From a Pow Wow to Church…

For my Indigenous Spirituality class, we attended a Pow Wow near Salem at the Chemawa Indian School. Being born in Salem and never knowing my Cherokee father, there was a lot of symbolism in attending my first Pow Wow near Salem, but that’s another subject for another time. What is important here is the experience of a Pow Wow and how it is largely different from my church experience. And after attending church for the first time since moving from Eugene, these comparisons are fresh on my mind.

There was a lot to take in when I first walked into the gymnasium. Drums were blaring so hard I could feel the beat in my chest, burnt sweet grass filled my nostrils, and kids dressed in traditional Native attire (and also many who weren’t) were running around everywhere. Once the Pow Wow began, a classmate of mine pointed out the ten different drumming groups present, some were from different tribes not local to Oregon. As the opening dance began, I couldn’t help but notice the different races, ages, and genders all partaking in the dance.

After a couple songs were sung, attendees were invited onto the floor for a “healing song.” Our professors wife peer-pressured us into dancing, so I awkwardly stepped around on the floor (definitely would not call it dancing). Despite the discomfort, no one laughed at my awkwardness or pointed out how I was doing it wrong. Instead, the focus was any pain on anyone’s heart and the song and dance combined functioned as the act of lifting up that pain to the Creator – God, as we Christians might say. It was a communal act unlike any I’ve ever experienced.

We sat back down when the song was over and moments later another series of songs were sung as people danced. The focus of this entire Pow Wow was for the Veterans of U.S. armed forces (since tomorrow is Veteran’s Day), honoring those who fell in battle, returned from the battle, those who are still missing in action, and even those veterans who never saw battle. Such a ceremony was full of respect and honor for the men and women who sacrificed so much for our freedom.

What I could not help but notice, though, was how family-oriented everyone seemed to be. As people walked back and forth from the food booths or venders to their seats, they often ran into people they knew. Babies were passed around and kids were running everywhere while men and women of many tribes and races (both Indian and non-Indian) were catching up on each other’s lives and enjoying the celebrations. Even though there were a couple hundred people there, everyone treated each other as family.

Attending church after experiencing that Pow Wow was a little awkward. For one, it’s been two months since I last gathered with a church. Be it either work or laziness or a combination of the two, I simply haven’t gone to any gathering. So that contributed to the awkwardness, but also allowed me to see just how dramatically different the Pow Wow was to the average church experience (which is essentially what this morning was).

I walked in, found a seat, stood when the worship team started to play, greeted someone when told to greet someone, sat down when the pastor came up to speak, stood again when the worship team played the closing songs, and hung out for a little when it was over. Every bit of it was familiar, but yet still largely uncomfortable.

What contributed to my comfort yesterday was the fact I was hanging out with my class – people I had met before. This morning I went to church by myself – and I knew absolutely no one. While this was a major factor into the differences in comfort between the Pow Wow and the church I attended, I still noticed how fluid the Pow Wow was and how rigid church was. For instance, kids were allowed to dance in every dance; in fact, the ones who danced the most were the kids (especially this adorable little toddler who mostly just bounced). In church, kids were only heard from their Sunday school classrooms; they weren’t out among the rest of the congregation.

I also noticed that I was the only non-white person present at church. Maybe this was because I attended the later-morning service instead of the earlier ones, but this is definitely not the first time this has happened. In the Pow Wow, however, there were plenty of non-white participants, although most simply observed from the bleachers. My classmate who sat next to me later pointed out a symbol common to most Native tribes; a circle with four colors in it (red, yellow, black, and white). This symbolizes the acceptance and unification of all races and tribes – that although we are different in appearance, we are all one in relation to each other and creation (also called the Harmony Way).

My intent isn’t to say that Pow Wows are better than church, but to say that there are areas I appreciated more from the Pow Wow than I did the church. The church service was regimented and habitual whereas the Pow Wow was much more fluid and spontaneous. Instead of singing new songs (as the church did), the drumming groups in the Pow Wow sang old songs – songs that their ancestors sang, which seemed to command a sense of reverence amongst the tribal members. And the church separated the kids out from the rest of the group while the Pow Wow wanted their kids to participate in what the adults were doing.

Again, maybe these things are personal peeves that I alone must deal with, but nevertheless I appreciated the Pow Wow more than the church service. Not to say that one group of people now has more value than the other, but to say I liked the Pow Wow style a little more. It was more personal and yet contained a greater reverence not only for the Creator, but for their ancestors and creation.

