#3goodthings for March 9, 2023
1. A cool morning
2. Gorgeous weather for baseball
3. A good walk
IT’S A NEW YEAR!
I’ve been thinking about the New Year, a bit. In so many ways we often start the New Year thinking about shortcomings.
It’s the “I‘m nots…”
So, we make resolutions to try and “fix” whatever it is we are “not.”
I read a book last year about habit forming, Atomic Habits, and one of the things that has really stuck with me is the importance on setting my mind on the kind of person that I desire to be. But not with an “I hope…” or an “I should…” but with an “I am…”
What if this year we chose not to make resolutions but to identify one or two aspects of who we are?
Here is what I’ve been thinking about as I stare into the face of 2023:
“I am the kind of person who takes care of his body.”
“I am the kind of person who is present in the lives of others.”
Yes, those statements are broad. But, they help make hard choices easier. The pursuit of these “I am…” statements are beginning to create in me a desire “for” and “to be”.
Do you have any “I am” statements that drive you toward a sense of becoming?
A QUESTIONING FAITH
I remember sitting in Calculus during my senior year in high school. It was Spring and the windows were open. I could hear the birds chirping outside and the fresh, cool, Michigan Spring air was blowing gently through the room. Mr. Near, our teacher, was busy writing on the board and excitedly explaining some new equation. As he was teaching he said something that made my face flush and hands get sweaty, I could feel a sense of panic and anxiety rush over me.
"As you know by now..."
I wanted to scream, "No, Mr Near, I don't know by now! I don't understand any of this. I don't even comprehend half of the vocabulary that you're using!"
Yet, I looked around and saw my friends nodding their heads and following along with obvious understanding and clarity.
School was always easy for me. It was a source of pride that I was one of the "smart kids." My grade point average was a significant piece of my identity. That feeling of not knowing and definitely not understanding was sickening. This was particularly true because it seemed like all of my friends understood everything with complete clarity.
It's Kind of Like This...
Many of us feel like I did in Calculus when we hear people start talking about religion, faith, and spirituality. The leaders in these spaces typically speak with authority and certainty. We look around the room and everyone is nodding along. One of the most often used phrases is, "The Bible clearly says..."
Some of us want to scream, "No, it doesn't seem 'clear'! I don't understand any of this and I don't comprehend half the vocabulary you're using!"
If you've grown up in "the church" when you have these thoughts you likely feel some of the things that I felt, and probably even more intense. So often when these questions and doubts rise up in us we experience shame and guilt. We feel like we are the only ones that are wrestling with these kinds of things. As a result, we can isolate ourselves from those around us who seem to have absolute certainty about it all.
If you didn't grow up in "the church" then you too may have felt these things. Particularly, as it relates to someone who feels like they're constantly on the outside looking in. The "church people" seem to be part of some insider club and as you look on, you see the holes and the hypocrisy. You may also have a sense that questions are not welcome there because of the way that people speak with such certainty and authority.
I'm beginning to learn that certainty is the opposite of faith. When us religious folks speak as though we have certainty about all this stuff, it points, not to the strength of our faith, but to the weakness of it.
With great faith, comes great doubt.
There's a story about Jesus where he meets a dad whose son is possessed. The son is often thrown into seizures and when this has happened he has fallen into fires or pools of water. The dad wants to see his son healed. He's at the end of his rope (who hasn't been there?) and says, "If you can help, please help!"
Then this happens:
Jesus said, "If? There are no 'ifs' among believers. Anything can happen."Mark 9:23-24
No sooner were the words out of his mouth than the father cried, "Then I believe. Help me with my doubts!"
Jesus does the Jesus thing and heals the boy.
I think that this dad is one of the most honest people in the Bible.
"Then I believe. Help me with my doubts!"
Jesus meets him right there. He heals the boy. He doesn't chastise him for his doubt.
In my own life I'm resonating more and more with this dad. My frequent prayer is his prayer. "I believe, help me in my doubt." The questions I struggle with are real. The doubts are consistently present. The sense of certainty that I had in my younger days is long gone. Yet, I believe more deeply than I ever have before.
