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!

 

Britt McHenry: A Response

Just a few days ago an ESPN reporter named Britt McHenry was outed online for being a huge jerk to an employee at a tow company’s impound lot.

Watching the video was super sad.  The words that Britt chose to use were horrific.  Here’s the original video (warning, there’s foul language; viewer beware!):

But seeing and hearing the response people had to Britt’s words was also pretty harsh.  Twitter blew up with the topics #FireBritt and #FireBrittMcHenry trending nationwide.  Let me give you a few examples of things people said:

And there were many, many more…and some of them were much, much worse.  Lots of people were saying that they wished Britt would be sexually assaulted or that she would contract horrible diseases.  Geez, Twitter can be such a nasty place!

 

Why Hate on Britt?

All of the outrage really got me thinking: Why have people, myself included, been so quick to hate on Britt?

The obvious answer is, well, obvious.  The things that Britt said were horrible.  She openly and aggressively belittled the woman working behind the counter.  She made fun of her looks, her supposed lack of education, her choice in careers, and even her dental hygiene.

And, as has been pointed out by thousands of people already, in the video Britt sounds an awful lot like Regina George from Mean Girls!

Britt

Regina George, played by Rachel McAdams, from Mean Girls.

But I think there’s another reason for all the hate.  It may take a bit of convincing though, so bear with me.

I think that some of the outrage over the comments made by Britt have less to do with Britt and more to do with us.  What do I mean?

Well, I think that the filth that spewed out of Britt’s mouth reminded each of us of our capacity for spewing filth too.  Most of us have said similar things when we’ve been angry, tired, stressed, or the like.  And most of us felt horrible after we did so.

And if truth be told, we think these same things all the time too.

But if we focus our attention on the horrible things that Britt said, then we can avoid for a moment the reality that we’re pretty stinky ourselves.

We can deflect some of our self-frustration and focus it on Britt instead.

She can become our scapegoat.  She can be the person to fill in the “Well at least I’m not as bad as _____” sentence.

 

We’re All Mean Girls at Heart

In moments like these it is important for us as followers of Jesus not to point the finger solely at Britt, as if she’s the only one guilty of egotistical bullying.

Instead, her comments afford us an opportunity to look at ourselves in the mirror and take stock.

We need to ask ourselves a few hard questions:

  • Do I demonstrate with my words and actions that I think I’m better than others?
  • Am I willing to be loving and kind even when I’m angry, tired, and frustrated?
  • Why am I so quick to judge others but so slow to change my own behavior and thinking?
  • And Why do I sometimes revel in the pain of others when they make mistakes?

 

What do you think?  What can we learn from this situation with Britt McHenry?  Let me know in the comments below!

#Humility: New Wine Podcast #008

Perhaps a working definition of humility would go something like this: Having an honest appraisal of oneself that allows for the interests of others to pursued and deepens the desire for this pursuit.

So humility doesn’t mean lying about your accomplishments because you don’t want to seem too arrogant.  And it doesn’t mean trying not to achieve anything of value for fear of accolades.  And humility doesn’t mean having false humility when someone give you praise.

 

You can listen to the podcast below or you can hear it on iTunes.  Either way, thanks for listening!

 

 

Fictive Family

The family that Jesus calls together goes beyond blood or marriage.  His family is a fictive family — a family called together by something else, something deeper.

That something is a someone — Jesus.  And the glue that holds his fictive family together is his mission.

 

 

Fictive Family

Fictive family is a phrase used by researchers to label a kinship group or a community that is brought together not by DNA or marriage  Instead, these communities are formed on some other basis.

There are numerous examples of this but perhaps the most popular one is the military.  The television series Band of Brothers captured this idea well.  A diverse group of young men, who weren’t related in any traditional sense, developed a deep sense of connectedness which caused them to sacrifice for one another, even to the point of death.  What brought them together initially was patriotism or the draft (or both) but what enabled them to move from men in proximity to a fictive family was their mutual suffering and their mission.

They each went through the rigors of boot camp and training.  They had horror stories of drill sergeants putting them through the ringer.  Then they had hours and hours of sometimes boring specific assignment training.  And when they were together on the field, they faced danger, hunger, and loneliness.

