proud to be an american… sort of.

Watching last night’s episode of Top Gear was a rather interesting experience. For those of you who’ve never watched Top Gear, it’s a British Car show which is currently watched by about 350 million viewers worldwide – over twice as many people as watch the Super Bowl – each week. The three hosts test cars, engage in silly challenges, and do crazy things in general.

Last night they flew to America to do one of their cheap car challenges. In the past they’ve bought Porsches for £1500, cars for less than £100, and even mid-engined Italian supercars for less than £10,000. Generally they end up buying cars that are old, break down, and are junky in general. This time, of course, was no exception. They were given $1000 to buy a car and then drive it from Miami to New Orleans, with a series of challenges along the way.

In general, the whole adventure was very funny, and a pleasure to watch. There were two parts, however, that made me cringe. The first occurred in Alabama, where they pulled into a gas station and were nearly killed by local rednecks. Granted, they partially brought it upon themselves by driving through the state with slogans like “Hillary for President” painted on the side of their car. When they pulled in, they were promptly accosted by the owner, who called “the boys” to come and settle the situation. Rocks were thrown at the television crew, and the presenters and the production staff ran for their lives, chased by a gang of hooligans in pickup trucks. Of course, all of this is caught on film and shown for all the world to see. The gas station owner was, of course, classic. “What do you expect?”, she said, “You’re in a hick town.”

As if that made assault and battery ok.

The irony, of course, is that this occurred in the South – what is considered (as was pointed out) the bastion of Christianity and conservatism in the United States. One of the things the presenters were jokingly poking fun at was the intolerance that is often associated with those two particular ideologies, and unfortunately it was proven in an all too dramatic fashion.

But as I watched, I thought two things – first, what does it say about the subculture in the “red states” that drives the perception of many people to assume that intolerant and bigoted attitudes are the norm? Many people will say, “Well, but it’s not really like that…”, and in many places I’m sure that’s true, but the evidence captured by the BBC was fairly convincing, and I don’t think they picked that gas station simply because they thought it would cause a stir. Intolerance is not unique to America, nor is it unique to the South, but there exists a (I think accurate) perception that many people in the South are far less tolerant of others than in other regions.

Second, it struck me as sad that this occurred in what claims to be the most Christian part of the nation, and the part of the nation with a mandate on moral values. I don’t know if the impromptu lynch squad was full of pew-filling Christians, but there’s a part of me that wouldn’t be too surprised to find out they were. Can we really justify intolerance to people who believe differently than we do to the extent that we threaten them with physical violence? We often try to distance ourselves from events like the Spanish Inquisitions and the Crusades, saying those were “back then”, but unfortunately I think there isn’t that much that separates us from the people we try to eschew.

The final segment of the show ended with them driving through New Orleans. They’d planned on selling their cars when they got there, but instead were confronted with a scene of massive damage and destruction, even one year out. In the words of James May and Jeremy Clarkson:

May: Finally, though, we made it to New Orleans, and my word, were in for a shock. We had seen on the news what Hurricane Katrina had done, but seeing the devastation for real was truly astonishing.

Clarkson: This is extraordinary… every house… I’ve been driving now for fifteen miles – there isn’t a pavement, there isn’t a building, there isn’t anything that isn’t smashed. It’s such a vast scale of destruction.

A year had passed since Katrina had blown through, and we had sort of assumed that after twelve months, the wealthiest nation on earth would have fixed it, but we were wrong.

How can the rest of America sleep at night knowing this is here?

I was reminded of the quickness with which we forget. How can the rest of America sleep? Because in a very real sense, we don’t know that it’s there. We don’t know it’s there just like we didn’t know about the tragic levels of homelessness and poverty and hopelessness that existed in New Orleans before Katrina hit. We are a nation that ignores what we don’t want to see because it helps us sleep better at night.

There are times when I’m proud to be an American, and there are times when I wish America were more worthy of being proud. Tonight was one of the second. I wish my country’s ideals were not only words on paper, but were modeled daily by her citizens, rich, poor, black, white, red, blue, Christian, atheist. There is so much here that is good, and no place I would rather live, but tonight I was painfully reminded that we have so far to go before America is a place everyone can be proud of.

they act like a righteous nation

Tell my people Israel of their sins!
Yet they act so pious!
They come to the Temple every day
and seem delighted to learn all about me.
They act like a righteous nation
that would never abandon the laws of its God.
They ask me to take action on their behalf,
pretending they want to be near me.
‘We have fasted before you!’ they say.
‘Why aren’t you impressed?
We have been very hard on ourselves,
and you don’t even notice it!’

