunate people.  On Christmas Eve, we will go to church.

So what?  Even the pagans do that.

Seriously, while too many of us are concerned about forcing store cashiers to say “Merry Christmas,” to “preserve” our holiday, we’re celebrating the holiday no differently than anyone else.

Christians are putting up lights and buying gifts and overeating just like anyone else.  What’s that?  You say you’re going to church on Christmas?  So what?  You’ve been to church on Christmas.  It’s packed with people who don’t go to church any other day of the year.  Yes, even the pagans go to church on Christmas.  You don’t get credit for that.

Oh, you say that you put some cash in a red kettle, or you helped out a down-on-their-luck family?  Well ooh-la-dee-da.  Plenty of non-Christians have the human decency to help the less fortunate without Jesus telling them to.

Even the Pagans are Christian

Something happened when we became a “Christian” nation.  The idea of what made a Christian “Christian” got watered down.  There was a time when being a Christian meant you were different.  And if you weren’t Christian enough, you got kicked out.  Now, everything is “between you and God,” and faith is a “private” thing.  And America has become a place where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, all the children are above-average, and even all the pagans are somewhat Christian.  Even atheists like NFQ last Friday said she accepts and lives by many Judeo-Christian values.  So what makes me a Christian now?

I go to church?  I don’t beat my wife or drink too much?  I give away a few bucks?  I watch my language?  I hold the elevator door for strangers?  I say “Merry Christmas?”  I accept others as they are and try not to be too judgmental?

So what?  Even the pagans do that.  In some cases, the pagans are doing better than us.

What do you think?  How can Christians make Christmas a Christian holiday again?  What can we do to make ourselves different again?  How much of your day is different because you’re a Christian?

This post is sponsored by Ministry Matters.

30 responses to Even the Pagans Do That

  1. Maybe Christmas doesn’t need to be Christian anymore. I mean it didn’t start out that was but was one of those “pagan” festivals that Christians of their day wanted to transform into a way of presenting Jesus that fit in with the times. Maybe we need to look for new things in our society that we can transform so Jesus can be known in our time … ?

  2. Let God dwell in our heart and confess our sin so the fruit of the spirit will shine through us. Forgive someone, show compassion and give generously to others. Be sure to spend time talking to God each day and listening to what He has to say through His word.

  3. Good thoughts. Thanks for sharing this. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and my mind tends to veer into two directions.

    1.We need to do the same good things, only more radically. Give, but MORE! Until it hurts, as the soon-to-be-cliche goes. Be nice…ER! Radically! Read the Bible on lunch breaks until you’re always quoting scripture in conversation, Tebow until your knees bleed, etc. Let’s call this direction Francis Chan ville (even though many others have written to the same effect, but his is the one I remember best)

    2. We need to want to do all those good things and fail at it. This draws us near to God in prayer and dependence on Him, and also gives us opportunity to show humility and honesty in our interactions with others. I think truth, humility and self-sacrifice should be evident in the lives of a Christian, so to that effect, I think we should be the first ones to admit our faults and strive to make it right.

    I think it’s obvious which one of these postures I’m leaning towards lately.

  4. Maybe if we didn’t stuff our pockets full of Christmas presents we could walk on water.

  5. Well, I’m no biblical expert (as was pointed out to me last week), but I seem to remember Jesus being fairly unimpressed with shallow demonstrations of piety.

    My understanding was that doing certain things was not what makes people Christians, but that being a Christian influences what they do. In theory, anyway.

  6. Jesus said they’ll know we are Christians by our love for one another.

    Seems that it isn’t so much what WE do as what GOD does in us. As a brand new believer, I had a not-yet-a-Christian friend ask me what had happened–I was different somehow. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but he knew something radical had happened to me. I didn’t understand what he was seeing, but shortly after I explained that I’d met Jesus, he too believed.

    Reminds me a bit of Moses, with his shining face. His glory slipped away; ours should be permanent.

    Of course we try to do what Jesus did, all those things people have already mentioned. But what really makes us different is the Spirit living in us. We just need to let Him shine.

  7. This a great post anytime of year but very timely during the Christmas season. The question of what makes us Christian is THE question we all must ask.

  8. As long as we consistently act like pretty much everyone else, it is doubtful that people will ever know the difference.

    The Bible simply says they will know us by our love. It also says that the Gospel will be preached with signs and wonders.

