I want to talk about one of your books, How Happiness Happens. That’s a great title. It’s called How Happiness Happens: Finding Lasting Joy—because I appreciate the subtitle, because you really dismantle anybody’s maybe knee-jerk response, like, “Well, this must be easy for someone.” Because the subtitle is Finding Lasting Joy in a World of Comparison, Disappointment, and Unmet Expectations. Now you’re singing our song. Now we’re like, “Oh, I have a place here.”
You’ve got a whole chapter on accepting others. This kind of goes back to something you were just talking about. Obviously, clearly, in this world . . . I mean, not just in this world, in the church, and then in our subcultures, and then the subcultures of those faith subcultures. We are not going to agree with everybody, people are not going to always agree with each other, or with us, or the things we hold near and dear. So, we’ve got to find a way through because that’s a guaranteed rule, that we are not all going to have unanimity on all things.
What it feels like the low-hanging fruit offered to us is, “If you don’t agree with me exactly, then you’re against me.” Right?
Max: Yeah, yeah.
Jen: And so here’s something that you wrote in that book that sheds a lot of light. You wrote, “We are creatures of comfort, and creatures of habit. We like the familiar and predictable. We like agreement over conflict, peace over disruption. These are the things that make us feel happy, content, and at rest. And all these things—comfort, familiarity, agreement—are achievable,” True, “as long as we interact only with people who are just like us. People who are part of the same political party, church denomination, ethnic group, or country. People who like what we like, and dislike what we dislike.”
You nailed it. That’s 100%, there we can live. I guess.
So how do we push through that? How do we disrupt that very what feels like stable, peaceful, space in order to really, really reach toward a wider table?
Max: I think this is such an important topic.
Jen: Me too.
Max: And so thank you so much for bringing it up.
I think from the big picture, Jen, we don’t have the option.
Okay, so let’s talk about believers and then we’ll talk about relationship with unbelievers.
Max: With believers, I didn’t pick you. You know? You didn’t pick me.
Max: God picked us both.
Jen: That’s good.
Max: And so the question is not, “Are we going to get along?” The question is, “How are we going to get along?”
It’s like my relationship in my family. I’m one of four siblings, I’m the baby in the family. My older brother has already passed over into heaven. But he and I did not get along that well. Boy, you couldn’t be more different than my brother and I were. Yet I did not, when it came to sitting down at the table, I did not get a vote.
Jen: That’s right.
Max: My parents created him. We come from the same DNA. And so biblically speaking, we’re never told to create unity—we’re just told to maintain unity.
Jen: Great point.
Max: And so you and I, when it comes to the table, whether literally the Lord’s table, or figuratively the community table, you’re my sister, and I’m your brother. And that is stated. That’s grounded. You may be an Episcopalian, I may be a wild-eyed charismatic. I don’t know.
Max: But if you and I both call God our god, and Jesus our savior-brother, the Holy Spirit our power, the Father our strength. If we agree on those big rocks, then we got to figure out a way to be together. And so I think that’s step number one, it’s not an option.
Max: So then I think step number two is we’ve got to keep talking. I think you and I share a deep concern. I’ve heard on your program our tendency to silo, to silo.
Max: I’ve often used the word “cluster.”
Max: We cluster, we cluster. And we like it. We’re birds of a feather, you know?
Max: And the downside of living in a country with great religious freedom, it’s hard to state that there would be a downside, but there is a downside.
Max: And that is all these churches pop up. So we go to the people who are just like us, and we assume that is it. We’ve got a corner and we’ve cracked the code on a certain teaching or philosophy. I really think that the division of the church, that division has really been the tool of the devil through the ages.
Jen: Yeah, right.
Max: And our inability to work together to communicate, to love one another, to model this for others . . . well, we’re paying a price for it.
Jen: That’s right.
Max: But it’s not too late, it’s not too late. And if we can come together and realize that what is at core is the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ and then let everything else be of secondary importance, and learn the beauty of disagreeing agreeably.
Jen: That’s good.
Max: Then a wonderful movement can break out. But as long as we’re picking at each other, as long as we’re doubling up our fists, as long as we’re speaking about one another in a way that does not honor God.
Max: Well, no wonder nobody wants to . . . I mean, who wants to join a table where everybody’s squabbling?
Max: So this is a big deal.
Jen: I agree.
Max: In fact if I could just add real quickly?
Max: When it comes to unbelievers, we can be respectful. We do not have the right to be arrogant and to point a finger. Of all the people who should not be arrogant it is those of us who believe we are saved by grace.
