More Questions Than Answers

I did a lil’ research this week and read through every interaction Jesus had in the Bible. I was looking for how many times he asked a question versus gave an answer. What I found was Jesus offered questions nearly twice as often. I counted 78 answers to 131 questions.

Questions like,

“What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51)
“Do you love me?” (John 21:16)

The times he would answer an accusation with a question,

“You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? (Matt. 22:18)

The bunch of times he answered a question with another question,

“His disciples answered, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?”
“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.” (Matt. 15:33-34)

You think of anyone in the history of the planet who would have the right to go around handing out answers to everyone, it’d be the Son of God.

But he didn’t.
And this haunts me as one of his followers.

See, I’ve spent most of my career as a pastor trying to come up with the answers. I assumed that’s what others needed. I thought that was the point. I guessed that’s what people were looking for.

I’m so embarrassed it took me this long to figure out I missed something. I missed the virtue of curiosity. Like an awkward toddler learning to walk, here’s what I’ve learned in my first few steps.

starting-with-why1. Why Vs. What.
Being the answer guy inevitably turns me into Mr. Fix It. Therefore, I’d keep to the facts and like an expert pharmacist, handout prescriptions in the form of books, illustrations, memory verses and prayer. What it took me years to figure out was as I handed out solutions, I also kept people at arms length. After all, if I’m the one with the answers, I’m also the one in control. I’m learning now when I choose to ask questions rather than hand out answers it’s actually a form of trusting God. I’m allowing him to have his way in the conversation rather than trying to control it myself.

“Why?” is quite possibly the greatest question of them all. It’s in the “Why” that things get real. I was just too scared to go there for fear of losing control in the conversation. It’s the “why” that opens the door to our fears and dreams. It moves beyond prescriptions, problem solving, and pretend intimacy and gets scary close. “Why?” is the key that unlocks the door to a beautiful mess that is in you and me.  A good “Why?” can create the possibility for five more questions which opens up to even more, and out of all these questions intimacy grows. “What?” is just behavior modification. Asking “Why?” gives the chance for actual healing and freedom.

“But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say? (Luke 6:46)

homeless-people12. Hospitality From A Homeless Man.
I used to think of hospitality as Pintrest and doileys. I now think I get my best picture of hospitality from Jesus. He was homeless after all, and so making sure the house is picked up before company comes over couldn’t have been exactly what he thought of when it came to hospitality. As Shauna Niequist puts it, “I think so much of hospitality is giving people a place to be seen and heard and as a culture we are aching for it.” If that’s true, then Jesus was a master at hospitality. People would leave his presence with a higher sense of dignity and value.  They would leave feeling interesting, because he took interest in them. I’ve spent most of my life trying to get others to think well of me. I completely missed the mystery of helping others think well of themselves. In our loneliness and isolation, the gospel is the announcement to the world there is room at the table. We make room at this table as we concentrate on questions rather than answers.

“Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Phil. 2:3,4)

o-KIDS-INTEREST-facebook3. Sonder
C.S. Lewis writes, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” I think he was challenging me to a divine curiosity. My buddy Seth once told me about the fancy word for this is “Sonder”. The realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own. I think if I really knew the idiosyncrasies of another human being I would be at least interested. If I could fathom all the hopes, dreams, fears, and stories of another person I would be captivated. If I could comprehend the intricacies of their unique fingerprint, retina, or heartbeat, I would become divinely curious. Instead, I just cut people off in traffic as I turn another one of God’s unique creations into something in my way.

But how often do people become just that? Merely obstacles, or inconveniences, or distractions, or annoyances? Relationships can become merely a return on an investment. Spouses can turn into task managers. Friends can become merely an occasionally Facebook like.

Jesus does not look at me this way and he dares me to look at others differently as well. He challenges me to regain what can so easily be lost in my commute, or as I walk by a homeless person, or email a co-worker, or listen to my son explain Ninjago. He’s never once asked me to be a Christian, but instead invites me to be human and to reinstitute the humanity of others. I’m always taken by the fact people would leave a moment with Jesus not feeling condemned as a sinner but celebrated as a human being.(1) Questions help restore this humanity in the other.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. (Psalm 139:14)

Final Words
    The other day, my co-worker, Melissa mentioned how she prays for God to give her a good question to ask someone during the day. It struck as I realized I had never done that before. I’ve prayed for plenty of answers, or asked God to give me the right words lots of times, but never asked for the right question. Her passing comment was like news from another land far better than the one I’ve settled for.