    Those who recognized Jesus and the apostles we amazed at the teaching, amazed that they didn’t care about power and position, and of course they were amazed at the healing and miracles which they preformed. And finally the forgiveness of the Roman soldiers who put people to death – oh yeah, followed by the earth splitting and the previously dead walking about the city. And then Steven did it.

    My everyday life is simple, it looks like lots of other folks on the outside; I don’t dress in robes or something. In everything I do, I do my very best, treating it like worship. I do it at work, with my wife, with my kids, and when no one knows what I am doing. I do my best everyday to hear God, and do it. Some days it is letting someone into traffic ahead of me instead of flipping them off, and other days it is stopping to pray for someone I meet, as well as my church family. I am just bumbling Christian, but God still uses me to counsel, to teach, and to be a vessel for the spiritual gifts.

    It is a great topic Matt. Yesterday my Facebook status was this: “If people actually believed I was made in the image of God, there would be far fewer Christians.”

    Every true Christian has but one mandate: To see what the Father is doing, and do it. The problem is that we like to make it about everything else. We rarely teach people ot see what God is doing.

    Merry Christmas

    • So David, just to throw some gas on the fire – what if I’m preaching without signs and wonders? I can’t remember the last time I’ve healed someone or performed a miracle. Is our testimony dead without something to really grab peoples’ attention? Maybe we’re trying to make up for the lack of wonders by putting on a really wonderful worship show.

      • Well Matt, those are good questions.

        Is a testimony dead without a display of the supernatural? I don’t know. Sometimes the fruit of character is also a good witness. However; when the two come together, it is an amazing thing. If we look at the NT Bible characters, we see an array of gifts poured out through the community, not just preaching, leading a song and cleaning toilets.

        It is possible that the worship show is a way to get people to a church, but that is not what keeps them there for long.

        I am only happy to report that our fellowship does see the supernatural on an ongoing basis. I very musch enjoy people getting up fron to report on many things that God has done from healing to various other needs met.

  9. So, you’re right. Even pagans act the way I act. I agree with everything you wrote. Truth. Our actions do not give us away. But do pagans have my hope? Do they have my belief? Do they have the joy I felt at my mother’s funeral? Not joy that she was dead, but joy that she was with Christ. Do pagans give to others, not for their ease of conscious, but with hope that an earthly gift will show a shadow of the gift of salvation. You are right. Actions don’t show what may be in our hearts.

  10. Nice post. I’ve tried to make a similar point when explaining how things can be “secular” and inclusive rather than solely “religious” or “atheist” in nature — people do lots of things all the time that aren’t centrally about being religious, and they are still religious people. On the flip side, I’ve gotten little cards handed to me by street evangelists breaking down the time an average person spends on things in a week and begging me to spend more of my day (heh) on worship-related activities.

    The only real thing I wanted to comment on, though, was to clarify that people have been being nice and polite since long before Jesus is supposed to have lived. The Golden Rule had already been around in various forms for thousands of years, in many different civilizations. I just kind of felt like, the way you explained it, it sounded like — well, Jesus came along and taught everyone how to be nice, so now everyone’s nice even if they’re not Christian. That’s not really fair to … well, the other 2/3 of the planet and millennia of human history.

  11. We are a confused bunch aren’t we?….

    I think the Christian in us really come out in hard times…in the times of turmoil and death and hard days like those…

    Peter said to always be ready to tell people why you had so much Hope…

    I think our hope is seen only in the times where everything seems hopeless…

  12. I’ve had a surprising number of conversations lately with people I firmly believe are Christians (i.e., people who have confessed their sin, asked for forgiveness for that sin from God, and who are learning to trust/follow Jesus in their daily lives (i.e., sanctification, which is a life-long process)) where we were discussing a difference of opinion on some issue, I explained the Scriptural basis behind my stance and they disagreed with me, but had no Biblical basis for it. What they were saying was typically the cultural norm. What I was saying was typically not. To them, their stance was justified because that “seemed right” to them. In only one case was a single Scripture quoted back to me, and it was out-of-context (imo). Mostly it’s just “I feel this is right” or “this is what I think” (hello, post-modernism). Ok, that’s great, but this is what the Bible _says_. We’re not debating the finer points of Levitical ethical vs. ritual law here. We’re talking Psalms, Proverbs, NT – things very few people think can be “ignored.” But my Biblical arguments are blown off with “well, that may work for some people, but…”

    It drives me a little batty…but it gets back to Satan’s VERY FIRST trick – “Did God _REALLY_ say…?” People a) don’t know the Scriptures, and/or b) have been taught at some point that the Scriptures are errant and/or metaphorical, and/or c) the culture has SO infiltrated the church that it doesn’t _MATTER_ what the Bible says.