Does this mean we should change our church style? Maybe. Seeing as this particular style is shared by many other churches I’ve attended, it makes one wonder where the creative people are and how much influence they have. But who knows, perhaps this is the style that speaks more to the people who attend on a regular basis and I happen to miss out on all of that because I don’t attend? If that isn’t the case, however, perhaps it is indeed time to make some changes.

Regardless of what that church does from this point forward, I have learned quite a bit from the Pow Wow experience in addition to everything we’ve read in my Indigenous Spirituality class. And I have the responsibility to utilize and steward this knowledge to be more authentic with the people around me (regardless of age, race, gender, or any other apparent differences), more aware of how alive the earth really is (much like a sibling), and more proactive in developing relationships within my local community.

I know that not all churches are like the one I attended this morning and not all Pow Wows are like the one I attended yesterday. But from what I experienced in the ones I have attended, the church experience could take a lesson from the Pow Wows. Humanity is fluid and flawed, so why should our churches feign something different?

Be true to you, your family, and your friends around you. Or as Jesus said, love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:39).

God bless.

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Taking the Plunge…

I thought I would enjoy it this time around. Last time it took forever and my car broke down on a couple occasions, but this time seemed to be filled with so much positive that I wouldn’t ever see the negative. New city, people, places, and coffee shops – what could possibly be bad? Alas, my opinion has not changed.

Moving sucks.

Beyond small cuts and bruises from moving stuff around, frequent sneeze attacks because you haven’t dusted since the last time you moved, and never-ending moments of nostalgia as you rummage through all your old stuff, there is this looming question of whether it’s worth it or not – as in, is it worth the increase of student loan debt? Is it worth the hassle and frustration of finding an apartment? And is it worth leaving such a valuable community – such a close family – in Eugene?

These are the things going through my mind as I continue to sift out the stuff I no longer need and condense the things I want to keep. I’m still a couple weeks away from making the actual move to Portland (well, hopefully a couple weeks, but that’s another issue) and what I’m finding thus far is that despite being busy with two jobs, I have a lot of time to think and rethink my decision. It’s rather freezing.

What I mean is, all my second-guessing and wrestling with doubt has left me stalled – kind of like my old Lumina at the Kiefer-Mazda dealership a couple weeks ago. It’s like my heart’s telling me to go, but my mind is holding things up – leaving me idle in the driveway. No, I’m not taking my decision back; I’m simply starting to feel the pressure of all the responsibilities I’ve just lumped onto my shoulders. I’ll be in a new apartment in a new city at a new school with a new car, a new job, and new roommates. The “new” is almost overwhelming.

Some questions that come to mind when reflecting over all that is about to change are: If it’s so stressful, why not drop it? If it’s causing me anxiety and doubt and fear and if I’m beginning to lose sleep over it, why not let it go? Why not continue on with what I’m doing now and live a happy life? It’s certainly an attractive idea with all that I need to take care of in the coming weeks.

And yet…

I feel as though I’d be doing worse by not going. It’d be like buying tickets to a baseball game you’ve wanted to go to and then not going because you don’t want to deal with all the people, parking lots, and other frustrations along the way. I’ve been blessed with an opportunity to pursue a higher education – even higher than the education I’ve already received – and not to take it might mean never receiving it again. Sure, I could always buy baseball tickets at another time. But what if I were to marry, have kids, take up a new job, and get so caught up with life that I never even get a chance to think about it again?

Even if that weren’t the case – the notion of being caught up in the “busy-ness” of life – there’s a greater issue at stake. It’s one that involves purpose and this word “calling.” I don’t use that word often because I think it gets overused and even misused. And yet when I consider what’s driving me to study Scripture at a much more in-depth level – and actually thrust myself into such a spiritually-transforming experience that is seminary – I find no other word that fits more perfectly. But what does the word mean?

The Holman Bible Dictionary defines “call” or “calling” as a “Term often used of one being called by God to salvation and service,” (253). What does that really mean? It’s God’s fault.

In a way, I’m kidding, but in another way, I’m not.

“It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out,” – Proverbs 25:2

When I read Scripture, there are so many things that come to mind – so many questions that not too many average congregants could answer. Like, when did Christianity become Christianity and why? Or when did people start treating the extra-biblical letters of Paul, Peter, and others as “Scripture” (and yes, they were extra-biblical at the time they were written)? And if there are so many translations of the Bible, then why aren’t more people learning Greek and Hebrew?

