#Focus: New Wine Podcast #011

What role does focus play in the life of a follower of Jesus?  And what should our focus be?

I answer these questions more fully in my latest podcast.  You can listen to it on the bottom of this post or on iTunes.

 

If you like it, would you please rate it and even leave a review on iTunes?  That would be super cool!

Thanks!

It’s Time to Listen ...and then act!

I posted this video on Facebook a short while after the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston, SC and it has been viewed more than 3500 times.  That’s pretty amazing!

White brothers and sisters: We must listen to our friends of color. The time is NOW.

http://wp.me/p45U6t-fQ

Posted by J. Matthew Barnes on Friday, June 19, 2015

Here’s the point in a nutshell: Racism is real; therefore, we (meaning white people) must listen to our brothers and sisters of color.  The time for arguing and saying that folks are too sensitive is over.

We must listen.

 

And then we must act.  We must own up to our part of the systemic issues that folks face in our world, ask for forgiveness, and make amends by standing in solidarity with our friends of color.  (And, no, we can’t just jump to that last part.  We must humble ourselves through confession and the seeking of forgiveness first.)

 

Thoughts?  Keep things above the board.  I have an itchy delete button finger.

Charleston and Its Impact What impact will this shooting have?

Today has been a day marred with sadness.

The shooting at Emanuel First AME in Charleston, SC weighs heavily in the air.

Nine people gunned down, allegedly for the color of their skin.

Nine people gunned down while attending a prayer service at church.

Nine people gunned down who leave behind families who will never truly have closure.

Nine people gunned down.
For my wife and I this incident in Charleston has hit home for us a little more than it might have in the past. We live in a neighborhood that is comprised primarily of people of color and we’ve been intentionally building relationships with our neighbors for more than a year now.

As a part of that relationship-building process, a friend from our neighborhood invited us to attend a revival at his church. The church is right around the corner from our home and it’s a Missionary Baptist Church. For the uninitiated, “Missionary Baptist” means a Baptist church that is connected to the long history of primarily black Baptist churches.

And this church was no different.

My wife, son, and I were the only people in attendance who were not black. We loved our time with our new friends! We were shown great hospitality and I was even invited to help receive people who might come down during the altar call.

It was a truly blessed experience for our family (and hopefully for our new friends too!).

 

However, the shooting in Charleston made us stop and think a bit. Apparently the alleged shooter was there for over an hour before the carnage began. Did he participate in the prayer service? Was he shown a similar level of hospitality that my family was?

And will his actions have an impact on my family’s ability to continue to build relationships with people in our neighborhood, especially historically black churches in our neighborhood.
Will we now face a new level of scrutiny due to the shooting in Charleston?

I’m not sure what the answer to that question is…but I’m excited to find out. In fact, we welcome increased scrutiny. We want to continue to dispel unhelpful stereotypes that prevent folks from different backgrounds from interacting well. We want to jump through whatever hoops are necessary in order to mourn with, worship with, and serve with our friends of color.
We welcome the awkwardness. Why? Because we truly believe that in Christ these sorts of barriers can be brought down and true community and fellowship can be forged by the power of the Spirit.
Lord, make it so in our lives and all over this divided country of ours! Amen.

 

Let me know what you think in the comments below.  And please be civil!

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Samaria Today Where must we go?

There are lots of places where we don’t want to go for one reason or another.  Many of us avoid certain areas of town due to certain perceptions.  Others of us avoid traveling to certain countries or regions for political, medical, or even religious reasons.  And lots of us avoid certain stores due to social stigmas.

And, to get a bit more personal, some of us avoid certain individuals because they are hard to get along with.

But what if those places we’re avoiding are just the places where we need to be?  What if they are the places that God wants to send us to grow us and to use us for his purposes?

 

This reminds me of an experience that my wife, our friend Judith, and I had in Cambodia.

We were on a prayer journey.  Our mission was twofold: 1) We wanted to prayer for missionaries that we partnered with; and 2) We wanted to pray on site in the most significant areas of need.

So while we were in Cambodia we went to pray with and for some of our friends there.  On one occasion while driving, I asked that we be dropped off in the most dangerous area of Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital.  This particular area was overrun with brothels and human trafficking.  It was heart-rending, deeply depressing, and emotionally heavy.

Our friends who were with us in the car didn’t know that we were going to be dropped off at this particular location.  When the car stopped they were shocked!  They couldn’t believe that we would willingly stop there and prayer-walk back to our hotel.

Apparently, this area of Phnom Penh was a place to avoid — a Samaria.