Jen: Right. Right.
Max: We believed that if it weren’t for God’s grace we would have spun out of control by now.
Jen: Totally, doesn’t even make sense.
Max: So we of all people should be humble, walking humbly through the world and not casting stones. And so I think we could just do a little bit better.
Jen: I agree.
Max: But I’m hopeful that we will.
Jen: Well you know that’s been sort of central part of your messaging for a long time, really, that is. You cashed in your chips on that idea, on that value, on that deep undercurrent of faith a long time ago. And I really appreciate your consistency on that because you have been saying that. And yet, now I feel at this exact season we’re in such need of it. I mean, not that we ever weren’t, but particularly right now, I’m so grateful that you have developed such deep roots into that system, into that tree of humility and of goodwill toward one another, and kind disagreement—which is going to happen.
Max: That’s a good phrase.
Jen: There’s this idea that maybe the end game that we’re hoping for is that if we can just make our case strong enough and clear enough, we’ll just get everybody to agree with us, or to see it our way. But frankly, that’s not it. I think we’ve got to really challenge the rules of the system, which is, we may get to the end of the whole thing and still very deeply have different ideas about it. Or different convictions, or beliefs.
Jen: And even there we can be generous in nature toward one another. We can be kindhearted, our words can be beautiful, and we can still love one another. It is possible to get to that end game, even in a family that has a lot of different ideas. And that’s what you’ve told us, you’ve taught us that.
Max: I try, but I’ve screwed it up a lot, too.
Jen: Well, same.
Max: I’m working on it.
Two days ago I went to downtown San Antonio to have lunch with a pastor of a downtown church that is caught up in the controversy over whether or not to have gay marriages.
Jen: Oh, yeah.
Max: And so they’ve landed on the side of yes, they will. They will have gay marriages. It is an old church. And they have about 200 active members.
Max: But listen to this, they feed about 800 homeless people a week.
Max: About 800 homeless people a week. Now, I didn’t go online to see what is said about this church in social media, I would imagine it’s not always positive because of the stance they’ve taken on gay marriage. Well, I was with him and meeting their staff, and walking through their building. That topic never came up. I was just fascinated and humbled at their ability to care for the homeless and the poor.
Jen: That’s great.
Max: And we connected right there. We connected right there. And there’s fellowship there, there’s fellowship.
Max: Does that make sense?
Jen: Oh, 100%. I mean, if anything has ever been clear in scripture as we like to say that everything is, it’s that our part of our faith community’s responsibility is to care deeply for the poor and for the marginalized, and hurting in our communities. Yes, of course there’s fellowship around that.
Max: Well, so I left thinking, “Okay. I don’t know, there’s probably a lot of things that our churches where we’re different.”
Max: And yet for us to dismiss, blanketly dismiss large portions of our church family—again, getting back to point A, and that is we don’t get a choice. We worship the same God and we would come to the same table.
Jen: That’s right. Yeah.
Max: We might practice our faith slightly differently on some things. And we’re still all working it through, by the way. We’re still working it through.
Jen: Absolutely, absolutely.
Max: But we’ve got to applaud what the different aspects. When somebody’s really living out their faith, we need to make a big deal about that, rather than point out the areas in which we’re different. And I think if we can start doing that, if we can start doing that, we might be again getting around the table and talking through some of these things in a way that would be healthier for other people.
Jen: That is a great story, and a great example. I love it.
You mentioned just a second ago something I’d like to hear you talk more about. You talked about kind of the big rocks, and I learned that you have what you say, three big rocks that sort of form the cornerstone of your faith. And have helped you be happy in ministry and stay in harmony with God’s church. That feels important right now. With so much kind of noise and everything swirling around, at all times everything just feels so tight and so volatile. It feels like coming to something simple, finding a simplicity in our faith, sort of these through lines of the big things is really useful as a great filter through which we can consider everything in front of us right now.
So, I wonder if you can talk about what those are, those big rocks to you? And have they always been the same? Or did they shift a little bit according to just the season of life and ministry you’re in?
Max: How much time do you have?
Jen: For you? All day. All day
Max: Well, we’re talking about our list of non-negotiables. Right?
Max: And I believe we’ve got to keep that list a tight and as brief as possible.
Jen: Yeah, that’s great.
Max: What happened to me, the super short version is I was a mess when I came to Christ. I know some people say that, but I really was. You would not have wanted your daughter to go out with me, I was not a good man. When I was 20 years old, I came to faith. I decided that I wanted to become a missionary, and to get into Brazil as a missionary, you had to have a seminary degree, so I went and got a seminary degree.
