Coffee Cup Theology
“Mrs. Felkel! Mrs. Felkel!” Nathan’s 7th grade teacher came running up to me in quite a tizzy! “I’m so glad I caught you! Nathan was just awful in class today!”
My mind started racing as she talked. I started thinking of all the possibilities of what he could have gotten into.
She continued. “He sang a dirty song in class, made the girls cry and then was rude and argumentative when I corrected him.”
As she was describing this to me, I pictured my son standing on a desk singing a song so completely vulgar that it made the girls in class burst into tears from sheer embarrassment and then flipping the teacher off and calling her the “c” word because she corrected him.
I chuckled and said, “That doesn’t sound like Nathan.”
(LIFE LESSON: Chuckling is NOT a good response to anyone that is in a tizzy!) And this very offended full on tizzified teacher explained to me, “If you don’t think that sounds like him, then perhaps, you don’t know your son.”
Now I was tizzified!
So…I went to one of those meetings where we discussed what to do about my son’s horrid behaviors:
She began,“Well it all started when Nathan rushed through his exam and finished it in 20 minutes. He had over an hour left and refused to look over his test again.” Yep! Now, that sounds like Nathan!
”Then, as soon as other people handed their tests in, he started talking to them.” Yep. That sounds like Nathan too!
“When everyone was finished, he kept getting louder and louder. I looked over at him and said, ‘shhh’ and he just kept talking.” Oh yeah! That sounds completely like Nathan. He thinks “Shhh” just means talk slightly (imperceptibly) quieter!
“Then towards the end of class, I let everyone talk and he started singing loudly over the top of everyone: ‘Deck the halls with gasoline…Strike a match and watch it clean.’” That’s your vulgar song? What a relief! I had imagined much worse! Yep. That was definitely Nathan.
I then had an argument with the teacher defending that my son was not a horrible vandal ready to burn down the school. She said, “Well I just don’t understand why anyone would think that’s funny.”
Thankfully, I didn’t say, “Perhaps if you stood up and let me remove that stick from up your keister…” but I knew exactly why Nathan thought it was funny. (Because his father taught it to him... and, mostly, because it got such a rise from this uptight teacher who had been really insulting to his friends all year.)
“Then he started talking about hunting and made two girls cry”. Yep. Still sounds like him. He can’t stand when people misjudge hunters. He’s kind of defensive about the bad rap great people (like his father) get about hunting.
She ended with, “Finally, when I had ‘had enough’ of his behavior, I wrote him up and he wouldn’t quit arguing with me.” ....And double Yep! That completely sounded like Nathan! Nathan was not adept at sensing when teachers’ ‘I’ve had enough’ meters were about to go off. He is a great rule follower, but not great at reading emotions. And he is super sensitive about things being fair. She freely admitted everyone was talking. But Nathan was the one getting on her nerves. I had no doubt that Nathan argued with her and I was familiar with him working people's nerves!
Turns out, I knew my son pretty dadgum well!
I know my son because I spend time with him (and we had discussed all of these issues multiple times! This teacher did not like Nathan because he confronted her for bullying some of the at-risk youth.)
Jesus used a lot of powerful illustrations to teach religious leaders and most everyone else how they were missing God. They spent their whole lives convincing themselves that they were seeking God, but they were really seeking to justify themselves, or to gain power, prestige, or like most of us, simply trying to survive somehow.
Truthfully, very few people were (or are) seeking to KNOW God. If we know God, we understand what he does and recognize him at work when we see it.
Many people today read this passage and latch on to, verse 4 “His sheep follow him because they know his voice” and we think, “I want to hear God’s voice”. I want him to tell me stuff to do.Who to marry. What job to take. Investments. Make me feel better. Give me purpose. Maybe some lottery numbers!
But all too often, what we are not seeking is to KNOW him.
As I hope my story about Nathan illustrated. When we really KNOW God, we will recognize him at work. We see something happening and know “Yep! That sounds like God!” and we want to be part of it.
The first step in being able to recognize what sounds like God is spending time with God so that you actually know him.
