Welcome to Confusion
A Surprising Doorway to God
Jesus springs to life in imaginative retellings of his encounters with people who aren't confused...until he comes along! Each chapter tells an insightful, often humorous story to reveal how Jesus intentionally provoked questions and confusion in the people he met.
Discover how confusion can call you to your truest self
and help you meet a more breathtaking God at every stage of faith.
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"Every question is a door-handle"
George MacDonald, The Laird’s Inheritance
Running on Empty
I have no memory of the first time I heard the phrase “born again.” The words were not common fare in my household. We did not watch Billy Graham Crusades on TV or go to revivals on Saturday nights. Nevertheless, “born again” was in the air.
My first exposure to the words “born again” probably happened while I stared out the rear window of our family Ford. Every county road displayed at least one billboard proclaiming that I must be born again. I had no idea what the billboards wanted me to do, but whatever it was, it made me mad.
I didn’t like anyone telling me I had to do anything.
When the internet came along I discovered that I could buy born-again vitamins and surfboards, study born-again planets and join bornagainrebels.com. Born again continues to be part of the American cultural landscape. Often a laughable part. But the night Nicodemus encountered Jesus it was the first time anyone, anywhere had heard of “born again.”
It wasn’t laughable at all.
It was shocking.
Nicodemus was the best of the best of the spiritual best. He was on the board of directors of Pharisees United and had a bundle of influence and cash at his disposal. He was paying Jesus a big compliment by coming to see him at all, even if it was in the middle of the night (so the other board members wouldn’t find out). He was sure Jesus would be grateful—probably ask him for some pointers about getting back on the good side of the central power brokers. But Jesus didn’t even say thanks for coming. He didn’t ask for advice. He just dropped the coke bottle: “So you want to see the kingdom of God. You need to be conceived by God’s spirit, born-again.” (If Nicodemus had been in the zone, he would have heard Jesus saying “You think you have the inside track to God. You don’t.” Maybe he did hear it and couldn’t believe Jesus would say that, not to him.)
Sensing he’s losing control of the conversation, Nicodemus tries to spin things back his way, take Jesus down a peg. “What in the world are you talking about? Nobody can be conceived after they’re already born and old.” Jesus cut to the chase. “All you get from being descended from Abraham is more Abraham-stuff. He was flesh and blood, and flesh can only produce more flesh, nothing new. Being of God’s spirit is something different than all your pedigreed insider garbage. You don’t understand the wind either, do you? But it blows just the same.” Nicodemus was feeling pretty disoriented by then. “What are you talking about?”
When I was young the idea that God existed did not impress me. If God was doing anything for the world, you could have fooled me. It was clear to me that ancient people had invented the idea of gods to meet their own needs. I didn’t mind if modern people wanted to buy into that, just so long as none of them expected me to do the same. Yet much to my surprise, a few years down the road I had an experience of Jesus that convinced me a loving God was real. I was grateful to have been found by God and his grace. I wanted to hear more about him, so church seemed like the logical place to go. At church I learned to work hard at being spiritual. It was fun and interesting. I did good things for God; he did good things for me. It seemed like a fine arrangement that made a lot of sense. Without recanting any of my convictions about God’s love and grace, I started believing that I had the correct spiritual answers; the right spiritual practices and belonged to the best spiritual community. I started believing God got a pretty sweet deal when I signed up. Without even noticing it was happening, the big religious outsider (me) morphed into a religious insider.
Once you are a religious insider it is all too easy to suppose that your knowledge, your status and your many sacrifices are the reason God showers you with blessings, answers your prayers, and seats you near his right hand. But being a spiritual person is not at its core about knowing the right answers, coming from the right family, having the right practices, or joining the right community. Being of God’s spirit, conceived from God, isn’t a spiritual accomplishment at all.
If you know as much as Nicodemus and you’ve been as good as he is, as devoted as he is, as important as he is, then you’re pretty sure that God needs you, not the other way around. When you’ve been as religious as Nicodemus, it’s your list of virtues, not your shortcomings, which mess up your connection with God. Contrary to what so many of us were taught, the opposite of faith is not doubt, but self-sufficiency. The only deliverance from self-sufficiency is through disorientation. That’s what Jesus is trying to do for Nicodemus—so he spins Nicodemus around and makes him wonder which direction is up. Pushes him to realize that even though he knows a lot about God, his heart is empty.
Maybe if Nick gets disoriented enough, he will start struggling to be born into a new way of seeing and a new way of being. A way of being empty that is full of God’s life instead of a way of being full that is completely empty.
Welcome to Confusion A Surprising Doorway to God
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