But sharing in suffering doesn’t automatically create a fictive family.  But when you pair shared suffering with an exciting, risky, and real mission, that’s when you get the first inklings of fictive family!

The soldiers begin to learn that not only do they have the same sob stories as their brothers in arms, but they also have each other’s backs.  They begin to see for themselves power and beauty of fictive family when they are literally at death’s door together.

This kind of closeness, this fictive family, is somewhat rare.  Why is that?  Why aren’t we humans more inclined toward being fictive family?

I could probably list a hundred or more reasons, but here are the first few that come to mind: we’re scared to be open and vulnerable, we think we will look or become soft, we’d rather not share the glory and fame, and we’re just plain ol’ selfish.

I mean, really, who wants to give of themselves until it hurts?

 

Fictive Family Glue

As followers of Jesus we commonly use familial language, calling each other brothers and sisters and claiming that we’re all part of the family of God.

But we all know that we’re often just parroting empty language that was parroted to us.  We don’t always treat one another with real affection.  We don’t always create interdependent relationships that fictive families have.  And we don’t always sacrifice for one another the way we might for family.

Why not?  Why aren’t we more like family?  Why are we more akin to acquaintances within in the church?

Here’s my belief: It’s because we aren’t on mission together, we don’t operate under the same purpose.

It seems to me that we Christians, especially those of us who consider ourselves Evangelicals, have made it incredibly difficult to live within fictive family well.  For years (centuries really) we have focused so intently on individual faith and Jesus as a personal savior that we’ve made community, i.e., fictive family, a luxury and not something that is expected.

Christian community is not optional!  It is absolutely necessary in order for us to follow Jesus actively in the real world!

But how do we do it?  How do we begin to form fictive family as followers of Jesus?

Here’s what has worked in my own life — I got on mission with some other followers of Jesus.  The fictive family formed quickly!  Being on mission together gave life and meaning to our worship together, our service of one another, our prayers for one another, and our reading of Scripture together.

 

Fictive Family on Mission

The real question this is this: What is this mission and how do we get on it?

Mission is from a Latin word (missio) which means “send.”  Therefore a mission is something we are sent to do.  It’s active and it comes from God.  Our mission isn’t something that we think up or that we lean on others to find for us.  It’s revealed from God.

And the basic missio Dei, mission of God, in the Bible is simple — God wants to reconcile all things to himself through Christ Jesus (2 Cor 5.19-20).

And it is this one idea, reconciliation, through which we should filter all of our potential thoughts about mission.

So our thinking should go like this: Do the activities we engage in as a fictive family, as a Christian community, promote reconciliation (the mending of broken people, relationships, and things)?  If so, then we should prayerfully pursue them in the power of the Spirit.  If not, then we should avoid them like the plague because all they’ll do is distract us from God’s one mission in this world, to reconcile all things.

 

Friends, real connection is formed between followers of Jesus when we are on mission together, when we are engaging in God’s reconciling work together.

And being on mission like this will form us into loving, vibrant, and attractive fictive families in which we love God, love one another, and love others.

 

What do you think?  What do you think holds Christian community together?  Is it mission or is it something else?  Let me know in the comments below!

#Intentionality: New Wine Podcast #007

To put the point of this podcast is an over-used metaphor: Following Jesus is not a spectator sport.  We can’t do it well if we’re sitting on the bench.  No!  We must be active and intentional!  It’s our job to do that which God created us to do!

 

Give this podcast a listen below or on iTunes.  If you like it, then please subscribe to it and share it with your friends!  I’d love for more of us to do this together!

intentionality

By: Raoul Luoar

Lastly, how cool is it that this is podcast 007!?  James Bond had to be intentional to as good of a spy as he was!

 

Cultural Assumptions

I learned something recently — it’s easy to make cultural assumptions.  The way this shows up in my life is that I assume my cultural norms are the cultural norms for everyone.

And assuming my cultural understanding is everyone else’s cultural understanding is a serious stumbling block to following Jesus actively in the real world.

