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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!

 

 

The Betrayal and Denial Gospel: When you “Can’t” Control Yourself

John 13:18-38: Shared Bread

Psalm 41:9

 Even my close friend,
    someone I trusted,
one who shared my bread,
    has turned (lifted up their heel) against me.

The thing about betrayal, the thing about denial that allows both of them to deal damage is intimacy. Truth be told, I give as much credence to  ridicule or rejection from someone I don’t like or know as I give consideration to the amount of toilet paper I use after the second time I flush. If I have to flush twice, I care about being clean not about how much shit there was. If I am to be betrayed or denied “……^”

“That’s crude,” you say.

I say, “True and perhaps unnecessary, but I am far more willing to tolerate crude than cruel.”

To be crude is to have disregard toward or to jest about the outward appearance of things, whereas to be cruel is to have disregard for or the intent to harm the internal disposition of things.

Cruelty, whether intentional or not targets identity through apathy or vindictiveness. To be crude only considers the surface. It is intentionally unaware of depth. Cruelty either disregards depth selfishly or digs deeper than it needs to without care.

Now we can discuss betrayal and denial.

In John 13:18-30 Jesus announces that a disciple will betray him. And in this room full of men, John gives us insight into some of their personalities.

Scripture tells us in v. 21 that Jesus was troubled in his spirit and says, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.” He is telling them this to strengthen their faith so they would believe in who Jesus says he is, but Jesus is still troubled by this.

John, who was reclining comfortably leans again Jesus to ask him, “Lord, who is it?” John does this because Simon Peter gives John a nod and says, “Yo, find out who.”

In this scenario, I kind of imagine John having a little too much wine. He was just looking to have a good time at the party. He’s chilling out and then Peter disrupts his chill and then he leans back and asks seemingly to appease Peter’s nervous curiosity.

Or is Peter not nervous, but rather seeking to prevent the betrayal by roughing up the betrayer?

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Jesus then gives a piece of bread dipped in wine to his betrayer Judas. V. 27 reads, “as soon as Judas had taken the bread, Satan entered him” and v. 30, “he went out.”

Jesus also told him after he gave the bread, “What you do, do it quickly.”

What he says makes sense for a man to say. I say man because in my experience, if a person is going to betray me or reject me I’d rather you get to the point rather than drag your feet with the deal.

Being strung along just to be hung out is like taking your dog for a walk before killing it with a shovel and refusing to bury it.  What’s the alternative? Just take your dog for a walk or don’t betray someone. Be a quality person.

The Difference between Betrayal and Denial

I’m going to get to denial in a minute. But I want to define betrayal just so we are clear with the terms. Because someone can reject you or even go so far as to kill you without betraying you. For example, random woman I meet on the street finds out I’m awesome, kills me for no reason after greeting one another. She didn’t betray me, she certainly surprised me but nothing she did indicates a betrayal, unless we are strictly talking on an existential plain in which she betrayed mine and her own humanity for deciding at randomly to kill me.

This is me defining in long-hand that betrayal assumes a certain kind or level of intimacy and the greater the bond of intimacy the deeper the betrayal goes. For example, a marriage vow followed by adultery > (greater betrayal than) making a blood pact in 5th grade with your friend who stopped talking to you in middle school.

The action of betrayal is the willing handing of someone over or selling someone out, or intentionally tripping them up along their path. It is the moment while walking alongside someone with certain expectations, they hinder you from where you intended to go. Betrayal happens when one agrees to the parameters of the journey and then tries to hinder another from the journeys intended goal.

The Sting Without War

 

breaking_bread-2017Now for denial. Denial is sometimes the passive more weaselly of the two actions but typically without as severe a consequence. Denial is not stringing the noose, but it is watching someone be hung.

