How Things Happen

Sometimes when I willingly make a series of decisions I cannot anticipate the consequences of what will happen or what I might undo. What’s more, I can find a version of myself that is not anything close to the version of myself that the world needs or His beloved, the Church needs. Sometimes I find what I thought I needed and what I knew I wanted, God looks at and wonders, “how can I refine your sensibilities?”

In Mark 8:27-33, Peter goes from confessing inspired truth of Jesus’ Messiahship to receiving a stinging rebuke for trying to push a different agenda for Jesus. Funny how we can change, how the light in which we are seen can change in a paragraph, how much we can seem to get right and then so quickly get wrong.

I love Peter. He gets so much wrong. He gets chewed out by the apostle Paul for refusing to eat with people to preserve his reputation. He’s dumber (not a popular phrase) in his theology, more focussed in his eschaology and according to church history was crucified upside down because he did not feel worthy to die in the same manner as Christ. He tried to cut someones head off but missed and got an ear.

Have you ever tried to cut someones head off and only got their ear and desperately needed Jesus to heal the persons ear, not knowing how desperately you needed Jesus not just to heal someone’s ear but also to die and raise from the dead for you?

Peter also wrote this:

2 Peter 1:5-8 “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Making every effort to add specific things. Much could be said about a lot of those words but the phrase that sticks out to me now is mutual affection or brotherlfy affection (ESV). Sandwiched between godliness and love, this has been the posture I have most questioned within myself as of late. Brotherly affection is kind of snuck in between two big popular Bible words.

And what of the conclusion? If you possess these qualities you will be kept from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of Christ. If you possess a sibling like, familial affection, you will be kept from being ineffective and unproductive.

Siblings look out for each other and want the best for one another. Sure, there are moments of rivalry and competition but these usually come when we are at our best, when we are secure enough to play and compete without receiving a loss or defeat that would inflict some permanent damage.

Peter is hardly ever secure enough for healthy competition pre-resurrection. He seems to always be posturing for closeness to Christ’s kingship and wants to distinguish himself from his brothers and apostles. “Even if all else fall away I will not.” And while he doesn’t betray Jesus, he denies Jesus several times as Jesus himself predicted.

Sometimes the thing that we convinced ourselves we would not do after making a display of trying to prove that we will not, we do anyway and to a greater degree of disappointment.

And we are humbled, not necessarily to the point of a guilt stricken death like the betrayer but enough to return to the dark interior of returning to an old life, a version of the self that still can’t catch a fish and brings along others in another fruitless endeavor. It’s not so much a waste of time as it is a missed opportunity to love, to listen, to hold each others hurts.

Part of me wishes, the Bible would have given a glimpse into some more conversations among the disciples, the ones closest to Jesus in the days that followed his death. What were Peter, James and John discussing? What more was Thomas doubting? What were the Mary’s hoping? What did their doubts and disappointments sound like in the waiting and the grieving? I wish they would have given me more of that.

The closest we get is two people we never heard of prior, walking along in the Gospel of Luke, who meet Jesus on the road, then Jesus disappears when they realize who He is.

How does it all happen?

How do we walk along in faith and in hope and with such a desire to love, just to check our pulse and temperature and find that our love is colder than we had hoped? How do I move from thinking I can be gentle to being so far from it?

How impetuous are we/were we Peter? The deliberation, the planning, the charting of a course to move and hope, to plant, and to run just to be shipwrecked on your way to Rome (Paul) or in Peter’s case to let slow prejudice seep back into your mind to where you only eat with the people that most reflect your own preference of self-righteousness.

How do I find myself at a table of strangers when it is my family and friends around me?

I don’t know.

How do I find myself at a table of family and friends when it is strangers and fellow sinners around me?

Brotherly affection.

I have a friend who sticks closer than a brother, yet loves me like a brother and pleads my case before the Father. Somehow, by His Spirit He invites me to participate in that activity, to love in way that puts brother and friend before myself. I hope to be better.

My Friend Joseph

I have often thought that I have the best friends anyone can ask for. The quality and quantity of genuine friendships I have could keep a person full. And I have often desired to write a blog post about each one of my friends in a way that would highlight and honor them.

Today, it felt appropriate to write about my friend Joe. First some interesting facts:

  • I met Joe in Middle School gym class (met is a loose term because I am not quite sure we had more than a few passing words).
  • The next time I saw Joe was at Capital Assembly of God in Hamilton, New Jersey, on a Sunday morning in the summer of 2007. When I approached him, I am not sure he remembered me at all from Middle School.
  • A little over a year ago Joe moved into his first apartment
  • Joe has texted me everyday since the beginning of the pandemic to ask me if I am okay, except for a brief period where his phone needed to be fixed in which he appologized for not being able to check in.
  • Joe also texts me on most every holiday and every daylight savings change over and any time we are in a heat wave to make sure I stay hydrated. And every time he has received an attendance award at work. And every time he goes to an event that has to do with comic books, and most vacations he sends me pictures half of which are selfies.
  • In 2007 and 2008, I invited Joe to a few events (one event, either an an open mic night or Christmas Party, he said was the best night of his life) at the church I grew up in, Nassau Christian center in Princeton, since about that time he has taken a bus from Trenton to Princeton to continue attending there, though I have not attended since 2011.

