On Being a Seminarian: Balance Between Faith and Scholarship…

This is my second post as a part of a series for Near Emmaus. Feel free to view it there or view other posts by the other bloggers.

I mentioned in another post it was possible, but ever since I’ve been wondering exactly how? How are we to dive into texts written by scholars who may not share the same faith that we do and would therefore feel no reluctance to unravel the biblical text? And in that process of unraveling things, how do we press on in believing in Jesus when the very things we believe about Him are brought under critical light?

This process of finding a balance between faith and scholarship has become much more important in recent weeks. At George Fox Seminary, one professor is set to retire at the end of the year and we’ve been hearing from potential replacements every now and then. I can share no further details beyond that, but I can say that one thing I’ve come to realize is that in order for a seminary professor to have an impact on the students they teach – students, mind you, who are being trained for church leadership, ministry, and academia – they must have a strong balance between walking with Jesus and teaching leaders how to critically engage the biblical text and their surrounding cultures.

It means for me, the seminarian, I’m in the process of developing said balance. It’s one I began a long time ago at the U of O, but one I know is not quite finished, yet. Nearly every class I encounter a new perspective, a new challenge that stirs my thoughts and rattles the cages of my neatly-formed beliefs. If I was just now beginning that process of developing a balance, I am not sure how I would react. I might start doubting everything I was ever taught about Jesus and maybe even walk away from seminary. I am not saying that this is what you will go through if you are now beginning that process as you enter seminary; I’m saying this is what I might have done had I not begun that process long ago. So why am I not walking away?

Finding the balance I think is different in exact details for everyone, but ultimately boils down to being comfortable in engaging new ideas. Allowing those ideas to rattle the cages and shake up one’s beliefs will not only test the durability of those beliefs, but perhaps replace the beliefs that don’t hold up. Such a process is sometimes exhausting, but sometimes instant. Sometimes someone in class says that one thing and all of a sudden the light bulb goes on and a theological alteration (perhaps only a subtle one) takes place.

Long ago, I read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. At the time, I was wrestling with a supposed controversial doctrine and felt a lot of pressure to simply believe in it. Yet, I wasn’t convinced. The new idea was rattling the cages and the old idea, the one I was pressured to hold onto, wasn’t holding up. When I read this passage, I felt at home in allowing the new idea to replace the old:

“God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers. If you are thinking of becoming a Christian, I warn you, you are embarking on something which is going to take the whole of you, brains and all. But, fortunately, it works the other way round. Anyone who is honestly trying to be a Christian will soon find his intelligence being sharpened: one of the reasons why it needs no special education to be a Christian is that Christianity is an education itself.”[1]

In your journey with God, where have you found comfort and solace in processing new ideas? Where is your balance point between faith and academics? Or are you like me, still developing one?


[1] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (HarperCollins, 2003), 78

“YOLO, yo…”

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “YOLO,” which stands for “you only live once.” Of course many people will know that this is really a hip way of saying “carpe diem,” which is Latin for “seize the day.”

Countless people have tweeted, updated their statuses, and uploaded Instagram photos using this phrase as a hash-tag as if to say, “Life is short, so this is what I’m doing.” On the positive side is the cherishing of every single moment in life. But on the negative side, which happens way more than it should, is the living recklessly.

No, not everyone who uses this phrase is reckless. In fact, I think most who use this phrase do not have a reckless or irresponsible lifestyle. But there are many who do and one can clearly see why: it justifies whatever one is doing, whether good or bad.

It justifies getting drunk every night despite the amount of homework one has. It says that it’s okay to sleep around or to try different kinds of drugs. “Life is short,” goes the reasoning, “might as well.” It is dangerous because it promotes the forbidden. It’s like Adam and Eve in the Garden; Adam says, “No, we shouldn’t eat that fruit!” Eve replies, “YOLO, yo.” Adam says, “Fair point, okay…”

What can we do to replace such an ideology?

Answer: YOLE.

You only live eternally.

