Weird Stuff Jesus Said

Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life… ~ Jesus

Whoa. Imagine hearing this for the first time. Imagine hearing this without any previous experience of the Lord’s Supper. Imagine a young, perhaps educated, couple attending church for the first time in their lives—this Sunday as this passage is read!

Imagine hearing Jesus say these words.

We know that some in the crowd took such offense at Jesus that they stopped following him because he said these things.

Eat my flesh. Drink my blood. If you don’t you’ll die. If you do, you’ll live forever.

He drives this point home with clarity and repetition.

We hear it—as people who are “churched”—and I think we largely let the bombshells land around us without much reaction. I mean, of course Jesus is talking about Communion…right? We hear these words against a lifetime of hearing: take, eat, this is my body…take drink, this is my blood of the new covenant.

For us, they have lost their offensiveness.

But, Jesus didn’t launch these rhetorical bombshells so that they’d fizzle with time.

No, I think it’s clear that Jesus was stirring the pot on purpose. He wanted to say things that challenged people, even to the point of having to decide that they’d have to leave.

One thing is clear here: Jesus isn’t about people-pleasing. He’s not about glad-handing, and smoothing out the wrinkles so that everyone can go away happy, and come again happy. He’s not about just saying and doing just about anything to attract a crowd.

Jesus and Eugene Peterson agree where Peterson said,

Being a pastor who satisfies congregations is one of the easiest jobs in the world. If we are content to please congregations.

If you read through the rest of chapter six of the Gospel of John, you will see that many people are offended and leave Jesus after this teaching. And in the very earliest days of the Christian Church, one of the main charges of the critics of Christianity was that followers of Jesus were cannibals. (Today we think it difficult that we are associated with white supremacists or shady politicians.)

How can he say that?

Jesus knows that there is a hunger that is deeper in and further down than all of our physical hungers, thirsts, and cravings.

Jesus is saying that behind every biological hunger is a spiritual hunger—and that is what I have come to satisfy. Behind every physical and social craving is a spiritual longing that only Jesus can provide.

All of theirs and our cravings and longings are aches for God. His love, mercy, grace and presence in our inner most being.

As a pastor, I can tell you that I know many people who have full stomachs and emaciated souls.

Listen to your hungers; listen to the rumblings in your own life right now. Jesus is saying, “I am what you are aching for—come to me for life.”

I love the way the old hymn writer, Clara T. Williams, writes about this life…

All my life I had a longing
For a drink from some clear spring,
That I hoped would quench the burning
Of the thirst I felt within.

Feeding on the husks around me,
Till my strength was almost gone,
Longed my soul for something better,
Only still to hunger on.

Poor I was, and sought for riches,
Something that would satisfy,
But the dust I gathered round me
Only mocked my soul’s sad cry.

Well of water, ever springing,
Bread of life so rich and free,
Untold wealth that never faileth,
My Redeemer is to me.

Hallelujah! I have found Him
Whom my soul so long has craved!
Jesus satisfies my longings,
Through His blood I now am saved.

May you come to Jesus for life, no matter how weird what he says may sound to your hungry heart.

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Fierce Spirituality

When I was a twenty-eight-year-old pastor I thought it would be a good idea to preach through the book of Romans verse-by-verse. I was out of my depth. If you have ever spent much time in the book you might know that it is a complicated book. But I had moxy, if not naivete, when I was twenty-eight, so I went for it.

One morning I was preaching hard on a complicated passage. And as often was the case for me back then, if I was uncertain about a text, I turned up the volume. There’s an old preacher legend that says he wrote in his notes, “Weak point here, yell louder.”

That was me.

At one weak area I got loud and then I got quiet, not really knowing what to say next. In that pause in my sermon, a little eight-year-old boy said in a loud voice to his mother, “Mamma, what’s that man talking about?”

I looked at him and said, “I have no idea, son. No idea at all.”

The church laughed, and I bowed my red-face and closed in prayer. It was a scarring moment for me. I rarely preach from Romans to this day.

And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away.”  ~ Matthew 11:12

Mamma, what’s Jesus talking about?

