Jesus Was not an Enabler

A couple years ago, I read the memoir of a friend who nearly died from an eating disorder. (A book I highly recommend, if you know anyone who could benefit.) One of the conversation she recorded with her counselor has stuck with me. He told her, in the midst of grappling with her need for control, that she had to decide how much she wanted to get well. The entire course of her treatment would rest on that decision. How much did she want not to die?

The question mattered. It was a question of life and death.

It mattered in this week’s encounter with Jesus, one of my favorite. Apparently, it’s not a new question.

Afterward Jesus returned to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days. Inside the city was the pool of Bethesda. Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches. One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.”

Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”

Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking! (John 5)

17b9e-window4This encounter with Jesus is all kinds of unexpected. He’s healed people before. He’s had them crowded around him, six people deep, and he’s had the patience and compassion to heal them all. So one would assume that, coming upon his guy who’s been there for thirty-eight years, healing would be immediate. No questions asked. It’s what Jesus does.

But questions are asked. And he waits for an answer.

“Do you want to get well?”

The answer he gets stinks. It’s filled with “But I,” “Well I,” “They didn’t” and every other kind of excuse. “Sure, mister, I’d like to get well. If everything and everybody weren’t conspiring against me.”

Can we all get an ‘amen’ to this guy? Don’t we all know the lament by heart of the poor injured soul who would stand on her feet except for all the obstacles? Have we been this man? I know I have.

God, I’d like to do that task you’re calling me to, but there’s no time….

God, I’d like to give to that cause but I don’t have the money….

God, I’d like to give up this behavior, but you don’t know how hard people make it….

God, I don’t really want to get well. I don’t really want the fullness you have for me. It’s far easier and less frightening to remain where I am, sitting by the pool, not dipping my toes in. If I’m immobilized, no one can expect anything of me.

Jesus calls that out for what it is.

Dude, you’re scared. And you can’t ever be healed if you’re too scared to be well.

Jesus could not be accused of being an enabler.

Can we kind of understand this guy? What happens if he’s healed? He has to get up. Leave everything he’s known for thirty-eight years. Find employment. A home. A life. Be responsible for his own self. That would be terrifying. All he’s known for almost forty years is this life, and it may not be the best life, but it’s known. It’s a well-worn groove he fits into, and everything else is a great, scary unknown.

How many of us live like this man? The status quo is comfortable. It’s known. It may not be the greatest; in fact, it may suck. But it’s what we know, and it’s all we know how to do. It’s easy. A full, whole, healed life is not.

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 10.15.30 AM

I know I’m not talking to a theoretical crowd here. I know, because I’ve seen it. I’ve done it.

Jesus wants us to walk into life as He intends for us so badly. He aches for us to walk out of our old grooves, our old responses to life, our old defenses against hurt. He longs for us to get up from beside he pool and go.

50c07-img_4474But He won’t make us. We have to want to. We have to want it more than we want to stay comfortable.

Is God asking you today if you want to get well in some area of your life? I don’t necessarily mean physically. (Don’t even get me started on my feelings about the magical health and wealth gospel. I do not believe we can all be well if we just want it enough and believe it enough. That is hurtful garbage that no one has the right to spread in God’s kingdom among his people. God does not owe us healing, nor do we barter for it with our level of belief. Mini-rant end.)

I mean where does He want you to step out of your fear and into a more full life with him?

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” (Romans 8.15)

Do you want to get well? Maybe one of the most important questions Jesus ever asked in a first encounter. Maybe the most important question we could ask today.

Beautiful, Bold Scars

IMG_4733Scars run across my body like tracks at a railroad terminal. They cross my entire abdomen, in both directions. Large scars, by any measure. Still puffy in places, even after almost nine years. Of course, I thought them ugly at first. But even then, I knew they represented something way beyond two surgeries and my soft, slow-healing, belly-fat flesh.

My scars represented survival. And hope. They meant a new running chance at life. But I had to choose to take it.

At 28, I learned from an ultrasound that the kidney disease that killed my mom could kill me, too. There was a 50-50 chance, and I had lost that genetic lottery. But when you’re young, you assume a cure will come, medical science will triumph, and surely you won’t go through the suffering she did.

