Seeking Understanding…

“A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinion,” – Proverbs 18:2

Tweet from a famous pastor...
Tweet from a famous pastor…

Bloggers sometimes get a bad rap for being “arrogant” or “close-minded.” If not either of those, we’re then accused of being lazy – contributing nothing more to society than our own loud opinions. I’m not attempting to deny these accusations because I know there is truth to them. I’ve been lazy, opinionated (I am now), and maybe even close-minded. And that’s exactly the problem I wish to discuss.

As I’m sure mostly everyone knows, social media platforms often become breeding grounds for quarrels. Be it politics, religion, sports, or really anything else, someone somewhere on the web is concocting a Facebook comment, a tweet, or, if they’re really ambitious, an entire blog post about how much they “know” about a particular topic and how stupid anyone would have to be if they didn’t agree with their logic. I know these things happen because I’ve done them. Where these types of posts err, though, isn’t necessarily within their “false” information; it’s within their approach.

Tone of voice, as most social media users know, is exceedingly difficult to convey via text. What you might mean as a sarcastic joke someone else interprets as being mean-spirited and serious. Next thing you know, they’ve un-friended you or blocked you from their Twitter feed without you knowing why. Albeit passive-aggressive, it happens. But that’s a topic for another time. The point I’m trying to make today is how a “know-it-all” attitude going into these public forums is the worst attitude to have.

Again, I say this fully knowing I’ve made many mistakes of being the know-it-all. If anyone knows the Cushman family, you’ll know that we like to argue and we like to be right (who doesn’t?). This is no excuse; it’s just something I have to work on in order to be a more Christ-like person. What does it take, though? What can I do to help alter my know-it-all tendencies?

In the months following my graduation from U of O, I was often asked who my favorite professors were. What I’ve been thinking about lately is why these particular professors (Falk, Sultzbach, and Lima – in that order) were my favorites. Every professor I’ve had has been knowledgeable (they wouldn’t be professors if they weren’t) and most were passionate about what they taught. But these particular professors were something more. In their lectures and discussions, they displayed something that not all professors do: humility.

Infrequent though the moments were, my favorite professors weren’t afraid to admit that they didn’t know something. In fact, they were delighted when someone suggested something they hadn’t quite heard and instead of refuting each challenging opinion, they invited the rest of the class to weigh in. It was in those moments when I could see how these professors got to the places they are now: They had the habit of learning with their students rather than strictly teaching to them.

As the Proverbs say, the “fool” isn’t the one who admits he doesn’t know or understand something; it’s the one who delights in hearing himself talk. Verse 13 of the same chapter has this exact idea; “He who answers before listening – that is his folly and shame.” Verse 17 is like it; “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.” Or as James puts it, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak,” (1:19).

Seeking understanding, then, doesn’t mean merely doing a fact check on Google. It means reading several different opinions on something, asking questions wherever they’re needed, and sifting through it all before developing one’s own thoughts on a topic. Thinking back over the most recent political season, I wish I had done more of this. Thinking ahead to this fall when I might be once again in school, I hope to have the habit of my favorite professors; the habit of setting aside whatever personal investments I might have in a particular topic to gain understanding. If I like my opinion because it sounds nice or because people admire me for it, then I’m no different than the fool discussed in Proverbs 18.

Jesus says that a student will be like his teacher (Luke 6:40). If the teacher does nothing but air his own opinion, the student will do nothing but air his own opinion. However, if the teacher recognizes they don’t have everything figured out and therefore has the habit of learning while in the act of teaching, then their students will be efficient learners – listening before speaking, admitting their thoughts aren’t perfect or complete, and surrendering their know-it-all tendencies.

What kind of student are you? Are you quick to put in your two cents or wait to hear the two cents of others? Admitting we’re wrong or that we don’t know isn’t always fun, but the reward of understanding is worth more than our two cents. As I talked about a few weeks ago, if we’re seeking to be more efficient in ministering to others, then we’d be wise to learn with those whom we teach.

God bless.


