Untangling Your Faith–with the Questions Jesus Asked: Amberly Neese
What if your doubts made your faith stronger? Author, speaker, and humorist Amberly Neese explores the questions Jesus asked as a way to reclaim your trust all over again.
What I think is interesting about that is—we teach kids to be like Jesus in so many ways: “This is how you deal with people,” and “This is how you handle this,” and “This is how you do whatever,”—but we rarely give them permission to ask questions and to embrace the power of what those can be. Questions can be holy beginnings of journeys. -- Amberly Neese
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What if your doubts made your faith stronger? Author Amberly Neese explores the questions Jesus asked as a way to reclaim your trust all over again.
Untangling Your Faith–with the Questions Jesus Asked: Amberly Neese
Amberly: I think we all are very familiar with the verse that says “’I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord.” But what we don’t think through is, He doesn’t say, “I’m going to let you know the plans I have for you,” right? He says, “I know them.” And if we really know who He is—if we really spent the time and we’ve invested in fostering a relationship with Him, searching for Him like hidden treasure—if we’ve done those things, then when He says, “I know the plans I have for you,” that’s enough.
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: Today we get to ask some questions, and there’s nobody on the planet who asks better questions than you.
Ann: Why would you say that?!
Dave: You are the—well, there is one Person who asks better questions than you. [Laughter]
Ann: I think so!
Dave: His name is Jesus. Seriously, there’s no one like you!
Ann: That’s nice of you.
Dave: Whether it’s in an airport with a total stranger, or people in our neighborhood, or friends who come over, you are not about you; you are about them, and you ask good questions. You draw them out.
Ann: I think that’s one of the reasons we’re so drawn to this Bible study that we’re going to talk about today.
Dave: Yes, what is it?
Ann: It’s called Untangling Faith: Reclaiming Hope in the Questions Jesus Asked, and we have Amberly Neese with us today.
Amberly: Yes, and I’m so excited to be here; but I wanted to just take a minute: that is high praise to say that somebody is a good question-asker.
Ann: Isn’t that sweet of him to say?
Amberly: That was very kind. I don’t know how many husband points he gets, but he deserves all those points.
Ann: He always gets points.
Dave: I should get 50! [Laughter]
Amberly: Exactly; exactly.
Dave: Well, Amberly, we’re going to talk about Untangling Faith. I set that up, because so much of this book is about the questions Jesus asked; but before we get there—
Dave: —you are full of humor. You travel the country many weekends a month—
Amberly: I do.
Dave: —and do what? I know you do humor, but what else?
Amberly: I do women’s retreats; I definitely am a speaker, but I tour with two national tours for comedy: “Aspire Women’s Events” and “The Marriage Date Night Tour.” I’m able to share comedy and laughter with couples and ladies. I love doing that. Hopefully, they see Jesus in all of that. I love, love, love to do that. I also love doing women’s retreats and diving into God’s Word with ladies. That’s such a blessing.
Ann: And you love Bible study. You love teaching it—
Amberly: I do!
Ann: —you love digging into the Scriptures.
Amberly: I do; I do; I do! And I did not think that was going to be my jam. I mean, I loved God’s Word—but at least, when I was young, the ladies in my life who could do that—I was just like, [singing voice] “Aaaaaahhhh!” You know? “There’s no way I could ever do that!” And fortunately, God uses the ill-equipped and does great things despite them; so I’m excited about that.
Ann: Share with our listeners the first time you started teaching, because it wasn’t something you were anticipating.
Amberly: No! No. When Scott and I were first married, our very first call was two weeks after we got married. We were called to a church in Garden Grove, California. They had/they wanted to put a woman’s retreat together, and they asked me if I would be willing to do it. I thought, “I’m not sure I’m up for the task.” They said, “That’s okay. We don’t have anything to pay you, so you’ll be worth whatever we’re going to pay you, which is zippidi-do-dah!” [Laughter]
I loved it! I loved diving into God’s Word and looking at a particular topic. I loved, really, doing some deep diving. The whole process was so fantastic! At the end of the weekend, I came home; and I was so emotional. It was such a gift! I know that’s shocking. Sometimes, women’s retreats—[Laughter]—"Give them a little bit of Jesus and a lot of tissues”; because we do have a tendency to get emotional—but I came home, and I was really overwhelmed.
I tried to articulate what I was feeling; and I said [talking as though crying], “You know, did you ever watch Chariots of Fire, when Eric Liddel says, when he runs, he feels God’s pleasure?” My husband said, “You want to start running?” [Laughter] And I said, “No! Oh, my goodness! No. Get behind me, Satan. No; that is not what I want to do!” But I said, “I felt like I was doing what God wanted me to do. I was in the right place in the universe.” He said, “Well, how can I help?” I said, “I don’t know; I don’t even know where to get started.”