    An example: it’s taken me six years of marriage to get my husband to stop saying that the Bible says you shouldn’t have any debt except a mortgage. SIX YEARS of pointing out to him (with surprising frequency, but always gently) that it doesn’t say that at all – it says “no debt” (no exceptions), and he’s only just now starting to catch himself from saying that (for the record, we have debt, some of it at my hand). The culture has so infiltrated in that regard that he though the BIBLE actually said something about mortgages (mortgages were invented in, what, the 1940s?). And most of the people who have read this far into my comment are gasping right now and thinking – “how would I have afforded my house/car/degree(s)/etc. without debt?” I dunno. All I can tell you is that the Bible says “neither a borrower nor a lender be” and that if you _do_ lend (especially to a “brother”), do so interest-free and without expecting it to be repaid.

    How different would our lives be if we actually did what the Bible said? If we actually believed what it says? If all of our daily actions were based on some Scripture or another? If we had a Biblical basis for what we believe and could actually explain it?

    It’s like we feel that we can go to our social club on a Sunday morning, feel good about the “good” things we do, pick out the warm fuzzy parts of the Bible and Jesus, and ignore the rest.

    We can’t! We shouldn’t! If we stopped doing so, we’d start being different from the world! Heck, it’s why the world is fascinated with the Duggars right now. They’re different. And they can tell you why they act that way.

    • Couple of things–

      1) Although it’s most likely a paraphrase of something in the Bible, the exact phrase “Neither a borrower or a lender be” is actually from Shakespeare, I think. High school English was a few years ago for me, so someone might want to double check that.

      2) Is it possible to put too much emphasis on “doing what the Bible says”?
      I don’t mean to be snarky in asking this, because this is something that I’ve thought about a lot. I mean, the Bible in its entirety is full of things that we’re supposed to be doing, and yes, in practice, most Christians do seem to “pick and choose” the parts that they adhere to. They’re probably not supposed to, but that’s how it ends up happening.
      The thing is, I’ve come across folks who take some prohibition from the Bible and really go to town with it–maybe it’s not drinking, or not letting their kids read Harry Potter, or not using birth control–and it almost seems like something that started out as a way to “do what the Bible says” becomes some kind of ritual–almost like a superstition. The prohibition becomes the focus–and a handy way for acting superior to all the “sinners” who disagree.
      I mean, evagelicals thumb their noses at Catholics who pray the rosary or Muslims who wear headscarves–how is “setting yourself apart” by not getting a mortgage any different? (Please, don’t take this as knocking what you’re trying to do–that isn’t my intent.)

      • a) I think you’re right – the verse I was thinking of (and misquoting) was Prov. 22:7 – “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.” Still…not interested in being a slave…but really, I was just trying to come up with an example that wasn’t going to cause controversy. See how well that worked? I a) misquoted Scripture myself, and b) still stirred up controversy with my example. ;p
        b) Absolutely! Anything – be it law, ritual, or a sock stuffed with bunnies – can become an idol. Does that mean that we should throw out the word of God because we’re sinful and might make following it more important than God Himself? Certainly not.

        An example of a conversation that I am still in the midst of which is far more controversial than mortgages is concerning how one should discipline their children. A believing friend of mine posted a link on FB about the decline of parents spanking their children. I pointed out all of the verses in Proverbs that talk about the “rod of correction” (which in the Melissa Standard Version is translated “spanking”). I have spent DAYS with her (and others) telling me that the “law of love” (i.e., “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself”) means that we no longer have to follow the Law of the OT. I agree with her on that point (well, specifically the ritual law, but I’m ok with expanding that to all of the Law for the sake of the discussion, despite Jesus saying that He did not come to abolish the Law). But the verses I pointed out were in Proverbs, not the Law (a point which I have made repeatedly). Proverbs says (among other things) that “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child and the rod of correction will drive it far from him.” (Prov. 22:15) And (in Prov. 23:13) that we should “not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die.” (And fyi, the Bible also condemns beating with a rod to the point of death (Exodus 21:20), so clearly, that was _NOT_ the intent of the Proverbs, nor would it be considered acceptable.) Another (commonly misquoted as “spare the rod, spoil the child”) is “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” (Prov. 13:24). And finally, “A rod and a reprimand impart wisdom, but a child left undisciplined disgraces his mother.” (Prov 29:15).