Calvary Fellowship, Danny O’Neil, and the Future of Christianity…

Today feels worse than Maldanado’s missed kick two weeks ago. Danny O’Neil, Calvary Fellowship’s head pastor, announced two things: That he will be resigning and a church from Springfield will be taking over our building. All of this will transpire before Christmas. Until today, these things were in the future; sometime next spring maybe. But now, they’re three weeks away. And, I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m feeling a little shell-shocked.

No, I’m not surprised by it all – Danny’s decision to resign or the building being sold. But I am finding the reality difficult to deal with. I’ve never really been part of a different church body here in Eugene. I have plenty of friends who go to different churches and I’ve hung out with them a few times. But being active in a different church setting is something I haven’t experienced. Knowing that I don’t have too long to decide has put me in a strange spot.

What’s so difficult about possibly changing churches? Why am I hesitating in leaving the community and fellowship I’ve known and loved for the past five years? It’s because I have questions. I don’t see the Bible as black and white on a lot of issues and most – or at least many – church communities do. Calvary Fellowship with Danny O’Neil taking the snaps (it’s a quarterback reference; he’ll get it) has provided an environment where those who like to think are welcomed.

No, I’m trying not to say all other churches are lame and only mine is cool. I’m just saying most churches are lame, some are cool, and mine’s the coolest…

Just kidding.

But seriously, I do not think someone like me with questions like mine would be welcomed into a modern-day evangelical community. Why? Because in many church communities, truth is black and white. Using your mind to think things through (much deeper than the surface) is discouraged and borderline heretical. Challenging “central” doctrines like the Trinity, inerrancy, or Sola Scriptura would demote any leadership role you might have or aspire to have, unless you came to the “light” and believed what they believe. Again, I’m probably over-generalizing a little too much, but honestly, I’ve been advised to leave Calvary because Danny was supposedly a “heretic.” My generalizations aren’t actually that far off the mark.

Evangelical Christianity needs to change. Danny O’Neil took a stand not against a group of people, but against an idea – an idea that demanded your compliance rather than encourage your exploration. This idea practically walks hand in hand with evangelical Christianity and quite frankly, it’s disgusting. It’s disgusting because while we preach this gospel of grace – what should be the most inclusive message in the world – we push so many people away. Instead of emphasizing loving God and our neighbor, we’ve gotten into the habit of emphasizing the right belief and “sound doctrine,” and that only after those beliefs are established could you emphasize God’s love.

But Jesus said it’s the other way around.

Danny invited people up to the front to say a few words about Calvary or about his preaching before we closed in prayer. One man came up and directed our attention to the two most important commandments and said that “Jesus didn’t hesitate in answering.” Love God, love your neighbor. It wasn’t “Read the book of systematic theology before I say these next two things.” Love God, love your neighbor. And yet, we’ve taken that to mean we’ve got to correct everyone’s flawed thinking about the Bible, Jesus, God, and Truth altogether and that in so doing we’d be “loving” our neighbor.

When I was wrestling with the doctrine of inerrancy a couple years ago, Danny asked me what I was really placing my faith in: God or a book. But thinking back on it now, I don’t think it had anything to do with the Bible, but rather what the majority of my Christian peers were saying about the Bible. I was wrestling with whether or not I agreed with the idea that the Bible needs to be perfect in order for faith to take shape. I was wrestling with whether or not I wanted to fit in.

Danny saw this flaw in evangelical Christianity a long time ago, exposed it, and received the undeserved consequences of false rumors, slander, and not being considered a true Christian. What is that flaw? We have neglected to love God with all our minds. We set up these lists of doctrines, theologies, and various belief systems to provide our intellects with a comfort zone so we can get to the more important things of converting people over to our side, signing up for one of our memberships, and training people in our way of thinking so we can keep the wolves out more effectively.

So many people are indirectly barred from possibly meeting Jesus because we refuse to intellectually relate with someone else. We refuse to question the Bible, our pastor’s authority, and those smart guys who wrote some really cool creedal statements a long time ago. But, whether we like it or not, we live in a postmodern world.

