The Importance of Stories; or How Netflix Helps you Find the Meaning of Life

My daughter just turned thirteen. On the day after her birthday, as I was brushing out her long golden hair and trying to resist singing the Rapunzel song to her, I started reminiscing to her a little about when I was that age.

I told her that by thirteen, I considered myself more of an adult than a child. I had plans for the path I wanted to take- what I wanted to be when I grew up, where I wanted to live, and the kind of family I wanted to have.

While I was thinking about these things, and how none of them transpired the way I thought they would, my daughter said, “I don’t have any of those things figured out yet. I don’t know where I want to live, or work, or anything.”

She seemed a little distraught. I stopped brushing her hair, and she turned around.

And then… out of my mouth came something that I didn’t know myself.

This happens to me sometimes. I’m teaching, or trying to encourage a friend, and out of my mouth comes truth from the Holy Spirit that I don’t even understand myself until I say it. For the last week or so I’ve been blown away by what I told her. I feel like I’ve told everyone. I told my husband, I told my mother-in-law, I told my best friend and her daughter. And now I’m telling you. But I mostly telling all of you, because I know that I need to hear it. The Holy Spirit spoke to her, and to me, through me, and the magnitude of what He said has been washing over me like waves.

Here it is.

It doesn’t matter, I said to her. Don’t you know none of those things matter? It doesn’t matter what job you do, or where you live or move.

I mean it does. Those things are worth thinking about and praying about, and I believe the Lord cares about every little decision in your life. But when you are thirteen years old and thinking about your future, you don’t have to think about the mechanics and specifics. You don’t have to decide whether you want to be a vet or a lawyer, or whether you want to live by the beach or the mountains or in a house with horses or in an apartment with cats. Those things are temporary.

What matters is the eternal. That’s what you need to decide about.

I homeschool my children, and I’m constantly pushing literature at them. Stories of knights and Nazis and Amazon jungles and Austen heroines. Stories about space travel and princesses and struggling during the Depression, stories about foxes and beavers and witches, stories from all cultures and all climates. I’m always pushing them to read.

I remember a friend saying to me about a year ago- “What is the point of reading fiction? It’s all pretend!” And when she said it, something inside of me rose up in horror. I told her that the point of fiction is that stories- whether real or imaginary- stories communicate truth.

But I didn’t fully understand what that meant until now.

I said to my daughter- when you’re reading these stories -these hundreds of stories, whether they’re in books or in movies or film or whether they are stories told by a friend over dinner- when you listen to stories and something inside of you wells up and resonates; that’s the time to take notice.

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Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.com

For instance, if you read a story about a family who is hiding a Jewish child in their home during the Holocaust, something inside of you burns. What is it?

It is the recognition of Truth. You recognize when you read that story how true it is that we should rescue the oppressed. That is a truth. And as you listen to stories- whether in books or film or youtube or instagram- there are different concepts that rise up. Concepts about the value of love, freedom, justice, truth, and peace. The Great Stories- often the ones that earn Newberry Awards and last for generations- are often heroic and moving stories. Stories that make us laugh or cry or understand life. These are not just entertainment. These stories are communicating Eternal Values. When we read of men giving their lives on the battlefield for their families, we learn about freedom. When we read about a grandmother caring for her grandchildren with grace and patience, we learn about love. The greatest stories are the ones that are communicating about the deepest things to the deepest parts of us.

Of course, some stories communicate false things. They speak lies and hopelessness. Which is why we, as parents, should walk through these stories with our children, and discuss with them what they’re hearing from the storytellers in their lives. I don’t know how many times I’ve paused an animated movie to point out something to my children about life or theology, and asked them if it’s true, or if we don’t believe what the filmmaker or author seems to be trying to communicate.

The truth is that no story is neutral. All stories communicate something about life- and as we listen to them, we have to make judgements about what we believe in. It is a foolish person who thinks they can binge watch a netflix series and not be affected by the worldviews of that producer. But this is all of life- nothing is neutral.

But Stories are the means by which most conversation about eternal things are said. A few people will listen to sermons, or teaching, and some people will listen to political speeches- but stories- stories are consumed by millions, every day. And the storytellers are the ones that are telling our generation what is True, and what is Important, and what to Believe in.

And most of the time we don’t even notice that it’s happening.

But back to the thirteen year old.