Seeking out the answers to questions like these is the “things” that are concealed by God. Now, I’m not a king, but I know that it would be glorifying to God to search those “things” out. He wants us to ask, He wants us to pursue, and He wants us to be engaged in the life He created. To do anything less than that is not to do anything glorifying to Him.

Taking the plunge to seminary, then, is worth all the packing, moving, and shouldering of responsibilities. It’s worth undergoing all the pressure of higher academic standards and being more studious than I ever was before. And yes, it’s even worth the deeper student loan debt (though I will be seeking more ways to cut those down as much as possible). It is worth all of those things because I, for the glory of God, am seeking out the things that He has concealed in His glory – so that I might be able to glorify Him in every way.

Yes, I’m nervous. I’ve never been so greatly challenged on so many levels. And yet, I’ve never had this opportunity before, which means I must take it head on and become fully immersed. If I try to remain standing where I am, I’ll never find out if I’m capable of the task.

You cannot learn to swim while standing on the shore.

God bless.

Exhaustion by Full Engagement…

Between Friday and Saturday I worked nearly 24 hours (22 1/2 to be exact). When I woke up Sunday morning for church, it took every bit of will power not to go back to sleep (well, will power and knowing that someone was getting pranked by chocolate-covered meatballs tossed in powdered sugar – I’ll explain later). All throughout the morning I was flat-out exhausted.

In all honesty, I like those days. Working eight, nine, or even twelve hours in a single day gives me some weird sense of joy and accomplishment. When I was thinking about it on Sunday morning, though, I didn’t really understand why I was so tired. Sure, I was clocked in for a long time Friday and Saturday, but the actual amount of time that I worked was about two-thirds of the time I was clocked in. It simply didn’t feel like I did very much. And then my pastor, Scott Lamb, told me why.

“It was because you were fully engaged for that time.”

Why did this stick with me? Because deep down, mixed in with the desire to go back to school, is the desire to work. I know, who actually wants to work? Work is lame. You have to, like, work and stuff. Yet every time I envision where I am in twenty years or what I’d like to be doing, I picture ten and twelve hour days. I picture myself coming home being almost completely drained. Yet, the more I think about it, I don’t want a job or a career. I simply want something in which I am fully engaged.

Minutes after my chat with Scott, he gave a message out of John 1, talking about how Jesus became fully human and yet was fully God (still a difficult concept to grasp). “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” (1:14a, NIV). There was no part of being human that Jesus did not experience. Toothaches, stomachaches, heart breaks, hunger, thirst, loneliness, betrayal – you name a basic human emotion or physical feeling and He probably felt it, “yet without sin,” (Hebrews 4:15, ESV). In other words, in Jesus, God was fully engaged with humanity, yet fully Himself.

A show that I have recently been in love with is The West Wing. I know it’s fiction and I know it’s a very sugar-coated style of politics, but I freaking love it. Why? Because throughout the average day of anyone in the West wing of the White House, there is never not something going on. Meeting after meeting, speech after speech, crisis after crisis – President Bartlett and his staff always have something to tackle. “What’s next?” is President Bartlett’s go-to phrase. Every day that they show up to work, they have to be fully engaged. Otherwise they won’t be able to do their job.

Why should it be any different for me? Or for you? Or for anyone who dares to follow God to the places and people He’s calling them? Why should our purpose be pushing the cruise control button and sitting back to relax? Sure, most days are kind of boring, but that should never be an excuse not to be fully engaged with what we’re doing. And yes, I have used that excuse before; I’m not calling anyone else out except for me.

Josh Lyman, a character on The West Wing, said something during the first season that I’ve since found challenging, “The White House can affect more change in a single day than the average person can in their entire lifetime.” When it comes to living God’s kingdom and making earth “as it is in heaven,” shouldn’t the Church (the global body of Christ) be the ones saying that? Shouldn’t we be able to affect more change in a single day by the power vested in us – the Holy Spirit – than someone without Christ can in their entire lifetime?

No, I’m not saying you’re doing things wrong if you aren’t making big changes at a rapid rate. One element to the way God brings about change in someone’s life is time. He is incredibly patient and I am incredibly stubborn – having taken years and years to understand very simple truths, like loving my neighbor and regarding others as better than myself. God is all about the long-term growth, the kind that perseveres trials and tribulations. Sure, He gets excited when someone suddenly comes to Him, but only because He can begin His long-term plan with that person. What that long-term plan requires, though, is our full engagement.