 

Why Call It a Samaria?

Why call this part of Phnom Penh a Samaria?  And why would we call other places, things, and people we avoid Samaria also?

Read these words from John 4.4:

Now he [Jesus] had to go through Samaria.

You may be thinking Well, that made things as clear as mud!

Let me explain: Samaria was directly between Judea and Galilee, the two places Jesus was traveling between.  Many first-century Jews would avoid Samaria altogether by skirting around it, lengthening their trip to a great degree.

They did this because for many first-century Jews, people who lived in Samaria were considered half-breeds who were unclean and to be avoided.

Jesus, however, had to go through Samaria.

But he didn’t!  He could have followed suit and took the circuitous route around Samaria like so many of his Jewish brothers and sisters did.

But Jesus had to go through Samaria.

In order for the Father’s purposes to be fulfilled, Jesus had to go through Samaria.

In order for Jesus to exhibit full obedience to the leading of the Spirit, he had to go through Samaria.

And in order for him to show respect and love to someone who was very marginalized (a sexually deviant, woman from Samaria), Jesus had to go through Samaria.

 

Our Samaria

We should expect no different as we follow this same Jesus who had to go through Samaria.  He’s still going through Samaria today.  The question is this: Will we follow him?

 

Will we follow Jesus through Samaria?

Will we seek for the Father’s purposes to be fulfilled by going through Samaria?

Will we exhibit full obedience to the Spirit’s leading by going through Samaria?

And will we extend ourselves sacrificially toward the marginalized by going through Samaria?

 

Honestly?  Probably not.

We all, myself included, will likely continue to do what is expected of us.  We’ll skirt our ways around Samaria.  We’ll avoid those who are different from us.  We’ll exclude those who are difficult relationally.  We’ll do everything in our power to never step foot in certain areas, regions, countries, or even continents.  We’ll continue to overlook the overlooked.

We’ll probably avoid Samaria.

 

But we shouldn’t!

Here’s my challenge: Where is that place that causes avoidance to creep up within you?  Go to that place, asking God to teach you and use you there.  Who is that person or type of person that you’d rather just avoid instead of treating like a human.  Seek them out and begin a new friendship.

 

We must go through Samaria.

 

If we follow Jesus, do we really have a choice?

 

What do you think?  What or who or where is your Samaria?  Let me know in the comments below.

Mother’s Day Joy and Sorrow Mingled Together

It’s time for Mother’s Day once more.

Yay!  Mom’s are the best!”  That’s supposed to be our reaction to Mother’s Day.

And if you’re a Mom then your reaction is supposed to be something like this: “Being a mother is the most amazing blessing that can ever be imagined!  I’m so jazzed about being a mom!

Unfortunately, these are not the only reactions that people have on Mother’s Day.  For a lot of people, Mother’s Day is difficult.

So when we observe Mother’s Day this year, and every year going forward, let’s keep in mind the real potential for pain in some people’s lives.

 

Mother’s Day Pain

Here are a few examples of people who may be suffering on Mother’s Day…

  • People whose moms have died, whether recently or a long time ago.
  • Women who are unable to have children.
  • Women who don’t have children but wish they did.
  • Single moms who are reminded on Mother’s Day of the loneliness of their situation.
  • Moms whose children have died, whether recently or a long time ago.
  • Women who have spent tons of money on infertility treatments that haven’t worked.
  • Women who are in the process of adoption.
  • Women who have had failed adoptions.
  • Adoptive moms who may have a hard time believing that they’re really moms.
  • Women who have placed children for adoption and all the pain and heartache that accompanies this courageous choice.
  • Foster children, adoptive children, children raised without a mother, and other children who have issues identifying who their moms are.
  • Moms whose children live a long way away.
  • Women who long to have grandchildren but do not yet.
  • The mothers whose relationships with their children are broken.
  • Women who are pregnant; they may wonder if they count yet.
  • Women who have terminated pregnancies.
  • Foster moms whose lives are often chaotic and their efforts unheralded.
  • Single women who deeply long to have a family.
  • Women who serve as the mother for children in their community whose biological mothers are unavailable for one reason or another.
  • Mothers who are incarcerated and separated from their children.
  • Children whose mothers are incarcerated.
  • Children who suffer or who have suffered at the hands of their mothers.
  • Mothers who hurt or have hurt their children.
  • New moms who are frazzled, sleepy, and doubtful about their capabilities as parents.
  • Women who have suffered miscarriages.
  • Children of moms who are terminally ill.
  • Moms of children who are terminally ill.
  • Women in the midst of a crisis pregnancy.
  • Women who have been sexually abused.
  • Step-moms who are seeking to navigate the complicated waters of a blended family.
  • Moms whose jobs take them a long way from home, whether because of the military, business, or anything else.
  • Children whose moms are not at home due to their service in the military, their jobs, or anything else.
  • Moms whose partners are a long way from home, whether because of the military, business, or anything else.
  • Moms of children with special needs who are overwhelmed and tired and who often blame themselves for the diagnoses of their children.
  • Working moms who have to cope with daily pain and doubt.
  • Stay at home moms who may feel like they aren’t making a contribution.
  • Moms everywhere who suffer under the judgment of our society, the men in their lives, their families, other mothers, and themselves.
  • All the other mothers that I left unnamed.
  • And all the men who are attached to any of the women above.

