How to win a wrestling match with Envy

Isn’t it amazing how the Lord can use almost anything to teach us about himself… and show us more of ourselves?

This week, a series went around through my facebook friends about films and the impact they had on us. The “copy-paste” thing said to post one poster per day for ten days of films that made an impact on you.

I made up my list fairly quickly- some dramas, some children’s movies, some comedies. The first one, at the top of my list, was Amadeus.

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Amadeus is a lavish, amazing movie about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I first watched it when I was a young teen, because I loved music and wanted some future as a musician. Before I went to post it as one of my ten films, I wanted to watch it again, because I couldn’t remember if there was anything that I wouldn’t recommend to young viewers. Apparently I originally saw the PG version? Or perhaps an edited version. But when I watched it this time, I saw a “director’s cut” that had a few nude scenes.

The other reason I wanted to watch it again was because as soon as I started thinking about this movie, parts of the plot started to remind me of things I have been talking to the Lord about… and I wondered whether it hadn’t resonated with me only because of the music genre, but because something in the message of the movie was speaking to a major heart-theme in my life.

If you’ve never seen Amadeus, it is a fictional account of a man named Salieri. He was a real life contemporary colleague of Mozart, and in this historical fiction, Salieri is portrayed as someone who is extremely envious of Mozart’s gift from God.

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As I started watching the movie, I remembered how sympathetic I felt towards Salieri. He loves music, and in the beginning of the film, he makes a “deal with God,” saying, “I will give everything to you- my life, my work, my money, my chastity. If only in return you will allow me to create music for you.”

And at first, he has some success. It’s as if the Lord answers ‘yes.’ But before very long, Mozart shows up on the scene. Mozart, who in the film is shown to be an air-headed, vapid, womanizing drunkard.

Salieri is aghast when this horrible depraved creature then proves that he is blessed with the gift of divine, almost supernatural music.

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This first half of the movie, where Salieri reels from this seeming unkindness of God, is what I really remembered. I haven’t seen the movie in years, but I could remember feeling such empathy with Salieri. In fact, even before I opened the movie to watch it, I started to remember so many instances in my life where I struggled with envy while watching other people succeed and have opportunities to do things I wanted so badly to do.

I remembered grade school, and envying other girls’ white-blond hair and My Little Pony lunchboxes and pink canopied beds.

I remembered middle school- where I envied other people their solos in church. And high school- where I envied private lessons and indoor pools and boyfriends and open-top jeeps.

I grew up and envied other women’s pretty homes and university degrees. I envied my friends who traveled and my acquaintances who succeeded in business. I envied famous singers and popular politicians, talented writers and even inspired preachers. I envied thinner women and smarter children. I even envied kinder, gentler, and harder working people for their virtues!

I am a pro at Envy. And a side effect is this double sided coin I carry- self-loathing and a deep, horrible sense that I should be loved more.

Envy.

I began watching the film again, with a growing light shining on this massive snake in my heart.

Salieri, halfway through the film, shakes his proverbial fist at God and decides that he will do anything to thwart Mozart, to get revenge for what the Lord has “done to him.” He goes quickly down a dark path of slander, manipulation, and depravity of his own sort, and without ruining the movie for you, (because this is just history) he watches Mozart lead his short, ruinous life before dying as a pauper.

As the final scenes began, I was so desperate to know the outcome. I couldn’t remember. Would Salieri ever repent? Did he ever somehow redeem his mis-treatment of Mozart? Would he have some revelation from the Lord, and reconcile his heart? What would be the conclusion? Would he ever, at all, relent and be free of the monster of envy that consumed him?

I felt as if watching Salieri’s redemption would somehow give me a clue for my own. How do we stop envying and rejoice in other’s successes?

But sadly- the film gave me no answer! As the final requiem played and the credits rolled, I sat feeling unsatisfied. (Spoiler) Salieri never reconciles with God. There is no resolution, there is only his continual railing against God’s ways, even to death.

I wasn’t content. I had to have an answer! I started scrolling through reviews and comments on Amadeus, thinking that maybe some other viewer had understood better than I.

Apparently the film was not only a critical success, but has been performed live as a play in many, many places. I think that in addition to being a lavishly decorated, costumed, and captivating peek into one of the most famous composers that ever lived, the issue at hand- this conflict with the divine- resonated in many of us.

But how could the film writer leave it unresolved?

I brooded on this a little while. How to kill envy? How to overcome and restore the broach of relationship with God that it causes? Did no one know the answer?

And then, one beautiful paragraph-long summary of the film gave me a glimpse- because the writer called Envy by another name.

Ingratitude.



Ingratitude caused the Pharisee to be discontent with what the Lord had allotted him, and to complain, “Why does he get paid as much as I do? Haven’t I worked harder?”

Ingratitude caused Salieri to spit on the Lord’s gift to him, and give himself over to the base desire to destroy another.

Ingratitude causes envy, and is itself a symptom of pride- we look at ourselves, and expect better. We look at others, and we want what they have. We see all the reasons why we deserve better, and they deserve less.

Ugh, my ugly heart.

How many times have I wanted more and been discontent? How much of my life has been spent praying for things I thought I should deserve, and envying others who had it?

I immediately remembered the beginning of James 4.

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

You adulterous people,don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.


Isn’t this what the real issue is? When we wrestle with God, isn’t it because our inner self thinks that we deserve more, and God is withholding from us?

I want to know more than Salieri knows. I don’t want to grow further depraved and hideous with hatred and malice, and die with a sneer on my face!

Instead, I want to leave behind this constant turmoil of envy, malcontent, and grumbling inside of me. I want to to stop letting myself think I deserve better-I want to go on from this silly quarrel that Salieri and I have had with God- and to rest in his portion for me, because I know that’s where real peace is! I want to stop looking on other people’s gifts as evidence that they are loved more, and I am loved less.

And I think that it begins with gratitude, true appreciation and acknowledgement to God that everything I have is by his mercy and grace. To see everything I enjoy as a gift from him and to remember that I am owed nothing.

As if the Lord is shining his flashlight on a poisonous viper, I take the sword of truth, and hit it with a deathly blow.

I raise my hymn of thanks and Envy will have no hiss left in me.

Brianna

I am not naturally friendly.

One of the most memorable parts of “Mere Christianity,” to me, is in the chapter on morality and psychoanalysis. I’m going to try to paraphrase it, but forgive me if I get it a little wrong.

C.S. Lewis tried to make a case that each of us starts at a different place of base “goodness,” depending on our upbringing, personality, and environment. And that the behavior can’t really be compared, person to person, as a measure of our inner self.

For example: he said that “a man perverted in his youth and taught that cruelty is the right thing” who “does some tiny little kindness” may be doing more than another person who gave up his whole life to rescue someone.

I really resonate with that.

There is another place in his writings (that I can’t find the reference for, ) where he compares two hypothetical people- Mrs. and Mr. so-and-so. He says, Mr. S may be a naturally friendly person, taught from youth to be polite and kind. But Mrs. S may have been a curmudgeon her whole life, and naturally grumpy. And she finds the Lord, and is full of joy in Him, but even in her redeemed state she is never quite the outgoing and friendly person that Mr. S. is. CS Lewis said that we shouldn’t look at these two people and say, “What’s the point of being the Lord’s, if this unsaved person is nicer than the saved?” He says that we don’t know what she might have been if she hadn’t had the Lord, and we don’t know what he might be if he did.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Because I think I am Mrs. S.

