I took Tracie to my favorite restaurant on our second date, way back in the day. It was my favorite restaurant for a number of reasons, but high on the list was their carrot cake. I have never been one to order dessert with dinner (I’ve been reluctant ever since I realized they would charge me for it), but for some reason I had had the carrot cake at this particular establishment. And it was wonderful. Moist cake, and plenty of it. Plump, juicy raisins throughout. A delicious cream-cheese icing, but not too much. Perhaps the best dessert I had ever eaten that had not come out of the kitchen of my mother or grandmother.
Dinner went fine. I was funny. I was engaging. The food was delicious. Things were going so well. And then I suggested dessert. “You have to try the carrot cake,” I said.
That’s when she told me she didn’t like carrot cake.
I did not break up with her on the spot. But I’ll be honest, it crossed my mind.
It literally had not occurred to me that the quality of the carrot cake could be irrelevant. Surely if I would just describe it properly, give it the glory it deserves (“so richly deserves,” I should say, given the dessert context), she would come around to my way of thinking and eating. But in fact, different strokes really are for different folks.
This has been one of my greatest frustrations when telling people about the church of Jesus Christ. The blessings found therein, both in this life and the next, are beyond compare. I would do anything to possess them. So would all of my closest friends. And yet the more I describe walking with Jesus, the more disinclined many of my neighbors are to do so. It’s not because I described it poorly. It’s because I described it very well. And they are not interested.
You can strip everything out of carrot cake that makes it carrot cake, and then insert everything that makes up chocolate pudding, or coconut cream pie, or whatever other confection your neighbors might prefer. And if the goal is to get them to pick up a fork or spoon and dig in, it very well may work. But if the goal is to get them to properly appreciate the glories of carrot cake, it can never do anything but fail.
We struggle in the same way with the body of Christ. When it fails to grab the attention and affection of our neighbors, we want to downplay all the things about being a Christian that they find objectionable. We soft-pedal the moral aspects. We don’t press the notion of commitment. We do everything in our power to avoid discussing their marriage history. We think that perhaps, if we can make the church appear to be the world’s greatest country club, charity, dating service, or whatever, perhaps they will give the Lord a chance.
We have to come to grips with reality. Some people are not interested. And until they change their way of thinking, they will never be interested. And the one thing we can do to guarantee they will never change their way of thinking is give them the impression that they don’t have to.
Jesus told us from the start it would be this way. He told us the fertile soil was only one of four that the seed of the gospel will find (Matthew 13:1-8). He said the narrow gate would get less traffic than the wide gate (Matthew 7:13-14). The largest crowds were usually the worst ones; that’s why He talked in parables (Matthew 13:11-13) and preached “difficult” lessons to hear (John 6:60). He even turned away (seemingly) eager candidates for discipleship, knowing they did not have the true love of the truth that would carry them through difficult times (Luke 9:57-62).
The best response for us is not to change the nature of the gospel so it will appeal to more people. The best response is to accept the gospel of Christ for exactly what it is — a two-edged sword that reveals us for what we and our neighbors truly are inside (Hebrews 4:12).