Half-way Done…

During last semester, I was required to do my candidacy assessment for George Fox Seminary – where a team of professors come together, review my work, read my reflection of how life is going for me in seminary, and determine whether or not it is spiritually healthy for me to continue. I think every student goes through this assessment, so it is basically part of the routine. When I wrote the reflection essay, though, I became aware of something: I miss church.

It may be a shock for some to imagine how a seminarian could go through the majority of their classes without being “plugged in,” as the Christianese phrase goes. But that has been me; I have not been a part of a church community since I left Eugene. There are a number of reasons as to why I have not joined with any community, but a major one is that I no longer feel comfortable in the evangelical, “Reformed” settings. Why? Because in many of these environments, to extend critical thought on a particular matter – especially a theological matter that has long been tightly held (e.g. inerrancy) – would bring about shame, as if I were heretical for even asking the questions.

Seminary has changed me, but while I see all these changes as great, many in some of my former environments would not. Instead, they would likely give me the “You are walking dangerously close to that slippery slope” type of stuff and encourage me to read another book by a white, heterosexual male pastor with an “authoritative” perspective – as if I were going to simply agree with everything this person wrote because he’s a pastor and, well, a “he.” And it is not at all too farfetched to imagine these types of statements being made to me, either; after all, many have already said these things to me (especially about inerrancy).

My seminary education has given me wonderful lenses through which to view not only Scripture, but church traditions, customs, and spiritual practices as well. I have been introduced to feminism, womanism, and indigenous spiritual practices – all of which have shaped how I approach modern issues like yoga pants, Ferguson, and the “anomaly” of the gay Christian. Being taught lenses that challenge my previous understanding of how the world works in an environment that provides the space for me to think alone and formulate my own ideas has changed the way I think completely. I simply have a hard time – based upon previous experiences – imagining my own acceptance into the evangelical church setting.

And yet, I know that seminary will not last forever. The beginning of this semester marks my halfway point; this time next year will be my final semester in seminary. The reality of this is beginning, already, to settle in. My hope is to be somewhere pursuing a PhD, but who knows what kind of environment that will be like? Assuming the best, that I get into a great and fully-funded program, will it be conducive to a healthier faith? Will I be challenged in constructive ways rather than warned against the dangers of the “slippery slope”? I know for a fact that it will be a difficult task; PhDs are nothing to scoff at. But will the environment be conducive to a healthier, stronger walk with God? Will the challenges and difficulties be worth it?

Thus the need for a community outside of school.

No, I am not asking people for church recommendations. I am in no hurry right now to find a place. Instead, I want to go about this carefully so that I can find a community who loves God and their neighbors without judgment, shame, or the need to operate “as has always been done.” I need a community that seeks God, but also diversity within the congregation as well as the leadership. I need a community where we are asked to help our neighbor with what they need rather than telling our neighbors what they need to believe. No, I will not need for this community to be full of Master’s and PhD students. But I will need this community to accept me for all of me.

For those reading, what, if anything, has your community done to create an environment more conducive to the critical thinker/skeptic types? For those like me, what have you done to find and/or build a like-minded community? Has that gone well for you or are there serious setbacks that you are discovering?

Thank you for reading and God bless!

Advertisements

“In Eugene…”

Today brought about a hard truth. Feeling the itch to throw a football around and maybe even get caught up in a game, my roommate and I went to a nearby park and tossed a ball around. I originally wanted to head over to a turf field in Newberg on George Fox University’s campus to hopefully increase the odds of playing in a game, but my roommate – who went to George Fox – said it’d be highly unlikely since not too many students play football for fun. During that conversation, I repeated two words I don’t know how many times: “In Eugene…”

I’m not in Eugene anymore. That’s the hard truth I’ve been avoiding for a while, but can’t anymore. I’m not there. I can’t go to the turf fields on any given night and find a couple small pick-up games that need an extra guy. I can’t meet up with friends in under ten minutes for a movie, Suits marathon, or something else on TV; it is at least a twenty-minute drive anywhere to meet up with friends. And I can’t even hang out at my favorite coffee shop and randomly run into friends because I’m not there anymore. Suffice it to say, community – authentic, intentional community – has been tough to come by since I’ve been in the Portland area.