It’s a world that’s growing and developing its own dialect – a dialect we must, at the very least, learn how to speak if we want to spread the gospel message. But, like learning any new language, the most important first step is learning how to listen to how the language is spoken. What’s most troubling about this language of the postmodern world is that it requires us to ask the tough questions. Is the Bible telling the truth? Did Jesus even exist? Is God even real? And those are just the surface level questions.

My whole point is that modern-day evangelicalism needs to adapt and Danny O’Neil’s leadership style has given us an example of what that actually looks like. So much of me wishes he could stay and Calvary Fellowship could keep going, but the reality is God wants each and everyone of us to change. As Ethan Holub shared for a moment after service, the influence we’ve received from Danny O’Neil can be what we leave others with in different communities.

Two weeks remain for Calvary Fellowship as we know it. It really isn’t too much time to decide what we want to do or how we want to move forward. But what I hope (for everyone, not just Calvary members) is that we begin to ask questions. Why does the church have to sign on to creedal statements and theologies in order to follow Jesus? Why do we have to approach non-Christians with some sort of conversion agenda? Why are we clinging to commandments of men rather than the commandments of God?

Life with God is an exploration; physically, emotionally, and even intellectually – but only if we allow it. We can close our minds and coast on through to the day we die in our mental comfort zones or we can dare ourselves to trust God and God alone. Christianity’s tomorrow hinges upon our trust in Him today.

God bless.

Summer Studies…

In the midst of the boredom that has been my post-college existence, I’ve had a couple things come up to keep me busy. Aside from working at my part-time job and searching for a full-time one, I’ve been asked to help develop a curriculum for this summer’s Sunday school classes. We’re intending to teach the various books of the entire Bible in one summer, which will be pretty difficult. Don’t know you’ve ever read the Bible, but there is actually a lot of material to work with. Teaching what we’re intending to could easily be expanded into a several-year series. At any rate, we’ve got a pretty good outline so far.

What’s been on my heart since yesterday’s meeting with the other teachers and leaders, though, has been learning the stuff we’re about to teach. What I mean is I want to study and learn this stuff along with the kids. Jesus said, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it,” which I think has another way of being said as, “Whoever does not forsake all that he thinks he knows and relearn God’s kingdom with the heart and mind of a child cannot enter it,” (Luke 18:17). No, I’m not correcting Jesus’ words here; just trying to understand what this would sound like in the context of His surrounding culture at that time. If I were a religious nut, which I probably would have been, I would be pretty offended by Jesus’ words here.

And that’s just it; we’re supposed to feel a little offended by what Jesus preaches and teaches because it’s contrary to what the world teaches us. If we hope that our kids will learn and receive God’s kingdom as Jesus teaches it, perhaps it’s in our best interest to learn it as Jesus teaches it as well.

I’m writing specifically to the parents within Calvary-Fellowship, but yet more broadly to any parents anywhere – or anyone anywhere. Summer can be a time of fun, excitement, and relaxation, but it also could be a time of laziness and spiritual stagnation. I’m hoping this Sunday school series will help me and others who would like to study along with us keep the fire and thirst alive. Instead of allowing ourselves to get back into the routines of summer, maybe we should take advantage of it as an opportunity to deepen our knowledge and faith in Jesus?

Below is a basic outline of the books we’ll be covering in our series. I’m making it a goal for myself to read through each of these books before the week we teach it, but there is really a ton of stuff there, so I might not reach that goal. At any rate, I invite anyone to open their Bibles to Genesis and read along with us throughout the summer to the end of Revelation. For those with kids, I hope you’d read along with your kids so that what we teach on Sunday morning could be reinforced at home. For those without (like myself), I hope we could read through it with a fresh set of eyes and a clear mind to understand the Bible’s main story.

I hope everyone has a spectacular summer in seeking and enjoying our Lord and the things He’s given us.