        Proverbs says the wise thing to do is to spank your children. Does it say that is the only way to discipline your child? No. Does it say “You will go to hell if you fail to discipline your child by spanking?” No. Proverbs is not Law. Proverbs is God’s wisdom given to and written down by Solomon (mostly).

        Why would God give us a book of _wisdom_ and then have Jesus say we should ignore it? Has wisdom changed with time? Did wisdom change with the coming of grace? Has God changed His mind about what is wise? (The answer to those questions (at least in my opinion) is: He wouldn’t; No; No; and No.)

        Do I think it’s _sinful_ to fail to include spanking in your discipline arsenal? No. Proverbs isn’t the Law. But it is unwise to fail to include it.

        Presented with this information, my friend (who is childless, btw) still insists that we shouldn’t spank our children (there has to be a “better way”). The Bible says that it is the wise thing to do (what way is better than the wise way?). That part of the Bible is not altered in any way through the coming of grace. But it just doesn’t matter. It doesn’t conform with what she wants to believe, so she’s not going to believe it.

        How will spanking my children on occasion make me a better witness? I don’t know that it will. I do know, however that God said it was the wise way to train my child in the way he or she should go. I want to be wise according to God’s definition of wisdom. I think that being wise in that way (which is so very different from Earthly wisdom) would set me apart from the world. To what purpose? Well, that’s in God’s hands.

        But absolutely, when the rule becomes god, then the person following it is sinning.

        • Ah, thank you for that. I think when I read your original post I went off on a wacky tangent (which I’m prone to do.)

          Regarding your example about the spanking, I think it makes sense. It’s been a while since I read Proverbs, but I remember there being a lot of common sense stuff in there (or “well, DUH” advice, as I’d call it.)

          When I was in med school, I spent a month in an inpatient psychiatric ward at a children’s hospital. Several of the doctors that ran it said that the kids generally did better there because of the regimentation–everything is done according to a schedule, certain behaviors are always punished (they used timeouts there, of course), and certain behaviors are always rewarded. The kids in there had major behavioral problems, and a lot of times the problems were aggrevated by having totally chaotic home lives. If a kid doesn’t know when certain things are going to happen, or whether or not Mom and Dad really care about what they do, they flip out (there’s a nice clinical term for you!) Kids need to have boundaries, according to all the “experts”, and, lo and behold, apparently the Bible says the same thing.

          On another note, I think the reason I when so far afield earlier was because I’ve kind of struggled with certain “cultural” aspects of the church, and certain things set me off, I guess. When I was growing up, my parents had always been Christians and attended a “mainline” church. When I was in high school, though, they gradually became much more conservative, leaning more toward the charismatic/pentacostal side, I guess you’d call it. So, certain things changed. One year my mom decided not to celebrate Halloween anymore, so when I went back to school I tried to do the same. I stayed home from all the Halloween parties my friends were having and explained why my religious convictions prevented me from going.
          The thing was, whenever I did something like that it felt really forced. And I realized later that it wasn’t really making me a better Christian, it was just making me a more insufferable person to be around. I ended up feeling the same way about some the other things that my parents felt “convicted” about.
          Don’t get me wrong–my parents and I still get along quite well, and I feel that everything they do is out of a sincere love of Christ even if I can’t always go along with it. It’s just that I sometimes feel that they’ve become part of something that I no longer fit into. Because of that I’ve also had to always question whether I’m doing something because it’s what God actually wants, or if I’m just doing it to please my parents and fit in with their particular “brand” of Christianity.

          • Yeah….
            I think there are always going to be those tensions, especially between a grown child and their parents. For one thing, as you age, you notice things that maybe you didn’t notice before (especially because you live elsewhere and don’t hear what they say all the time, so it makes more of an impression). And as information has become more readily available, their opinions and habits change too. I notice things about my parents views (my mom’s especially) that surprise the heck out of me when I go to visit, or they visit here. Then it becomes a choice for me – what do _I_ believe? And why? I’d like to think that my views are all based on Scripture, but I’m sure there are plenty of examples where that’s not the case.

