The Jesus Experience

This summer I presented a brief series at my church called “Christianity for Dummies” about the basics of the faith. It was a four-part series with the first three parts being Knowing God, Loving God and Serving God. For the finale, I decided to write a letter to a fictional seeker, one who I imagined asked me about my experience with God, about why I choose Christianity. Below is that letter…


You’ve asked me to describe to you the experience of being a Christian. Why believe this way? Why Jesus? Why bother? It’s a big set of questions. I can’t necessarily address the “why Christianity” angle of these questions in the sense of comparing and contrasting with other faiths. I don’t know enough about other faiths to work out that kind of argument. No doubt I would horribly misrepresent what others believe, anyway.

Really, I can only speak from my belief, from my experience, from my experience of God – knowing God, loving God, serving God. Ultimately, I believe that experiencing God is at the core; that experiencing is all those things – knowing, loving, serving – happening all at once, all the time. And I believe that Christianity offers the ultimate experience of God. That belief statement hinges on Jesus. You can’t talk about experiencing God as a Christian without Jesus. That equation doesn’t work.

Funny thing, though: Many Christians shy away from connecting Jesus directly to any faith statements they might make. You’ll hear a Christian say, “I believe in God” or “I follow God” and seem to think that covers it; that is all that is needed to convince you of their devotion to Christianity. Though there is nothing wrong with those statements, there is also nothing particularly Christian about those statements, either. In fact, it could be argued that saying “I believe in God” is a very human thing to say, to believe. Belief like that is very universal in our world, one shared by literally billions of people, give or take a few million dissenters.

Knowing God, loving God, serving God – these concepts are at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. But these concepts are also at the heart of what it means to be Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, etc. Of course, Christianity puts its own particular spin to these concepts. And that spin has no momentum at all without mentioning Jesus. It is odd, then, that the name of Jesus is not often included in a Christian’s statement of faith. Perhaps they are afraid of offending (a not uncommon Christian trait). Perhaps by stating “I believe in God” they are just trying to fit in with the few other billion people on earth who would agree. But a Christian leaving Jesus’ name out of any statement of faith is like not mentioning beef in a recipe for beef Stroganoff. People might eventually notice and it won’t help anyone who is trying to cook up the recipe for themselves. I mean, “Where’s the beef?”

So let me make it really plain for you and very straightforward: I believe in God because I believe in Jesus. I believe in God because of Jesus. I believe in God because I likely would not without Jesus. And it is Jesus that I follow. My experience of a life lived in faith is all wrapped up in Jesus. And tied with a bow.

How does this impact my experience of God? How does it make things different? To understand that, you need to understand what I believe: I believe Jesus is the only Son of God, born to a virgin named Mary over 2,000 years ago in a town called Bethlehem in Judea, in Israel. I believe that he is (not was but is) 100% human and 100% God (Yes, I believe in a mathematical impossibility. Sue me – it’s why it’s called faith). I also believe Jesus was both human and divine for an extremely important reason: So that he could take on all the sin of humanity, bear the weight of punishment for our sin and yet conquer it too. As a human, he could represent us all completely. As God, he could save us all completely. In other words, he was the only person who has ever lived who could possibly accomplish this. I also believe Jesus lived among us to set a pattern for life, an example to follow, a way to ensure that your life is full of purpose and meaning. I believe he went ahead for us to mark out the Path – peace, justice, love, forgiveness, truth, grace, mercy, light and joy. I also believe that died but came to life again (Yes, I believe a scientific impossibility, too… faith, remember?), that he ascended back to his Father, and that he sent us his Holy Spirit to guide us in that path he marked out for us.

That last paragraph is full of stuff that most Christians, give or take a slightly different angle here or there, would be in complete agreement with. From a purely theological standpoint, there is nothing earth-shattering in what I’ve professed to believe. It is when all that theological stuff gets translated into flesh and blood, into my real walking around, eating, sleeping, working, complaining, laughing, crying, whining life that things really start to take off. When it moves beyond the head knowledge, beyond the theology to life practicality, the Jesus Experience really kicks in, and a simple human being like you or me can begin to understand every moment lived in the presence of God.

Now, I’m not going all mystical on you here. I know the language sounds mystical but the Jesus Experience is way more pragmatic than that. In fact, it is downright earthy, grubby, hardscrabble and lots of other gritty adjectives. This is where I believe the experiencing of God takes on a different feeling as a follower of Jesus; a follower of the God-Man, the One who became one of us to makes us one with God. You see, because of Jesus, in all the very things that make us human, God chooses to dwell. In all the things we associate with being a man or a woman on this earth, God imbues himself and his will and his love and his truth.

Sorry – this is sounding all mystical again. But what I’m trying to say is that you can experience God down to your very DNA because God created that DNA and God, in Jesus, is that DNA. Because God chose to express himself as a human, because he chose to pursue us and love us and save us all by becoming a human, because he didn’t despise us for the lowly humans we are, we can now experience him in every aspect of what it means to be human. We don’t have to graduate to some elevated spiritual plain. We don’t have to achieve some state of non-personhood. We don’t have to cast off our mortal coil to begin to grasp the immortal. We can experience God as fully as a fully human being can.

In other words, when I love I experience God because God is love. When I enjoy good food, good company, good sleep, good sex, good art, good music, good books, good movies, good days I experience God because God is good. When I create, innovate, speculate; when I think, ponder, consider; when I move, feel, breathe – God is in all of that and all of that is in God. As a believer in a God who is human, too – in Jesus Christ – all that makes me who and what I am is an avenue to experience God.

