I think I’ve always had a way with words in some form or fashion. When I was younger, I would use words to my benefit to get out of sticky situations. Mainly, I would talk my way out of consequences with my parents. I’m the youngest and the only girl, so clearly I never did ANYTHING wrong. False… I would frame my brothers a lot for my mischievousness. Yeah, I was that kid. As I grew into a preteen, I would write poetry for fun. Some of it was good, most of it was not, but I enjoyed figuring out words and rhymes in order to convey a message. Most of my words were simple. They didn’t have any depth or significant meaning. I just wrote for fun. To my fellow preteens, my words sounded profound. They didn’t know the difference or what real writing sounded like, so they just accepted my words as awesome. They were as ignorant as I was to authenticity in literacy.
Then, high school rolled around, and I found an amazing purpose for my ability to write and use words: I didn’t have to read the school assigned books. I rarely read the books that I had to read for my English classes [A side note to all my English teachers in high school: I enjoyed your classes, and you are great teachers. I am just a slow reader, so I opted to not read Shakespeare, Chaucer, or Hemmingway. You taught me how to be a great writer, so thank you. I was a lazy teenager]. I did manage to pass all my classes with A’s and B’s. How, you might ask? Well, I would read the Cliff’s Notes, pay really close attention during the book discussions in class, and write really well thought-out papers to convince my teachers I read the book. I would even get higher grades on papers than some of my classmates who actually read and studied the book. I was so good at writing and sounding like I knew what I was talking about that I looked better than those who were elbow deep in the book and its content, really diving into the words and meaning in every source of imagery, or spending hours reading and gleaning information from the book. Me? I sat in class for 90 minutes every other day gathering notes from their hard work, never experiencing the joy of reading the book for myself. I didn’t want to learn. Looking back, it wasn’t my proudest moment, but I just wanted to get by.
Sadly, this way of thinking crept its way into my idea of being a Christian. I would proclaim to know the Lord, yet never dive into the literature, i.e. the Bible, for myself. I was content with getting the scraps off of other people’s reading and experiences, yet never studying God’s written word, getting elbow deep in the content, really diving into the words and meaning in every source of imagery, or spending hours reading and gleaning from the book. Nope. I would pay attention during Bible discussions or church services to learn the right phrases to say or high points to talk about in order to get A’s and B’s on my Godly-living report card. I could check all the boxes, and on paper, I looked good. I was a good kid. I didn’t do the really bad sins. I participated in the Christian lifestyle and idea, but never fully committed to Christ. I was fake.
Here’s the thing. Jesus made it very clear that Cliff’s Notes Christianity ain’t gonna cut it. In Matthew 13:47-50, Jesus tells the parable of the fisherman’s net. Verse 47: “… the Kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.” Fat fish, skinny fish, red fish, blue fish. All kinds of fish. They all looked like fish. They all swam like fish. They all came across as fish that should be caught. Verse 48: “When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in the baskets, but threw the bad away.” They didn’t throw the bad fish back into the water. They threw them away. The fish that weren’t good fish went away. I bet some of the bad fish looked better than the good fish. They had all their fishiness together. They were the kind of fish that we would put in a tank and ramble on and on about at dinner parties. But to the trained fisherman, there was a difference. The bad fish may have been pleasing to the eye, but they were of no good to anyone else. They were thrown away in the trash, like any rubbish. They weren’t envied. They weren’t proudly displayed or celebrated. They were tossed aside. Jesus then states in verses 49 and 50 that at the end of the age that the angels will do this with people, but the wicked will go the a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, or hell. All the fish looked good in the water. They swam together. They might have even eaten together, but the fisherman knew the imposters who were taking up room in the net. There was no cozy fish tank for them. No, they got weeping and gnashing of teeth. Ouch.
I went to church. I knew the songs on Sunday morning. I could even quote a Bible verse or two. Man, I looked good. I was a beautiful fish. I used my gifting for words to even teach the Bible to little preschool kids, yet I didn’t know the Lord. I knew Jesus was the only way to heaven. I knew all about the Bible, but I never let His words dive into my soul until one Sunday night youth gathering when God opened my eyes to the fact that I was faking it. I had cultural Christianity and not Christ. That night I prayed and dove-in head first to who Jesus really is. God made me a keeper.
It’s not just listening to a Sunday morning message. It’s not just paying attention during Bible study discussions. It’s not just saying all the right Christian phrases that make you sound like a super holy, good fish. No, it’s really living for God. It’s inviting the Holy Spirit into your life to MAKE you into a good fish. You might be able to fool those around you, but they can’t see your soul like the Lord can. Bad fish can’t make themselves good fish. Only the Creator can change a fish’s scales. I couldn’t make myself into a good fish, no matter how much I nodded my head to the pastor’s sermon.
As great as my English teachers were, I could word-my-way-out and make them think I was really devoted to our literature studies. I could pull out some fancy words and imagery references to make them think I was profoundly moved by The Scarlet Letter, but I was still a bad student. I wasn’t willing to learn. I wanted to swim in the honors classes, but I wasn’t really into getting smarter. I could fool my peers. They were just as ignorant and unknowing as I was. If my classes were treated like a fishing net, I would have been thrown out, tossed the side, not celebrated in any way. My English teachers knew the material. They didn’t teach these books because it added some great value to their own lives. They wanted me to know and experience more. Jesus wants for us to have more in this life. He says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” [John 10:10] Abundant life does not come from faking it with Jesus; it is knowing the Lord. It is not being content with going with the flow and just hanging out with those who know Christ. It’s not being a bad fish tossed to the side. It’s inviting the Creator of all to authentically change your scales and to live beyond the Cliff’s Notes Christianity, to dive in, and to know Him.