When you are thirteen years old, and you are trying to decide about your future, you don’t have to decide the specifics. Those things will become apparent. What you have to decide about is what Eternal values you believe in.

Because if you believe, for instance, in fighting for justice, you will find that whether you love mathematics or volleyball or selling real estate, you will use your skills and talents and gifts and abilities to fight Injustice. And if you believe that truth must go out, you will use your talent for painting or journalism or teaching to speak truth. The gifts and talents you have, your natural inclinations and abilities- they are only instruments to pursue what is deep. They are not the ends themselves, they are the means.

I see so many young people who are highly skilled and good-natured, but they don’t have a passion. Oh, they might have a passion for Comic-Con or a drive to play soccer, but they don’t know WHY they are doing what they’re doing. They become obsessive about the niche culture they’re interested in, or they become competitive in the field they’ve got abilities in, but if they break their throwing arm or get laid off, they don’t know what they’re doing. It’s because they don’t see their skills, talents, and interests as a means to do something deep.

They don’t know what they personally are called to fight for.

I think that this is the answer to so much in life- to find out what you are called to do here. Are you called to promote the cause of love and peace? Are you called to fight for freedom? Whatever that deep value is that resonates within you, use your gifts and talents to do it!

Use your amazing talents in making costumes or your advanced welding skills to stand up for the poor and powerless! Build your farm in such a way that it brings peace to your corner of the world. Whatever you do, whether for work or play- know that it is just a tool for something more deeper and more important.

I told my daughter that when you are thirteen, your job is to listen listen to stories, listen everywhere you go, to hear those deep things call to you.

And when you know what is calling, use everything you have to answer.

You don’t have to be thirteen.

I’m thirty-seven, and about since the age of thirteen, I have struggled. I have so many different things I love to do. I love the Fine Arts, I love working with children, I love writing and travel. And ever since I was young, I have struggled with figuring out which things to pursue and which things to set aside. I’ve always worried that I would “miss it.” I would miss that amazing destiny that I am called to.

When I was in college, I couldn’t pick a major. I love biology and I also loved art classes. I loved the theater, but also wanted to take advanced writing classes. I felt as though the answer was to “specialize, specialize, pick a path!” And to specialize, to choose- meant laying down all the other paths. And I couldn’t.

I got overwhelmed, and I didn’t chose any of them. To make a long story short, I didn’t finish college. I got married and have been a stay at home mother. For some people, this is a dream and a specific choice. I don’t feel like it was that way for me. I did it because it was right in front of me, and seemed the best thing to do, but it wasn’t really my life goal- to be a stay at home, homeschooling mother.

For years I have watched other people go towards career goals. I’ve watched friends succeed on paths that I had the opportunity to take, and honestly I have many times regretted not taking them! Not that I would give up one day with my children. But to be honest, I have often believed that I messed up- I missed it. I took the step in front of me- motherhood- and I missed my destiny. I don’t know how long- maybe since the beginning- that I have felt like a failure and ashamed of myself because I didn’t “do” the thing I was meant to do while I was busy raising my children.

This might seem like another digression, and I’m sure many of you who are mothers will feel offended and as though I am belittling your chosen path. I am not, I’m really not! I’m trying to be honest about my own path, and my own inner struggle. I obviously value motherhood, or I wouldn’t have devoted the last 15 years to it.

But I bring this all up because as I think about this concept- that there are deeper, more important things in life then what career path you take- I begin to realize that the Eternal values that I value are Truth and Justice, love and peace, and these things I have continued to work towards in my life. I have taught my children them, I have used my talents in writing and art and music to further them. I have supported them with my time and money and prayers.

And so I haven’t missed it! My career “path” took a completely different route than I expected. It hasn’t involved broadway, or advanced degrees, or traveling… but it has ABSOLUTELY been in the pursuit of the eternal ideals that I believe in.

My thirteen year old self planned to be an artist or to find Broadway and conquer, my thirteen year old self probably would have looked at me right now and been ashamed. I am not president or a Nobel Prize winner. I’m not in great physical shape and I am I’m pretty poor housekeeper. I don’t make good money at anything I do, and I don’t have any degrees or titles. But guess what? I am not my thirteen-year-old self anymore. I’m thirty-seven, and my thirty-seven-year old self, who values love for others, fighting for the oppressed, and speaking out for truth- My thirty-seven year old self says, keep going. You are on a good path.


