I spent a lot less time on social media than I used to. I check my Twitter and Facebook feeds every day, but I don’t spend more than a few minutes on either. More times than not, I get in on the tail end of some controversy which has erupted on Twitter. Such was the case when I began seeing tweets in my timeline from folks coming absolutely UNGLUED in the aftermath of this tweet sent out by Mark Driscoll on Inauguration Day:
It’s not like Driscoll is known for his tact. This is hardly the first time he’s offended thousands of people. I have to believe he fully expected a huge backlash because of this tweet, and that’s exactly what he got.
There’s more. Much more. If you’re interested, you can read his entire timeline. Shaun King (who has over 31,500 followers and lists “Jesus Follower” on his timeline) later apologized for his language, but stood by his outrage as a result of Driscoll’s tweet. I don’t question for a moment that Mr. King’s outrage was genuine, and I’m sure many others, regardless of their political affiliations, were offended by Mark Driscoll’s tweet.
But seriously, people…
When you go off on someone on such a public forum, you end up looking like a self-righteous attention whore. I’m not trying to single out Shaun King. I’m sure there were plenty of others going off on Driscoll. I just happened to see his tirade because @Learell is in my “Friends” column on Tweetdeck, and when I saw this exchange, it made me curious about what I had missed:
Shaun King doesn’t know Learell from Adam. As far as I know, this is the first interaction either has had with one another. Yet King assumes Learell agreed with what Driscoll said.
Twitter is not the platform for meaningful dialogue about complex issues or passionate debates about politics, religion, or…well…anything.
It’s Twitter, people!
It’s pithy comments of 140 characters or less. The odds of your words being misunderstood and/or taken out of context are pretty high. Those odds go up exponentially when you’re pissed off.
If you’re outraged about something, rather than express your anger in 140 character spurts, get a pen and a notepad, or talk to a real, non-virtual human being about it. Maybe even go so far as to send a private email to the offending party.
If none of this advice sounds reasonable; if you still think your best bet is expressing your righteous anger on social media, might I suggest you examine why that is? Why you feel it so important to share your worst moments intimately with what amounts to a bunch of complete and total strangers who have no right to judge you, but most certainly will?
And while we’re on the subject of social media, can someone please explain to me why you would follow someone you don’t like? Doesn’t living in a fallen world give us plenty to be upset about without going out and looking for reasons to be pissed off?
I’m still trying to wrap my brain around all the information I heard at Exponential 2012–the largest annual gathering of church planters in the world.
Four years ago, the missional church movement was beginning to gain momentum. It was right about that time when I read The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay and loved what they had to say about living out our faith through living in community with one another and serving the world. After all, the point and the process of my church, C3 (also known as the “mission statement”) is Love God and people, Live in community with one another and Serve the world, or more simply: Love, Live, Serve.
So I was very excited to see that Hugh and Matt would be conducting some workshops at Exponential this year. One of particular interest to me was Practical Tools for Moving Consumers to Missionaries and Small Groups to Missional Communities. (Consumers being people who typically attend “big church” on Sunday but don’t get involved in missions or small groups.) As it turned it, Matt Smay was not in the session. Brandon Hatmaker, pastor of Austin New Church and author of Barefoot Church tag teamed with Hugh Halter for this session. And while I greatly appreciated the point and their process for discipling people through missional living and serving the poor, at the end of the session, something was nagging at me.
Because for me, the process was more about weeding out those people who just wanted Jesus on Sunday morning without delving into the bigger question of WHY that was okay to only want Jesus on their own terms. I left the session feeling like nominal Christians were someone else’s problem, not the problem of the missional church. I was in such a lather about the whole thing that I couldn’t focus on the main session which followed the workshop. Instead, I began to scribble madly in my notebook the following:
Rich Young Ruler
Process seems effective at weeding out those consumers who have no interest in becoming committed followers, but I don’t see much in the way of moving consumers into something more. I understand that it’s easy to label these people as Pharisees and wash our hands of them, but people who don’t think they need Jesus–or worse, those who think they have a saving knowledge and relationship with Jesus but don’t–are the ones who sodesperatelyneedHim!
