Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Full, Part Four

I drive a 1996 green Geo Prism.

There, I said it.

I feel no shame about owning this car. It is the only "brand new" car my wife and I have ever purchased. It had 28 miles on the odometer when we drove it off the car lot (and we put 21 miles on it in test drives- which, admittedly, is excessive and may say more about my personality than I want to delve into in this post). As I write this entry, it has been driven close to 130,000 miles, still gets close to 38 miles to the gallon, and has been virtually problem free the entire time. Outside of normal maintenance, I have only done one repair: a new starter.

A couple of months ago, I started the little green car up like normal, and it made a funny noise. Not funny "ha ha," but more like funny "hmmm, that's not normal." The noise was a quick, chirp-like sound. And, the car was running a little rough. Over time, the chirp turned into a squeal. After a few weeks, I faced the truth: my alternator belt was going bad. Sure enough, upon inspection, the belt was so worn it was actually tearing down the middle into two skinny belts. Unfortunately, phrases like "the more, the merrier" don't really apply in a situation like this. The belt needed to be replaced. Once the repair was made, the car quieted down and the engine ran smoothly again.

Maybe at this point you're thinking, "hey Jeff, I know it's been awhile since your last post. Do you remember that you were doing a series called 'Full'?" Or maybe you're thinking, "hey Jeff, do you remember that you usually talk about God? If I want 'Car Talk,' I'll listen to NPR."

Here's the point of my little green car story: If the car had always run a little rough, and made a little chirping sound, I wouldn't have been concerned. I knew something was wrong with my car because I'm familiar with how it runs when things are right.

If a big part of living a life that is "full," is knowing what it takes to be filled, then we have a problem. We chase after all kinds of things that we think will fill us up, only to find that they don't live up to their hype. If we've never really been "full," how can we know what it's like? And if we don't know what it's like to be truly "full," how can we know what it takes to get there?

Enter Jesus. He actually makes the outrageous statement that He has come to bring us life. Not only that- He literally says it is "life to the full." Is this just more hype?

I don't think so. Mostly, because Jesus is a decidedly "low-hype" guy. Even when He did something miraculous, there wasn't a bunch of razzle-dazzle attached. Reading about Jesus in the gospels tells us that He lived authentically, and He kept His promises. And, His teaching has a way of stripping all the non-essential stuff away to reveal what is most important.

Just look at Matthew 22:36-40. The religious leaders had come up with a law system that was bulging at the seams with 613 commands. They were constantly debating with each other over which were the most important. Jesus takes this complicated system, and He clears it up. Essentially He says, “Love God; love people.” This is good news, right? Because it simplifies things. The last two "Full" entries talked about those things.

But what exactly does it mean to love someone? How do you know that someone loves you? How does someone know that you love them?

One way is to say it- you can declare love to someone.

But the other way to identify love is to show it. Love gets substance when it’s demonstrated, and that demonstration will often speak louder than the words.

If we are going to learn by Jesus’ example, we need to look not only to what He says, but also to what He shows. So now that Jesus has declared that we should love God and love people, how does He demonstrate it?

Philippians 2:3-18 makes it clear that Paul thought that Jesus gave us the example of serving, and that we should be like Him:

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

While Jesus was here on earth His nature was to serve-even when it cost Him deeply. If we want to be like Christ, we will serve.

Remember also that the definition of “Lord” is “Master.” If Jesus is our master, doesn’t it make sense that we would be the servants?

To put it bluntly, you won’t find fullness in Christ unless your love for God and for people is demonstrated through sacrificial serving.

Anyone who sets himself up as "religious" by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.” -James 1:26-27, The Message Translation.

In Matthew 20:25b-28, Jesus told His followers, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus modeled this behavior before eating His final meal with his disciples. In a gesture that shocked them, He humbled himself and washed their feet—including the feet of the one who would betray Him later that evening. With this image vividly etched into their minds, he then suffered the ultimate humiliation, and “became obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Chirst's example shows us that we will never be full until we are living out our love in service.

For over a decade, my little green car has really served its purpose; it's been a useful tool. But to get there, someone had to make it. Then I had to buy it. Finally, to fulfill its purpose, someone has to use it.