Study Outline:

July: Old Testament
Week One: The Law (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy)
Week Two: History (Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1st & 2nd Samuel, 1st & 2nd Kings, 1st & 2nd Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther)
Week Three: Poetry (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs)
Week Four: Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel)
Week Five: Minor Prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi)

August: New Testament
Week Six: Gospels & Acts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts)
Week Seven: Paul’s Letters (Romans, 1st & 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1st & 2nd Thessalonians, 1st & 2nd Timothy, Titus, Philemon)
Week Eight: General Letters (Hebrews, James, 1st & 2nd Peter, 1st & 2nd & 3rd John, Jude)
Week Nine: Revelation

** We haven’t yet finalized this schedule, so it’s subject to change. I’ll update it if we change it.**

Shut Up and Lead…

In a post I wrote a month ago, I talked about my frustrations with biblical scholarship – lack of heart-felt belief underneath the opinions, focused more on their arguments than encouraging one’s faith, etc. In that post I said that when it gets right down it, poetry still speaks clearer to me than scholarship. After reading poems from Taylor Mali and subsequently writing a few of my own, I’d have to say I feel as though I’m just now beginning to find my stride as a writer.

Four years ago, almost to the day, I read Blue Like Jazz for the first time and found myself itching to write. Donald Miller speaks with such brutal honesty that I no longer felt uncomfortable putting words to paper – words about my pain, my sins, my errors in life. With the content of that book and also the way in which it was presented, Don made himself a relatable person. He wasn’t teaching, preaching, or pounding anything into our heads; He was simply revealing deep, possibly embarrassing parts of his life. Like the Navy SEAL he writes about in BLJ, he sat down beside us, got cuddly-close, and showed us being a follower of Christ doesn’t have to be an intimidating or militant or dogmatic experience. It just requires you.

Every last bit of you.

When I read Don’s blog a couple days ago, I liked it. He brought out an ever-important and often-ignored point: Jesus doesn’t require the best of the best to lead His people; He requires the willing. He requires those who don’t want their lives to be about their names, their books, their arguments, their ministries; He wants those men and women who realize they aren’t blessing the world with their presence, but instead simply want to serve, to lead, to guide people in God’s ways. Jesus does not want religious bickering.

It didn’t take long, though, to find many on the blogosphere explode with emotional responses to Don’s post. I read a couple and must agree, there were some points that Don didn’t seem to address. But what I found lacking in almost all of these responses to Miller is what he was really talking about: leadership. Jesus’ 12 disciples were not by any means the kind of people society would want leading them, but He changed them around and look what happened: We have church today because of their work then.

Yes, scholarship is helpful; yes, opinions matter; yes, the intellectuals and theologians have done so much in keeping the faith strong. But one only needs Jesus and to be led in His ways. When Jesus calls Peter and Andrew, they left everything and followed Him; they came to Him empty handed, with nothing to offer the world but their service. And He taught them how to serve.

I’ve been briefly reading up on some major issues going on within our own government. Disagreements have gotten so bad within the White House that there might be a government shutdown, which says to me that things stop moving forward until an agreement is reached. Imagine what would happen if Christianity got so caught up in our disagreements, our arguments, our religious bickering that everyone stopped until an agreement was reached? Who would be left to lead?

No, there won’t be a global-church-wide shutdown like our government’s (at least I hope not), but that doesn’t mean certain people who are called to lead won’t venture away into the religious arguments and scholarly debates. Yes, Paul was a scholar who argued a lot, but we would be wise to realize he argued because in many cases, his life literally depended on it. Here in America, we don’t face the same challenges he faced. And while he did a lot with this theology (as scattered as it comes out in Scripture), he did more with his leading. He did more with his serving. He saw people hurting around him and did something about it. He brought them to Jesus.

A couple nights ago Tony Overstake, leader of Cross Training and a pastor at my church, gave a message about two things: compassion and action. In Scripture, especially in Jesus’ ministry, these two walk hand in hand; He had compassion and then He healed. He led the people in need. We are a people in need. We don’t need the arguments and debates; we need Jesus. We need His love, His guidance, His Being. Those stupid fishermen that Jesus picked out at the beginning of His ministry are the ones who sacrificed their lives bringing just that: Jesus. We don’t need Pharisees; we need fishermen.