Or to put it another way, you only die once; you spend the rest of the time alive. I don’t intend to get into any kind of lengthy discussion about heaven and hell, which one’s real, which one’s sort of real. But I will say that I tend to agree with Donald Miller in Blue Like Jazz; that hell is simply eternal loneliness. Or C.S. Lewis’ (at least I think it was him) belief that whatever we wanted we’d get for eternity, but we’d get the consequences for eternity as well.

What’s my point? This current life matters not because we should try everything and live whatever crazy lives we want to; but because we are being prepared for eternity.

If we want to live well with God for eternity, then we must be living well with God now. We must be guarding ourselves against unhealthy teachings and practicing the healthy teachings – or as Paul says, “sound doctrine.”

No, I don’t mean that belief statement you once signed or were asked to sign; I mean beliefs that promote a healthy and Spirit-filled walk with the Lord. I mean teachings that lead us to be selfless, kind, patience, self-controlled, humble; to regard others as better than ourselves and to see ourselves not as someone who ought to be served, but rather to serve.

“Sound doctrine” could also be translated as “healthy doctrine,” which essentially points out that whatever we believe determines our spiritual health. If we believe that we ought to sleep around and get drunk, then we aren’t going to have very healthy spiritual lives (or even healthy physical lives). But if we believe that true religion or true Godliness is loving God and loving your neighbor, then we will be healthy.

We are being prepared for eternity like high school students for college. If we are only being selfish, then we’re going to get nothing but ourselves for eternity. No one to talk to, to laugh with, or to hold. If we are allowing ourselves to be persuaded by public opinion and what the masses say, then we will be constantly going with the flow, heading straight for the waterfall.

To prepare well for eternity, Paul says, is to live a healthy life – not being controlled by pleasures and comforts of this world, but seeking to bear the fruit of the Spirit. Being spiritually healthy means being kind, patient, peaceful, loving, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled (Galatians 5:22). Seize the day to prepare for tomorrow.

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things,” Philippians 4:8, NASB

You only live eternally; how are you preparing?

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!

Pursued By God…

Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy is a book that will make you addicted to reading. With as much as I’ve read thus far in my lifetime, I have yet to come across one that fluctuates so seamlessly from prose to poetry, first person to third person, and Christian to non-Christian and back again. Sheldon, a man who wrote personal letters to C.S. Lewis, is a brilliant author who captivates readers with but a few words. Not only do you see what he sees, feel what he feels, but you also fears what he fears.

It is this exact subject, what Sheldon Vanauken fears, that has stuck with me throughout the night.

Normally I do not read in bars due to the countless TVs and incessant drunken noises. But tonight the coffee shops were full and this particular bar, the Webfoot, was empty. Feeling a little hungry and in need of beer, I sat in a booth warming my fingers from the chilly outside air. After ordering a pint of Blue Moon and some fries, I opened to the fourth chapter. In that booth with my Belgian Ale and deep-fried potatoes, I was re-awoken to the presence of God and, more specifically, what that means.

In his first letter from C.S. Lewis, Vanauken transcribes:

“Do you think people like Stalin, Hitler, Haldane, Stapledon (a corking good writer, by the way) would be pleased on waking up one morning to find that they were not their own masters, that they had a Master and a Judge, that there was nothing in the deepest recesses of their thoughts about which they could say to Him ‘Keep out! Private. This is my business’? Do you? Rats! Their first reaction would be (as mine was) rage and terror.” – 89

Upon reading those last few words, a chill of excitement had chased up my spine. God knows what I know. “Of course He does!” you might say. But let it set in. Those unkind things you were thinking about your coworker not but two minutes ago – those are heard by God. You may not have known it at the time, but God can see the malice you (and I, for that matter) hold in your heart. As Lewis said, there is nowhere within yourself where God cannot see – nothing that is truly yours.

Knowing what Mr. Vanauken had experienced in the first three chapters (he, like Lewis, has an amazing ability to pack so much into so little), I felt the lump he had in this throat. I had empathized with his skepticism regarding Christianity and his reluctance to investigate the faith (and fully believe now that his particular story was meant to discover Christ later in his life). But what Lewis wrote as the final line in his second letter to Vanauken changed things up.

