When Jesus Messes Everything Up

There’s this one little passage in the Book of Acts that really messes with me; I’ve been sitting with it for about a week now, but it REALLY seems like it applies to most of my life over the past four months (at least). 

Here’s the way it reads in the Common English Bible: 

“Paul and his companions traveled throughout the regions of Phrygia and Galatia because the Holy Spirit kept them from speaking the word in the province of Asia. When they approached the province of Mysia, they tried to enter the province of Bithynia, but the SPIRIT OF JESUS WOULDN’T LET THEM.”

Acts, Chapter 16

If you’ve ever studied Paul’s journeys, it’s very easy to see that Paul was pretty organized. His trips around the Mediterranean make sense and are planned well (while simultaneously being “Spirit-led”). So when the story says that he and his companions were trying to go Asia and the province of Bithynia, it’s because (a) they were confident that’s where God wanted them to go, and also (b) it made a lot of SENSE to go there. 

But then Jesus shows up. 

And says, “Nope.” 

It makes me think about my reaction when something seems to go wrong that I believe is (a) where God wants me to go/what God wants me to do and (b) makes a lot of sense. 

I tend to think that if something doesn’t work out the way I’d planned my reactions are some combination of: 

  1. Human brokenness is to blame. We were too prideful, or whatever. 
  2. There is some kind of opposition—call it the devil, or Satan, or whatever—that is opposing “God’s work.” 

But here the Scripture clearly indicates that it was JESUS that was saying no.

And if Jesus is present in the “NO”, that means that everything that tends to come with Jesus—peace, love, compassion, joy, etc.—can be present in that NO as well. 

So I can settle down just a bit, and say, “Okay, Jesus: what are you trying to tell me or teach me right now?” 

(“Don’t go to Bithynia.”)

So…

Next time your plans seem to blow up, and nothing makes sense or lines up with what you thought God wanted you to do, consider: 

… Maybe it’s NOT a result of your (or others’) brokenness. 

… Maybe it’s NOT some kind of spiritual opposition. 

…Maybe it’s actually Jesus, which means there can be GIFTS inside the “No,” and all you really have to do to find them is to ACCEPT the reality of the NO and then ask with an open heart, “God what are you trying to show and teach me right now?” 

Most likely, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the answer. 

What ELSE Went With Abram

Still thinking about this guy named Abram.

It’s important to remember what else he brought on his journey (besides his issues). 

Namely, all the faith that he needed in order to start on that journey. 

There’s nothing in the Biblical text that indicates why Abram might have been chosen to go on this unexpected journey. Nothing that might reveal why this God might have picked him above everyone else. 

(By the way: what if it’s not so much that God PICKED Abram; maybe it’s that God is ALWAYS calling, and Abram was the only one who just happened to be willing to hear?)

It would have been easy for Abram to focus on the gaps in the invitation “go to a land which I will show you”? How do I enter that into GPS? 

Or on the enormity of the invitation—“Uh, how am I supposed to be the father of a nation when my wife and I appear to be unable to have children?” 

Instead Abram just does what life requires of us: he just starts moving. 

Life doesn’t require that we have all the answers (because I can guarantee you that we do not). 

Life doesn’t require that we know the DESTINATION. 

Life just requires that we are willing to take the first step. 

And what Abram is taking with him is that willingness to take the first step. He’s willing to believe that maybe, JUST MAYBE, life is more than what he’s experienced so far. 

And so he starts moving, and becomes the paradigm of faith for everyone, a reminder that how you do anything is how you do everything. 

Abram’s journey starts with a willingness to start moving—from Ur to Canaan. Our journey starts EVERY DAY with that same willingness. Start moving. Our unknown journey every 24 hours can be just as adventurous (and impactful) as Abram’s. 

I Remember…

I remember when I first realized that living in my “faith tribe” might not always be easy.

Though I grew up in the church (good old Methodists! Everyone loves the Methodists!), my faith didn’t really take root until I was in my late 20s, when I was working at Willow Creek Community Church. Because of that church’s resources (and theology), I got to hear (or hear about) some amazing teaching from people like Philip Yancey, Dallas Willard, and Brennan Manning (who eventually became a sort-of guiding light for me).

I thought talk about the spiritual disciplines and hearing about the scandalous love of God was sort of part for the course for my evangelical, non-denominational tribe.

Then I moved south.

I’ve been in north Florida (or southern Georgia,  whichever the case may be) for 8 years now, and though there are plenty of fine folks here (that’s the way we/they say it), I was shocked to find that when my family arrived here to start working at yet another non-denominational, evangelical church, there was practically no awareness of Mr. Manning, or Mr. Willard.

Even more alarming, I was told about how certain people had left our church (before I arrived) because of they were “uncomfortable” with, of all people Philip Yancey. This prompted an internet search, and my naiveté collapsed around me as I read scathing comments about Philip. What’s more, I searched again, and discovered that Dallas Willard was considered practically evil, and associated with something like “typical Fuller seminary theology”. (Um, this was not a compliment.)

This was challenging, to say the least. I thought my “tribe” was full of open-minded tolerant people who sought to know this God of love and grace and mystery and transformation.

What I found instead were people who were interested in dogma and rigidity, close-mindedness and exclusivity.

I found fundamentalism.

I hope it’s clear when I say this is not about the south: this is about just me discovering the reality of the tension that still exists under this umbrella that I share.

(Some of my best friends of fundamentalists.)

Some days I don’t think I live under this umbrella anymore. Some days I no longer recognize my “tribe.” Some days I’m not sure I want to recognize them anymore.

But I keep on seeking. Because my tribe ≠ my God.

He’s bigger, and more loving, and more mysterious, and open-minded than any of us will ever be.

That’s why I follow him.

A “Non-Update”

Haven’t posted here in a while; I’ve been processing through so many things.

By nature, I like revolution over evolution. My idea of change is an abrupt rupture. “Break it or leave it.”

I also function in three-year seasons. Any intelligent person could see it in my resume. I get restless, and I want to try something new. It’s a function of a few things, I think:

  1. My restless nature
  2. My hunger for new things
  3. My pleasure in bringing sustainable order to chaos
  4. My resistance to deep community

So I’ve been here for 3 years, and the urge is simmering, boiling and rising. I look around me, and see both evolutionary and revolutionary change. The consequences for this now are so much larger, as I have kids who are rooted and grounded, with friends of their own, but I am also a child of Abraham, following a God who calls us to leave our homes and follow him.

As far as I can see, I have one of three paths in front of me (always leave room for more, though, YHWH likes to surprise):

  • Stay and grow through this job, go deeper into community, and enjoy watching my children grow up;
  • Cut the cord and step into a more challenging leadership role (that I am simultaneously confident in and terrified of); OR
  • Cut the cord, trade in my ministry toys, and go play somewhere else.

I have been in vocational ministry for 10 years. Essentially, I have been doing the same job, though largely through passion and choice. Still, the same job?

Isn’t it time to grow? Time to stretch muscle and sinew? I’m wrestle with the fact that maybe my malaise in life has been a result of not aspiring high enough, not risking enough, rather than too much. After all, I’m not aspiring to anything that people haven’t told me before that I was capable of.

One thing is for sure; something is coming; always is…