There's a picture that an I artist I like drew and I think it sums up some of my journey well,
I have to tell you, joining people on the journey of seeking together is a lot of fun. There's so much beauty in it all. We get to ask questions and struggle together with the mysteries of the divine.
As we seek together, there's a lot of taking Jesus at his word. Grace and mercy and hope are becoming words that mean something more than theological short hand in a religious sales pitch. These ideas are becoming a context for which I see and experience other people and myself.
When we lean into doubt our faith grows and deepens.
I am also learning that the questions that I wrestle with are questions that other people wrestle with.
I am not alone and neither are you.
During the first week of October I will be launching a new Facebook Group. The Pastor Next Door group will be one where, together, we can say, "Help me with my doubt." You need not walk this journey alone. I know that I don't want to. Over the last number of years the conversations with friends about their wrestling with mystery, the universe, and the divine have sparked my imagination and a deepening of my faith.
Together we can call one another "further up and further in!" ((C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle:
"It is as hard to explain how this sunlit land was different from the old Narnia as it would be to tell you how the fruits of that country taste. Perhaps you will get some idea of it if you think like this.You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among mountains. And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a looking-glass. And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking-glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different–deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know. The difference between the old Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more. I can’t describe it any better than that: if you ever get there you will know what I mean.
It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right forehoof on the ground and neighed, and then cried:
“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this. Bree-hee-hee! Come further up, come further in!”))
If you'd like an invite to the group drop a comment and let me know! This group will be invite only and is private. That means what's posted there is not something that can be found or read by people outside of the Facebook Group. I set it up this way, so that we can talk honestly and openly there. I hope that it becomes a community, a neighborhood, where you can build relationships around seeking the deeper questions of life.
AN INVITATION TO COME ON OVER!
It was a beautiful Spring day and I was enjoying some time on the patio. When all of a sudden, Ethan rushed in, a bit flustered and frustrated.
"Dad, as I was coming into the neighborhood I blew my tire out."
We both took a deep breath and headed over to where his car was parked and began the process of changing the tire. The tire iron we had didn't fit his lug nuts. So, we knew that we needed to call our local mechanic, Brian. We rang him up and he gave us a few different tools to try.
None of them worked.
Our neighbor, Allan, popped his head out of his car as he was pulling into the neighborhood and offered up a piece of advice, "My car has this special adapter that I have to use to get the lug nuts off my wheels, maybe yours does?"
Of course! The lug nut key! It was in his glove box and before we knew it, we had the tire off and changed.
Sometimes, we need an expert's help on figuring out a problem. Sometimes, we need a neighbor's help to solve a problem. Do you know what's ideal? When you have both.
Many of us grew up going to church (or being dragged there) and some of us didn't. Some of us are in the early processes of discovering faith and some of us are questioning everything we believe.
Wherever we we are in the process, too often we believe we are alone to figure it all out. But, we're not.
The questions you have are the same ones that others have wrestled with over the years. I am coming to believe that a significant aspect of the human experience is to wrestle with the mysteries of our existence, to wrestle with the questions of ultimate meaning, and to wonder about the divine. Regardless of where one ends up, these questions, doubts, beliefs, and musings are the stuff that make life deep and rich and interesting.
It gets even more interesting (and dare I say, fun) when we tease these things out in community. That's what I want to try to create. I want to invite you into a community that is asking questions and re-imagining faith with the added bonus of a neighbor who is a bit of an expert on some of these questions.
If I have a problem with my car, I call Brian. When I have a question about real estate, I call Todd. When I have a question about interpersonal stuff, I call The Beard. Often, these calls take place in a bit of a broader community too. When these guys have questions about religion, spirituality, or faith they often call me.
Welcome to the Neighborhood!
The Pastor Next Door is an invitation to community and and invitation to access. Not all of us have a pastor next door that we can ask questions of whenever we want.