Then there’s the resource issue. Had the rich young ruler said, “Yes, Jesus. I choose you and everything I own belongs to the kingdom”, how would that have played out?
How do we lead people with financial resources away from consumerism into discipleship? And if they’re stubborn and don’t want to move, do we let them go and just say, “Good luck with all of THAT?”
By giving up on them and calling them Pharisees, are we not doing some of the hard things that Jesus would have us do because they’re easy to demonize? What could God do with their resources if we somehow lead them to an understanding of what it is to give your life to Christ? Without telling them that God will bless them–because if we do that, we’re just selling them more consumerism. Maybe they won’t be blessed. Maybe they’ll be sifted. But because they have much they are expected to give much. Are they a lost cause? A nut too tough to crack and bring into the family of God?
Still feeling very unsettled (and needing to pee because I’d had about 2 gallons of coffee that morning), I excused myself from the worship center to find a bathroom. Guess who was manning a booth on the way to the bathroom? Give up? Hugh Halter, Matt Smay and Brandon Hatmaker. Lucky them.
On my way back from the bathroom, I stopped at the booth. It went something like this:
Hugh Halter: How are you doing?
Me: I’m very frustrated.
Hugh Halter: Well, bring it on.
I proceeded to unload on them what I had madly scribbled in my notebook. I shared with them that I live in a community where you can’t swing a bat without hitting ten or so churches. Churches filled with disciples but also with what they would classify as Consumer Christians. I expressed that I did believe in their process of making disciples through missional living, but wondered aloud about those who didn’t choose that path. Are they not worth the trouble? Do we have a process of reaching those who think they are found but are really lost? Does God value them less because they seem to value Him less? Brandon talked me down off the ledge a bit. He shared an email from a wealthy man whose life had been transformed by serving the poor, and I am grateful that people are being transformed by truly living out their faith. He also told me that we can’t change people’s hearts, only God can do that. In the end, Brandon gave me a free copy of his book. I’m sure it was only partly to get rid of this raving lunatic woman at their booth.
But I’m still feeling frustrated.
I still think we’re leaving folks behind. People who may be as close as a conversation over a cup of coffee.
And I suppose that’s gotta start with me.
What do you think? Are nominal Christians the burden of the “big church”?
This post began as a much anticipated and highly procrastinated Katdishionary post. The term “assholiness” was one of several new terms I feel warrant entry into the annals of my own version of Webster’s, but I think this term deserves its own post, because I like to keep the definitions brief in Ye Olde Katdishionary. This one needs a little more of an explanation.
The term assholiness first popped into my head several months back when a few high profile Christians began to publicly berate Rob Bell’s yet to be released book Love Wins. Many were incensed that Bell had the audacity to suggest that a loving God would not send people to Hell. And while I happen to (mostly) agree with Bell’s detractors in principle, I felt some of the public discourse was downright un-Jesus-y.
For the record, I don’t think God sends anyone to Hell. That’s a choice we make for ourselves. I will also admit that I had some private conversations about the subject that were way more salty than lighty. But I resisted the urge to jump into the fray. Why? Because it’s never been my experience that you convince someone you’re right by pointing out to them publicly how wrong they are.
Honestly, how many times have you seen a situation like that turn into anything more than a pissing match?
I did write a post about it, but the point of my post wasn’t about whose team I’d be on if Rob Bell and John Piper were choosing up sides for a game of Red Rover, my point was that Rob Bell is not Jesus Christ. Neither is John Piper or Francis Chan or Billy Graham or (insert famous Christian leader here). Nor am I for that matter.
When Christians draw their theological lines in the sand, choose sides and start attacking each other, we’re not winning anyone for Christ, we’re just becoming more alienated from one another. And like it or not, if you’re a Christian, you’re part of the same Body of Christ as that fundamentalist pompous ass or that crystal-gripping tree hugging hippie that is woefully misguided and is driving you nuts. Speaking the truth in love doesn’t mean metaphorically neck punching someone with the truth and telling them you love them afterwards.
