I love working in the church. I was thinking of some of the influences in my life that have shaped the way I do ministry. The first and most powerful of course in Jesus. Second would be my Dad. If you know me, that’s obvious. You can read about my Dad by glancing through this blog. I thought I would take a post or two to talk about some of the other influences that have shaped the way that I do ministry. We’ll see how much I enjoy this honesty before I am done investigating my influences. Our influences often expose our weaknesses. They are influences because they train us past weakness. So I’ll try to be as honest as possible. That said: here we go!
One of them would have to be a young man I went to Dulaney High School with named Scott. Scott was a strong-willed atheist who challenged my assumptions about God. He was the most infuriating friend I had ever known. I remember Scott would drive me crazy in high school, challenging of my understanding of the nature of God, the nature of man, the nature of love, and so on (when you’re in high school, everything that sounds smarter if it is proceeded by “the nature of”). I vividly remember walking down a hall with Scott one day after school had ended, listening to his annoying mockery of my supposedly strong faith. I had asked him to stop several times and was slowly starting to feel the anger rise in me. You know the feeling… somehow your ears get hot, your jaw tightens, and your arms start to tremble. The hallway seemed strangely dark as I stopped at my cold grey locker, trying to maintain my composure. Suddenly something he said just sliced into me and I spun to Scott and said through gritted teeth, “you just don’t get it!” Then I kicked him in the shin… it was pitiful. I mean depressingly so. It was not a strong response, it was just pitiful. I had hit people in the past… I knew how to knock someone over, I knew how to throw a punch, I knew how to strike someone correctly, and yet something inside me snapped and my anger was tempered by my attempt to maintain composure. So I kicked him in the shin. Again… pitiful. If I had just let it go, I would have at least looked apathetic towards what he said. But this was a crowning moment… I was pitiful.
I remember his face… it was utter shock and was layered with disappointment. He looked at me confused and then I calmly told him, “that’s enough. Sorry I kicked you.” I put my head down and walked away. This was a one time outburst from me… but Scott was a daily challenge to me.
My friendship with Scott forced me to examine my own beliefs. He pushed me to actually know my faith rather than just accept what I had been taught as a boy. He could not have known that his arrogant attacks on my faith would lead me to invest years of my life in studying the text of Scripture. There is seldom a time when I do not see a truth that I got wrong when answering Scott back then. When I arrived in college, I stopped kicking people in the shin and started to study and write responses instead. My faith had connected to my heart when I was 13… but it was not until Scott that my faith began to connect to my intellect. Scott taught me that we (Christians) cannot ignore hard questions of the Bible. We must engage them and deal with the difficulties.
However, while the intellect is incredibly important… It must be sheltered in the Love of Christ for a lost world. You see, I did a great deal wrong to Scott… but I did try to show him the love of Christ. Scott was still a friend even after I kicked him (pitiful). He was a friend who needed Jesus when my intellect failed him and when it failed me. Love trumps intellect, I spent two more years trying to show Scott love. Now I recognize that intellect is a tool to lift up our love for others and our love for Christ. (Or at least it should)
So now, I try to challenge the intellect of my students and struggle to invest myself in their lives and show them the love of Christ. It is my hope that I can teach them to use their intellect to engage the world in love. I no longer kick people in the shin… Now I research difficult questions and remember my desire to tell Scott the truth. So, Thanks Scott… if you ever read this. (I left out his last name on purpose.)