Until that miracle science fails you, and you find yourself ten, fifteen years later unable to keep up with your kids in the yard and falling asleep before the dinner plates are cleared. Until a doctor looks at you like you’re a freak in a sideshow and says, “You’re at ten percent kidney function. I’m trying to figure out why you’re still moving.” Then you know, it’s time to get serious about this kidney transplant thing, and the list of living donors is thin. The wait for not-living donors is interminable. Then you look through tears at the man who once pledged to you, “for better or worse, in sickness or health” as he steps up and says, “I’ll do it.”

Then you start to remember that your mom died of this disease and this operation. You start to wonder why and to wonder if you will, too.

At fourteen, my mother lay in a tuberculosis sanitarium fighting for her life, while at home her mother died of kidney disease. Closely following came the deaths of her grandfather and then her brother in World War II. I know, now, she always lived with the assumption, more than the fear, that those she loved she would lose. I know, now, that she never made plans for her “old age” because she never expected to be old. I know not because she ever got to tell me these things but because I see them spread before me in my own life. She died at fifty, long before I had the chance to know all her scars and pronounce them beautiful.

But I needed a different decision, because three girls following behind needed me to unmake her expectations and make our own.

So I have these giant scars, one where they put my husband’s kidney in my body, one where they took the old, football-sized useless ones out a few months later. The scars are beautiful, because they remind me that I made a choice for a different outcome, and with it, I made a choice I didn’t realize I was making.

A choice to live boldly.

P1040795I didn’t anticipate this choice. But something happened after the surgery, something that was one of those good and perfect gifts from the Father of the heavenly lights (James 1.17). My scars made me unafraid. I had spent so many years in the shadow of my mom’s illness and death, fearful despite the head knowledge that I had far better odds, that when the shadows lifted, I could see life more clearly. I could see many of the things that I had feared so much had so little power.

My scars made me unafraid.

Other peoples’ opinions. Mistakes. Writing the truth.

Whitewater rafting a wild Tennessee river. Crisscrossing a continent with little more than a Eurail pass and a 2-foot-square suitcase. Leading a mission trip and ziplining the canopy there.

P1000457Things I never would have dared without the scars to remind me—I have survived worse. I can do harder things than this.

My scars taught me that fear does not have to win. Love can cast it out. They have forced me where I would not have gone and shown me the beauty of God’s places and God’s people that I would not have dared explore.

My scars taught me that fear does not have to win.

Because of that, they have taken on all the beauty of those things. They are one of those good and perfect gifts. “God does not change like shifting shadows”–the shadows of fear we live in. He is the Father of lights. And beautiful scars.

This post is part of the Live Free Thursday linkup. See more here.

We Don’t Need Permission (First Encounters with Jesus)

You’re not listening to me.

I’m joining Suzie Eller today for #LiveFreeThursday to talk about momentum. You know–just keeping keeping on. Sometimes, we feel like we need permission to keep going, or to venture out into something new. Maybe we can take a page from Jesus, though, and see–there’s a difference between being heard and making sure you speak up. Don’t hold back on the latter, even if the former is’t happening. You see, Jesus knows.


Maybe you understand this scenario all too well. You have an idea for solving a problem. You voice it. You’re ignored. A few weeks later, someone else “happens” to have the same idea. It’s hailed as genius. At which point, you briefly contemplate some extremely passive aggressive move to make that person’s life miserable. In Christian love.

Or you’re sitting with your dear family and you say something, something somewhere on the importance scale between, “I’m on fire, call an ambulance” and, “Dinner is ready.” Those people you live with are sitting within six feet of you. Their (non) response signals that they have all been hijacked by alien beings who removed their brains and replaced them with red jello. You briefly contemplate actually setting something on fire to see if it garners any attention at all.

Not that this has happened to me. Except–All. The. Time.

It’s hard. It’s frustrating. It does not feel good not to be heard.

Being Heard

So I can relate a bit to Jesus in his next public appearance, at the synagogue. “No prophet is accepted in his own hometown,” he says. That’s about right. At least if no one is going to listen to me, I’m in good company.

Everyone has heard of this young up-and-coming teacher, Jesus. Most likely, many of them already doubt the chances that a carpenter’s son could teach them anything. A pauper from Nazareth? Not really rabbi material. And yet, there are those persistent stories about his wise words…

So it’s SRO in the synagogue the morning he shows up.

Part of the audience is waiting for the next big thing—some spectacular show like the water and wine gig.

Part of the audience is waiting to trip him up and dismiss him.