But assholiness is not a term reserved for Jesus people*. Some examples of assholiness I’ve seen come from atheists. Not all atheists, mind you, just the really angry, Christian despising kind who spend time online searching for a Christian platform where they can pick a fight. Don’t believe me? If your writing is primarily faith based in content, use the tags “atheist”, “Creationism” and “Darwin” on your next few posts and see who shows up on your blog. You may want to turn on comments moderation before you do that, the f-bomb seems to get dropped a lot.
Regardless of your faith or lack thereof, anytime our need to be right takes precedence over all else, it’s counterproductive. You may have a huge following who agree with everything you believe is wrong with that other guy, but like my friend and pastor Jeff says, when all you have in common is a common enemy, once that enemy is gone you will either lose the group or seek another enemy to fill the void.
I’m not interested in building that kind of following.
How about you?
*Jesus people is a term borrowed from my friend Jake Lee without his permission, but hopefully he won’t mind so much.
The release of Rob Bell’s controversial book Love Wins and the public discourse among Christians before and after its release hasn’t exactly been the greatest public relations coup in the history of the church. And let’s face it, we can say we love God and love people until we’re blue in the face, but if we don’t back up our words with the way we live and the way we treat each other, let alone those who aren’t Christians, we probably deserve much of the bad press we’ve received. I’m not suggesting we simply agree to disagree and not speak out against what we believe to be bad theology or legalism, we just need to do a better job with how we present our beliefs. The world is watching us.
I’ve often said that you can relate just about any life circumstance to an episode of Seinfeld, and I was only partly kidding. Funny how a show about nothing seemed to have covered just about everything. In the following montage, Puddy reminds us how NOT to be salt and light:
(Sorry, you’ll have to watch the clip on youtube because of copyright stuff.)
What important life lessons have you learned from Seinfeld?
How do you explain the color red to a blind person? Or any color, really? There’s much the other senses can compensate for when it comes to grasping the essence of something–how something feels, tastes, smells, etc. But how do you describe the essence of color to someone who has no concept of it?
What if I asked you to describe a lion to a person who had never seen a lion? Now take it a step further. What if you gave the hide of a lion to that person and asked him to taxidermy said lion to be put on display? The results might be akin to something like this:
image courtesy of thedailywh.at
According to Neatorama.com, the story goes as follows:
“In 1731, King Frederick I of Sweden received a lion as a gift from the Bejen of Algiers, but after it died, the pelt and bones were presented to a taxidermist who had never seen a lion. You see the result looks more like a cartoon character than the king of beasts.
Doesn’t exactly capture the essence of what you understand a lion to be, now does it?
image of taxidermy lion courtesy of photobucket.com
Nope. Not even a little bit. I find myself feeling bad for everyone involved. Mostly the lion, though. This beautiful, majestic creature living out its last days in captivity, then to add insult to injury, having its body turned into a horrible caricature put on display for centuries after its death.
And I wonder if we’ve done that with the Word of God.
Under ordinary circumstances, my mind wouldn’t have made the leap from a bad taxidermy job to scripture. It just so happens that I had a rather interesting conversation with a family member on Friday night, thought about it most of the weekend, then received the link to the above story via email from my friend Dorothea.
Before I share the conversation, I need to provide a little back story:
This person grew up going to church every Sunday. Got married and had children, who also went to church every Sunday. By this time, he was more of a Christmas and Easter Christian, but their mother took them every week because that’s what good people did. I’ve known this person my entire life. I’ve spent lots of time with him. I don’t ever recall seeing him read a bible. Not even in church when the preacher says “Turn to Matthew, chapter 3″. He’s like hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of people who come to church on Sunday, get their fill of God and think they know Him based on what some guy behind a pulpit tells them. They don’t need to read the bible because the good parts–the important parts–are preached on Sunday morning. The “need to knows”, if you will. I’m pretty sure if I attributed the quote “God helps those who help themselves” to the bible instead of Benjamin Franklin, he wouldn’t bat an eye. He likes to watch Joel Osteen on the Sunday mornings when he misses the service at his church, because that counts, right?
Imagine my surprise when he told me he was attending a bible study.
Imagine my horror when I found out it was a study of the Book of Revelation:
“We started this bible study about the Book of Revelations. It’s pretty scary stuff. I never knew that Catholicism would become the One World religion and that a current member of the Vatican is the Anti-Christ.”
To which my response was, “Whaaaa?”