Being fully engaged is at the core of being Christian. We’re supposed to be tuned in when our coworkers, friends, and spouses vent their frustrations and anxieties. We’re supposed to have the heart and mind of Christ when someone wrongs or hurts us – even when they try to blow us or others to pieces at a marathon. And we’re supposed to have the compassion of God for others as He has had for us. Being awoken to Jesus, to the Holy Spirit, to the presence of the Lord God should be reason enough to be fully engaged with the world around us.

No, I’m not saying everyone should work themselves for the Lord until they’re completely exhausted. I’m simply saying we ought to be ready in season and out of season to share the good news of God – that there’s something better waiting for us than the greatest things of this world. God’s got something up His sleeve and He wants us to be a part of it. All we have to do is submit our whole selves to Him. We have to be fully engaged.

“‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these,'” – Mark 12:29-31

Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, and whomever you’re with, fully engage yourself.

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!

Without Walls…

It’s now been a little more than nine months since I’ve had a home church. Spiritually speaking, life has not been easy. Actually, even pragmatically speaking, life has not been easy. This “real world” that doesn’t involve midterms and papers is one that I’m still getting used to even though I’ve been out of college for a little more than a year. Not being able to skip eight o’clock classes is kind of a drag. But when you spend so much of your life deeply invested in a church body, and then suddenly find yourself without that church body, everything gets more difficult.

Overall I am doing well – I really am. But I’d be lying to you if I said this is how my year has been. Even though I have an awesome job with great coworkers, not having a church body has not encouraged me to seek God more on my own. Being a rogue Christian isn’t what God intended. For one thing, if Christ has a body called the church and “Christian” literally means “little Christ,” then to call oneself a Christian is to call oneself a “little member of the larger body.” It might be stretching a bit for a definition, but that’s how I see it.

We were made for community. We were made to open up to one another about life’s trials and triumphs. We were made to laugh together, cry together, pray together, sing loudly without care for embarrassment together, and even to root for opposing football teams together. If we don’t have a Christ-conducive community, we don’t have the essential elements to an abundant life.

And then this morning happened. A couple days ago I received an email about a new church starting up with a guy by the name of Scott Lamb – a guy who spoke at Cross Training’s summer retreat this past summer. Recalling his teaching style, I decided to go.

In one word: Refreshing. In another: Challenging. Scott spoke about what truly makes followers of Christ different than every body else. He brought up a story of a man who had a beautiful wife, beautiful children, a beautiful home, expensive cars – all the riches one could ask of this world – and, after showing a pastor pictures of all that he had, asked that pastor what more he could possibly offer him by talking about Jesus. Scott’s point? What tangible evidence do we have about ourselves that, at the very least, hints to Jesus – hints to the “something more” that the world doesn’t yet have?

Scott then talked about what Jesus has offered each of us – what He declared to do in the Gospel of John:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” – 10:10

This life, Scott pointed out, is a life that’s bigger and better than any life we’ve ever known. It’s eternal life in our mortal bodies. It’s the life that’s coming already here in the present. And it’s a life that cannot be snuffed out.

Scott’s vision for the church is one of mobility – regularly meeting at his family’s home for now, but eventually going out to hurting people to bring the Healer to them. What this requires, though, is that we, the recipients of Christ’s “abundant life,” must be real with ourselves. If we cannot be real with ourselves – loving fellow Christians as Christ loved us (John 13:34-35) – we cannot be real with the people we’re trying to minister. To put it another way; in order to spread Real Life, you must first have Real Life.

What I think God has asked of me through Scott’s message and Emmaus Life’s presence (Emmaus Life being the name of the church he’s planted) is that I allow myself to be part of a church without walls. No I don’t mean to say that even in the cold winter days or the rainy autumn afternoons Emmaus Life will be meeting outside in the elements. I mean to say that through and through we embody and spread Christ’s Real, Abundant Life. When we gather together to worship, pray, or study; when we step into a new neighborhood looking to serve whatever needs that might arise; when we go home with our spouses and friends; and when we find ourselves alone with no one but God, we are called to share that Real Life.

God has challenged me to be a person without walls. No, it doesn’t mean that I’m suddenly going to reveal every detail about my life with everyone I see. But it does mean that I will seek to be honest when I need to – as well as compassionate, forgiving, encouraging, serving, and loving anyone at any time as Christ has loved me. That’s how people will know that He does exist; that we share Him with them.

Safe to say I think I have found a home.

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.

