When I Stopped Trying To Save You

Homeless-Jesus3After fourteen years of serving as a pastor in the local church I switched roles this year to work for Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission and Serve Seattle.  I still love the church, but I have to admit, I’ve grown more in my faith this year than the past few.  If I had to pick one thing I’ve learned above all else, it’s that I’ve finally stopped trying to save people.

In Bible college, they trained me to have answers.  They taught me how to preach with certainty and conviction.  They educated me how to evangelize others and convert them to my thinking.  Now, I don’t think any of the above is inherently wrong but it misses a crucial part of Jesus’ teaching:

 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’  And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’  -Matt. 25:37-40

Okay, before you start thinking, “Kyle’s just reminding me to be nice to people again.”  Look more closely.  This passage is about much more.  Jesus is communicating to those who want to “save” others, that they are actually the ones being saved.  After all, this passage is all about eternal life and Jesus (once again) flips our assumptions on their head.  Just like the people in the passage, I didn’t see that coming.

What I learned this year is to look for Jesus in the other.  I’m beginning to enter conversations and interactions with people with a divine curiosity and wonder.  Oh, and this goes especially for those different from me.  I’m looking for Jesus in the homeless person on the corner and my Hindu neighbor three doors down.

I used to enter meetings and conversations with a prepared list of answers or even an evangelical strategy for conversion.  Lately, I’m walking in with some great questions and a hope that I’ll be somehow changed.  I’m finding this new posture is helping me finally listen.  (It’s been a long road for me.)  I’m seeing others as truly valuable, each with their own unique story and viewpoint.  I occasionally get opportunities to speak still, but honestly, I look forward more to a diverse group of friends chatting in a coffeeshop.  After all, I’ve seen far more change happen in circles than in rows.

I think this may be why I’ve grown in my faith so much this year.  I’m discovering Jesus in people instead of assuming I’m the one bringing him to others.  Because of this, life is becoming more of an adventure because he has a way of popping up in the least expected places.  Maybe it’s because I’m not just expecting to learn from him for one hour on Sunday?  I also think about him all the time now.  It may be because he’s far more complex and wondrous now and I’m always wondering what he’s up to.  Jesus is becoming this divine mystery to me that even as I write these words, makes me want to stop and worship.

Above all, I’m falling more in love with him and in turn, starting to love others more.  It’s pretty easy to give a homeless person a hug when you think he may reveal Jesus to you in a special way.  My religious defenses are easily lowered when I’m listening intently for Jesus in my Hindu neighbor.  Heck, I even stop defaulting to Captain Advice to my kids when I stumble upon Jesus in their curiosity and wonder.(2)

It’s funny that I’ve had this upcoming scripture memorized for twelve years and used it in countless sermons, but I think I may just be beginning to figure out what God meant.  Paul was speaking about Jesus when he said,

but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. -Phil. 2:3

Better late than never I guess.
Gotta run, I have a sermon I should be working on, but I think I’ll get to it later.  I’m more interested if Jesus may show himself in my parents coming over in a bit.

You never know, and I like life better that way.

1.  Don’t miss the feet in the picture above.

2.  Oh, how healthy it would be for the American evangelical church to be known for curiosity and wonder again.  Don’t get me started on that one.  🙂

What I Am Missing From Other Religions

The past four days I experienced the five major world religions through a graduate class in Portland.  I visited their places of worship and asked questions of their leaders.  It began as an objective pursuit to contrast my Christian faith with theirs so I could come away more assured and proud.  It ended with me becoming remarkably humbled in comparing my own beliefs and appreciative of the others.  I was expecting to study these religions behind a protective glass like a child observing a lazy lion.  Instead, I found myself inside the wild sanctuary face to face with the untamed animal.  I thought this experience would reinforce all that I already know.  Instead, I discovered what I am missing.