Followed immediately by me saying that Revelation is subject to many different interpretations, and that it is very often misinterpreted. I may have some doctrinal disagreements with my Catholic friends, but I don’t doubt for a moment that we serve the same God. That they believe in the same Jesus I do. My husband then asked him if this was being taught as truth or simply as the teacher’s opinion. “The teacher’s opinion”, was the response.
But, you see? For a person who trusts what other, seemingly more biblically knowledgable people say about the Word of God rather than the Word of God itself, opinion often become truth.
Just like the unfortunate taxidermist who didn’t see with his own eyes what a lion is, he creates this incomplete, often horrible misinterpretation of its essence.
I know there are a few pastors who read this blog on a regular basis. I’m urging you, if you don’t do so already, to please encourage your congregations not to take your word for what God says, but to confirm what you teach them by studying the bible.
The most effective way to train a person how to spot counterfeit $20 bills is to have them intensely study real $20 bills. The same principal applies to God’s Word.
The year was 1986. Twenty year old me was very much attuned to the music of the day: from Heart to Huey Lewis and the News, Stevie Nicks to Little Stevie Windwood. I was down with Peter Gabriel, INXS, The Dire Straights, Van Halen, Human League, ZZ Top, Sade, Bon Jovi, Level 42, Madonna, Prince and yes–even Scritti Politti. I’ve always had a rather diverse taste in music. Still do.
Whenever someone would ask “Have you heard that new song by so-and-so?” Typically, I had. If it was on the radio, MTV or VH1, it was a pretty safe bet I’d heard it. (Remember when they actually played videos on MTV and VH1? Ah, good times…) Even if you didn’t know who the artist was or the name of the song, all I really needed was for you to sing a few bars, and I would know which song you were talking about and who sang it.
Which is why I was completely perplexed by my friend Kim one day. We were sitting in her apartment talking when she asked me if I’d heard this new song. “I know you’ve heard it”, she said. “They play it on the radio all the time.”
“How does it go?” I asked her.
“Get a job…”, she sings.
“That’s all I can remember, but I KNOW you know this song. Get a job…”
At this point, I’ve move past being perplexed. I’m simply laughing at her.
“Are you sure those are the words? Get a job?” I ask her.
“Yes! You’ve heard it! I know you have! Get a job…”
“Um…yeah. Have you been drinking? I don’t know the Get a Job song.”
The funny thing is, I did know the Get a Job song. And when the Get a Job song came on my car radio while driving home from her place, I had to pull over because I was laughing so hard.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Get a Job Song:
Also known in some circles as “The Way It Is”, it was the first hit for Bruce Hornsby and the Range.
I found it funny that Kim would remember that one line in the song, because it only appears in the first verse. Not in the chorus, not in the bridge. Just the last line of the first verse. Had she sung, “That’s just the way it is”, I would have known what she was talking about immediately, because duh, that’s the name of the song and the first line of the chorus. It’s part of the central message of the song:
That’s just the way it is
Some things’ll never change
That’s just the way it is
Ha, but don’t you believe them
Why would she remember that one line? Who knows? Maybe she had been drinking. Maybe she remembered it because in the context of the song, the line was pretty outrageous: “The man in a silk suit hurries by, as he catches the poor old lady’s eye, just for fun he says Get a job.” I won’t argue that the line is a powerful one. It helps set up the central message of the song, even though when I heard it out of context it made absolutely no sense at all.
Is there a point to this walk down memory lane? Actually, yes.
If you’re going to argue what the central message of a song is, it’s probably best you know the song yourself in the first place, instead of hearing it second hand and assuming your source of information is correct.
You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. ~ 2 Timothy 3:10-17
I’m pretty opinionated here. Which is why I’m always a little surprised I don’t get negative comments. I mean almost never. In fact, the only truly angry comment I’ve ever received was for this post way back in May of 2008:
image courtesy of photobucket.com
Is it just me, or does watching a Rob Bell video remind anyone else of “The Chris Farley Show” of SNL fame? Here’s what I mean:
Do you remember the story,
when Jesus walks up to those dudes,
and I will make you fishers of men?”
the dudes, like
drop their nets,
and follow Him?…
That was awesome!