Ann: How sweet of him to ask that question: “How can I help?”
Dave: That got him some points!
Amberly: Oh, a zillion! Zillions of points. [Laughter] I mean, I feel really thankful. I really feel so fortunate that my husband is as clear about my call as I am (and my kids as well). I feel really, really thankful for that.
Ann: Well, why this Bible study? When you say: “Reclaiming Hope in the Questions Jesus Asked,”—
Ann: —"what does that mean?”
Amberly: I will say this: I have lots of people in my life who are deconstructing their faith. I have lots of friends who are loving their kids and grandkids through jumping off of the faith bus; I mean, they are just really struggling. I wanted to practically look at what that looks like and how to give hope to people when it comes to that.
Most Bible studies that I’ve done: they’re written for the sweet church lady who needs encouragement, hope in her heart, and all those things. But I wanted to write a study for those, who were saying, “I am beseeching the Lord on behalf of somebody who’s struggling,” or “…who’s leaving the faith,” “…who’s struggling in their faith or leaving their faith. I want to have practical tactile things that I can do to provide hope.”
In all of my studies, I’ve looked from a certain vantage point; and this one is unlike any of them. In this six-week study, every single day is a different question that Jesus asked—not an answer, tied up in a pretty little bow, and everybody’s happy, and there’s a soundtrack that begins—[Laughter]—we don’t break into Oklahoma halfway through the study. [Laughter] It is an unpacking of the questions Jesus asked; and Jesus really only answered, straight-out, two questions in the Bible. The rest, He often would respond to a question with a question.
Ann: And God did the same in the Old Testament!
Amberly: Totally! Totally, over 300 questions—
Amberly: —in the New Testament that Jesus asked. What I think is interesting about that is—we teach kids to be like Jesus in so many ways: “This is how you deal with people,” and “This is how you handle this,” and “This is how you do whatever,”—but we rarely give them permission to ask questions and to embrace the power of what those can be. Questions can be holy beginnings of journeys.
Ann: What’s one of the questions that Jesus asked that just tugged at your heart? You’re like: “Oh, yes! This is so good, that He asked this question.”
Amberly: Oh, yes; there are a ton! I loved studying: “Who do you say that I am?”—which sounds silly, especially for those of us who are believers, and know who Jesus is—however, it was really profound for me.
Actually, the week that I was writing that particular chapter, I had gone into the dermatologist. My dad died of skin cancer when he was 51. My sister had major skin cancer surgery—it looks like she has a shark bite on the back of her leg—when she was in her early 40s. I had gone in—and usually, I have my dermatologist, who’s wonderful, did the scan—but this time, he said, “There are some places I’m really concerned about.” There were about nine days—for whatever reason, that’s how long it took—and in those nine days, I kept hearing that question: “Well, who do you say that I am?”
You’d think that they’re unrelated; but “Do I believe that He’s Jehovah Jireh?/Do I believe He’s the Provider?” “Do I believe He’s the Healer?” “Do I believe He is the God who works all things for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose?” “Do I really believe?” “Who do you say that I am?”—I would say with my mouth; I mean, goodness knows, I travel the nation, and I tell people that Jesus is Lord, right? And He is!—but when it comes right down to it: when there are questions in my mind; when my mind was riddled with: “You’re going to have cancer. How are your kids going to respond if you have cancer? What’s going to happen to your husband? What, financially, are you guys going to do?” I mean, I just had this crazy—I recognized that, even though I’d been a believer a long time, I still had some unresolved issues when it came to who I really say that He is—and not just with my mouth, but with my life—“What does my life say that He is? Does my life say, ‘Oh, yes! She trusts’?”
Ann: What happened with the cancer? What was the diagnosis?
Amberly: The cancer was fine; things were good. There are still things that we need to watch; but more thrilling to me than the diagnosis that things were okay was the journey that I took, in those nine days, of really figuring out and really being honest with God about my areas that I’m still holding onto, thinking I’m in control/that I’m “large and in charge,” as we used to say with our kids. [Laughter]
Ann: Well, it’s interesting, because just last spring, I’d had a mole removed. I asked the doctor, “Will you please take this off? I know you’ve said it’s fine in the past, but I would just like you to take it off.”
Ann: We were here recording. We were having lunch with the guests, and I got a call from my doctor. I said, “Hey, I’m going to step out; I need to get this.” She said, “Hey, that diagnosis showed that you have melanoma.” I remember that night in bed, just asking God: “God, are You here? Do You see this? I know You do! I know You do, Lord. I know spiritually, biblically, theologically, that You are with me; but Lord, sometimes I need to be reminded.” It’s almost like John the Baptist saying,—
Ann: — “I know You’re the One, but are You the One?”—[that] kind of thing. [Laughing]
Amberly: Yes, yes.