How many of them are there really to hear him? I wonder.

I think I have some idea of how Jesus felt. It hurts not to be heard.

When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”

Then he said, “You will undoubtedly quote me this proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’—meaning, ‘Do miracles here in your hometown like those you did in Capernaum.’ But I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown.” (Luke 4)

Those hearing Jesus for the first time here see some important things in this first encounter.

First, they see a man who is unafraid to assert his identity and authority.

IMG_0767He knows they expect little. He is fully aware of their skepticism. He confidently takes hold of the Scriptures, reads, sit down, and then unleashes a giant bomb on the little meeting.

“These holy verses? They’re talking about me. I am the product of the prophecy. I’m the One. That’s all for today.”

Mic drop.

I love how Jesus just drops these little gems into conversation and then goes back to eating his Cheerios or whatever like it is a common, everyday occurrence to go around telling people you’re God.

Only God could pull this off successfully.

Second, they see a man who is unafraid to say some unpopular things.

As long as his listeners could smugly put themselves in the position of oppressed martyr, they were fine with his words about releasing captives and helping the poor. But Jesus had no plans to let them color themselves the victims in this picture. He insisted they join him in being the agents of change for the real poor and marginalized. They did not like it. Most of us prefer to feel like martyrs rather than oppressors. It’s decidedly more comfortable.

Jesus wasn’t too concerned about comfort. He knew who he was, he knew why he came, and he knew he had the authority to carry it out. And he wasn’t afraid to say so.

I love this sighting of Jesus.

Yes, I’m the King. G’night.

I know that many people are rightly turned off by the presentation of Jesus as an angry, judging, vindictive God.

But I wonder if many others aren’t equally turned off by the presentation of a Jesus who can’t or won’t take charge and tell the truth like it is. A wimpy Jesus who hangs around going, “Hey, whatever, it’s all cool in the end.” A Jesus who is just OK with whatever we want to say his mission was and whoever we want to believe he was.

That’s not a Jesus I would want to stake my life’s purpose on. I would find no comfort in trusting a Jesus who couldn’t make up his mind to be who he was and stick with it. So I am comforted and empowered by this Luke 4 Jesus. He is bold. He is purposeful. He is unafraid. That’s a Jesus I can follow with confidence.

And in the times when I feel unheard and unheeded, it’s a Jesus I can appreciate.

I wrote an article recently on women in leadership and how we often downplay our own abilities. We put on a Christian costume of humility and allow ourselves to remain unheeded and unheard. In the name of being good Christian women.

Only it’s not good at all. Jesus demonstrates a better way here. Now, I am not Jesus. You are not Jesus. So, we don’t have the authority to go around asserting our opinions like they are infallible. We desperately need to err on the side of love and grace. But there is something important to see here.

When you know who you are, you know why you’re here, and you know Who has the authority to help you, there is nothing wrong in asserting that reality. We don’t have to coat it in sugar or wait for someone else to bring it up. We do not have to be given permission to carry out the mission God has given us. He’s already done that.

We do not have to be given permission to carry out the mission God has given us.


I get that fear. For a long time, I listened to it, afraid to write about what really mattered to me and, I was pretty certain, to God. Look what they did to Jesus here. They chased him out of town for reading a passage that challenged their complacency and then claiming he had the authority to make it real.

I was not interested in being chased out of the virtual town.

Now, I’m OK with it, because being heard is more important than being liked.

That’s why I love the Jesus I find in Luke 4. He doesn’t care.

  • Isn’t this is a Jesus we can love? He isn’t afraid to tell the truth.
  • Isn’t this is a Jesus we can love? He knows what matters.
  • Isn’t this is a Jesus we can love? He knows who He is and why He came.

I want to be more like this Jesus.

5 Lessons from Ms. Carson, aka, How To Roar

Surprise! Today we have a guest post from someone I think you’ll like. Rebecca Greebon blogs over at The River Chick. (Because nobody tubes in a pond. Is that a great tagline or what?)

I loved her take on looking for the people behind he movie scenes and the headlines. (I like doing that, too.) And I think this post is not only empowering for women everywhere, but its perfect for February, Black history Month.

Plus, I’d love to go river rafting with her.