I want to say before I close that I have been vague about my Christianity in this post. Some of you who are believers will think that I am getting off path- that I’m not teaching about the Lord, that I’m not pointing out the gospel or saying explicitly that it’s about Jesus or reaching the lost, or pointing to the Scriptures. But I want to say to you that I’m not writing only for you. Yes, I believe in the Bible that points to Christ as the Messiah and the only to the Father. I believe in evangelism, and one of the most vibrant examples of a life lived well is a young woman I know and honor who uses ballet as the means to be an evangelist.

But I also believe that anyone searching for truth, in honest, genuine pursuit of truth and justice and love and hope- can’t help but find the Lord Jesus. Because He is all of those things. So I’m happy to use language that isn’t American Christian, if it maybe speaks Truth to someone outside of our culture.


Thanks for scrolling all the way down here. I hope if this encourages you about anything, it encourages you to think deeply about the stories you engage with these days- to listen with your heart, and recognize what they’re communicating with you- and to seek the truth. I think that the most heroic, happy, satisfied, and lovely people on the planet are the ones who have deep, passionate reasons for the things that they do- the ones who create or build or serve or suffer in the name of something Great and Eternal, and that we recognize it when we see it, and we all aspire to be that- and the way to start is by seeing- really seeing- what those eternal things are that are so important, and acknowledging them. And it so convenient that we find them in the stories that we fill our lives up with all the time.

So go ahead- watch a Marvel film, read a novel, listen to your Uber driver talk about his crazy mother. But when you listen, listen.

Listen for justice, love, and peace. Listen for freedom.

Listen for Truth.

And go after it.

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

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. 

Friction

Remember, why are we going through the book of John? To find out who Jesus is. To see Him, to see what the scripture actually says. To take our ideas of Who Jesus is, and compare them, and let our false ideas fall away. Let’s go on.

 

John chapter 3, beginning in verse 22. John the Baptist is coming back into the story.

 

After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison).
Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.”

 

Okay. So Jesus has disciples, and one of them, we know, is the man who wrote this gospel. John the author. And John the author used to be a disciple of John the Baptist. So Jesus takes his disciples and is teaching and going around and baptizing people, and yet John the Baptist is still doing this.

And then an antagonist, (it just says, “a Jew,” which, actually, they all were,) comes and gets into an argument and THEN he tries to get John the Baptist burned up because Jesus is also baptizing, and moreover, John’s disciples are leaving and going to Jesus.  Among them, John the author, who is telling this story.

 

What do you expect to happen? If this happened in a modern church, what would you expect to happen? You would expect John the Baptist to trash talk Jesus.

How many times has someone left a group for another congregation, and people shake their heads or speak cutting words? It’s because we are all out to build our own following, and if someone isn’t with us, we’re against them.

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But this isn’t what John the Baptist does. Listen to what he says.  

 

John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.
He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all.”  

 

He humbly recognizes that Jesus is greater. In fact, he goes on to complete defend Jesus- and to make it clear that he backs everything Jesus says.

 

“He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”

 

And then see what happens:

 

“Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee.”

 

What does Jesus do? He mercifully changes things so that his servant, John, is not dishonored any longer.

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I know I’ve said before that the only perfect person in the bible is Jesus, and we have to weigh the actions and words of all the other people. But here, John gives us an excellent example to follow. Actually, they both do.

 

Especially those of us who want to be teachers.

 

Look back at the first statement John makes- “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.”

 

This is interesting. If we, who love the word and love to teach it, have received knowledge, insight, or wisdom, we ought to remember that it all comes from heaven. It’s all from God. We know and understand nothing on our own. So when we teach, we are only passing on what we have received ourselves, undeservedly.

 

And so, if another teaches more or even better, instead of being envious of their ministry, following, gifts, or publishing contract, we should acknowledge that they, like us, are only passing on the gifts from heaven they received. We shouldn’t discredit them or down talk them. We shouldn’t try to build our reputation by putting down another’s.

This reminds me of 1 Corinthians, chapter 1, beginning in verse 10. Let’s read it in the Voice translation.