Ann: And it’s so crazy—because a couple of days later, I went over to talk to my neighbor; because we were going to go out of town—he’s this great older man, probably in his 80s. He said, “Ann, Ann!”—he’s Polish—“I need to show you this! Come, come, come!” I said, “What’s up?” He said, “I need to show you what happened last night.” I said, “Oh, what happened?” He gets out his phone, and he’s trying to find a picture; and he’s having a struggle finding it.
He said, “Last night, I woke up at three in the morning; and I couldn’t sleep. I look out, and I see your house. I see this angel, or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit.” He goes, “I don’t know what it was, but I took a picture of it.” He goes, “Oh, here it is!” And he shows me. I said, “What in the world?! Did you photoshop this? What is this?”
Amberly: If he can’t figure out his phone, I don’t think he’s photoshopping; let’s be honest.
Ann: He said, “What’s photoshopping?”
Ann: I said, “Will you send this to me?” And he said, “I don’t know how to do that.” I sent it to myself, and I showed Dave. You know, everybody can say, “Whatever; it’s just the clouds.” But I’m telling you, this thing, to me, was—you guys can say it’s nothing or it’s something, but I’m going to tell you, for me—that just was all I needed, like, “Hey, Ann. I’m with you. I’m with you in this.”
Amberly: Yes; “Who do you say that I am?”
Ann: “You are the God Who sees”—
Amberly: Yes, absolutely.
Ann: —“and hears.”
Amberly: Yes, absolutely.
Dave: I mean, what would your response have been if the melanoma came back not good? I mean, I think I know; but I just, literally, preached the Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego story a couple weeks ago.
Dave: You know, where they say to King Nebuchadnezzar: “We will not bow down to your idol.”
Dave: And “If you throw us in the fire, our God will”—they say “will” not “maybe”—they say “…will deliver us.”
Dave: “But if He does not, we still will...” They had that: “He might not. Maybe His plan is we die and go to heaven; it’s a promotion.”
Dave: You’ve got to love that phrase: “…even if He doesn’t, I’m not going to submit [to Nebuchadnezzar’s demands].” Your story turned out well. Do you know what you would have thought if you were sitting here today, and it—
Amberly: It’s super easy for me to say at this point, right?
Dave: Yes, yes.
Amberly: But there are times that things don’t work out beautifully.
Amberly: Again, our story includes nine years of infertility. We could get pregnant; we just couldn’t stay pregnant. I will tell you that, sometimes, I felt like, “Yes! My faith is in a good place”; and then tragedy would strike, and I would realize, “No; I still have some growing to do.”
I think we all are very familiar with the verse that says, “’I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord,” right? But what we don’t think through is—He doesn’t say, “I’m going to let you know the plans I have for you,” right?—He says, “I know them.” And if we really know who He is—if we really spent the time and we’ve invested in fostering a relationship with Him, searching for Him like hidden treasure—if we’ve done those things, then when He says, “I know the plans I have for you,” that’s enough. We can be satisfied in that, because we’re trusting less in ourselves and trusting more in the character of Who He is.
Amberly: I would like to say that I would find joy in all of it.
I got on a flight one time, and there was a lady who was late getting on the flight. She was—I’m a big girl—but she was a big girl, too. She was struggling to make her way through the very narrow aisle, and she was doing whatever. Every time she would bump somebody, she would say, “It’s all joy. It’s all joy.” [Laughter] “It’s all joy.”
Wouldn’t you know, she sits across from me! I was thinking to myself, “Doesn’t she know the term is, ‘It’s all good’?” That was when “It’s all good” was a thing.
Amberly: Then, the more I thought about it, it’s like, “No; ‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance.’” She was literally saying, “This feels like a little trial, but it’s all joy.”
My hope was that I would respond, even when cancer comes pack positive: “It’s all joy,” because I know who God is. When He says, “Who do you say that I am?” I can say with confidence, “You are God, who’s proven Himself so worthwhile.”
I love the ministry that you all have to married couples, and I’m going to share my favorite marriage tool. Are you ready for this? Here it is—
Dave: —Your favorite marriage tool.
Amberly: —my favorite marriage tool ever, in our 31 years of marriage. I know, for some people—I always think it’s funny when you meet other couples, and there’s a competition—[Laughter]—even with believers, there’s this holy competition: “Oh, only 31 years; that’s adorable. We’ve been married 43,” or whatever it happens to be.
