Sweet tea, college football, and Christianity

I like most things about living in the South. We play better college football than pretty much anyone else, and they typically don’t have sweet tea up north or out west—an inexplicable travesty. Then there’s gravy, grits, and biscuits, good barbecue, four distinct seasons, and most people are friendly. And the college football, definitely the football.

But as much as my southern heart would like to say it is, it’s no utopia, and there’s one particular struggle that we face down here that might be a little different than other parts of the world.

Everybody’s a Christian. That doesn’t mean everybody’s actually a real, true-to-heart, Jesus-follower, of course, but most people check the “Christian” box on the questionnaire. Not doing so would be almost as bad as not liking college football or talking bad about your momma. Christianity is the religion of the South—that’s just the way it is.

And that’s sometimes good and sometimes bad. There’s a kind of Christian ethic that pervades people’s thinking, even those who sleep in on Sunday mornings. You often see signs of the Judeo-Christian influence, so that’s good.

But it’s also bad. When everybody’s a Christian, nobody is, as the saying goes. And by that I mean that there’s a tendency to be a cultural Christian, which is to say lots of folks embrace Christianity because it’s a part of our upbringing. We say yes-ma’am and no-ma’am, support the NRA, and refer to ourselves as Christians.

It gives us the freedom to point fingers at those mean ole atheists, those liberal politicians, and those trouble-causing [insert whatever non-Christian religion you want to here] for most of the problems in the world.

Cultural Christians want Jesus in their lives, but they don’t want too much Jesus. A little Jesus makes you feel better about yourself, but too much Jesus involves sacrifices. A little Jesus lets you look down on other people, but too much Jesus makes you realize that you’re no better than they are.

Cultural Christians ignore lots of things Jesus said, like his call to take up your cross and follow him. Or to deny yourself and stop worshiping money, sex, and power. Or to turn the other cheek and love others as you love yourself.

In fact, Jesus spent a lot of his time teaching against the skin-deep faith of many of his contemporaries. You focus on the outside, he said, but I’m more concerned about the inside. You check boxes, but I care more about checking your heart.

All that to ask this—what kind of faith do you have?

We must admit that it’s easy to go through the motions, to go to church (doesn’t everybody?), get your name on a church roll (why not?), and be nice to people you like (but maybe not the others).

But Jesus calls us to something much deeper and so much better. He calls us to radical, earth-shattering, culture-provoking faith.

Is that what I’ve got? You?

A faith that sets my priorities and shapes my attitude, a faith that transforms the way I treat people, the way I love, the way I talk.

I am crucified with Christ, Paul wrote, but he lives in me.

When everyone’s a Christian, we need to think about what it means to be one. It’s not blending in or attending a certain church.

It’s about selling out to Christ, giving him everything you’ve got. It’s about filtering every decision through the Jesus lens.

Here’s my concern: I’m afraid that lots of folks—here and elsewhere—think they’re Christians when they’re not. I’m afraid this makes them complacent and uninterested in learning about real faith.

But I also want us to look inward, to reflect, to ask: Am I a box-checking, go-with-the-crowd Christian, or am I a true follower of the Lord Jesus Christ?

Sweet tea, college football, and conservative politics—all good, maybe, but they don’t put you in the kingdom.

Only Jesus does that. And when you get in his kingdom and he gets in your heart, he becomes your everything.