The context is Jesus telling us about John the Baptist. In the beginning John the Baptist came preaching a message, and the message was, “The Messiah is coming to bring in the kingdom of heaven.”

That’s not as esoteric as you might think. Bottom line, the kingdom of heaven means someone is coming to put everything right, to right all wrongs. We are all looking for hearth and home that will allow us to flourish as God intended. My problem is that I have a habit of looking in all the wrong places.

The Kingdom of God is the natural home of the soul. ~ Dallas Willard

We all long for a place like that. And in that search for home we will find ourselves in places that make it hard to come home. It will take a fierce spirituality to make that journey.

My son, Clinton, was raised in the Church but now is deeply immersed in the art world of Los Angeles. No one in his world is interested in the Kingdom of God. In fact, they are violently opposed to it. My wife and I love him very much and pray for him almost every day that he would return to the faith of his youth.

But one of the most powerful reasons it will be difficult for Clinton to come back to the faith is because he would have to go against the flow.

We hold our world views for a combination of three reasons:

1. Intellectual: It makes sense to us.
2. Emotional: It resonates with my feelings.
3. Social: My friends or important influencers hold a similar position

That’s why I can out argue someone on an intellectual basis and still not convince them to change their minds. Statistics, facts, reasonable arguments often don’t work in winning someone to faith because of the other two factors that are still in play.

That is why I pray that God will send my son, a spiritual guide, an influencer, who will win his heart over and then, maybe, just maybe, he will change his mind about Jesus.

Jesus says, “Look at John the Baptist. Because he got radicalized by the kingdom of heaven and that message, he’s an outsider. Anyone who wants the kingdom of God, anyone who wants to follow me, must be willing to take the scorn of other people.”

If or when my son comes back to his faith and is radicalized by the grace of Jesus, he will be scorned in the community that he loves right now. They will see him as a man in a hair shirt, eating locust, and crying out in the desert. They will see him as a wild man. It will take a move of God and the heart of a hero for Clinton to go against that social flow.

Jesus says anyone who will receive the kingdom of heaven and realize its truth is going to look like John the Baptist to some people, sometimes. You have to be willing to have people think you’re crazy.

Once John the Baptist got ahold of the idea of the Kingdom and a coming King, what did it do to him? It turned him into someone crying out in the wilderness, wearing a hairy shirt. It meant everything to him. It radicalized him. It also put him outside of the power structures of the day.

Jesus says, “When you see him, you don’t see a person who’s a nobleman. He’s not someone from the king’s palaces. He’s spiritually intense.” Once he realized the kingdom of heaven was real and it was coming, it meant everything to him. It dominated his life.

Then Jesus says, “Look at yourselves. Look at how you listen to the message of the kingdom.” Some of you say, “Hey, that’s very interesting and thought provoking.” Some of you find it inspirational. Yet the status quo in your life has not been challenged. You want to hear about the kingdom of God and go on with business as usual. That’s impossible.

Like my son, and, perhaps your child or grandchild, I was not living a life of faith when I was in my late teens and early twenty’s. I was Living a very prodigal life of doing whatever I wanted with whomever I wanted. My parents were quite concerned for my life and they both prayed daily for my soul. One time my father told me about the nature of his prayer for me and it went something like this:

Lord, You have set your heart upon my son’s soul. As sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, I trust you to do whatever it takes to make Joe like Jesus—even if it breaks every bone in his body.

My Dad said that was a hard prayer to pray. It was a spiritual forceful prayer; even a violent prayer. But it worked, didn’t it? I’ll pray for your loved one; you pray for mine.

Be bold. Be fierce.

Mamma, that’s what Jesus was talking about.

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A Lament for the Soldier’s Widow

Great is your mercy, O Lord; give us life according to your justice.
Our leader cannot, will not, show mercy and compassion to widows.
How could you, O Lord, allow such a soulless man be our leader?
Would you cut out his heart of stone and give him a heart of flesh?

