Three Conversations in Two Days – Jason Brown

Conversation #1Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 9.08.43 AM
Last night, a friend of mine said, “I had to delete the Zillow app on my phone.” She said she had been obsessing over buying a new home and had come to a couple of realizations. The first was that when she did this, she was living in the future rather than the present and that, among other things, this created a sense of anxiety and discontentment. The second is that she really couldn’t stop visiting the Zillow app. Whenever she had free time, she would pull out her phone and look to see what had changed – had a house gone on the market? Had one of the houses she loved been sold?

My friend told me the official diagnosis for something like this: a “process addiction.”

So, she deleted it. (Then re-downloaded it and deleted it twice more.)

Conversation #2
Yesterday, another friend said she was taking two of her son’s classmates home from a school event. My friend was asking these kids questions she typically asked her own children.

Suddenly one of the classmates said, “Is this the way you talk to your son?”

My friend said, “What do you mean?”

The classmate said, “I mean, do you normally ask your son these questions?”

My friend said, “Yes.”

The classmate said, “My mom never asks me these questions. She is always on the phone. And my dad is always on his computer playing games.”

At that point, the other friend chimed in, “My mom is always on her phone or computer for her job. She only tells me what to do. She never just talks to me. And my dad is constantly on his phone or watching TV.”

Conversation #3
This morning another friend told me about this moment of clarity she had sometime last year. She said she was on her commute home from her job and doing what she was always doing – looking at her phone, opening apps to check to see what was new, then closing them. What she realized in that moment is:

a) This was a sort-of defense mechanism or distraction from paying attention to the things going on in her heart (soul?) that were causing her stress.

b) It was actually doing nothing to help her alleviate the stress.

P.S. Here’s an interesting VIDEO a friend sent me yesterday that speaks to the issues above.

What Kind of People Are Welcome Here – Bill White

At 7:04 am this morning a text message showed up from Maria. Maria is one txtof the new leaders at City Church, and she’s coming from a world where a lot of her  friends have suffered at the hands of Christians. Maria sent along the end of the conversation she’d just had with a friend after inviting her to church and to meet me and Jason:

Friend: what if I meet your pastor and I like him but I don’t trust him?

Maria: Well that’s probably gonna happen. How can you expect to trust anybody especially a pastor after what you have been through?

Friend: Hmmm… I guess you are right.

Maria: you absolutely have every right to be unsure. But I am glad you are thinking about it. That’s extremely courageous. My pastors are not assholes.

There are a few things that made me glad when I read this text:

  1. That God is still at work in this woman whose been hurt by the church, that she’s still asking spiritual questions and is still seeking something more.
  2. That there’s a Christian out there who is sensitive to the pain of others, who can affirm that they aren’t crazy for distrusting the church, and who sees the courage it takes to step into a spiritual community.
  3. That at least one person doesn’t think I’m an asshole

I’m reminded of how gentle Jesus was with those like this woman.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Jesus, from Matthew 11:28-30 in The Message


This Is a LONG Blog – Jason Brown

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 2.30.18 PMThere’s a little phrase at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount that seems completely benign – hardly worth noticing. Matthew writes, “Jesus went up the mountainside and sat down.” OK, so what?! Let’s move onto the Sermon! But, to those with a keen sense of Jewish history, this would have been like a pulsating neon sign: The New Moses is here!!!

What’s the big deal about the arrival of the New Moses? Well, Moses was the most important figure in the Old Testament. Why? Because he was at the center of the two most important “events” in Israel’s history. First, he was the one who received the law on Mt. Sinai – and this is what we’re reminded of in the verbal clue Matthew gives at the beginning of chapter 5. The phrase found in Exodus 19 and in Matthew 5 is exactly the same: “Moses/Jesus went up on the mountainside.” So, Matthew is saying (and I believe Jesus would agree) that the New Moses is here and he is about to give the New Law.

