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Saint Listener and Hearing Different

If you are looking for a good cry, I would suggest seeing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” the new Mr. Rogers documentary.

If you’ve been wanting to feel like you’re endeavor to love and to be a compassionate human being falls far short of perfection, I’d also suggest watching the movie.

What I found most amazing about the film itself, was how the director managed to make the movie feel like it was listening to me, as I watched. The movie feels like it wants to draw real identity out of the viewer while withholding judgment.

And through viewing the film, I felt both extremely inadequate yet aware of the essentials of feeling known in any given relationship.

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The essential component is listening, it’s always been that. Waiting or giving pause before you give an answer or assuming I know better has consistently been more effective than rushing to a conclusion.

This also is my dilemma as of late. I’m afraid to listen to God because I’m afraid it will require much time only to lead to a painful answer. And as I am prone, I’d rather just take the pain than hear the answer. Because the answer or direction of God is  unchangeable whereas I have this enduring sense that I can get used to the pain.

But it is not the way of God to keep us in pain. It is not the way of God to extend our suffering unnecessarily. He would rather us joyful in loving obedience than wallow in unwarranted suffering.

Yet this is what humanity, as well as myself, frequently chooses. And more frequently, we choose this by assuming the worst in others without understanding them. We also assume the worst in ourselves without hearing God’s perspective on reconciliation and comfort. We are prone to ignore desperation and are hesitant to relieve another’s burden. We want people to get what they deserve before we actually know if they really deserve it.

Whereas Jesus wants to give what we don’t deserve even when we don’t realize how much we don’t deserve it. This is the whole point of the cross and the offer of resurrection life.

Live in light of the goodness and generosity of God.

But this burns us.

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It’s unfamiliar to be in that bright. It’s both freeing yet scary to live that vulnerably. To live completely unshackled or unhindered is easy until we remember our own wounds. Then we succumb to  moments where we hear the wrong voices, the lies and perhaps even our own self-destructive opinions of ourselves.

And then this leads to our “lacking in confidence” choices or simply our indecision. We paralyze ourselves or harm ourselves or harm others and we spread the wounds rather than relieving them. Healing hands rush to the side but are cautious yet gentle to the touch.

Urgency can lead us to the who or what but patience must check us before we assume we know what the problem is. And this is my problem, slow to the who or what and then hasty to assume the problem.

I think the season and vocation I am entering into is both intentional and essential. I will be with people everyday who I will have no idea how to minister to, while trusting that Jesus has gone before me to minister to them already. I will just step into what He has already been doing.

Now to embrace that work in myself. Step into and agree to what God is already doing. I have known that God is at work in a place of depth I am unfamiliar with and because I am unfamiliar, I encounter more fear of the unknown and I’m tempted to fall back on the familiar. I hope God continues to be relentless in breaking through me because I know it is for my good.

Whether it is the difference in someone else or difference in yourself, in order to demonstrate love both to self and other, discovery is required. We must risk our time and presence in intimacy (not romantic, but sometimes necessary depending on the relationship) in order to have compassion and to enjoy the other.

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 Charleston Chapter: Chaplaincy

As of this writing, I am 50 days away from moving to Charleston, South Carolina.

If that is news to you, I’m sorry I did not tell you. I’m moving, to start a chaplaincy residency, which will be my first season of full-time ministry, God-willing. I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I have a decent idea of what I’ve chosen.

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I already have my apartment reserved, have made some cool friends, and found a church I really like. That all stemmed from 2 separate 48 hour visits.

In a lot of ways this post is a prelude to what I imagine will be a season of a lot of newness. It’s about what I’m expecting.

Here is a paragraph I wrote in my application packet regarding what I expect out of my next year:

“I hope to learn to be both present and immovable in faith for those going through crisis, while offering hope and encouragement. Specifically, I hope to learn how to discern in moments of crisis when to listen, when to pray, and when to advise in an environment where others are learning and listening as well. I also hope that processing these experiences in discussion with peers and supervisors within the context of Clinical Pastoral Education will provide fertile soil to grow in confidence of the ability of God to work through ministers.”

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My goal is devotion to learning and serving from a posture of listening, discerning, and willingness to act. I am excited about the opportunity I have to give my life to Jesus in this way.

But I’m also surprised in the now. I’m surprised by how often over the past 8 months that saying yes to the unknown when I’ve asked God first, has resulted in a contented normalcy regarding the adventure of following Jesus. I would highly suggest trying this out.

But it’s also weird. It’s exposed something ugly in me. It’s exposed that in the past, I’ve expected the bottom to fall out. Whether that expectation comes from circumstance or was learned I can’t wait for that part of me to completely die.

I want to live like God is always for me not waiting for a reason to knock me down. I think that mindset has caused me too often to not take fun risks or steps of faith.

I want to live like my faith in God is flowing from a vibrant relationship that is also evident to others. But even in the season it might not be evident to others I want to be the kind of man who cherishes the will and ways of God even if it hurts.

Because in this next chapter, I think that is who God is asking me to be for others. I’m hoping, I’m up to the challenge.

 

The Finishing Gospel: Death of the Saves Man

John 19:16-42 – Are We Living or Dying?

Yesterday, I taught my second to last class on the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke). We discussed the crucifixion and the resurrection.

What is interesting to me about John’s gospel is the things he notes about Jesus during the crucifixion. Jesus is deeply concerned for his mother. Jesus also pronounces “It is finished.” That phrase in the Greek denotes that a transaction took place.

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The transaction was one that paid the debt of sin, through the exchange of a perfect life for the lives of imperfect humanity. The other Gospels draw out Jesus’ death; whereas, John shows the ways Jesus fulfilled OT Scriptures in his death. John also shifts the tone in his writing. Normally his Gospel is laden with emotion, but for this series of verses, John is presenting facts.

In V. 35 John even writes, “The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.” John is using this tone shift to say, “this is reality, and I’m using this reality to lead to an even greater reality that is harder to believe.” (We will look at that next time)

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John wants us to take in the reality of Jesus’ death while we contemplate the implications. And while we contemplate he writes about the two men, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who prepare his body for burial.

Death Thoughts

Without being morbid or long-winded, I want to say a word about death because in about 2 months I will be entering a vocation where I am expecting  to become more familiar and perhaps more comfortable with it. I believe the only way to be comfortable with death is to take away its sting.

I think that is done through restitution, eager expectation of eternity with Jesus, and gratitude. I also think living life not afraid of death or rejection is liberating.

My prayer is to be a person that shows others that death does not have the last word, rather our life in Christ echoes after a last breath.

Laid There

Chapter 19 concludes with Jesus’ body being laid in a tomb. It is written with a sense of rest in order to prepare us for the final two chapters which recount resurrection life. The suffering and death Jesus endured made room for life.

Now we live it until we’ve finished.

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

Whirlwind Emprise

I usually like to pick a word for myself that I hope will describe each new year.

My 2017 word was gentleness.

I picked this word because I knew my goal for the year was to cease from striving, to stop grasping, to accept my smallness in the world and to be considerably less frustrated about circumstances. As a result, I knew I would need patience as hope would be deferred and answers to questions would not come.

I found some of the best ways to discover if you are in fact gentle is to consistently not get what you want or expect and then see if you are able to remind yourself with frequency that in this world you are entitled to nothing. Godliness with contentment is great gain. Part of the gain is the evidence of gentleness.

While my word was gentleness and I can recognize many situations in which I exercised it, gentleness is still my endeavor because The Rolling Stones remind me that getting what I want is not always going to be the case…

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…Unless you change what you want.

Wait… huh? (This will take a turn, you probably didn’t expect).

Scripture tells me that where my treasure is there my heart will be also and what I know to be true is: if my want is wholly fixed on desiring the love of Jesus above all else, I can have that. I can have unconditional love despite circumstance. I can obey God if I want to, and I can say no to competing desires.

Which is why in August of 2017, I started asking myself some new questions. I also began giving up certain expectations. I decided to cast my net wider because I felt like I was becoming too comfortable, while being less content.

So I applied for chaplaincy positions on college campuses. I connected with a new young adult community. I planned my first vacation alone. I began the process of coming to an internal acceptance that if need be I would remain single forever. I was even willing to accept that my calling to ministry was less than what I imagined and resolved that I could continue working in construction, quietly, even if I felt strongly otherwise.

It led me to October where I confronted myself with the help of a friend. I addressed some things I didn’t necessarily like about life in general at that point. And I gave God my opinion. I gave my evaluation of my love for Jesus, and it seemed to me to be found wanting. This feeling saddened me.

I did not feel unloved by God. I felt incapable of reciprocating. Though, I was reminded that love was a choice, I felt tempted to choose to not love. And this potential decision provoked me to look around and recognize the faithfulness and love of others. I discovered one of the ways we reignite our love (and fear) of God is to observe others who are loving God faithfully. Choosing faithfulness despite uncertainty and suffering is an awesome display of love.

And something began, and I hope will be brought to a mature completion inside me. I remembered that love requires me to give while trusting that the risks of faith I take are guided by God. I was also reminded that it is not possible for me to love even a little bit without God.

For me, love starts with listening. Love happens when we hear the needs of others and meet them, but love finds its energy in the word of God. I started to hear when I listened.

God is the only one who knows me in my depths and the only one who knows me better than myself, which makes making decisions much easier when I’m hearing from the one writing my story.

Fast forward to the middle of December. I began the process of applying for hospital chaplaincy programs. I wrote 12 pages worth of essays (5 about my life history, 1 about my work history, 3 regarding my spiritual development, 2 about navigating a crisis, 1 about why I want to be chaplain).

I had my good friend Victor read and edit all of them. He is finishing up his PhD in counseling and was amazing enough to edit my essays in his free time. He’s a quality human being. I submitted all the materials and references for these programs around Christmas and was leaving for India on New Year’s Eve.

My assumption, based on how things usually work, was I would hopefully hear back sometime after I returned from India because 3 weeks is a normal amount of time to review 12 pages worth of essays and additional materials in an application packet.

Apparently, in the hospital chaplaincy world in specific parts of the country a suitable response time is a few hours and 2 days respectively. Whereas, here in the northeast where I submitted an application packet, a month has gone by with no response from 3 different individuals at the same hospital who I submitted my application to.

So with very quick responses, during the peak of the holiday season, while I was preparing to leave for India for 2 weeks, I found myself scheduling interviews within a week or so of my return.

India was a blast and a rather busy 2 weeks. I tried to take some time to process 2018 and potential new seasons of life and these opportunities. I suppose the little time I had to think about it was enough. While I wanted to process it more, time and energy did not seem to allow it.

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Between jet lag, jumping back into work, and trying to prepare for the interviews themselves, I did not think about the implications of an offer. My interviews were on the 17th and the 22nd respectively, and I felt optimistic after both of them. Again I assumed I would hear something after a couple of weeks.

 

Not the case, I received an offer of admission to a residency position within 24 hours of my interview on the 22nd.

**Full disclosure, I heard from God several times in September about a timetable for my next step in following the Spirit to whatever my ministry direction would be so I shouldn’t have been too surprised. Something similar happened 7 years ago when I interviewed for my first ministry position.

I still didn’t and don’t really feel like I’ve had time to adequately process, but my experience thus far has seemed to indicate that God is not too interested in me swirling it all around in my head for hours on end. Because what I am prone to do is to make up fears or potential excuses.

God, the Father, did extend the offer allowing me to list all my initial fears as a “counting the cost” type of measure to which He promised to give answers to. We hashed that out at Qdoba. I left a little teary eyed after finishing my burrito.

I accepted the offer Monday, mailed my documents today and now wait and pray through a hopefully slow transition. I hope its slow because I’m aware of something else God is doing.

God is interested in doing a deeper work in my heart, one that I am getting the impression is more important than processing through the external details of the location and timing of my next season. That is what I must slow down for while the externals continue to be caught up in the whirlwind.

By the way, just for your information, my word for 2018 is one I learned while in India and that I gave away in the title of this blog. It is Emprise – an adventurous, daring, or chivalric enterprise.