Our leader cannot, will not, show mercy and compassion to widows.
O Lord, provide for those who are hurting—the oil of gladness instead of mourning.
Would you cut out his heart of stone and give him a heart of flesh?
Come near to the brokenhearted, and save the crushed in spirit.

O Lord, provide for those who are hurting—the oil of gladness instead of mourning.
How could you, O Lord, allow such a soulless man be our leader?
Come near to the brokenhearted, and save the crushed in spirit.
Great is your mercy, O Lord; give us life according to your justice.

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Turn Up the Quiet

A sabbath rest still remains for the people of God…Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest. Hebrews 4:10,11

“We stay busy so that the truth of our lives can’t catch up.”~ Brene Brown

Two of the top prescribed medications in America are Valium and Tagamet. The former is a muscle relaxant to help people deal with stress. The latter stops the flow of hydrocholoric acid to ease a churning stomach plagued with ulcers. If pharmaceuticals are any barometer to where our culture is at emotionally, we’re the most uptight, stressed-out, anxiety-ridden culture on the face of the earth.

Why?

Because we’ve never understood what it really means to rest. We tend to equate rest with sleeping in on a rainy morning…with basking on the beach, while pouring on the sunscreen and reading the latest best-seller…with an afternoon snooze on the couch to the soothing T.V. background music of marching bands and half-time activities.

The American devotional writer Lettie Cowman wrote about a traveler visiting Africa and engaging a group of carriers and guides. Hoping to make her journey a swift one, she was pleased with the progress of the many miles they covered that first day. On the second day, though, all the carriers she had hired remained seated and refused to move. She was greatly frustrated and asked the leader of her hired hands why they would not continue the journey. He told her that on the first day they had traveled too far too fast, and now they were waiting for their souls to catch up to their bodies.

God wants us to live in the rhythm of the way He has made the world. Because rest recovers our humanity. When we rest, we keep time with God.

In the summer of 2013 I met with a young church planting pastor at a Mexican restaurant in the Seattle area. I had been meeting with him regularly for a couple of years. We got our basket of chips and salsa, diet drinks and began to small talk.

I love this guy. He is handsome, intelligent, and fearless. He has a lovely wife and three delightful young girls. He was trying to plant a church in the heart of downtown Seattle. Perhaps the single most secular city in the country. Rent for a modest apartment is somewhere around $4,000 per month.

We talked about his family, his calling, and his soul. At one point, I invited him to join me on my trip to hike the Pacific Crest Trail through Oregon. He said he couldn’t do it. Didn’t have time. I said, “How about you just come for a week and not the entire 34 days?” He said he didn’t have time. Couldn’t justify it.

I asked him if it were a leadership conference to help him grow his church would he go?

He said yes.

“But,” I said, ‘Spending that time in silence and solitude will grow and strengthen your soul.”

“Joe, I can’t justify it to my partnership churches who are funding me and I can’t justify it to my planting team,” he said.

“It’s an open invitation,” I said.

The next morning, I got an email from him thanking me for loving him and inviting him to go on the trip with me. Then he said, “Joe, I’ve decided to go with you. Not for a week, but for the entire 460 miles.” I was delighted. We had the time of our lives.

About day fifteen of our trip, we took a break and sat on a gray log and he asked me what was the most important driving value of my life.

I told him, I wanted to live a life so compelling that people who know me would want to walk closer with God.

He stared at me. I could see that he was thinking about something, but I couldn’t tell if the thoughts swirling in his head had anything to do with my statement. He looked down and his chin began to quiver. He stood up and walked a few feet and began to cry.

At first just a few tears came, then a few more.  No sound; then heavy sighs and inaudible moans, and soon with a full-on lament worthy of Jeremiah.  I have witnessed a man weep like that about three times in my life. This went on for about five minutes—wailing.

Instantly my pastor’s heart was aroused to offer some comfort.

I opened my mouth wanting to say:  What’s going on inside you?  What are you feeling?  Do you want to talk about the pain?  How can I help you?  Do you want to pray? I opened my mouth, but nothing came out.

“Shut up,” God said.

