How do you write about yourself?

For a vocation that is supposed to require me to minister to hurting people, I am also required to do an enormous amount of self-reflection. And as a result I am now writing about myself, writing about myself.

I was asked to write a personal mythology. Because the word mythology is used, I’m writing about myself in the third person for the assignment.

The assignment did not specify for me to write in third person, but I am choosing to because I write too much about myself outside of my job. So I thought as a creative exercise I would try to step back and summarize my life in less than three pages by stepping outside of myself.

I wouldn’t say it is challenging , but I will say its tiring. It’s tiring because I spend so much time visiting my past trying to work through it and workshop it, only to keep realizing I can’t change it. I wonder what God thinks when we keep revisiting old things. I wonder what people are like who never have time to revisit the past and are solely fixed on their future.

I want to be that way, but I don’t think the process I have signed up for will let me.

For me, life is not laid out in stages of boxes that I can check, only to never look at again. Even if the seasons have past, the experiences and lack of answers seem to keep looking for closure. Which, I think is what death is about.depositphotos_2189599-stock-photo-dying-sunflower

Scripture says in John 12:24: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

One of  my goals for the first 3 months of this residency is to be comfortable with things that die, specifically become comfortable being in the room with death.

Why?

Well in part simply because I have to. I don’t think I can work day in and day out and once a week overnight at a hospital as a chaplain and avoid encountering this. But my goal is more than encountering it which is inevitable; my goal is to become okay with it while maintaining the confidence in Christ that it is not the end.

I want to become okay with it because notice what the Scripture says, “unless the gran falls in to the earth and dies; it remains alone.” Doesn’t that portion of statement fascinate you? I don’t want to be alone. I don’t even want to be alone in my apartment (Just get a cat already).

Jesus is announcing that there is so much in my life, in my desire, even in my “innocence”, in this world that must be subjected to a dying, in order to bear much fruit. In order for me to find life and love and genuine friendship and fullness of life, I like Jesus, must enter that fullness of life through death.

Well that’s nice, but what in heaven does it mean when a Christian says some whacked out jargon, “die to yourself,” “be dead to sin.” Because in theory I get it, but if something dies, isn’t their finality? Isn’t their loss? Isn’t their ending? If I have died to something how in the world does the pain, the sin, the stubborn refusal keep coming back? Butterfly-Life-Cycle_Christina-Whitefull

Does the apostle Paul really mean it when he says he dies daily and exhorts us to do the same? Unfortunately, yes, it means I have to suffer loss and ending, and taking the life out of the things that would otherwise kill my love for God and others.

You and I must do this daily with our greatest temptations and fears because the life available on the other side is far more abundant. I know this in part from experience, but I also know because of this internal hope that has gripped me. There must be something better than the fading false promises of the temporal.

The temporal just can’t be it because Scripture also declares that God has set eternity within our hearts. That is why the closer we get to death, the more aware we should become of the eternal but also the present.

How does any of this help you or I write about ourselves?

I think it simply helps us to write or tell our stories with hope. When you have surrendered the false myth that death leaves a permanent sting, I think we are free to embrace with confidence the promise of life through Christ to give us and others something worth reading and remembering.

Then once you write about yourself have the courage to let others read you. You might give them courage to find fullness of life and the courage to let something die that needs to so it doesn’t remain alone.

The Gospel of Love: Fill the World with Stories

John 21: 15-25 – Word Feed

If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

The Gospel of John ends with the author telling us that Jesus did too many good things to contain in writing. Jesus, likewise, continues to do miraculous and amazing things through the Church by the Holy Spirit.

Despite this, we still die! (Awfully abrupt, yeah?)

The last words of Jesus in this Gospel are:

“If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

It’s an odd way to end a story, no? Jesus talks to Peter after reconciling his soul; then Jesus alludes to the fact that Peter will be put to death in a fashion similar to himself. Peter then asks, presumably about what will happen to John, and Jesus uses this as a moment to illustrate the importance of following regardless of who else is along for the ride.

It kind of feels like John just wants to put himself in the final scene. But if that were the case, he wouldn’t obscure his name with the title, the disciple whom Jesus loved.

