As you can probably tell, I’m not much for mirrors. More than a low profile, I try hard to keep it low maintenance. The beard? Had it before they became cool, too much work to shave everyday. The hair? Short on purpose, if I have to waste time combing it in the morning, it’s too long. The clothes? Before I met Elise I owned one polo, three pairs of jeans, and a drawer full of t-shirts, most of them Nebraska related. In fact, in high school it was impossible for to go a week without wearing a Nebraska shirt, because I didn’t own enough non-Nebraska stuff to go even five days. Thats right, I had less than five shirts not related to Cornhusker football. And if you’ve spent anytime around me, you can also probably tell that I’m lacking in the personality department. Funny, engaging, or outgoing? If this were baseball I’d have just struck out.
I once spent weeks preparing and memorizing lines in fifth grade to get a part in the school play, the part I knew I was destined for. Hours turned into days which passed into weeks of study and memorization. I had the part perfected. When the parts were assigned? I got to walk across the stage. They didn’t even have a part for me I was so bad, but the rule was that everyone who auditioned had to have a part. There are leads, there are supporting parts, there are extras, there are fillers, and then there’s me. I’m in a category all by myself. Always in the shadows, always “chasing cool”, always aiming for some big pursuit or dream and always coming up just short. It’s the motto of my life.
In fact, I decided years ago that at the end of my life, if I sit down to write my memoir, the title would be Chasing Cool and I think my life story can be summed up in one story that illustrates everything perfectly. So picture with me, the basement of the church I grew up in. It’s a large open room, several hundred square feet with faded red carpet from the 1980’s. The red carpet gives way to the kitchenette and cold hard tile. Past that, a long dark hallway with classroom doors on either side that end at a stairway headed up to the fellowship hall.
One Sunday after a church potluck, my friends and I headed into that old familiar basement to play a game of hide and seek. To make the game more exciting we agreed to play with the lights off. No lights, no windows, the ultimate thrill game. We played for close to half and hour and eventually I found myself the “it” person. Lurking around in the dark while relying solely on the power of your ears is actually an exhilarating experience. It’s a very primal sort of thing, like a great cat hunting in the wilds of the African plains on a moonless night. Stalking my prey, I finally heard the rustle in the bush and sprung into action. He was the gazelle, I was the lion and he was almost within reach. I was closing. Fast. As I closed in and heard his frantic breathing I realized who it was: the cool kid. I had the cool kid as my victim. I could hear the adulation and praise now. My life would suddenly change, women would swoon over me, I about to become the stuff of legend.
One small detail had been pushed from my mind and my outstretched arm as I reached out to grab him and win the game. I had neglected in the dark to remember the concrete support beam of the church basement. The first, and only thing to make contact with that concrete beam was my face. My nose, followed by my forehead, and I’m convinced that somehow that beam went most of the way through my brain before I stopped. Seemingly dead on the floor I woke up several minutes later all alone. My friends, not able to see where I was, had simply abandoned the game and left. I stumbled upstairs with a swollen and bloody nose ready to go home.
The story of my life. Just when cool seems within my reach: WHACK! The cold hard cement of reality puts me back in my place. And eventually, I suppose, you learn to just accept it. Some people have ‘it’ and others don’t.
Perhaps you have your own identity story, the narrative that you have been told to follow. Your own book title to sum up your life, your own belief system about how you fit into the world.
Perhaps this humorous story, one that years ago would have actually meant something to me, can illustrate a point for us. I see now something far more important and special that I want to be known for. Cool? Please, I want to be known as changed. Important? I could care less, I’d rather be known as a disciple. Relevant? Only matters to me because that’s what Jesus says about me. I’m important, I’m relevant, and I’m special to him, that seems to me to be something worth striving for and following after.
And I was reminded of this point as I read this week’s passage. Of the entire chapter, one verse suck out to me. The story is compelling, but I was completely enamored with one verse that I think holds everything in the story together.
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it. But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”
Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.
I read that passage, and then I was struck with the thought: “I wonder what people would think about me?”
Do people leave a time with me and think: Now, THAT’S a man that has been with Jesus!
I fear not.
And the more I think about it, I wonder how may of professing Christians would get such a compliment. It’s possible, there’s a way forward, but we have some work to do.
Here are the three ways I think people typically approach their Christian life.
The first is what we might say is “masked Christianity”. We put on a good looking mask when others are around, we’re nice, pretty, funny, and fashionably late, but it’s never more than skin deep. It’s what me might call, to keep it simple, Halloween Christianity. Prop actors.
Level two Christians have their transformation go slightly deeper than level one. If level one one puts something on to mask their appearance, level two makes minor cosmetic changes. They slightly alter their appearance to look and feel better about themselves. They are what we might call “plastic surgery” Christians. It’s too much work to take the mask off an on, so let’s just get a smile permanently put on our face. Take some fat off here, inject it into this point, plump these up, thin this part out a little bit and viola, a new person…..at least in appearance anyway.
Level three is transformed Christianity. The caterpillar into the butterfly. From sinner to saint. From wayward to disciple. Altered into something completely different, these people have the uncanny ability to reflect and shine the light of Christ at all times.
I’m sure we all desire to move to that level three area in our faith. Peter and John model for us what the transformed look like in three main areas.
When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.
[/pullquote]The problem with Christianity today is that far too many people like, and to some degree want to be like Jesus, but have no real desire to spend any time with him. We’ve settled for offering artificial substitutions: people masked as Christians in public, but loathing and bitter humans behind the mask. We’ve tolerated people who think that some cosmetic surgery is good enough: affix a simile to your face, tuck the anger away where no one will see it, and hope for the best. But what we really see here is that real and total transformation is the only possible way forward in mission.
We’ve talked about the importance of Knowing God’s story and our place in it, the need to grow in our faith and desire for community, and now we see the need for transformation: people who have actually spent time with Jesus and been changed from the inside out. I once fell for the myth of cool, the belief that I can and should be defined by how I look, how I present, and how others perceive me. That path, I can tell you, ultimately leads to an unfulfilled life, and I invite you to join me on the path to transformation, on the path towards total change and a reflection of what Jesus looks like in this book. May we strive this week to be people, that when looked upon by others, they marvel: they have been with Jesus!
This is a part of our “Blogging through Acts” series and this particular post is an adaptation from a sermon given at Garden Park in Denver, Colorado.