The second big thing Moses was part of is the Exodus. Moses led the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt, through the Red Sea and into the promised land. The exodus was the defining moment in Jewish history. So, again, what Matthew practically screams is, “The New Moses is here and the New Exodus is about to happen!” It’s HUGE.

The phrase that opens the Sermon on the Mount is anything but benign. It is show-stopping, attention-grabbing, life-impacting news.

So, let’s think about the New Law and it’s relationship to Old Law. The new law is the teaching of Jesus – which he will lay out clearly in the Sermon on the Mount. One way of describing the relationship of the New Law to the Old Law is in this phrase that Jesus introduced, “You have heard it said ______, BUT I say to you ________.” Another way of describing the relationship is that the New Law is the fulfillment of the Old Law – it’s the thing the Old Law was pointing towards, moving towards, but never was. And it’s better.

One more quick story to illustrate the relationship of the Old and New law. When Jesus went up the mountain to be transfigured (another allusion to Moses), there were two other figures present with him – Moses and Elijah. Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the Prophets. Peter, like a good Jew, says, “Let’s build three shelters – one for each of you.” In this sense, Peter seems to be putting Jesus on par with these two great figures in Israel’s history.

But, the voice of God intercedes, “This (Jesus) IS MY SON — listen TO HIM.” In my imagination, Peter looks at Moses and Elijah to see if he heard correctly and both Moses and Elijah are pointing to Jesus and mouthing silently, “Yep, listen to him — not us.” So, we prioritize the person and teaching of Jesus over everything else. The Bible is not at the center of our faith, Jesus is. 

Now, some thoughts on the New Exodus. When the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt they began to cry out to God for deliverance. God heard their prayers and rescued them. The Israelites were in roughly the same position when Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount as their ancestors were over a thousand years ago — under the thumb of an empire, heavily taxed, utterly non-self-governed (which was always particularly humiliating for the people of God). They were crying out for deliverance and they had the prophetic history which told them one even greater than Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-19) was going to come. This seemed like the perfect time for God to raise up the New Moses who would bring the New Exodus.

The New Moses did arrive . . . but he did not answer their prayers for deliverance. Jesus did not provide an exodus like that of Moses. The Romans weren’t displaced. So, what is the exodus Jesus provides? Well, it doesn’t seem to be primarily an exodus from others, but an exodus from the self. While our prayers are, “God, get me out of here!” and, “God, make them change!” (which are actually very good, reasonable prayers that God, in his love for us, does answer), the exodus Jesus brings in the Sermon on the Mount is in answer to a prayer I rarely have the courage to pray, “God, change me.” 

Matthew writes, “His disciples came to him and he began to teach them.” Could we do this? Travel up the mountain with Jesus and a few others, let him give us the New Law and follow him as he take us through the New Exodus. That’s the invitation we are issued at the start of the Sermon on the Mount.

The Gift of Disappointment – Bill White

This is probably not the blog you were hoping for this Christmas season. Sorry to disappoint you.

barren-treeBelow is one of the readings we did at the worship service this past Sunday. Each of the lines is adapted from the bible. These are the sorts of lines that make us squirm so we tend to skip over them, but Sunday we put them up on the screen for all to see.

We put them up there because maybe they are in the bible for a reason. Just perhaps you, like the rest of us, have a little disappointment in your own life. Or maybe a lot.

How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Why do you seem to permit darkness?

How long, O Lord, must we wait?

Am I born to die? Why is light given to those in misery, and life to our bitter souls? Must we live on sighs as well as food until our allotted months come to an end? Why is the grave or crematorium our only certainty? If there is more, why is it hidden?

How long, O Lord, must we wait?

My Lord, my Lord, why have you abandoned me? Why are you silent when I weep in the dark? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and have sorrow in heart? Are your promises hollow words? Where are your comforts? Did you forget me? Will you forget me forever?

How long, O Lord, must we wait?

