Gift 20 – The Truth about Fiction

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Believe it or not, this lit. enthusiast, English major, and all around word-lover used to utterly detest reading.

In middle school I somehow almost always coincidentally chose books to “read” that had been made into movies. The teacher would see the title I’d picked and say, “I think that story was made into a movie a few years ago. You might enjoy watching it when you’ve finished the book.”

“Oh Really?” I would say, “I didn’t know that. I’ll have to see if I can rent it when I’m done reading.” I knew this was a dishonest practice, but I had no other way of passing the monthly Accelerated Reader tests.

But everything changed when I checked out The Wonderful Wizard of Oz from the school library. It was the natural choice since I’d already seen the movie adaptation at my grandparent’s house, though when a friend told me about a few variances, I decided to skim the first few pages just to cover my bases.

ozThen it happened: I went to Oz. I didn’t mean to, but I ended up getting hooked and actually finished the book (“It was kinda like watching a movie in my head,” I told my flabbergasted friends). I found out that L. Frank Baum had actually written 13 other Oz adventures, so I bought and read them all.

This was just the beginning of my love for fiction, and for reading in general. Over ten years later, I am convinced that books such as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz impact young people in countless positive ways and contribute to a person’s sense of creativity, wonder, and depth. Every once and a while I meet a fiction critic who doesn’t have time to waste on “silly stories that aren’t even true”, and while I have about a hundred reasons why reading fiction is an unequivocally good and wholesome activity, I want to share just one with you now:

The very best fictional stories are true. Really.

You see, there is a difference between something that is truthful and something that is factual. Many Eastern cultures have historically appreciated this difference when it comes to storytelling. Take, for example, the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf. A westerner will tell you that the story is not true. Why not? Because it didn’t really happen. But tell the same story to someone from a story-centric society and they’ll likely tell you that it is in fact true. Why? Because it is true, isn’t it? The deterioration of one’s integrity is very serious business. Every time you break your word the value of your word decreases. Or, as Aesop famously said, “Nobody believes a liar…even when he is telling the truth!” These things are true, making the Boy Who Cried Wolf a story that tells truth, though not necessarily through fact. This is an exceptionally significant distinction to make, and is, in my opinion, the very best reason to read fiction.

Books such as the Harry Potter series, The Lord of the Rings, and The Chronicles of Narnia are stories that tell the truth. Friendship is more valuable than power. There is more to people than mere appearances. Humility and self-sacrifice is greater than superiority and self-importance. Things are not the most important things. Courage in the face of overwhelming odds does make a difference. Love is stronger than death. The light does shine in the darkness and the darkness will never overcome it.

There is great and nourishing magic in stories that tell the truth—even when the stories aren’t comprised of facts. It is worth noting that Jesus himself dealt almost exclusively in fiction to communicate truth to his audiences (Matt. 13:34). “There was a man who had two sons. The younger son came to his father and demanded his share of the inheritance…” “Suppose one of you has 100 sheep and one of them runs away…” “There was a woman with ten silver coins…” “A wealthy man was preparing a great feast…”

Clearly there is more to fiction than meets the eye. In fact, In Mark 4 Jesus explains to his disciples that the very reason he speaks in story is so that only few will understand. It is as though his stories are invitations beckoning the true in heart to follow where he leads. Because bookJesus, in his unexpected, seemingly foolish, upside down way of doing things still leads to a cross, and it will be those whose eyes have been shaped by the truth found in fiction who will be the first to recognize and believe that the gardener outside the tomb is really the resurrected Son of God.

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Gift 19 – Be the Bigger Man

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” – Winston Churchill

I’ve learned that being the bigger man almost always means being the smaller man.

Culture says that manliness = bravado. Never back down, never surrender. Win at all cost. Get even. Give them a piece of your mind. Have the last laugh.

But son, true strength is not shown in domination, destruction, power, or supremacy. I’m reminded of this in the movie 42 when Jackie Robinson asks Brach Rickey, “You want a player who doesn’t have the guts to fight back?” and Rickey responds, “No. I want a player who’s got the guts not to fight back.”

Though this kind of strength often looks like weakness, it contains the secret power of restoration, healing, and change. This kind of strength has the power to bury cycles of revenge that might otherwise go on forever.