And to be perfectly blunt. Why does any other step matter? Why are we so self-absorbed in our own petty lives that we want to skip over the step of KNOWING the creator of the universe? Why do we only focus on “Yeah…knowing you is great and all…but tell me what to do. Am I really supposed to be just a grandma blogger?”
It is sadly ironic that American church culture has reduced Christianity to a bunch of life application quotes than can be put on coffee mugs. I meet people all the time that claim to be following Jesus and floundering in their lives. I ask them how much they read the Bible and they make no connection. They basically say,“Well I don’t read the Bible, but I’m praying all the time, and I don’t hear God. I mean I know the principles of the Bible and I apply a lot of them to my life…and look at my phone cover…it’s got Philippians 4:13 on it!”
Oddly, this was the same conundrum the Pharisees were in. They studied the OT law constantly. They were great at applying rules, but they could not understand how to have a relationship with God. In John chapter 9, Jesus used the illustration of being spiritually blind to help them understand (spiritually see) that they needed to know God.
Jesus trying to explain spiritual truths to people who were not interested in changing reminds me of trying to teach division to second graders. I drew lovely pictures on the board and told a story about sharing candy. The kids said, “I don’t get it”. So, we played a game with pizza. “Why can’t I just put all of the pepperoni on my slice?” Then we played a game where we needed to form four teams…. “I still don’t get it!” Ahhhhhh!!!!
When Jesus shared the illustration about being the good shepherd and the gate, he was clearly teaching that having a relationship with him is the only way to have access to God. It was a lesson he taught over and over. He pointed out in yet another way, that if people would open their minds to knowing him, they would recognize that he and the Father are one. Jesus’ actions and teaching completely reflected the character of God. Any of God’s true followers, would have heard Jesus’ teaching and seen his actions, and said, “Yep! That sounds like God.”
The way that you get to go through life seeing, hearing, and experiencing things and immediately knowing “Yep! That sounds like God!” is by spending time with him.
Listening to what other people say about God can be as misleading as if I had listened to that teacher who thought Nathan wanted to burn the school down. She misjudged some of his actions. I knew his heart.
Relationships like that don’t just happen. They come from spending time together on a regular basis over many years. They come from honest conversations and lots and lots of listening.
How do you listen to God? Well, it’s a discipline. It takes time. It doesn’t just happen in a day. You have to seek to hear him and you have to be quiet. I personally recommend setting aside time to read the Bible and journal every day. I know that God works in my life through these times. He doesn’t come down in a cloud and speak to me audibly, but I learn things about God and I see things about myself, that I would not know any other way. (I will write more about this later)
And in the final part of this passage, the crowds ask Jesus again “Are you the Christ?” Jesus answers them again. He tells them to look at the works that he has been doing and recognize that he is the Messiah that prophecies predicted. He states that he and God are One and they decide to stone him.
Which is super weird! “Are you the one prophesies told us about.” “Yes! Look at all the things I’ve done that reflect God’s character. If you knew God, you’d know I’m him.” “Let’s kill him!”
And there in the middle of this, Jesus says something weird. He starts talking about in verse 34, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’.”
I have never heard a preacher approach this little section. I think it is one, we’d prefer to just skim over and pretend it’s not there. It’s a little embarrassing. We want to explain it away like, “What did he say?” “Uhmmm.... certainly not anything about people being gods…”
Well, I researched it and the explanation is actually cool!
Jesus is referring to Psalms 82. I looked up the notes in the AMP version. Some of the rabbis believed in a tradition that if the Israelites had not sinned at Mt. Sinai that they would have become gods. Others applied the verse to judges. Either way, by understanding this context, you can see that Jesus was saying, (again) “by your own traditions, you teach that without sin, people could become gods. Yet here I am living among you without sinning and you don’t recognize me as God.”
This passage perfectly illustrates my entire point.
If you read this verse “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’,” out of context, then you could go off and start some freaky religion where people get to become gods.
But, if you read it and know immediately, “That doesn’t sound like God!” then you dig deeper.
And you find out that Jesus was begging people to seek to know him and his father. You hear the pleas of God desperately wanting a relationship with you and you recognize, “Yep. THAT sounds like HIM.”!!