Many have asked in response to Don if he might be exalting heart above head; that we need more of our hearts than our heads in order to follow Christ. From what I’ve read of Don, he says we need our hearts above our intellectual arrogance. There’s a difference. Jesus commands us to love God with all our hearts, souls, strengths, and minds – not our intellectual arrogance. If anything, our arrogance is part of the problem. It needs to die. Throughout Scripture we’re encouraged to explore God’s wisdom, God’s knowledge, and to seek His understanding; but we’re not encouraged to lord our opinions about that wisdom, knowledge, or understanding over others. That isn’t leadership; it’s idolatry.

Poets speak closer to my heart not because they speak solely with their hearts; but because so many thoughts are packed into so few little words. The two poems I’ve posted (here and here) took roughly an hour and a half each to write. It wasn’t just my emotions leading my pen; it was my mind making sure each word was right, each syllable was deliberately placed, and each letter had a purpose. Religious bickering tends to disregard the content and quantity of one’s words, and yet Jesus said, “By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned,” (Matt. 12:37).

Our words, just like our lives, cannot be careless. There is too much pain, too much suffering, too much sickness in the world for us as followers of Christ to sit with idle hands and flapping jaws. Scholarship is very helpful insofar as it helps us love God with our minds; but scholarship is not a prerequisite to follow Christ. If anything, we’re to come empty handed, ready to work.

Intellectually Stubborn…

For my Journalism 201 class, we have to read through various chapters from a textbook called Mass Media and Society, which is composed by a professor here at the U of O. While I was reading through the chapter about books, something caught my attention. He was specifically discussing the book-screening that schools go through to filter out the poor-quality books and to keep the good ones, the ones that do a wonderful job of teaching generation after generation. What struck me as odd, though, was the various ways we – as regular human beings – choose to screen our own books. It’s called a-literacy: having the ability to read, but choosing not to.

I think in many ways, it’s quite similar to apathy; we sometimes just aren’t interested in reading certain books. But it’s more than merely lacking the interest to read like apathy would suggest; it’s choosing not to read for fear of being influenced in a particular way that one does not want to. Some people don’t read the Koran because they fear it will make them a Muslim. This caught my attention not because I know someone who ignores other cultures and beliefs because they fear succumbing to the them, but because I ignore other cultures, beliefs, or perspectives myself.

It isn’t so much because I’m afraid of jumping ship from Christian to Muslim or Christian to atheist, but because I have my own opinions about things and I don’t want them to change. I feel that being a-literate is, to some degree, being intellectually stubborn. We develop our thoughts, ideas and beliefs in a certain fashion and we don’t want them to change. Why? It could be because of our fear of things being different. It could be because we’re lazy and we just don’t want to handle change. Or, as is the frequent case with me, it could be because of pride.

Once our ideas are developed, we automatically think we’re right and that we’ve got the Truth. And we take this attitude and apply to practically anything else. Politics, science, religion, spirituality, and even music are all areas where we listen to the person, group, or band that agrees with us the best and affirms all our opinions not because we believe they’re right and we must align our thoughts to theirs, but because we’ve already made up our minds to believe we’re right, no matter what.

Even if tomorrow the government passed an act or law stating that all books should be burned, I think being intellectually stubborn would be worse. Why? When all the books are removed, I wouldn’t have the option of reading someone else’s opinions. But when I’m merely being intellectually stubborn, I have the ability to read someone else’s opinions or beliefs, but choose not to. I have the opportunity to possibly relate to someone of a different faith, culture, ethnicity, political group or whatever, but choose not to because I already think I’m right.

It seems so counter-intuitive to believe in Jesus and yet not share Him with others in a humble manner. The very essence of Jesus demands our humility; we are unable to accept the grace He has given us without first admitting our own sin. Why then should we profess Jesus with our lips and say that everyone should believe in Him when we don’t move a muscle to learn about a different religion, culture, or spirituality? Learning about other groups isn’t conforming to them; it’s just learning about them. I hate seeing this happen with other people that I know, but I hate it even more when I do it. Just talking to someone doesn’t demand that I surrender my relationship with Christ; if anything, it demands a stronger relationship with Jesus on the off chance the person I’m talking to might want to learn about Him. “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person,” – Colossians 4:5-6.