            In any case, the spanking conversation I quoted from above seems to have ended with her telling me that I am “reading what I want to read in the conversation.” That doesn’t even make sense to me, hence the driving me batty. It doesn’t matter what the Bible says or that it is still applicable today. It only matters what she _wants_ to believe. It’s one thing to believe something because you don’t _know_ what the Bible says, but when you know what it says and know that it is still applicable today? Arg. Drives me nuts. And makes Christians no different from anyone else who bases their beliefs on what they think is “good” or “nice.” (That’s called “post-modernism,” I believe.)

  13. I don’t think that anything we DO is ever going to differentiate us from the pagans with one possible exception–forgiveness. To love someone enough to forgive them when they have “ruined our lives”; when someone has stabbed us in the heart,hammered it deeper and twisted it to maximize our pain; when someone refuses to have anything to do with us for whatever reason is so different from what typical pagans do. However, as I think about it, even pagans can do that because whether we are Christians or pagans, we are made in the image of God and because He forgives, anyone has the ability forgive.

    Therefore, I think the only thing that really differentiates us from pagans is what God gives us–His Spirit, His forgiveness, His righteousness. Isn’t THAT thought an ego-trimmer? 😀

    Happy Advent.

  14. Two things.
    1. None of those thing you listed has ever made anyone a Christian. They are a result of being a Christian. Hopefully Christ makes much more of an impact on you and those are just a portion of him in you, but none the less.
    2. Christmas is, was, and ever more shall be a Christian holiday. It is the day we remember Jesus’ birth. What you are forgetting is that Christmas isn’t the only holiday celebrated at this time of year. Christian Americans need to take their heads out of the sand and come to terms with a few facts. We are not a Christian nation, people can celebrate whatever religious or non religious holiday they choose, and that it simply doesn’t make sense to wish a merry Christmas to a sikh, buddist, Muslim, etc. Just like it wouldn’t make sense for a Jew to tell a Christian to enjoy Channukah, or a Muslim to tell a pagan “happy Ramadan.”

  15. One of my goals for 2012 is to keep track of how I spend my time for a few days. I’ve done it before, but it’s a pretty eye-opening exercise.

  16. The matter of the heart which you do those “good works” makes them meaningful or not. I think this focuses too much on how Christians vs. Pagans doing the same things better ir worse than each other, but that I understand that ALL have failed miserably and believers understand the magnitude of a Messiah miraculously being born to a virgin.
    Also in reflecting on what seperates believers from “pagans”, it takes me to the scriputure where Jesus says clearly was makes people notice the difference- Loving one another. Maybe Americans don’t know how to truly do this.

  17. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, too. My pastor made a really shocking but obvious point the other day–the sort of thing that changes your life because its been right in front of you but you never reached out and grasped it before. Able’s sacrifice was better than Cain’s because Able sacrificed his very best; he did without because he was thankful to have anything at all. Cain gave what he had left, and took the best for himself….he thought he deserved it. So, perhaps what is really missing from modern Christianity is sacrifice. Sacrifice of time, of wealth, of wants, even of dreams….a people that sacrifices until it hurts, because they are thankful that they are shielded from the hurt that they deserve…a people that worships with abandon.

  18. Pagans worship the sun god Lucifer and they do this on sunday , while God’s people have always been keeping the true sabbath and will continue to do so throughout eternity .so ask your self which day did God say we should obey him in worship .if you keep not the commandments of God as Jesus kept them than you practice iniquity and he will say the truth is not in you .also to the person who doesn’t know the origin of man because they can’t keep up with all the false teaching of past civilizations , Jesus came to put the truth back on track as only he was able to know whom he created in the beginning even if Satan had nurtured lies to them ancient writers.Jesus says keep my commandment if you love me and that means all 10 and by his saving grace and mercy you are saved by your faith in him to forgive you your sins.so we are to practice that which is revealed to you in truth and ask for forgiveness daily and have your robes washed to white.So the reasons people can’t tell the difference between Christians and pagans is because you have been led away from the truth and are practicing sun worship and keeping all the pagan festivals with christian trimmings .