I’ve noticed those who really understand the details and pain of any given situation always have the best questions. You can discover a lot about someone by the kind of questions they ask. If they’re trivial questions than odds are the person doesn’t really care and you may be boring them. A good question is like an invitation into this divine curiosity I want need in my life so badly.  It reveals wisdom, compassion, and humility that nothing else can. Curiosity takes courage to travel uncharted places. It takes wonder to see things for what they really are rather than the mundane we’ve made it. You ever notice how kids ask all sorts of questions and then Jesus had to go and say this,

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 182-4)

Change.
Become.
What’s that even mean?
I’m left with more questions than answers.
Sounds like a good place to start.(2)

 

  1. The American Christian church is not dwindling for incorrect theology but incorrect anthropology. Many have remembered their scripture memorization but forgotten the inherent value and respect of all people. But that’s a blog for another day. 😉
  2. Often Jesus would leave others with more questions than answers as well. It was like he wasn’t interested in providing a text book full of answers but rather told stories that left listeners struggling, pondering, and questioning.

 

5 Reasons I Stopped Caring About Condoning

It seems lately, religious people are almost obsessed with not condoning sin of non-Christians. When did Christians become the moral police who’s only assignment is to keep the rest of the world in line? I just don’t get it, and here’s why:

o-SOCIALLY-AWKWARD-DATING-facebook1. Jesus’ Reputation.
You don’t get a reputation of being a drunk, glutton, and friend of sinners (1) by standing in the corner of the room with your arms crossed while everyone else enjoys the party. The worst of sinners always seemed comfortable around Jesus, like they could lower their guard, and just be themselves. He lived a pure and holy life but somehow that didn’t intimidate others. I can always tell I’m loving someone well when religious people assume I’m condoning all of their actions. If you’re worried about what your reputation is among the religious, it’s not Jesus you’re trying to be like. His love is selfless, sacrificial, and even reckless. Of course Jesus didn’t condone sin. However, he sure didn’t care if you thought he did.

2. Holding A Strong Hand.
You can always tell when someone playing poker has a strong hand because they don’t try to get attention. In fact, they actually get really quiet and patiently wait for you to give them all your money. When you know what hand your holding, you’re confident how the game will end.
See, when I actually believe God is in control it frees me to live unthreatened. I can just sit back with a quiet confidence because I know how this will end. Conversely, I can always tell I’m not trusting God when I try to force my will on others. When I become the moral police for those around me it shows my God has become small. Please remember the strong hand that holds you.

3. First Date Etiquette.
It’s been awhile, but I still remember what a good first date looks like. You become agreeable. Lets say, the girl you take to dinner, shares she is a vegan. You probably shouldn’t respond by telling her that’s stupid and ordering her a steak. You don’t get a second date that way. You may have a different opinion but that can wait. You keep to what you have in common. Now is the time for good wine and laughter.
In a similar way, Jesus instructs his friends as they go out into other cultures, “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you.”(2) Jesus isn’t just asking them to be polite, he’s actually taking things further. The Jewish people had all kinds of dietary restrictions and Jesus is asking them to lay those aside in order to better connect with people. There’s times I’ve interacted with people and their actions are difficult to swallow. I’ve driven home from interactions and had trouble digesting what I saw or heard. However, I remember this is just the first date. We’re still getting to know each other and building trust. Starting with what we have in common is critical. Too often Christians use their faith as an excuse to be rude. Always try to get a second date.

4. Beyond Behavior
It’s kind of fun to think of the holy Son of God walking around with a bunch of foul mouthed sailors and sinners. What a contrast this must have been. However, Jesus didn’t spend much time correcting them on their behavior, instead he concentrated on revealing a better way of living. He seemed to awaken inside of these men a vision of who they always wanted to become. He offered them more. You don’t up and leave a miraculous catch of fish for a homeless stranger unless you catch a glimpse of abundant life. (3) He was interested in building trust more than behavior modification. I think they liked the way he looked at them.  His eyes showed such hope and potential rather than contempt and judgment. Jesus saw the disciple in the sinner. When I move beyond behavior and see others this way I join Jesus in sparking life in those around me. We call it good news for a reason.