Dave: Hey, she just said our exact number.
Amberly: There you go! I love it.
Dave: You just got us.
Amberly: [It] is an “Ebeneezer.” Early in our marriage—you know the Old Testament Ebeneezer, where God would do something great, and He would say, “I want you to build an altar, and I want you to call it ‘God is great; give Him chocolate cake,” or whatever the Message version says—[Laughter]—anyway, He would say, “I want you to build an altar for this.” And it was a blessing as the people would come and go.
Well, Scott and I—very early on, especially when things were really tight financially—we started an Ebeneezer. Now, it didn’t look like the Old Testament thing; it looked like a charger plate that we had gotten for our wedding, that we never used. The charger plate is the one that I always feel like, “That’s the one I want to eat off of,”—but I want to practice some self-control—“So we’ll use the smaller plate.” [Laughter] The charger plate, and a hurricane lamp, and a candle, and rocks from the dollar store. Every time God did something great, we would take the rocks from outside the hurricane; we would write on it [the rock], put the date, and then we’d put them inside.
What we found is: it was really hard to feel sorry for ourselves when we were able to see God’s hand in every day. At the end of the year, we’d pull it out and say: “Oh, this is when you got out of that traffic ticket,” or “This was when God provided when we didn’t think it was possible.” We would get a deposit for something that we did not even see coming; we just kept looking at the faithfulness of God. [It is] transformative for a marriage; because again, it’s really easy, as humans, to feel sorry for ourselves or to get self-absorbed. It’s really hard to stay self-absorbed when you’re looking at God’s provision every day. In those first couple years of marriage, that’s what it felt like. It literally felt like manna every single day. That’s been huge!
We’ve done it with our kids, and we’ve done it as a family for years; but for us, it’s been so huge. When God asks us, “Who do you say that I am?” He has proven Himself so faithful. Again, even if the bill doesn’t get paid—
Amberly: —even if the check doesn’t get signed; even if whatever, He’s still God. When He says, “Who do you say that I am?” I can say with confidence, all these years later, “You are the God who loves me, sees me, works in my best interest; and knows that I am workmanship, because You’ve created me.”
Dave: Yes, and I think it’s interesting—what you’re saying—because you’re talking about that Ebeneezer, being with your husband.
Dave: You know, I was preaching this sermon a few weeks ago on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; and honestly, I preached something like that 20 years ago. It didn’t hit me until this time that, in that story, you never hear of Shadrack, Meshach, or Abednego alone. The entire [story], from beginning to end, is they’re always together.
Amberly: Yes, yes.
Dave: You think, “Is there something to community”—
Amberly: Oh, wow!
Dave: —“when you’ve got to answer that question, ‘Who do you say I am?’”
We already talked about your other project, The Belonging Project.
Dave: It’s all about community. I think when we struggle—like a lot of people who deconstruct or de-convert—they’re often alone.
Amberly: Yes, you’re right!
Dave: Who’s walking beside them to help answer that question?
Dave: “I’m struggling right now to remember Who Jesus really is.”
Amberly: That is so good!
Dave: Your spouse, or your child, or a friend, walks beside you and says, “I’ve been there, Dude.”
Dave: “Let’s talk and answer these questions together.” That’s so critical!
Amberly: I was going to say I think that is a glorious tidbit that the Holy Spirit gave you. That is so good.
The grocery store that’s closest to us—recently I had some kind of return that I needed to make, [and] I’m not God’s most patient child; I’m just going to be really honest—[Laughter]—I’m waiting in line, and there are like five or six people ahead of me. I found myself making up songs to try to pass the time. [Laughter] I am looking at these items on the side—these impulse items I don’t need. I don’t need another charger, for the love of all that’s holy; I do not need it—but I’m looking. I’m just trying to pass the time. I’m scrolling through social media; I’m doing whatever. It seems like forever!
I’m finally one person away. There’s one person ahead of me, and I’m starting to—
Ann: —get hopeful!
Amberly: [Singing] “One person, chicka-ding-ding; chicka-chicka-ding-chicka. . .” [Laughter] You know, I’m doing all of the hand motions; I’m going to make it. All of a sudden, I did not hear what the person asked; but the person behind the customer service desk said, “You know what? I’m not sure; let’s figure it out together.” She leaves the booth. I found myself thinking, “No, no, no, no, no! No, don’t go away!” Then, the more I thought about it, the more I thought, “Oh, that’s such a glorious way to look at it. ‘You know what? I’m not totally sure; let’s figure it out together.’”