If you're reading this, you do.
I hope that you will engage by commenting on posts, becoming involved in a new Facebook Group that I will be launching soon, and joining me for live in person meet ups and virtual live gatherings. You can also sign up to block out one-on-one time with me.
To make a long post really short, come on over, pull up a chair and let's ask questions and re-imagine faith together.
Many among his disciples heard this and said, "This is tough teaching, too tough to swallow."
Jesus sensed that his disciples were having a hard time with this and said, "Does this throw you completely? What would happen if you saw the Son of Man ascending to where he came from? The Spirit can make life. Sheer muscle and willpower don't make anything happen. Every word I've spoken to you is a Spirit-word, and so it is life-making. But some of you are resisting, refusing to have any part in this." (Jesus knew from the start that some weren't going to risk themselves with him. He knew also who would betray him.) He went on to say, "This is why I told you earlier that no one is capable of coming to me on his own. You get to me only as a gift from the Father."
After this a lot of his disciples left. They no longer wanted to be associated with him. Then Jesus gave the Twelve their chance: "Do you also want to leave?"
Peter replied, "Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We've already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God."
Jesus responded, "Haven't I handpicked you, the Twelve? Still, one of you is a devil!" He was referring to Judas, son of Simon Iscariot. This man—one from the Twelve!—was even then getting ready to betray him. // John 6:60-71, The Message
Can I tell you a secret?
It’s one that I shouldn’t tell you.
But, I’m going to tell you anyway.
Most of us who are working with people walk around feeling like failures or at the very least a bit disappointed.
I don’t know a single parent, teacher, coach, counselor, therapist, or pastor who doesn’t carry with them a nagging sense that they just aren’t doing things well enough. When we get real honest with ourselves we look around and think, “I could have done so much more.”
People are never a finished work. People are always in process. There is never a point when we stop and look at someone and say, “They have arrived!”
It turns out that people are really messy. We can be so beautiful and wonderful and kind and loving and awful and mean and nasty.
The temptation is to focus on the failures. Often when we do, we think it’s our own fault. We could have done so much more. Somehow, if only I could have done a better job then that person would not have failed.
Many of us have a perfection complex.
Maybe this wasn’t that big of a secret after all. Because, some of you are probably thinking, “Duh, I experience this all the time.”
Ok, how about this secret: Jesus experienced this too.
Did you catch the end of his conversation with the Twelve? "Haven't I handpicked you, the Twelve? Still, one of you is a devil!"
Y’all, this is Jesus. The perfect one. The God-Man himself. He handpicked the Twelve and picked one that was “a devil.” Now, I know that many of you are already theologizing this and saying, “Yeah, he had to because Judas was going to play the role of traitor to get him crucified.” If you want to theologize this away, that’s up to you. I get it.
I’ll tell you what, this has been one of the most comforting verses for me in the whole Bible.
Well, on the one hand it shows me the importance of differentiating myself from those entrusted to my care. Jesus didn’t find his identity in the Twelve. He was able to separate himself from them. Because of this, he was able to fully love all of them even though he knew one was going to betray him. Think about that for a minute. There is no place in the whole of the Gospels that we see Jesus do anything but fully love Judas. I am learning that is only possible because Jesus fully found his identity in relation to the Father and not to other people.
On the other hand, it shows me that the perfect one, the God-Man, experienced someone whom he had given significant time to not becoming a “success.” This is remarkable isn’t it? If there’s anyone who should bat 1.000 for people “success” shouldn’t it be Jesus? There’s another story where he heals a whole bunch of folks all at once and only one guy comes back and thanks him.
If Jesus experienced these things, how much more will we?
This story for me has lead me to a lesson that I keep trying to learn: Relax.
People’s lives and stories are going to follow their own trajectories and story arcs. We can’t control them. There is no way that we can expect to set the stage and force people to say the lines that we want them to say. No, we are mutual travelers. As we journey and meet others on their journey we encourage them and point them toward faith, hope, and love. We trust that the sovereign and good God will bring their journeys to God in Christ.
