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The Rev. James Ellis III The Rev. James Ellis, III

The Rev. James Ellis III is Chaplain of Discipleship at Hope College in Holland, MI.

Member of:

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

Representative of:

Hope College, Holland, MI


Minimally Invasive Faith

February 21, 2011

I recently underwent laparoscopic surgery for gall bladder removal. Understandably, my organs are still coming to grips with the loss of one of their non-essential friends, but aside from a few snags here and there, I am healing well. I am grateful to God for working so mightily through my surgeon to relieve the pain that I had been experiencing. Let me tell you, having a faulty gall bladder is no fun at all.

Since I have a few weeks of recovery ahead of me, I have begun catching-up on some reading. Yesterday at 3:00am while reading Accompany Them with Singing: The Christian Funeral by Thomas Long[1]--maybe not the best selection to embark upon after surgery--I overheard the loud rumblings of tipsy, late-night coeds looking for love in all of the wrong places; mainly, at the nightclub down the street from our residence. Between Thursdays and Sundays they routinely frolic and stumble, and argue and fight their way back to their automobiles that line the street behind our porch. With all of the raucous I often think of how at any moment gunshots could ring out like the drive-by shooting that I witnessed during middle school. I know all too well that minding one's own business is no guarantee of safety.

Struggle to understand it as we do, the Lord gives and the Lord takes away.[2] Just ask Job. The daily news and "The First 48"[3] on A&E make it abundantly clear that tomorrow is not promised for any of us.[4] Surgery is an awfully sobering reality. You enter the hospital at the scheduled time. And, eventually after some preliminaries you disrobe, and place your garments in bags that are then sealed, and secured. You enter the hospital, but there is no guarantee that you will exit the way that you had hoped.

Nevertheless, for the Christian "death is really just a major change of address."[5] It is our relocation from this world to that world, the world to come; going up yonder, as the old saints would sing. As frustrating as life can be on this side of glory, and as committed to Jesus as I am, I am surely in no rush to meet the Savior. My recent health issues, although a bit jarring, have reinvigorated within me a tenacity to serve the purposes of God in my generation as imaginatively and passionately as I can, knowing that I, too, will one day fall asleep and be laid to rest like David.[6] For Christ I live and for Christ I die. As the created, my life's charge is to bring glory to the Creator no matter the cost.

I fear, however, that we seek faith today which is minimally invasive, a Christianity that is inconsequential, undercover, and somewhat circumstantial. We want the largest reward that requires the least amount of risk. I suppose that, yes, we love Jesus. Sadly, however, we are drunk with the wine of the world,[7] but we refuse to attend Alcoholics Anonymous. We want comfort and are willing to do anything to achieve it. As odd as it sounds, instead of equipping and encouraging us to "find the courage to resist the devil's lousy deals,"[8] we have a church culture that looks for consecratory loopholes and makes excuses for our complacency. This humbling prayer from A.W. Tozer seems most appropriate:

Father, I want to know Thee, but my cowardly heart fears to give up its toys. I cannot part with them without inward bleeding, and I do not try to hide from Thee the terror of the parting. I come trembling, but I do come. Please root from my heart all those things which I have cherished so long and which have become a very part of my living self, so that Thou mayest enter and dwell there without a rival. Then shalt Thou make the place of Thy feet glorious. Then shall my heart have no need of the sun to shine in it, for Thyself wilt be the light of it, and there shall be no night there. In Jesus' name, Amen.[9]

Thank goodness that God is still on the throne. I dare argue that Christianity cannot be about minimally invasive faith and still remain true to the Gospel that it proclaims. We know from Hebrews 4:12 that, "Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart."

With just four tiny incisions on my abdomen as evidence that anything was done, my gall bladder is no more. Even now, but especially in a few months, it will barely look like I underwent surgery of any kind. One might say that it is the best of both worlds. I had the surgery that was needed, yet because of medical advances it was only an outpatient procedure, and I won't have any significant scars. It doesn't seem to me that a life of faith informed by Scripture and directed by the Holy Spirit is like that at all, however.

Our lives are not our own to do with what we please. And, in submitting to Christ we will inevitably be wounded and develop scar tissue. That is par for the course of this journey because, quiet as it is kept, we do not belong to this world.[10]


[1] See Thomas Long, Accompany Them with Singing: The Christian Funeral (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2009).
[2] Job 1:21.
[3] http://www.aetv.com/the_first_48
[4] Proverbs 27:1.
[5] Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith (New York: Random House, 2000), 63.
[6] Acts 13:36.
[7] James W. Johnson, John R. Johnson, "Lift Every Voice and Sing."
[8] See Craig Barnes' chapter in William J. Carl, ed., Best Advice: Wisdom on Ministry from 30 Leading Pastors and Preachers (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2009), 19.
[9] Richard J. Foster, Emilie Griffin, eds., Spiritual Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups on the Twelve Spiritual Disciplines (New York: HarperCollins, 2000), 114-115.
[10] John 15:18-27.


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