God made you. He bought you. And, He wants to use you.

The first statement you just have to acknowledge- He made you, whether you like it or not. The second you must accept. He bought you at the price of His Son’s life. If we are obedient and accept this gift, we can have eternity with Him. That requires us to surrender, but it’s only the beginning. After surrendering, God wants to use us. God can certainly use whomever He pleases (He used Pharaoh, and even Balaam’s donkey), but what He desires, is for us to yield to Him; to freely place our lives in His hands, to empty ourselves out, so He can fill us up.


In Him We Live,


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Full, Part Three

I'm sitting in a coffee house on Main St. in Findlay, OH as I write this.

Outside, about half a block down, two guys just spent about 35 minutes standing on the street corner. One was holding up a large banner of Jesus on the cross. The other, dressed in a tie and jacket, was "street preaching. "

Well, at least I think he was street preaching. He was yelling a lot.

With the exception of one short break, he maintained a constant level that was easily heard down into the coffee house, which has it's front door propped open to let in the warm air from one of our first real Spring days. For a while, it was just me and the barista in here. As I was adding sugar and half and half to my cup, she was leaning out the door to take a quick listen. As I headed for my table by the front window, she smiled at me and said, "they have a banner, but it doesn't look like there's anything bad written on it." I leaned out the door to take look, but couldn't make out all that it said. The two were facing toward the center of the intersection, so a large portion of the banner was obscured.

I watched as groups of people, going to and from lunch, passed by on each side of the street. There really wasn't any interaction between the people and the two guys. Actually, the guys were so focused on the middle of the intersection that it seemed to me that their target audience must have been the manhole cover in the center of the street. Despite his high volume, no one looked up as they walked by- even when he shouted the invitation to come to Christ.

As I walked back to my seat, I thought about the stark object lesson that the scene was serving up for me. Sitting on my table is a book entitled, "I Sold My Soul on eBay," by Hemant Mehta (pronounced HEH-mint). It's the true story of an atheist who decided that he wanted to explore some of his conclusions about God (i.e., his lack of belief in God's existence) by going to church. Being a rather bold and creative guy, Hemant "held an eBay auction, agreeing to attend any place (or places) of worship determined by the winning bidder. Jim Henderson, a former pastor and author of 'Evangelism Without Additives,' won the auction. He asked Mehta to attend a number of churches and write a critique of each one." (This excerpt is taken from the publisher's note at the book's beginning.) Hemant's reviews are still available on Henderson's site at if you are interested. Just go to the site, click on "eBay atheist," then go to the right column and the find "Hemant's Church Surveys" link.

(I know this sounds like an unbelievable partnership- the pastor/author and the atheist, but it worked. Hemant did just what Jim requested, and his reviews reflect a sincerity in what he proclaims: He's curious, and he doesn't believe there is a God. After completing Jim's assignment, Hemant went on to visit other churches, and compiled his experiences into the book that is sitting by my computer. His words aren't angry or insulting, but he also doesn't pull any punches. If he thinks the preacher's presentation is dull, or the music stinks, or the people are unfriendly, he says it.)

Anyway, back at the table, I picked up the book again and read these words:

"But as I read Christian books, and as I spent months attending an amazing variety of churches in different parts of the country, I kept running across a consistent and troubling truth about American Christianity. It is clear that most churches have aligned themselves against nonreligious people. By adopting this stance, Christians have turned off the people I would think they want to connect with."

As I read, the street preacher shouted at the manhole and people continued to walked past, pretending he wasn't there.

Being "full" in Christ involves not only that we love God, but that we also love people, and strive to develop real, authentic relationships that allow us to live in real community. I mentioned in the last "Full" entry that corporate worship gatherings provide a great starting point in forging community, especially with other Christ followers. But real community is so much more than this. Authentic community is literally "life together" with others.

"This is the case of a man who is all alone, without a child or a brother, yet who works hard to gain as much wealth as he can. But then he asks himself, “Who am I working for? Why am I giving up so much pleasure now?” It is all so meaningless and depressing.
Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken."

-Ecclesiastes 4:8-12 (New Living Translation)

We need each other. And it seems to me that an authentic, open community is a lot more attractive than a guy shouting at a manhole.

In Him We Live,