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I feel sometimes as if the “perfect Christian” should be friendly, not shy, flexible and easy to get along with. She should love going to church. She should love when the phone rings, or when someone stops in.

And I don’t. Not any of that.

Don’t get me wrong, I love people. And when I say love, I don’t mean “I love being with people, I love a party, I hate being alone,” like some kind of otter-sanguine ENFP Enneagram 7.

I mean: I sincerely care about people. I think they are valuable. I feel compassionate and tender towards pretty much everyone I meet. I do. I think people are the eternal things. I think people matter. I usually enjoy some part, if not many parts of every one I meet, and the good things in my life are largely due to the blessings of the people in it.

But I also know that I don’t wake up in the morning wanting to talk to anyone. I don’t tend to want to be in a crowd, to want to get together with people. I get anxious before a gathering and irritable easily when I’m in one. I get “done,” where I’ve talked to too many people and spent too much time with people, and I’m ready to sit down and read, and the phone rings, and my reaction is frustration instead of happiness.

I’m not naturally flexible. When my plans get interrupted or messed up, I don’t naturally shrug and pollyanna it. I sometimes lose it and freak out.

I’m not naturally thoughtful! If I remember your birthday or anniversary or that your grandmother is in the hospital, it is because I purposefully put it in my calendar or wrote it on my hand to ask you about it.

I’m not naturally calm- I get overexcited when I’m happy, and I am easily loud when I’m angry.

I’m not naturally friendly. I would prefer to slip in the back of the church with my coffee and my notebook, and worship alone, and take notes alone, and duck out to the bathroom during meet and greet. I force myself to shake hands and say “good morning” and compliment your outfit. But it isn’t because I don’t love you! It’s because I do! And I know that my “natural” tendency isn’t loving, isn’t friendly. Isn’t kind, good, or righteous.

I guess what I’m saying- is that- is there anyone else like me out there? I feel like so many Christians out there are extroverts and naturally kind. Naturally thoughtful. Naturally easy-going and flexible. My closest friends are so naturally kind and thoughtful that compared to them, I feel like a troll!

In fact, to put it bluntly, I would say I’m an intense, easily irritated, loner who has to work really, really hard to be friendly, and patient, and thoughtful, and flexible. I don’t think I do it particularly 1well, and I’m wondering if anyone else out there feels like this.

I’m wondering if anyone else knows how hard it is to plan a bible study because you love the scripture, and you love the ladies, and yet an hour before it starts, you’re almost crying on your bed because you’d rather just be home alone.

I’m wondering if anyone else hosts a cookout to welcome a new family to the church, and escapes into the kitchen for ten minutes to “make more lemonade” because you just can’t do the small talk thing one more minute.

I’m wondering if any of the rest of you get angry easily, hate the sound of your loved ones chewing, throw a fit when the cat poos in the bathroom, or just plain don’t answer the phone occasionally.

Are you out there?

I’m not writing because I want permission to be mean. Or unkind. I’m not saying, “We should be allowed to be brats!”

I’m also not writing this asking people to give me more space or stop interacting with me!

See- The thing is, I do want to be more like Christ, all the time. I know the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5:22 is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

I know that we have to “put on Christ.” I know that our fleshly tendencies are selfish and it is easier to hate than to love. I know that Christ himself is kind, and tender-hearted, and friendly! He is “the friend that sticks closer than a brother.”

I’m not writing this in any way trying to say, “I’m tired of that, I’m done with being friendly.”

I guess I’m writing for two reasons. The first is to say that if you are naturally outgoing- if none of this rings true to you at all- if you’re shocked at my admissions (or you guessed them about me a long time ago) I would like to ask for some grace. I would love if you’d understand that my inner mean girl isn’t naturally friendly, but because I love you, and Christ loves you, I’m trying. It’s a lot of work for me, but I’m doing my best.

I would love if you would have patience with me if I take a little while to get back to you when you call or message, or if I say no sometimes to getting together, or I’m not particularly chatty at church.

And I sincerely apologize for the times when I haven’t been able to tame my unfriendliness, and I’ve hurt you.

And if you are reading this and you get me- you aren’t “thrilled to be there” on Sunday mornings, you feel like you’re a thousand years behind the “good” people- Hey, you won’t get any judgy side-eyes from me. I want you to know that I 100% understand. I feel ya, and I know what it’s like.

I guess I’m writing to all of us- whether you’re naturally friendly or not. I want to say- let’s be kind and tender to each other, because none of us knows how hard it is in someone else’s shoes.

Favorite

Remember a few weeks ago when I wrote about loving one another?

Well, the Lord is still teaching me that lesson, only this time I learned it from the ugly side. 

Recently, I had a friend that kiiiinda sorta made me feel bad. Actually, okay, she REALLY made me feel bad.

I overheard her having a conversation, and she mentioned me, and it wasn’t a glowing reference. It wasn’t a huge insult, but she was explaining to the other person why she and I didn’t hang out more, and she put a lot of the blame on my personality. Slash character. Slash… something. It was hurtful.

A better person could have shrugged it off, but I’m kind of a baby, and I couldn’t.  I ducked around the corner and pretended I hadn’t heard, but immediately I started fantasizing about how I would block her on instagram, and set her as an acquaintance on Facebook, and not contact her for long enough that when I ran into her, I could pretend to be busy and important and act like I had totally forgotten that she existed.

So she could feel bad, too.

Here’s the thing. I’m sort of an over-thinker, and I actually do love the Lord, and want to go his ways, so when I was done with my instant little pity party, I tried to be more rational, and more… Jesus-like. I started sorting through my feelings.

And I went to my husband.

I was talking about it to him, like I do all the time, when he is in the shower and I’m evaluating every pore on my face in the mirror like I’m looking for some kind of microscopic crime evidence.

“You feel like she made you look bad?” he said, which was irritating. I wanted him to be offended, too. Also I felt as if he were slightly suggesting that what she said was true. I was quiet, considering turning the hot sink faucet on but also trying to decide if he was right.

“No, it’s not that,” I finally decided. “The other lady wasn’t even paying attention.”

“Then what?” he asked. “You’re just mad because you want to be her favorite person.”

Ouch. 

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Here’s my confession: Hi, my name is Brianna, and I want to be absolutely everyone’s favorite person, all the time. 

I don’t know how long I’ve been like this. It’s been a one of my biggest life goals for a very long time, and so I’ve gotten a lot of practice trying to make it come true.

Somehow with my extroverted tendencies and my natural ability to read people, I have learned how to play this crazy game where I am always, all the time, trying to be the very best Brianna that you could possibly meet.

I am a chameleon.

If you’re trendy, I use cool internet lingo. If you’re a farmer, I talk holsteins and heifers. If you seem insecure and shy, I lighten the mood with jokes and some funny stories.

If I make a promise, I bend over backwards trying to make it happen, and if I say I’ll do something, I make sure it is the best darn thing I’ve ever done.

I will try, in every possible instance, to be the best whatever you need me to be, so that you will (hopefully) prefer me and be so glad that you know me, and always choose me first, and always want to be with me, and never, ever, regret that you’ve been with me.

I will show up, clean up, dress up, cheer you up, ham it up, pick up, and follow up 1000% until I am positive that you like me.

A lot.

And then I will collapse.

(I’m actually kinda bad about the people I’ve won over, though. I mean, once I knew I was my husband’s favorite, and my best friend’s favorite, it was easy to let my guard down and let them deal with all the messy parts of me. Which isn’t nice. ((I’m sorry.)) )

(I know this blog post is kinda rambling, but I have a point. I’m almost there.)