When it comes to unproductive arguments and destructive competitions, this means raising the white flag. When it comes to foolish feuds at school, in the workplace, at church, and at home, this means apologizing in order to restore relationships. When it comes to battles of pride and ego, it means humbling yourself to step out of the ring.

When being the bigger man feels impossible, remember that true strength is having the power to call twelve legions of angels to your side, but instead staying quiet while the proud line up and spit in your face one at a time. Remember, too, that this kind of death contains resurrection power.

Live in this strength and you’ll know the power of Jesus, the biggest smallest man who ever lived.

Gift 18 – Relatively Speaking

Einstein was right: everything is relative.

You see, I’ve always thought of Piper as a wild and bad dog. I think this when, out of all the magazines, he finds and destroys the one called “Family Dog” as though he knows our secret plans to civilize him and won’t have any of it. Or when I hold his face by the hole in the wall that he’s eaten for the third time and sternly say, “bad dog!” while he wags his tail. Or when I come home from work to find him sitting in my chair and he looks at me insolently as if to say, “Um, can I help you?”
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I used to think these things about Piper, that is until I saw a picture my friend posted on facebook (right). My friend’s dog saw a squirrel outside, and knowing the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, bolted right through the window to catch his quarry. Instead of getting the squirrel he got 9 stiches in his nose.

After seeing this picture I thought to myself, Piper isn’t so bad after all. Because, of course, the badness of dogs is relative.

Everything is relative if you think about it.

You might be 6’2, but you still won’t feel tall standing next to Shaq.

You might consider yourself fast, but not when racing Usain Bolt.

You might think you’re rich, but not when walking in Bill Gate’s neighborhood. On the other hand, you might think you’re poor, but probably not when visiting a developing nation. It’s all relative.

I think this is why New Testament authors constantly remind early Christians to keep their eyes on Jesus. We humans have the tendency to complain—this happens when you compare yourself with someone on the more “desirable” end of the spectrum; when you see that you’re not as popular as _____________, or as well paid as ______________, or as talented as _____________, or as clearly understood as ______________. Poisons such as jealousy, envy, gossip, scorn, discontentment, and dissatisfaction all bubble up from this toxic spring of comparison.

But, in reminding believers of Jesus’ own experiences, the Apostle Paul points us all the way to the other end of the spectrum. Look at Jesus, he says. You might want to complain about the crappy day you’re having, but when you run into a friend whose house recently burned down, you’d feel pretty stupid grumbling about a broken dishwasher. Likewise, any unfair, or difficult, or upsetting situation I find myself in quickly seems more than bearable in comparison with all that Jesus endured on my behalf.

I often catch myself saying things like, “But that’s not fair!” “I don’t deserve this!” “This is ridiculous!” Even in marriage I am often all too concerned with what I think is “fair.” “I did the dishes last night, it’s your turn.” “You want me to run to Sam’s Club? I was at work all day!” etc. And yet, my logic becomes embarrassing and laughable when I consider Jesus surrendering his rights—all that he really did deserve—to pursue a cross on our behalf. What complaints slipped from his lips as he surrendered to the Father’s will? Did he so much as grumble as He set his face toward Jerusalem? Or as he was mocked and spat upon? Or as he was brutally murdered in the greatest act of injustice the world has ever seen?

And here I am complaining…about Sam’s Club?

The purpose of looking to Jesus’ suffering isn’t so that you feel like a horrible person whenever you want to complain. Nor is it the purpose to trivialize the truly difficult and sorrowful things going on in our lives—not at all. The point is to understand the depth of Christ’s selfless character and to be shaped by His good heart, remembering that we’ve actually been given more than we deserve.

Do this, son, and instead of being filled with jealousy or discontentment you will come alive with gratitude, joy, and a deeper love for Christ.

Gift 17 – Hibernal Man Fires and the Like

A “Hibernal Man Fire”—That’s what we called it.

Ingredients are as follows:

– 1 large circler pit dug out of the 3 feet of snow in our backyard.

– 1 bonfire in the middle of the clearing.

– 5 guys bundled in hats and coats gathered around the fire to read classic short stories.

– 1 full moon.