Don’t get me wrong; I have plenty of friends up here. But our schedules are so different and busy that finding a time where everyone can meet is not easy. And even if we do, it’s not a guarantee that something won’t pop up last minute forcing either of us to cancel. I’m still used to Eugene where I knew a lot more people and if I hung out at the right place at the right time, I’d eventually run into someone I’d know (like Starbucks at the Oakway Center – seriously, everyone goes there). I miss that.

I am trying not to sound as though I’m whining and complaining about my new location. My roommate’s awesome, I love my school, and it oftentimes feels pretty nice not to work as much as I used to. But that doesn’t mean there are incredibly difficult aspects – namely, having a genuine community. What I mean by “genuine community” isn’t merely a group of friends, although that is part of it. And I definitely don’t mean “a new church to go to,” either. Merely attending church isn’t community; being a church family is.

This is precisely what I’m after – what I think we all long for. Family. Unconditional acceptance. Church oftentimes creates an environment where everyone is more concerned about their appearance rather than their actual, honest condition. Obviously, I haven’t been to every church; I’m simply pointing out a common vibe I’ve felt nearly every where I’ve gone. What’s wrong with this vibe is that it doesn’t allow for family to happen.

Pardon the bad word, but in family, people know your shit, whether you tell it to them or not. They see how you act, know your ticks, and know when something’s up. And when the time’s right – or even when it’s not – they ask about it. Family provides an opportunity for people to be brutally honest with one another. It’s uncomfortable, sometimes embarrassing, but it works. It’s emotionally, mentally, and even spiritually cleansing when someone knows about the things that are bothering you – or the things that are bringing you joy and for some reason you haven’t been able to celebrate them with others. Family works in both directions; acknowledging the bad and celebrating the good.

As I write this post, I keep running into another hard truth – the only thing way for authentic community to happen: I have to work at it. Granted, others have to be a part of it and as I said above, it’s been difficult simply to meet with others (not anyone’s fault; just how it is). But when those times happen, I have to take advantage and, once again, make myself vulnerable. I have to make the strenuous effort to let others into my life, so that they can know my shit and be the family I need.

In Eugene, I had all that. If I were to move back tomorrow, I know that I could very easily get it all back. But renting a U-Haul is expensive and commuting back and forth from there to Tigard (for class) would not be fun. Plus, my current roommate would not appreciate the sudden departure – despite him getting the bigger room. So for better or worse, I’m here in Portland. I’ve gotten settled into my apartment, school, and new work location; now it’s time to get settled into a new family. And if I’m honest with myself, I can see certain pieces moving together that just might produce what I long to have. Yet I have to be ready – ready to be vulnerable, open, and willing to let others in.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” – Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

I can’t do this alone. No one can. We’re not meant to.

God bless.

Meeting People at Their Well…

I’m relatively new to John Green. I think I knew of him for a while, but never actually listened to any of his vlogs or read any of his books. But when I moved in with my current roommate, I was practically forced to watch Green’s “Crash Course History” videos, which are pretty phenomenal and in no way do I regret watching any of them.

One video that I recently watched was Green’s commencement speech to the graduating class of 2013 at Butler University. If you have twenty minutes to spare, I highly recommend watching it. It is well worth the time. What I love about this particular speech, though, was how he described the college graduate life – or as he said, “the hero’s journey.”

“We are taught the hero’s journey is a journey from weakness to strength. [From having no money to having a lot of it, etc….] The real hero’s journey is a journey from strength to weakness.[…] You are about to be a rookie.”

The idea here is that the college graduates he was addressing are about to go from being the most informed at one of the best colleges in the country to being a nobody (to paraphrase his words) – someone who gets coffee for other people “if you’re lucky.” And even though he was talking to the 2013 Butler graduates, I couldn’t help but listen as a two-year graduate from Oregon. Much of what he said throughout that speech is still true to this day despite being out of school for two full years. But where he turns next, the advice that he bestowed upon the Butler grads, was where I listened as a follower of Christ.

“The gift and challenge of your … education is to see others as they see themselves.”

This morning at Emmaus Life we read from John 4:11-18, which is in the middle of the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. I’ve written about this story before, but it is worth re-visiting. As Scott told us, it wasn’t common for someone to be drawing water from the well in the middle of the day. Because of the heat, people typically drew their water either in the morning or at night when it was cooler. So it was particularly strange that she was there at midday.