I think you’re right! I think when people are struggling spiritually, the most glorious thing that we can say to them—besides “God is good,” right?—is: “Let’s figure it out together. Let’s journey together.” She could have just pointed her to Aisle 13, but she didn’t. She could have passed her off to somebody else, but she didn’t. She left the comfort of her booth; and she walked alongside this person, who was struggling. I think community is the key. I’m so glad that you got that tidbit from that teaching.
Ann: I agree!
Amberly: So good.
Dave: I even thought, “Would Shadrach have stood by himself? Would Meshach?” I have no idea, but we know they did together.
Amberly: I know; I love that!
Ann: There’s something, too, about being in community—even a small group—when you have women of all different ages.
Ann: I was in a group, just last week, at a table of ten; and we were just talking. There were a lot of young moms with toddlers. Those are the hardest years for your marriage.
Amberly: Yes; oh, you bet!
Ann: You’re just dying on the vine.
Amberly: You’re sleep deprived.
Ann: Yes! You’re working, and you just think, “I’m doing everything, as a mom. Why isn’t my husband…” It’s really easy to start looking at the negative in your husband and in your life.
Amberly: Yes, you bet.
Ann: I used to do that. I used to think, “Do I even have a life anymore?” I mean, I would have a pity party; and then I’m the martyr.
As women were talking about the stages, this one young mom was talking about how hard it is: how her husband doesn’t see her; how her husband doesn’t care. This older woman, who had grandkids, said, “Oh, honey! I look at you, and when I look at you, I think, ‘Wow! This girl’s amazing.’”She just started talking about all these wonderful attributes this young woman had. She said, “I’m watching you, as a mom. You’re pretty incredible! And I’m watching your children. I watched you parent the other day at church; and I thought, ‘This girl—she’s got it going on!’ And your husband—the way he looks at you—he adores you!”
I’m watching this young woman—her whole demeanor started to change—
Amberly: You bet.
Ann: —as [she heard] a reminder of all God’s goodness/the things that she could be thankful for—as you said, the “Ebeneezers.”
Also, sometimes, we can’t see it when we’re in the pit, you know?
Amberly: Oh, so true; so true.
Ann: Someone else has to point out: “No, there are some good things in the pit. Look around.” [Laughter]
Amberly: Yes, exactly!
Ann: I love that thought of: “One God always sees.” To ask Him; tell Him the truth when you’re struggling: “Lord, I’m struggling.
Amberly: Oh, you bet.
Ann: “I can’t do this! I don’t know if You see me, and I’m struggling. Put people around me.” And put yourself in positions where women can speak life and hope to you.
Amberly: Absolutely! Absolutely, and I know men need it, too.
Shelby: Wow! I’m excited. Amberly is going to tell us what men need that’s different from women in just a second, and I’m looking forward to that. I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Amberly Neese on FamilyLife Today.Amberly has created Untangling Faith. This is a video-driven small group study about Reclaiming the Hope in the Questions Jesus Asked. You can find a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com in the show notes.
And while you’re at FamilyLifeToday.com, you can partner with us financially. When you do, we’re going to send you a copy of Brant Hansen’s book called Blessed Are the Misfits. Brant was a guest earlier this week. He has put together a book for anyone who feels left out, or [who has] gone through the motions, or even feels like they have more questions than answers. Again, this book is going to be our gift to you when you partner with us financially at FamilyLife. You can go online to FamilyLifeToday.com or give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329; again, that number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” And feel free to drop us something in the mail if you’d like. Our address is FamilyLife, 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, FL 32832.
Alright, here’s what men need, according to Amberly Neese.
Amberly: I just think it’s interesting that female babies make eye contact three months earlier than their male counterparts. We need—oftentimes, when I say to my husband, “Are you listening to me?”, it’s because he’s not making eye contact with me. He’s hearing everything; he can regurgitate verbatim what I just said—but I think, “Oh, he’s not listening”; because he’s not looking at me.
Women often connect with each other; we look each other in the eyeballs. Guys—at least, the gentlemen/my husband, and my son, and our other friends—they connect best when it’s ear to ear: when they’re driving in the car, when they’re working on stuff together, or when they’re doing whatever. They don’t have to have that eyeball-to-eyeball [connection]. I truly believe it’s kind of the superpower of both genders—
Ann: Me, too.
Amberly: —to be able to connect like that. It just looks different for men than it does for women. For us, we don’t need an excuse. If the day ends with a “y,” it’s time to connect, right? [Laughter] Guys need a little bit different motivation; but I’m so thankful for the power of that community that it can provide to encourage one another, for sure.
Shelby: Now, coming up tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are back again with Amberly Neese. She’s going to talk about how practicing biblical community and supporting one another can lead to transformation and growth. That’s coming up tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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