The guys and I had the idea for this “Hibernal Man Fire” while sitting in the library at school. We had all been feeling a little stir-crazy as the bitter winter months drudged slowly on, so we decided to do something about it. Yes, some good stories told around a fire in defiance of February’s crappiness was exactly what was needed (Plus, who doesn’t love fire any time of the year?).

It is random outbursts of craziness and life such as our “Hibernal Man Fire” that turn into wonderful traditions. In fact, we’re hoping to have another short story/bonfire combo soon (stories on deck: “The Machine that Won the War”; “The Most Dangerous Game”; “By the Waters of Babylon”; “Leiningen vs. The Ants”; “Lamb to the Slaughter”; “The Man by the Window.”)

Traditions are so important because they are always relational—they are things we do together, usually to celebrate, or to remember, or to simply to keep life from becoming mundane. And frankly, our culture stinks at them. What do we do to celebrate important milestones?… hmm…get wasted on our 21st birthday?

Oh. Great.

Son, it’s up to us to create traditions that nurture good things, admirable things, life-giving things, Dangeruss things. Here are a few ideas…

1. A 15-year-old Adventure. This means that when you or any of your siblings turn 15, we’ll plan a weeklong trip in the wild. Maybe we’ll canoe down Michigan’s Jordan River, or hike the Porcupine jordanMountains in the Upper Peninsula, or explore South Manitou Island, but wherever we end up going you can count on being challenged—and you might just learn a thing or two about the outdoors (and maybe about yourself, too). We’ll bring a book (preferably one of the Chronicles of Narnia ☺) to read around the fire at night before crawling into our really cool Cabelas Alaskan Guide tent (which I’ve already purchased in anticipation of our camping adventures).

2. Birthday gifts. This may sound fairly typical, but let me explain. I learned a few years ago that expecting great gifts is a surefire way to have a disappointing and/or insignificant birthday. It is way more fun to give awesome gifts to the people you care about (or to complete strangers…either way). So, while your mom and I will still probably give you a present or two, your main gift will be $100 to spend any way you choose, as long as it’s for other people. Be creative. Be generous. Have fun. (But be careful, this is how our family ended up with our crazy dog, Piper).

3. It’s-Not-About-You Trip. I heard about my principal’s family doing this and definitely want to copy their idea. When you turn a certain age, your mom and I want to take you on a mission trip to spend a week serving others. It’s easy for young teens to think that the world revolves around them…but it doesn’t. In fact, your life isn’t even about you. Seeing the conditions in which so many live around the world will challenge you to examine our culture’s concepts of entitlement, materialism, and self-centeredness.

4. Cousin Olympics. Ever since we had our first Cousin Olympics almost ten years ago I’ve been excited to plan this annual extravaganza for the next generation. We’ll spend three days at grandpa and grandma’s competing in all kinds of team activities such as archery, board games, relay races, swimming, dodgeball, kayak races, and many more. Traditions like this contribute to strong and healthy friendships between family members—friendships that last a lifetime.

5. Rite of Passage. Your uncles and I have been talking about having some kind of ceremony when you reach a certain age. Here’s the general plan: you’ll have about three hours to round up as many downed limbs from the woods as possible to collect in a giant pile. When time’s up, we’ll light the mound on fire (safely, of course ☺) and spend the evening gathered around sharing stories and advice. Each adult will tell one “success” story and one “failure” story as a way of offering guidance and advice to the younger one(s). At the end of the night we’ll give a blessing and welcome the new adult into the tribe.

There are so many other great traditions I want to start with our family and friends that I don’t have space to write them all down here (Note: Please feel free to comment below with traditions you currently have or hope to start in the future).

Our culture has lost its sense of ritual; we no longer think of identity in terms of community, but only as individuals. Creating traditions is a way of bringing us back together, of shaping a culture that values people more than things, and of making memories with the people we love. A good tradition can be a mini-revolution of life and friendship, and all the other good things in life worth coming together to celebrate.

Gift 16 – Chasing Bigfoot

My friends and I are big fans of Finding Bigfoot, the highly acclaimed TV series in which a team of four professional “Squatch Hunters” tries to track down the legendary Bigfoot. On this show that has become popular due to its ridiculousness, the team utilizes thousands of dollars worth of high-tech night vision equipment along with their natural squatch sense to track down “evidence” in hopes of someday proving the existence of Bigfoot.

