Recently, I realized I’ve spent much of my life trying to be normal.
I’ve never wanted to be a weirdo. From the clothes I wear, to the things I say. I’ve always just wanted to kind of blend-in and not be too noticed, except when I do something fantastically awesome..then I want to be appreciated (am I right?). But, I’ve never understood people who defy societal norms. You know, those people in a room who radiate uncharacteristically abnormal behavior or appearance. Though, I’ve come to a less incomplete understanding of why people run so far from ‘normal’.
Normal is BORING.
It’s true. Normal is super boring. When’s the last time you told somebody about the super normal party or game you went to, and how awesome it was, because it was so normal? Or the last time you heard an on-the-edge-of-your-seat type of story, only to culminate to an enormous plot of …normal everyday things. We are instead captured by that which is far from normal.
And guess what, this bleeds into our calling as believers. For the longest time, I’d look to those around me in church to determine how I should look and act. Between the years of 18 and 20, I had some serious questions and concerns about what it is this life is for — as I’m sure most people do. I had some pretty embittered, and not yet developed frustrations with how the world was. As an example, I’ve included snippets of a short poem I had scribbled at the time:
Like pawns we swivel through life.
Nothing, eyes nor ears, to decipher our course,
Nothing but our hearts tuned to the needs of the bishops and rooks around us.
Ruled by fear of defeat from pawns alike,
Ruled by persuasion to fulfill our dull destiny.
Knowing no variation of livelihood,
Knowing only what is placed before us.
All alike we look,
All alike we act.
Like pawns we live,
Like pawns we die.
Young as I was in my understanding, there is some truth in what I felt and saw of the world. I believe there are elements of this to be true in how we live our lives as Christ followers. Most notably, it is lifeless to live a life defined by the lifeless world around us (whoah) — that’s just boring.
But many of us are defined by the world around us. I know many of you out there are longing for something much more than what we have today. Life just isn’t…enough. If any of us are willing to get off our high horse and admit it — sometimes we want something more tangible than Jesus. Yes He is GOOD. In our minds and spirits, we know He is more than enough. But many times we still feel like something is just missing. I know that the problem here isn’t Jesus, so that tells me its got to be the way we are choosing to live our lives. I think we all know this, and we know we are more than able to make a change. Yet we still choose to live a boring, yet normal, life. I believe the world we live in has much to do with this phenomenon.
I’ve come to the conclusion that we live in a starkly different world of Christianity today than we ever did prior to the new millennium. How do I know? It is now popular to be a Christian. Who woulda’ thunk it? A large part of the hipster movement (aka the cool kids) is led by believers.
This has changed the way the world understands us as Christians, relates to us, and identifies with Jesus as per our example.
Most observably, we’ve learned how to harness our creativity, talents, and resources to have meaningful influence on the world: saved and unsaved. Through music, art, dance, poetry, spoken word, short-films and about a hundred million other channels — we are finding ways to reach the lost in a meaningful and impactful way.
But wait Ryan, you were just ranting about how life and Christianity is so boring…
Yeah, isn’t it amazing that we have so much creativity within our Church, but at times things can be so…lifeless? How is that possible?
Well, do you remember when Jesus came to the Earth, to redeem all humanity from that which it couldn’t save itself? Well, despite it being pretty obvious that we were struggling to get through each day, the Church believed they had it going on. Not only was it popular to be a believer in God, but the Church had tangible power over their government and country. Pretty cool, huh? They had figured out how to live blameless lives, which of course, leads to true fulfillment. It had become almost…scientific. Just, follow these 610 laws, and everything is awesome (queue the Lego Movie soundtrack).
Only, that didn’t work.
Beyond the ridiculousness of the notion that we’re capable of living perfect lives, perfection simply wasn’t what the Church needed. People were lifeless and prisoners of their own chosen communities (i.e., Pharisees, Sadduccees, Essenes aka denominations) — yet, many of them didn’t even know it! Most of us are pretty familiar with what Jesus had to say about this inadequacy that His Church was experiencing during that time,
So Jesus said to them again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
Typically when I hear this, I immediately think about salvation and stop the conversation there. Yes, Jesus is the gate for salvation, all must go through Him. However, I believe my tendency to think in these terms is fairly short-sighted. I am convinced Jesus isn’t just talking about abundant life in regards to just the afterlife. I believe Jesus is saying,
“Look! You unhappy people! I am here to restore your life right now! No one else can do this for you. Others will try, but it’s not going to work. As much as they may try, I am the only one who can restore your life to the fullest. I am the only Shepherd. But first, you have to let go of depending on these men.”
Jesus challenged everything these people knew. Remember, these people were slaves to the law. Slaves. This was no simple message for them to understand. Well, I’m just glad we don’t struggle with any of the same problems the Pharisees had. We are 100% free of any and all of the struggles they encountered…
Hopefully you caught my sarcasm. Clearly, we are susceptible and do still face the same issues the Pharisees did. Growing up in Sunday School, I learned to think of the Pharisees as these really awful people, horrible, evil, twisted, dark…but you know, that same spirit of man still exists today. And we’re not much different than the Pharisees, except that we are covered in the redemption of Jesus’ blood. So, in the same way that they attempted to control what faith and religion looked like, we do this today. And in the same way they were dissatisfied and without life, we are too. We’re not immune to these things.
While the Pharisees developed pride in their ability to regulate the law over their fellow believers, we are susceptible to developing pride in our ability to reach the unbeliever.
We are creating more beautiful works through creative arts than the Church has ever done before, and much of this is stemmed in a desire to illustrate the beauty of Jesus Christ. However, because of this, it is far too easy for us to forget to rely on Jesus to reach the lost. We often assume His place as the Shepherd without realizing it. And we will fail every time we try in our strength alone. We tell ourselves things like,
“we just need to have this one really awesome video to make an impact,”
“we need a better sign”,
“we need a better sound system”,
“we need a more compliant…and less heretical…youth pastor”.
