As Allen mentioned, this week we are looking at an (in)famous verse which has often been turned into a weapon rather than something life-giving. Our interpretation of this verse has become entirely backward. So in that spirit, I want to talk about it backward.
The life. Over the last several months our family has really gotten serious about Sabbath. We call it Family Day. We put off all the chores and papers and responsibilities and we take a day to just be together. This past Saturday we spent our day at the Farmer’s market and the zoo.
It was perfect.
The weather was beautiful, the kids were amazing, we were all connecting and having fun and there was something quite holy about watching the awe and wonder in my children’s eyes as they beheld new things in God’s creation.
I even found myself experiencing awe and wonder. Not only of the animals but of my children and my wife.
It was a holy day. One in which the veil between heaven and earth was thin, and you could feel the life of God pulsing all around you.
In the summer, a trip to the zoo is not this way. You look around and you see people soaked in sweat and beat down from walking and arguing with tired and heat exhausted children.
But this day, there was something different in the air.
It was an experience of life. And as I looked at the people there, I was not the only one experiencing life. Smiles and awe and wonder were all around.
The truth. The PhD I am working on is in education. My research interests are in a branch called Transformative Learning. I spend a lot of time looking at the process of how people transform their perspectives and lives and what values, beliefs, and attitudes are needed for such a transformation.
Transformation is about challenging the old ways of thinking and living and putting on new ways of living and thinking and being. Transformation requires community and a loving embrace of all people no matter how “other” they may be.
And the reason this branch has captured my attention is that if I walk into a church and communicate the above truth people say: “Yes, that’s right” and assume I know something of Jesus. If I walk into a Transformative Learning situation where there are no Christians and communicate the same truth, people say: “Yes, that’s right” and assume I know something of education.
Because it is true.
Too often, I hear people misuse the verse we are exploring with the idea that for something to be true the adjective “Christian” needs to be attached to it. Because of this, people go to great lengths to prove what is and is not “Christian.”
We have gotten this verse backward.
Something is not true because we label it Christian. Being a Christian means discovering what is true.
Whatever labels we attach to truth neither makes it more true nor do they take away from its truth.
The way. Jesus comes to show us the way to truth and life. We have these experiences of life (e.g. the zoo trip) or truth (e.g. discovering the process of transformation) and we realize there is something more to the universe and new ways of understanding and full humanity are available.
We all want more truth and more life.
Jesus comes to show us how to get there.
In fact, Jesus claims the only way to get there is through him.
Yet I saw people at the zoo experiencing life. Am I to assume they are all Christians?
I read incredibly beautiful visions of life and human interaction in educational works by people I am 100% sure are not Christians. Does that discount their beauty and truth and insight into what it means to be human?
Too often, Christians discount people’s experience and insight if they are not Christian. The assumption is this verse proves people cannot have experiences of life or insight into truth unless they have put on this name “Christian.”
But I don’t think that is what this verse is saying. In fact, I think the opposite is true. We have gotten it backward.
I think the beauty of Jesus is that Jesus makes himself available to all people of all times in all circumstances and all walks of life.
When Jesus says he is the life and the truth,, it means if we experience life or truth, we experience Jesus. There is no other way.
The smiles and wonder and awe I saw at the zoo were an experience of Jesus.
Those insights into transformation are an experience of Jesus.
While the people who have experienced those things may not label it as Jesus, it does not make it any less of an experience of Jesus. Otherwise it would not be life or it would not be true.
As a Christian, I follow a particular way of living which I believe leads to the most full experience of life and truth.
It is the way of Jesus.
When I follow the way of Jesus it always leads to life and truth.
So I align myself with this particular way of living so that I can experience the most truth and life possible.
Yet people who are not Christians still find these ways and therefore experience life and truth. The Christian word for that is “grace.” It is how all people Christian and non-Christian find the way of Jesus.
This does not discount Jesus. It shows how amazing and gracious and big he is.
Our job as Christians is to be the kinds of people who can point people to Jesus so they can experience more life and truth by aligning their lives with the way of Jesus.
My faith explains why my day was holy on Saturday. We practiced the way of Jesus and made space to rest from work and be together in relationship. My faith uses the word “Sabbath.” My faith gives me words for why the experience is meaningful as well as a way of life to continue to experience it.
My faith gives me the hope that people can change. My faith trusts Jesus wants to transform the entire world into a good, loving, and just place and that he is adamantly opposed to the forces of evil which are too present and real in our world. My faith says we don’t have to settle, a better life is available, and tomorrow always has the potential for something new and beautiful.
Now it would be incredibly arrogant to walk up to someone and say: Hey, you know that good stuff in your life? That’s Jesus. Deal with it. #jesusjuke #evangelized
Perhaps a better way of viewing this verse is to walk into places where we agree and begin there.
Where do we see people experiencing Jesus because they have found a life-giving or truth embodying way of living?
People can agree on the life-giving experience of a perfect day with those we love. People can even agree that this shows we need a break from busyness to truly be with the people we love. People can agree that transformation is about challenging the old ways of thinking and living and putting on new ways of living and thinking and being. People can agree the world needs more people to love and accept those who are different.
So why do we not start in those places more often? Then if we are presented the opportunity, we can say: I believe people are more than what they produce and relationships matter, and people do in fact have the ability to change. And I believe this because of my faith in Jesus. I believe Jesus teaches these things and shows the way into these things, and he also has a lot more to say about what it means to be fully human.
And I believe these things because I believe Jesus when he says he is the way, the truth, and the life.