I believe John is trying to convince his reader, that whether we live or die and whether those around us live or die, the temporary nature of this life should not determine how we live it. We cannot control how long we live but we can control the how we live.

And how we live is laid out for us in the verses just prior to these final words in a very familiar interaction.

I will insert it here because I love it:

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

I will discuss it here because I am terrified by it.

The Fear of the Lord strikes me real here because in a series of questions and answers that address the topic of love and affection, Jesus ends the discussion by saying essentially:

“There will come a season of your life where you will lose complete control over what you want. You will follow me into death so that others might find life, and you will do it out of love.”

Jesus asks Peter about his love and then tells Peter he will die. The he says, “Follow me!”

But…

Peter couldn’t keep his mouth shut. But I think there is more to Peter than impulsiveness. I think Peter asks about John because it exposes a certain thread in Peter’s life in which he is constantly wrestling with.

I think Peter felt his devotion was dependent on who he surrounded himself with. I think Peter thought his story was not sustainable without those who followed Jesus with him.

I think that is why Peter is so adamant about declaring, “Even if all fall away, I will not,” yet he later denies. I think that is why Peter wants to be the only one to walk on water, yet falls. I think it is why Jesus tells him, he will be a rock and will be sifted by Satan. I think this is why Peter swings a sword at the servant to the high priest. I think Peter is at war with his devotion and is insecure about his desire to choose following Jesus when others aren’t immediately available to hold him accountable.

Which is why this is how it ends. A man, John, who we believe wrote this Gospel just prior or while exiled to an island as a lonely prisoner, writing about a friend, Peter, who church history tells us was crucified upside down talks to Jesus, the savior of the world, the only perfect one, have a conversation about how they will tell their story.

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And the how is demonstrated in the caring for the who.

“Feed my lambs.

Take care of my sheep.

Feed my sheep.”

In that grouping of lambs and sheep, we should also find ourselves. Self-care is equally as important as caring for others, until the time comes when we are no longer able to care for ourselves. Then our care for others comes from allowing others or God to care for us. And even from that place we are telling our love story.

Concluding Thoughts

In 35 blog entries, I’ve written through the Gospel of John. I’ve used 25,000 words. That’s almost 10,000 words more than the Gospel itself. My longest entry was 1,370 words from John 5 which was about mental illness. My website stats also have that entry as the most viewed of any of my posts surrounding the Gospel itself. One thing I’ve come to conclude is based on either the algorithms through Facebook or lack of interest, writing through the Gospels don’t get nearly as much attention as when I write about just about anything else. I’m not sure if it is the Scripture/Theological denseness or if it is just too hard to read something that feels repetitive. After all, there are hundreds of better articles written about Scripture. But I set out to write through this book and Ezekiel and by accident Jude over the course of 2 years.

I’m going to take a break from writing through books of the Bible for at least the rest of 2018. Meaning most of my writing will be reflective more than Scripture based. I may try to write more comedy again since that was more my wheelhouse at the end of college.

One major benefit from writing through the Gospel of John though, is I have fallen more in love with Jesus. I actually do feel like I understand Him better. I feel like I understand his movements and his desire for us more. I’ve also come to conclude He is more gentle than I knew. I’ve gotten the sense that more than anything, His desire is for me to keep following rather than wallowing. I’ve learned that freedom is found in telling an honest story. This is also the reason why I like the Gospel of John so much, I feel like I’m there.

So if you’ve read this far, thanks for being there/here to. I’m excited about your story that you fill the world with on your journey. Jesus is excited to be a part of it!

 

 

The Catching Gospel: Assured to Shore

John 21:1-14 – The Dive-in Depths

It never ceases to surprise me how quick I am to stumble, how at such arbitrary times our struggle with sin seems to affect us and leaves us without excuse. I am prone to wavering in my affection and in those moments I feel as if I forget myself. I forget who I belong to, who I live for.

Yesterday, on my way to work, a car in front of me slammed into the back of another while trying to switch lanes. I surveyed the damage and eased my way past both cars to keep pressing down Route 1. Less than 30 seconds later on the road a guy flags me down and asks me for a ride. I’m pretty secure, so I gave him a ride 3 stoplights down to the complex in which he lived.