Love people well and relax.
The question for us is not: How did this person turn out?
The question for us is: Did I love them well?
When we ask the second question we can begin to relax because what matters is the journey and not the destination.
"Don't waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides. He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last."
To that they said, "Well, what do we do then to get in on God's works?"
Jesus said, "Throw your lot in with the One that God has sent. That kind of a commitment gets you in on God's works."
They waffled: "Why don't you give us a clue about who you are, just a hint of what's going on? When we see what's up, we'll commit ourselves. Show us what you can do. Moses fed our ancestors with bread in the desert. It says so in the Scriptures: 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'"
Jesus responded, "The real significance of that Scripture is not that Moses gave you bread from heaven but that my Father is right now offering you bread from heaven, the real bread. The Bread of God came down out of heaven and is giving life to the world."
They jumped at that: "Master, give us this bread, now and forever!"
Jesus said, "I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever. I have told you this explicitly because even though you have seen me in action, you don't really believe me. Every person the Father gives me eventually comes running to me. And once that person is with me, I hold on and don't let go. I came down from heaven not to follow my own whim but to accomplish the will of the One who sent me.
"This, in a nutshell, is that will: that everything handed over to me by the Father be completed—not a single detail missed—and at the wrap-up of time I have everything and everyone put together, upright and whole. This is what my Father wants: that anyone who sees the Son and trusts who he is and what he does and then aligns with him will enter real life, eternal life. My part is to put them on their feet alive and whole at the completion of time."
At this, because he said, "I am the Bread that came down from heaven," the Jews started arguing over him: "Isn't this the son of Joseph? Don't we know his father? Don't we know his mother? How can he now say, 'I came down out of heaven' and expect anyone to believe him?"
Jesus said, "Don't bicker among yourselves over me. You're not in charge here. The Father who sent me is in charge. He draws people to me—that's the only way you'll ever come. Only then do I do my work, putting people together, setting them on their feet, ready for the End. This is what the prophets meant when they wrote, 'And then they will all be personally taught by God.' Anyone who has spent any time at all listening to the Father, really listening and therefore learning, comes to me to be taught personally—to see it with his own eyes, hear it with his own ears, from me, since I have it firsthand from the Father. No one has seen the Father except the One who has his Being alongside the Father—and you can see me.
"I'm telling you the most solemn and sober truth now: Whoever believes in me has real life, eternal life. I am the Bread of Life. Your ancestors ate the manna bread in the desert and died. But now here is Bread that truly comes down out of heaven. Anyone eating this Bread will not die, ever. I am the Bread—living Bread!—who came down out of heaven. Anyone who eats this Bread will live—and forever! The Bread that I present to the world so that it can eat and live is myself, this flesh-and-blood self."
At this, the Jews started fighting among themselves: "How can this man serve up his flesh for a meal?"
But Jesus didn't give an inch. "Only insofar as you eat and drink flesh and blood, the flesh and blood of the Son of Man, do you have life within you. The one who brings a hearty appetite to this eating and drinking has eternal life and will be fit and ready for the Final Day. My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. By eating my flesh and drinking my blood you enter into me and I into you. In the same way that the fully alive Father sent me here and I live because of him, so the one who makes a meal of me lives because of me. This is the Bread from heaven. Your ancestors ate bread and later died. Whoever eats this Bread will live always."
He said these things while teaching in the meeting place in Capernaum. // John 6:27-59
When my brothers and I were growing up my mom would often leave lists of things for us to do while she was at work. Typically the chore lists included really difficult things like dusting, vacuuming, cleaning our rooms, and cleaning the toilets. I am not sure how often we accomplished the lists before she got home from work, but it was rare. When mom would, with reasonable frustration, challenge our inability to get such simple things done she would be met with, “Yeah but…” The response from her was always, “YeahBut doesn’t live here!”
This passage is one of my favorites in the story of Jesus. He doubles down on challenging the transactional nature of the people’s attitude toward their trust of him.