On one particular episode, the team’s leader and founder of BRFO (Bigfoot Research Field Organization—naturally), Matt Moneymaker stated that he has spent the last 25 years of his life looking for this elusive (or much more likely, non-existent) creature.

At this point my friends and I erupted into laughter. “Wait…did he just say he’s spent the last 25 years looking for Bigfoot? Imagine putting that on a job application!”

Photo credit: Image via Josh Crockett, http://monsterfaces.weebly.com

Photo credit: Image via Josh Crockett, http://monsterfaces.weebly.com

25 years. Wow. That’s a long time to be looking for anything, let alone a mythical ape-like mammal. In disbelief I said to my friends, “Imagine how hilariously tragic it’s going to be when this guy stand before Jesus, and Jesus says, ‘So Matt, how did you spend the life I gave you?’ and Matt replies, ‘Uh…Well, I spent my youth, my money, my passion, my energy, and a total of 25 years of my life looking for Bigfoot.” Again, we burst into laughter.

But after a few minutes I was struck by a convicting thought: Is whatever I’m looking for any less ridiculous? When it comes down to it, is running after wealth, or popularity, or pleasure, or fame, or comfort, or success any less absurd than running after Bigfoot?

Jesus said, “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”

In other words, in an attempt to make our lives significant by becoming rich, or beautiful, or well-liked, we’re actually on an endless and meaningless search for something we will never find. I look at Matt Moneymaker and think ‘what a silly and ridiculous way to spend your life!’ but is not Jesus saying the very same thing to those of us pursuing anything other than Him and His Kingdom? Think of all the time, energy, and resources that Matt Moneymaker has expended to find a creature that probably doesn’t even exist! And yet, perhaps it will be just as embarrassing to tell Jesus about all the time, energy, and resources I expended on my search to find significance and worth apart from Him. Imagine your hopeful grin as you stand before Jesus with a nice car, or a pile of money, or a thousand facebook friends, or whatever else we might chase after and realizing that you missed the point—you wasted your life.

And here’s the thing about the show Finding Bigfoot: they never actually find him (a more appropriate title would be Looking For Bigfoot). According to Jesus, the same goes for looking to save your life—you’ll never actually do it. The only way to save your life is in losing it to the One who died to save it.

Businesses and other organizations create mission statements as a way of defining and illuminating just what it is they are running after. This statement clarifies what the group is and what it’s all about, and also holds the organization accountable for everything that doesn’t fall under the umbrella of the mission. Jesus helps define the mission statement for the people of God when he is asked about the greatest commandment. He says, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Ask yourself, son, Is this what I’m chasing after today?

Gift 15 – An Oriented Life

When you think of praying in a certain direction, you probably first think of the Islamic tradition of praying toward Mecca in the East, but actually, the Hebrew Bible tells of a more ancient “directional prayer.” 1 Kings 8 talks of people praying toward the newly built temple of the LORD in Jerusalem. But why? Even Solomon himself, the king who built the temple, knew that God is too great to be confined in a single place (“But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!”). So why pray facing it?

Perhaps facing a direction in prayer is a physical way of orienting our lives towards something other than ourselves. Facing the Temple was a bodily reminder that one’s life matters only in relation to God’s, like the long hand of a clock orbiting around a center point that gives it its rhythm and meaning; without which nothing makes sense.

I seem to need constant reminders that I am not the center. You’d think that being in ministry is a sure sign of a person’s life oriented toward God, but come to find out, it’s trickier than you’d think. In fact, ministry can all too easily become another means of orienting towards oneself—this happens when a person begins to love the talking more than the God one is talking about. It is a question I have to keep asking: What is the orientation of my life? What am I facing? What am I living for? What gives me purpose, meaning, and satisfaction?

Son, better learn early on that you are not the center. You are not the reason why all other things exist, but you know what, that’s actually good news. Life works photo (2)best when you know that you exist only in relation to someone else. Like the lilies on our counter that move to face the sun throughout the day, I pray you too orient yourself toward the Source of Sustenance. My hope is for you to become a man who is directionally dependent on the Holy Presence of the Living God; that you aim your life wherever he is found.

Gift 14 – The Cost

$500.

That’s how much we paid for our golden retriever.

But that’s not counting all his shots and early vet bills…

Or the price of a cage, a leash, a collar…

Or the dog food he devours like a rabid rhinoceros…

Or the legs of tables and chairs he incessantly chews…

Or the cleaning supplies needed to remove the remnants of his “accidents” (though I’m beginning to suspect some of his “accidents” are on purpose)….

Or the cost of paint and drywall supplies used to repair the wall that our delightful pet attacked and devoured for no apparent reason (that’s right, he ate a wall)…

Or the blankets we had to throw away after he barfed up said wall on our bed…

Or the phone chargers, underwear, and washing-machines (happened) that he’s eaten…

Or the eventual cost of getting him fixed (goodness knows we don’t want this K9 reproducing)…

Or the…for the sake of space I’ll stop here, though I assure you the list goes on.

"I like C.S. Lewis too, dad."

“I like C.S. Lewis too, dad.”

$500? Not even close. That number seems laughable after all we’ve been through with our destructive little friend. The point is, he’s costing us more than we originally thought. He’s worth it all right, but it would have been helpful having a slightly more accurate cost estimate going into the purchase of our beloved pooch.

And it’s not just Piper—there are many surprise expenses that go along with being an adult: fine print on big purchases, added charges and hidden fees, even getting groceries always seems to cost about 3 times more than expected.

In light of realizing all these veiled expenses, I have come to genuinely appreciate Jesus’ lack of tact in his strategy to recruit and retain disciples. He’s not interested in forcing a quick sale by making discipleship sound like something that it isn’t. He has no marketing department—and if he did, frankly, they should be fired. He says things like, “Those who would come after me must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me,” and, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.” That’s not exactly something you’d want to put on a business card. But Jesus doesn’t seem to be interested in fine print. He’s not looking to bait anyone into signing an agreement they don’t intend on keeping. He asks for everything.

Christians sometimes water down discipleship to make Christianity more attractive. We reduce it to a one-time decision—the raising of a hand, the praying of a prayer, etc.—and sweep past Jesus’ claim on our lives. But Jesus doesn’t just want a wedding, he wants a marriage. He wants everything.

While this sounds intimidating and maybe even terrifying, here’s the most important part: He’s worth everything.

Jesus says, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all that he had and bought that field. Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

The treasure in the story is of greater value than everything else the man owns. That’s why he’s happy and eager to make transaction. In his joy he went off and sold all that he had. Had he been willing to sell 50% of his belongings to buy the treasure, we could assume the treasure is worth slightly more than half of everything he owned. Had the man sold an item or two to get the treasure, we could assume it isn’t worth all that much. But, the man sells everything to buy the treasure, showing its value is incalculable—it’s worth everything.

Son, I don’t think Jesus’ words about the cost of being a disciple are to scare you away. I pray that thinking about his costly invitation will be another way for you to see just who this Jesus is and what he’s worth, because I believe that he is worth it all. I also believe that he is eager and excited to give you more blessing than you can imagine, but that emptying your hands of all else is the only way to truly receive.

How much is Jesus worth to you? Is he worth everything? I don’t ask these questions to make you feel guilty, or to pressure you to “be a better Christian” or anything dumb like that. No, no, I want you to see the pearl, son. I want you to see and know and love this Jesus who is worth it all so that your heart sings with the psalmist who says, “Your love is better than life!”

Gift 13 – Ash Wednesday

My thumb is black with ash from this morning’s chapel service. “From dust you came and to dust you shall return.” “From dust you came and to dust you shall return.” “From dust you came and to dust you shall return.”

The rhythm of the phrase has been with me all day. Repentance, mortality, death. Ashes. This is what we remember as Jesus turns from the North, setting his face toward Jerusalem and a cross. I’m moved by his resolute submission as he takes the first step, like Abraham going to Moriah with a knife, and fire, and wood, but without a lamb. I think of trembling Isaac as his father lifts him onto an altar, “Not my will, Father, but your will be done.”