When my husband suggested (because he’s a meanie and he loves me) that I was only hurt because I realized I wasn’t her favorite, I realized that I wasn’t tempted to cut her out of my life as much as I was tempted to get back the ups.

To start sucking up. 

To text her, call her, send some funny gifs. Stop by with muffins and tell her I miss her. Ask her on a shopping trip, or her advice on a book. To tag her in a funny meme or write her a long chatty email. Do anything and everything that would nullify the little thing she found un-likeable about me- and win her back, and convince her that she was wrong, and I am amazing. 

Because I can’t stand knowing I’m not her favorite person. 


Will you notice in all of this that I never said she wasn’t my friend? I never said she rejected me, or cut me out, or actually treated me too badly. She merely mentioned off handedly some behavior of mine that she disliked, and implied that it was why we weren’t that close. That’s it. 


Somehow, in the midst of all of this, I got a little bit, a teeny bit, of clarity about the state of my heart in this. Thank the Lord.

I saw the truth in that horrible statement- that yes, I really, truly, do want to be her favorite.

The truth is that it’s not because I care about her. 

Sadly, and ashamedly, I admit that it’s just because… I’m selfish.


 

I’ve done a lot of thinking since then about this concept of favorites. One of the first things I realized was that… she’s not my favorite! Really! I don’t prefer her style, or her humor, or the kinds of hobbies that interest her, and truly, we had grown apart because I was just not as interested to be with her!

That floored me.

Here I was, upset that I wasn’t her favorite, and I had clearly communicated to her that she wasn’t my favorite. 

(If all this talk about favorites is getting to you, I am almost done, for real, and I really, actually, do have a point, and I will get there in just a sec, I promise, take a sip of your coffee for some staying power.)


In the middle of me trying to figure all of this out, my 12 year old daughter had an encounter that left her crying. Another young girl had left her out of a gathering, and she felt horrible. I started trying to comfort her, and I heard myself say,

“Maybe she could tell that she’s not your favorite person. I mean, everyone you meet is going to be either your favorite type of person, or someone that really frustrates you, or else somewhere in the middle- someone that you could take or leave. Maybe this girl could tell that you aren’t that thrilled to be her friend, and so she wasn’t that concerned about trying to be yours.”

(Isn’t it awful nice when the Holy Spirit talks to you out of your own mouth?)

Then I started thinking about how I had just been praying and reading and thinking about love in the church, and not being offended, and I was reminded of this passage from James 2:

My friends, if you have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, you won’t treat some people better than others. Suppose a rich person wearing fancy clothes and a gold ring comes to one of your meetings. And suppose a poor person dressed in worn-out clothes also comes. You must not give the best seat to the one in fancy clothes and tell the one who is poor to stand at the side or sit on the floor. That is the same as saying that some people are better than others, and you would be acting like a crooked judge.

My dear friends, pay attention. God has given a lot of faith to the poor people in this world. He has also promised them a share in his kingdom that he will give to everyone who loves him. You mistreat the poor. But isn’t it the rich who boss you around and drag you off to court? Aren’t they the ones who make fun of your Lord?

You will do all right, if you obey the most important law in the Scriptures. It is the law that commands us to love others as much as we love ourselves. But if you treat some people better than others, you have done wrong, and the Scriptures teach that you have sinned.

I realize he’s talking about rich people vs. people.

But isn’t he actually talking about me, too? 

If I treat certain people kindly and as if I am excited to see them, and value what they have to say, and am willing to change my schedule to spend time with them and to meet their needs, but I barely extend the same courtesy to others, aren’t I the same as any non-believer? Even tax collectors love their friends.

Shouldn’t I do as I want done to me- and treat every single person as if they were my very favorite person, and I was so glad to finally see them, hear them, interact with them, and serve them in some way to make their life better? Not just to win them over so that they love me, as I have been doing, but really, truly, enjoying each one and affirming them with affection and tender care?

Impossible, you say? Only God could do that?

Well, I think that’s just how Jesus was. 

I suspect that the reason why he was so unique is that he had the ability, as he does now, to love each individual person absolutely fully. As if they were his favorite person. 


The more I think about it, the more I realize that my desire to be everyone’s favorite might be a little more intense than other people have, but we all want to be someone’s favorite.

Some people try to meet that desire with a romantic love or a best friend, or by being the best at something. Some people have enough rejection that they deny they have that desire.

But it’s that God-shaped hole some people talk about. It’s this longing. To be seen, to be affirmed. To be wanted and accepted and longed for.

And God loves to fill it! 



 

Okay, this is long enough. And I haven’t even told you how I concluded my turmoil over my friend. But I bet you can guess by now the direction I’m going with it. Not trying to win her back or cut her out, not trying to fix the problem that I’m not her favorite, but actually thinking about it from her point of view. From the Lord’s.

I’m repenting of using her to get my affirmation cup filled, while forgetting that she’d like to be affirmed, too.

I’m repenting of living my life to win the approval of man.

I’m repenting of treating people with favoritism, and trying to win favoritism myself. 

I’m trying to learn the law of love, and it’s turning me inside out!

Okay, that’s really all. And see, I did have a point, almost 2000 words in!

I might actually be learning something! Are you?

Tell me what you think!

Brianna

Love One Another

 

I love Jesus.

I mean, duh. I am a christian, I am saved. And if it is really true- he gave his life for me, well then, duh, of course I love Jesus.

For quite some time now my prayers have been along this line: Lord, I love you and I want to know you more. 

And I have been very happy at his answers. He has taught me so much about who He is, and what He is like, and the more I know, the more I love him! He is so good, and so kind, and so loving to me, I can’t help but love him.

But.

Okay.

Recently I was thinking about Jesus coming to earth and choosing to die for us, and about how  we are all the ones screaming “Crucify Him!” even while he dies for us. I don’t really fully comprehend it, but I wish I did, because I think if I could really grasp it, I would love him even more.

But while I was thinking of that, and my own… lack of gratitude, I also started having this other issue:

I don’t like people.

Though I have so enjoyed the mercy and grace and joy I have found in the Savior, the truth is that I go into my community and find lots of people who are, well, not like Christ. And because of their imperfections, I have found plenty of reasons to not enjoy them.

In fact, I guess I could say I have hated them.

Okay, hate MIGHT be a strong word. But hear me out.

What if hatred is not doing evil. It’s just… withholding love.

Yikes.

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It is a strong line to draw- I mean, it is much easier to place hatred on a scale. Like this:

There are people I’m crazy about,

people I enjoy,

people I tolerate,

people I kinda avoid.

People I realllllly avoid.

People I would wish evil on.

People I would DO evil to. These are the people I hate.

 

That’s a much nicer scale, don’t you think? If that is the scale, well, then, I don’t hate anyone! I wouldn’t do evil to anyone! I can give myself a pat on the back!

But… what if there is no scale. What if it’s just people I love, and am loving towards, and people I don’t love, and don’t “do” love to.

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I heard a speaker recently who said, “If there is anyone in your church building that you would not choose to sit next to, you have a problem.”

This is uncomfortable. I mean, aren’t I allowed to dislike a few people?

Okay, maybe I am not allowed to dislike them. But what if I am kind to them on the outside, but on the inside, I’m rolling my eyes. What if I am nice when I see them but I would prefer not to see them? Is that okay?


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And then I think of Jesus. Jesus loves me. He is so good to me. I just want more and more and more of Jesus. I want to know what he’s like, because the more I know him, the more I find things I like about him!