Why?  What’s wrong with thinking one’s cultural norms are the cultural norms?

In order to answer this question, I want to tell you a story…

 

MEC Retreat

Me teaching at a college and young adult retreat.

 

A few weeks ago I had the great privilege of leading a retreat for college and young adults.  I really had a blast!  They coordinator of the retreat asked me to lead the group through a series on the seven churches from the first few chapters of the book of Revelation (the last book in the New Testament).

This was exciting for me because I had already done some work on the seven churches before, meaning that I could pull out my old notes and update them.  This is always a fun process for me.  It’s interesting to see how my thinking has changed and grown over the years.

But another reason why teaching this group was going to be exciting was the fact that everyone in the group was Egyptian or Palestinian.  I have several friends from Egypt (two of whom helped me score this opportunity!), so I felt ready to go!

I met with one of my Egyptian friends prior to the retreat and he gave me some helpful insights on the group and where they were coming from.  He reminded me that since the revolution in Egypt in 2011, many Egyptians, especially Egyptian Christians, have come to the United States.  In Southern California many of them find one another at the church that birthed this college and young adult group.  Therefore, according to my friend, their experience of the church, the gospel, and Jesus himself was very different from what I was used to.

I heard him but apparently his advice did not sink in for me…

 

Cultural Oops!

During one of the teaching sessions I was making a case I make often: Christians are perceived as judgmental and this is something that we need to make efforts to change.  Around the room I was receiving some nods of agreement and a few incredulous looks.  I shook off the latter and latched onto the former…I love affirmation after all!

Later, during the same session, I made the point again that Christians tend to be judgmental and Laura, one of the young women at the retreat, slid her hand up in the air.

“Can I respond?”

“Of course,” I answered.

“Well, in Egypt Christians are often hired to do jobs that require honesty, like a cashier.  In fact, among Muslims in Egypt, Christians are known for being honest, moral, and good people.”

“Hmm…,” was all that I could muster up to reply.

“So it may not be fair to assume that all Christians are judgmental.”

“You’re right Laura.  That was a mistake on my part.  I’m sorry…”

 

The First Moral of the Story

Why is it a problem to assume that one’s cultural norms are the cultural norms?

Because in so doing we can unintentionally and easily belittle and insult other people.  And, trust me, it is truly difficult to share and embody the good news of Jesus and his kingdom while being belittling and insulting!

What can we do to prevent committing a cultural faux-pas like I did?

Well, there are many things we can do:

  1. Learn about the cultural diversity around us.  Even if we live somewhere that seems to be more or less mono-cultural, every family has its own culture and the same sort of mistakes can happen at that level as well!  However, by educating ourselves about the people with whom we regularly come into contact, we may be little less likely to flub it up too bad from a cultural perspective.
  2. Beef up our filters.  If you’re like me and you talk as part of your daily and weekly routines, then it is likely that your filter needs to be changed!  Here’s what I mean: I can just talk and talk and talk without thinking much.  It’s in times like these that I find myself making the most cultural mistakes.
  3. Spend some time learning our cultural quotient and then to do something with this knowledge we gained.  We need to know our CQ — our cultural quotient.  There are some “official” ways of looking into this, but  an unofficial way would be to ask a trusted group of friends who you feel are more culturally savvy than you to give you an honest assessment of where you are.  Then the question is this: What will you do with this information?  What will I?

 

The Second Moral of the Story

Think about what Laura said to correct me — Christians in Egypt have a reputation for being honest and trustworthy.  But Christians in America, by and large, have a reputation for being judgmental.  What’s up with this?

The first way to think about it may be that people in America are giving us a bad rap and that we really aren’t all that judgmental.  But I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we know this isn’t true.  We make snide comments about the behaviors of our friends, family, and coworkers who are far from God, as if we do everything right.  We go on the warpath sometimes looking for ways to judge our national, state, and local political leaders.  And we give social media updates bemoaning the ungodly behavior of those crazy people in Hollywood.

We Christians are judgmental in America, by and large.

