WYSIWYG

I have seen a lot of technological advances throughout my 50+ years of work experience, which started in the drafting department of the Cretex Companies between my junior and senior years of high school. One of the roles I played was the drafting of preliminary drawings of concrete manholes so we could mail blueprint copies (not Xerox) to the customer for approval prior to releasing the drawing to the factory for fabrication. The process added a week or two to the lead-time of delivering product – a BIG deal in the world of construction.

Then an amazing piece of technology showed up in our drafting department. It was a cylindrical fax machine. An 8-1/2 x 11 drawing was wrapped on the cylinder, a phone number dialed, and the phone headset placed in a rubber modem. Pressing “start,” the cylinder rotated with a needle slowly scanning across the drawing and voila, a copy emerged on the other end. The transfer took about 20 minutes, cutting days off the approval process. We were all amazed.

About 20 years later, I was introduced to (now discontinued) Lotus 1-2-3, IBM’s precursor to Microsoft’s Excel. It ran on the IBM System/34 that the company I worked for used to support engineering and manufacturing. I was amazed. I could set up repeat calculations on the green on black monitor. What a time-saver. The output wasn’t very pretty, though. There was no formatting available, just standard IBM Green Bar print-outs. In time the System/34 monitors were replaced by IBM PCs which opened up a whole new world with the potential of software add-ons.

One of the first add-ons that I got to experience was WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get). We, for the first time, were able to format our spreadsheets into formatted documents, impressing ourselves and our customers. We would complete the technical part of the spreadsheet then hit the F2 key to for a format-able view. We couldn’t calculate inside the WYSIWYG view, we could only format and get a glimpse of the final printout. The official definition of WYSIWYG: denoting the representation of text on screen in a form exactly corresponding to its appearance on a printout. By pressing the F2 key, what we saw on the screen, was a visible expression of the (now invisible).

In the last couple posts (Andy “Goldbrick” Delaney and The Rest of the Story), I alluded to the fact that involvement with Young Life in the early days of my faith development has had a most significant affect on my theology and my journey to becoming a “practical theologian.” Immersed in an outreach ministry such as Young Life not only helped the development of my theology, it helped me develop a working philosophy of ministry, nay a philosophy of life (for which I will be forever grateful!).

Much of my early training in Young Life was “on the job.” Young Life had developed effective methods of ministering to high schoolers who were far from and disinterested in God. As I learned the “what and how” of the ministry, I was also taught the corresponding “why” (again, for which I will be forever grateful!). Early on I was pointed toward Colossians 1:15, which in the J.B. Phillips New Testament reads:

Now Christ is the visible expression of the invisible God.

Jesus – the Christ, the Messiah – is the visible expression, the exact representation of the invisible God. After discovering Colossians 1:15 and pondering its significance, I came to the realization that I didn’t know God. I knew about him and I knew how I was supposed to act. I knew what I was supposed to do (and more importantly) what I wasn’t supposed to do, but I didn’t really know God.

I remember thinking, “How can I possibly tell disinterested kids about a God that I don’t know very well?” This caused me to embark on a year-long, turned into a life-long journey of discovery. I wanted to know God so that I could help disinterested kids to know him as well. This why I am continuously immersed in the Gospels. This is why, as a start-point of my ministry training and development of others, I help them get immersed in the Gospels.

The timing of all this was absolutely perfect. At just the right time, God showed me a different way. Through Young Life, God caused me to rethink my understanding of the Christian faith. As an engineer I was ripe for a Christianity that focused on how one should live. I was ripe for deductive learning, focused on application and not discovery. In short, I was ripe for moralism.

At just the right time my focus began to shift away from simply figuring out how to live the Christian life to Jesus himself. I discovered why Jesus was absolutely central to our talks at Young Life. We wouldn’t tell kids about God. Instead we would show them Jesus – God in the flesh, the visible expression of God – allowing them to get a glimpse into the character of the true God.

In time I began to understand that it would be good to help ALL people see Jesus, not simply confront them with the tenets of the Christian faith. Jim Rayburn, the founder of Young Life, used to say that if kids could see the real Jesus, they would fall in love with him. If any person could see the real Jesus, wouldn’t they likely fall in love with him? Thus my philosophy of life: To know him and make him known. And it all started by taking 10 kids to Frontier Ranch in 1973.

The Visible Expression of the Invisible God…

Circa 1973. God had drawn me into youth ministry through Young Life, a non-denominational outreach to teenagers. I was serving teenagers in my hometown, working full-time, and pursuing an engineering degree taking classes a couple nights a week. In the midst of it all, I tried to read scripture with some consistency and with some success. In the 70s, we didn’t have the availability of scripture translations and paraphrases as we do today, but we had a few – King James, Revised Standard, New American Standard, The Living Bible, The Good News Bible, and a favorite of Young Life staff, the J.B. Phillips New Testament.

Early into my Young Life experience, at a volunteer leader training, we were pointed to Colossians 1:15Now Christ is the visible expression of the invisible God (Phillips). The passage, it was explained, was a cornerstone to Young Life talks – we wanted kids to know the real God and the real God made himself visible through Jesus. Jesus revealed God’s character, compassion, and heart for people. In preparing Young Life talks, I diligently worked at helping kids see this Jesus, the visible expression of the God they could not see. A few months into the beginning of my Young Life tenure as a volunteer leader, a thought occurred to me: I didn’t know God or Jesus, save a few stories I learned in Sunday School*…..

In the midst of a fairly busy schedule, I embarked on a year-long quest to know God. It didn’t start as a year-long quest. It started as a one-time reading of the the Gospels in my brand new J.B. Phillips New Testament, underlining and highlighting with a red colored pencil as I progressed. After an initial read, I decided to read them again – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – marking the pages with a different color. I was amazed to discover how much I didn’t observe in the first go-around. So I read them again. I soon realized that my eyes were drawn to passages that were already highlighted. So I bought a new bible of a different translation and repeated the process, highlighting new discoveries about Jesus (and thus about God).

Seven translations and a year later I felt I was ready to adequately venture into other parts of the New Testament as well as the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures. As I look back 45 years, I have to believe that year was one of the most transformative experiences of my faith journey. It’s what likely saved me from the tenets of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. It set me up to know Jesus (not just about Jesus). It set me up to give decent Young Life talks. It set me up to be a better husband and father. It set me up to learn to read Scripture exegetically. IT SET ME UP FOR LIFE!

I am amazed how few people have actually read straight through the Gospels even one time, which is why I give everyone I mentor the exact same assignment – read through the Gospels. When done, I usually have them repeat the process. Invariably, I get the same response – it was a transformative experience (a common ‘practical theology’ theme, you’ll notice). If you happen to be one that has never done a read-through of the Gospels, then you know what I would suggest. I sincerely hope you would heed the suggestion. My heart aches when I realize how few Christians spend time in the Gospels, and thus with Jesus. How else will we ever know Him?

* I had the privilege of joining a group of people to hear George Barna give a researcher’s perspective of what is needed to develop our young people in today’s culture. He said research shows that most church children and youth teachings tend to focused only on about 20 basic Bible stories. (In one of these posts we will need to discuss “kindergarten faith.”)