 

My brothers and sisters, I urge you by the name of our Lord Jesus, the Anointed, to come together in agreement. Do not allow anything or anyone to create division among you. Instead, be restored, completely fastened together with one mind and shared judgment.  I have heard troubling reports from Chloe’s people that you, my siblings, are consumed by fighting and petty disagreements.
What I have heard is that each of you is taking sides, saying, “I am with Paul,” or “I am with Apollos,” or “I am with Cephas,” or “I am with the Anointed One.”  Has the Anointed One been split up into many small pieces? Do you think Paul was crucified for you? Were you ceremonially washed through baptism into the name of Paul? Absolutely not!
Now I am thankful that I baptized only Crispus and Gaius,  so none of you can falsely declare you were baptized in my name.  (Now wait, as I think about it, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; if there are others in your community whom I baptized, I cannot recall at this moment.)
The mission given to me by the Anointed One is not about baptism, but about preaching good news. The point is not to impress others by spinning an eloquent, intellectual argument; that type of rhetorical showboating would only nullify the cross of the Anointed.

 

And this is the message to all of the teachers in the church- to come together in agreement. To not allow anything or anyone to create division among us. To be restored, completely fastened together with one mind and shared judgement.

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It’s interesting here that Paul talks about baptism, and how he did not baptise much. And remember above, that is says, Jesus himself did not baptize, but his disciples did it. It was for the same reason, I believe, that Jesus did not. So that no one would be able to assert his importance over another. “I was baptized by Pastor Big Wig of the Great City Church.” “…Oh yeah? I was baptized by Jesus himself.”

No, but we are all baptized, humbly, by the person who came before us in the church.

In fact, this is how we receive so much- through humility and teachability, by learning from those who have gone before us.

 

And so if we are lacking in revelation and understanding, we should not puff ourselves up and tear others down. We should humble ourselves, and learn, and seek the Lord.

And then let it be true of us what John said-

“The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.”

I’m not going to lie, it’s not easy to do. I write and teach and want to share the good things God has given me, and it’s hard to be passed over or ignored, or to feel put aside. It’s not wrong to have a yearning to use our gifts, or to teach the things we’ve learned.

But I have to watch carefully that in my desire to do this, I’m not pushing for the sake of my own fame, or glorifying in my own success. When I write, or sing, or create, or teach, and it goes well, it’s exhilarating, it is.

 

But I am learning more and more  the idea of using these things to please the Lord- and sometimes that means my gifts are not noticed or valued by the world. When that happens, it’s easy to look at others and be envious of their large platforms and ministries.

I have always wanted to be liked, I want so much to be affirmed and valued and praised. But I want my heart to be so turned towards the Lord that I delight in his affirmation and praise, and I can give and teach to one or thousands, and either way, I am satisfied.

I’m not there. I want to see a post go viral, of course. I want to sing and have audiences want to listen. And there are times when the Lord asks me to do things that I’m loathe to do because I’m afraid of what people will think.

But when I see this in the scripture, how John humbled himself, and in return Jesus mercifully made the situation less awkward and painful, It makes me trust him more. It makes me feel more willing to do some of these things that I’m scared of doing.

I want to fix my eyes on Him, the author and finisher of my faith. I want to do like Jesus says to Peter at the end of this book- to stop thinking about others and just remember that Jesus says, “What’s that to you, even if I were to let him live forever? You follow me.

That’s how to avoid friction. We all just keep going towards Him, right?

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The book of John (1)This post is part of an ongoing series going through the book of John. You can subscribe by email using the link on this page, or you can browse by passage at the lead page. Just click here.

 

Born Again

We are going on in the third chapter of John. If you’re just getting started, you can back up and start at the beginning by clicking here. Or you can jump into the story right here. A man, Nicodemus, has come to Jesus at night to question him.

Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Here we are still in the middle of the conversation with Nicodemus. We’re talking about being born again. What a strange phrase, but then, it’s become so common it has lost it’s strange-ness in our ears.

Born Again.

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Nicodemus wants to know what God is doing, and what Jesus has to do with God, and Jesus answers by saying, “You won’t understand unless you’re born again.”

Then he gives an analogy. We can feel the wind going by, but we can’t understand it. That’s how it is with the Spirit’s ways… Unless.

Unless.

Unless what? Unless you are born of the Spirit.

Unless you are born of God, you don’t understand God. Unless you’re born of the Spirit, you don’t understand the Spirit. Jesus can’t explain anything of God to someone who isn’t born of God.

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Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?”
Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak of what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness.”

Here he’s gently reprimanding Nicodemus, and saying, How can I talk to you of God? This is harsh. Remember, Nicodemus is one of the religious leaders and teachers. He should know of God more than anyone, right?