After replying to Vanauken’s second letter, Lewis closes:

“But I think you are already in the meshes of the net! The Holy Spirit is after you. I doubt if you’ll get away!”

I doubt that Vanauken ever expected a response like this.

“These letters gave [my wife and I] much to think on, then and later. Seldom if ever have I encountered anybody who could say so much in so little. And the letters frightened us, or frightened me anyway – especially that shocking last paragraph. This was getting serious. Alarum bells sounded, but I couldn’t decide where to run.” – 93

Lewis’ statement that the Holy Spirit was after Sheldon has an amazing imagery about it. This is a God who chases you down. I immediately thought of Jesus’ parable regarding the lost sheep from the fold of 99 and how no man among those whom He taught would not leave the rest of the fold to search for the missing sheep. When I first read this in middle school, I pictured Jesus actively seeking out that missing sheep. But with what Lewis wrote to Sheldon, I now picture Jesus running after that lost sheep as that sheep runs away from Him.

We often like to think that we’re the ones finding God or pursuing God. How often do we allow ourselves to be found or pursued by Him? As Vanauken says, it’s serious business to be known by God – terrifying, even. And not simply because of those sinful thoughts, but also those insecurities; those tiny little fears we hold onto because we were hurt when we were young or because something was supposed to happen but didn’t – like a father saying to his son, “I’m proud of you.” We’re afraid of those moments being exposed because those moments still hurt us. It still aches where those arrows pierced our hearts.

A final passage from Lewis’ second letter to Vanauken:

“Do fish complain of the sea for being wet? Or if they did, would that fact itself not strongly suggest that they had not always been, or would not always be, purely aquatic creatures? Notice how we are perpetually surprised at Time. (‘How time flies! Fancy John being grown-up & married! I can hardly believe it!’) In heaven’s name, why? Unless, indeed, there is something in us which is not temporal.” – 93

God knows your thoughts, but still pursues you. He pursues you not to harm you, but to bring you home. Like the lost sheep being shouldered by the searching shepherd, God chases us down, sometimes wrestles with us, and carries us home. And home is the only place where our wounds – our deepest, most painful scars – will be healed fully.

What Sheldon was afraid of is the greatest thrill any of us will ever experience: We are fearfully and wonderfully made, and therefore fearfully and wonderfully loved.

Our relationship with God is often likened to a marriage. And yet in a marriage, both the husband and wife do the pursuing. Let God pursue you as you pursue Him.

God bless.

Prosperity Through Pain…

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us,” – Romans 5:3-5

American Christianity, for the most part, does not know suffering the way Paul knew suffering. We have freedom of speech and laws to protect it. So when we publicly declare that we believe in Jesus, we might get a few people here and there who criticize us for believing a Bible full of scientific inaccuracies (as if it was written as a scientific text) or who simply believe something else entirely. Maybe we lose a friend or two on Facebook. What is unlikely to happen, though, is us seeing jail time for declaring Jesus as Lord.

I’m certain there are the few exceptions in America who’ve received physical violence due to their beliefs in Jesus. I haven’t heard of them, but perhaps they’re out there. And even though their stories might stand as evidence that American Christians suffer at times, their testimonies do not speak for the overwhelming majority of Christians in America. For the most part, American Christians do not suffer much physical violence – if any at all.

However, this does not mean we do not experience different forms of suffering. Paul was imprisoned and eventually executed. I don’t believe that will happen to me, but what has happened to me is depression. What has happened to others is financial insufficiency. And plenty others have suffered bouts with cancer and various life-long diseases that have no known cures. In these ways, we do suffer, but it isn’t due to our Christian convictions.

And I don’t think Paul predicated this passage from Romans on that belief; that suffering only happens because we’re followers of Christ. I think Paul would be one of the first to say that suffering happens whether you believe in Christ or not. It is with this fact in mind that I move on to what kind of irks me about American Christianity.