Max: And in the midst of that seminary degree, I had a wonderful professor of New Testament. And the day that really this all crystallized for me was the day that he lead us into an exercise in which he put a target up on the . . . Back then we used blackboards, I know we don’t anymore. But with chalk he drew like an archer would use shooting at a target. And he began asking us, “What are the big issues of the Christian faith?”
Well, you get a bunch of seminarians talking about that—
Max: You know, it’s going to be fun. So, people were throwing up everything from the end times to charismatic movement, to authority of the Bible, to role of women in the church. Just a variety of things.
Max: And so he made a list and then he said, “Okay, now place which one of these goes on the bullseye. Which one of these is the core, which one of these are the most important? Or which of these are absolutely essential for fellowship and moving forward in faith?” Now there’s a good question, there’s a good question.
Max: Well, we all kind of placed them around. But you know what? None of them made it to the center. None of them made it to the center. He said, “Okay, so what goes on the center?”
And as we’re in this interview I just opened my Bible to the passage he had us open ours to. And that’s 1 Corinthians 15. And this is the Apostle Paul, he said, “I passed onto you what was most important in what had also been passed onto me. Christ died for our sins, just as the scripture said. He was buried, he was raised from the dead on the third day just as the scriptures said. He was seen by Peter, and then by the 12, and then more than 500 of the followers at one time. Most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by the Apostles.”
So, I think if the Apostle Paul had been in that class, he would have written, “Death, burial, and resurrection.” And placed it right there in core.
Max: And that has simplified my faith, Jen, for so many years. Because it has enabled me to have legitimate . . . have differences.
Max: With people with whom I have great respect.
Max: And land in two different spots on very difficult issues. But still find ample room for fellowship, and love, and respect.
Max: I think what we tend to do is we each create our own list of essentials, and that list gets longer, and longer, and longer, and longer.
Jen: That’s right.
Max: And gets so long that we look up and we say, “Nobody shares my list.”
Max: Right? When it should be the opposite, I think . I think. I can find fellowship with Richard Rohr , right?
Jen: Yeah, I agree. Yeah, of course.
Max: Even though we come from two entirely different worlds.
Jen: Sure. But to your point, when that is what our faith is organized around, that’s enough. That’s it. That’s the core of it. That’s the good news of it, that’s the truth of it. And it’s not that the things in the second, and third, and fourth tiers don’t matter, because they do matter and they’re worthy of our attention, and our discussion, and our robust, even, debates sometimes around it for the sake of the good of the world, and faithfulness. But that’s at the middle, and that’s enough to hold. And I have found that to be profoundly true in my life, too.
Some of the people I hold most dear, that’s basically our three-pronged similarities. We depart from there, and yet they are precious, beloved to me. I learn from them. I respect them. I learn from their mentorship, and modeling. And it’s all possible. I hope that’s what listeners hear today, that that’s not a pie in the sky idea or approach to unity inside of faith. It’s very, very possible and it’s very beautiful.
Max: You know, there’s a beautiful story in the Gospel of Mark about the disciples who came up to Jesus, and they said, “Teacher, we saw somebody using your name to force demons out of a person. We told him to stop.”
Jen: Yes. Right.
Max: It’s great, it’s great.
Jen: I love that story.
Max: It’s in Mark Chapter 9, if somebody ever wants to read it. And then he says, “We told him stop because he does not belong to our group.”
Jen: That’s right.
Max: Is that not funny?
Jen: It’s crazy.
Max: Right there, in the presence of Christ, they’re telling somebody, “Well, because he’s not in our group we’re telling this person to quit it.”
But Jesus had a good word for them. He said, “Examine the fruit, and examine the faith.” He said, “Be careful.” Jesus, the next verse, said, “Don’t stop him. Because anyone who uses my name to do powerful things will not easily say evil things about me.”
I think we do ourselves a great favor when we resign from the posture of having to control everything in the church.
Max: Christ is in charge, he’s the one building the church. We’re still going to love one another. We’re still going to have vigorous debates and discussions. We’re going to recognize that we’re going to sometimes land in two different spots. But that’s okay, that’s okay.
Jen: Yeah, that’s right.
Max: Jesus said, “Don’t stop him. I’m in charge of him, and as long as he’s doing good things, I can put it to use.”
Jen: Golly. That is just as true and relevant this very exact day as it was the day he said it. That holds so much instruction for me. Thanks for bringing that particular bit of the story up. I find that challenging in all the best ways.