Here’s me, praying, “Okay, Jesus! It’s you and me! I love you so much, and if I can just be alone with you all the time, that would be perfect. Those other people can really get on my nerves.”

And here is Jesus:

You want to know me, Brianna? Let me tell you about me. I love you, and I died for you. 

And I love them, and I died for them. 


 

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I feel like I had this huge moment where I just suddenly realized this fact that everyone has known forever:

Jesus. loves. people.

JESUS LOVES PEOPLE! GOD LOVES THE WORLD! THE WHOLE WORLD! LIKE- ALL THOSE PEOPLE I DON’T LOVE!
OH NOOOOES

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Okay, I’m calmed down.

But seriously, he turned me around by the shoulders and pointed to everyone else, and I knew: the most important thing for me to learn about Jesus- is that he loves them. 

And if I want to be like him, if I want to know him more- I have to love them, too.

Really love.

Not hate. Not even a little.

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You know in Matthew 24, Jesus is talking about the end times. And lots of times, people will think of the end times in terms of signs in the sky, and wars, and disasters, and the mark of the beast. But do you know one thing we forget easily?

…At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another... Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.

Matthew 24:10,12

Doesn’t that strike a chord a little? As you read this, are you suddenly remembering far too many people, or maybe one particular person, that you really don’t want to have to love?

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But if you are anything like me, you probably love Jesus, too, don’t you? And the more you learn about him, the more you like him, don’t you? And don’t you ever look around your church and think… Man. If only our church was… more like Christ. It sure seems like we are missing something.

If you think this at all, I wonder if the thing you are missing is the same thing I am- many of us are missing- love.

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I’ve been thinking about what it would take to love, to really love, everyone I know. Not only the people I enjoy, the people who love me, or the people who I feel need or deserve love… but everyone.

The people who irritate me or just aren’t my style. The people who have a sense of humor I don’t enjoy, or bodily habits I find slightly gross.

The people who don’t love me- aren’t kind to me or considerate. The people who reject me, who ridicule me, who despise me.

The people who ignore me or frustrate me. The people who forget me and devalue me. The people who disagree with me and contradict me, call me names or adjectives. The people who actively work against me- or against my family or children or the things I believe in.

What would it look like for me to love them? Really, truly love them?

I suspect it would look a lot like Jesus, hanging on a cross, dying for people who were screaming, “Crucify him!”


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Can you  imagine if this week, when you went to church, there wasn’t anyone, not anyone- that you kind hoped you didn’t have to talk to? And can you even fathom a Sunday when we went to church and none of us – NONE of us- withheld love from anyone else?

What would that look like? What would our churches be like if we didn’t tolerate any hatred in ourselves? If we were committed to unreserved, extravagant, unmerited love- the same kind we receive from the Lord?

Maybe it would look a lot like, “They will know you are Christians by your love.”

Maybe it would look like a church full of little Christs.

Maybe, just maybe… the reason why the church is lacking in life is because we are lacking in love.

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I love Jesus. I am so, so thankful for his goodness towards me. And I guess… When I think about how much he loves me, and then I look out towards you, I am more convinced all the time that he wants me to love you, too. He isn’t pleased by me doing evil to you- or withholding good from you. He doesn’t like it if I complain about you or ignore you or just plain don’t prefer to be around you. He wants me to love you, like he loves you. Like he loves me.

I love Jesus, and I love you, too.

 

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Photos by Christopher Campbell, Tyler Nix ,  Nathan Dumlao  Aatik Tasneem Jared Sluyter Neill Kumar Catarina Carvalho Hybrid Samridhhi Sondhi Alexandre Croussette   Janaya Dasiuk on    Unsplash

A Revivalist Manifesto

I have always wanted a tribe to belong to. Every since I was a little girl, I’ve looked around for a group that I identified with, that I could belong to and be accepted by, and that I felt really expressed me! I think we all have that desire.

When I was a kid, it was “the good kids.” I wanted to be counted with the keds wearing, bob-haired smarty pants that sat in the front row and knew all the answers.

When I got a little older, it was the dancers. Let me please be seen as a ballet girl! Bun wearing, daydreaming, thin and etheral and graceful. It merged for me into theater person- black turtleneck, beatnik poet, sometime artist type who quoted Shakespeare and knew all the lyrics to an obscure Soundheim musical.

And then I found revival.

I didn’t know what it was at first. You see, I grew up in church and had always heard of the cross, the throne of heaven, the way, the truth, and the light. Church-y accomplishments merged with good girl ways really easily, and if I was a dancer and a singer and sometimes an artist, well, the church allowed drama and music, didn’t it?

But when I was about 14, I had a taste of revival. I was at youth group, my favorite thing, and our youth leader showed us a VHS (because it was the 90’s) of a revival that was going on in Florida. And the part it showed was about 3 testimonies by youth who had… well, been revived. The last one was a testimony by a girl who stood up with her mother, and she was so shaken by the Lord that she was literally, physically, shaking. She started telling her testimony- about how she had been one way, and then she MET THE LORD. And she used this phrase- “I was lukewarm, but now I’m HOT!”

My sanguine, goofy self was mesmerized. What did this mean? I remembered, because I was a good girl who knew my bible, about how in Revelation Jesus says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

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I had heard that before, but I had never actually, really, seen someone who had gone from lukewarm to HOT! I was shaken. I started crying. The video ended and all the other youth started chatting and going away to the game room, but I just sat on the carpet in the front row of the sanctuary and kept crying. My friends tried to comfort me and bring me in to the games and snacks, but I was just completely wrecked. I pushed them off and almost, really, was having a panic attack.

What did it mean? What did it mean that she was lukewarm, but then she was hot? Was I lukewarm? How would I know? Did Jesus call me lukewarm? I was completely devastated at the thought. Everything I had cared about, everything, just completely disappeared and all I could do was sob. Eventually my youth leader came back in the room and found me, and even he couldn’t help. He prayed with me, and called my mom, and she came and picked me up, because games and snacks and chatting with my crush had lost all interest to me.

Instead, I became completely oriented on this question: How can I know God?

I was just completely changed. I refused, from that moment, to be content with the idea that maybe I was lukewarm. I HAD TO BE HOT.

A lot has happened in my life since then. I’ve been on a steady pursuit of him really, ever since that day.

But let me go back to the group/identity thing.

After I became really HOT for the Lord, I started looking for a group of other people like that. Part of me, the optimist, naive part of me, assumed that I had been in the minority. Probably most Christians were hot, and it was just me that had been lukewarm. I started going into my christian environments and social groups assuming that EVERYONE loved the Lord, and was passionate to know him.

But I bet you can guess what happened.

I very quickly realized that HOT people were rare.

Actually, I kept assuming for a very, very long time that somewhere out there was a church or a group or a denomination that was all full of HOT people. I kept searching. Was it people at bible school? Or people in the conservative church? Maybe it was people who worked at a christian camp.

Wherever I went, I was looking for that place- where I would be finally in a group of people that were like me! Let’s us HOT people join together and be a happy group where I fit in and feel like I’m finally at home!

But it never happened. Instead, I made friends here and there. I got married, had children, moved states, moved again. Everywhere I went I felt… like I was searching for my group. I grew dissatisfied with my pentacostal church, my mennonite church, my baptist church. I just kept thinking… there has to be a group out there where I fit in and where everyone is hot! And it never happened. In every group, no matter how good their doctrine and purpose is, there were lots of people who know of the Lord, but just didn’t care to KNOW him.