And, friends, I know lots and lots of women who fit the categories above and have sat with, prayed with, and cried with them.

Now What?

So should the pain that many have on Mother’s Day change the way we talk about it and celebrate it?  Absolutely!  Especially as followers of Jesus and especially during our worship services on Mother’s Day.

But, if you are in contact with your mom, your grandmother, or the mother of your children, you should absolutely reach out to themon Mother’s Day.  If there’s drama between you, that’s fine; reach out any way.  As followers of Jesus we are called to reconciliation and reconciliation is often really difficult!

But for many of us who have neutral to amazing relationships with our moms, we should tell our moms how much we love them and how thankful we are for them.  It’s really pretty simple — express love and gratitude!

But in our churches we should probably do things a bit differently than we typically do.  Convention says that from the stage or pulpit we should have a spiel about Mother’s Day and how “being a mom is the highest calling.”  Then we ask all of the moms in the audience to stand and we applaud them.

I think that all of that is wrong and we shouldn’t do it.

Why?  What’s wrong with acknowledging moms and their hard work and sacrifice?

Several things:

  1. Being a mom, or a parent for that matter, isn’t the highest calling.  Following Jesus and obeying all that he commanded us is the highest calling.  Think about it: if being a mom, or a parent, was the highest calling, then lots of folks around the world who do not know or follow God are living out that highest calling.  That just doesn’t make sense.  Besides, Paul, in 1 Corinthians 7.7, said that he wished people would stay single as he was.  And Jesus was single and many of the leaders of the early church were single.  Being married and having children is a blessing from God — but it’s certainly not the best of all blessings, the way that many people in the church make it out to be!  By the way and for the official record, I’m happily married and I’m a new father.  I’m not writing this out of frustration over being single or not being a parent.
  2. Having all the moms stand is horribly painful for all the women present who might fit one of the pain categories listed above.  It’s so bad that many women simply stay home from church on Mother’s Day to avoid the pain, shame, and guilt of not standing and being applauded.  Furthermore, we aren’t at church to celebrate moms anyway; we’re there to celebrate what God is doing in our lives and to worship him.  Can moms be mentioned in our services.  Sure!  But we need to find ways to do it that won’t marginalize and hurt all the women for whom Mother’s Day is painful.
  3. And, lastly, Mother’s Day is not a Christian holiday.  It was started by a woman who wanted to honor her own mother.  She fought for years to get Congress to make Mother’s Day an official holiday and it finally worked!  But shortly thereafter Mother’s Day shifted from being a simple day to tell our own mothers we love and appreciate them to becoming a commercialistic behemoth.  It got so bad, so fast, that the founder of Mother’s Day begged Congress to repeal it!  And things haven’t gotten better.  I mean, have you been to the store this week?  So from it’s beginning to the way it is observed today, Mother’s Day is not a Christian holiday and it seems to promote frivolous spending on trinkets that will simply gather dust.

 

So What Then?

What can we do instead?  If we talk about Mother’s Day in our churches, can we do so from the perspective of Scripture?  Can we do so in ways that bring honor to moms and that don’t cause undue pain?

And can we pray in ways that affirm all women and not just moms?

Here’s an example prayer.  Do with it what you will.

Father,

Thank you for caring for us, for leading us, and for calling us to be your disciples.  We each have a story that has brought us to today.  Some of our stories are idyllic and beautiful, full of loving homes, caring mothers, and wonderful children.  But others of us have different stories, stories full of pain, suffering, isolation, frustration, shame, guilt, and unfulfilled hopes.  And in light of the stark differences that a day like Mother’s Day brings up for us, we are in awe of the fact that you can create beauty, unity, and peace in spite of how different we all are.  But we are grateful Father that you have led us to where we are today.  We deeply appreciate that you’ve been with us each step of the way.  And for those of us who celebrate today, you celebrate along side us!  And for those of us who suffer today, we share in the fellowship of your suffering.  Father, help us grow from our stories.  Teach us and move us to be excellent caregivers, showing love by putting the interests of others before our own.  Today, on Mother’s Day, we celebrate you and your power to reconcile all things to yourself through Christ Jesus our Lord.  It’s in his name we pray; Amen.