As Jesus converses with her, talking about living water and becoming a spring of water that wells up to eternal life, we come to find out this woman had been with five husbands and was then seeing someone who was not her husband. The text isn’t explicit; we don’t know exactly why she had all these men in her life, but we do know that she had them in her life. And it isn’t going too far to suggest that perhaps her “well” that constantly made her thirsty was relationships; perhaps she thought that if she just found the right husband, she’d be okay. She’d be happy. As it turned out, though, her pursuit of the right husband led her into a life of avoiding public ridicule – hence why she arrived to the well when she thought no one else was there.

How do we find out about this, though? How do we come to know that she had had five husbands? Jesus tells it to her. Because he saw her as she saw herself, Jesus was enabled to tell her what she needed to hear – that the well she kept drawing from was never going to satisfy. But she was also enabled to listen to what he had to say.

Of course there are several lessons within this passage of Scripture (e.g. What well are you drinking from?), but what has stood out to me today was how Jesus shared Himself with others; how there was no contract to sign, no belief statement to make, no ritual or sacrament to conduct, no strings attached. All she had to do was ask for the water which Jesus freely and richly supplies.

“Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water,” 4:15

Scott pointed this out; that Jesus doesn’t require this woman to prove her faith in Him like we might in our modern day with baptism, communion, belief statement, tithe offering or whatever. He gives it out freely. “Isn’t it interesting that Jesus is more liberal with salvation than we are?” as Scott asked.

Why is that? Why is it that Jesus, who we say we’re following, often ends up being more freely loving of others than we are? Why do we demand that people come to our church to be saved rather than us going out to them? Jesus met this woman on her level, in her weakness, where she sought escape from the realities of this world. And that’s where He turned her around. If He hadn’t done that, then it’s quite possible that none of the people with whom she shared the gospel would have ever heard of Jesus. Instead of being the strong man and seeing people from the outside, He took the weak approach and saw them how they saw themselves.

“The weakness of God is stronger than men,” – 1 Corinthians 1:25

As John Green described the hero’s journey, Jesus exemplifies as the Christian’s journey; that we’re supposed to empathize more than everyone else, to utilize our revelation in Christ to see others as they see themselves, and to make that journey from strength to weakness. In so doing, as Paul says, we become strong in the Lord.

John Green describes this whole process of becoming weaker as the college graduate’s journey (through a metaphorical use of “the hero,” of course). But Jesus shows us that if we wish to follow Him, this is the sort of thing we must do. We must cast aside our poster boards and signs telling others they’re going to hell and instead pick up our cross – willfully carrying that which makes us weak in the eyes of society – and share the living water, the abundant life of Jesus.

Maybe we’re not the judgmental type of follower. Maybe instead, we’re the ones continuing to come back to our particular well, despite never being satisfied by it. In that case, perhaps it’s time to step back, look around, and engage the people there with you – just like Jesus.

Meet people like Jesus did: At their well.

God bless.

Leaving Well…

Something occurred to me on my way to work this morning: Exactly two months from now, I will be living in Portland attending my first week at George Fox Seminary.

Okay, technically classes don’t start until September 5th, but by September 2nd I’ll have moved up there and (hopefully) gotten settled in. I’ll be meeting new people on a daily basis and learning my new surroundings. My day to day routine will be completely different from what it is now, except for coffee. I will never cut coffee.

What I’ve been thinking about all day is how I intend to live these final two-ish months in Eugene. No, it isn’t like I’ll never be back, but I am leaving for at least a couple of years maybe longer. And the fact that I’m leaving for an extended period of time makes me focus on how well or not well I’m interacting with the people around me now. Essentially, I’m wondering what my exit strategy is.

“Exit strategy” is a term used to describe the plan for closing out military operations. For example, if President Obama were to lay out a plan for 10,000 troops to come home from Afghanistan or Iraq every month – that is an exit strategy (I have no idea what Obama’s exit strategy is or if he even has one; just making an example).

But it’s also used for when CEO’s or GM’s retire. They have exit strategies as to what they’d like to do with their final few months of influence within the company; ideally, these things would assist in setting up that company for success. How I’m using the term in reference to my current situation is something like this.