“I will tell you why!” I respond.
“It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves.
Even while you fast,
you keep oppressing your workers.
What good is fasting
when you keep on fighting and quarreling?
This kind of fasting
will never get you anywhere with me.
You humble yourselves
by going through the motions of penance,
bowing your heads
like reeds bending in the wind.
You dress in burlap
and cover yourselves with ashes.
Is this what you call fasting?
Do you really think this will please the Lord?

“No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

“Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.
Then when you call, the Lord will answer.
‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.

Sometimes as I read through scripture, I feel like we ignore some of the more messy bits. We’re often quick to look back and analyze the text and the tone and the style of the passages without listening to them and allowing them to enter our own hearts. I think in many ways, this is one of the most dangerous trends in our modern Christian society – the failure to be introspective and allow the word of God to convict. We are generally so busy looking for how what we’re reading “applies to someone else” that we often miss the message God has for us.

This passage is an excellent example of that. Sometimes I wonder what the prophets would say if they were here, and what the Gospels would sound like if they were written today. I wonder how Jesus would cater his message to us, and whether his harshest words would still be reserved for the religious establishment. I have a feeling in many ways they would be. I wonder if God would come down and look at us today, view our services and say, “Do you really think this will please the Lord?”

God’s response is striking: free those unjustly imprisoned, be a fair employer, stop oppressing people, share your food and possessions, and don’t run away from people who need your help. Often we have very little to say about these types of social issues. We make excuses to absolve ourselves of the responsibility of helping those around us while thinking our worship “at the temple” makes up for other shortcomings.

I wonder what God would say.

Instead of patting ourselves on the back, I feel as though we should each take a hard look at our lives and our actions, both as a church body and as individuals, and evaluate what Christ’s words to us would be, were he here today. If I am honest, I feel as though this passage, and many other similarly humbling ones, apply to me much more than I would like to admit.

this is not all that we are

What is the most basic article of faith?
This is not all that we are.

I think this simple statement sums up the most significant difference in core philosophies in our world today. Many of our disagreements in the realm of morality, religion, ethics, justice and economics trace their roots to our affirmation or denunciation of this ideal.

Certainly there is no way to empirically prove some intangible soul inside us that makes us any different from a cleverly designed machine executing its programming. There is no objective experiment we could run that would yield a satisfactory answer and let us know of life after death, or of an eternal or even elevated nature – something that places us above mere animals.

Perhaps I just don’t want to believe in an empty and meaningless universe, but it is hard for me to conceive of this is all there is. Art and beauty and love in particular seem so wasteful in a universe governed by logic and survival and chance. Without the possibility of something beyond what we see and experience it’s hard to justify how hope could be anything other than delusion, integrity could be anything but weakness, and compassion anything but folly. Yet almost every person and every society would call hope, integrity, and compassion virtues, not vices.

Perhaps faith is blindness, and perhaps only the weak and enslaved believe in something beyond what they can know and measure. It is possible that love is a farce, and that poets and writers for thousands of years have been naïve and foolish, guiding others on an ultimately futile journey of emptiness.

But somehow I suspect deep down the reason so many people in so many cultures across all of history believed in and recorded their suspicions of the intangible nature of life beyond “what we are” is not because they were more foolish and less enlightened than liberated modern man. I wonder if in our desire to master all there is, we jettison intangible things we cannot know or understand in order to make our quest appear that much simpler, but in reality that much farther away.

what more in the name of love?


It’s an interesting phenomenon, and one that I’ve spent a good bit of time thinking about and wrestling with over the past few weeks.

In a lot of ways, I think studying about pride is somewhat like reading a nutrition textbook that says you should eat healthy food – it doesn’t really tell you anything you didn’t already know, but neither does it really help you out very much. Also, it isn’t very easy to be objective about pride in your own life, seeing as how if you knew you were being prideful, you would no doubt change what you were doing.

In addition, a certain amount of pride is often a healthy thing – being defined by Merriam-Webster as “a reasonable or justifiable self-respect”. There is a part of pride that causes us to feel a belonging to a certain group, or look rightly with favor on some particular thing we’ve accomplished.