The challenge before me this summer is to practice being personable with others. Merely chatting with others about what they think, believe, feel, etc. will be carrying a gracious speech towards others, exactly what Paul exhorts the Colossians to do. It means that I’ll have to dig a little deeper into other cultures and beliefs and not the stereotypes of the generalizations I hear from other Christians or people who agree with me; I’ll have to go to the source myself and ask them. At the end of the day, I won’t have converted to Judaism, Islam, or Buddhism; I’ll have practiced true Christianity.

The Lowly Association…

Something bugged me in a Christian song I was listening to on my way to a friend’s place tonight. The artist is an awesome artist and has produced many uplifting and inspiring songs, but on one little verse, one little line, I became a little frustrated. Truth was the main theme of the song and in it, the artist associated himself with the ones who have the truth and then sung about what the others believed in and how wrong it was. One word stood out among the rest: “they.”

In describing the opposing view to his own view, this artist drew a line in the sand and basically said it’s us vs. them. Why does this bug me? Because he described “their” thoughts and beliefs as the wrong ones to follow, even making their thoughts seem sinful and hated by God. Instead of associating himself with the sinner, with the one who believed in a different way or at least thought in a different way, he sided with the majority of Christians and mocked any opposing view. This bugs me because Christ Himself could have done the same to us, but He didn’t. Why should we think that we’re any better than Him?

There is unspeakable power behind the gesture of associating with the lowly, sticking up for the marginalized, standing up for justice though the world may be against you. This is one reason why law school is so attractive to me; it might enable me to do just that. This is also why I loved the move Amazing Grace and have admired the work of William Wilberforce because he went out of his way to stand alone against the rest of the British government because of what he believed in. He saw the slave trade as a despicable and disgusting operation and chose to stand not with his fellow rich whites in clean clothes, but with the slaves themselves. And I must ask, what has happened to that? As Christians are we called to judge the “heretical” or “liberal” thinkers or associate with them?

Truth be told, I would probably be defined as a heretic in most religious-Christian camps. For starters, I don’t believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. I think there are many errors in the Bible, though I still regard it as God’s word. Secondly, I don’t find certain major and controversial discussions about things like salvation or the Trinity or Christology are as black and white as many of our popular pastors say they are. Given these few facts, many would associate me with the “liberals” and therefore probably make the assumption that I’m a heretic. Why am I heretic, because I believe in something counter to what Jesus told me to believe? No; I’m a heretic because I don’t agree with the rest of the group. But neither did Wilberforce; neither did Martin Luther; and neither did Jesus.

Aside from my scholastic studies, I’ve been working through a textbook by Bart Ehrman about the New Testament. Before each chapter can be read, the appropriate book of the New Testament has to be read (i.e. I should read Mark’s gospel before reading the chapter breaking down the gospel). I’ve reached the chapter on Luke and have been carefully reading through Luke’s gospel. An interesting verse stood out to me tonight and it is a very popular one that I’d imagine most would recognize.

“And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” – Luke 5:30-32

Jesus did not care to go to the Pharisees and other religious elite to try to teach them His ways because they would first had to admit that they are sinners, something they simply could not do. Instead, He went to the ones who were willing to admit that they were wrong, they were sick, they were defiled with sin and wanted to be healed, renewed, and taught the right way. Oftentimes, these were the marginalized in Jesus’ day. It seems to be a more common thing amongst today’s time to marginalize the thinkers who don’t quite agree with what we believe. The Emergent Church has taken much heat for the “ridiculous” and “heretical” ideas it’s postulated. And though there are many areas I disagree with in regards to the Emergent Church, I find no good reason to draw the line in the sand and say, “You’re wrong and I’m right; either you line up to my beliefs or you’re a heretic.”

What I’m merely trying to highlight here is our common tendency (as Christians, yes, but mostly as humans in general) to associate ourselves with the winners, with the stronger, or with the “healthy.” This isn’t always the case, but most often in sports, when a team wins, fans say, “We won.” But when that same team loses the very next game, fans say, “They lost.” It’s a human condition to join the winning side. Why? Because we don’t want to lose; we don’t want to be wrong.