Currently, I don’t have one. I mean, there are some obvious things that need to happen; finding a place to live in Portland, packing up things here, and taking some time off of work to get moved out of my current apartment and into my new one. But those are just things that I have to do; they aren’t components to an overall strategy of how I’d like to live the day to day here in Eugene.

What I think are components to an overall strategy are things like hanging out with friends more often, being as efficient as possible at work, or helping my soon-to-be-former roommate find someone to replace me or find a new place to live altogether. Essentially, components to an exit strategy are basically intentional things I do between now and September that are in the effort to leave well.

Of course, these types of things (spending more time with family and friends, working well at my job, and helping people) are things I should always be doing. But when seasons of life change, so do relationships. Sometimes they’re strengthened, but sometimes they’re weakened. Maybe there was an argument right before someone moved away or one person did a selfish thing that negatively effected the other and it left a bitter taste to their relationship that they never sought to mend. What I think of, when it comes to an exit strategy, is doing things that not only end things on good terms, but strengthens the relationship so that it lasts.

Simply because I’m moving to a new location to study at a new school and meet new people and make new friends doesn’t mean that my current friendships aren’t valuable to me. It is this fact that drives my desire to leave well; to spend as much time as I can with my church family, to care for the people I work with, and simply to let those who’ve known me know that I care about them, even though I’ll be living two hours north.

The Apostle Paul is a great example of what it means to have a presence in someone else’s life while not being physically present. What I hope to do in this time of transition is make it possible to have a presence in someone’s life while not being physically there. It means showing someone you actually care about them by listening to them and showing compassion and empathy. It means doing kind things even if they aren’t needed. And it means, while I have the ability to do so, showing up whenever I can – because I won’t have as many opportunities to do so later.

What I really hope for in carrying out this exit strategy is to get a phone call late at night from somebody here in Eugene who, for whatever reason, hasn’t been able to get a hold of anyone else and they just need to talk to somebody. I want to be that person they talk to despite however many miles are between us.

Leaving well, in essence, is a greater focus on loving well.

God bless.

A Lesson in Loyalty…

Two years ago today, Calvary Fellowship was my church home. We had grown smaller than previous years, but closer as well. Thinking back to the years when we had two services every Sunday and then something going on Wednesday nights, having a smaller body was actually a benefit. Maybe I’m different, but I feel as though I grew more as a person in the last two years of Calvary than I ever would have if the larger numbers were still present.

What has really changed for me, though, is my involvement with my church community apart from Sundays. Back then, I felt as though I had to defend why I continued to go to Calvary or even listened to Danny O’Neil’s preaching. My faith didn’t revolve around self-defense, but it was a large part to how I communicated my thoughts and feelings about Danny and Calvary. It’s different now because I don’t have the same pressures I had back then.

I don’t have friends asking me why I still go there or pastors telling me that if it were them, they would have left. In a way, I don’t have the same distractions I had back then; I’m able to soak in the church experience for all that it is, all that it should be, and leave behind the religious garbage. Not to say that that is how I think of Calvary nowadays, but to say it was a unique challenge that the people of Calvary Fellowship had to work with. Emmaus Life doesn’t have that element. We’ve got all new people and all new challenges.

What sparked this whole reflection of what life was like two years ago was – surprise, surprise – an episode of The West Wing. Near the middle of season three, Leo McGarry (President Bartlet’s Chief of Staff) was subpoenaed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee as to whether or not the President deceived the nation by not disclosing his disease, multiple sclerosis. After the first part of McGarry’s testimony (it was two parts due to a pause issued by the director the committee), he was offered a deal; his testimony along with the testimonies of every Bartlet staff member would be forgotten in exchange for a censure (official public reprimand) of President Bartlet.

All of this is to set the stage before what Leo did. He said no. He said that he takes bullets for the President; not the other way around.

What I saw and felt in that moment was a sense of loyalty, a sense of relentless commitment, to a leader. It was the same feeling I had whenever someone talked about Danny’s beliefs or how Calvary Fellowship was a misguided church or whatever other rumor was floating around. In those days, not even a full two years ago, my loyalty was put to the test. It was a large element in my church experience. Not having my loyalty to friends and family tested is kind of refreshing.

