Almost two years ago now, I prayed that God would provide some friends for me as I moved into a new community. Amazingly, God answered my prayer at McDonalds.
One of the friends I met at McDonalds introduced me to Jonathan Merritt. Jonathan and I quickly became friends as we chatted about theology, blogs, denominations, ‘famous’ Christians on twitter, and other topics those around us cared little about.
Our friendship and conversations were a breath of fresh-air in the midst of a new place, and I thanked God for them on a regular basis.
Sadly, Jonathan moved to New York last year.
But as I opened up his latest book, Jesus is Better Than You Imagined, I felt like Jonathan and I were talking over coffee once again.
Honest. Deep. Surprising. Insightful. Funny. Inquisitive. Full of stories. At times, uncomfortable.
As I read, I recalled how Jonathan fit the profile of what Henri Nouwen calls the ‘Christian leader of the future’—one who is “called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self.”
But more importantly, as I read I also recalled the profile of the Jesus that we find throughout the gospels—the Son of God who can’t be tamed, put into a box, anticipated, or fully described with words.
And, simply put, I love reading books that help me fall in love with this Jesus.
I think this book will help you fall more in love with Jesus too. Therefore, I’m going to send the first three people that sign-up for my email list on the sidebar a free copy of the book to check out for themselves.
Any extended review of the book I wrote would be extremely biased since Jonathan is a friend. So instead, I’m posting my favorite quotes below in hopes that they encourage you today and give you a taste for more.
p.s. The best chapter of the book is available online here at Christianity Today: A Thread Called Grace.
The God I met in the Bible loves surprises. He makes a habit of showing up in unexpected ways and at unpredictable times. God comes in floating ax heads and talking donkeys, in water from desert rocks and flaming bushes that never burn up. He causes the sun to shine for an extra day, and parts the seas like a bad hairdo. In thunderstorms and on silent nights, God comes when and where people aren’t looking.
For the Christian, silence is more than an effort to retreat from noise. It is an opportunity to lean into God.
Solitude is not an attempt to run away from life’s noise and distractions as much as an attempt to run to the God who often waits beyond such things.
The Bible is a series of narratives where God uses short-tempered, shortsighted, and utterly flawed people to accomplish His will. There was Moses the fugitive, Rahab the prostitute, Samson the player, Jacob the deceiver, Naomi the depressed, Thomas the doubter, Paul the murderer, and Peter the impulsive. Each is an unlikely disciple, but God has a habit of restoring the world through broken people.
Father, expose the areas where I’ve been asking for a magic trick. Reveal the ways I’ve tried to bottle or shrink-wrap you. Break out of the boxes I’ve built around you. Send your wind to sweep me off my feet and take my breath away.
In those places where I brush up against the Holy, I find an apologetic that is difficult to explain but as real as my reflection in a mirror.
God doesn’t need us to do the work for Him, He takes pleasure in working through us to accomplish His plans.
Hiding behind my disguise was crushing and conflicting because at my core—at everyone’s core—is a desire to be fully known…. And often my desire to be known is almost as strong as my fear of being known.
This is what Jesus offers—an opportunity to set myself free by understanding who I am in the context of who God is and what God wants for me.
In the end, shame steals the very thing it promises: meaningful, authentic connections with others.
As it turns out, sometimes God lets our house burn down so we can better see the sun rise.
Jesus is better than I imagined because when I am waiting, He is working to prepare me for the floods, olive branches, and resurrections that only He knows are coming.
If I choose to trust in my efforts to control life, I become like a bush in the parched places of the dessert: dry and brittle and lifeless. But if I choose to place my confidence in the Lord, I become like a tree planted by a stream whose roots stretch into the water with supple fruit dangling from its limbs.
Jesus did not call sinners; He identified with them, befriended them, dwelled among them.
Jesus enters the places most people didn’t think was fit for God, much less a rabbi from Nazareth. Luckily, Jesus never set out to be homecoming king. He had other plans.
Jesus demonstrated what a Godward life looks like by avoiding sin but never avoiding sinful people or ‘unholy places.’
As with the prophet (Habakkuk), experiencing divine absence teaches me to trust when my spiritual spigot runs dry.
God isn’t the annoying dad who pecks at you when what you really need is to be left alone. He knows that sometimes you need to experience His absence to crave Hs presence, and sometimes we know Him better by missing Him. In the moments when we only have fingerprints on a window, we learn to trust until His hand returns. And it will.
I cannot expect to experience Jesus fully or in the way He intended on my own. And, according to Scripture, I should strive for a relationship with the church that is both permanent and personal. That’s why two of the primary metaphors for the church in the Bible are the Body of Christ (permanent) and the Bride of Christ (personal).
In order to experience Jesus in His fullness, to see Him as He is and not as I imagined Him, I have to keep searching for Him in the unlikely gifts I receive each day. And this includes the place I most expected to find Him: the mysterious community of faith.