I’ve been working at Putters for almost four full months now and in that time I’ve been asked a lot about my hometown; how big the town is, what there is to do in Lincoln City, and what I did in high school. You know mostly general stuff like that. But it’s been making me think back, from time to time, about where I’ve been in my life and how it all began for me.
Back in high school I was a really quiet kid. Yeah, I’d be outgoing and talkative with my friends when we would hang out at each others’ houses, but at school I was really quiet. Especially about things like my faith. For me at that time, it wasn’t a very deep faith. I’d read my Bible, pray from time to time, and read through a devotional whenever I thought about it, but for the most part, I didn’t have any sort of passion for Jesus. It was mostly something I kept to myself. I was passionate about golf, no doubt. And I loved talking about how well or not well I had played at practice or in a recent tournament. But when it came to Jesus, I was really, really quiet.
Although, I must admit, if you were to question the existence of God or the Bible’s reliability, I was quick to argue with you. I think every single time I argued with someone about the Bible I ended up making myself look like a fool, but I was willing to go down swinging. Looking back now, I think I was more focused on being right than on anything else when it came to Jesus and Christianity.
I have since realized that when you replace the cross of Christ with an argument, you’re hurting two (or more) people at once; you’re feeding your pride while pushing others away from the actual Jesus. Paul writes to the Corinthians saying, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified,” which is to say, the cross speaks for itself. We shouldn’t get in the way.
I’m only bringing this up this close to Christmas because I believe Christmas is all about beginnings and it wasn’t until I began to see the cross of Christ that I made the switch from argument to love. What I mean is when I started to see just who Jesus really was and is I started loving Him more and more. Being right was no longer the central tenet driving my faith; Jesus was.
This may make some uneasy because we feel as though we need to have a sound apologetics for our faith; we feel the need to defend what we believe with sound reason and wisdom, which I believe is partially true. Defending one’s beliefs is necessary only when you’re defending against your own doubts. You defend your beliefs against an actual person; it will probably turn out bad. You may think that you’re doing the gospel justice and perhaps maybe you are; but I know that fewer people are persuaded by the arguments of Christians than by the love of Christ. When we live to share that love, to share that light, we aren’t the ones having an impact on anyone; Jesus is.
Jesus did argue, yes, but then He turned right around and healed the blind, the lame, the sick, the deaf, and the mute. And if you look closely to whom Jesus was arguing with, it wasn’t with the non-believers of God; it was the religious elite. John’s gospel paints the picture as vividly as possible; Jesus comes onto the scene, saves a wedding party by creating wine out of water, but notice what He used: water jars reserved “for the Jewish rites of purification,” John 2:6. Essentially, these “rites of purification” weren’t part of the Torah, but rather man’s addition to the Torah. It was extreme Jewish legalism that Jesus targeted with His arguments. Today’s equivalent would be prominent pastors targeting extreme Christian legalism. But rarely are our arguments directed against our own religiosity.
What changed my attitude about life and, more specifically, about Jesus was how I started to view His words as opposed to the words of today’s Christianity. Nowhere in Scripture does it say “God hates fags” or “God loves toe-tags.” No, in fact it’s quite the opposite, the Scriptures say, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people,” Luke 2:10. This good news isn’t reserved for the righteous or the most legalistic; “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance,” Luke 5:32.
Christmas time often stirs up lots of religious debates; “Put Christ back in Christmas,” “‘Santa’ is how Satan spells his name in order to deceive people,” or “Merry Christmas, not happy holidays,” are just a few of the rather dumb things we like to argue about. One of my favorites, though, is the “date of birth” commotion, which is merely two sides bickering about when Jesus was actually born. It’s my favorite because it’s funny that many people defend December 25th as Jesus’ date of birth, when it isn’t found anywhere in Scripture. And all throughout these arguments I have found one thing lacking: Jesus.
It begins with Jesus. The whole of Christianity began with Jesus; His birth, His death, and His resurrection. What I hope to do for this year’s Christmas isn’t celebrating my rightness in knowing Jesus was born this day 2010 years ago, but rather that God entered into human history for one sole purpose; to bridge the gap that we created between Him and us, to cover the sins of humanity because we couldn’t cover it ourselves, and to join us with Him not because He needs us, but because we need Him.
There is no argument I wish to make the non-believing crowd; if you come to Jesus, that’s great, but if not, that’s your choice. I cannot force Him upon you. But I must say that the real Jesus is so very much different than the Christ we’ve created in our religious Christianity. He doesn’t hate fags; He loves them. He doesn’t love toe-tags; He mourns for them. He doesn’t think “Santa” is Satan; He knows that he had used Saint Nicholas to share His love.
One image I read about from Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz describes God’s entrance into human history so beautifully and it’s what this story that I’ll end:
“A long time ago I went to a concert […]. The folksinger said his friend [a Navy SEAL] was performing a covert operation, freeing hostages from a building in some dark part of the world. His friend’s team flew in by helicopter, made their way to the compound and stormed into the room where the hostages had been imprisoned for months. The room, the folksinger said, was filthy and dark. The hostages were curled up in a corner, terrified. When the SEALs entered the room, they heard the gasps of the hostages. They stood at the door and called to the prisoners, telling them they were Americans. The SEALs asked the hostages to follow them, but the hostages wouldn’t. They sat there on the floor and hid their eyes in fear. They were not of healthy mind and didn’t believe their rescuers were really Americans.
“The SEALs stood there, not knowing what to do. They couldn’t possibly carry everybody out. One of the SEALs, the folksinger’s friend, got an idea. He put down his weapon, took off his helmet, and curled up tightly next to the other hostages, getting so close his body was touching some of theirs. He softened the look on his face and put his arms around them. He was trying to show them he was one of them. None of the prison guards would have done this. He stayed there for a little while until some of the hostages started to look at him, finally meeting his eyes. The Navy SEAL whispered that they were Americans and were there to rescue them. Will you follow us? he said. The hero stood to his feet and one of the hostages did the same, then another, until all of them were willing to go. The story ends with all the hostages safe on an American aircraft carrier.
“I never liked it when the preachers said we had to follow Jesus. Sometimes they would make Him sound angry. But I liked the story the folksinger told. I liked the idea of Jesus becoming man, so that we would be able to trust Him, and I like that He healed people and loved them and cared deeply about how people were feeling.”
Merry Christmas and God bless!