Now before anyone shoots me a comment about how Rob Bell is just the coolest, most relevant dude of the 21st century, and shame on me for making fun of him, I’m not dissing the message, just the delivery. I only say this because I once shared this observation with a youth pastor friend of mine and he looked at me like I had just said, “Jesus sucks!” And let’s be honest…he does kinda talk like that! Thoughts?
image courtesy of photobucket.com
Even though I made a disclaimer that I was not dissing Rob Bell’s message, I still got the following comment from your friend and mine, Anonymous:
How can you crack a joke on Rob’s excellent video series if you’ve never even met him or even watched any of them? Maybe you were just having a little fun, but it defies all logic and makes you look like a ignorant babbling fool! I need to get back to my Nooma videos, you know, something that will actually add value in my life!
The ironic thing is, I expected a comment like that. Because some fans of Rob Bell are so completely, rabidly devoted to him that they go around looking to defend him from any and all detractors. At the other end of the spectrum, you have people who believe Rob Bell is the anti-Christ and a heretic leading countless followers to the fiery pits of hell.
And speaking of hell… (Excellent segue, katdish)
Rob Bell has a book coming out on March 29 entitled Love Wins which is causing quite a firestorm. Here’s a video trailer for said book:
“Millions and millions of people were taught that the primary message, the center of the gospel of Jesus is that God is going to send you to hell unless you believe in Jesus. So what gets subtly taught sort of caught and taught is that Jesus rescues you from God. But what kind of God is that? That we would be rescued from this God? How could that God ever be good? How can that God ever be trusted? And how could that ever be good news?” – Rob Bell
Predictably, many in the Christian community were quick to challenge Bell’s (presumed) declaration that a loving God would not send people to hell. Justin Taylor penned a blog post entitled Rob Bell: Universalist?, which John Piper tweeted prefaced by the words: “Farewell, Rob Bell”. It pretty much snowballed on twitter and Christian blogs after that point.
I’m not going to defend either side of the argument here. Do I believe there’s an actual, physical hell? Yes, I do. Do I think the entirety of Rob Bell’s teachings should be dismissed because I happen to disagree with him about certain interpretations of scripture? No, I don’t believe that either. Because this is what I know to be true:
Rob Bell is not
Justin Taylor is not
John Piper is not
Francis Chan, Erwin McManus, Pete Wilson, Vince Antonucci, Alan Hirsch, Matt Chandler, Matt Smay, Neil Cole,Tim Keller, Mark Batterson, Brennan Manning, Donald Miller, Mark Driscoll, Ed Stetzer, Andy Stanley, Charles Stanley, Rick Warren, Billy Graham, Franklin Graham, Lee Strobel, Joel Osteen, T. D. Jakes, John Calvin, Oswald Chambers, Martin Luther, C. S. Lewis…
And their books and writings may inspire you or enrage you. They may cause you to question your faith or confirm what you’ve always believed to be the Truth, but they
The Word of God
The Bible is.
And you have the same access to it as anyone else.
Equip yourselves to defend
The Gospel of Christ
“The only thing worse than the joke you don’t get is the explanation that is bound to follow: an explanation that, while it may help you see why you should have seen the humor that you so lamely missed, is little likely to make you laugh. It may provoke you to muster a sympathy snicker so as to avoid more of an already tedious and misdirected lecture. It may inspire a mild giggle of recognition, but it will hardly ever raise a real belly-laugh, which was the original desired effect. And so, here I go — me and a dozen thousand other people — trying to explain a joke that we would do better to learn to better tell. I am setting out to explain again why Jesus is the only true hope for the world, why we should put faith in Him, and what all of that won’t mean. I am collecting the information, selecting from what I hope will be usable as evidence, arranging my findings into arguments, framing it for presentation and recognizing that, while it may be fine as far as it goes, it doesn’t go far enough…
So, here I offer what is possibly the worst thing that can be offered: an explanation of a joke. And, what makes this more inexcusable than the fact that this is that, is the added fact that this is an explanation of a joke you’ve already gotten. I offer it anyway. I offer it in the hope that it might somehow encourage you to live out your lives and, by your living, tell the joke that I, in my writing, so feebly attempt to explain.