I once knew a young girl who, with a genuine grin on her face, wished me a “happy Ash-Wednesday” every year on this day. At the time, I didn’t think she understood what she was saying; that “happy” and “ash” don’t go together. I would smile and wish her a happy Ash Wednesday in return, remembering what it was like as a young kid having someone whom I thought so important put the mark of Christ on my forehead. It always left a quiet, heavy kind of joy.

I still have the ashes from my first Ash Wednesday. The solemnity of the service made such an impression on this twelve year old that before bed I scraped the remaining ashes from my forehead and saved them in a little paper box that I’d made, treasuring them like dirty, holy relics. The box is still in my closet, waiting for the resurrection.

What were those days like, I wonder, the days leading up to the crucifixion and the few dark days after it? How loud and how heavy was the permanence of it all? I sometimes think my students know better than I do. As a teacher you hear about things that break your heart. Students who cry openly as they ask for prayers for a mother dying of cancer; young ones wearing long sleeves to hide wounded wrists; insecurities that can be traced back to a broken home, that can be traced back to a broken home, that can be traced back to a broken home, that can be traced back to a broken Eden. They know about ashes. After all, from dust they’ve come and to dust they will return.

And yet there’s a secret about the ashes that only a few remember in the bitter midnight of this long, slow walk to the cross. It is a secret that I don’t pretend to fully understand, and that I don’t dare try to explain here in these few poor words. All I will say is this: I believe there will come a day when I will hear a chirping from my closet. I will open the door, and with heart burning like the men on their way to Emmaus, I will see that the ashes in that little paper box have turned into a bird with wings ready to fly free from any and every tomb.

With this great secret in mind, Happy Ash Wednesday, son.

Gift 12 – Mean Jesus

One of the first Jesus stories I remember grabbing hold of my imagination in Sunday School was the miracle at the wedding in Cana. I wasn’t particularly impressed with the changing of water into wine, but I do clearly remember Jesus’ shocking words to his mom when she informed him of the beverage shortage.

“Woman,” he said, “why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come.”

Woman? I thought. Jesus called his mom woman? Yikes!

Little did I know that my Christology (ideas about Jesus) was forming. Though the Sunday school teacher tried pointing out how this story shows Jesus’ power, all I could think of was what would happen if I tried calling my mom woman when we got in the car after church. It wouldn’t be good. What kind of person was this Jesus guy?

And then there’s the time Jesus was hungry so he walked over to a fig tree for a quick breakfast, but when he found no figs on the tree he cursed it, saying, “May you never bear fruit again!”

…seriously, Jesus?

My young mind imagined a kid at school kicking and yelling at the vending machine after seeing it was out of Reeses. Again, my delicate notions of Jesus were forming. Though I never would have said it out loud, behind the scenes I was thinking that I might just want to keep my distance from this loon. In the back of my mind I pictured Jesus as a man who everyone knows is important but whom nobody actually wants to be around. Because let’s be honest, if this was Gary or Frank cursing the fig tree, everyone would be thinking, “Calm down, ya spaz.” I can see bystanders whispering to their friends, “Psych-o-path.” But since it’s Jesus we say things like, “Well he has every right to be angry,” or “He’s God, that means it is a righteous anger,” but deep down we’re not quite sure.

Whenever I would read something Jesus said or did that was, well, rude or crazy or arrogant, I would quickly turn the page and feign ignorance because it is Jesus after all, and a person’s not supposed to go around thinking bad things about Jesus. It wasn’t until I was a good deal older that I revisited some of these stories, intent on reckoning the goodness of Jesus that I had personally experienced with his apparent dubious behavior in the Bible. Digging deeper in the text I was astonished by what I found:

Jesus is better.

Story after story I discovered that my surface-level reading of the Bible had distorted my original perceptions of Jesus. Come to find out, the Greek word for “woman” that Jesus used was a gentle and loving way to refer to your mom. Calling your mother “woman” in Jesus’ day wasn’t anything like saying it now. This discovery caused me to reimagine Jesus’ tone as he addressed this dear lady whom he loved and respected. “Mamma, it’s not time for me to show my power yet.” (And notice how he does the miracle anyway, even though it’s not yet his hour, very possibly out of respect for his mom’s request.)