I’m not saying we should all just join the Emergent Church and agree with everything they say; what I am saying is that we shouldn’t be quick to draw the line in the sand. Every theologian (either liberal or conservative) has this in common: the sun shines on them both. They’re both human as we are all humans. Why should we treat ourselves as though we are more righteous than those who disagree with us because they disagree with us? It seems antithetical to the Christian message to take something that preaches and exalts humility as one of the greatest characteristics a man or woman could have and arrogantly flaunt it around and use it to exalt ourselves. As Christians we have the tendency to say we’re right because we have the Truth (Jesus). But that Truth tells us we’re to become like children, we’re to associate with the sinners, the lowly, the marginalized. In fact, Paul clearly says in Romans 12:16; “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly,” (ESV).

Ultimately it comes down whether or not we want to be truly humble physically, spiritually, emotionally and intellectually. It’s one of the hardest things to do because our human nature compels us to go in the opposite direction; it compels us to sin. But if we really want to live for the Kingdom of God and obey Jesus’ commandments, I think it is absolutely necessary to set aside our own laws and our commandments and submit to His. It isn’t hard to do, to talk to someone humbly about theology and what you believe. In fact I’ve had more interesting conversations with non-Christians than I have with Christians about theology or spirituality or truth because unlike most of the Christians I’ve talked to, the discussions I’ve had with my non-Christian friends were discussions and not arguments about who’s right and who’s wrong. This goes back to what I wrote about in another blog, one about first admitting how wrong we are before we claim we’re right; Jesus demands that we live by a different standard altogether. And humility is at its focal point. Maybe it’s time to actually surrender.

He Who Would Be Right Must First Be Wrong…

After being in Portland for only four hours, I suddenly want to live there. The city lights, the sky-scrapers, the amplified-Eugene feel just appeals to me in a way I can’t really explain. I’m sure it has its drawbacks, but what town doesn’t? Lincoln City has the beach, but it also has thousands and thousands of tourists during the summer. But unlike Lincoln City or Eugene, Portland has a mysterious feel to it. The last time I was in downtown Portland or even near it was when I was in eighth grade. I’ve driven through Portland and gone to several places on the outskirts, but I haven’t actually been in the city for eight years. And since I don’t go there often, I don’t know the city very well. There’s a mystery about it because I’m incredibly curious. And I’m easily distracted by shiny buildings and bright lights.

When I think about moving away from Eugene, though, I get a little nervous. Not only would I have to meet a bunch of new people, but I’d have to find a healthy church, a Christ-like church. Here in Eugene, I’ve been with Calvary Fellowship my entire college career and it’s been awesome. I’ve been challenged spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, and sometimes even physically (we have a former wrestler as one of our pastors and sometimes he gets that fire in his eyes and attacks whatever moves next to him). I’ve grown to appreciate Danny O’Neil’s style of teaching every Sunday morning and his overall way of looking at Jesus. It’s encouraging and inspiring. But does Portland have that?

Taking a step back and looking at the surface of Christianity, which is usually what the Christian pop culture looks like, I see a side of it all that I want to avoid. I see a side of Christianity that stresses believing the right things, learning from the right pastors, going to the right churches, and knowing the Bible through the lens of systematic theology. It carries the illusion of simplicity without the challenge. It makes being a Christian look like a style of career, not a style of living. You go to church every Sunday, tithe once a month, learn all the right verses to all the right doctrines, and basically prepare yourself to defend what you believe. What’s wrong in all of this? Well, certain Scriptures get overlooked, like the words of Jesus.

No, not all the words of Jesus go overlooked, but the ones that are considered are looked at because of what doctrines they imply. For instance, when Jesus prays to God asking Him to sanctify His disciples “in the truth; [His] word is truth” we don’t read this as a prayer asking God to sanctify His people in Himself; we read it as how Jesus supposedly affirms the doctrine of inerrancy. There are plenty of other references to Jesus’ words in light of doctrines, but my point is this: we take our only insight into what Jesus said and we kill the life of it by making a systematic theology out of it. We don’t feed off God’s Word as in God’s “Logos”; we feed off our own organized religious interpretation of the Bible, the second testament to the Word of God. What gets overlooked when we doctrinalize Scripture is the style of living (living in the day to day) that Jesus calls us to. If it doesn’t get overlooked, at the very least it’s treated with lesser importance than walking in “sound doctrine.” All the while, we ignore how Jesus defines “sound doctrine”; loving God and loving others.