Love one another, forgive one another, work as unto God, let the peace of Christ reign in your hearts. Make it your ambition to lead quiet lives. Obey. Greet one another with a holy kiss. No one will argue with that.”
~ Rich Mullins
Editor’s Note: In case anyone’s interested, I thought I would let you know that I belong to an independent, non-denominational Christian Church. If you’d like to know what we believe, you can find out at our website. I figured if this turned into a theology debate, you may as well know where I’m coming from. Not that I necessarily want this to turn into a theology debate, mind you. Just didn’t want y’all assuming I was a Baptist. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that…)
Whether you think Rob Bell is the greatest Christian visionary since C. S. Lewis, think he is a dangerous heretic leading countless followers astray, have an opinion of him that falls somewhere decidedly between the two, or even if you’ve never heard of Rob Bell and think Nooma sounds like a chocolatey delicious carbonated beverage, please view the following parody in the spirit in which it is intended (from me, anyway). I have seen only a few Nooma videos, but one in particular I found quite moving and thought provoking. (This is not that video.) I make the previous statements in an attempt to convey that I am not anti-Rob Bell. It’s just that I find some of his mannerisms and the cadence of his speech sometimes amusing, and to point out that parody is considered by many to be a high form of praise.
While I posted this video primarily because I think it’s funny, previous comments to me about Rob Bell and other highly visible Christians also lead me to this observation: It seems to me that society in general and some Christians in particular have become increasingly polarized and intolerant of opposing viewpoints. There are those in the hard core evangelical camp that would suggest that Rob Bell and other proponents of spreading the gospel through social justice are presenting an incomplete view of the gospel at best, and at worst are spreading heresy and leading unsuspecting followers to eternal damnation. At the other end of the spectrum, some in the emergent church movement might say that evangelical Christians ignore the plight of the marginalized in society and feel that it’s perfectly acceptable to allow a man to be physically hungry as long as his soul is fed. To this point, I would offer the opinion that to some extent, both sides are right, and both sides are wrong. For a more in-depth, intellectual and insightful take on this subject, I would highly recommend The God Who Smokes: Scandalous Meditations on Faith, by Timothy J. Stoner, and The Reason for God by Timothy Keller, both of whom are WAY smarter and biblically astute on their worst day than I am on my best.
You wouldn’t know by looking at Roger Willis that he’s one of the best Christians the world has ever known. I always thought that was his secret. You know, being meek and lowly in spirit and all. Jesus said blessed are those. And that’s Roger.
He’s not tall—five-foot-seven, five-foot-nine in his boots. A scraggly gray beard juts out almost perpendicular from his chin. Aside from the occasional trim, it’s sat untouched for the last fifty years or so. Just there, jutting out and seeming to defy gravity, as if daring the world to hit the man behind it.
And the world has been happy to oblige. Roger hasn’t had what most would call a good life, and what’s worse is that he’s innocent of making it that way.
Things started off well enough in that true, Southern way. Roger was born to a farmer and a school teacher soon after Hitler called it quits in ’45. His childhood was the perfect blend of innocence and dirty hands, and he was kept free from the realities of the world until two weeks after his tenth birthday. That’s when his father was killed when his tractor rolled on the back forty of their farm.
It was just Roger and his mother then. The two made due well enough. Roger’s mother kept him in school until the ninth grade, at which point she bowed to his wishes to devote himself full time to farming. By then, there wasn’t much choice.
Roger’s mother joined her husband just after his nineteenth birthday. That was a tough time from what I’ve heard, and understandably so. But God was looking out for his favorite Virginia farmer, because right around that time was when Mary Booker walked into his life. Roger remembered her from school way back when, remembered how pretty she was and how nice. The two of them met when Mary began attending the Methodist church where Roger had been born and raised. Their first date was for ice cream down at the Dairy Queen. They were married six months later.
Things turned around for Roger then. The farm was producing everything from corn to cows in abundance, and the Willis family grew to include a son and daughter. I think there are seasons in life much like there are in the world. If I’m right about that, then the next twenty years or so was Roger’s spring, when everything grew and blossomed and the winds were all soft and smelled like new life.