Of course, this means more than just the good and lovey stuff. Experiencing God because of Jesus also includes a deeper understanding of God in the pain, heartache, depression, doubt, anger, sorrow, loneliness. Jesus lived a truly human life and, therefore, lived a life like ours: a beautiful and terrifying thing. But because of Jesus, we realize that God is not removed from the miry clay, above the dirt and the filth; no, because of Jesus, we realize that God is right  there with us, up to the neck sometimes in the crap of life. So a great part of truly experiencing God is in the shadows, in the dark, knowing that he doesn’t pick and choose what aspects of the human reality to reveal himself; he’s there always, all the time, and in all moments and places.

The Jesus Experience is so interwoven with the Human Experience that they cannot be separated. God meant it this way.

That’s what I believe and why I believe there is no deeper experience of God than through Jesus. Of course, I am very limited to understanding God by my humanness and so are you. But isn’t it an incredible, amazing thought to consider that God knows that, too, so he made a way, through Jesus, for us to understand and experience him as completely as we can in our limited humanness? That sounds like a God who truly loves me… and you, too.

What do you think?

Random Thoughts from Joe Average


I am a big fan of 1970’s Punk Rock, especially the British variety (though I have a soft spot for the Ramones, those adorable ragamuffins!). In the nascent days of that fast and furious music genre, many Punks gave themselves new names, often with a self-deprecating edge to them, like Johnny Rotten, Poly Styrene or Joe Strummer. I have thought about what name I’d take if I was in a Punk band (it’s kind of a fun exercise which I strongly recommend, by the way). After some consideration, I’d choose the name Joe Average. It’s not too edgy or anything but contains an homage to my Punk hero mentioned above and it also sums up my view of myself quite nicely.

I’m an average guy. I’ll never be famous. I’ll never be a CEO. My name will not live on past my grandchildren. I’m okay with that (I think). It is my reality. That’s not a grand idea but it is still worthy of embracing. After all, being average puts me in the company of billions of people. And being average isn’t all that bad. I can do some things really well, some things okay, and some things I ask my wife to do (she’s far above average).

And in the spirit of Punk, being average should in no way keep me from being out there, creating, expressing myself, writing a blog, whatever. After all, it was pop music in the hands of the “rock gods” – those mythical figures in leather pants and flowing locks – that got enough average people riled up to create Punk in the first place. Rock was reclaimed as the new Folk: the expression of the common person, the Average Joe (or Average Jo) and was boldly screamed out over simple guitar riffs played really fast. Punk emboldened an entire generation of kids to grab instruments and start playing, writing their own music, embracing who they were in every shape and color and pattern that could be. I believe it to be the single most significant movement in popular music, the ripple effect of which just keep going on and on.

Anyway, enough Punk preaching from me (can I get an “Amen”, brothahs and sistahs?!). What I’m trying to get at is that billions of average people are, really, not average at all. At least not in the way we often define average. For some reason, no one wants to be known as average at anything. In our world, that is often related to just slightly above failure. Why? Maybe it is because the “gods”, be it “rock gods” or “beauty gods” or “intellect gods” or “money-making gods” are constantly venerated and thrown in our faces. It is that tiny percentage of people who are worthy, we are told in a variety of ways. Average is not worthy. Average is just too average. Who wants to be that?

But the irony is that 97.3% of us are average (I’ve done extensive research and stand by that statistic). So what is average, exactly? What does average look like? Again, after extensive research, I think I have a pretty good idea…

Average looks like the guy who works his ass off in two jobs to support his wife who can no longer work because of health issues. Average looks like a man committed to his spouse and to the vows they took no matter what. Average looks like love not just spoken but acted out day in and day out, selfless and constant.

Average looks like the woman who raises two young children on her own because her former husband left her. She not only is the sole bread-winner but also the sole care-giver. In the midst of this she has to sell her house and find another place to live, tasks she tackles virtually alone and unassisted. All the while she refuses to bad-mouth the man whose actions put her in this place to begin with.

Average looks like the family that opens their doors to foster kids. Average deals with the after effects of horrible trauma some of these kids have endured. Average stays up at night, dealing with children whose only form of coping is a kind of animalistic behavior. Through it all, they never fail to make those same kids feel loved and feel accepted into the family.

Average looks like the woman with cancer who continues to smile, laugh, enjoy life. Average is in tremendous pain on a daily basis, yet radiates healing through the connection she continues to make to those around her.

Average looks like two sisters from Africa who lost their parents to AIDS. They had to care for them as their parents slowly slipped away, something no child should have to endure. Average is adopted, uprooted and brought to North America where a new life has to be crafted. After all this, they shine with life and with purpose.

Average looks like the mom who stays up into the early hours of the morning, talking, listening and laughing, guiding her adolescent children through their battles with depression and anxiety. Average puts many of her own dreams on hold to help them achieve their dreams. Through it all she displays an unfailing grace.

All these people would be considered average by the standards of our world; not supremely gifted in anything, not famous, not movers and shakers, not headline-makers. But if this is average, does it sound like almost failure to you? If this is average, don’t we need more average in our world?

The truth is that we celebrate those we deem above average, the Great Ones. But our world runs on the power of the Average Ones. They’re the ones who create a world worth living in and worth protecting. They’re the ones who craft lives of real purpose. Their names may not be remembered to history, but without them this place would certainly be hell on earth. Maybe it is time to celebrate them.

Thank God for those blessed to be average. I know I’ve been blessed by them. So, yes, I’d proudly call myself Joe Average. Now to find some other middle-aged guys who want to form a Punk band…