 

What do you think?  How can we responsibly observe Mother’s Day as followers of Jesus?

#SmallGroups: New Wine Podcast #010 How can small groups help us be more missional?

Do small groups help or hinder followers of Jesus becoming more missional?  My answer: depends on the groups!

 

I answer this question more fully in my latest podcast.  You can listen to it on the bottom of this post or on iTunes (CLICK HERE).

 

If you like it, would you please rate it and even leave a review on iTunes?  That would be super cool!

 

Thanks!

 

 

The Ugliness of Envy How to ensure that you'll be unappealing and unattractive!

I think we all have that one friend, co-worker, or family member who insists on being annoyed that anyone else has anything good going on for them.  Do you know what I’m talking about?

This condition is called “envy” and it is really pretty unseemly and downright ugly!

But I think if we’re all honest, then we know that we exhibit lots of envy in our lives too.  So that means that our behaviors, words, and attitudes make us pretty ugly to others too.  (Did you see what I did there…”pretty ugly”…get it!?)

Envy

Green with Envy

Envy Invades Us All

Recently my wife and I were having a conversation and I was talking about someone that we both know.  Everything in his life has seemingly just come together without much effort while many things in my life have taken great struggle and persistence.  I went on and on and eventually I veered off into envy territory.  I started saying things like “Well, if I were him…” and “It would be nice if my life were as easy as his…”

My guess is that this story resonates with you.  Envy is real and its reach extends to each one of us.

The Impact of Envy

What’s so bad about envy?  Some people argue that envy doesn’t really hurt anyone, so why would God tell us not to envy what our neighbors have (cf. the 10 commandments)?

Well, I think there are two reasons, at least:

  1. Envy is a sign that we can’t be content with what we have.  Envy is primary side effect of the disease known as “I wish I had that other stuff over there.”  Honestly, envy communicates loudly that our desire for things we don’t have trumps our desire for God and his will in this world.  And I’m pretty convinced that it is envy that drives our desire for more stuff, more stuff, and more stuff.  If someone else has it, then I have to too!
  2. Envy impacts the people around us.  Check out John 4.1-2: “Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John — although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.”  Do you see it?  The envy of the Pharisees about who was more popular led to Jesus leaving Judea and returning to Galilee.  Their envy impacted Jesus’ plans.  The same is true in our worlds — our envy impacts the people around us.

Envy Solution

So what’s the answer to envy?  Well, I don’t think there’s a quick fix.

Honestly, I think we have to start by being totally satisfied with God and God alone.  If we lost it all but still had him, would we be okay?  Would we be happy?  Or are we so tied to our stuff and relationships that we can’t exist without them?

A second area to work on would is being content with what we have (cf. Philippians 4).  Do we really need more shoes, more gadgets, more square footage, and more fame?  Will it ever be enough?

And a third way to combat envy would be to surround ourselves with community, the kind of community that will love us, correct us, encourage us, and hold us accountable.  So when we start exhibiting signs of envy, they can call us on it and help us change.

Lastly, a fourth way would be to pray.  We need to ask God to help us.  We can’t do this on our own — we’ll always default back to envy.  We need the internal power that only God can provide through the indwelling presence of the Spirit.

 

What do you think?  How big of a problem is envy and what can we do about it?  Let me know in the comments below.

#DecisionMaking: New Wine Podcast #009

This is podcast number nine and here’s the question we’ll try to answer this time: How should a follower of Jesus make decisions?

Have you ever found yourself in a position where you need to make a decision but you have many options, most of which seem quite good?  What did you do?  How did you choose between the options?

I have recently found myself in this very position.  The future direction of my professional life could go many different directions and I’m at a place in my personal life where I need to choose which way to go.  And I can tell you without equivocation that making a decision in circumstances like these is extremely difficult!

How do we proceed?  And does being a follower of Jesus cause things to change?

 

You can listen to the podcast here at the bottom of this post or you can listen to it on iTunes.  And if you do listen to it on iTunes, could you please write me a review?  I would greatly appreciate it!  Thanks!