And then Jesus goes on to refer to Himself in third Person. “We.”

It’s just like God spoke in Genesis. “Let us create man…”

It’s because He’s about to say something about Who He is.

Nicodemus says, “We know you have come from God.”

Jesus is about to say He IS God.

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“If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe,” He goes on, “How will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.”

So he’s saying, no one has ever come from God, except the One who IS God. The Son of Man is a title that Jesus refers to- it’s essentially saying, “God who was born as a man.” And He’s saying it about himself. 

What do you think Nicodemus thinks of this? He came and said, “Okay, we know you came from God…” And Jesus answers him by saying, “If you want to understand what I’m about to say, you have to be of the Spirit. And by the way, I’m not from God. I am God.

But that’s not all, he says even more. He tells Nicodemus the answer to what he came to ask- Why are you here? What’s your purpose?

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” 

It’s only this beginning of the book of John, but he’s already telling what the ending will be. He’s saying, “I’m God’s Son, and I’m here to rescue all of you through my death.”

This is what it means to be born again: To believe. To come to Jesus, listen to him, and look at him, and recognize that this is the Son of God, who has come to die and take away our sins.

If you do that, you’re born again- and then you can understand more and more of the kingdom of heaven. You can go to Jesus with your questions, and he can answer them.

Do you have to go back inside your mother’s womb? No.

You have to lay down at the feet of Jesus, and say, “I believe you have come from God, because you are God, and you have come to rescue me from my sins.”

And he washes you, not with water, but with blood. And you stand up, free from sin, your old self dead, and your new self born through Him into a new life.

You are born again.

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The book of John (1)

This post is part of an ongoing series moving through the book of John. You can subscribe by email at the link on the side, or you can head to the lead page and go at your own pace. Just click here. 

Answers

John, Chapter Three. Let’s read out of the New King James Version this time.

There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”
Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

 

Okay. Hold up. He starts in by saying, listen. You’re from God.

 

And right away, before he says anything else, Jesus interrupts.

 

“Unless you’re born again, you can’t see the kingdom of God.”

 

Did he ask about the kingdom of heaven? Is that what he was asking?

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I guess I have to assume that’s what Nicodemus’ deep question was, because that’s what Jesus answered. He just cut right to the point.

 

Jesus does that with me a lot, too. I guess that’s what I want him to do. When I go to a bible study or prayer meeting or church service, I want to hear truth that meets the questions in my heart- the questions and hurts that I’m actually battling. Far too often I go and hear good advice, or doctrine, or pleasant words or sometimes correcting rebuke- but it is so rarely meeting me at the point I’m actually at.

 

But Jesus isn’t like that. Jesus looks at us and knows, right away, what our questions and struggles are.

 

You know, for most of my life I’ve been reading the bible, and reading Christian books, and listening to Christian radio, and most every time I’m listening, I’ve usually got some question or burden on me, and most every time I’m listening- I’m looking for answers. And most of the time, I am the sort of person who keeps pushing until I find the answer.

 

But I think that lots of times people come to the church, or open their bible to study, and the message doesn’t meet them where they are at, and so they shut the book or turn off the preacher, and sadly, give up.

 

Are you like this? Do you try to do devotions, but nothing makes sense, and you don’t know how to make it have any application to your life? Do you go to church but the sermons go over your head, or worse, make you feel farther from God?

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I have to tell you- unfortunately, this is not unusual. For hundreds, even thousands of years, people have had questions, and they go to the church, and sometimes it helps. For me, it has helped. I’ve found the Answer I’ve been looking for.

But for other people, it doesn’t help. They come in and drift out, or worse, they come in and are chased out, and leave thinking the church, and therefore God, are lies and liars.

 

Even in Jesus’ day.

 

Look at Nicodemus. He was a leader in the church, although it wasn’t called the church back then. But it was a leader of God’s people, and he was among those who were supposed to teach the people good things, and lead them to God. And yet, when Jesus came, the Son of God, performing miracles, even though he said “We know you are from God,” implying that the other religious rulers knew it, too, he went to him alone, at night. Secretly. The rest of them didn’t want to go. This is not good! This means that the God’s people didn’t want God! And it also means that they probably were no help to the people. 

 

The reason why people ran to Jesus and followed him and looked for him at night was because Jesus met their heart’s cries. He had the word from God for them, directly, exactly what they were hungry for. The religious rulers obviously weren’t doing that, or people wouldn’t have been so hungry for it. 

