I find green beans to be gross. You know—those mushy, over-salted blobs of green floating in some sort of mystery juice. Growing up the only way I would eat them was in green bean casserole, and even that was really only for the gravy and the fun little make-believe onions.
For the first twenty years of my life I felt this way about pretty much all vegetables. But a few weeks ago, as I was preparing a meal for our Summit Students volunteers, I stood over a pot of green beans with anticipation for the moment I could devour them. I literally was pulling them out of the pot, burning my hand and doing that weird thing where I try to breathe around the food in my mouth because it is so hot but I don’t want to let it go.
So what was the difference? What changed? And what can some green beans teach us about following Jesus?
Well the big difference in my love of beans came when I got married. Not because my wife forced me to eat my vegetables or because she is some kind of health nut. Nope. Amy never has pushed me about what I eat. But she is very insistent on one thing: Nothing good comes from a can!
In our first years of marriage we had some pretty big fights about food. I would try to convince her that Lipton noodle packs were actually fettuccine alfredo and she would throw them in the garbage. I would try to pour the green beans from can to plate and she would let them sit untouched. It drove me crazy! But over time she started to change me. When we were having green beans, she would ask me to wash them, then snap the ends off each one, boil them with bacon, add the butter and spices. It took forever! But oh my gosh—they were amazing! The only thing these had in common with the canned ones was the name.
Here’s the thing; each time she would make one of the foods I had been forced to eat all my life in this “new” way I would realize that I actually liked, and often loved, the food. It wasn’t actually the green beans that I hated, it was really the shortcuts and preservatives and water that made it disgusting. I wasn’t made for that garbage; I was made for the real thing!
So as I stood over that pot of freshly snapped beans the other day, I realized this rule actually can help us understand faith as well. My thoughts drifted to my own family and the families at Summit. Why do some kids grow up with a strong and vibrant love for Jesus and others plant their feet when they step out of the car on a Sunday? These questions keep me awake at night.
But what if the answer is right there in the beans? What if so often we try to make faith in Jesus easy and safe? Fill it up with water and preservatives and can it to make sure everybody can get all they need in one hour on a Sunday. Don’t ask students (or adults for that matter) to risk or give or be inconvenienced for the gospel. What if trying to make following Jesus quick and easy and convenient actually turns people away from Jesus?
I have been reading through the book of Matthew lately. In every word Jesus says there is a freshness and an excitement, but also the kind of talk that scared people. Jesus never offered safe and easy religion. He offered a mission full of risk, danger, and adventure. Jesus never offered a one-hour-a-week religion. He offered a daily relationship with the God of the universe and an interwoven relational community with others who really know you. Jesus offered the chance to give up your ordinary potential in order to become a part of the extraordinary potential of God.
What if this risky faith defined our homes and our church? What might that look like?
I have seen it happen a few times along the way. Once we asked some of our high schoolers what homeless people might really need. They thought about it a while and said they likely need joy and relationship. Instead of the regular PB&J sandwiches, the high schoolers of Summit bought a cooler full of ice cream. And as they sat on curbs and park benches, learned names, told stories, and enjoyed bringing love and joy to people, I saw it. That glimmer of excitement (and fear) that comes with finding the real thing.
So here’s the question: Is the faith you’re experiencing the canned version, or the real thing?