The doctrine of unconditional, selfless love isn’t being written about that often these days. Instead, books about what every Christian should believe are rising to the top of the Best Seller list for Christian literature. Entire series of sermons that go through long books of the Bible are devoted to teaching people “sound doctrine” through the lens of systematic theology. The problem with systematic theology is that it is un-Christ-like; it’s systematic. If you read Scripture just to read it, throwing aside whatever we’ve understood about doctrine and theology, we see a Christ who was known and loved because He loved, not because He went around thumping everybody’s head with a Bible. He listened to the people’s stories, He empathized with the people’s pain and suffering (whether they were rich or poor, healthy or sick), and He “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” (Matthew 20:28).

The religious elitists of our time, who are most frequently ourselves, take the truth of Jesus, the truth of Scripture and lord it over everybody else. But yet it’s Jesus who says, “It shall not be so among you,” (Matthew 20:26). Humility and servitude and selfless love are the things that should be at the top of our doctrines. Then why are most followers of Jesus abandoning ship when a tradition gets questioned and flocking to churches that “have it all together”? Why, instead of listening and trying to understand those who disagree with us, are we defending our beliefs against theirs? When we’re quick to defend our beliefs, we’re quick to assume that anyone who disagrees with us is attacking us. But if we take a step back, set our egos aside, and open our ears, we might realize that those who disagree with us are merely offering up alternative ways of looking at life. They offer different perspectives.

We don’t have to believe what they offer us, we don’t have to agree with them, but at the very least we can show them Christ’s love by trying to listen and understand what they’re saying. It seems to me that we have a bad tendency (myself included) to get emotional when we’re told our beliefs are wrong. Instead, maybe we should humble ourselves and listen to what the arguments and ideas are before we try to prove them wrong. The University of Oregon has had a debate team for quite some time. When they first started out, they implemented a new style of argument: cross examination. This style beckoned the Oregon team to understand the opposing teams’ arguments before presenting their own. If you’re like me and have the tendency to argue, then maybe this approach would help you be more Christ-like in the whole process.

But before we even consider arguing our beliefs and defending our doctrines and proving ourselves in the right, we have a third option: we could let go. We could turn the other cheek by saying, “Okay, I understand where you’re coming from, but I just disagree,” and then move on to more important things like loving others as Christ would. I might be crazy, but I think when the end comes, Jesus won’t evaluate how well we defended our doctrines and systematic theologies; He’ll look at how well we reflected His character.

This is the kind of church I’d want to find if I moved to Portland. Yeah, no church will ever do this perfectly and that no matter what I’ll have to take the good with the bad. But at the very least, I think the church (the global one) should have the primary focus of reflecting Christ’s character. And if I’m not at a church (smaller, local one) with this vision – this Christ-exalting, Christ-amplifying, Christ-loving vision – then I shouldn’t consider it a home church. Thankfully, though, I won’t really have to worry about all that for a while since I’m not looking to move to Portland any time soon, at least I don’t think so anyway. But I think I should keep this in mind even while being a part of Calvary Fellowship. Right now things are good, vision is set on showing Christ’s love, and people are being active with their faith. Things could change, though, and I think every follower of Jesus should be aware. And if change does come, I think it’s important to remain committed to that church. With as many churches as there are out there, it’s so easy to bail out to the next one when we see something we don’t like. I don’t want to do that if I move to Portland and I don’t want to do that now. Endurance and patience are, after all, Christ-like characteristics.

If Jesus were around today, I’d wonder what He might say to our doctrines and systematic theologies. I wonder if He would do like He did when He overturned the merchants’ tables in the Temple. Or maybe He’d walk right past it all and hang out with the homosexuals and the Muslims and the drug addicts, not because He believes everything’s relative, but because He is love; because love is humble. I want to meet Jesus one day, face to face. And if it turns out that He comes back and immediately goes to the marginalized, I can only hope that I’d be there with them to meet Him.