It isn’t in fact pride, but rather hubris that is often condemnable. It was seen as a crime in ancient Athens, and was often the predecessor to the tragic fall in Greek tragedies.

When we say “pride” we usually mean either hubris or arrogance – both of which are rooted in an exaggerated sense of self importance. In the Christian sense, I think truly the most insidious danger for each of us is perpetuated by the lie we call “The American Dream” – that if you work hard enough and long enough you can accomplish anything. With that societal cry in our ears, we begin to trust and believe so highly in our own merit and ability that we leave little room for God’s grace, and even in a social vacuum without realizing it, we fall victim to the most serious sort of Christian pride – one that doesn’t involve others, but only ourselves and God.

On an interpersonal level, I think often we confuse humility with self-deprecation. It is not humility to pretend we are less than we really are – it is perhaps false humility, but a better word might be dishonesty. Remembering Merriam-Webster’s definition, pride can be a reasonable or justified self respect. When Paul writes to the Romans, he cautions them to “not think of yourselves more highly than you ought” – something we often simply read to mean “don’t think of yourself highly”. I think Paul advocates a healthy and sober recognition of the gifts God has given each of us.

In Philippians, he writes what I think may be the key to balance – “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others too.”

As I’ve thought and struggled the past few weeks, I think the place I am beginning to arrive is here: interpersonally, pride is not about denying who you are or the gifts God has given you so people feel more comfortable around you. Jesus certainly didn’t do that. Even though he gave up his divine privileges, he didn’t simply pretend to be “just another human” so everyone would like him. He performed miracles, spoke truthfully, and acted consistent to his character, and in fact, contrary to what we would like to think, there were no doubt people who considered Jesus a bit on the “prideful” side – “Who does he think he is? Only God can forgive sins!” (Luke 5:21).

On the other hand, just as we’re called to not think of ourselves more highly than we ought, so too we are called to not think of others as being less than ourselves, remembering that we are all truly equals before the Cross of Christ. We often take comfort in playing the comparison game, feeling that as long as we’re doing just a little bit better than somebody else out there, we’re at least not the worst. For many of us, I think interpersonal pride manifests itself less often in overvaluing our own gifts and achievements than in undervaluing the gifts and achievements of others. In pretending our gifts, talents, and accomplishments are more important than someone else’s, we lose perspective on the fact that all gifts, talents, and accomplishments exist only by the grace of God.

No matter who we are, hubris is our constant companion. Often it is so subtle we don’t recognize it. Even when we look at “prideful” people, there is usually a small part of us that says “I’m glad I’m not *that* prideful”, in turn making us just a bit more prideful than we were. Again and again, I am reminded of the words of Nietzsche – Wer mit Ungeheuern kämpft, mag zusehn, dass er nicht dabei zum Ungeheuer wird. Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein. – “He who fights monsters must take care that he not become a monster himself. For when you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes back into you.”

At the the end of the day, when I evaluate myself and am tempted to look around at people who “aren’t quite as good” as I feel I am, I hope I am constantly reminded of this reality – that I am not very far from being any of those people; that there, but for the grace of God, go I.

suscipe deprecationem nostram

To the Holy and Righteous God –

We have offended you and wronged you countless times, but you have forgiven us of our massive debt. Yet in our pride and selfishness, we refuse to forgive others, choosing to hold grudges and demand payment for debts we cannot collect.

Forgive our unforgiveness, and teach us to remember not only the debts we wish to collect, but the debts we owe.

We seek to honor your word, but often choose only the parts we want to hear, pretending you are silent when it is more convenient or more pleasant.

Forgive us for pretending we are better than we are, and teach us to be more honest with those around us, with you, and with ourselves.

We have ignored the cries of the desperate and hurting, forgetting you are the defender of the poor and oppressed. Like Ananias and Sapphira, we pretend to give more of ourselves than we really do.

Forgive our deception, and teach us to listen to those around us, and act with your passion.

We have placed our convenience above your commandments, forgetting the call of Jesus to love our neighbor as ourselves. We seek to rationalize ways around your will, refusing to follow in your footsteps unless we gain something, just like the crowds who came to Jesus because he gave them something to eat.

Forgive our greed, and teach us to release our own desires into your hands, and take up yours.

We have become proud and haughty, claiming to be the sole guardians of truth. We defend truth so much that we drive people away from your message of reconciliation.