I am sorry if others are offended by this, but I have never been a fan of Joel Osteen. I can’t say if he’s a false prophet (not even sure if we mean that terminology as the early Christians did, really), but I can say that his style makes me feel really awkward. He often talks as though he’s constantly holding bunnies or kittens (or both). But what truly nullifies me as a fan is his support of an idea called the “Prosperity Gospel.”

It’s a common idea amongst many American Christians – an idea that once you believe in Jesus, God will bless you with social, financial, emotional, material success and prosperity. It’s the belief that once you hand things over to God, you’ll be forever happy from that moment onward. What isn’t addressed is that no matter what, we’re going to experience some form of suffering – and Christ even promises us so.

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few,” – Matthew 7:13-14

If we choose to follow Jesus, it isn’t going to be easy. We’d be gravely mistaken if we thought our lives were going to instantly improve once we accepted Christ. Why then should we follow Jesus? If things aren’t guaranteed to improve, but most likely get worse, why should we want that for our lives? If that’s true, then, as Paul says, “We are of all people most to be pitied,” (1 Cor. 15:19).

And yet, that’s far from the full story.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world,” – John 16:33

Oddly enough, things are guaranteed to improve, but it won’t be comfortable. There will be pain, there will be emotional turmoil, and there will be unrest, but the end result will be worth more than all the suffering we experience. It is something that cannot be snatched away from us: suffering to endurance, endurance to character, and character to hope. As C.S. Lewis says, it’s like having a cavity-filled tooth removed rather than capped or filled; though the process is painful, the end result is pain-free.

Not only is my life not as I would like it to be, it’s not as it should be. None of our lives are; Christ hasn’t restored all things yet. Therefore we’re still prone to doubt, stumble, and wander – all of which have painful consequences. And we must suffer them. Even if we didn’t doubt, stumble, or wander, we’d still suffer. But Paul says that if we believe in Christ Jesus, then our suffering is cause for rejoicing because of what that suffering produces in the long run.

Following Jesus is more than an endurance race; it’s an eternal race. At some point, because of how deeply Jesus heals, we’ll outrun our spiritual aches, pains, and injuries. We’ll run unhindered. We’ll run free in Christ.

Prosperity in this life might come our way, but it won’t be because of some promise from God. Pain will come our way because of part of a promise from God. Prosperity in God’s Kingdom is the other part of the promise. It’s simply prosperity of a different kind in a world of a different kind. And it’s far worth the pain.

God bless.

Taking Out the Trash…

In all honesty, I’m not trying to write a post after every gathering with Emmaus Life. It just turns out that way. Of course, it’s helped by the fact that I’ve been working Monday through Saturday for the past five weeks, which leaves Sundays off and allows me time to debrief, reflect, and recharge for the next week. And, as God has often told me, my new pastor is better than yours… (just kidding).

Today’s message came from Matthew 13 wherein Jesus tells the parable of the sower and the seed. This guy goes out to sow some seed and some fell on the path, some on rocky ground, and some fell among thorn bushes. None of these types of ground was able to produce much grain at all because of annoying birds (probably crows – let’s be honest), shallow soil, or other bushes choking out the seeds. Even so, some seed fell on good soil and produced a lot of grain.

“He who has ears, let him hear,” Jesus says. Scott said that Jesus really means “Those who are spiritually minded are going to get this.” And of course Jesus’ own disciples are clueless as to the parable’s meaning, but that’s another topic. What Scott then questioned the group with was, “What kind of soil do you want to be?”

At this point he told a story of his own tilling adventures. At their last place in Dallas (Oregon), they had started to garden. So Scott went out and starting tilling some of the yard so they could get to planting. It didn’t take him long to start digging up garbage – actual trash – from the previous owners of the home.

Several different things came to mind at hearing this story. For one, as Scott talked about, God digs up some of our garbage and leaves us with the decision either to deal with it or bury it again and move on. Dealing with it is often uncomfortable and embarrassing, but burying it up again is even worse. At some point, as Scott told us, you stop digging. And, like in gardening or farming, if you stop digging, you stop growing.

