I’ll be reflecting more on the areas I want to work on as (tomorrow!) I begin a new decade, but today I want to tell you about my friend, Brian, and how he is teaching me what it means to be a Christian.
At first glance, that may seem a bit odd. I’ve been a Christian since I can remember – with all the ups and downs, faithfulness and faithlessness that accompanies the Jesus journey. I’ve spent seven years of my life in formal Christian formation while at Indiana Wesleyan University and Duke Divinity School – where I “mastered” the divine! And I’ve been a pastor for nearly three years. When you’ve walked with Jesus long enough, it’s easy to think you know Jesus. It’s easy to think you know the stories and the messages they contain. It’s easy to think you know what God knows and to think like God thinks. It’s easy, when you’ve walked with Jesus long enough, to think you know Jesus.
This isn’t anything new. The bible is full of stories about people – as the old MTV Diaries television show so eloquently put it – “you think you know, but you have no idea.” There’s one particular story about a bunch of kids who were coming to Jesus, but the Jesus-followers tried to send them away. They thought they knew what Jesus wanted, where he was supposed to go, and who he was supposed to stay away from. They thought they knew, but they had no idea. “Let the little children come to me,” Jesus said, “and do not hinder them for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Oh. I guess we still have something new to learn. I guess we didn’t know Jesus like we thought we did…
Fast forward a few chapters (years?) and a couple other Jesus followers were walking down a road. They had been with Jesus for three or so years. They did everything their rabbi did. They walked with him and talked with him. They ate with him. They listened to him. Where he went, they went. What he did, they did. They, more than anyone else in the history of the world, should have known what Jesus was about. But even they were caught off guard when a ‘stranger’ joined them in their journey to Emmaus. The stranger shared with them stories from the scriptures about the messiah, how he would die, and how he would be raised back to new life. But they didn’t recognize that this stranger was Jesus all along. “Didn’t our hearts burn within us?” they later reflected.
It’s easy to think you know Jesus when you’ve walked with him long enough. It’s easy to think you know Jesus when you’ve heard the stories, read the books, and listened to the sermons. It’s easy to think we know Jesus…And yet Jesus keeps showing up in new and unfamiliar ways. Jesus keeps showing us there is more to discover, that the wells are deeper still, that we don’t know as much as we’d like to think we do.
And that’s where Brian comes in for me. Brian is a young man I had the immense privilege of baptizing last summer. Brian is a ‘new’ Christian and his journey this past year has been an incredible one. At the beginning of last year, he was in our local county prison. This year he’s celebrated over 12 months of sobriety, purchased a vehicle, and has never been late or missed one day at his job. Brian attends worship regularly and is being trained to help run our computer and projector on Sundays. I am SO proud of Brian and am thankful that I get to be part of his journey!
Brian and I now meet once a week to talk about life and read the bible together. I am learning so much from Brian. The questions he asks stump me: How do I live a Christian life? What is tithing about? How do I tell others about what God is doing in my life? His insights humble me: It seems like God can pretty much do anything. Nothing is impossible with God. And his heart humbles me. Every time we meet, he tells me of how people are seeing a difference in his life. He reminds me that talk is cheap, and that we have to live what we say. He shares with me that he tells people that God is changing his life. Through his honest questions, humble insights, and open heart, Brian is teaching me what it means to be a Christian. I am so thankful for Brian!
I’ve walked with Jesus so long, read widely and avidly, and have degrees on my walls that tell me I’ve mastered Divinity. But here I am being reminded every week that I still have a lot to learn, unlearn, and relearn.
During the Protestant Reformation, one of their refrains was the call to be “reformed and ever reforming.” To be changed, and to continually be changed. John Wesley called this process sanctification – to increasingly be re-made into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. I think Jesus simply said it this way: “Come, follow me.”
When we follow Jesus, it can be easy to think that we know Jesus. May we be blessed with a renewed innocence and burdened with a righteous discontent. May we be freed from our acquired knowledge. May we be graced by the presence of the unfamiliar Jesus. And may we be so fortunate as to receive him refreshingly anew. May we be reformed and ever-reformed more and more into His image and likeness.