It’s actually amazing how much can happen in five minutes.

In five minutes we can ride high, then fall to temptation. How easy it is to lose focus, to take your eye off the road, to miss your shot when aiming for the mark.

But I also write this to remind us that through a story in the Gospel of John, in the urgency of a moment, our eyes can be so opened to what was right in front of us that nothing else in the whole world matters as we lay side everything to chase it down.

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In John 21, this is Peter in a boat while fishing; he wraps his outer garment around himself and dives in, swimming desperately to shore to meet Jesus, his Lord, his loving friend, and the one he denied. He does this after Jesus calls out to the disciples to let them know again where to let their nets down in order to catch some fish.

Why do our hearts or actions ever deny him? Why do I even after Jesus proves He is always good to me? He does things and shares things with me that I don’t deserve at the most surprising of times, yet my response is forgetfulness or disobedience. I let doubt dictate a decision in a moment and am reminded quickly of how empty it is.

But Peter’s story and action teaches me two things. The first isn’t as important but fascinates me:

People will always follow people with passion and charisma even if they make terrible mistakes. Peter says he’s going to fish and 6 other disciples go with him.

and Secondly:

when you make terrible mistakes or sin, sometimes you are so self aware of the pain you cause yourself and the grief you bring to the Spirit that when you encounter God in a moment afterward, whether you feel forgiven or not, you run after or in Peter’s case swim toward God with abandon.

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Peter understands or at least hopes a sentiment I’ve recently heard in song on the album Garden by Untied Pursuit on the track “Beautiful” by Andrea Marie. The lyric goes:

“Though I am weak it doesn’t change the way you think about me
And when I fall, I fall on you
For your grace surrounds me”

In the second half of this chapter, Peter will experience a slight painful sting but will realize the full truth of the way the Godhead feels about him and us. He’ll realize that the whole point of this program of life, of creation, of the crucifixion is the loving reconciliation of God and creation, the renewal of unrestricted relationship with the Father.

So all I want to leave you with this morning, and to remind myself this morning is a picture of child running, stumbling and falling into the arms of their Father. And after falling into their Father, they get up and run again laughing,  full of love, confident in pursuing the presence and power of a relationship with God.

Father, thank you for forgiveness, for the sacrifice of Jesus, for resurrection life, for the better things you have in store for us your children.

The Gospel of Life: Believe

John 20: 24-31 – Let God Show Me

“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

A disciple, Thomas, states what it takes for him to believe. Jesus waits a week, then appears to Thomas even though all the other disciples told Thomas that they saw the Lord.

I don’t know if Thomas did not want to be left out or if he just could not wrap his mind around the resurrection. What I do know is Thomas did doubt. What I also know is Jesus quells doubt willingly and wants our faith.

Faith/belief is so essential to Jesus and so important to John in his gospel, that John paused before the concluding scene of his version of the story that he writes in verses 30-31 his intention for the book.

He writes, “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” I love what John sneaks into that sentence: by believing you will have life.

John cannot separate belief in Christ from life itself. And neither should we. Our lives and its quality, as it pertains to the value ascribed by Heaven, is indicative of how we relate to the Father, Son and Spirit.

And how we relate to the Father, Son and Spirit should cause us to value life. Our relationship with God works itself out by how we love others and what moves us to give that love.

What should give us pause, when thinking of life and love is what else we value, or perhaps, what we value most.

See Thomas could have asked for any other evidence, but He asked to see and handle Jesus. And though he asks with doubt, I believe he is asking for the right thing.

So often we ask, first, for the wrong things: more safety, more money, our neighbors green card, the right to harm ourselves others and the unborn, a change in our gender identification, free tuition.

Are they wrong, if they are asked for in a different order or just always wrong?

My answer: I have an opinion and with some of them I’m confident in what I believe, but moreover, I know who to ask. Ask God and ask to have revelation of the love and life of Christ.

Ask everyday!