Something else that came to mind, though, during a discussion with some visitors to Eugene was Luke 6:46-49. In this passage, Jesus tells a parable of foundations:

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”

Several years ago, I had written a Facebook note (early stages of blogging for me) about this passage and how in order to dig deep to set a solid foundation, a lot of dirt has to come up. And with it, maybe even a lot of garbage – a lot of things that we either aren’t proud of or shouldn’t be proud of.

As we got to talking in our little group of three, I had admitted that there are many, many times wherein I acknowledge the garbage God has dug up, but I leave it there. I say, “Yeah, God, that’s some pretty nasty stuff. But did you see that patch of bright green grass in the front yard? It’s looking pretty good.” Or I say, “God, you can have the back yard, but the basement’s mine. Don’t touch the stuff down there.” All the while I do as much good as if I had buried up the garbage again.

There is quite a bit of courage required to talk about the garbage in our lives. Oftentimes many people don’t want to hear it, as Scott mentioned this morning. “I’ve got enough garbage in my own life,” they might say. With Jesus talking about our hearts as soil, though, He’s saying there is something very important about the things we keep to ourselves – the things we bury again. There is something dangerous, even. Jesus is saying that if we continue to bury garbage or to say that God can have surface level issues (i.e. He can have the back yard), but not the deeper stuff (i.e. the basement), then eventually the soil dies – our hearts die.

What does it take, then, to prevent our soil from dying? Or what does it take to turn dead soil into good soil – the kind that produces an abundance of grain, an abundance of real life? For one thing it starts by listening to Jesus. “He who has ears, let him hear,” He says. For another, it starts by doing what He says.

Dig deep, take out the trash, and hide nothing from Him (not that any of us really can, anyway). And if you’ve got more than you can handle on your own, pray for someone to help. God isn’t going to just dig up your garbage and walk away. He digs it up because He wants it gone.

As I quoted in that Facebook note several years ago, I quote again now:

“Christ says, ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In face, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.’” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Pg. 196)

Give God every bit of you and He’ll give you every bit of Him.

God bless.

On Easter, Jesus Sat Next to Me…

Easter was awesome, but not in the way I had expected. I went to University Fellowship for the first time and sat in the bleachers next to about a dozen strangers. As I mentioned before, nearly everyone was dressed nicely, which made me in my new favorite hoodie stand out like a Duck fan at a Beaver’s game. We all stood when the worship leader said to, sat when he said to, laughed at the greeter’s jokes even if we didn’t get them, and prayed when the pastor did. Throughout it all, though, I hadn’t noticed Jesus sitting next to me.

Somewhere along the way, He had walked in through the double doors of the rented high school gymnasium in His plaid, button up shirt, shorts, and Velcro sandals. After shaking hands with a few people He hadn’t met yet, He found where I was sitting, and worked His way over. The people next to me politely scooted over as He sat down. He made some light-hearted, sarcastic joke about the worship leader’s cowlick, sang two songs with eyes closed, opened them on the third because He didn’t know the words, and bowed His head when the pastor started in. He was quiet, candid, but sincere – exactly what you’d expect from a guy who’s good at getting by unnoticed. And He sat next to me on Sunday.

It didn’t take a powerful, inspirational sermon. I didn’t need a moment of deep meditation and prayer. And it certainly wasn’t one particular Bible verse that woke me up; it was simply God doing what He does best: sneaking His love in on you. If you aren’t careful, He’ll slip around your worries of debt and unemployment, hop right over that shameful act you did the other day at work, and glide right on through your depression. At that point, He’ll put His arm around you and start talking about baseball or what kind of sauce would go well with some pork ribs – even though He’s Jewish. You see, Christ’s casualness catches you off guard. It gives you what you need just before you realize you need it. And I think the beauty of it is it was meant to be contagious.

Brett Gilchrist, pastor of University Fellowship, spoke about what Christianity has become from his perspective. He said it’s more like a coffee-table sort of faith where you can pick it up like a magazine, get what you want out of it, and then move on to something else. It’ll give you health, wealth, and success all the while demanding next to nothing. Here in America, this is the perfect brand of Christianity.