And do you know what? The religious rulers of the day didn’t like it. They were against Jesus, and in turn, he was against them. He spoke most harshly towards those were supposed to be his biggest leaders. They were religious, but they were not on God’s side. They were no longer doing the work of God’s people- teaching the people good things, and leading them to God. 

 

Some people draw the conclusion that all religion is wrong. I don’t. Jesus himself said he would “build his church.” And God Almighty ordained the priests of the temple. I am not a religious anarchist.

But I do think that too often our religion, our organized and traditional methods of finding the Lord can get stale and rote and stop meeting people where they need to be met.

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The solution is clear- we have to meet Jesus ourselves, not just go to the church or Christian books or Christian music or Christian this or that.  Whether we are on the outside of the church, or whether we are leaders. We have to not lose touch with him. We have to go, like Nicodemus did. 

We have to go, and find him ourselves, and ask him our questions. Or just go, and say anything- and let him answer the questions we don’t ask.

What are you doing tonight? Because you can go and find him. You’ve got things in your heart, I know, that bother you and plague you and stress you out, and he has answers. 

answers 4The book of John (1)

This post is part of a continuing series covering the book of John, bit by bit. You can follow by subscribing above, or you can go to the lead page and take it at your own pace.

 

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

 

What are you looking for?

 

Going on in the book of John, chapter 1, we are in verse 35.

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!”  The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “Where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.

Here is John the Baptist, again, with two of his disciples. And this is where the author John makes his entrance, only without being named. He is one of the two disciples. The other’s name is Andrew. John, the Author, is relaying information only he or Andrew could have known- that John the Baptist said this about Jesus.

And then John the author and Andrew both leave John the Baptist and follow Jesus.

Do you think this was hard for John? If it was, he knew it was right. He knew he was there to prepare the hearts for Christ. I don’t think John was perfect, he might have been disappointed or sad to see followers go. It’s never easy to watch people leave, it feels like rejection. But sometimes you have to let people go so they can find Jesus for themselves, and not just follow you.

At any rate, when they caught up to Jesus, he turned and looked at them, and asked them a fascinating question.

“What are you seeking?”

Some translations say it other ways. “What are you looking for?” “What do you want?”

But Jesus looked at them, saw them coming after him, and asked it.

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You’re going after Jesus right now- by reading this, by reading the book of John- you’re following on his trail. And I think that Jesus does the same thing with you. He knows you’re there, and he turns, looks you in the face, and asks,

“What are you looking for?”

Why do you go after Jesus? Why wonder at all about God? Why seek Him? Why do you care? What is in your heart that you think he will meet?

Is it questions? Is it enlightenment and personal development? Is it the mysteries of the universe? The meaning of life? Do you go after him for comfort and acceptance, for something to ease the pain of life?

Already in my writing I’ve begged you to come after him with promises. I’ve told you of the hope I’ve found in Him… has this caught your ear at all? Before you read any further, sit back, close yourself from my words, and answer this yourself.

What are you looking for?

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The disciples do not answer directly. I think, if I understand the historical context at all, that these were looking for the Messiah, the Christ, as John the Baptist said, “The lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Many have postulated that the disciples were a group of revolutionaries who were looking for a leader to overthrow their occupying government- the Romans. Others have said that they were looking for the heir to David’s throne- a Hebrew King who would bring peace to their nation.

But I think it’s interesting that John the Baptist preached a repentance of sins, and then when he told his two disciples that this man “took away the sins of the world,” the two disciples immediately turned to follow him. This suggests to me that these two, at least, John and Andrew, were concerned with their sins. And this is as it should be.

 

We have to have a knowledge of our sins before we can come to him, really. Or at least, when we look at Jesus, and his role as the lamb of God, we need to stop and search ourselves and our position regarding sin.

You know, sin is the wicked thing we inherit since the Garden of Eden. It is not just a word that is a noun, meaning a wicked deed that is done, it is an abstract thing that is stuck to us, deep inside of us, that causes us to do those wicked things.

Sin is nebulous. It is both evil and lack of good. It is both hatred and withholding of love. It is both violent and stingy. Sin is falling short of God’s perfection. He is loving and kind and good to everyone, and whenever we aren’t, we show our sin.