Jesus does this whole teaching about how he is the living bread. He is calling the people to realize that to get in on God’s works demands an intimacy and trust beyond the transaction.
The whole story is punctuated with the people missing the point.
It’s a constant, “Yeah but…”
Jesus was intentionally missing the transactional expectations of the people. He was asking them to move beyond their dualistic approach to life and faith. Intimacy, oneness, deep connection was uncomfortable and confusing.
Now, let’s be fair, this stuff that Jesus said is weird! It would have sounded just as strange to them as it does to us. If I’m real honest I would have been dropping a bunch of “yeah buts” too.
I think this highlights something for us that we need to be aware of.
Jesus will routinely, often, and consistently challenge our presumptions. When we seek connection with Christ we need to be prepared to move beyond the dualism, the black and white, the either/or, the this or that. Christ calls us further up and further in to something more than a mere transactional faith.
As we read the gospel narratives of Jesus we see this clear trajectory of people being called to something deeper, more full, more real, more mystical…
That’s really it isn’t it?
The bread and wine are not just bread and wine. They are more.
The flesh and blood are nor just flesh and blood. They are more.
Following Jesus is more.
Who we are becomes more.
Existence becomes more.
Everywhere we look we see more.
If you’re anything like me you have something welling up in your chest at the moment, you have this overwhelming desire to say, “yeah but.”
What if faith is setting aside the “yeah but” and simply saying, “I’m willing to trust to experience this mystical and mysterious more.”
It turns out my mom was right, YeahBut doesn’t live here.
I'M JUST HERE FOR THE SNACKS
In the evening his disciples went down to the sea, got in the boat, and headed back across the water to Capernaum. It had grown quite dark and Jesus had not yet returned. A huge wind blew up, churning the sea. They were maybe three or four miles out when they saw Jesus walking on the sea, quite near the boat. They were scared senseless, but he reassured them, "It's me. It's all right. Don't be afraid." So they took him on board. In no time they reached land—the exact spot they were headed to.
The next day the crowd that was left behind realized that there had been only one boat, and that Jesus had not gotten into it with his disciples. They had seen them go off without him. By now boats from Tiberias had pulled up near where they had eaten the bread blessed by the Master. So when the crowd realized he was gone and wasn't coming back, they piled into the Tiberias boats and headed for Capernaum, looking for Jesus.
When they found him back across the sea, they said, "Rabbi, when did you get here?"
Jesus answered, "You've come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free.” — John 6:16-26, The Message
We get really caught up in the miracle of Jesus here. Why wouldn’t we? I mean it’s like a scene out of a movie. A storm rises out of the lake and then in the distance who do they see? Jesus! He’s walking on the water. I mean come on! Amazing!
The thing is, it’s all a set up.
John is setting us all up for the punchline.
It’s that moment when Jesus says, “You've come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free.”
Jesus called the people out for seeking to use him.
They understood Jesus in transactional terms. He knew that the were not amazed by the miracle of the loaves and fishes. They simply wanted more free food.
Jesus was nothing more than a magic food talisman.
This is true for us too. We use Jesus all the time. When we don’t get what we want we blame Jesus.
It’s not surprising though. This is the gospel that we have been preaching for a long time is it not? “God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life…” so the saying goes. If you make a decision for Jesus and pray this prayer then everything will be wonderful for you. This is the false gospel that has been preached and continues to be preached all over the place. It’s a gospel of services rendered. It is transactional. Give Jesus everything and your life will be wonderful.
What happens when our lives don’t turn out to be wonderful?
Then we realize the gospel we believed was false.
Jesus, wasn’t having any of this false gospel stuff. He knew the people were coming for another transaction.
The deeper reality that Jesus wanted them to see was God in him.
It’s so much easier to make a transaction.
It’s much more difficult to cultivate a life and ministry where people see God.
That is slow work. It’s hard work. It’s long work. It demands change and transformation in us. It requires authenticity.
I think it’s worth it though.