So, I kept my mouth shut. In time, he wiped his eyes on the sleeve of his brown shirt, blew his nose, cleared his throat, and apologized to me for his emotions.

I said nothing.

To this day I have no idea what was going on in that moment.  What I do know is that I was to give him space—sacred space—to let that moment happen between him and God.

This summer on the four-year anniversary of our meeting at the Mexican Restaurant he sent me a message that said:

This was a pivotal moment for me. Joe, thank you for being there for me and for inviting me to go along on the journey for my soul. Bless you my friend.

You and I need to do whatever it takes to position ourselves to rest in the presence of God.

When I was in high school I worked on a cattle ranch every summer and we cooked on a wood burning stove. My girlfriend and I exchanged letters and in one letter she said, “I love the smell of your letters. They smell like wood smoke.” When we enter into a rhythm of practicing Sabbath we take that aroma into our world so that others might say, “I love your life. It smells like rest.”

And so, dear friend, may you slow down so your souls can catch up with Jesus.

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Holes to Heaven

Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!…Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues… Revelation 18:2,4

Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10

Now think for a moment about the relationship between joy and strength. When you have a joyful marriage, it’s not terribly hard to resist sexual temptation. When you have the joy of serving in an area of your spiritual gifts and passion, you find yourself looking forward to being a servant, not tempted to drop out.

In general, there is an inverse correlation between joy level and vulnerability to temptation. The higher your joy, the less likely Babylon is to be tempting.

So, Nehemiah says, “Construct your life around certain activities that will produce the joy of the Lord in your life. Have a day occasionally set aside for the joy of the Lord.” Eat food that brings joy. Drink sweet drink that brings joy. Read Scriptures that produce joy. You have some people that bring joy to you. Have a day of celebration and hang out with them. You have other people that suck joy out of you. They’re like black holes of joy. So, on those days of celebration just tell them, “I can’t be with you today. This is my joy day. I’ll be with you tomorrow, but not today.”

You need to develop a joyful life if you want to make it through to the end.

Several years ago, I took my two oldest boys to Deadman Lakes in Colorado.  A place I first went to when I was a boy with my father and brother.  It was our rite of passage in to manhood.  So, when Cole and Clinton were of age, I took them as well.  Cole was 15 and Clinton was 12.

The following is a journal entry from that trip in 2001:

I got cold last night so I decided to go to bed a little early.  Since my bed is in the cook area under the rain fly, the boys had to leave.  They decided to go fishing in the shallows where the fish were spawning.  I could hear them laughing like it was Christmas morning.

They had been gone about 30 minutes when Clint came running over the little rise and yelled, “Hey Dad!  I caught a really big one!”  I said, “Good job son.”

He ran back over the rise to fish some more.

I lay in my purple sleeping bag with my face to the lake and began to weep.

“Thank you Lord for my boys.
Thank you for this moment.
Thank you for this place.”

I suppose I prayed that about 20 times while the tears puddle around my cheeks in my sleeping bag.  It was a very precious moment and one I will cherish the rest of my life.

I wondered why Clinton ran over the rise to tell me he caught a fish.  I had seen him catch them yesterday and earlier that day.

I imagined him landing the fish, laughter dancing between brothers as they together got the hook out of the fish’s mouth and put it back in the water.  Then Clint, with joy still bubbling out—not wanting to waste any of it—brought me some as I lay in my purple sleeping bag.

Is that the nature of true and pure joy—the giving and the sharing of it?  He didn’t come tell me about the fish because he needed my approval.  He knows he already has that.  He didn’t come tell me the good news because he wanted me to help him do something or to get anything from me.  He came and told me the good news because joy had filled him up and he wanted to share it.

That brings me to another question:  Can one give joy or must it be shared?  I suspect that true joy that anyone else experiences is joy-overflowed.  Clint didn’t’ give me manufactured joy.  He shared his joy.  And in the sharing —I was filled.  But, as I was filled—none of his joy diminished.

But where did Clint’s joy come from?  Did his joy come from the act of catching a big trout?  Can true and pure joy come from an accomplishment?  I don’t think so.  I think it is nurtured in relationship.  No relationship—no joy.