Forgive our pride, and teach us to remember that we are only lowly servants in your kingdom – all honor and glory is reserved for you alone.

We are too often blinded to our mistakes and shortcomings. We pretend that all is well in our lives, and overlook sickness in our souls. We attempt to give first aid to those around us, but ignore the terminal illnesses we live with each day.

Forgive our myopia. Teach us to look first at the plank in our own eye, before we attempt to remove the speck from our brother’s eye.

For the places we fail but do not know, forgive us.

et iterum venturus est cum gloria
judicare vivos et mortuos
cujus regni non erit finis.

truly he taught us

As we contemplate Christ this season, I have been drawn again and again to the words of an old carol, and have been inspired anew by the truth and message they present to us of the mission and purpose of Christ:

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His Gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His Name all oppression shall cease.

When I reflect on the beauty of these words, they seem to me to bring together the essence of Christ: his teachings, his principles, his Good News for our lives, and his promise of a new world where peace and freedom overcome oppression and domination.

As we come to Christ, each born into a world of domination – constantly existing in a society that tells us we are insufficient – His message and Gospel proclaim that Christ breaks the chains of the oppressed, and that he brings peace to a hurting world; his law of love standing in such stark contrast to the law of greed, selfishness and pride that consumes so much of our lives.

In the midst of this season, may we each strive to be a part of the story of Christ, participating in his life and mission as a continuation of his incarnate body, rejoicing with those who rejoice, mourning with those who mourn, caring for those in need, listening to those around us. May our lives also be described by the words above – that we would bring Good News of peace to all we meet, inviting them to relationship with the Savior – a Savior not only of yesterday and tomorrow, but for today.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy Name!
Christ is the Lord! O praise His name forever!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!

what changed?

In a comment on a recent post, Brian posed the following question:

What happened to change your thinking/attitude? The problems you encountered on your return from Africa are still there. The same attitudes are present in our churches – perhaps redirected away from fund-raising, but still there. Obviously, you were able talk, complain, and question. Were there ever any real answers to restore your soul or was it simply rediscovering your faith in a God and His world that is sometimes too complicated to fully understand?

I haven’t been dodging the question, but I’ve wanted to give it some good thought and post the answer here for all to see, because I think it’s probably a question worth looking at.

First, I think Brian is right. The same attitudes that were present after my return from Africa are still present today. At the core, very little has changed. Our churches are still plagued by the same petty attitudes, and there hasn’t been a magical renaissance where people have suddenly started to grasp our position in a global community. I still often enter into church and feel as though I’m with a large group of people who doesn’t really understand who I am, or where I’ve come from, or what I’ve seen. I still find myself frustrated often when at any number of attitudes, events, and people in spiritual arenas. So in that sense, it’s hard to see that anything has changed, or that anything is better than it was before.

So what is different?

I think the first real answer that in truth was probably the most important one was this: I am not alone. It’s easy for us to forget that there are people all around us, and easy for us to buy into the lie that we’re the only ones who are experiencing our lot in life. The reality is that is seldom the case. While it sounds rather hokey, the truth of the matter is that the safe places I found really were one of the best answers I could have possibly imagined. They simultaneously answered two of the most important questions I was dealing with: 1) Am I the only one? and 2) Are the things I’m experiencing “wrong”? I think if the answer to either of those questions had been “yes”, I wouldn’t have stuck with it. I was fortunate to find people who were willing to walk with me and encourage me, but I wonder how many other people are out there who didn’t have those people for them in their time of need.

I think the second path to restoration was service. At the National Campus Minister’s seminar this summer, Kelly and I gave a talk on student leadership. One of the questions that was posed to us was from a minister who had a leader in his group who was “on the edge of faith”, as it were. He was asking whether he should put faith and trust in him, even though the student wasn’t really 100% sure that he believed in God. My answer was yes – I would give him the responsibility, work with him, and encourage him to continue questioning. Afterward there was a dissenter who discussed the topic with me at length, but with the amount of information I had, I still stuck by my answer, and the reason is simple: I feel like placing people in a position of leadership and service is a fantastic restoration. Often we are worried that if we stick people in positions of responsibility when they’re searching, they may burn out or break because of their fragile state. While I can’t speak for anyone else, I feel like in my case the fact I had people to minister to forced me to turn my attention to others and experience the joy of service instead of the doubt of self-examination. It doesn’t mean that my questions went away or that I suddenly had all the answers, but it did mean that I had a higher purpose than serving myself, and I was able to grow and learn through God using me in the lives of others.

