Jesus Made in America

*Disclaimer* This is not a book review as much as it is a book inspired thought process. Simply put, this book has too much in it to touch on in a single blog post. So instead I took one point the book made that had the biggest impact on me and wrote the review around that…just so you know.

Jesus Made in America rocked my world, my silly little world where I assumed I had a full grasp on who Jesus is and was delusional enough to think I could compartmentalize him into something which resembled a spiritual Roomba rather than the Almighty King. He zipped around my life cleaning up my messes and if anything called this dynamic into question I could point out I was giving him all the freedom he needed to do his job. I wasn’t controlling where he went or what he did; I was just controlling what department of my life he was tending to. Even my times in the Scriptures were far too quiet and unassuming more often than not lasting just long enough for me to not feel guilty about not committing myself fully to the text.

But Jesus Made in America challenged my interpretation of Jesus by revealing my insane assumptions about Him were nothing new but in fact have been happening in America since the time of the Puritans. What does the book suggest is the most influential and dangerous theological norm in American history? The idea that Jesus is a “personal” God who exists to give his followers good “experiences”. Think for a moment about how often you use “I feel” when you are talking about Jesus. Chances are, like me, you use it a lot. Why? Because culturally speaking, Americans value personalized experiences over anything else. Now am I saying Jesus isn’t a personal God and that we can’t experience him? Of course not, he is and we can and should.

What I am saying is if our understanding of Him “fits” into the box of our own lives in a way we can control we are in serious need of a theological butt kicking if you will.

A “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” more often than not can be translated “personal relationship with Jesus Christ where Jesus meets my needs and saves my soul from hell and as long as I keep experiencing him in a good comfortable way and he blesses me we are cool” (my paraphrase & exaggeration). This is evident in my own life. My faith can easily slip into a low grade Gnosticism where I love Jesus spiritually but don’t allow him any impact in my reality. Not only is this a gross misunderstanding of who Jesus is and what he came to do, on a basic level it paints Jesus as someone very insignificant and small. This is the Savior of all creation we are talking about, the King of which Ephesians says “ALL things (are) under his feet”. Not just spiritual things, or morality, but all things: heaven, earth, creation, time, sin, death, life…everything. And when we try to make our relationship with the Savior-King something we can control we are delusionally putting ourselves on the throne of our lives where He rightfully belongs.

Ultimately God DOES desire a personal relationship with every one of his children and he pursues us even when are in sin, the same way he pursued Adam and Eve after they sinned in the Garden. Jesus Made in America didn’t make me lose hope in this Christ but rather perpetuated my already deeply ingrained desire to know Him more fully. It also challenged my understanding of Him and helped me to break down some of the barriers I had unknowingly constructed. And in some cases, like my own, the removal of a barrier allows one to take their gaze off themselves and direct it instead to the infinite glory and magnificence of Jesus.
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Winter Conference

The week after Christmas Alex and I went to San Diego for the CCC Winter Conference (Not the Holiday Bowl). This conference is a place for students to come and learn practical ways in which they can share the love of Jesus with their college campuses. It is also a week of great fun and fellowship with students from all over California, Arizona and Hawaii.

Students worshipping in the new year

To be quite honest I don’t like conferences all that much, something about the constant meetings and constant input can be exhausted, but at the same time I realize the conference is not about me (thankfully) but rather about the students and capturing their hearts for Jesus. Alex and I ended up having a wonderful time. The highlight of our week was getting to meet new students from San Francisco State who I hadn’t known last year. Of the five students who came down, four of them I didn’t know, the fifth was Ty who was a freshman last year. Just being able to reconnect with students was refreshing and a great reminder of exactly why we are so excited to be up in San Francisco. They loved Jesus deeply and the conference helped to shape their passion for reaching their classmates for Christ. For Alex and me, seeing the hearts of San Francisco students longing for Jesus to be known at SFSU was a not so subtle reminder of God’s heart for the city but also his very specific call for our lives. Lucky for us, our call takes us straight to the college campus in one of the coolest cities in the world. We hope you are encouraged to hear that God is very tangibly moving in the City Cru movement at SFSU, and that your prayers and intercession for them have been a big part of that. Please continue to pray for the students of City Cru that God would continue to capture their heart and that they can take what they learned at the Winter Conference and apply it to their campus and city.
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One of my best men in my wedding and one of my best friends in the entire world recently quit his job and is embarking on what he calls his “40 Days of Freedom”: an extended period of joblessness and relaxation much deserved for a man with one of the better work ethics I have ever known. As one of his closest friends I, despite the bad economy and the fact he had a well paying job managing a restaurant in Manhattan, encouraged him to quit and set sail on this new journey.

You see, this friend has been working in the restaurant business since the age of 15 and has never really stopped working. His work rate, competence, overall good looks and great personality led to him managing a very popular restaurant in Santa Barbara as a junior (and full time student) in college and allowed him to never have a problem finding a job wherever he lived, which is now Brooklyn.

So why am I writing at length about this friend and describing him in detail? Because his refusal to continue to slave away at 60 hours a week and late hours is noble and it gave me the opportunity to reflect on the state of work in our culture today.

Biblically speaking, work is a very good thing, a deep part of human nature. Simply put, we were created to work. Read the story of Adam and Eve sometime and notice how God immediately puts them to work, allowing them to enter into His creative process. God doesn’t do this because he is some distant taskmaster creating spineless slaves to control, but because work and creating is a good and wonderful thing that brings him glory. In fact this Christian view of work as something we were created for is a fairly unique and subversive idea, especially in our current American culture.

In America today, work has in some ways become corrupted, and evil has successfully melted and manipulated it into something we either despise or worship. Instead of using the talents and gifts unique to ourselves to glorify God and spread his love, we can find ourselves working in order to further our status economically, socially and even emotionally. Work, instead of being a means of which we take part in God’s creative project called Creation, becomes a spiteful means to a self-absorbed end. We work to get money, to get the pride which comes from admiration, and because frankly, we are all a bit vain. Vanity is nothing more than our natural good desire to be a part of something bigger than ourselves mutated into a desire to set ourselves up as the center of our own universe.

The other end of the spectrum is work as an end in itself. I recently heard one of my favorite comedians say the only point of life is to work, as if the mere act of working itself gives our life meaning. But doesn’t that beg the question, how can work be a purpose filled end if there is no such thing as a meaningful end, even to our own lives? And even if it is the act of work itself which brings purpose into our lives that doesn’t make all acts of work good. There are many people in our world and in the past who have committed themselves to acts of work which were unspeakably evil and had nothing but evil intentions in mind. So are we to say then, well they worked hard despite the fact they were working towards genocide, so I guess their life was just as meaningful as mine? There is a big moral problem with the idea of work as an end in itself.

In a very roundabout way, I think this blog post is really a letter of encouragement to my dear friend who has began his “40 Days of Freedom” today. I hope he, and all of us, take time to reflect on the nature of our working and where we tend to find ourselves on the spectrum between work as a means and work as an end. For myself, I tend to swing too much towards the work as an end and can find myself thinking, ‘well I’ve done what I needed to do today, so cheers to me’. But when I am really honest and thinking clearly and with the perspective of Jesus, I realize our work, specifically as Christians, is a means by which we spread the loving Kingdom of God on earth and a preview of the glorious “end” that will come when Jesus returns to reconcile all of creation to Him. I quantify end because it is not really the end but the beginning, as C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before”.
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