Bear in mind that, back then, I did not see it as my loyalty being tested; but rather a friend – and by extension my entire church family – being maligned. Rumors, gossip, slander all destroy a church body and I didn’t want that to happen to Calvary. The church closed, sure, but it wasn’t because we were divided. In fact, in those last years and months, I think we were more united than ever before.

And I think it was because, as McGarry saw President Bartlet, Danny and his family were (and still are – I’m just describing how we saw them back then) worth taking a bullet for. Heck, they’re worth dying for. Why is that? Because, if you actually got to know them (and you still can), they’re a Godly family.

Thinking back on it now, we were kind of spoiled at Calvary. We had a team of pastors who were above reproach – not caught up in some secret, sinful lifestyle – and they were all following Danny’s lead. I mean, how many pastors resign because of an addiction they’ve been keeping secret? How many pastors take the Gospel and make it about success, possessions, and material blessing? How many pastors take their platform and make it about themselves, their books, and their whole agendas? God blessed us with the O’Neils at Calvary. And if I had to do it all over again, I would do it in a heartbeat.

Adjusting, though, is still difficult. Those of you who know me personally know that I tend to be an argumentative person – even though I’m wrong quite a few times (maybe most…) – so not having someone to defend, someone to argue in favor of, takes a little getting-used to. But I have been blessed immensely again with Emmaus Life and the Lambs.

Once again I have a pastor who’s above reproach; probably makes mistakes here and there (I say “probably” because I lack evidence), but there’s no secret sin. There’s no agenda he’s trying to promote; no book of his that he’s trying to sell. None of that garbage. He’s simply a guy following God.

And yet, I have to attribute my appreciation for Emmaus Life to my lesson in loyalty at Calvary. Another way of putting is to say that I would not cling so quickly to what we have with Emmaus Life if it had not been for what I went through with Calvary. I wouldn’t have learned that to be loyal to someone or a group of people isn’t defined by what that person or group is against, but rather what they’re for. And what Calvary was for and Emmaus Life is for is real, genuine life. Such a thing can only come when all pretentions and facades are cast aside.

My encouragement is this: Be loyal.

Be loyal to your spouse, family, pastor, church, and even your coworkers. Practice loyalty because in our day, it’s so easy to jump ship. It’s so easy to have a “new favorite.” It’s so easy to have a new pastor, church, job, etc., instead of sticking with somebody for the long-haul.

Life with Jesus is an endurance race. Staying the course oftentimes means running with the same group of people for a while – even a long while.

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends,” – John 15:13

May we all experience such a depth of loyalty.

God bless.

P.S. Leaving a church does not necessarily make you disloyal; many who left Calvary left for the right reasons (weren’t being fed, felt called to a different city or church, etc.). I don’t wish to throw anyone under any bus; I wish only to say that loyalty is worth it.

Growing Village People…

Seven or eight months ago, Emmaus Life started this thing on Monday nights called “Villages.” I’m sure I have talked about it before, but in case I haven’t, it’s sort of like a small group, but yet very different. We all bring our Bibles and some of us bring small notebooks, so it sort of looks like a Bible study. But some nights we start off with a few worship songs. Some nights we don’t even bring our Bibles, but rather food and board games instead. Compared to the Bible studies, small groups, and community groups I’ve ever been to, this is significantly different.

Note that I say “different”; not “better.” I gained a lot from those other Bible studies; new perspectives on God, good friends, and a deeper understanding of the Scriptures. What has made Villages so different, though, is that our focus is on each other. We’re not so caught up with controversial topics (like Rob Bell or gay marriage) or focusing all our energy on feeling more spiritual (as if that’s even possible). Instead, we’re pressed to share something of ourselves with each other. Whether it’s a thought, a worry, or simply something we learned that day at school, we’re invested in knowing each other a little more each time we meet with the overall effort of growing a village of Christians.

In essence, we’re growing village people.

Yet there’s something underlying that, too. There’s a purpose to our village: to learn how to develop as a group in order to come back home to our apartments, houses, classrooms, teammates, or even coworkers and carry out the same intentions when interacting with others. What we’re learning is a skill set of relating with other people, regardless of their spiritual affiliation, to care and share as God would have us do. Or, in other words, we’re learning what it means to be “little Christs.”