So a second way of thinking about it may be that Christians in Egypt are simply less judgmental than we are or that they are simply better known for things that they do well.  Either way, something must be different about them.  What is it?

Well, they worship the same Jesus American Christians do, they read the same Bible, they have similar community times, they pray in similar ways, etc., etc.  So what’s different?

Their context, that’s what’s different.  Here in America we believe (erroneously) that we live in a Christian nation and that everyone should abide by our rules, expectations, and assumptions.  But we don’t live in a Christian nation and many millions of Americans don’t even have a clue what our rules, expectations, and assumptions are!  The truth is that America is not a Christian nation and pretending like it is has done deep, deep damage to our credibility among those who are far from God.

Egypt is different, however.  Upwards of 90% of Egyptians are Muslim.  Egypt is clearly marked by an abiding presence of Islam.  And it is in that context (and an uncomfortable and scary context at times) that Christians in Egypt stand out.  Their kindness, generosity, joy, and honesty are obvious to many people.

 

So Laura was right — and the lessons we should learn from her are to do our best to be culturally aware and that those of us who follow Jesus in America need to work hard to become known for good things about us instead of bad things.

 

What do you think?  What can we learn from Laura’s insight?  Let me know in the comments below!

 

#Prayer: New Wine Podcast #006

What is prayer and what does it have to do with following Jesus actively in the real world?

 

In this podcast I attempt to answer this question.  I discuss prayer, its connection to being on mission with Jesus, and a few examples of how prayer has impacted some of the missional efforts I’ve been a part of.

 

Give it a listen below or listen to it on iTunes.

 

Thanks!

 

Prosperity Gospel: Missional Response

(This is the third part in a mini-series on the health and wealth gospel and what a missional response might be.  Here is part one [CLICK HERE], here is part two [CLICK HERE], and here is part three [CLICK HERE].  Be sure to check back for more!  Or just subscribe to my blog using the sign-up form on the right or at the bottom of the page if you’re using your mobile device.)

The prosperity gospel, AKA the health and wealth gospel, is a force to be reckoned with within Christian circles.  There are millions of people who believe in its principles in the United States, and many millions more in the rest of the world (especially in Latin America, Asia, and Africa).

It’s central claim is that if you believe just so, which you demonstrate in part by funding ministries financially, then God will bless you with material things, money, and health.  And while there seems to be some biblical support for this (see Jeremiah 29.11, Genesis 12, and Mark 1.29-30), upon closer investigation the basic claim of the prosperity gospel is antithetical to the gospel of Jesus and his kingdom.

Jesus and the Promise of Prosperity

This discontinuity can be seen plainly by the fact that Jesus consistently tells his closest followers to expect hardship, persecution, and the like.  Why?  Simply because they follow him!

Listen to a few of Jesus’ thoughts about this:

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9.23)

Taking up a cross and denying oneself certainly doesn’t sound like getting blessed financially or with health!

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. (Mark 10.25)

Why would God bless his people primarily through money, stuff, and health if in so doing he was making it harder for them to live under his kingship?  That doesn’t make sense!

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. (Luke 6.20)

Notice here that Jesus explicitly says that the poor are blessed.  How would that work if God only blessed folks with stuff, money, and a clean bill of health?

I could go on.  There are many, many, many more examples.  But let these three stand as chief examples of the fact that the gospel that Jesus preached and lived was not about giving people money or ensuring that they were always going to be healthy.

Sure, Jesus fed some folks and he healed some too.  But Jesus didn’t always do either of these things.

But he did make a promise to us, a promise of blessing.  In Matthew 28.20 Jesus promises to always be with us, until the very, very end.  That’s his primary blessing.  That’s his ultimate promise.  Anything that would distract us from that promise should not be a a chief pursuit for a follower of Jesus.

In my estimation, proponents of the prosperity gospel engage in abhorrent and manipulative practices which often target the poor and they also seem to be theologically distant from what we see in the life and teachings of Jesus.

 

Being Missional and the Prosperity Gospel

But there’s an important twist to this story.

It’s really easy for me to wag my finger at the prosperity gospel people, but I should be careful.  Jesus has a thought or two about this: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7.3).

