The Gospel of Trial: God’s Verdict

John 18:28 –  19:16 – What Do You Stand for?

Lately, I have been practicing withholding judgment against the inaction of individual’s. I’ve begun this practice because I’m recognizing that the inaction of others most often results from ignorance or lack of urgency, not from maliciousness or hatred.

I don’t want to put someone on trial in my heart who does not intend to do me wrong. So the best thing to do is allow my feeling towards someone else’s inaction fall.

Jesus in the Gospel of John chapters 18 and 19 is on trial not for inaction but for generous and truthful action. His concern, compassion and desire for God’s creation leads to his crucifixion.

Witchcraft_at_Salem_VillageThere is also a man named Pontius Pilate. Pilate is not too concerned about Jesus’ claims to be a king, yet Pilate administers some punishment. Pilate is complicit. If we are honest with ourselves, many of us are like Pilate.

We won’t judge the innocent, we might punish the bold, but we will certainly wash our hands of responsibility of standing against injustice if it becomes more inconvenient than we desired.

Yet we are also swayed. When the world shouts loud enough we bend often forgetting what we are called to stand for because of fear. Or we back ourselves into another box of identity that is other than Christian. We might back into: conservative, liberal, progressive, American, Russian, man, woman, vegan, straight, gay, white, black, fat, fit, famous, obscure.

For Jesus, He was accused of being false. The Truth, the Light, the Life, The Resurrection, the Divine is accused and crucified because others did not recognize who He really was. The same type of accusations come against you and me. They try to make us forget what or rather who we are meant to live for or potentially die for.Eccehomo1

What amazes me about this trial in the Gospel of John is what turns Pilate. If you read too quickly, you might miss that for a few moments, Pilate is the one on trial.

Jesus tells him in John 19:11  “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”

Jesus lets Pilate know where Pilate’s power comes from…

but so does the crowd.

In 19:12 the crowd yells, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”

Pilate is asked to choose between allegiance to the empire or allegiance to God. But Pilate doesn’t know God or truth. He does however, know Caesar.

Caesar writes his check, Caesar keeps him safe, Caesar keeps him comfortable, Caesar is the one who Pilate perceives as the one with power.

And when I am not careful, I might forget that God is greater than the nation in which I live and greater than my perception of the other things that seem to speak power: money, status, responsibility, personal records while lifting weights.

The temptation to trust in other forms of power is often subtle and often presents itself as reasonable. I believe John, in his Gospel, is trying to show us just before Jesus’ death, that what we trust in other than God eventually reveals itself as evil.

It reveals that no matter how firm your or my stance, if it is not grounded in faith in Christ, it will undo our devotion. We become willing to hand over rather than stand on.

Because humanity consistently proves our willingness to hand over, Jesus takes the stand first. He accepts his fate to garner our allegiance through bloody dangling death by hanging on wood from nails.

He takes our punishment, then holds the power to judge, and in his fiery compassion is both willing and patient to allow us to decide our own verdict.

Trading the 2nd Amendment for the 2nd Commandment

John 18:11, Matthew 26:52-54, Luke 22:49-51

Our Swords are Our Guns and It’s Time to Put Them Away

I’m not writing specifically about the 2nd amendment. And my intention here is not to lobby for change in the political arena. I don’t like loud yelling, whistle blowing or things that divide people unless it is over Jesus.

So I’ll talk about Jesus going to his death. In the gospels, one of Jesus’ disciples, Peter, takes a sword and aims for someone’s head. This happens as another disciple asks Jesus, “Shall we strike with our swords?” Before the inquiring disciple can finish the question, Peter is quick to pull the trigger and cuts off a dudes ear.

After the incident Jesus says, “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”

Why have a sword you would never use?

The 2nd Amendment exists as a clause that we’d hope we would never have to use. It does not exist for our pleasure or for our enjoyment. It existed in the case of an emergency not as a pathway to more frequent emergencies. We would hope we would never need a gun to protect us from our government, and we would hope our government would protect us from one another. More specifically, to protect us from an enemy or the violent among us.

Why have the sword at all?

After Jesus makes the statement about living and dying by the sword, Jesus heals the mans ear who Peter had cut off with the sword. Then he says this in the gospel of Matthew 26:53 “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”

Jesus makes an obvious statement to His followers. Being one with God implies He has access to an army but chooses to relinquish that power in the face of death. Why? Because he is fearless and faithful.

But more than any of that, Jesus is humble, self-sacrificing and willing to lay down his life in love. He was willing to lay aside his power to become a servant.

He laid aside power.

Why relinquish our perception of power?

Look, I get it, I’ve worked in construction on an off for the last 6 years. I shared an office with a guy who hoarded ammunition and had it delivered every day to our work. I understand lots of men and women like to shoot guns because it gives them an adrenaline rush or rather the false sense of feeling powerful.

I understand the normalization of guns and the perception that they can be operated safely and frequently by responsible individuals.

But what I don’t understand is the American Evangelical Christian fascination with guns and (about to a make a really unpopular statement) the military.

We idolize what we perceive protects us.

And it is our faith in thinking guns protect and faith in the military as exclusively altruistic that fuel a fascination with violence and the glorification war. As a country America has found a way to consistently make violence profitable. We’ve done the same with sex, and instead of considering the cost, we normalize.

We begin to recite a story that suggests the rights we’ve “always” had are being infringed upon and it is oppressing our freedom.  And we begin to use the word freedom as an excuse to fight, conquer, and finance violence disguised as virtue

But that insistence is the sign of how bound we’ve become. We’ve become bound to our guns like being bound to an idol.

Anyone in our culture who would rather have a semi-automatic weapon or hand-gun to maintain their own sense of security at the expense of not being permitted to have one for the potential safety of the masses is looking to a conceal a pretty ugly idol.

How to Put Them Away

The disposition I advocate for among Christians is this: “I am willing to lay down my right to bear arms in hopes that others would also lay down that right, to live in a society where no child dies in a classroom from a firearm.” The 2nd Amendment says nothing  about laying aside our rights as a demonstration of love, but Jesus’ 2nd greatest commandment does. He advocates being inconvenienced for the love of your neighbor.

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Jesus advocates for this to the point where He asks His followers to lay down their lives. Despite this, it does not seem  we are  even at a place where Christians are willing to lay down their guns. That must change.

I believe only a radical movement of surrender will change culture, not lobbyists or legislation.

And I believe the solution is rather simple: “Put your guns away.”

– Stop considering them toys.

– Don’t resist stricter gun laws. In fact, don’t ignore the statistics, look around at the rest of the world and be willing to admit that maybe the events point to requiring America to have the strictest gun laws of any nation.

– Relegate that sense of power and adrenaline rush to highly secure shooting ranges.

– Regulate hunting rifles to be used or visible only during designated times of the year, the rest of the year those weapons are to be stored at a weapons bank.

– If we desire to hold to that 2nd Amendment piece about a “well-regulated” militia, have a militia bank/shooting range combo. If the goal is to be well-regulated, that’s the place you go to pick up your guns if the poop hits the fan and we have to wage war on the government.

I’m a pacifist, who has never shot a gun who has some great ideas.

Why it is definitely time

It’s time because we’ve lost our sense of urgency. This most recent shooting was forgotten quickly by the media because there was a Royal Wedding to watch. It also could be that a lot of people in Texas own guns and pushing  stricter gun policies would rub the majority the wrong way (which is what has to happen).

I admit I liked the Royal Wedding, but what I don’t like is the feeling I now have when I hear about mass shootings.

When Columbine happened, there was weight attached to it, real fear because it was unprecedented and admittedly no one knew what to do because nothing like it had happened. We had an excuse at that time for being frozen in fear.

Bowling for Columbine, produced and written by Michael Moore, actually made me think. Even if you fall on the side that it was a decent propaganda piece, it also explored what perpetuating an ideology centered around fear creates. That movie was made in 2002 about a shooting that happened that in 1999, almost 20 years ago. I’m fairly convinced that in 20 years the climate has gotten worse.

