This is the second in a series of posts on “Less-hyped reasons I follow Jesus.” For a word of explanation on what I mean by that, you can read the first one here.
Jesus is Unstuffy.
I thought I made this word up, but the spell check on my computer didn’t alert me with a red-dashed line underneath it, so I guess it’s legitimate. So you can play it in your next Words with Friends game. You’re welcome.
For a religious leader, Jesus is remarkably unstuffy. The more I’ve gotten to know Him, the more I’ve really come to appreciate this, maybe as much as anything else I’ve discovered about Jesus. Partly because it’s rare to find a person who is an expert at anything that hasn’t let their skill or acumen affect their attitude (in a negative way). Partly because so many religious people seem to be so rigid and, well, unfun (ok, this one I did make up). But mostly because at one time I was headed on the path towards [spiritual] arrogance myself, and I believe Jesus very literally rescued me from that stuffy place. I imagine He probably flicked me on my [spiritual] skull and, with a gleam in His eye, said something like, “Lighten up! You’re just a goofball like everyone else!” To which I obviously responded, “Oh. You know You’re probably right.”
His touch works wonders.
Jesus was decidedly unstuffy. Which makes it very disheartening that so many of His followers are not. I think this is one of the biggest issues that some people have with Christians. As a group, we tend to be very stuffy. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of vitality to our lives, especially in light of what we believe. The way we speak about our beliefs can come across as very narrow and way too conventional. And our attitude towards those we feel are not doing it right spiritually or morally can be, well, a bit on the arrogant side of things.
The problem is when you’re stuffy, you don’t know it. Kind of like the ghosts (spoiler alert!) in the movie Sixth Sense don’t know their dead (“I see stuffy people.”). Self-awareness is not one of the hallmarks of a stuffy person. If it was, they would be appalled by their own attitude and begin to change it immediately. But this seldom happens. If you sang the song, “If you’re stuffy and you know it, clap your hands!” nobody would clap. It would just be real awkward. Because stuffy people don’t know they’re stuffy. Which is a real shame because when you’re nose gets stuffy, you work your hardest to un-stuff it. Stuffy is restricting, annoying, difficult. Unstuffy is free, wide open, delightful.
To help us out, I’ve compiled a list of characteristics that place you firmly in the stuffy camp. I’ve learned most of these from personal experience, and a little bit by observing others.
- Taking yourself too seriously. If you find yourself getting offended a lot, then this probably means you’re guilty of this one. When people tease you or make fun of your faith or Christianity in general, your first instinct is to get real defensive and angry. I used to live here. I was building on some prime real estate. Here’s what I realized one day: the world is not out to get me. Everyone gets teased, everyone gets made fun of, everyone talks behind everyone else’s back, every faith system in the world gets lampooned. That’s just the way of things. Jesus was no exception. He got hammered in the court of public opinion. And how He handled the criticisms was strong and brilliant and freeing. He also warned His followers that criticism was inevitable and not to worry about it, to even feel honored because it puts us in great company. His words might be summed up, “Haters gonna hate,” or something like that.
- Jumping through hoops. Stuffy people love hoops. The more, the (un)merrier. Once, early in my career, I was at a youth ski trip with about 3 other churches from our area. One of them was a Catholic church youth group led by a godly woman named Barb, who loved her teens and wanted them to know Jesus as much or more so than I did my own. During the session the first night, the worship leader we hired to do the services asked one of his friends to come up and deliver a “brief” testimony. After about 40 minutes or so of talking, the young preacher man (he was younger than me so he had to have been early twenties) gave an “invitation” in which he asked anyone who wanted Jesus to come forward. The worship leader played a slow song (apparently you can’t walk forward in a church service to a fast song. That must be in the Bible somewhere, but I’ve yet to locate chapter and verse), and nobody came forward. Nobody…except for every single kid from the Catholic youth group. Hallelujah! Revival has broken out! we all thought. After the service, my friend Barb was very upset. She explained to us that in the Catholic church, it’s customary for everyone to go to the altar every time they go to Mass. So when the young preacher asked for everyone who wanted Jesus to come forward, they were all over it. It’s what they do. My friend was upset because she didn’t want her teenagers to get confused about what they were doing. It was very important for us to reaffirm that these teens didn’t need to jump through another hoop if they wanted Jesus. After offering a sincere apology to our friend, myself and the other youth pastors went and explained the situation to the worship leader and the young preacher. The young preacher looked at us as if what we were saying may have come from the Book of Satan and the conversation quickly ended (stuffiness knows no age). The next night, young preacher got up and delivered another “brief” testimony. When he was done, he asked that anyone who wanted Jesus to please come forward. I looked up to see every kid from the Catholic youth group walking to the front once again. Now, if you found yourself thinking, “maybe those young people just really needed Jesus!” you might be stuffy. You see, one of the most helpful truths of Christianity is Jesus’ claim that He, alone is the way to God. No good deeds, no “trying,” no special formulas or spiritual rules. Just Jesus. Wow. That’s freeing! But, man, have we tried to add some other stuff on top of it. I’ve been in many church environments where people were told that “praying the [sinners] prayer” would get you to God. Only the phrase “praying the prayer” is nowhere in the gospels. I’ve listened as many evangelists told their audiences that “if you’re 99% sure, you’re 100% lost” as if God’s grace was not big enough to cover their 1% or 8% or 42% uncertainty. This claim also cannot be found in the gospels. I’m sure a lot of people who said that were well-meaning, but some of them were just looking to inflate their “salvation numbers” for the brochure. The Bible also says nothing of denominations, or going to the front of the church while singing a slow song, or speaking with a minister, or joining a church. Although those may all be good things, they can turn us stuffy if we make them hoops that others must jump through in order to get to God. Jesus said He is the way. Faith in Jesus. That’s it. Powerful. Beautiful. Freeing. Very unstuffy stuff.
- Assigning conviction to others. When stuffy people read the Bible, or listen to a sermon, or read a book about spirituality, they’ve always got someone in mind that needs to apply what they’re hearing or reading. The problem is, it’s hardly ever themselves. Jesus was always whizzing zingers right under the noses of the stuffy people of His day, and they didn’t even know He was talking about them. They just assumed He must have meant somebody else. They were jumping through all of the proper hoops, so they were good. But the gospel is personal. It applies to me. To you. Everyone who reads it. Sure, there’s a place for interpretation, for preaching and teaching. But only after I’ve let those truths saturate, convict, and change me.
- Missing the point. This whole thing is about love. Any honest and objective reading of how Jesus lived and taught will reveal this. Doctrine, sacrifice, discipline, they’re all important. But only if they’re leading us to love God and people more. Sometimes people try to communicate it this way, “it’s about a relationship, not a religion.” And that sounds good, but even that can become just another thing we say, another ritual. And Jesus didn’t have any problem with religion itself. As best I can tell, Jesus observed all of the religious traditions of His day, right down to what He wore. It wasn’t religion He had a problem with. It was when people made religion the point instead of knowing and loving God. There are many aspects of religion that can bring us closer to God, communion, baptism, and spiritual disciplines come to mind. The problem comes when we being to think those things are the point. When we do that, we’ve missed it. The point is loving God more, loving people more. Jesus could not have been more clear on this.
I follow Jesus. One of the things I love most about Him is that he’s not stuffy. He’s not arrogant about His knowledge. He’s not into hoops. He’s unwaveringly tender and His truths are freeing in a way that nothing else on this earth can touch. The more I follow Him, the more tender and freeing my interactions with others should become.
If you’re unstuffy and you know it, clap your hands.