Finally, I think an expansion of Brian’s last statement summed up an internal change that was profound and valuable.

First, I began to understand that, contrary to what we’ve taught and believe, the words “I don’t know” are three of the most powerful words in the English language. We’ve pressed people to be certain about what they know and believe, but the reality is that each of us is wrong about something, and none of us really knows what we’re wrong about and what we’re right about. Instead of trying to pretend I had it all together, I began to try to discover the liberation of uncertainty. While an entire generation of people has thrived in and demanded a world of certainty, my belief is that the next generation will necessitate a world of honest uncertainty. Being able to admit that there were things I didn’t know and didn’t understand was therapeutic in so many ways. It took the responsibility of explaining everything off of me and put it back on God – it removed from me the qualities of “perfection” and deity that had been placed there. While I used to fear the idea of not being able to know or explain God, I now take comfort in a God who is greater than I, and knows and understands more than I.

Second, I began to believe that it was actually possible to coexist with someone I disagreed with. I realized that on some sort of fundamental level, the Good News Jesus brings can’t be some message about intellectual superiority or elitism – in fact it seems to be exactly the opposite. If we can’t coexist with our brothers and sisters in Christ – even if we disagree with them – then our Good News is rather empty. As a result, the burden is on each of us to look past the differences and shortcomings and failings of our fellow Christians – even when it seems they’re actively working against our relationship with God. This doesn’t mean that we no longer get frustrated with each other, but simply that we live as what we are – the body of Christ, held together by Christ, living for Christ, and existing in Christ.

Each of these ideas proved to be a strong pillar on which I began to reconstruct a new foundation, rediscovering what it meant to live as a follower of Christ. I feel like I continue to discover daily a little bit more what that means, and I pray that process will continue for as long as I live. My hope is that each of us will look for people who are on the edge of faith and seek to draw them into relationship with the body of Christ. I hope we will be able to find people who need a safe place of rest, who are longing to be told they’re not alone and they’re not wrong; that they don’t have to have all the answers, and that there is healing in service.

intent and action

What is the relationship between action and intention? Which counts more?

What do I honestly feel about people I think are “missing the mark” in honest, well-intentioned, sincere ways?

How far do sincerity and good intent really go?

I think that question is really central in many ways to a traditional legalistic view of Christianity, but I think it has profound consequences in any new way of thinking as well. Previously we have said through our attitudes, though perhaps not through our words, that action was the only thing that mattered – well intended acts done for God that were done incorrectly were worse than no act at all. More recently we’ve transitioned into a feeling closer to our legal system – actions are most important, but intent matters also. Murder, we feel, is worse than accidental manslaughter, even though the result is the same. In those two cases, the only difference is the intent, but we feel murder deserves a harsher punishment than does manslaughter. Even still, intent only gives you partial credit – in the previous example, you still do time, even though you had no ill intent.

But I wonder what God thinks.

“Anyone who wants to come to him [God] must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.”

I believe God places intent above action. It’s not something I am necessarily comfortable with, as it seems to challenge so many of the legalities of the system I’ve built and grown up with. It does not declare action to be irrelevant, but rather makes us reexamine both our actions and intentions to evaluate their sincerity and authenticity. It doesn’t allow us to do whatever we want so long as our intentions are good, since our sincere seeking of God doesn’t involve what we want, but what He wants. Furthermore, just as in the legal system, where our intent only gets us partial credit, our actions go only so far in truly pleasing God. It is not enough to only do the right things, our hearts must be clean and pure before God as well. To paraphrase an old debate, if you have people who always do right, but hate the fact they’re doing it, have you really created moral people, or only the appearance of moral people.

In placing our intent above action, we are forced to abandon result-orientations and look instead to intent-orientations. One of our biggest obstacles to being compassionate is that we cannot externally judge the internal motivations of others. If we judged others based on their intentions, like we often judge ourselves, instead of on the consequences of their actions, how much more forgiving and understanding would we be? If we were to believe that people who acted differently than we do were honestly trying to do the best they could, how would that chance our outlook on others?

Whatever the balance between intent and action, the reality for each of us remains the same – we are all called to honor God not only with what we do, but in the internal depths of our heart and soul.

a safe place

As my small group discussed tonight, one of the questions asked us to talk about a time in our lives when Christ had “restored our soul”.