20 years later we have no excuse for being frozen in indifference or in the fantasy that my gun makes me feel more secure.

Fear creates a demand for entitlement until the mind gives way to the assumption that this was always mine. Once you’ve arrived, you cling tightly because the alternative is to live without hope or lose the impression of power.

The alternative that will overcome is the one that casts out fear with love. Love finds solutions and finds a way often at the expense or as a cost to the one who is loving. We lay down our weapons so our enemies ears might be healed. Or if you prefer you lay down your weapons so Jesus heals our ears.

Why it’s worth it

By now, anyone who would disagree and has continued to read could be thinking, “I’ve heard you; I’m empathetic or sympathetic, but even if I did lay down my gun, what if it doesn’t work? What if the solution is more about treating mental illness or arming more people and teachers?”

Teachers have bad days, the last thing I want when I have kids is to worry about them in school with a teacher they have consistently irritated who also has a firearm. It’s not that I don’t trust teachers, but why unnecessarily require people to be armed who already have pretty stressful jobs with my future annoying, hilarious kids.

As far as treating mental illness, this is a much wider discussion and one that is essential, but we know far less about the human mind, then we know about guns. The mind of an individual by in large is something that we still cannot comprehend. Even with heavily medicating, a missed dose, the wrong dose can change things pretty quickly and often without much explanation.

Guns are the object we as people can control. It’s the object in the equation we can discard. It is the idol. We can’t discard people, but I fear that’s what we do with every cry we ignore.

It’s worth it because laying down your right to bear arms is a practical demonstration of love that goes beyond words. How often do we actually see events or decisions like that anymore? It’s a movement more powerful than a Royal Wedding. And it’s worth it for the Church to finally lead the charge in something worth writing about or covering by the media, rather than being lambasted for indifference or hypocrisy.

It’s worth it because through it, we can in part, fulfill the 2nd great commandment to love our neighbor.

 

The Cutting Gospel: Separating the Should and Should Not

John 18:1-27- Imagine the Divine Impulse

Have you ever been disappointed in yourself after acting on impulse? Considering how frequently in the Gospels Peter acts on impulse, I imagine he was disappointed in himself often.

But I am convinced that our impulsive action in ignorance does not disappoint God as much as it disappoints us. I’m not suggesting God is less disappointed when our impulse to sin is acted upon with a sense of knowing. I believe that disappoints God more than it disappoints us, but I could be convinced otherwise.

There is something about acting in ignorance, with good intentions, that I think Jesus has a large degree of empathy for. And I think the Gospel of John does a perfect job of showing us a Jesus that cares most about reconciliation and administering the grace to keep going.

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Jesus is about to be arrested. He knows this. When the ones coming to arrest him approach him Jesus steps towards them and asks them “Who is it you want?” He asks a question but really he is making an authoritative statement. In asking, he is actually showing them that He is the one they want.

John paints us a picture of a Jesus that is steps into his mission willingly. And those bold steps cause the party seeking to arrest him to fall over.

I believe when we take steps in faith Jesus causes us to knock down our doubters and our doubts.

Jesus steps towards his arrest with confidence. And though he knocks down his doubters and enemies, he does not stop his eager friend with a sword who supposes he is lending support.

After the act Jesus says, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

See Jesus does offer rebuke, and in other gospels, he heals the ear of the man who Peter slices at. But Jesus does not have time for our impulsive decisions and our denials. In fact, while we sit there and deny or rush to act, Jesus takes the burden of truth and opposition to His will upon Himself. In His strength, he waits for our surrender through our posture of receiving.

In a span of 12 verses, Peter denies Jesus 3 times. In the span of one evening Peter goes from getting his feet washed to taking a sword in his hand. He goes from believing it is not within him to deny Jesus to executing what he did not desire.

But what would this story look like if Peter did nothing? What would the end of this book look like if Peter did not chop an ear off and did not deny? Or what if John left it all out?

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Without Peter, I don’t think I would fully understand the grace of Jesus and His appreciation for radical faith. I don’t think I would learn the difference between the divine impulse and the carnal (fleshly) impulse.

Because the divine impulse is one that follows Jesus not one that fights for Jesus. It is recognizing that Jesus fought for and bought me, which now means I obey in love.

It shows me that Jesus is able to sever my mistakes and my sin from my identity. Peter denies, but Jesus prevents denial from defining Peter. Peter denies and is spared while Jesus speaks truth and is slapped.

And God allows this to awaken the heart of Peter, of you, and of me to gaze at Jesus in life, death and resurrection in order to know that obedience to what God has called us to leads to eternal joy and the experience of genuine love.

But what happens first is crucifixion. Specifically Jesus’ crucifixion. Specifically, the imagination of God working itself out in human history to display to all that God’s plan, action, and work not only could not be stopped but worked out for the good of all so our imagination and purpose would be fulfilled in Him.

More on that next time.

The Praying Gospel: Are you Curious?

John 17 – We are all 20-year old gypsy train wrecks

We made it this far. The last large exposition from Jesus in the Gospel of John is one long prayer. It is a prayer for glorification, a prayer for the disciples, and a prayer for contagious joy and complete unity among all who will believe in Jesus.

In short, He is praying for the fulfillment of all he set out to accomplish. I’m not sure logistically how this prayer was recorded in its fullness. It’s hard to believe that as Jesus prayed, John was scribbling this all down. Perhaps, God gave John a supernatural memory for this specific moment.

512201c4-012e-4eb3-83df-1b4c76e60230But I also imagine that this prayer or at least parts of it were common prayers of Jesus.

And I would propose that they were not prayers common of Jesus only from the past but are prayers Jesus prays now. Scripture tells us in Romans 8:34, that Jesus is alive and intercedes for us. Furthermore I believe Jesus enjoys this responsibility.

Can I share a story? It’s my blog; I suppose I don’t have to ask.

May 4th – 6th I was in Charleston, SC looking for a place to live. It was a somewhat fruitful trip in that regard, but the reality is, on paper, my future salary will barely cover my rent and car payment. For a season, I lived with a lot less on $700 a month for 6 months so I’m certain God will take care of it.

I’ve learned not to rely on paper which is funny because there was a time when I lived in the world of fiction and story-telling because I felt I could imagine a better reality than the one God was allowing me to live. I lived on paper so long as I was holding the pen and would not limit my imagination. I operated this way so I could be the author who chose what I was to suffer.

I wanted to choose what I would suffer so I wouldn’t be held accountable to what God was asking me to offer.

But as God is wont to, the story He is writing has been better. Other than apartment searching, bad sunburn, good Mexican food, and getting depressed by the lingering loneliness that often tries to color my life (that took a turn), Sunday morning I prepared to leave Charleston.

I had to be at the airport by noon, but ultimately decided to pop by church anyway. They had a free breakfast that I paid $20 for because I was hoping to get more out of my last couple hours than chocolate chip pancakes, some gross southern grits dish, coffee and juice.

I met two people, a guy named Kent who was helpful in connecting me with an elder and was genuinely enthusiastic. The second person I met a breakfast was a train-wreck who also was visiting the church.

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She told me she has visited 14 churches and hasn’t found one she liked. She also told me she moved from the Northwest to protest horse carriages. She also told me her best friend died the week prior in upstate New York. She also told me she travels to the Philippines often. Needless to say I listened, said its important to find community, and could not wait to lose her before service whilst questioning what of her story was true and why God manipulated my kindness to meet someone so exhausting on a day of rest.

If you subtract most everything from the tale of her life, I’ve been the 20 year-old gypsy girl at church because some older woman who cared invited her.

And I’ve probably exhausted strangers and friends with tales that I myself have struggled to find truth in. It wasn’t hard to see her wounds even if she was feeding me a spoonful of lies. Her story might have been better than the grits if it wasn’t so draining.

I said a prayer, sat in the back of the sanctuary and was hoping God would speak to me during worship since that was all I would be staying for.