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I have been very discouraged about this. I thought about just never going to church again. Sometimes, I’ve thought- “I’ll just keep looking. The group I’m looking at is just probably somewhere else!”

But guess what. Recently I had a huge breakthrough about this.

I realized: I am hot. I am OBSESSED with knowing the Lord. I want to know him in every way- I want to search the Scriptures, and submit every millimeter of my will to him, I want to serve and love with abandon. I want to worship and dance like David did. I want to lay on my face in the tent of meeting like Joshua did. I want to experience every amazing, mysterious, overwhelming encounter possible with the Holy Spirit, and I want to tell every person I can possibly talk to about the good news of what Jesus has done on the cross!

And I am never, ever, going to find a group of people here on earth where they ALL feel like that.

My local church will always be filled with people who are on every spectrum of the faith scale. Hot, mild, medium, lukewarm, cool, and even… cold and dead.

The church, the congregation near me, is imperfect. And sometimes it can drive me crazy.

But I am a revivalist.

Revivalist: (n.) one who is dedicated to seeing something revived.

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I am a revivalist. I finally found my identity! After all this time of wondering what group I can identify with- Pentacostal or Baptist or Mennonite, plain ol’ Christian or maybe Christ-follower or believer, evangelical or WHATEVER… I found it! I’m a revivalist!

I am 100% committed to wholeheartedly following in Jesus’ footsteps. I want to know him more than I want to live.

AND I am committed to reviving the church.

I fully believe that my gifts and my passion are not for me. I have not been blessed with a passion for the Lord for my own benefit, (although, man does it bless me!) I have been called to breathe FIRE into the church of God!

I’m not supposed to find 10-100 people just like me, and hang out with them and enjoy them and just please ourselves with how much fun it is to talk about what the Lord is doing and how we’ve found him lately! Although, man, what fun it is when I get to do it.

I am supposed to be here, in the middle of my local congregation. I’m supposed to be a burning brand of hot fire, filled with the Spirit, and submitted to him fully, serving him and them and loving him and them and being an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.

I am a revivalist, and I am sometimes alone, even when I am surrounded. Sometimes I feel like I could just burst because I want so much more than I feel like the people around me want. But when I am discontent with my community, I drive a wedge between us. I cause my heart to grow colder towards the Lord, I quench the Spirit.

But the opposite is true! When I look on the people around me with love, no matter how cold or mild they are, I can sometimes influence them and minister to them, and warm them up by helping them to glimpse a little how much HE loves them!

And pretty soon, the more I have blessed the people around me, the more they catch fire, too, and I am not alone, a little black ember of coal in a dead wood, but a bright blazing fire in the middle of a happy burning bonfire!!

Isn’t it fun!?

I am so excited to think that maybe, possibly, I’ve been given the beautiful gift of being HOT so that I can go out and set the church on fire, breathe life and hope into people of all temperatures, until the whole church is ablaze with a fire of love for him!!

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Okay so that is my manifesto. I am a revivalist. I love the Lord, and I’m not ashamed of it. I’m not saying I’m perfect, I’m not even saying I’m good! Those who know me well will tell you how I get frustrated easily and I struggle with being selfish and self-centered, and I get discouraged. Please know that when I write about being hot and feeling like I’m the only hot one, I’m not trying in any way to make myself seem… better or holier. YUCK NO!!! I guess… I look at it like, He loves me so much. He loves ALL of us so much! I am so overwhelmed with how good his love is, and how wonderful it is to rest in that love, and abide in it… And I think my HOT is just because somehow I got a glimpse of that love, and I think if ANYONE could get that glimpse, they’d be just like me! Because HE IS SO AMAZING AND HIS LOVE IS SO BEAUTIFUL!!

Okay that’s all I have to say!

Brianna

From Samaria

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?”

This is from John, chapter 4, verses 7-10.

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Before we go on, I’d love to give you a few cultural background tips to help you understand what’s going on a little more. First of all, Samaria. It says “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.” Let’s review that a little bit.

A long time before this, Abraham is the Father of the Jewish nation. The Lord promises him a land of his own, for his descendants. The land is the land of Canaan. Years go by, and Abraham’s descendants grow numerous, and they have a long story in which the Lord really does give them the land. But one of the things the Lord tells the children of Abraham, Isaac (his son) and Jacob, (his grandson, also named Israel,) Is that they are a set-apart people. God warns them and says, “Don’t intermarry with other people groups. Stay separate. Be my people.”

And for hundreds of years, the children of Israel have a problem with that command. The constantly mingle with and marry other races and religions, and that’s not the real problem… the real problem is that they take on the gods of those nations.

And they are punished. The Lord lets them reap destruction and violence and all sorts of evils, because they just won’t obey.

Now, at some point in this long 2,000 year history of the Israelites, they are taken away to live in Assyria. Well, most of them. The poorest of them are left in the land, and the king also re-populates Canaan with non-Israelites, who intermarry with these leftover Israelites. There’s a strange story you can read in 2 Kings about 17 how these people are settling in the area of Samaria, north of Jerusalem, but they keep getting attacked by lions. So they send a message to the King of Assyria, their king, and say, “Hey. Tell us about the gods who rule this land, because we must not be worshipping them and they’re mad at us.” So this foreign king researches a little bit, and he finds a priest of the Israelites, and sends him down to teach them “how to worship the god of the land.”

Okay, the chapter goes on to say that they do. They follow his instructions. And unknowingly, they start worshipping the One True God, and the lions stop. But it also says that they won’t give up their other gods. They just add them in all together.

Fast forward. Years later in the story, some Israelites from the tribe of Judah come home and start trying to rebuild the fallen Jerusalem. At that time, the people of Samaria come down and say to them, “Let us help you! We also worship your god.” But the Israelites reply to them, “Go away from us, we want nothing to do with you.” And at that point, The Hebrews and the Samaritans become enemies. In fact, the good leaders of the Israelites even violently prevent their people from mingling with these non-kosher neighbors. They remind the people, “This is what got us into trouble in the first place!!” You can read all this in the book of Ezra and Nehemiah.

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But back to First Century Samaria. Jesus is a descendant of these Israelite people. He’s a Jewish Rabbi, and the custom of a Rabbi was to be even more holy that just the regular Israelites.  And holy, to the Israelites, means, “set apart.” Set apart from whom? Samaritans, for sure, and also- women. 

And yet here is Jesus, sitting by a well, and asking her for a drink.

There have been many things said about how phenomenal this is. How magnanimous of Jesus to talk to a Samaritan, and a woman. If you are a woman in a western society, you can’t fully grasp just how meaningful this is.

When I was a little girl, my great-grandmother had a photo album full of her travel photos. She had been all over. But what fascinated me the most was photos of her next to the Great Pyramids, and the Giant Sphinx. I asked her about them and wanted to hear about what it was like there. She waved me off. Of all the stories she would tell me, she only said, “I will never go back to the Middle East. They treat women like dogs. We paid a lot of money to stay at the nicest places and eat at the best restaurants. And the waiters won’t even look at you. They say to the man, ‘What do you want to order for her?’” She was completely disgusted.

There’s more to this attitude than just ignoring. In a culture that treats women like a second-class citizen, the most honorable men won’t look at you. But the ones less honorable are worse. They will look at you like something for their consumption. Like meat.

Women in this culture are carefully guarded by the men who care about them, because these men know- women are not safe in a culture like this. They aren’t treasured, honored, respected, or people outside of their family. They are seen as something to be used and taken, and only interacted with for the benefit of the man.