You’d think that a group of Christians would already have that part covered, right? I mean, isn’t that what all Christians seem to imply, that they have everything figured out – that they have the Truth (emphasis on the capital “T”)? Yet if we look in the Gospels, we see Jesus rebuking the know-it-alls again and again because they put so much of themselves into what they thought they knew that they completely missed out on embodying God’s Law. Modern day Christianity has a large population of those same religious elites.

It’s easy to do, though – especially when a good chunk of the Christian society affirms the know-it-all mindset. With a few prominent pastors and elders speaking out about the “essentials” of Christianity, we’re made to feel as though we’re doing it wrong if we’re doing anything different from what they taught. And when we’re guilted into believing we’re doing something wrong, we seek out whatever it is that we’re supposed to do – whatever would make us in the “right” – and we submit to it. If a pastor says the most essential thing for a Christian is to believe the doctrine of inerrancy or the Trinity or whatever agenda they’d like to promote, then we’re inclined to follow along because we’ve been convinced that whatever we’re following is “essential.” All the while Jesus says the entire Law is summed up in loving God and loving our neighbor.

If that’s the most important thing, then how do we do it? How do we love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths? The answer is easy, but its application isn’t: Regarding others as better than ourselves.

Our world teaches us the most important person, the only one in whom we can trust, is ourselves. What’s odd, though, is that in order to even believe the statement, “Trust no one but yourself,” we have to trust the person telling us. We have to trust in someone else. What God’s kingdom is all about, though, is more than trusting someone else; it’s regarding them as more important – as if our individual lives stop until we’ve cared for their lives first. Not to say we should completely disregard our own health, but to say that we won’t grow as individuals until we’ve learned to care for someone else.

Learning how to be “little Christs” in Villages, then, is simply learning how to care for each other – how to practice the first two commandments so often and so well that Christ’s nature will be our nature. It will be such a deeply rooted set of characteristics within us that it won’t matter how stressful work was, how much we disagree about various political issues, or what team we root for; what will matter is whether or not we showed love for the other guy.

Being a village person doesn’t involve costumes and hand-gesturing “Y,” “M,” “C,” or “A.” It involves a group of people who seek God in their individual lives and share their experiences in the communal life. Notice, though, we didn’t call our group “Village”; it’s called “Villages.” It doesn’t really make sense, though, since we’re one group meeting together. But that’s part of the process of going into our work places, grocery stores, coffee shops, sports teams, book clubs, or whatever other group of people we regularly encounter on a weekly basis: We’re creating more villages.

If you really think about all the different places you go from week to week, you begin to realize you have several different villages – even if none of those regular places is a church or Bible study. Let’s face it, most of us probably spend more time around our coworkers, teammates, or classmates than we do our fellow church-goers. If church focuses on something other than loving each other, then what are the chances someone from our regular lives is ever going to see the change in our lives? How are they going to see Christ in us if we aren’t practicing His characteristics?

What I think is most challenging about becoming a village person is that I can’t rely on my casual nature. Villages are intentional; when people ask how you’re doing, they don’t leave until you’ve told them. Yeah, it’s awkward. Yeah, it’s uncomfortable. That’s the point. Insisting on caring for someone outside of ourselves isn’t natural, but it’s necessary. It’s necessary for the other person we’re caring about and it’s especially necessary for ourselves.

Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, love somebody else. Grow a village. Spread God’s kingdom.

God bless.

Getting Into Character…

Today was a different day at Emmaus Life. Scott & Charissa kidnapped all the married couples for some sort of secret club meeting for married people (probably to discuss how to take over the world), which left all the single people of Emmaus Life gathered together in the Lambs’ living room to talk about Jesus (or to talk resistance plans against the married couples). Despite several moments of awkward silence that usually come along with a change in the routine, it was a great discussion about sincerity.

Our central thought throughout the last few weeks and months with Emmaus Life has been attempting to define the gospel. What is it exactly? And what we don’t mean (and what we are actually trying to avoid) is outlining a doctrinal creed regarding the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit and all that jazz – even though all of that is important. Instead, what we’re after, what we’re seeking to understand, is how does the gospel look in action? We talk all the time about Jesus literally living out the gospel – embodying it, even – but what does that mean? How did Jesus live out the gospel?