One song, not a clue what it was and then they prayed for a pastor going on sabbatical for a month and invited someone to share a testimony.

The guy was introduced by the pastor as Ben. He shared for about a minute and my Spirit had this heightened sense of awareness. I liked the way he spoke and began to get pretty vulnerable.

Then one passing statement caught my intention. He said God called him to full-time ministry and joy filled my inner being. The sense of knowing I began to feel felt supernatural. Then a few sentences later he said God opened a door for him in the ministry of pastoral care as a hospital chaplain. He shared more about what God had brought him through while I squirmed in my chair filled with excitement.

He ended with the thought of: “Stay curious about what God is doing.”

I met Ben during communion, exchanged numbers after confirming we would be chaplain residents at the hospital together in August. I believe Jesus prayed for this. I also believe Jesus knew it would happen. I also believe it needed to happen.

As much as I’d like to say, taking a step of faith in the direction of my calling is easy, my resistant disposition has not done me too many favors. My introspection does more harm than good sometimes. The moments where I feel like God sees me helps me to say yes.

I need those moments to sustain me in through a transition still 3 months away.

I didn’t talk much about John 17 but I will leave us with this passage from it:

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.” John 17:13

The Overcoming Gospel: Are you Over?

John 16

John 16 is the 3rd of 4 chapters of very long expositions from Jesus. This chapter in particular, deals with Jesus leaving. He is explaining to his followers that when He leaves, the Holy Spirit will come and fill them. The Spirit will also give them knowledge.

Then he talks about not being seen.

Then he talks about being seen again.

There will be mourning, then rejoicing.

It is also the third chapter in a row where Jesus makes a statement like this:

“In that day, you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”

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He concludes this exposition, letting the disciples know they will be scattered and scared and confused, but to take heart and have courage. It is all apart of the plan for Jesus to overcome and conquer in a way, vastly different from their expectations.

Jesus is hyper-aware. He says, “you will all leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.”

That awareness is for you and for me. Maybe more for me than for you.

John 16 is suggested to take place in the last 2 weeks before Jesus’ crucifixion. At this point in time, Jesus has tamed his ministry and focused a lot more on his followers and friends instead of the crowds. The crowd mentality was no longer the prescription for his mission. They would soon turn against him.

*In wrestling there is a word that describes one’s popularity. The word is “over” If you are over, it means you are popular with the crowd, if you are “putting yourself over” it means you are going to great lengths, often at someone else’s expense, to become popular with the crowd.*

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At this point, Jesus is putting himself under, and will give off the appearance that he is sinking his own ship. He is making the unpopular decision in the present hour because he anticipates the promise of the future hours.

I think I live in that state. Or at least I live in the face of a temptation to live without purpose in order to be comfortable in the present.

For the second time in my life, I am preparing to leave a comfortable job with prospect of promotion to pursue ministry (what I feel called to do). I don’t know if it’s more or less painful this time. I don’t even know if it is more or less lonely.

But I hoped it wouldn’t be lonely at all. More specifically, I hoped that by 30 I wouldn’t be the same status of single I was at 20.

I didn’t think I would be confronted with the lies of being less desirable now that I’m older as I prepare for a career that will place me on paper as someone less likely able to provide. I didn’t think I would grow accustom to expecting rejection.

Which is why life inversely is so strange. Why then do I seemingly have the courage to follow God into hospital chaplaincy and why was I so convinced that the one 600 miles away was the better choice? Why does the process have to be difficult? or rather why do I make it difficult?

I’ve often discussed with my roommate, who formerly served in the military, was a semi-professional rower,  is in great shape, finishing his PhD in Physics, and loves Jesus wholeheartedly about what we are doing wrong. (I’ll put him over not myself)

But it’s not so much what we are doing wrong, it’s what we might be doing right.

I’m sorry to say, but it seems that trying to live an obedient, faithful life of seeking and serving does not make you more desirable to the masses. It doesn’t even make you more desirable to most people in church. Some days it doesn’t make you desirable to yourself.

But it does keep you tender-hearted towards Jesus and others.