Here’s Rebecca:

My dear husband has this habit (we’ll call it “quirky”) of picking out the most obscure movies to watch in the evenings.  He scrolls through Netflix, finding enigmatic westerns or war flicks (generally starring one or two A-list actors supported by a cast of actors I’ve never seen or heard of), and since neither of these genres are remotely interesting to me, I tend to come in and out of the room while doing laundry (because, let’s face it, this house is the black hole of never-ending laundry), cleaning the kitchen, or, on nights when both of those options are just over my capacity for functioning at that hour, curling up on the couch next to him with a book, so that we are actually spending time together in the same general vicinity (funny how our definition of “hanging out” changes over the years, isn’t it?).

This is what a team of sisters does.

Last night was no exception to this rule, and laundry made my preferred function list (Ok, not preferred….but necessary.  The pile was getting embarrassing).  This time, however, his choice caught my attention, and before I knew it, I had become wrapped up enough in the story to set the laundry down, run and get a notepad, and return to the couch to sit on top of the clean clothes pile while watching and writing. Yes, I was taking notes during a movie.  Don’t judge me.  I already had to ignore the raised eyebrows and snickers from the other end of the couch.

Moving on….

The movie Gregg picked was Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story, and it was based on his autobiography, which has the same title.  I am now fascinated with his story, especially his earlier history.

He was born in 1951, one of two brothers, and raised by a single mother from age eight years old.  His is a story of early struggle, redemption and triumph over any circumstance to burst through the other side a shining star.  And while this is impressive, the theme that caught me was actually the backstory and fortitude of his mother.

Her scenes were my favorite, and I was in some degree of tears throughout most of them.  She was a hard-working African-American woman, fighting to give her boys every opportunity for success in a time when her race hindered her as much as her lack of education.  She had only attended school until the third grade, and had been raised in foster care until she married her husband at the age of thirteen.  She was unable to read and had no special skills, yet had to find a way to feed and clothe her sons after her divorce (He had another family and children on the side.  How’s that for a devastating blow?).  In one heart-wrenching scene, she walks to a Psychiatric Hospital and stops an exiting nurse with this cry for help:

“I’ve got a darkness inside me I can’t control.”

My tears flowed so freely at that declaration.  They continued pouring down my face as she sat across from the kind doctor who met with her and poured out her story; a mother, terrified for her children’s future, doing the best she could while knowing deep inside it wasn’t nearly enough.  Plagued by self-doubt and regret, she rocked and wrung her hands, while stating, “I’m so dumb.  I can’t do much – just clean houses and babysit.  I’m not worth enough.  I’m nothing.  And I’m terrified my boys will end up the same as me, in a place like this.”

I sat there and cried, because her statement was so heart-wrenching, and so loudly echoed the doubts and dark places, not only of my mind, but of the minds of so many of my friends and sisters out there.

And because when I watched her, the incompetent woman she described was not who I saw at all.

I saw a warrior, a fierce lioness who refused to give up.  I saw a woman who, while not very educated, was extremely intelligent and resourceful.  I saw a woman who personified some huge lessons we all could use in life.

R1-06007-005ALesson 1: Comparison truly is the stealer of all joy

       When her sons would pop off about what everyone else was doing, her response was, “Don’t you worry about everyone else.  The world is full of everybody else’s.”  She refused to bow to the expectations of the social and political climate of the times, and she refused to allow her sons to settle into comfortable or careless routines.  She had goals and plans, and she stuck to them, dragging her reluctant boys along with her.  Her every action, every step was aimed at the achievement of her goals and the vision she had for her sons…not the movements or fortunes of her neighbor.

Lesson 2: Emulate those who have achieved success

Mid-way through the film, she began a new job, cleaning the house of a college professor.  She was amazed by the number of books in his home.  They were piled everywhere in his study, reaching to the ceiling in walls completely covered by bookshelves and covering the television set.  When she asked him if he had read all of the books, his reply was, “Most of them.”  From that day forward, her boys had books in their hands.  She went home, turned off the TV, and set strict rules about what and how much they were to watch (and this in the days before the endless blogs and lists and studies about whether too much TV is good for or harms our children).  She encouraged (ok, forced, initially) a love of learning and study patterns that changed their lives forever.

Lesson 3: Know when to ask for help

R1-06007-008AWhen her depression got to be too much, when she could no longer control the darkness, she went out and got help.  The right help.  She put aside her pride, shared her story and accepted the necessary treatment; going so far as to check into an inpatient facility for two weeks so she could get herself pulled together.  And when she came home, she came home – recharged, reset and ready to hit the ground running again.