 

This is how this woman probably experiences life. In fact, later in the story we find out she has had five husbands, and the one she’s living with is not her husband. Probably out of his choice.

Do you think she expects a Jewish holy man to speak to her? Kindly??

Or want to share a drinking vessel of hers? 

 

And so she answers,

“How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

 

He asks her for a drink, and she basically throws back 400 years of history in his face. She brings out her hurts, her ill-treatments, her wounds, and his part in them, and slaps him with them. 

But this, see this: If you knew who it is that you are interacting with, you could ask him and he would give you living water.

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Jesus is interacting with you. Every moment, every day, he is there, presenting you with opportunities to interact with him and hear him and listen to him. All day. Every day. And you go about your business, you have tasks to do and things on your mind. The Samaritan woman has a huge back story. Drawing water alone in the middle of the day, most likely to avoid the women of the town- because they likely look down on her. Not only that, she has more than 400 years of history on her mind, and questions about theology and her and her people’s ill-treatment, and prophesy of things to come. Her mind is a tangle of questions and heartache, and here, she meets the One Who can give her Living Water.

 

Will she recognize him?

Will she notice how tender He is towards her?

 

Will you?

Jesus doesn’t ignore her, or treat her like dirt. He asks her for a drink, yes, but he doesn’t demand it from her. In fact, he’s willing to share her cup.

When you go about your business today, and the Lord speaks to you, will you recognize his voice? 

When he asks for a cup of cool water, will you brush him off, or will you bend down and ruffle his hair as he drinks?

Do the wounds of your life, does your back story leave you with a chip on your shoulder? Do you expect to hear the voice of the Lord as a demanding One that brings up 400 years of your sins and lays more burden on you?

Lay down your theological wrestlings and come to him like a little child. He meets her right where she is, and he wants to give her the living water. 

Expect him to love you and meet you, right in the middle of your day. Don’t throw back in his face 400 years of what you consider ill-treatment. Just listen, and ask him, and let him give you the water you need. 

 

He doesn’t throw your sins in your face. He doesn’t avoid looking at you to talk to someone else. He doesn’t want to use and abuse you, or put heavy loads on you.

 

He doesn’t deal with you according to the history of your nation, your family, or even yourself. He just comes to you, person to person, and asks you to meet him for a drink.

 

And do you know why? Because he loves you. Later in the book of Acts, he’s called “The Author of our Souls.” He truly is intimately acquainted with our grief and heartaches, he understands all the backstory of our lives and theological questions. But he is a Person, a real person, and he meets us right in the middle of where we are, because he loves us and wants to quench our thirsty souls.

But when he comes, we often miss him- we walk right by opportunities to hear him and meet him, because our minds are on other things.

So watch, today. Wait for him by the side of the well, and linger over the dishes. He’ll meet you today. Watch and listen.

 

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The book of John (1)This post is part of an ongoing series traveling through the book of John to meet the Mercy Man. If you’d like to follow along, you can subscribe by email or go to the lead page and follow at your own pace. Just click here. 

Cana

John chapter two starts the stories. They’re both easier to read and more difficult to interpret. It’s easy to take a statement like, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” and make a doctrine out of it. But when you read the stories of what happened, it’s more difficult. The first two stories that John lists here in chapter are extremely difficult. First, Jesus changes water into wine. And second, he makes a whip and drives people out of the temple.

We don’t usually take these actions and make a direct doctrine. “…We should all change water into wine.” “…We should all braid cords into whips for important times of… driving people places.” Well, someone somewhere has made those statements. But not usually.

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Instead, traditionally, we take these stories and try to find broad themes and meanings behind them, and apply those to our lives.

But that’s where it gets tricky. Everyone who reads a story has their own point of view when they read it, and so we see things in the story that others may not notice. This can be good and bad.

On the one hand, the more you read the bible, the more you see new things and learn more about this God who is beyond understanding, but whom we try to know more and more. When you read and study with other people, you hear things you never thought before and learn things you’ve never considered.

On the other hand, sometimes people’s interpretations and conclusions are just wrong.

Sometimes, even yours.

In particular, it’s interesting that we all usually have some preconceived notion of right and wrong, and Who God is, and what He’s like, and when we come to the bible, unfortunately, we often filter the story to fit  what we already believe.

THIS IS THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF WHAT WE SHOULD DO.

Because listen! The BIBLE tells the truth about God! We shouldn’t try to fit the Scriptures to our ideas… we should and let them re-shape and refine and just plain CORRECT what we think about God!

Okay. So are you ready? We’re going to read about Jesus changing water into wine. We are going to Cana, in Galilee, to see what the Mercy Man was up to.  John chapter 2, verse 1.

 

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.

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(Wait, real quick:  Jesus’ mother, of course, is Mary, who is not mentioned by name in this gospel so far. There’s no mention of Joseph, and in case you’re wondering, there’s some speculation that he must have died by this time. Jesus is about 30 years old when this story starts, by the way. Let’s go on.)

Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Dear Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”

Okay, just THINK for a minute about all that this tells about who Jesus is, and what he’s like. Remember that we’re going through to find out what who the Mercy Man is, and we want to let what the Bible says outweigh what we think we know about him. So let’s make a list of what this story would tell us about him if we didn’t know anything else about him. 

  • He has a mother.
  • He’s invited to weddings, and he goes.
  • He’s living life. This tells us he’s not some a mystical god who floats on purple clouds. He’s very aware of normal life, because we see right here that he lived it.
  • His mother goes to him with a problem. Hm. This is interesting.
  • Here’s another interesting thing: She talks to him quite normally. Though he’s the Son of God, she doesn’t use any fancy language.
  • He, also, responds to her normally, with kind affection. Some translations leave out the “Dear,” and it sounds really harsh and demeaning. But I don’t think that is the correct tone to read it in at all. It was definitely “dear woman.”
  • It’s also interesting that she goes to him and doesn’t wait for him to notice.

 

Let’s hang out on that one for a few minutes. Now, we can’t take everything the characters in the bible do and say, “This is in the bible, so it must be right.” Not even Mary. The only person in the BIble, the only person in history, who did EVERYTHING right, was Jesus. So we can’t build a doctrine that says, “Mary went to Jesus and didn’t wait for him to notice, so we must always go to Jesus and not wait for him.” That doesn’t work. Instead, we just look at it and say, “That’s what she did. Should she have done this? Would I have done it like this?”

Anyway, okay. So here Mary comes with a problem. The wine is gone. The wine. Wow. What a controversial story to start out. If you had never heard this story before, you might think that Jesus would say some pithy proverb about how people shouldn’t drink so much, it’s not wise. But that’s not what happens. What happens is that he says,

“Why are you telling me about this? It’s not my time yet.”

This is a very interesting answer. This whole interaction shows so many things. First, it shows that Mary believed that Jesus was capable of doing something about the problem.  I’m guessing she wasn’t expecting him to run to the market for more. Yet there is no other record in this gospel or any in our bible that says there was any other miracle before this, so how did she know he would be able to solve this problem?

The second thing that it shows is that Mary believed that Jesus would WANT to do something about this problem. She knew he would care. How did she know this?

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I think the answer to both of these questions is because she knew Him. For thirty years, she had known Him. She went to him with a problem that she knew he could solve, and would solve, because after 30 years of knowing him, she knew what he was capable of, and what his character was.

This is so cool to me. We already know, from just this tiny conversation, so much about Jesus. We know that his mother related to him in a way that she knew- He can solve problems and he WANTS to solve problems. He cares, and he has power.

Wow.

Okay, but that’s not even all.