These facts give some context for my favorite story about Joe, a story I cherish and offer you to cherish as well in order to convey the depths of friendship, solidarity, and in general what human beings are capable of.

In the summer/fall of 2008, Joe sent me an email asking if he could attend my college graduation in 2010 (yes, you read that right, 2 years in advance) which was in Virginia because “he had never attended a college graduation and would not be going to college himself.” I responded kindly and briefly, “Yes, Joe. I’d love to have you at my graduation.”

Truth be told I laughed and figured he would forget but I am a sucker for sentiment so it touched me that he asked. A year and half later after minimal interactions because the summer of 2009 I spent in Russia, Joe began to make preparations and reached out again seeing if he could still come to my graduation.

I offered to arrange transportation, but he said his dad would be driving him the 5 hours to come. He would arrive the Friday night before, but did not give me a time. When May rolled around, Joe showed up a little before dinner the day before my graduation. He came to Texas Roadhouse with my dad and my dad’s then fiance now wife Lorraine. I don’t remember what Joe ordered but I do remember about halfway through his meal, he took a 5 minute break to read a comic book he brought with him to the restaurant. It made me smile.

After dinner, we went back to my apartment where many of my friends had gathered just to hang out and laugh. Some of my friends wanted to get ice cream; I oddly enough was tired and didn’t want to go so Joe went with my friends. They came back within the hour and Joe suggested we watch, I believe Cars on DVD, which I narrowly avoided by convincing him that we would not have time to watch it. He understood and we continued to hang until about midnight.

I think that was a bit late for Joe, so he let me know he was tired and I agreed since I had an early morning to graduate the next day. So I said goodbye to friends and we got ready for bed.

Now I admit I should have been a better host and offered my room, but I was in college and just assumed people would be comfortable crashing on couches. I offered the couch and Joe politely declined. I then asked, “would you like to sleep in my bed and use my room?”

No sooner had the words left my mouth, Joe was in my room and seemingly tapped out for the night. I slept on the couch and it made me smile.

The next day was the graduation rigmarole, and I took pictures with my friends. I think Joe was in every picture. After pictures we went back to my apartment to figure out lunch and get Joe packed up. My mom came with me into the apartment, and I had left my cap and gown in my room, where Joe had slept. My mom and I were sitting on the living room couch where we could see into my room and I saw Joe pick up my cap and look at it.

I turned to my mom and said, “10 bucks, Joe asks if he can have my cap.” She said through slight laughter, “No, he won’t ask that.” I replied, “I know Joe; if he asks I’m giving it to him.”

A few seconds later Joe walks out and says, “Hey Jimmy, do you think I can have this?” Looking over at my mom I smiled, then back at Joe, “Yeah Joe, you can have it.”

Joe’s father had stayed in a hotel and took Joe back to New Jersey after my graduation lunch. It was one of the kindest things someone had ever done for me.

Since 2010, I maybe have seen Joe 3 times. I remember trying to invite him to a Marvel movie a few years back but he declined because he only likes DC comics even though they make far worse movies.

Every time Joe would drive in my car, he would bring Cd’s. I remember one time listening to “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson on loop an entire car ride. I remember feeling giddy inside seeing how many times he would hit the back button. It helped that it’s a great song honestly.

I have never had a sad moment with Joe. Joe is the kind of person that not only is it better when he’s around, but he is also always encouraging. Joe is not wealthy, not priveleged and is unassuming and generous. Joe has great parents and a sister that I may have met once who lives in Missouri. And Joe is my friend.

From Left to Right: Victor, Derek, Me, JOE!!!!!

The only other picture I have of Joe, he’s in the background with the Mets hat and sunglasses. He loves the Mets!

100% Responsible and Forgiven

Have you ever noticed that blame is never beautiful?

Deferring responsibility may be celebrated, but it only entices others at the expense of creating victims. Forgiveness though, that is beautiful. It has the power to free the victim and the guilty party. Jesus forgave his executioners while it was happening, not holding their responsibility against them for crucifying the One whom they did not know.

Jesus says, “You did it, but you didn’t know, and I offer you my embrace.”

It is beautiful yet fearful. The Psalms state forgiveness makes God fearful because God is the only one that can truly cleanse us from our wrong. And that is terrifying, yet equally terrifying is the Spirit God gives that enables us to forgive. I am presently overwhelmed by this, primarily because of having to take responsibility for myself.