For me it wasn’t hard to think of the time. I’d just returned from Africa for the first time. The trip had been challenging in so many ways – encountering unimaginable poverty, stretching my comfort zones in ministry, learning to deal with people who I didn’t get along with – so many lessons in such a short time.

As I returned to American culture, I was filled with doubt and confusion and anger. The church I was attending was going through a campaign to raise money to build a new building, and I felt tremendous conflict within my heart as I thought back to worshiping in a burned out truck in the slums of Eastleigh. For a while, I physically couldn’t deal with going to church on Sunday mornings. I couldn’t deal with the masses of people who just didn’t seem to understand the realities of the world as I’d seen it, and who seemed more concerned with their comfortable lifestyles than with helping others. I raged inside when people talked about how God “provides everything everyone needs” – trying to reconcile that with the visions burned in my mind. I wanted those people to go sit in trash piles with starving children and tell them that God was providing everything they needed, or that they should just “have faith”. It seemed to me hypocrisy on a grand scale.

At the same time, I underwent profound spiritual changes. I began to question many of the ideas and beliefs I’d grown up with, and began to wonder about their consistency. I had difficulties reconciling the things I’d grown up with to the things I’d encountered, and didn’t know what to make of any of it. Each answer left me with dozens of new questions, and I began to seriously doubt whether any of it was worth the effort.

It seemed to me that church was about the last place I was going to find the answers I wanted. When I did go, week after week there were sermons that seemed to do nothing but give the same formulaic answers I’d heard for 20 years, never really acknowledging that there was something going on in my head that seemed vastly different from everyone else. Whenever I did talk to people about how I felt, they generally tried to “fix me” by giving me some set of Bible verses I could go read to understand why I was wrong and tell me how I could return to the straight and narrow.

I don’t know how close I was, really, to packing it all up and deciding that it wasn’t worth it. I never reached a point where I decided it was “the last time…”, but I did spend several weeks away, not really certain if I would come back.

As I look back, I’m fairly certain the thing that kept me going was three people – Traci, James, and Kelly – who provided a safe place for me to talk, complain, question, and doubt without fear of judgment or retaliation. Their desire to listen and journey alongside me instead of trying to “fix me” right away proved to be exactly what I needed. I don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t had that, but I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t be writing this right now.

As we explore what it means to have a relational dynamic within our churches, I think it’s important that we remember to create such safe places. I’m not sure that it’s possible to do that on any kind of large group level, but I hope we can brainstorm effective ways to create a culture that fosters such relationships between people.

what we bring to the table

On Monday night, we discussed the assumptions we often make in attempting to explain Christ to others. Often, our hidden assumption in how we talk and explain things is that the person we’re talking to really wants to be a Christian, but doesn’t have enough information in order to know how to do that, or to make that decision. As a result, our explanations often boil down to feeding people information about what it takes to become a Christian, while more and more people we talk to don’t really have a good feel for what being a Christian actually means. (And, as a side note, it could be said that the more I reflect and talk and discuss, the less confident I am of what being a Christian actually means at times.)

One of the key points that James brought up was that often we go from proposition 1 – “You’re a sinner”, to proposition 2 – “You need Jesus” – without any real justification or explanation of that huge jump. One of the main reasons for that, I believe, is that we’ve grown up around our religious framework so much that we don’t see this as a big jump at all, where as people looking from the outside find it hard to comprehend how A leads to B.

Put another way – suppose that I’m someone who has never really heard of God. Suppose I also accept the fact that God exists, and I am a “sinner”. What does that mean? When we jump to the next step in our line, “You need Jesus,” I think most people scratch their heads and say, “Huh? Why’s that?”

I think the fundamental message here to me was this: when we speak to non-believers, each of us must try as best we can to identify all the assumptions we bring to the table and be aware of them when we’re talking to others who may not have the same background we do. As we attempt to bring Christ to others, we need to recognize that there is a difference between trying bring Christ to others, and trying to bring others to Christ. My hope and prayer is that as we consider that picture, each of us would seek to meet people where they are and bring Christ to a broken and hurting world, instead of trying to bring others along without first addressing the needs, concerns, positions, and beliefs that place them where they are. My prayer is that just as Christ started with people where they were but didn’t leave them there, so we too would be willing to go the extra mile in order to model Christ in their lives in all aspects – including the ways we minister to them.