This morning I sat with my laptop at my favorite coffee shop
where I met a dear friend for breakfast.
Three young adults around my age sat at the table next to me.
After an hour or so, one left and a guy and girl remained.
We had all exchanged small talk throughout the morning
and by 11:00 I was engaged in a full conversation
with the guy who sat across from me.
He looked part Indian and had wild black curly hair
but a kind smile and big laugh.
He heard me listening to Waterdeep on my laptop
which started a conversation about church.
When the discussion of beliefs came up
and I told him I was a Jewish believer, he was full of questions.
After approximately 15 minutes of answering them
he told me he was in his senior year of seminary
and had never been taught the things I was sharing.
He had a definite hunger for knowledge
and asked me about everything from the salvation of the Jews,
to the Hebrew meanings of words.
It was a casual conversation for the most part
and never grew to an antagonistic debate or disagreement
...just an exchanging of questions and answers
like an Oprah interview.
I turned the questions around as I began to ask him
what set him on his course toward theology.
I asked him what drew him to that study.
He was calculated and thoughtful in considering his answer.
He talked of wanting to make a contribution
to people's "spiritual formation" (this was his term)
and wanting to make a difference in the world.
He talked about how everyone in the world
has a desire toward spiritual things
in one sense or another.
He mentioned how affirming his professors had been that he
could do it well..."it" being the study of theology.
He said that initially his focus was on his own personal discipleship
and that if he goes into the PhD program he has been accepted into
he will then go into more of an academic focus on the discipleship
of other people and leading them academically toward spiritual formation.
I then asked a very loaded question:
What do you believe qualifies you for ministry or service?
Is it your personal relationship with Jesus
or your academic study and achievement?
He said "both" but talked only of his academic study
and what an accomplished scholar he hoped to become.
Here I was sitting in a coffee shop
with an open mind but a saddened heart
as I heard this modern day pharisee
talk of his pursuit of knowledge and desire for service
and valuable contribution
but his speech was void of any talk about relationship.
His pursuit of truth and growing in the knowledge of the God
under whose name he aims to serve
was not what drove his study--it was not his focus.
Is there a place for knowledge and study? Absolutely.
But what qualifies us is a RELATIONSHIP with our Lord and Messiah.
There will be no theologian greater than He
and time spent with Him is never wasted.
His education cannot be purchased with tuition
and his primary textbook sits on many shelves
This conversation has plunged me into deep thought
and internal dialog with God about what He is saying in all of this.
I know my time this morning was orchestrated by Him
as He is the one who orders my steps and opens doors of opportunity.
What am I to learn from this?
What am I to take away?
In what areas does my own pursuit of Him
get lost in the details of the academic process
while missing the deep importance of the subject matter?
For what good is our scholarly research and understanding
if we merely comprehend and assent mentally while living
in total disconnect at the heart level?
The greatest scholarly minds of Jesus's time
saw debates with Him as a challenge
where their own wit and education were matched up
and put to the test as they went into the wrestling ring
with one they deemed a Sabbath-breaking heretic.
His answers trumped their highest degrees of study
and left them all walking away scheming His demise.
What made His message more effective than theirs?
People took note that He spoke with power and authority
not like that of the pharisees.
Why is that? Anyone can take a sentence or teaching
and use more boisterous language or higher volume
and sound convicting and motivating in their presentation.
But clearly this did not communicate the same message
to the hearts of the people
as did this humble-hearted carpenter who spoke truth
into their daily lives and situations.
What made His message different?
I believe it is this one defining thing:
He did what He saw His Father doing.
His life and His Father's were one.
They walked in perfect harmony even though the veil of time
between heaven and earth separated them.
What the Father spoke, echoed through the heart of Jesus
and was spoken into the situation to which it applied.
He did not speak on His own initiative as He himself explained.
So, the words of man can still have power and presence
without having life or authority to effect change
in the lives of those who hear them.
It's the Father's words which possess such life-transforming power.
Therefore, when the Father's words came through
an earthen vessel, they altered events in time as Jesus
touched blind eyes, healed lame beggars,
bound up unseen wounds
and wiped adulterer's tears.
As for this scholar whose path crossed my own today,
my prayer for him is that in all of his searching and study,
He finds more than sermon material.
I pray he finds a love for truth
and a desire to not just know about the God who made the universe
but to actually know Him in the power of His resurrection
and in the fellowship of His suffering
as he discovers the wild and glorious adventure
of being a follower of Christ and living a life in Him
that transcends the pages of a textbook.