 

Grow Your Capacity Starting Today

Do you feel stuck?  Does it seem like you have hit a limit to what you are able to accomplish?  Does it feel like you have done your best and yet there’s still so much more that you’d like to do?

These questions, and others like them, can apply to our lives in lots of different areas — relationships, business, spirituality, personal achievement, education, etc., etc.  There are certainly times in each of our lives when we don’t imagine that there aren’t many more ways we can grow.

We’ve exhausted all our known paths and options and we’ve advanced as far as our current situation would seem to allow.

And that’s when we stop.  That’s when it seems like our capacity for growth has totally dried up.

But is this true?  Is it generally true that folks have an upper capacity above which they can’t grow?  And what about for followers of Jesus…what is our capacity like?

capacity

How full is your glass? To the top? Or have you set a limit for yourself that is below your full capacity?
By: Claire Cessford

 

Capacity Without Measure

As I’ve mentioned before, the Gospel of John is full of “sent” language.  It’s all over the place!  The implication is that those who follow Jesus are sent; we’re not to be lazy or passive!

And one of the places where this sent language shows up prominently is in John 3.34.  Here’s what it says:

For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit.

Now, to be clear, the “one whom God has sent” in this passage is referring to Jesus.  Jesus’ testimony about himself is legitimate because he speaks God’s words in a completely unadulterated fashion.  And, furthermore, Jesus was given the Spirit without limit or measure, meaning that while others in human history prior to Jesus experienced the Spirit of God, it was only for a time.  Jesus, however, had total and complete access to the Spirit when he was on earth.  All that God sent Jesus to do could be accomplished because Jesus had total access to the Spirit.  His capacity was only limited by his human-ness (he could get sleepy and hungry and the like, he could only be in one place at a time, he experienced time sequentially the way all humans do, etc.).

You may be thinking at this point something like this: Matt, I thought you were going to talk about how we could have a growing capacity, not that Jesus did!

Well, there are several things to think about.  In John 14.17 Jesus promises to send the Spirit to his followers and he says that the Spirit will be with them and live in them.  Later in the same chapter, Jesus says that the Spirit will teach them “all things” (14.26).  Two chapters later Jesus tells his followers that the Spirit whom he will send will guide them into all truth (16.13).  Then in John 16.14-15 Jesus says that what the Spirit says he got from Jesus and what Jesus says he got from God.  Lastly, in John 20.21 Jesus says that he is sending his followers in the same way he as sent, which, among many things, implies that they too will be sent with the Spirit.

In other words, the Spirit that Jesus had access to without limit is the same Spirit that indwells his followers!

Friends, this is great news indeed!  We have been granted the greatest gift that we could possibly receive on this side of eternity: the Spirit of God will live in us!  He will inspire us, move us, teach us, guide us, convict us, and empower us.

He will allow our capacity to only be limited by our human-ness as well.  Like Jesus when he was on earth, we get tired and hungry, we are only able to be in one place at a time, etc., etc.  But in the same way, just as Jesus was filled to capacity with the Spirit as he walked and talked on earth, we too are filled to the brim!  The Spirit of God is with us!

 

Grow Your Capacity!

So our capacity is much higher than we probably imagined.  How do we tap this uncharted capacity?  Here are a few ideas:

  1. Pray.  Ask God to help you submit more and more to the Spirit.  Why?  Well, if it is the Spirit who can grant us all that we need (thus growing our capacity), then we must learn to trust him and lean on him more than we currently do.  So we need to ask God to show us how to trust the Spirit!
  2. Seek community.  There’s little that will help you increase your capacity more than being in a Christ-centered, Spirit-filled community of folks who long to live out God’s mission in this world.  You will be encouraged, pushed, and guided.  You will learn that growing your capacity isn’t something to accomplished alone; you need others!
  3. Change your inputs.  Be honest, what are your daily inputs?  Mine look like this: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs, podcasts, television programs, Youtube videos, conversations with friends, and, if I feel especially compelled, the Bible.  What if I flipped my input priorities, placing more importance on hearing from God within the Bible and from my community?  Would my life change?  I’m totally convinced that it would!

 

So friends, when you get down and think there’s no way out — that’s okay.  Feeling depressed, sad, and stuck are real emotions and you feeling them is not a bad thing.  But in just the way you need him to, the Spirit of God can provide you love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Don’t you need those things?  I know I do!

 

What do you think?  As a follower of Jesus, why do we sometimes buy the lie that our capacity is very limited?  And what would change in your life if you really lived like the Spirit of God lived inside of you?  Let me know in the comments below!