I am responsible for my anger, even rage, for what I do with my feelings, for who absorbs it, for how I act in light of the temptation to despair. I am responsible for what I do with my time so long as God allows me to wake up to new mercies every morning. Nobody else gets to choose what I do with my day or how I heal, except me and God.

No

body

else.

I’m reading the Chronicles of Narnia for the first time and I am currently on Book 4 Prince Caspian. Until yesterday, it was my least favorite of the books, until Aslan came and talked to Lucy. I’ll share the excerpts, you can fill in the meaning.

“I didn’t mean to start slanging the others. But it wasn’t my fault anyway, was it?” asked Lucy.

The Lion looked straight into her eyes.

“Oh Aslan, you don’t mean it was? How could I–I couldn’t have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I? Don’t look at me like that… oh well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn’t have been alone, I know, not if I was with you. But what would have been the good?”

Aslan said nothing.

“You mean,” Lucy said rather faintly, ‘that it would have turned out all right– somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I to know?

Aslan

Jesus, I mean Aslan, says “No” to the answer of what would have happened in the past if we had obeyed. Instead he offers a way forward in forgiveness. Because He has already made a way.

Oh how Lucy wrestles internally without an immediate reply, without an answer to the why.

“Oh dear, oh dear, said Lucy. “And I was so pleased at finding you again. And I thought you’d let me stay. And I thought you’d come roaring in and frighten all the enemies away– like last time. And now everything is going to be horrid.”

“It is hard for you, little one,” said Aslan. “But things never happen the same way twice. It has been hard for us all in Narnia before now.”

Lucy buried her head in his mane to hide from his face. But there must have been magic in his mane. She could feel lion-strength going into her. Quite suddenly she sat up.

“I’m sorry, Aslan,” she said. “I’m ready now.”

blameNo.. body… else. Nobody else can have a relationship with Jesus for us, and we shouldn’t want someone else to have it for us. I should want it for myself. I should want his lion heart love for myself because Jesus will not leave me alone especially when I bury my head in my pillow with tears crying out for help.

I made the choice to move back to New Jersey. I made the choice to switch jobs. I made the choice to yell and curse and critique the body of Christ. I made the choice to get my hopes up and make my heart vulnerable and spend time with the dying. I make the choice to be quirky and weird, to dress like I don’t care, to get a cat, to write, to wrestle, to reflect too much, and all of it could become a vapor in a moment because I am responsible but not always in control.

And that’s where the surrender comes. That’s where the “I’m sorry, I’m ready now,” comes into play. I can get up and go. Forget about blame and go and not let love be hindered.

Forgiven much, love much.

I have one more passage if you’ve gone this far. It’s Aslan to Susan, Lucy’s sister, who didn’t believe and could not see Aslan longer than her other 3 siblings.

“You have listened to fears, child, ” said Aslan. “Come, let me breathe on you. Forget them. Are you brave again?”

“A little, Aslan,” said Susan.

Me too, Susan. Add our little to Christ’s infinite much and I’m hopeful we will be more than okay. I’m hopeful that I will stop getting angry, then exhausted by the restlessness of my soul. I’m hopeful for the breath and wind of the Spirit to overcome me each day, to posture myself to move and live and have my being in Christ.

Responsible, yet forgiven and more beautiful than blame.

Set apart, beloved, no longer hindered by shame

Breakers of the Fall

Between faith in God and family and friends I hope you have found that those combined are more than enough to break your fall if you find yourself falling. I’m so thankful for family during the holiday, the embrace of my friends and a church that feels like home. They all offer me such a strong love.

I’m sad to be at an airport getting ready to go to a place I’ve called home twice this weekend. I found it strange slipping up by calling Charleston home, especially since it at times it feels a place I associate with discomfort.

But it is my mind.

It’s all in my head. It’s the combination of feeling unable to be self-forgetful while simultaneously forgetting who I am becoming.

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I confuse grieving the loss of the familiar by losing the one tangible living being I brought with me… me. And when you begin to grieve for yourself, you’re falling.

I fall out of touch with a realty that, yes, I am responsible for myself, but I also have entrusted ownership of myself to God.

And God most assuredly is here now with me in the airport as well as waiting to encounter me at my apartment in Charleston.

God becomes the breaker of my fall during feelings of loneliness.

For now I am thankful, thankful for a Thanksgiving that I enjoyed with my family, thankful I saw my Dad doing better, saw my grandma consistent in her awareness, so many fun moments with friends packed into 3 days, free milkshakes with burgers, laughing while playing Loaded Questions, riding on the back of a motorcycles before eating Mexican, hearing the testimonies of God’s activity in the Church community, and the heart connections of feeling heard and assured of God’s plan in the process.

I’m thankful Jesus broke all our falls, I’m thankful for the access of his love that can meet us anymore in a variety of forms including discipline, refining and gifts. But Jesus also came to break us off from the things that make us fall, to catch us but also to stop us in our stumbling and guide us in our wandering.

Hebrews 12:1-“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely and let us run with endurance that race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”