In v. 31, Judas had left, and now Jesus talks about His glory to come, his exit (death) and gives the disciples a command to love one another. He makes a statement that if true contains unimaginable power. V. 35 reads “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Rather than pausing and thinking about the implications of that statement, Peter is more concerned with where Jesus is going. And because Peter is weak and lacks understanding He misses what Jesus is getting at. Rather than going where Peter wants to go, Jesus wants Peter to be faithful to where He wants Peter to go.

Peter wants to die before he fully lives as Christ. In order for Peter to die like Christ, Jesus has a massive internal work to do first in Peter’s life. He asks this sincere question, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”

…..

..

.

You know how it ends, Jesus predicts Peter’s inevitable denial. Sometimes we “can’t” (or just don’t) follow through on our best laid schemes. But here we actually are not looking at Peter’s denial just yet. That happens 5 chapters later.

This is Jesus’ denial. Jesus denies Peter’s ability to fulfill an empty promise without the power of the Holy Spirit. But Jesus’ denial has been immersed in prayer and preceded by demonstrations of genuine love. Jesus knows Peter’s end which is why He denies his intentions in the now.

Jesus says, “you will follow later.” The denial does not presume permanence, but it expects obedience. In other words, Jesus is telling Peter to “let it play out.”

It won’t be easy nor fun, but it will lead to perfecting and refining and new joy. But Peter is not that deep yet. Eager but not deep and unaware of what is required of him.

He is a fisherman, not a fighter and that is fortunate because the kingdom of God is not won in the way he is expecting.

Jesus cleans Peter a few verses prior and that cleansing functions as a reminder for what’s about to hit the fan in spite of his future denial.

 

 

 

 

The Bride of Christ and No More Night: Meditation on Revelation 21:25

“And its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.”

When I lived in Clarks Summit for 8 months I went to a sandwich shop and the man working behind the counter said, “This is the kind of town where you don’t have to lock your doors.” In other words, “this place is safe.” Fortunately, I had three entrances to my five room tiny apartment, and I kept them all locked out of habit. God tells us only to close our door except to pray, as a sign of intimacy, I think. A couple likewise closes there door I imagine for their own intimacy but someone who closes their door when they are alone is isolated. They in a sense are hiding from no one and everyone. To close a door in darkness means one does not want to be seen; one likely does not want to see themselves.  Drinking in a group and in moderation is celebrated, drinking alone is a problem. Knowing your spouse in the bedroom is intimacy, knowing any other form of sexual pleasure alone is empty and unsatisfying.

People in general don’t like being alone. They also don’t like dark alleys when someone is walking behind them. Some forms of torture trap you alone in darkness. Darkness is dreadful because there is isolation. Nobody likes feeling locked in or trapped. I liked Clarks Summit because the town felt safe and just big enough and close enough to bustle that it served me well. I hated Clarks Summit because it was the first time I ever lived alone.

The beauty of being a Bride of Christ is we are never alone. The bride dressed in white, seen in the light is enhanced by the celebration and participation of others when they are wide awake. At night it’s hard to see and we are tired (see disciples falling asleep when Jesus asks them to pray). This is why nobody starts a wedding at 10 or 11 pm, except maybe vampires but I’m not familiar with their culture. The point is a lot of preparation takes place even on the day of a wedding. The celebration is meant to last a long time, in some cultures even days. In the Christian’s case, it lasts an eternity. The body/bride of Christ forever gets to see Christ in the light of His glory never again having to worry about sleep. Rather our rest is in His presence, His glory.

Gates always open, God as the light and nothing evil detestable or false will ever enter into His kingdom because it knows better. The darkness will cease having its effect on us, we will stop yielding to it, we will yield only to the Bridegroom to the Righteous One and we will never be left in the dark. The idea of no more night is what I want to bring light to my heart and mind. The light exposes my sin and my darkness and “as long as it is light (day), we must do the works of him who sent me.” (John 9:4) No one can serve God fully in love when confronted with their own night (darkness). Lord, let us walk in Your Light. Help me, help us no better as your Bride.