Lesson 4: Have faith

She raised her boys in the church, as believers, and taught them to pray.  She opened their eyes to the fact that God is out there and miracles do exist, telling them, “You just gotta see beyond what you can see.”  She stuck to that, no matter what, and never lost sight of God’s hand in her life….even on the dark days.

Lesson 5: Be an encourager

dirty girl 1She was a genius coach and cheerleader, who used emboldened statements as she spurred her sons on to new heights of achievement.  Never once did she express her doubts or concerns to them, choosing instead to fortify their spirits and energize their minds, while guarding their hearts from the lowering comments or mindsets of others.  She pushed them, with love and discipline, to become the men her heart dreamed of and that her God had created.

They would go on to become successful, educated men – one an engineer, the other a doctor.

Ben, her baby, proceeded to gain notoriety as a world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon; performing the first ever successful separation of craniopagus twins (Siamese twins joined at the head) in 1985, and later becoming the Head of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital.  Today, he is a bestselling author, speaker, political commentator and outspoken Christian with a beautiful wife and three sons of his own.

Quite a legacy from a humble and unschooled mama, don’t you think?

I admire her.  Her story touched my heart and humbled my spirit, while inspiring the woman and mother in me.

I’m going to post the list of these lessons in plain sight, and remind myself of them daily.  They are clear and simple and profoundly truth-filled.  They are possible.  They are proven.

Who’s with me?

Solidarity, sisters.  Our circumstances don’t have the power to define us.

And sisters finish together. No matter how much junk we have to slog through.

About Rebecca: I’m a girl, in every sense of the word…which means I have a host of labels – wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, mentor, co-worker, partner, giggleIMG_0477-Edit-e1429747515710r, crier, speaker, listener, and (best of all) child of the One True King.  I started this blog because I have a passion to share with all the other girls (and guys) out there just how amazing they are, and how much they are loved, and how important and blessed every day is, even when we are lost or crazy or distracted or completely over ourselves and the world.

Loving Your Introvert Well

P1000275This #FridayFive prompt at Mrs. Disciple is Five Ways to Show Love. On account of Valentine’s Day and all. So I thought, there is one group of people over half of the world doesn’t understand how to love well. I am firmly in that group.


On a day dedicated to showy displays of love, how do you show love to your person for whom showy displays are akin to waterboarding? Here are five ways. They don’t have to be romantic love relationships. They work equally well for spouses, friends, or children. So go crazy—in a subdued sort of way.

Buy us a book

But—only if you really know us. Because, you will be my instant best friend if you give me a nerdy theology or garden book, but I will look at you like you are an alien life form if you offer me your favorite chick lit novel. (Then I will take it anyway and smile, because my mama taught me right.) Amazon cards work in those instances.

Best. Sight. Ever.

Text a sweet message

We love your words. We love thoughtful loving messages. We especially love snarky sarcastic loving messages. We love you. But don’t call us. We don’t do phone calls.

Give us our bubble

Last weekend, we went to Harry Potter World. On a slow day. I haven’t been bumped into by so many people since the train station in China. Afterward, we had planned to go out to dinner, but we ended up riding the shuttle bus back to our hotel room, ordering pizza in, and huddling on our beds for the rest of the evening like prisoners with PTSD. It was a GREAT day. But sensory overload is a thing, people. It’s a big thing for me.

IMG_6814We do love people. We just don’t love lots of you for long periods of time. “Long periods” = over an hour. We need time to decompress away from sensory input. Like, a dark room with soundproofing. It restores our balance. And our sanity. And our ability to interact with humans without wanting to poke our eyes out. Respect that. It’s not you. But it will be if you keep talking.

Take us to a fun spot with just you

We love getting together with friends, but when there is a group of friends, the dynamics for us rarely change. Everyone else talks, and we never feel heard or seen. We crave that time with just one friend, two is tolerable but pushing it, to really talk, listen, and know. It doesn’t matter if it’s a quiet restaurant or a zipline. (I am an adventurous introvert.) Just as long as it’s the two of us. Being heard and seen means a lot to those of us who don’t feel like the world “gets” us very often.

Ask us questions

We rarely volunteer information. That isn’t necessarily because we don’t share personal stuff but usually because we don’t feel comfortable breaking into a conversation or starting one. Or because we need to process before we voice an opinion. But we never feel so loved or known as when someone takes the time to ask, What do you think? How are you feeling? Tell me about . . .