I am willing to concede that it makes you more sensitive to the Holy Spirit, although there are days I’m not certain of that, if I’m being honest. I said it makes me sensitive not certain *shrug*.

And one thing I can say in confidence is I am way more sensitive, aware, and optimistic about the hurting and suffering of others.  Even when I have a multitude of doubts about what to feel about myself. When someone is vulnerable I can smile and see beauty. When someone is experiencing holy joy I can rejoice with them.

I can see when I can’t see myself.

My brother helped me with a budget last night that did not look promising come August.

But my calling didn’t come from a spreadsheet or a bank account. It didn’t come from my future spouse or my wavering optimism regarding whether or not she exists. It didn’t even come from supportive friends and family.

My calling came from the One who overcame the world.

The only way I share in that is if I follow my call from Christ in faith. That’s how I overcome.

Walk despite reasons to worry,

love despite rejection,

hope until you don’t need to anymore.

The Gospel of Grow: Tangled Up in You

John 15: I Don’t Know if This Ends

The first sermon I preached during my first job in ministry was from John 15.

8 months later,

the last sermon I preached during my first job in ministry was from John 15.

That was 7 years ago. And since then, I’ve learned a lot about why I am in love with Jesus’ words here. One unique characteristic about this chapter is it’s all exposition. 27 verses of Jesus’ gentle voice talking to his disciples without interruption.

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In the first 17 verses, he is talking about vines and branches that bear fruit. God the gardener, Jesus the vine, and you and I the branches. God the Father prunes (or cleans) the branches that bear fruit so they will be more fruitful.

Fruit only comes if it remains part of the vine. If you are apart from the vine, Jesus says you can’t do anything.

Jesus uses the words “abide in me,” as a key part of his gentle leading. This is a statement about staying with, being faithful to, and continuing on. He makes the promise for a second time that whatever one asks will be done for the person who sets their will and mind on Him.

Why does Jesus offer this? For the bearing of fruit, for the proof of discipleship, and for fullness of joy. The greatest demonstration that one is abiding is in obeying this command: love one another as I have loved you. V. 13 states, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

The paradigm Jesus is describing is one that loses itself for the love of others. He’s saying, “lay down you for them, and my promise is that in doing so you will find inexpressible amounts of joy.” It echoes Hebrews 12:2 when it says of Jesus, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

What this tells me is: Abiding in the vine (Jesus) as the branches (us) means that it would be difficult or impossible to spot where the vine ends and the branch begins. The separation is imperceptible because we would be one in the same. It’s the divine union of the marriage of Christ and Church.

But do I permit God that access? Do I willingly submit every desire, every fiber, every ill-motive or pure motive to my Father and wholeheartedly trust?

Jesus has been pressing me on this question relentlessly when I am listening. All the struggles and sins that God has made me aware of in this season all come back to trust and fighting the impulse that I can do it myself.

I’ve been reflecting on my journey in ministry a lot lately, because in 2018 I have never seen God more intimately active in my life than in the moments in which I have laid myself down over the past year. I have never felt the pendulum swing so much between uncertainty/fear and confidence in what Jesus is calling me to. And I have been overjoyed in the moments God has nudged me along the way.

For me the same answer has come up to the questions that I and others have asked me regarding my next step of faith. It is: “I don’t know, but yes (or no).”

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I don’t know what I am doing in the clearest sense, but I do know what God the Father is doing and that has been the

I’ve had to resist what I think I want or think is best or sufficient in the moment. But abiding is not fighting for what you want, it’s trusting in who you have and who you were made to be.

This gives us courage to endure the second portion of chapter 15, the hatred that comes as a result of living your life vastly different from the majority of the world. The spiritual assault that is waged against the ones who walk in love is great which is why God gave the Holy Spirit as the Helper.

But I’ve chosen not to write about the hatred from others at this time. Because to be tangled up in the hatred of others or self-hatred is destructive and not a great posture to live from. It might be a motivator to keep going but it is not what supplies joy.

Joy is what I want to be tangled up in, and I don’t want it to end!