Along with “world changer”, “growing season”, and “do life together,” the phrase “what has the Lord taught you” and its subtle variations is frequently uttered in the tongue of modern Christianese. As much as I like to make fun of people for this speech, I believe it’s an important question to ask ourselves periodically to be both be aware of and thankful for the work of sanctification the Lord is doing in our lives. Doing so cements these lessons into habit, positively reorienting our lives, and giving glory to the One who did the work.
Returning home from an experience like the Salt Lake Fellows in a little over a month, I’m expecting to hear this question often. To avoid feeling like Spongebob writing his final boating school paper ("what I learned in boating school is…"), I’m going to highlight some of what I learned in this blog post, memorize it, and recite it to anyone who asks.
Church Doesn't Suck
I became a Christian my junior year of college, and around that time I had a few great friends start to take me to The Church at Tuscaloosa, an awesome church in the town where I went to college. I enjoyed my time there, and took advantage of some of the great resources (S/O to Ryan King the GOAT) the church had to offer, but to say I was a part of the church would be an exaggeration.
I went there on Sundays usually bordering on sometimes. I knew less than 15 people there, I never did anything to serve the congregation, and I would never hangout with church members outside of the Sunday morning service. This was 100 percent my fault, and I missed out.
This year, actually being a part of New Song has been totally different. The church has become the bulk of my community, and I find myself spending time with them doing things other than singing worship songs and listening to Robert. We move furniture for each other, go skiing, and even drink beer together. I never would have expected to grow closer to Jesus at a place like Fisher Brewing.
Lowering my walls a little bit, I’ve been able to receive spiritual and practical wisdom from members of the congregation- pastors, mothers, fathers, lawyers, researchers, professors, and husbands. I’ve learned from them what it means to serve Jesus as a professional, how to raise a family, how to still have fun as an adult. The community welcomes me, not just the Sunday morning in my church clothes me, but the Saturday night smelling like cigarettes me. Having a Christ centered community that I can be comfortable in as a sinner has helped me confront that part of myself in a place where I don’t feel judged.
This isn’t some new idea, even to me. I’ve heard it for years that being active in your Church will strengthen your relationship with the Lord. But the gap between knowing something is true and living it is wide, and this year God used New Song to fill it.
Mathew 18:20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.
Pursue Your Doubts
If you know me well, you know that I’m unpleasantly skeptical. When someone makes a statement of fact or opinion, I try my best to poke holes in it, crumble its foundation, and gauge its veracity. Luckily I’m a Christian, so I can easily just chalk it up as “that’s just how God made me.”
This tendency has proven to be somewhat of a problem for me the past few years as I’ve tried to pursue spiritual truth. I’ll hear or read something that is supposedly theologically true about Christianity, I’ll go through my normal mental routine of trying to disprove it, and I’ll sometimes come to the conclusion that I believe the statement to be false. Sometimes I’ll find that I don’t believe in a part of Christianity that some (or even most) Christians believe in.
This situation can occur for me with statements with a wide range of significance. Often times I’ll find myself struggling with so numerous and strong doubts about parts of Christianity that I begin to doubt my faith entirely. So, up until recently, I’ve tried to suppress my inner skeptic to avoid these uncertain feelings, which in turn lead me to faith that was partially based on me lying to myself.
But through hours of debate and discussion during our Fellows curriculum, I have learned two life-altering truths.
The first is blaringly obvious: not everything I read or hear someone say about Christianity is true. The world is filled with debate and misunderstanding, and Christians are still in the process of determining what Christianity is.
The second is the debate on Christian Theological issues spans a wide variety of issues with varying degrees of significance. Young Earth Christians can believe the Earth to be less than 10,00 years old, but I can also believe Earth is 4.5 billion years old and we can still both follow Christ. As long as we believe in the central, cornerstone teachings of Jesus, we are Christians- infant baptisms or not.
My faith has to be stronger than any intellectual doubts that I have. Debate on secondary and tertiary theological issues take no truth away from the Gospel, but to shield myself from these doubts is self-destructive. It is imperative for people like me to pursue our doubts, no matter the struggle.
Christianity Requires Accepting Your Hypocrisy
This next lesson is still deep within the developmental stage. It is rooted in a problem I’ve faced since I began to pursue the Lord, and I’ve felt it even as I’m writing this now- saying I’m a Christian or discussing my beliefs makes me feel disgustingly hypocritical. I feel like a personal trainer double fisting Five Guys while he tells you the importance of “counting calories.”
And I know the cause. I worship myself so deeply, my pride is so strong, that one of the greatest fears in my life is being viewed as inadequate, a failure, or the nightmare of every fourth grade skateboarder, a poser. But you can’t lose a game that you don’t play, so I often find myself sitting on the bench watching the true believers play Christian while I shelter that part of me from the public eye.
Of course, this is the exact opposite of what we are called to do. We are image bearers of Jesus, and we are called to preach and live the truth of scripture. Now I don’t know about you, but I fail to do that every minute of every day. The same sins that I know to be evil, and warn others about, are still present in my life. But I cannot let the shame of my sin keep me from living out the Gospel.
I am a hypocrite, and this year has helped me accept that fact. I will never be able to satisfy the commandments that I so deeply believe to be true. But what is important, for me and for the kingdom, is that I have the humility to acknowledge my sin while actively repenting of it AND the courage to point out that part of me to others, knowing that I am still redeemed.
This year I have learned the importance of staying humble. Every day, even on days where my sinful self disgusts me, I must live as a follower of Christ. No it’s not ok that I’m still as sinful as I am, but that’s what Jesus is for.
Matthew 5:14-16 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Be Actively Thankful for the People Around You
About to get a little sentimental on y’all. I came to Salt Lake straight from the University of Alabama. There, a friend was never more than a yell down the hallway away. If I wanted someone to late night with me at Krystal at one in the morning I could probably fill my truck up with company. Companionship took little effort, and I completely took it for granted.
Fast forward to me graduating college and moving to Salt Lake, and I’m living in a completely different situation. I’ve made some great friends out here, inside our program and out, but it took work. I live 20 minutes away from my nearest friend (besides my basementmate Jonathan), people have these “jobs” that take up all their time, and meeting new people takes more effort than just existing in a college town.
I try to keep in touch with my friends back home, but phone calls aren’t the same. Not to mention, my family who I’ve never lived more than 3 hours away from, now lives on the opposite side of the country.
All of these ingredients have been combined into a dish I’ve never been served before, loneliness, and I’m eating it alone at an Applebee’s at 10 o’clock on a Saturday night. It’s sucked, but it’s taught me a lesson that I pray to never forget: be actively thankful for the people around you.
It’s not enough to just “feel” thankful for your friends and loved ones- they deserve more, and you’ll regret not giving it to them. This year has taught me to make sure they know you’re thankful for them, because I now know what its like for them to not be around. Tell your people you love them. Call that friend you haven’t talked to since graduation. Hug people until they feel uncomfortable. If someone wants to spend time with you, move mountains to make it happen. If someone needs your help, immediately satisfying that need should be your number one priority.
Lord, thank you for blessing my life with the community I have found in Salt Lake, and for saving me from eating at that Applebee’s alone. I pray that, for the rest of my life, I make those around me feel as loved and adored as they are by their creator. Amen.
John Wilson Booth
SLF Class of 17-18