The really fascinating thing to me is that Jesus initially says no.

Not no, directly, but come on. “Why are you asking me? It’s not my time yet,” is very, very, much, “NO.”

And yet… And yet.

Mary said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

For thirty years and nine months, since the angel told Mary she would bear the Son of God, Mary has been anxiously waiting for Him to fulfill his purpose. For thirty years.

And up until now, how many times has he said, “My time has not yet come?”

Why does he say that anyway?

It’s because he is following God, his Father, He is leaning on the leading of the Spirit, and up until now, He has not heard the word, “It’s time.”

God’s time is perfect, we know this. Many, many times, we hear people tell us when things are waiting or delayed… “God’s time! All in His time.” It’s almost a doctrine. God’s timing. We shouldn’t push or press, God will do things in his time. When we don’t understand, well, “it’s just not God’s time.” It’s used to comfort people with unanswered prayers, it’s used to console ourselves when we are disappointed. “God’s Time” is something that we don’t understand and we can’t do anything about, right? That’s what we’re taught, that’s what we believe.

But this story flies in the face of that.

Mary said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Mary directly hears the voice of God telling her, “It’s not my time yet,” and she turns around and says, “Get ready,” and you know what happens. He performs a miracle.

Mary knows him, knows his character, knows his capabilities, knows him intimately, and that changes everything. 

Build your theology on that. Take your old ideas of “God’s timing,” set them next to that, and compare them. Does your doctrine align with what the Word says He does? Does your idea of how God acts compare to what this story says?  

If not, what are you going to do about it?

I’ve already written so many words here, and the story isn’t over. But you just consider that for a little while, okay? And come back and we can read the rest of the story later.

In God’s time. 😉

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The book of John (1)
This post is part of a series going through the book of
John. If you’d like to follow along, you can subscribe or head to the lead page and go at your own pace. Just click here.

Strange Things

The end of the first Chapter of John. We’re in the last few verses, numbers 49-51.

Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

 

What a strange verse. Actually, what a strange chapter altogether. Let’s list some of the strangest things we’ve seen. 

  1. Jesus being the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
  2. The Holy Spirit descending from heaven like a Dove.
  3. The whole “word became flesh” thing. Actually, Jesus being the Word.
  4. Jesus being the Son of God.
  5. The Messiah. (What even is that?)

 

Okay, let’s acknowledge right away that this is a spiritual book, and it’s a completely different book than the modern absolutely non-spiritual texts that we read all the time. I mean, we live in the early 21st century. As it’s been said, we are modern, scientific people. We deal in observable, provable facts. We want scientific reasons to back up the things we believe. And now here we have a book, the Bible, full of fantastical, inexplicable, strange phrases and words, and they say, “You have to have faith to believe.”

So strange.

But let’s consider a few things. First of all, let’s acknowledge that we are spiritual beings. You know it. You know that there is a You that is more than your body, because you are not a purely physical creature. You know that there is more to you than just your mind, because you can still exist when your mind is injured or affected by a drug. You know you have experiences that are unexplained by physical reasons. Why literature makes you cry and music makes you dance and you want to hug your grandmother. These things are emotional and often irrational. But there is more to you than just emotions.

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There is more to everything, in fact. Those who want to deny that there is a God often want to postulate that the world is a purely physical thing. That nothing exists that cannot be seen.

This is such a pale, sad state of denial. There are things that cannot be seen, and still exist. Love. Hope. Adventure. Despair.

There is more.

If you want to think there is nothing more, I am very sorry for you. I agree that the physical world is beautiful and magnificent and beyond our understanding, and that if we studied for a billion years there would still be more things to learn about it. It’s enough, if it was all there was. I’m not complaining. I love the physical world. I love the galaxies and the deep sea and photons and microbes, I love algebra and geometry and classic sculpture. I am very appreciative of it. It’s wonderful. But the delectable treats in a French bakery do not mean anything for the existence of Thai cuisine. And the phenomenon of the physical reality does not preclude the existence of the spiritual.

 

There is a spiritual world. And what’s more, we live in it and we can know of it, and it is wonderful.  

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The physical is experienced simply, frankly, with our senses. The spiritual is experienced rarely by our senses, and more often in other ways. Here’s the thing. In Western society, we place a lot of value on what we can see and touch and prove. In many ways, we say they are the only real things. But the spiritual things… They’re real, too, only they’re not as tangible as the blocks we’re used to playing with. 

The things of the spirit are like a series of riddles. And unfortunately, in order to ease our discomfort, we Westerners just decide to write off these things. We say there is no spiritual side, or we discount it very much. Some people are so uncomfortable with intangible things that they even discount emotions… actually, any abstract things. Art, music, love, honor… these things get pushed back into closets and the television gets turned up, because they’re too strange to look at, let alone consider. Instead, we talk about the price of meat and the rain and the new tires on the car.

I think that other cultures do it better in some ways- they don’t shut out the spiritual experiences, they don’t hush up talk about dreams or ghosts or strange voices.

There are downsides, of course, to opening yourself widely to all spiritual experiences. There are evil things out there, you know. 

But they acknowledge that the spiritual exists, and what’s more, they acknowledge that it’s difficult to understand.

Maybe that’s the hurdle with us, we don’t want to look stupid.

 

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As we look through this spiritual book from God, you might feel stupid sometimes. Things get confusing and weird. There’s language about circumcision and sacrifice and blood and the spirit and the Bride of Christ and angels ascending and descending on the Son of God, there are all these weird things that don’t make sense and are completely out of the realm of the things you’re reading about on Facebook and the things in Target and the things that you hear at work. 

And that’s okay.

It is completely okay to pick up this book, this book from God, and have it be foreign and strange and weird, and to feel out of your element. To feel small. It’s okay. 

 The truth is, the more you read, the more you will understand why Jesus is the lamb of God, slain from the foundations of the world. The more you will get references, like inside jokes that are not jokes at all, but beautiful and solemn and sweet, and like honey to your soul.

The more you read, the more the Spirit of the Living God, who raised Christ from the dead, will whisper inside of your heart and help you to see with your spiritual eyes, and hear with your spiritual ears, until the spiritual is as real to you as the physical, until heaven is your home and earth is where you’re passing through.

This might sound exciting to you- or scary. But I want to tell you that if you believe, you will see great things. You will see angels ascending and descending on the Son of God, and you might even learn what that means.

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The book of John (1)This post is part of a series going through the book of
John. If you’d like to follow along, you can subscribe or head to the lead pageand go at your own pace. Just click here

 

Like a Dove

 

Before we go any farther, I want you to know that this John, the Baptist, is not the same John that the book is named for. I know, it’s confusing. So many biblical names are hard to pronounce, or similar to other names. But the writer of the book of John is John, one of Jesus’ disciples, or followers. He’s going to come into the story in a little bit, but so far he’s been talking about a different John. The one we call John the Baptist. Let’s keep going, because John the Baptist has a little more to say about Jesus before the story shifts to Jesus himself for the rest of the time.

Starting in verse 29, Chapter 1, in the book of John.

The next day he (John) saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

 

Here John is talking to some of his followers. Back then, there were few books and no internet, and if you had the desire, and the time, and the resources to learn, you would find a person you considered wise, and go to them and ask to learn from them, or be their student. Like an apprentice. The word for this student was disciple. And the word for teacher was Rabbi. There’s a lot more to know about that, but that’s enough for now.