Read Scripture. Read it and listen to it more than the news. Be willing to drastically conform your opinion not just through Scriptural text but also Scriptural context. Then pray with it and pray through difficult questions. Then practice to see if it works, see if your renewed mind is filling you with life and purpose and compassion.

Or don’t.

Be a troll on social media. Obsess with giving off the best impression of the moments in our lives through pictures and short video clips. Don’t ever give people who disagree with you the benefit of the doubt. Instead of lifting a finger to help the hurting, point the finger, and lecture them and the people trying to help them about why they don’t deserve it or why they don’t do enough. Buy tons of crap that goes out of style or stops working in 2 years. Extol people of terrible character because they “look good” and stay in the public eye.

Or…

Write blogs and watch cat videos at work. Search for autographed copies of books for the cheapest price possible. Read about wrestling rumors. Follow your crushes Instagram too eagerly while saying you don’t care. Worry about if you can afford to pay your bills 6 months from now. Sell useless things on Ebay, while buying $35 worth of lapel pins to display on your sun visor in your car. Forget your friends birthdays but remember the birthday of your favorite celebrity cat…etc…etc

What is the point of this post again?

Ask to see Jesus…

everyday, don’t get distracted.

And you’ll find life, real overflowing life as you follow Him.

I know it’s worth it, which is why I keep trying, asking, knocking.

 

Also…

Happy 7th Birthday Lil Bub!

 

The Appearing Gospel: Look Who Showed Up

John 20: 1-23 – Stay in Awe

When was the last time you stood in awe or wonder of something?

When was the last time something left you dazed and confused?

IMAG1053In the Gospel of John chapter 20, individuals are still living in the shock and shadow of the death of Jesus. Early, on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb of Jesus, finds it empty, and ran to Simon Peter and another disciple, presumably John himself.

Mary relays to them an incorrect story. She thinks someone took Jesus’ body and now does not know where it is. The disciples run to the tomb and notice strips of linen and a cloth that covered Jesus’ head. Surely no one would take a corpse and unwrap it first.

This line of thinking brings John to write that in that moment he believed. The disciples go home but Mary stays by the tomb.

At the tomb Mary weeps, bent over near the tomb until she sees two angels. Mary has a conversation with the angels still supposing Jesus had been taken away by the “they”. Who know’s who the “they” were? Who knows if Mary was rational in this moment?

She neglects the clues.

Then, Jesus shows up, and she doesn’t realize. Perhaps, she is too overcome by emotion in this moment to look at her surroundings. Maybe she finds it hard to see through her tears.

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Mary thinks Jesus is the gardener, and she says something that I don’t quite understand why it makes my eyes water while I write this at work. She says, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

And Jesus says back, “Mary.”

At the sound of her name coming from her Lord and friend, her disposition and perception changes instantly.

Have you ever so misinterpreted a situation that it muddled your outlook on life to the point where truth became very difficult to comprehend?

For Mary, the death, the empty tomb, the angels were for her, all reminders that Jesus was not there. Yet in the mind and heart of God, these were all to serve to remind that Jesus has always been there. To the end, his love was present and powerful.

And it wasn’t until Mary heard her name from Jesus that this came into view. Hindsight flooded her, and Jesus sends her to deliver a very good message: “I have seen the Lord!”

I like to imagine Mary frantically out of breath recounting this story. “I went and saw the tomb empty and talked to people dressed in white and then I saw the Lord. I thought he was the gardener, but it was Jesus. He said my name. I knew as soon as he said my name. He is really alive.”

I imagine in that moment Mary felt alive too, more alive than ever before.

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Later, that same night, Jesus appears to his disciples, who are hiding from the Jewish leaders. He reveals himself and they are overjoyed. He breathes on them while giving them instruction to receive the Holy Spirit and to forgive.

This chapter moves from surprise to surprise, but the surprise doesn’t at this point lead to unction. Jesus tells them to receive the Holy Spirit, but I’m not sure they do in this moment. That’s not to say they don’t, but later he will tell them to wait for the Holy Spirit.

In moments of awe, we are to embrace the surprise and wait for instruction. If something awes us, it should change us even if only slightly. Moments of awe make way for the eventual unction to move.

And when we move, we likewise, appear.