The list goes on.
Any one of these by themselves is not a big deal (well, except the youth pastor one, perhaps). But these things add up. Before we know it, we forget to invite Jesus into His role as the Shepherd, our Shepherd — and instead become consumed with making sure everyone else knows He can be their Shepherd…after this really beautifully performed salvation call. And we wonder why things get boring and lifeless.
We often forget to invite, really invite, the Author of Life to every part of stage and every note of the song.
Life without Jesus is always going to be boring and lifeless. I’d like to say I’ve learned my lesson and that I remember to invite Him everywhere I go, but a lot of the time I don’t. The message here isn’t one of criticism, but one of, “hey friends, we all forget to do this and it has a pretty significant impact on how joyful we are as a people.”
But there’s more…
So, it’s pretty evident: life grows stale when we rely upon our own strengths and talents to do the work of ministry — despite how good our intentions are — because we still need Jesus to make it all full of life. But, beyond all this, we also have something else working against us — against our boldness to live in the spiritual gifts the Father has given each of us. Just like the Pharisees and Sadduccees were prisoners of their own community’s belief system, we are susceptible to this as well. Instead of living with every shackle undone, with fear only in the Lord, we still maintain some level of fear over what our peers or communities might think of us if and when we step outside the box of social norms. We try (pretty hard) to not be that weirdo guy or gal. We try to be normal (well, most of us).
For me, the effect of this is lethal. When I attempt to satisfy cultural norms, I suppress who it is Jesus made me. I suppress those gifts that He gave only me, and become afraid to use them because they are…different. We are all guilty of these things. Additionally, we often make things a bit too black and white, which doesn’t make things any easier on us. The choice before us often becomes one of the following:
a. Live within your church, but live within all the lines and boxes, borders and boundaries
b. Explore your beliefs outside those boundaries, but live outside the church
I haven’t yet found out how to blend the best of both of these worlds together, what I’ll call community (former) and individualism (latter); though, I’m hopeful and encouraged that Jesus is doing something pretty cool there in my own life. Between these two choices, I’ve seen that a large majority of people end up choosing the former — life with community over exploration. Very few go down the road of the latter — or at least, their stories aren’t well known.
In light of this, let’s explore why it is that many of us may feel constrained by our own community — that we do in fact also dearly love.
Every sub-culture has a very understood definition of what it means to be a Jesus believer. I think this is why Christianity doesn’t look too different across the spectrum within each sub-culture. For example, virtually every Christian church in America has something like a 9am and 11am Sunday service with a pretty identical hour and 15 minute service schedule. We all know the stereotypes — i.e., the typical hipster worship pastor — but there is truth here. Why is it that we all do things so incredibly similarly? Is it because we really found the perfect way to “do” church? Perhaps… but perhaps there might also be something else going on — and I’m not just talking about service times and duration.
I’m talking about the way in which we understand how Jesus lives with us daily — how we interact with both a physical and spiritual world — how we raise our youth — how we think about war, or nationalism — how we develop the communities around us — how we are empowered (or not empowered) by the Holy Spirit. There are a host of ways the Father works through each of us — and not one the same exact way. We all know we have something incredibly beautiful to offer the world, but rarely feel we have an opportunity to share it. Why is it that we can attend a church week after week, year after year, but never feel like we have a platform to excercise the gifts God has given us?
Christianity was not designed to be ran, encouraged, and led by less than 3% of the Christian population friends. Something is terribly wrong with this picture. So why is it that we feel so afraid — vulnerable — to live within our gifts?
Doing anything that doesn’t look or feel normal gets pretty hairy and scary fairly quickly. It takes a lot of energy, strength, courage, confidence and faith to step out of societal norms where the Father leads. Often, whether or not this is a reality, we feel judged, criticized or condemned when we start doing things that aren’t normal…especially if we don’t hear anything at all from those around us when we do step out. We might even start hearing things like, “you’ll get through this…eventually,” as if, it’s some kind of disease (much like being single past the age of 21) that we don’t match the picturesque version of a modern-day American Christian.
So for many, after we’ve stepped out, without incredible support (which is rare), we either return back to normal in favor of holding onto our community (which gives the feeling of having to abandon individualism), or we explore life beyond these grey walls (which feels like having to abandon community).
Well friends, I don’t have an answer to what I imagine is probably an age-old dilemma — social pressures are incredibly powerful, and will likely never go away. We should feel settled on knowing they exist, and we will experience them, and we will be okay. However, there are two really simple thoughts I’d like to capture as a means to encourage you:
It is important to live with community. And. It is important to not suppress the individual gifts God has given us.
Wherever you are, whatever you do — be encouraged and strengthened in the knowledge that the Father works through you, perhaps in a way that might be different than any way you’ve seen Him work through someone else. That’s okay. And guess what, most of us often feel alone in regards to a lot of the struggles highlighted herein. But we’re not. Most everyone actually experiences these feelings of longing for more, or of insecurity. But, most of us don’t trust our thoughts with others, even those who are closest to us.
So — how do we overcome this? We stick together, despite differences. We pray for one another. We love on each other. We invite Jesus to be involved every step of the way (yes, every. single. step).
I encourage you today — don’t be normal. Be far from normal. Through prayer and thankfulness, seek out the gifts the Father has given you — and exercise them! Challenge the status quo. Be determined to live a life full of Jesus — full of joy — far from fear or servitude towards social expectations. Encourage one another in all of these things. You are not alone. Romans 12 provides what I believe to be one of the most practical demonstrations of a life in service of our King, Jesus:
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor;11not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing youwill heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.