And the fig tree incident? After further reading in the Old Testament I learned that the fig tree was a biblical symbol for the Jewish religious leadership—leadership that at the time wasn’t bearing any fruit. Both Matthew and Mark place this story directly next to Jesus’ clearing out of the Temple and calling out the chief priests and the teachers of the law for their poor management of God’s house. Ohhhh, I get it. Jesus wasn’t being irritable when he cursed the fig tree, he was making a dangerous political statement that his disciples would have certainly picked up on (read Jeremiah 7:11 and 8:13…seriously, so cool).

The more I understood Jesus in his world, the more I understood that he is better than I imagined. Kinder than imagined. Bolder than I imagined. More passionate for His Beloved than I imagined. In fact, I now see that I have never once in my life overestimated God’s heart. Not once have I needed to reel-in an over presumptuous notion of His goodness and love. Not once has God had to correct an excessively audacious assumption of His identity, saying, “Take it down a couple notches, kid, I’m not that kind.”

Nope. It’s always been the other way around. God is incessantly challenging and stretching my notions of His character to match a goodness worthy of unending praise. This means knocking down stingy walls in my heart to make room for His abundant love. The hammer pounds on my modest doctrines and theologies as God announces, I’m better, Son. I’m better, Son. I’m better, Son.

Because God is better, son. You will see this in time. I will do my best to represent Him well, but when I fail you need to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that no matter what circumstances suggest, no matter what rumors you’ve heard, no matter what you’ve come to believe,

God

Is

Better.

Gift 11 – Boring Jesus

When I taught English, students would occasionally complain that the literature we read was boring.

I would respond by saying something like, “Would you please read that last sentence again?”

A student would begrudgingly oblige, reading word after lifeless word as though skimming an instruction manual.

“I figured it out!” I would then announce, “Shakespeare isn’t boring, you are!”

I hate to say it, but some days when I look into my students’ faces I’m convinced the zombie apocalypse has begun. I’ve gotten into the habit of having students check their pulse as they come into the classroom as a way of reminding us to wake up, to be ready, to be alive.

What breaks my heart is when we do this to Jesus. One of the biggest hurdles I see keeping young people from experiencing the revelation of Jesus is the idea that he is…well, boring.

Jesus, the one whose entire life is surrounded by controversy, surprise, outrage, suspicion, glory, disappointment, and astonishment; the man who one minute is being hailed as the messiah and the next is accused of being the devil; the one who infuriates the religious leaders by breaking Sabbath rules to show his Father’s true heart; the one who touched a guy with an infectious skin disease, ignoring his 10 foot radius bubble of uncleanliness; the one who has the Pharisees plotting with the Herodians on how they might assassinate him; the one who disappoints the Jewish world by going to a cross instead of a throne; the one who rises from the dead, disguises himself, and walks eight miles with a couple of his dejected followers acting like he knows nothing of the weekend’s events until finally showing them at the end of the journey that it was him all along—this Jesus is boring?!

Jesus was accused of many things while on earth, but never once of being dull. I mean, come on, you’d be kicked out of church just for supporting him (John 9:22), he must be a little bit interesting.

Somehow, we’ve become so far removed from the world of Jesus that we no longer understand what the folks of his day were getting so worked up about. We read the Bible scanning for information or instruction and miss the revelation of it all, the life pulsating in the text. Trust me, son, Jesus is there, we’re just too boring to notice.

If anything, we’re the ones who are boring Jesus, not the other way around. I can see him yawning now.

This reminds me of the time Amanda and I took our niece to the zoo. We were so excited for her to see animals she didn’t even know existed. Unfortunately, she never saw most of these incredible creatures. All day she was mesmerized by a cheap plastic wristwatch. At one point I sat her down facing the lion cage thinking it would shake her from her stupor, but even though her nose was no more than eight inches from the face of a 400 pound lion, she never even noticed. I called to her, I pointed, I danced a jig trying to get her to see this amazing creature, but she never saw it because she was too busy looking at the dumb watch.

Do you see the Lion, son? Do you see his golden fur swelling out and in as he drinks in whole buckets of air? Do you see his giant tail swishing back and forth with vivacity and joy? Are you close enough to hear the low rumble of his name growing in his throat while your knees knock together in expectancy? Put the wristwatch down, son, because blessed are those who see the Living God and know better than to think that He’s the boring one.

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