My lungs gasp from all the breath I’ve wasted on prayer. Look at my weak and fragile body and answer, O Lord, my God. Rip out the rot in my heart and graft me to the tree of life. Give light to my eyes or I will sleep in death. Do not be far from me, for I feel the panting breath of darkness upon the back of my neck, and there is no one to help.

How long, O Lord, must we wait?

I wonder if there’s a strange gift in looking at our disappointment: the gift of realizing you’re not alone. Others – even (or especially?) the saints and greats of the bible – have walked this road before you. So you are not alone.

And it’s not just them. It’s also the Savior himself who cried out in disappointment.

What if, contrary to what so much organized religion says, the disappointment isn’t bad and it doesn’t need to be suppressed, exorcised, or even feared. What if we looked at it honestly, openly, and together – both with each other and with Jesus? We might actually find ourselves more whole and healthy this season. And more ready to receive our Savior.

Resonance — Jason Brown

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 11.05.55 AMIn the seventeenth century in Holland (I open all my blogs with outlandish, purely attention-grabbing statements like that), Christian Huygens noticed the pendulums on two clocks swinging at precisely the same speed. He reset the pendulums to swing opposite the other, but soon they were again swinging in sync.

It’s called sympathetic resonance. It’s the same thing that happens when you play a violin and the string on a nearby violin starts humming at that precise frequency.

When I started following Jesus, it wasn’t because I was argued into it (an abrupt segue, but work with me). Someone invited me to read the stories of Jesus with him and a few others. As I saw what Jesus did and listened to what he said, I found myself drawn in.

To be honest, I wasn’t a particularly good candidate for becoming a Jesus-follower. I’m the type of guy who would be more likely to assume any number of paths to God, who wouldn’t be prone to put his stake in the ground and say, “Here’s the way!”

But, and here’s the connection to Huygens, I felt like I came to life when I read the stories of Jesus. He was playing a tune I couldn’t resist, I couldn’t keep myself from moving in sync with.

For whatever reason, this metaphor makes sense to me. I have this hope: if people hear the song Jesus sings, they’ll experience what I did. It’s the song that awakened me. It’s the song I want to sing (in my better moments), that I want reverberating in my soul and body.

Nathan and the Zipline – Bill White


The Zipline (it’s really high!)

Nathan’s one of twenty or so kids who came on the City Church retreat with us last weekend. At 11 years old he’s the man of the house and does his best to be helpful for his mom and two sisters. They attend elementary school where we worship on Sundays, and a year ago he and his family met Jesus through our Kids Camp and were baptized. Now they are all learning to follow Jesus like the rest of us, one faltering step at a time.

Despite dozens of us cheering for him Saturday afternoon, the rock climbing wall didn’t go so well for Nathan. And the zipline went worse: he had made it half way up to the launching station when he lost his nerve. So he skittered down and stumbled off to his cabin in tears.

But Greg, one of the dads on the retreat, wandered into the cabin later and saw Nathan sulking on the top bunk. After finding out what happened, Greg said, “Hey, I noticed last night you were folding your hands and praying up there on your bunk before bed. That was pretty awesome to see you do that. How about we pray about the zipline?”

There’s just something about a man speaking into a boy’s life that can flip a switch.

They prayed together on their bunks, and before the ‘amen’ Nathan was climbing down. “I’ve got to do this with God,” he told Greg as he sped out of the cabin and back up the mountain to the zipline.

Nathan interrupted Patsy (another leader at City Church) as she was putting on the safety harness and asked if he could take her place. She’d seen the earlier failures and could tell this was a crucial moment, especially when Nathan said, “I gotta trust God this time.”

Nathan became a little bit more of a man on Saturday – not just facing his failures and not just conquering his fear of heights, but courageously allowing his community to embrace him and trusting the God who catches us when we fall.

The screams coming from the zipline as Nathan flew down the mountainside were from sheer joy. We were sure of that because he was the only kid at camp who rode the zipline twice. (HERE is the 20 second video of Nathan’s first ride)

Here's the whole group of us on the retreat

Here’s the whole group of us on the retreat