 

I’ve heard people say that because there is goodness in people, that there can’t be sin. I’ve also heard people say that there’s no possible way to be good without God. I don’t know that either of these are true. I think that there is a measure of goodness in all of us while we are here on earth, because we are God’s creation. We were intended to belong to Him, and he put good gifts in all of us. It is not that we do good that proves that we are without sin, but that we cannot NOT do wrong that proves there is sin in us.

 

It’s true, this sin is what makes us human. None of us are perfect. At least, on this side of the Garden. And you might say, “I’m not that bad.” You might think that compared to some, you’re mostly a saint.

And this is where Jesus looks at you and says, “What do you want?”

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If you come to Jesus because you’re curious, but you’re satisfied with yourself, and the world around you, and you see nothing you want that you cannot get yourself, you will likely meet him and walk away.

There is a story in the bible of a man coming to Jesus, and asking him, “How do I live forever?”

It’s a funny question. No one can live forever. But this man, who the bible calls “rich, young, and a ruler,” was looking for something. He had riches, he had youth, and he had position. What more can you want in life? Maybe love or meaning… perhaps he had those. But he was still unsatisfied. Maybe he feared death. Maybe he had recently had a brush with it. At any rate, he wants to know, “Jesus, what do I have to do to have eternal life?”

I think that deep inside, he could still see that something was missing. Riches, youth, position and honor didn’t do it.

I’ve heard that there is a high rate of depression and suicide attempts in lottery winners, because the money reveals that the problems in their lives were more than just money problems. Maybe this is what the rich young ruler was experiencing. Money didn’t solve everything.

If you come to Jesus, knowing that you’re seeking something- knowing that on your own, you aren’t enough, you will find the answer to what your heart wants.

He is the ultimate satisfier of needs. He is the author and finisher of you, his creation. He is the lover of your soul.

John and Andrew answer his question strangely. They don’t answer it at all. They just ask, “Teacher, where are you staying?”

And Jesus replies, “Come and see.” Then see what happens.

So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ).

 

I think that what happened was that they followed him, and when they were with him, they found the answer to the questions in their hearts.

John, the Author, doesn’t say what happened that day. He doesn’t tell about their conversation or what happened at all back at the house, where he was staying. But at the end of the day, he goes and finds his brother, and says this telling thing: We have found the Messiah.

As in- we have found what we’ve been looking for.

This is what happens. We go after Him who created our hearts, and we find what our hearts want the most.

So… what are you looking for?

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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

Light / Dark

 

This post and series is now a podcast! You can listen to it instead of reading, or read and listen at the same time! Just click here.

John, chapter 1, starting in verse 4.

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not understand it.

Untitled design.jpg This reminds me of another verse, later on. In chapter 3, a man comes to Jesus asking about eternal life. Jesus answers his questions, but says more… he says,

…the light has come into the world and men loved the darkness instead of the light,because their deeds were evil.  For everyone who does evil hates the light and does not come to the light, so that their deeds will not be exposed. But whoever practices the truth comes to the light, so that it may be made known that his deeds have been accomplished in God.”

He also says,

“God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”

Jesus came to shine light into dark places, and both fortunately and unfortunately for us, those dark places are within us.

At first this is good news. At first, we see Him as our savior, rescuer, redeemer. He lifts us up and brushes us off and sets us on solid ground.

But after awhile, it’s harder. After awhile, the Word pierces into our hearts and the light exposes things we don’t want exposed. The light shows us things we don’t like about ourselves.

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It seems so simple- when the light exposes our sins, we should repent. But it doesn’t feel simple. Often the light hits us and we run away, or duck, or defend our sins. What I, personally, do is complain and whine. I can’t. I tried, I can’t do any better. It’s too hard. I flop on my bed. What’s wrong with me? You’re asking too much. How could I give up this thing? How could I do better? You’re asking too much.

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood it.

Over, and over again, I hear his gentle voice, calling me to pick up, and come after him. After so many times saying I will reject sin, and so many times failing, what he asks of me is to get up, and come after Him again.

Not, “From now on I’ll do better.” Just, “Right now, I will follow you.”  

He doesn’t condemn us for trying and failing. He saves us.


There are times when we feel the reproach of the Lord- do you know when that is? It’s when we don’t even try. When we give up, shut off the voice, quench the Spirit. When we choose to reject conviction and ignore Him.

But as long as we desire to be after Christ- He never condemns us. He only shines his light, gives us life and hope, and saves us.

The darkness doesn’t understand that.

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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