What I’ve come to see as the problem for this particular brand, though, is that it doesn’t bring about lasting change. This kind of faith, like consumerism, needs the next big thing in order to survive. It needs something new, something fresh, to keep it going. A new pastor, a new devotional, a new worship song, a new whatever – only until something cooler comes along and then it gets put on the shelf as a souvenir, forever fated to collect dust.

I think Brett knew what kind of crowd he was speaking to on Sunday morning. I think he knew that quite a few of them weren’t regular church-goers; just bi-annual ones showing up on the important Christian days (Easter and the Sunday before Christmas). I think he knew because he talked about the true gospel of Jesus and what its call for us is. He chose Easter morning to remind everyone what it really means to follow Christ. And how it is not always convenient.

Jesus rose not so that two thousand years later we can eat a bunch of candy and chase after plastic eggs that some bunny laid (which is biologically confusing). He died, as Brett said, so that we could be saved. And it’s not just a spiritual salvation – Jesus didn’t die just for my soul. It isn’t like we can be “saved,” we can be with the “in” crowd, and then do whatever we want for the rest of our lives. Jesus died so that we could be a different kind of people – a new kind of man.

What is this new kind of man? Is it that Bible-thumping freak standing in public places calling people all sorts of names? Or how about that spiritual snob who emphasizes their church only and talks about other churches and Christians (or other lifestyles in general) in a condescending tone? Or what about the super spiritual person who’s always praying, reading Scripture, or worshipping? Is any one of these the new kind of man God is creating?

Not quite.

It’s often a human thing to say, “Well if it isn’t this, then it’s this.” We want to clarify and define with absolute certainty what “it” is, but we really can’t. We know it’s Jesus to some degree, but the moment we venture to say “Jesus hates gays,” He’ll be there drinking coffee with gay men and women the next morning. Whenever we so arrogantly say Jesus wouldn’t do this or that, He does it – not only to prove us wrong, but to spread His contagious love in spite of what we’re doing.

So what does Easter mean for the Christ-follower? Does it mean we have to amp up our knowledge of doctrines and Bible verses? Does it mean we have to constantly defend our theological beliefs? Does it mean we have to go on missions trips to convert the masses? Does it mean we have to commit ourselves to several Bible studies each week and attend multiple services every Sunday morning? Does it mean we have to become some sort of extreme Christians? It might… but I doubt it.

If you want to be a follower of Christ, then know this: You do not have to be excessive to be effective. Christ’s example from the Scriptures shows us that much. He sat with people, had meals with them, washed their feet, fed them, healed them – no matter the situation, He saw each individual’s unmet need. And He simply met that need.

And if you think this is something that can only be done by Jesus, then you’re entirely wrong:

“In Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet and had never walked, for he had been crippled from birth. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. And Paul, looking at him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, said in a loud voice, ‘Stand upright on your feet.’ And the man sprang up and began to walk,” – Acts 14:8-10

Paul “intently” saw this man’s need and simply met it. What’s most important, though, is that Paul didn’t do this under his own power. He did this as a product of Christ being revealed to him. In other words, once Paul truly met Jesus, his world was changed, but so was the way he saw the world around him.

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else,” – C.S. Lewis

Committing (or re-committing) to Christ need not begin with an extreme experience; His fire does not require fireworks, but rather a match – something small, but with incredible capabilities. Such a match-sized experience could be simply opening your home for a meal, bringing some blankets to those homeless fellows on the corner, or even something so little as asking a coworker how their day has gone. It’s casual, but intentional – not prone to backing off when things get uncomfortable, but rather seeing them through. If you ask someone how you can help them, be ready to help – whatever that may require.

Easter is the simply the day Jesus proved His casual, intentional nature of love could conquer all. We celebrate it not just because “it’s what Christians do,” but because it reminds us of what we’re supposed to do. It reminds us why we’re even here in the first place. The only question we have remaining is: Do we want to wait until sunset to do something with our lives or do want to take advantage of the light while we have it?

God bless.