John the Baptist is with his disciples, and he teaches them these things about Christ. And the reason why we know what he taught is because John, the writer of this book, was one of John the Baptist’s disciples. So here he writes what was actually taught to him. John the Baptist taught that Jesus was before him, and ranks before him, and not because Jesus was born first, because he wasn’t. But because Jesus existed from the beginning, which John the Baptist knew because John the Baptist was filled with the Spirit of God.

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And here he talks more about this Spirit. How he saw the Spirit descend like dove onto Jesus, and remain on him. And also, how “He who sent me to baptize…” Who was this “He?” God, and probably through the Spirit.

 

So much here about the Spirit of God, the invisible, mysterious, confusing, beautiful person of the Trinity, who descends like a dove.

 

And even more- that Jesus will baptize with the Spirit. What does this even mean? How can you wash with the spirit? Or be immersed in the Spirit?

Who is this Spirit?

 

Let me tell you what I know of Him.

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The Spirit of God is the still, small voice that leads you to the Lord. Many people call it their conscience, but it is not only that. 

The Spirit of God is a distinct person from you. He has his own voice, His own knowledge, His own will.

Before you are a child of God, the Spirit does interact with you some. He leads you to God. And I have heard of people being protected and encouraged by the Spirit even before they knew who He was. 

But once you have turned to Christ, and submitted your heart to Him as Lord of it, the Spirit is so much more. The Bible tells us that one who has been washed from the sins and become a child of God is marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit, as a deposit. Every believer has the Holy Spirit. He is her constant companion, and He is the presence of the Lord to her, as well. He reveals the Lord and his will to us, just as he did for John. He told John to baptize- and He told John who the Christ was. He does the same thing for us.

 

In my own life, my relationship with the Spirit began with long walks in the woods. I remember thinking of bible stories where people heard from God, and asking Him if I could hear him, too. The voice I heard in response was not  booming voice from the clouds, but instead, I can only describe it as bubbling up responses to my questions, within my own thoughts, but that answered my thoughts. Sometimes, it would be a Scripture quotation, but other times I heard distinct, first person answers to things I asked of the Lord.

 

I asked my pastor at that time, if that was normal. If everyone could hear the Lord like this. He answered me very diplomatically, by saying that there must be some, for many love the old hymn, “In the Garden.”

 

“I come to the garden alone,

While the dew is still on the roses,

And the voice I hear, falling on my ear,

The Son of God discloses…

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,

And He tells me I am His own,

And the joy we share as we tarry there,

None other has ever known. “

 

Even the end of that hymn suggests the same question I had- Do others hear this voice? It is rarely spoken of. It’s such an intimate, personal thing, this conversation with God. I think we hesitate to speak of it because it seems prideful to suggest that we can personally hear the voice of the Lord. It also seems, from a worldly point of view, crazy. Like some split personality thing or something.

 

And so over the years I have shut out the voice in doubt or confusion, or I have cultivated it in times of distress and need. Sometimes people have encouraged me in it, and sometimes I have been taught that it is imaginary, or even evil.

 

For most of my life, I have been quiet about it except among those who I know also embrace it.

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But I am writing about it now because the Spirit himself has told me to. In the past, I have been afraid of rejection, especially from other believers that I think will condemn me as a heretic, or as a fool.

But I believe the Spirit wants to speak to His people, and I’m writing to you, now, beloved, to say that He wants you to hear Him. I know now what it sounds like, I know it to be true what it says in John 10, that…

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me…”

I am learning it, anyway. I am learning to recognize it, and not shrink away.

Hearing the Voice of the Lord through the Spirit is the single most rewarding, beautiful part of Christianity to me, and I feel actual sorrow for the believers who reject this experience and blessing. I see so many believers who lovingly run to the fountain of salvation, but shy away from this intimate, powerful, actual experiential way of knowing the Lord. I believe that embracing the Spirit of the Lord is the only way to see true abundant life, as Jesus promised, and that by quenching the spirit, by holding your hands up in fear of this strange, mysterious spiritual experience, you deny yourself the inheritance that the Lord has promised you and live as though you had no living God at all, only a written history of what he used to do for other people. 

This is strong language, but I have been in so many groups of Christians- and I tell you, it breaks my heart to see people who say they are believers but they miss this most wonderful blessing that comes from believing.

 

And so I give you my testimony- that I love the voice of the Lord, and I wish for you to know it and be blessed by it, too. And if you have any doubts or hesitations, I ask you to consider this verse, and to take its advice.

“This is what the Lord says, he who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it—the Lord is his name: ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

 

I have much love and affection for you as you seek the Lord in this matter, and I know He will be faithful to answer you. 

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This post is part of a seriesThe book of John (1) going through the book of
John. If you’d like to follow along, you can subscribe or head to the lead page and go at your own pace. Just click here

 

 

 

The Baptist

This post and series is now a podcast! You can listen instead of reading by just clicking here. 

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There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that through him everyone might believe. He was not the light, but he came to bear witness concerning the light…

Let’s talk more about John for just a few minutes. . Let’s skip forward a few verses, to 19.

And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

He came baptizing people for repentance. There’s more about him in other places in the Bible. He was the son of an older couple who had been infertile for a long time. The book of Luke says his father was visited by the angel Gabriel and told that he would be born, and named John- in fact, Gabriel said more than that. He said, “

“…he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.  And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

After John was born, his own father was filled with the Spirit and prophesied, which means, he spoke God’s words, and said this…

“…you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
   for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
   in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
   whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
   to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

And he was. John came before Jesus, he was born only months before Jesus was. The book of Matthew says he acted like a prophet- not like a normal man. He wore strange clothes like the prophets from the old Testament did. He went out to the wilderness of Judea, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And people went out from the town to hear what he had to say, and this is what he told them:

Repent!

Repent. It’s a word that means many things. In the Greek, it’s “metaneo,” which means to “change one’s mind for the better, to reconsider,” which is how we usually think of it. We usually translate it to mean, “Hey! Admit you’re wrong and change!”

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But in the Hebrew language, the word is nacham, or nichuwm, which is sometimes translated “comfort.” In the way of “to sigh, to be sorry, to pity, to console, to ease, to comfort.” In fact, it’s similar to a word that means, “God comforts us.” There is even a verse that says,

“Comfort, comfort my people,” says the Lord. “Speak comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned…”

And John came saying, “Repent! Prepare the way for the Lord!”

Was he saying, “Turn from your sins and be better!” Or was he saying, “Take heart! The sin-conqueror is coming!”?

Maybe both.

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I think of John coming ahead of Jesus, and getting people in the mood for the real thing.

He was like an appetizer, opening up people’s hearts and minds and saying, “Get ready! It’s about time!”

He baptized people in water for the repentance of sins. Baptism was a ceremonial washing that usually signified conversion- like when a person wasn’t Jewish, and they wanted to be. They were fully immersed, and cleansed. But there were other times to wash- like the priests, before they went into the temple to meet with God. Or normal people, when it was about time to give their gifts to God or celebrate Him. They washed fully to clean themselves and get themselves ready for God, because he’s holy.

So John came washing people, and getting them ready to meet Jesus, who was holy.

And the story goes on- the religious rulers have more to ask him.

(Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.”
And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”

And John did just what he was supposed to do. He pointed to Jesus. 

This is what I want to do. In these posts, I want to point to Jesus. I want to call out to you, to everyone, and say, “Hey! There is comfort! Turn and come see Jesus, he’s the BEST!”

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The book of John (1)
This post is part of a series going through the book of
John. If you’d like to follow along, you can subscribe or head to the lead page and go at your own pace. Just click here