As I have thought about this journal entry written at 12,000 feet above sea-level so many years ago, I have wondered if somehow joy is tied to sorrow.  Perhaps it is accentuated by sadness.  Towards the end of his life Jesus was comforting his disciples about his soon-coming death and said that their sorrow would be turned into joy.

Maybe when we are acutely aware of what sin has done to this world and the utter ruin that seems to dominate the headlines, it could be, if we let it, a reminder of the joy that is promised to us in the coming life—a joy unspeakable and full of glory.

If we don’t bow our knee to Babylon. It we stay true to the Lord. If we keep walking in obedience—a long obedience in the same direction.

One of Clinton‘s favorite musical artists when he was a boy was a guy named Jack Johnson. Johnson has a song about childhood colliding with the harsh realities of adulthood and there is a line in that song that says,

And there were so many fewer questions
When stars were still just the holes to heaven

Maybe when Clint ran over the little rise and told me about the fish he caught he really just poked a hole into heaven.

To the degree we stay true to the Lord and are diligent to bring ‘up there down here,’ we are joining Jesus in poking holes into heaven. And that is a good thing because this world needs all the light it can get.

And I need the joy.

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The Mouth of a Fool

When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but the prudent are restrained in speech. Proverbs 10:19

Look back on your years as far back as you can. What were the most breathtaking, exhilarating, emotion-producing 300 seconds you ever experienced?

I think I could make a good case that if you’d been able to talk about it at the time, the most exciting five minutes of your life would be the very first five. After nine months of darkness and isolation, you discover there’s a whole world out there full of colors and tastes and sounds and sensations and other people. You discover you’ve entered into a realm beyond your wildest imaginings.

I think if you could have talked you would have said something like, “Mom, Dad, I had no idea! I actually had some reservations about leaving the womb. But now I see that this is a much better arrangement. I wouldn’t have missed this for anything.” It’s very possible that the most exciting five minutes of your life were the first five minutes after you were born. It’s just been all downhill ever since those five minutes.

But I believe that’s nothing compared to what’s to come. I think the most amazing five minutes you will ever experience will be the first five minutes after you die.

For centuries, the brightest minds that have ever lived have devoted whole lifetimes to try to penetrate what lies beyond that veil. They’ve tried to learn, “What is it that lies on the other side of death?” And five minutes after, you will know.

Those five minutes will happen for every one of us. Think about the sights that you’re going to see, the sounds that you will hear, the experience that you will have in your first five minutes of eternity.

One of the most attractive things about those next “first five minutes” will be that I don’t have to regret words that I have spoken. Rude words I’ve spoken to my wife. Careless words I have spoken to my sons. Unkind words I have said about friends. And out-and-out hateful words I have uttered about President Trump.

How often do you say something now and then you wish so much you could take it back?

Recently I shared a meal with a friend. We caught up on our respective summer activities. Then I asked him how he was doing. And he began to share with me about a particular physical ailment that he was experiencing. He said, “Joe, I don’t know how to pray about it. I don’t want to lose my eyesight. I want to continue to work. It really has me…

“I know what you mean about not knowing how to pray about somethings,” I interrupted.

Then I told him a 5-minute story about me. When I was finished he said, “Well, anyway I’m trying figure out how to pray about it and how to be with the reality of my body failing me.”

Our breakfast ended, but that conversation has haunted me. Why did I inject a Joe-story when that man was sharing his heart with me? I failed my friend. Instead of being present with him and entering into his story of confusion and uncertainty, I told him one of my experiences. I thought about it all the way to Denver to celebrate Nette’s birthday with her family. I thought about it while watching the film “War for the Planet of the Apes.” I thought about last night on the drive back from Denver.

I wrote my friend a note asking him to forgive me for not paying attention to his heart by filling up the space between us with my own words. He said he forgave me.

Thank God.