The Empty Tomb…

“Serious Christianity begins when Jesus comes out of the tomb on Easter morning,” – N.T. Wright (borrowed from Near Emmaus’ post)

Since Holy Week has arrived, I’ve begun reading through the Gospel of Mark. I chose this gospel specifically because it contains a narrative structure which emphasizes the miraculous act of Jesus rising from the grave. Why do I think this? Because the original copy of Mark’s gospel ended with Mary Magdalene and Mary (Jesus’ mother?) encountering an angel at Jesus’ empty tomb and running away scared. No Great Commission. Just an empty tomb and an angel.

N.T. Wright hits it dead on the money: Christianity begins at the resurrection. Why? Because, in the ancient context, it was bizarre. It was an unbelievable story, but yet enough people believed back then that it thrives today – they even died because they believed this story. Mark’s ending to Jesus’ narrative causes the reader to wake up, go back to the beginning of the Gospel, and reread the entire story. The culmination of Jesus’ life wasn’t the cross; it was the empty tomb.

His empty tomb meant He wasn’t just another prisoner being publicly executed. Well then why was He executed? And thus the inquiring mind begins to seek out the truth around Jesus all because the story of the resurrection was told to them.

And yet we like to dwell on the cross as the center of Christianity. No doubt, it reveals quite a great deal about God, His love for humanity, and so on. But any experienced Christian will tell you that they didn’t become a Christian because they heard about Jesus’ death; they became a Christian because He rose from that death. Easter is not only about celebrating the remission of our sins – although that is a great thing to rejoice over. It’s about celebrating our King’s defeat of death. Or to put it even shorter: It’s about celebrating our King.

What exactly does it mean, though, to celebrate our King for His resurrection that Easter morning? Why is that a big deal? N.T. Wright writes in another of his works that Christ’s resurrected body is an allusion to our own future selves. What he means is, Jesus’ resurrection from the grave is foreshadowing our own transition into the completed life. No, I’m not talking about us rising from our bodies as pure spirits into heaven; I’m talking about our bodies being intertwined with our souls in such a way that, as John’s Gospel depicts, our spiritual and physical forms are one in the same. We will be completely and perfectly renewed.

It means our focus in this world isn’t about the things in this world: fame, money, possessions, or even the more desirable things like marriage, raising children, etc. Our focus in this life is beyond all those things, which in a strange way makes having those things all the more enjoyable. You’ll enjoy your friends more when you know and realize they aren’t what your life depends upon. Likewise, you’ll enjoy your marriage more when you know you can be content without it.

If our purpose in this world isn’t about the things within this world, then why do anything at all about anything? Why should I care about a world that God will simply resurrect and renew anyway? Well, for starters, because Jesus means to reign in this world, not just in some distant heavenly realm. Our bodies, our lives, and everything we do in this world matters. It all matters because it’s all a part of ushering in God’s kingdom. If Jesus says we will reap what we sow, then if we sow a bad seed by not taking care of our bodies, not working to care for our neighbors, not taking care of the environment (yeah, God cares for His creation, too), then in all likelihood we may not reap anything good from it.

My focus this week – what I aim to meditate and pray over – is the empty tomb and its meaning. I want to get a glimpse of what my purpose in the next world might be so that I can get started in this one. Jesus was beaten beyond recognition for ushering in God’s kingdom. There is a very serious message for those of us who believe Him to be a foreshadowing example for us to follow: We could be brutally murdered for believing all of this. But even with this serious warning there is a serious promise: There is life after it. And not just any life: life with the Author and Source of Life.

Death will reach everyone one of us, like it or not. What the empty tomb reveals about those who profess Jesus as Lord, God, and Savior, though, is that death does not have to be the end. It can merely be the transition from one life to the next. We must choose.

I’m sorry if I appear to be rambling; it is nearly one in the morning and I’m drained of energy. But I hope I’ve made my point clear: The Resurrection – the literal rising of Jesus’ dead and mutilated body into a renewed and perfected body – is a very serious matter to Christianity. It’s what caused a stir about Jesus, which caused many to reflect over His teachings and write them down. It’s what caused many to believe – even to their deaths – that Jesus was God’s Son. And it’s what has kept Christianity alive to today.

As the week rolls on, take some time to think/meditate over the resurrection’s meaning. And not just the “covered my sins” part, but also what’s beyond life in this world. Is living with God really going to be us just sitting around on clouds doing random little things or is it going to be something like a completely new adventure? Is God really going to cast our bodies aside and leave them beyond or is He going to bring them out of the grave, too? By what we have to go off of, I’d say it’s going to be a totally new kind of life with totally new kinds of bodies.

What does the resurrection mean to you?