There seems to be more to it than a mere belief statement. And if we do a quick search through the Scriptures, we find that before doctrinal creeds could even be laid down, people were already living the good news of Jesus. So there is something that changes within us when we come to Christ. What is it? And, as we talked about this morning, do we see it in each other?

Quite naturally, this brought up a discussion about sincerity and what it means to engage others in a sincere manner. For example, when someone asks us how we’re doing, are we being sincere when we reply with “I’m doing well” or “Things are going great”? Or are we being fake – trying not to be noticed for how we really are?

If I’m honest with myself, most of the time that someone asks me how I’m doing, I usually respond with how I am in that particular moment. Whatever happened the day before or even the week before is temporarily forgotten as I’m greeting people on Sunday morning. Perhaps it’s me attempting to avoid confrontation with my own emotions, but part of it is that I don’t wish to be a burden to anyone else. My nature, my human nature, is to assume that my baggage is my baggage and that it’s not right to simply dump it off onto someone else. Yet Jesus not only embodies a new nature; He teaches us to act in the new nature. He teaches us to act like Him.

It seems pretty easy, doesn’t it? Just read through the Gospels to get a sense of how Jesus would act and then carry it out. But the nature Jesus taught us isn’t our nature. In a way, it’s foreign to us. It’d be like traveling to a different country and trying to instantly understand all the idioms, mannerisms, and colloquial things within that country; we can’t – not right off the bat, anyway. Not only would it take some time, it would also take some practice. And in the very moment we begin our practice we realize something very uncomfortable: We have to fake it.

As we talked about this morning, we don’t like to fake it. We don’t like it when we’re being fake with someone else or even ourselves. We want honesty. We want sincerity. But, as I said above, to practice Jesus’ nature is to practice that which is contrary to our own nature. Our human natures are in opposition to the nature of God – that’s why we can often find ourselves in frustration over trying not to sin. Paul’s infamous lines in Romans 7:15; “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Aren’t we the same?

So is the mission of living out the life of Jesus – the gospel – a hopeless endeavor? Is it impossible to practice true, genuine sincerity when caring for the well-being of another? I don’t think so. I forget which author gave me the idea (I think it was C.S. Lewis), but I recall someone discussing how after a while of pretending to be like someone else, we actually become much like that person. Consider actors and actresses; they aren’t naturally the characters they portray on screen. They had to practice their characters’ lines and mannerisms; they had to pretend to be someone else. But yet we all know that the best movies are full of actors and actresses who’ve done a good enough job to make their characters seem real. In a way, they pretended so long and so well that, for but a moment, they became that person we see on screen.

The Christian life, then, is simply a life-long audition where we’re striving to get into character. We’re striving to be like Jesus by sharing His compassion, His servitude, and His love – a love that is not dependent upon one’s emotional state of being, but rather overrules and controls one’s emotions. This sort of love beckons one to care for one’s enemy – not just one’s neighbor – even if or when that particular enemy has wronged us or continues to wrong us – when we don’t feel like doing it. “But Jesus did no such thing!” our human natures might retort. But our human natures are quick to forget that when Jesus was hanging on the cross – with nails through His wrists and legs and with dislocated shoulders – He asked God to forgive those who cursed His name, saying, “They know not what they do,” (Luke 23:34).

In a way, Jesus came to give us acting lessons, but yet with an extremely great purpose. It wasn’t to perform well on some grand stage with millions of people watching, but rather off stage and behind the scenes, when no one is watching. He has not taught us how to act so we are able to perform in a play; He taught us how to act in order to change our natures. He taught us how to act so that after pretending long enough, we might become more Christ-like. We might embody His gospel, His nature, His character, in us as actors and actresses do with our favorite movie characters.

All of this to say that if you seek to be more sincere, more caring, more honest, more loving, more Christ-like, then fake it. Pretend to be that Christ like person you wish to be and you just might find yourself actually caring about the people around you – even your enemies. You might find yourself being honest, sincere, and loving. You might one day look in the mirror and be surprised by the appearance of Jesus.

God bless.

P.S. If anyone knows if it was C.S. Lewis or someone else, I’d appreciate the actual reference in the comments. Thanks!