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Sunday, March 23, 2008

sort of a testimony

This Sunday I had the opportunity to say something in church about why I follow Jesus. Here's what I told 'em.

When my wife and I returned from living and working overseas our friends offered this advice: when people ask you “What was it like over there?” have three answers ready—a two minute answer, a thirty second answer and a ten second answer. It’s not everybody who wants to hear all the details, so today if you ask me what it was like over there, and I can tell you’re not up for the evening-long slideshow, you’ll get my stock five second response: “It was really amazing, but difficult.”

This morning you’re getting more or less my five minute answer to the question “Why do you follow Jesus?” I hope you take my meaning that I have both (1) a shorter and (2) a fuller answer to this question. And of course, if you really want to hear the 20 minutes-and-more answer, you can always take me out to lunch. It goes particularly well with pizza.

Our father in heaven

A big part of my story with Jesus is personal. That’s not to say that it’s private, but it is to say that a lot of the reasons I follow Jesus sound a lot like answers to questions like this: “Why are you friends with Kyle?” “Why did you marry Chrissy?” “Why do you spend so much time at Starbucks?” and “Are you really going to wear that shirt?”

(In case you were wondering, Kyle and I are friends because we’ve spent so much time together, I married Chrissy because she captured my heart, I’m at Starbucks so much because it’s my job, and yes, even if you don’t understand it, I really am going to wear that shirt.)

Another part of my Jesus story is wrapped up in specific moments in my life where I can put my finger on it—it was God who made such-and-such happen, and I just know I didn’t make it up. They’re good stories, I promise. But they don’t fit into a 5 minute answer, so I’m sorry to say it, but you’re out of luck this morning.

Also, I’ve been more or less following Jesus for at least 20 years now, and that has a lot to do with why I’m still more or less doing that now. It’s hard for me to change hairstyles, so you can imagine it’s hard for me to change the fundamental way I look at the universe. Go figure.

Hallowed be thy name

But especially in the past seven or eight years, it’s been in learning more about who Jesus was that I’ve come to find his life, his story and his personality so much more compelling.

For one thing, Jesus is different. People were intrigued way back then with how different he was—by his confidence, by the way he could touch a sick person and they would be well, by the way he would speak hard truth to the politicians and they would be silent. Truth be told, he freaked a lot of people out. And when we really look closely at his life today, quite often he still freaks people out.

But there’s something deeply fascinating about that differentness to me.

Thy kingdom come

Was Jesus a great moral teacher? Absolutely. But when we look more closely at what he was doing among the Jewish people in the first century, we can see that he made himself out to be more. He seemed to say, “Guys, this temple we have, this book of laws, this whole system of sacrificing animals to wash away our guilt and sins, this whole way we’ve always had of experiencing God and his world—they’ve done their job, but they’re just signposts”--and this was the shocking part—“and they’re pointing to me.”

Come to find out, Jesus wasn’t just getting people back in touch with good morals; rather, he seemed to understand that the mission of his life was to unlock a whole new way of experiencing God and what God wants to do to restore this broken world we live in—including our busted up and lonely lives—our decaying cultures and planet—our wounded relationships—a whole creation that’s gone wrong and desperately needs to be made healthy and whole again.

Give us this day

As the story unfolds a little further we learn that the reason Jesus could offer this new way of experiencing God was that he was God, and that in deciding to play by the rules that we all live with in our life under the sun—rules like gravity, time, fatigue, tight budgets, temptation, sickness, death—in playing by these hard rules Jesus showed us that God isn’t far away and distant from our problems, but loves us enough to get his hands dirty—to touch sick people, to talk with bigots, to have family members who didn’t understand him, to eat with prostitutes and tax collectors and not feel ashamed by how people might think that looks.

Later in the book it says that one big reason why God can help us with our problems is that he understands what it’s like to have our problems. He was here—he had them himself.

Forgive us our debts

Except for one of our problems, of course—the problem that we all have of hurting and fearing and mistrusting the God who only has love for us and who wants us just to love each other—this problem which we call sin. And it’s that enormous, mysterious, baffling and explosive way that Jesus decided to absorb the horrible consequences of our collected fear and violence and prejudice and carelessness and outright evil—all that sin that he had no part in himself—it’s his decision to take it all onto himself that we celebrate this week. And it’s the way he looked death, our greatest enemy, in the face and said “Is that all you got?” that we celebrate this morning.

As we forgive our debtors

I celebrate today because I am learning what it means to say “I follow this Jesus.” I celebrate today because I’m learning to see the hope that it promises. I celebrate today because I’m learning that loving people when they are unlovely is something so much bigger than just being a nice guy. I celebrate today because I’m learning that when I sing “Jesus Loves Me,” it’s true today when I’m a young adult like it was when I was a college student, like when I was a teenager, like when I was a child.

I’m pretty sure it’s been more than five minutes. Thanks for your patience. I hope you’ll still want to take me out to lunch.


Blogger Crystal said...

I really enjoyed reading this, Joel. Thank you.

11:29 AM  

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