So what is the plank in my eye with regard to the issues that make me angry about the prosperity gospel?  I think there are two and I’m sure that I’m not alone in this struggle:

  1. I struggle with entitlement.  At it’s core the prosperity gospel sounds an awful lot like a kid screaming in the aisle of the supermarket about how he’s been a good boy and deserves to get the sugary cereal he sees on the commercials and that all of his friends have.  So when I hear someone saying things like “name your prosperity and claim it in faith,” all I hear is someone telling people that they are entitled to riches and health from God.  And this bothers me.  A lot.  But when I get really honest with myself, don’t I do the same thing?  When I pray I often say things like “But God, we’ve done X, Y, and Z for you; couldn’t you do this one thing for us?”  I struggle with entitlement too.
  2. I struggle with desiring health and wealth.  The prosperity gospel draws its power from simple human urges: the urge to have stuff and the urge to be healthy.  These urges are biological, that is, they’re about survival.  It’s hard to survive in the world (especially the modern world) without stuff and money.  And any health problems are direct challenges to our survival.  And I’m just like everyone else — I want comfort, and having stuff, money, and health can provide that for me.  I want to own a home with a big backyard.  I want to have clothes that I like.  I want to drive a fancy car.  I’d like a nice watch.  I want to be healthy from now until the day I die.  I struggle with desiring health and wealth too.

And when I think about it, most of the churches that I’ve been a part of have demonstrated that they struggle with these things too, both individual congregants and the churches and their leaders too (myself included, of course).

I think this shows up most clearly when people in church contexts talk about what the will of God is.  What we typically mean when we want to know God’s will goes something like this: Which college will I go to, what will I major in, what kind of job will I get, who will I marry, how many kids will we have, how big of a house can we get, should we move to a bigger house, when and how should I retire, etc.

Now it may just be the churches that I’ve been in, the people I’m friends with, or my own makeup and struggles, but in America is seems to me that we’ve made God’s will look a lot like the average pursuits of a middle-class family.  God’s will has to be more than that.  And it is!  In 2 Corinthians 5.18-19 we see with some clarity that God’s will is to reconcile all things to himself through Jesus.  Our health and wealth would only play a small part in that, surely.

 

So when we go to great lengths to criticize the prosperity gospel and its proponents, are we also going to great lengths to see if we struggle with the same desires ourselves?

And are we leading the disciples we are making to care more about pursuing God’s kingdom no matter the cost or have we fallen prey to the prosperity gospel ourselves through our desires to look and act like a typical middle-class person in America?

 

I believe in a prosperity gospel too.  I try to hide it.  I try to push it down.  But my flesh cries out for health and wealth just like everyone else’s.

But as an active follower of Jesus who is sent into this world incarnationally to share and embody the good news, I must begin to cry out more for God and his righteousness!

 

What do you think?  Are we all tempted to pursue the prosperity gospel in our own ways?  What should we do about it?  Let me know in the comments below!

 

Diversity on TV

My friend Liz Lin just wrote a fantastic piece on The Salt Collective.

In it she responds to an article in which a “journalist” bemoans the fact that there are too many “ethnic shows” on TV these days and that “ethnic casting” is unfair to white actors.

I love the way Liz handles this sticky issue.  Here’s a little highlight to whet your appetite:

You know the feeling you get when you’re so dumbfounded by someone’s argument — at how poor the logic is, how absurd their points are — that words completely escape you? That you don’t even know how to respond, because doing so would require you to articulate facts so basic that you’ve long taken them for granted, like that the sky is blue or the sun is hot? That’s exactly how I felt by the end of Andreeva’s article. On a logical level, I was completely flabbergasted. But I was personally bothered, too.

Click here to read the rest for yourself!

 

 

#Community: New Wine Podcast #005

This is the fifth New Wine podcast and here’s what we’ll do this time: We’ll chat about what community has to do with being sent – that is, are we sent alone or with others and why does this matter?

 

Give the podcast a listen below or on iTunes.  Thanks so much!

 

Also, here are a list of links that you may find helpful after having listened to the podcast: