When “This is TOO Easy!” Equals Death


“Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it.  How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it.”

Matthew 7:13-14 (HCSB)

Being something of a “brainiac” is a blessing and a curse. Yes, I can still do complex mathematics in my head, even years after graduating with my Ph.D. But, it also has a tendency to make a person lazy. I had learned to “skate by” without really thinking about things substantially.

So it was with my “Christian” persona. I had learned every conceivable method of prestidigitation to make myself appear to be the Christian everyone thought I was. I was a regular David Copperfield (the magician, not the literary character), using a very crafty sleights of hand (and mind) to make myself appear as something I was not. I could call upon my vast knowledge of scripture, biblical history, and Christian “language” in order to prop myself up as a “humble brother in Christ.”

But one of the many many many MANY (read: “many”) things that constantly set my teeth on edge was how “easy” things felt. Like I had in so many of my high school and college classes, I was skating by on the so-called Christian life with very little resistance. Yeah, as a family we had PUH-LENTY troubles, but I also realized that the bulk of those troubles were not the result of “Spiritual warfare,” but rather, a result of my own internal disobedience to the Word of God.

I was a pretty crummy husband.

Certainly not a great father.

Spent lots of time pursuing my own interests and almost none seeking after the heart and will of God.

And it all came so easily. In fact, it came so easily and naturally that I had fooled myself into believing my own bill of goods. I had convinced myself that I was a phenomenal Christian, serving Him in as many ways as I could find.

That probably should have been a huge red-flag. Why was everything so easy? Jesus was very clear in Matthew Chapter 7 that the way to life eternal was a long, narrow road, and the road that leads to destruction is exactly the opposite: broad, smooth, probably even a slight downhill grade for lazy people like me.

But that’s exactly what Satan wants. He wants our spiritual muscles to atrophy by guiding us down the path of least resistance. Body builders use resistance training to focus on certain muscles (or groups of muscles) that they wish to build. When the resistance isn’t strong enough, the result is little to no improvement in strength or muscle tone. When there IS no resistance, muscles can actually weaken through atrophy.

Christians who aren’t experiencing any resistance should start to ask the most important question:

“Why not???”

“The Proof of Your Love”

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If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

 

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

 

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere.

 

So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

 

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (The Message)

 

If you read this, Paul clearly defines the “whitewashed tomb” that Jesus referred to in speaking about the Pharisees, the religious elite of His day. They said all the “right” things, performed all the “right” rituals, hung around with all the “right” people.

The problem was, without LOVE, being “right” didn’t equal being “righteous.”

The Commedia dell’Arte of My Church Persona


I learned a great deal from my high school drama teacher, Kathy Breeden. Boistrous, delightful, and sometimes fear-inducing (“Commit!!!”), she was a shining beacon at Chillicothe High School. Aside from being a wonderful Christian woman, she also had an unbelievable command of the history and traditions of the theatre. We spent much of the year in “Drama I” learning about the Greek and Roman roots of modern day theatre. Some of the concepts I learned from her that continue to endure in my mind are:

  • Hamartia is the Greek word for a “fatal flaw.” Generally protagonists in tragedies have a hamartia.
  • Hubris is the Greek word for extreme pride. In many cases, in a Greek tragedy, the protagonist’s hamartia is hubris.
  • Deus ex machina, or “God from the machine,” was a device at the end of some Greek plays where something “miraculous” would happen to “save the day.” Literally,  in some cases, a Greek god would descend to the stage from a crane-like machine and resolve the plot of the play.

English: Commedia dell'arte masks

In addition to these Greek theatrical terms, we also learned about Commedia dell’Arte. Obviously, you can do a quick Google or Wikipedia search and find out more about what Commedia dell’Arte is, but the nutshell version is that it was a primarily Italian theatrical motif that featured a great deal of improvisational humor that was performed by sometimes masked performers who represented caricatured characters. For instance, there would be a “bumbling elderly man,” “typically overblown heroic males,” and “crafty, conniving servants.”

The actors in a Commedia dell’Arte troupe had to be very versatile, able to play any of the stereotypical roles with equal adeptness.

My Christian “walk” had become a one-man Commedia dell’Arte (of sorts) and I had become an extremely versatile “player.” Did our church need someone to serve in the hospitality ministry? I just needed to don my hospitality mask and play the hospitable servant. Did our church need someone to go on mission to Panama? I could whip out the missionary mask and play the part of the humble, evangelical missionary. Did our church need someone to teach a class on Wednesday nights? Hold on…let me just dig out the teacher mask and play the part of the wise teacher who knows the Bible forwards and backwards–well, forwards at least.

Thirty years of experience playing the part of dutiful Christian. That’s what I had. And you better believe that the longer it went on, the degree of difficulty increased as well. I was a “chameleon,” changing my color when the situation called for it. I could transform at the drop of a hat into whatever was needed.

And boy, was I good at it.

Funny thing about my little private Commedia dell’Arte…it was neither comedy, nor art. In retrospect it was despicable. Jesus tell the church in Laodicea:

 I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of My mouth. —Revelation 3:15-16 (HCSB)

I don’t know about you, but that is one of the straight-up freakiest verses in the Bible.  I mean, think about it. Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, says that if we straddle the fence and try to be “lukewarm” or indifferent instead of on fire or cold towards Him, he’s going to vomit us out of His mouth.

Truth was, during that 30-year stretch I went from warm to lukewarm to cool-ish to cold, all while maintaining an “on fire for Jesus” exterior. But no matter how talented a deceiver I was, everything would eventually collapse under the weight of all the lies and trickery I had devised.

And eventually, it did…

Keep coming back as I detail more of my journey from someone with a gleaming “religious resume” to someone who fell into the arms of the Savior, exposing my long period of deceit.

“Meteor Shower” by Owl City

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Yes, that’s right. I’m posting an Owl City song on “The REboot” journal. For those of you who don’t know, Adam Young, the man behind Owl City, is a Christian, and while he doesn’t necessarily write a lot of songs with overt Christ-centered messages in them, he does record some on occasion. And, along with my posting of 2 Corinthians 5:17 today, this song follows the theme perfectly of a “new creation in Christ.”

“My Passion” by Travis Cottrell

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This is a very simple song with a very powerful message that speaks to me with great power every time I hear it. It is a song of thanksgiving and devotion, and if you are a believer and can listen to it without being overcome with tremendous emotion, head on over to the ER and have them bust out the defibrillator.

The Terrifying Aesthetic of Grace


The concept of “grace” is something—in all my academic splendor—I can’t really wrap my head around. It certainly is not something I come by naturally. I rarely find myself tending towards treating others with grace as a matter of habit or instinct.

Perhaps I was born without a “grace gene,” which would explain my inability to fully comprehend it. I don’t know. Or maybe everyone else in the world finds it as perplexing as I do.

I’ve heard it explained many times, and frequently, those explanations satisfy the turmoil in my brain when it comes to understanding grace. My favorite definition is that, while “mercy” is being saved from a punishment we do deserve, “grace” is receiving something (good) that we don’t deserve.

Grace has a certain appeal on a conscious, intellectual level. I mean, who doesn’t want to receive a gift that they never earned? Heck, I love that kind of stuff. When friends offer to pay for a meal for no particular reason other than “because they want to,” I eat that stuff up (pun intended).

But when we allow grace to sink down into the fertile soil of the soul, there is a mortifying flip-side to grace. Deep within ourselves, we suspect that we are deserving of some form of punishment for all the bad that we do. We can’t help ourselves (literally). The road we’ve traveled to get where we are today is marred by horrifying lapses in judgment, missteps of the grandest kind, and repetitive sins that defy any rational explanation. As Paul said in Romans 7:24a: “What a wretched man I am!”

But amazing grace saved a wretch like me. And while this makes for a “sweet sounding” verse, it is shocking and a bit terror-inducing.

Why, you might ask?

Because grace of that magnitude requires a response. Grace forces a crossroads point in life multiple times over.

First, in recognizing the grace of Jesus Christ, we are forced with a decision to accept it or reject it. Fortunately, this is not a “one and done” type of decision, and those who have chosen to reject the grace of Jesus can, at any time before death, change and choose to accept it. Of course, the unpredictability of life makes that a bit of a gamble, one whose consequences stretch over the never-ending continuum of Eternity.

Second, upon accepting the gracious, free gift of Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins, we are faced with a powerful call to action. Over and over in the Bible, after people’s lives were radically changed when their paths intersected with Jesus Christ, we find them subsequently running through the streets to proclaim their encounter with the Son of God. When our lives collide with incomparable beauty of grace, our reaction should be similar.

But that’s scary, isn’t it?

The grace of God is one of the most awe-inspiring and beautiful spiritual truths in the Universe. God’s love for us prompted Him to extend grace to billions of people who could not possibly do anything to deserve it, all through the undeserved suffering of His own Son.

But the flip-side of the beauty is the terrifying aesthetic of grace—a horrifying and weighty responsibility that comes with that grace.

We now carry that grace within us, and we are responsible for sharing it and extending it to others, neither of which is easy.

But it is truth, and truth is rarely easy to swallow.

So, I stand before you (digitally speaking) and share with you, throughout the course of this journal, my story. It is my responsibility to share. I am motivated to share. I am held accountable to share. And parts of my story are ugly, shameful, and downright disgusting.

Scary?

Yes.

Necessary?

Of course.

It’s the terrifying aesthetic of a life that has accepted the gift of grace.