Then came Vietnam. All that kept Roger’s son from volunteering was knowing his father would have to run the farm on his own, but then came the draft notice. His son left Virginia in the summer of ’69. He died in a rice field eight months later. Roger’s spring was over then.
You could say the autumn of his life arrived twenty years later, when his daughter died of what he called “The woman cancer.”
Winter came last year when Mary Booker Willis, Roger’s wife of nearly fifty years, passed on after a stroke. Roger lost the farm soon after. The corn and the cows stopped growing, and he was too old and too tired to start over.
I’ve told you all that just to tell you this: you would not know Roger Willis has suffered such loss. No. Speak to him and you will hear a song in his words and see the brightness in his eyes. Sit near him at church, and you will hear his voice singing above the rest. Listen to him pray, and you will know that Jesus is more than his Lord, He is a friend. Pass him in the store, and you will walk away happier than you were. Roger will make sure of that.
Amazing, isn’t it?
How could he have such faith after such suffering? How could he not simply continue, but thrive?
I asked him the other day at the hardware store, and his answer surprised me.
“I doubted,” he said.
When his father died, Roger doubted. Same with his mother and his son and his daughter. Same with Mary. When he lost his farm, too. He doubted God, doubted His love and even His very existence. He doubted aloud in the darkness of an empty house and an empty bed, calling out to the great Not There. He doubted an answer would come. One always did.
I’m going to remember that. Because I’m often fooled into thinking my faith is made stronger by my answers. It isn’t.
Many of you have seen this quote here before. I share it again because lately I’ve read much debate about what our roles as Christians should be. And while I’ve read plently of opinions about “how” we should be Christians, I’ve yet to see a better opinion as to “why”.
The only thing worse than the joke you don’t get is the explanation that is bound to follow: an explanation that, while it may help you see why you should have seen the humor that you so lamely missed, is little likely to make you laugh. It may provoke you to muster a sympathy snicker so as to avoid more of an already tedious and misdirected lecture. It may inspire a mild giggle of recognition, but it will hardly ever raise a real belly-laugh, which was the original desired effect. And so, here I go — me and a dozen thousand other people — trying to explain a joke that we would do better to learn to better tell. I am setting out to explain again why Jesus is the only true hope for the world, why we should put faith in Him, and what all of that won’t mean. I am collecting the information, selecting from what I hope will be usable as evidence, arranging my findings into arguments, framing it for presentation and recognizing that, while it may be fine as far as it goes, it doesn’t go far enough.
But then I remember two things. The first thing I remember is how I once won an argument with a heathen friend of mine who — after I had whacked away his last scrap of defense, after I had successfully cut off every possible escape route that he could use, after I backed him into an inescapable corner and hit him with a great inarguable truth — blew me away by simply saying, “I do not want to be a Christian. I don’t want your Jesus Christ.” There was no argument left to be had or won. Faith is a matter of the will as much as it is of the intellect. I wanted to believe in Jesus. My friend wanted to believe in himself. In spite of how convincing my reason was, my reason was not compelling.
So the second thing I remember is this: I am a Christian because I have seen the love of God lived out in the people who know Him. The Word has become flesh and I have encountered God in the people who have manifested (in many “unreasonable” ways) His Presence; a presence that is more than convincing, it is a Presence that is compelling. I am a Christian not because someone explained the nuts and bolts of Christianity to me, but because there were people who were willing to be the nuts and bolts, who through their explanation of it, held it together so that I could experience it and be compelled by it to obey. “If I be lifted up,” Jesus said, “I will draw all men unto me.”
So, here I offer what is possibly the worst thing that can be offered: an explanation of a joke. And, what makes this more inexcusable than the fact that this is that, is the added fact that this is an explanation of a joke you’ve already gotten. I offer it anyway. I offer it in the hope that it might somehow encourage you to live out your lives and, by your living, tell the joke that I, in my writing, so feebly attempt to explain. Love one another, forgive one another, work as unto God, let the peace of Christ reign in your hearts. Make it your ambition to lead quiet lives. Obey. Greet one another with a holy kiss. No one will argue with that. ~ Rich Mullins
Rich Mullins (October 21, 1955 to September 19, 1997)