We like deep conversation. We like to talk about our families, our hopes and dreams, our beliefs, and our interests. We won’t be the first to talk, and we will probably need to be asked. Don’t be afraid to ask. Don’t forget to ask. Don’t overlook us because we are quiet and assume we don’t have anything to contribute. We do.

Best. Bubble. Ever.

So–How can we return the favor? How do we show love to the extraverts in our midst? I want to love you better, too. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Be sure to check out the link to this Friday Five, because there are some great ideas on loving people well!

Fears, Doubts, Dark, and John 3.16


One simple pharisee could have no idea he was unleashing the most quoted Bible verse in history. He just had questions. More accurately, he had statements–for which he never expected the reply he got.

Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 10.12.37 AM

In our ongoing exploration of who Jesus was through the eyes of those he encountered, we come to one of the most famous – Nicodemus. The things about Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus is that, while it looks strange to us, it should look oh so familiar. In fact, I suspect many of us come to Jesus the way Nick came. I know I see myself in his mirror all to well.

And the thing is, we don’t really know how he left. John 3 never tells us. I suspect that’s a deliberate lack of information. Maybe we are left to finish the story ourselves. Perhaps we are expected to end it as if we were in it. If we met Jesus the way Nicodemus does, how would we leave Him? What would we choose?

“Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (John 3)

Two things leap out in the first two sentences of this encounter. One, the man comes to Jesus at night. Two, he does not ask questions, as others do. He makes a statement. Who does things like this? People who are afraid. And people who want to justify themselves. Which is often the same thing.

7d22b-315022_2272222758969_1050644340_2543337_1918182557_nNicodemus was worried his comrades would see him talking to this rebel. He was more afraid of Jesus. On the surface, the guy looks so assured. So certain. So positive that his standing in the community, his education, his record as a good guy who knows all the answers will be enough to certify him with God. But what if they aren’t? These are the fears that keep him hiding in the dark.

The dark works, though, because if Jesus is not really a prophet, he doesn’t lose anything because no one has seen him come. If He is, Nicodemus can make sure he impresses him with his knowledge.

But he forgets something important – fear-filled people have telltale signs. One of them is that they sneak around in the dark. Another is that they pose as self-assured know-it-alls.

Boy, don’t I know the drill on that last one.

He just wants assurance. But he’s wracked with doubts, or he would not be slinking around in the dark looking for a man with a reputation for turning assurances inside out and upside down. Do doubts sound familiar to you? Me too.

After some theological/metaphysical wrangling, we come to this.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear…. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light.”

And very quickly this encounter becomes about two things.

Come out of the dark.

Don’t be afraid.

Nicodemus, no, you don’t have all your theological ducks in a row. Yes, you really are lost on your trek toward the kingdom. All those assurances of yours that you’re living right, thinking right, voting right, meeting the guidelines right? Garbage. But here’s the thing—God so loves you anyway. He’s not waiting to condemn you. He’s waiting to nudge you into the light. Stop hiding. Come out of the dark. Don’t be afraid.

See why this story should sound oh so familiar now?

I’m a Nicodemus, begging Jesus to approve my manufactured goodness. Hiding for fear that it’s not good enough, and even greater fear that I know what it is he wants, and it requires stepping into blinding light that throws all my garbage into high definition.

Come out of the dark.

Don’t be afraid.

IMG_0057It’s like Jesus is coaxing a wounded animal out of the shadows so he can inspect the torn flesh and place his hands on it to heal.

We don’t know how Nick responded. We get inklings later on. But right here, right now, in this dark encounter? We don’t get a resolution. I think that’s because we have to make our own.

Will we walk out of the dark? Whatever our dark is? Will we believe that he comes to heal and not condemn? Will we subject our little kingdoms to the clarifying light that shows them for what they are? This encounter with Jesus is deeper than the previous ones. It’s personal.

  • Can’t we love a Jesus who calls the wounded and fearful into light?
  • Can’t we love a Jesus whose go-to is “I didn’t come to condemn you”?
  • Can’t we love a Jesus who sees past our self-assurance to our fears and doubts and knows those are the real question, no matter what comes out of our lips?

I’m loving getting to know Jesus better. Do you have questions and fears? Do you have encounters in Scripture you’d like to know more about? Let me know—I’d love to talk about it.