94_fullHinduism
Easily the most whimsical and fun religious leader I experienced.  After patiently fielding questions from our Christian class, he’d often respond by saying, “Relax…” and then launch into a story that would leave most frustrated.  I learned for Hindu people, the mystical experience trumps reason and history.  Figurative language weighs more heavily than literal and spirituality is superior to religion.  In my American, linear, A+B=C framework, I easily forget that Jesus (from the East) often told parables that left most confused and frustrated.  I learned from the Hindu faith spirituality is not something you can chart and graph.  It’s not meant to be captured, bottled, labeled, and placed on a shelf.  I’ll never forget his challenging words to us, “I can learn more about your faith by how you live than what I can find in the Bible.”  Experience matters.  I can study a hundred books about a God that loves but until I risk loving myself, my religion is worthless.

imagesJudaism

The synagogue where we met the Rabbi was simple and understated.  He had a sharp wit and cunning humor, but also a real love for people.  He started with common ground by sharing from the book of Genesis.  As he shared, I saw wonder and awe fill his eyes.  He was all too comfortable with admitting what he didn’t know and this only emphasized more for me the sovereignty of God.  God was holy other and worthy of our worship.  There are outcomes and actors, as he put it, but all of life is under God’s rule.  I think sometimes I can make too much of evil while God accidentatly becomes merely my buddy.  This reverent Rabbi reminded me that God has no challenger.  He is in complete control and often that control forces us to become comfortable with unknowing.

5262-mormon_book_of400x200.630w.tnMormonism

The Mormon leader was the only one that wore a tie.  He was older and more formal than the others.  However, his life represented a lifetime of steadfast obedience and sacrifice.  He shared how he worked years at 30 hours a week free of charge for his church.  He spoke of great pride about the year long mission for all young Mormons.  He couldn’t wait to tell us about their fast offerings in which each month, every member gives up a few meals and donates that money to the needs of the world.  The sacrifice and commitment to the faith was inspiring.  So often my commitment to God wanes depending on what’s on TV or what mood I’m in but the Mormon devotion reminded me the kingdom of God is breaking in all around us now and I have a part to play even today.

islam_1958725cIslam

Harris Zafar was the leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community.  He is a national spokesperson for Islam and has done a tremendous amount of work communicating to America about Islam since 9-11.  He was helpful for me to understand the difference between culture and religion.  While their religion may promote the dignity of women, the culture in parts of the East may look very different.  I was reminded how I am often embarrassed over Christian representations in the media in comparison to the life of Jesus.
What struck me above all was their unity.  When visiting Mecca, all Muslim’s wear the same white outfit as a way of announcing their equality and community.  They pray five times a day in the same direction and as a community fast for a month every year.  Everything is together, in community, and in unity.  How often do I mock the Christian church or rebel against certain traditions for the sake of individualization while Jesus quietly prayed in a garden long ago that we’d all be one.

images-2Buddhism

As we entered the Zen Buddhist temple, the smell of incense welcomed us.  Kakumyo (remember clarity) was a former meth addict who has been practicing Zen Buddhism for nearly 20 years.  The teachers had us sit on pillows in the lotus position.  They instructed we fold our hands together while our thumbs barely touched.  This was a point of concentration to remember our thumbs are not touching but they are also not, not touching.  Life for the Zen Buddhist is one of mindfulness where we learn to be honest and curious in order to be open to change.  To name or define something is to limit it.  Meditation opens the mind to become flexible.  I couldn’t help but think these Buddhist are probably the most introspective and self-aware human beings on the planet.  How often do I hurry through my day without being willing to ask the difficult questions of, “Why did I swear in traffic?”  or “Why did I walk right by that homeless woman?”  I’m too quick to cut and paste a scripture to justify most any action while David courageously prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (1)  How refreshing would it be for Christians to have the reputation of curiosity like the Zen Buddhists?  I was challenged to spend more time crafting insightful questions rather than impressive answers.

Final Thoughts

Throughout these four days, I developed a holy envy of sorts.  I’m not coveting the other religions but have gained a holy appreciation for them.  I didn’t necessarily find something in the other religions that is not already in Christianity but instead, I discovered elements that had been lost to me.  I enjoyed the tension between a critical mind and a charitable spirit.  To be clear, I really do believe Jesus is the only way.  However, this week, I watched Jesus walk down other ways with me to reveal more of himself.  I used to think truth was a set of beliefs that made me right.  Now I believe truth is a person we all long for.

1.  Psalm 139:23-24