Ever wish you could just go back to a conversation and hit the “delete” button? Imagine never having to feel that regret again. The first five minutes in heaven there will be no gossip, no sarcasm, no manipulating, your heart will be full of affection and courage.
I’m telling you, it will be the greatest five minutes of your life. And then the next five minutes will be greater. Then the next five will be greater, and that will be eternity.

And one of the reasons it will be so wonderful is the promise from the last book of the Bible that describes the truth about the nature of a Christ-follower in heaven, In their mouth no lie was found; they are blameless. Revelation 14:10

Thank God.

Dear Lord,

Help me to live with the constant awareness that my mouth is either and instrument destruction or a source of encouragement. Your Word says that you have put eternity in the hearts of those who love You, would you put eternity in my mouth? Help me to hold my tongue when I am tempted to impress others with my words. But let it loose, Lord, when I see an opportunity to speak words of life and love.

Sincerely,

joe

 

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The Triumph of the Lamb

They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb
    and by the word of their testimony,
for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.
12 Rejoice then, you heavens
    and those who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
    for the devil has come down to you
with great wrath,
    because he knows that his time is short!”  Revelation 12:11-12

That’s enough for me. That’s enough for you.

I recently finished a biography of Dwight D. Eisenhower and it described the invasions of Normandy.  The bloodiest few hours of the war.  At the end of D-Day, at the end of that one day, in one sense, really nothing had changed. The vast majority of the continent of Europe was still as it had been the day before, under the power of the swastika. Evil reigned through the whole continent. There was only this one little plot of ground, a few feet of sand on an obscure stretch of beach in one lonely country, that was not under the domination of the enemy. But that one tiny stretch of land, that one tiny little beach, that was enough.

The truth is, at the end of that one day, everything was changed because now there was an opening, just a crack — a tiny little crack at first. But it would get a little larger the next day, and a little larger the day after that, and a little larger the week after that. And the forces would get stronger every day.

There still was a lot of fighting to do and a lot of suffering and a lot of dying. But from that day on it was just a matter of time. Then the day came when Paris was liberated. And then the day came when all of France was liberated. Then the days came when the concentration camps were overrun and prisoners got set free.

Then the day came when Hitler destroyed himself in the bunker. And judgment came to that particular bastion of evil as it always does, as it always will, and then came V-E Day, victory. And then victory in the Pacific and the soldiers could come home. The war was over, and the enemy was defeated.

But the truth was that really victory was all sealed on D-Day. It just took a while for the battle raged for a season. But after D-Day, V-E Day, victory, that was just a matter of time. John says this earth has fallen under a dark power, and then one day a woman gave birth to a son, a male child, who was to rule all the nations with a rod of iron.

He taught about, and he lives in a kingdom. He lived a kind of life that every son of Adam and every daughter of Eve had always dreamed of but hardly ever hope for. Then one day, at a cost that none of us will ever fully understand, he took upon himself, on the cross, all the brokenness, all the suffering of D-Day, and all the suffering and all the sin and pain of every other day of the history of the human race since the Fall.

At the end of the Sabbath day, when his friends went to care for his body, the stone was gone. And in one sense, nothing had changed. Pilate and the chief priests were still in charge. Caesar still reigned in Rome. He didn’t even know the name of this obscure Messiah in some remote country.

The Herods and the Neros and the Hitlers would come and go, and pain and suffering and death go on today as they went on then, and nobody knew at first except a couple of women. Nobody knew it, but that was D-Day.

Now there was an opening in this fallen world, tiny at first, no bigger than the entrance of an empty tomb.

But now there was an opening, and the truth is, friends, every time you resist sin, every time you proclaim the Gospel, every time you give a portion of your resources for the spread of the kingdom, every time you offer a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name to the poor, that opening gets a little larger, and the darkness gets pushed back a little more, and the light gets a little stronger.

That’s why we exist as a church. That’s why we are called to struggle and pray and work and suffer and labor because one day liberation will come, make no mistake.

There will be a lot of fighting and a lot of suffering and a lot of dying, but D-Day already happened when hardly anybody was looking. And at the end of that one day, everything was changed, and now it’s just a matter of time.

So, John says, “Hang on. The Devil is living on borrowed time.”

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