Jesus Would Make a Terrible Church Planter

Jesus doesn’t appear to have any judgment at all.

We’re in week three of exploring what it would have been like to meet the real Jesus for the first time. What would an encounter have felt like, looked like? How would it have changed us? Who is Jesus, really? We’ve been introduced to him. We’ve met him in baptism.

And now here. d2eb5-img_4584

“As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

(Matthew 4, John 1)

The next time we see Jesus encountering people for the first time, he’s calling them. Straight up telling them to follow him. No introductions. No “Hey, what are you doing, do you think you could take a break for a while?” Not even a “Who are you and what’s your resume, anyway?” Just this script which, if we take at face value, we cannot think of as anything but odd.

Jesus has bided his time for thirty years in Joseph’s house making end tables. Now he’s been baptized, beaten satan in the wilderness, and finally, the time has come. He gets to start what he came for. Key is in the ignition, suitcase is packed. And because he’s God and all, he’s smart enough to know what many leaders, Christian and otherwise, have yet to figure out. He needs a team.

He gets a chance to assemble his core, his dream team. I’ve worked in church planting—I know how important your core team is. You live or die by those people. If anyone could compile a dream team, Jesus could.

And what does he do? He goes and snags anyone who happens to by lying around that day with nothing else to do. Fishermen taking a break. People napping under trees. Grown men who can’t join him unless they bring their brothers and friends along for moral support. Seriously, who does this? He’d be fired as a manager.

a1fd6-img_0309I know—Jesus prayed and all. I understand all the theology behind this. But looking at it as a normal person would have at the time, which is how were trying to see Jesus in this series, it makes no sense. It’s a desperate, loser move. Jesus’ team is doomed from inception.

Yet something compels these people to follow him. It may be the same thing that compels us.

The disciples knew of Jesus. They would have heard the talk about his unusual “fringe” ways and his ability to handle God’s word. They’d understand people were watching him to be a big deal. They would have known he was an up and coming name.

They would have known no one with those credentials would bother with them.

No rabbi would bother with day laborers and farm workers. They amassed followers from the educated elite of Jerusalem. Peter, Andrew, James, John, Nathanael—they did not imagine any teacher would stop to discuss the things of God with men such as themselves. They had their place—and it was limited.

Yet, one day on the side of the lake, when nothing else is happening, a rabbi calls them. The rabbi calls them. He is not joking. Is it really any wonder they drop everything and follow him? We look at that with such amazement but really, if we realized the gravity of what’s happening, we would not be so surprised.

A rabbi is calling me. Rabbis don’t call fishermen. Rabbis don’t want people like me. I have never been good enough, smart enough, connected enough to be noticed by a rabbi. And now The Teacher has used my name. Mine. I can’t drop this net fast enough.

It would be like Lionel Messi telling some young kid in the vacant lot, “Hey, stop kicking that soccer ball around and let me teach you how to play.”

You know what else is amazing?

A rabbi is calling you.

He’s looking at you, wherever you are, whatever your employment, level of education, lifestyle, or background, and he’s saying, “I want you. Follow me.”

a3c7f-img_4682Look at Jesus’ first encounter with potential disciples. Really look. It’s like he just glances at people and says, “You want to come? You’re in.” You skeptical? You’re in. You uncertain? You’re in. You unworthy? You’re in. Whatever, people. If you want to come, you’re in.

Think about that for just a minute, and let it sink in how people must have felt about that. Let it sink in how we should feel about that.

We’re in. We’re called. On those days when you feel all kinds of not enough, put yourself on the shores of that lake and hear those words – follow me. Whoever you are. Wherever you’ve been. No matter what. Be mine.

Jesus’ first encounter with his followers was not a test of fitness but a call toward fullness.

He doesn’t ask for a resume; he asks for a reception.

I think that’s a Jesus we can love.

I think that’s a Jesus we can serve.

I think that’s a Jesus we can follow.

In the words of one of my favorite quotes of 2015:

Jesus created a motley crew, plucking us from every context and inaugurating a piecemeal clan that has only ever functioned with mercy. We should be grabbing hands, throwing our heads back, and laughing that God saved us all, because surely this is the messiest family ever and He loves us anyway. Our shared redemption should keep us grateful and kind, because what other response even makes sense? (Jen Hatmaker)