5. A Share Of My Inheritance.
Jesus once told a story of a son that wants to run away from home and sin but before he goes, he asks his Dad for a bunch of money. The father gives his son half of the inheritance knowing what he’s going to do with it.(4) The father knows it’ll be wasted and used up on wild living but he gives it to him anyway. I think the reason is, he wanted to let his son know as he was leaving that he was always welcome back. He blessed him in order to keep the relationship intact.
How often do the religious refuse to bless others and sever the relationship forever because of it? We fight culture wars and lose respect and trust in the process. What if we blessed those who curse us and give freely to those who ask? (5) I’ve decided to give away the inheritance because it was never mine to begin with. It is God’s kindness that leads to repentance.(6)

 

  1. “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.” Matthew 11:19
  2. Luke 10:8
  3. Luke 5:11
  4. Luke 15:11-32
  5. Luke 6:28, Matthew 5:44
  6. Romans 2:4

 

I May Be Wrong

Screen-Shot-2015-06-11-at-12.53.16-PMLaura mentioned the other day my writing has gotten better. She’s never been one to blow sunshine up my butt so this meant a lot. She was curious about what had changed in my life recently. After some thought, I realized I’ve grown comfortable being wrong. I’m not as worried about what other’s think and I’m not getting hung up on if my opinion is correct.

For much of my life trying to follow Jesus, I’ve been obsessed with being right. To not be right, meant heresy. I was taught to beware of “false teachers” and keep a look out for any ideas contrary to the church I was working in. This created a real fear inside because no one wants to wake up and realize they’re a heretic. I’ve seen how the church responds to these outliers and it’s not pretty. If the church has a reputation of shooting it’s wounded sheep, then we hunt down, corner, and torture our wolves.

The problem is, I’ve pastored in a lot of different churches. I attended an Assembly of God school while going to a pentecostal church. I’ve pastored in a Foursquare, Free Methodist, and Baptist church. I’ve started an Evangelical Covenant church. I currently am a member of a open and affirming non-denominational church. And here’s the kicker… they all think they’re right. I’d sit in staff meetings in one church and listen to them criticize other churches while just a few years later I heard the exact same conversation from the other perspective in the other staff meeting. It felt like deja vu and I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself.

But let’s get personal.

I’ve listened to old sermons of mine in those churches and I’ve read some of my old blogs and I’ve chuckled at myself as well. There’s things I’ve said, thought, and wrote about God I disagree with now. Some of them are downright silly or even damaging. I can only imagine, ten years from now, I’ll disagree with the person writing this now.
Maybe that’s the point.
I mean, I’ve grown. I’ve changed. In fact, it’d be rather sad if I agreed with everything I’ve said. It’d be downright depressing if I thought I was always right. Perhaps people don’t need a pastor that’s always “right”, but always growing. Know one cares how right you are until they know how much you’ve struggled to get there.

I used to talk about other pastors or authors by saying, “I like them but I don’t agree with everything they say.” Now I just think that’s dumb. (I disagree with how I used to disagree with people.) Who agrees with everything anyway? And why did I feel the need to sound so superior to another as if I had the corner market on truth?  It would really hurt my feelings if a friend spoke of me that way.
“Kyle’s a good guy, but…”
I just want to be loved and accepted like every other human being on this planet and that includes the times I’m wrong.

I just don’t think God looks at things this way. As my pastor Ryan mentioned, God is not some theology professor standing at heaven’s gate making sure we have all our belief statements correct before entering. Being right doesn’t seem like a prerequisite for being loved. In God’s Kingdom, we belong fully before we need to believe correctly. God offers us grace, not an exam.

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. (Luke 15: 31)

I think it’s being loved like this that’s freed me up so much. I just don’t think I could get kicked out of heaven for a wrong idea anymore. False belief is not fatal. Therefore, I can take risks and ask questions and doubt. When I write or talk about God, I can just let ‘er rip. I’m more creative now because I’m more confident God’s not out to get me. Like a young student unafraid to color outside the lines because he knows the teacher isn’t coming around with a ruler to slap his hand. I really think creativity is directly linked to a risk you may be wrong. I think it’s what the church needs now more than ever. Not a fortress of rightness but a movement bursting with innovation. No longer bragging about our corner market of truth but enjoying a love that shows off best when we’re wrong.

Make room for uncertainty so God’s love can become unconditional.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)

Also, this is awesome: