Probing Questions Jesus' Way of Helping People See

Jesus liked to ask probing questions.  This is much is obvious from a quick reading of the Gospels.  But why?

I mean, if what we believe about Jesus is true (namely, that he’s the Second Person of the Trinity, fully divine and fully human), then why does he need to ask questions?  He already knows the answers!

In John 5 we see an example of Jesus’ propensity toward asking probing questions.  He asks a man who had been suffering for a very long time this question: “Do you want to get well?”

probing questions

Scott McLeod … MMM! Cookies!

Jesus’ Probing Questions

So let’s look at this story.  Here’s John 5.1-9a:

1 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. [4]1 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

As I’ve written about before, since Jesus was involved in organized religion, he made his way up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals.  While in Israel’s capital, Jesus encountered a man which John, the author of the Fourth Gospel, calls an “invalid.”  We don’t know what exactly was wrong with this man.  All we know is that his condition was persistent (it had afflicted him for 38 years according to verse 5) and that it made movement slow and difficult for him (we see this in verse 7).  He may have been paralyzed, lame, or extremely weak; we’re simply not sure.

But Jesus saw this man and learned that he had been in this sad state for a great length of time.  Think about this: the man that Jesus encounters here had been struck with this malady for longer than the entirety of many people’s lives in the Mediterranean world in the first century!  In other words, this man’s condition was deeply-rooted and wouldn’t be easily “fixed.”

However, this man was sitting next to a pool that supposedly had healing powers, so much so that, according to verse 3, many suffering people came to it for healing.  Why had this man not been healed?  How did he get to this pool each day?  It was likely that he would have lived elsewhere, perhaps even outside of the city walls.  So, how did a man who couldn’t muster up enough movement to get to the pool before others get himself to this location each day?

It’s in this context that Jesus asks one of his poignant, probing questions: “Do you want to get well?”

Isn’t this a cruel question?  Obviously this man wants to get well, right?  He drags himself to the pool each day after all!  But maybe Jesus had another reason for asking this question.

Here’s my theory, I think that Jesus wanted to have this man evaluate his own situation.  He wanted to hear this man’s reasoning for why he hasn’t gotten better.

And that’s exactly what Jesus got!

In verse 7 we learn two exceedingly sad facts: 1) This man was under the impression that only the first person into the pool would be healed, thus leaving him at a distinct disadvantage considering his condition; and 2) This man was alone, he didn’t have anyone to help him.

In other words, he not only suffered physically but he was defeated and alone.

And suffering, defeated, and alone people are Jesus’ specialty!  He consistently reaches out to those in his society who are hurting the most, who are most alone, and who are most downtrodden.  And when he does, he shows them love.

So how does Jesus help here?  We’re not told why Jesus did what he did, but we can assume that it was out of love and concern for this man.  He says to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”

What happens next is mind-boggling.

At once the man is cured!  This was no gradual healing!  He can walk freely for the first time in 38 years!

Then, out of obedience to Jesus’ request, this man picks up his mat and walks.  Why are these little details important?  Picking up the mat was a sign that this man had been healed to such an extent that he could not only walk, but that he could carry his own bedding.  Jesus was giving this man an opportunity to show himself and everyone else that he had been healed completely!

How amazing!  The entire world was open to him again!

And this whole scene started with Jesus trademark probing questions!

So What?

What does all of this mean for us?  What are some things we can take away from this story as we go about following Jesus in the real world today?

  1. Jesus still asks probing questions — Most of us won’t hear the audible voice of Jesus asking us probing questions, but we can still hear him in the Scriptures, through prayer, in our experiences, within our communities, and in any other ways that he so chooses.  Our duty in those moments is to respond to Jesus’ probing questions with honesty and candor, just as we see in the Gospels.  When we do so, we open ourselves up to whatever Jesus might have for us!
  2. Let’s ask probing questions too! — Now it’s not always appropriate to ask questions all the time but doing so often comes in handy.  Asking probing questions can be disarming and they can let the person answering the question share on their own terms instead of ours.  I’ve recently been reading a book that explores this idea from a leadership perspective and I highly recommend it!  It’s called Curious: The Unexpected Power of a Question-Led Life  and it’s written by Tom Hughes, the co-lead senior pastor at Christian Assembly in Eagle Rock, CA (a city near where I live).
  3. As we are involved in organized religion, let’s keep our eyes open — Jesus went to Jerusalem to participate in a Jewish festival.  He could have kept his head down and his mouth shut, doing his religious duties as quickly and quietly as possible.  But he didn’t do that, did he?  Instead he used his trip to Jerusalem as an opportunity to put the interests of a suffering person before his own.  As followers of Jesus, this is our calling too.  As we engage in the good things associated with organized religion (Bible reading and study, prayer, small groups, gathered worship, etc.), let’s not miss the divine appointments that God sets up for us to see, hear, care for, and love those who are marginalized, voiceless, downtrodden, and forgotten.

What do you think about the fact that Jesus asks probing questions?  Why does he do this?  And what can we learn from it?  Let me know in the comments below.

Cure for Fear What's the solution to our fear problem?

Is there anything more debilitating than fear?  I don’t think there is.  And, friends, we need to find a cure for fear and fast!

Fear can stop us in our tracks physically, causing us to freeze up like a deer in the headlights.  Fear can cause us to loop into unhelpful cycles of thinking and feeling that keep us from reaching our potentials.  And fear can kill us spiritually by preventing us from fully accepting the love of God.

And perhaps most importantly, fear can prevent us from obeying the Greatest Commandment(s) (to love God and others) and the Great Commission (making disciples) by causing us to discount and judge people before we ever get to know them.

So what’s the answer?  What’s the cure for fear?

The Causes of Fear

Before we can talk about a cure for fear, we have to wrap our minds around the things that cause us fear in the first place.  What’s so scary out there?

A recent blog on Psychology Today’s website highlights the five fears that we all have.  Here they are:

  1. Extinction – This is the fear of death an it’s like a program that runs in the background of our minds.  When we get a little too close to something that could possibly cause us to die, this fear alerts us.  Most of us have a pretty reasonable threshold.  While it’s true that there’s a chance (however small) that germs on a door handle could kill us, most of us don’t run away from door handles kicking and screaming!  Others of us have a much lower threshold for this kind of fear.  We fear almost everything that could potentially harm us, including people (and especially people different than us whom we have a hard time understanding and identifying with).
  2. Mutilation – This is the fear of serious but not deadly bodily harm.  Here’s a great example: when my wife was young, her brother broke his arm while riding his bike.  Since this caused her great fear, she put off learning to ride a bike until she was in her 30s!  This fear of mutilation can immobilize us altogether because there’s always something or someone that could harm us, especially when we are surrounded by places, things, and people that are new and different.
  3. Loss of Autonomy – This fear rests on the natural human desire to be in control.  And the loss of autonomy here could be physical (such as becoming paralyzed) or non-physical (such as being demoted from a position with freedoms at work to one without them).  This fear can cause us to be defensive and very selective about what we do and who we surround ourselves with.  We begin to view everything and everyone as a threat to our freedoms, and more so if we are unfamiliar with them.
  4. Separation – This is the fear that we’ll lose contact with the people and things (but especially people) that we love.  We’re scared that they’ll die and we’ll be left alone.  We’re afraid that they’ll find out our deepest, darkest secrets and hate us for them.  We’re afraid that they’ll find people who are better than us and leave us for them.  This can cause us to try too hard to keep the people and things we love, turning us into Scrooges.  Or, rather sadly, this fear can cause us to prematurely push everyone and everything away so that we are the ones who control the separation and it doesn’t come as a surprise.  And, this fear can cause us to shelter people whom we love from others because we don’t want them to get hurt (which can be especially true with regard to our children and spouses).
  5. Ego-death – Lastly is the fear of shame and humiliation.  This is the fear that who we are on the inside, in the most secret place, will be snuffed out through the bullying of others, our own self doubts and depression, or the guilt and pain that we carry into our present from the past.  We’re scared that we’ll lose who we are, our identity.  Maybe we’ll get subsumed into someone else.  Maybe will get squashed.  Maybe we’ll be found out.  Pick your poison, the result is the same — this fear can cause us to become shells of who we’re meant to be!

And these fears trip us up in any number of ways.  I’ve written about a few of those ways before, so I won’t do so here.  But suffice it to say that fear can really put a hamper on our ability to live well, to be meaningful people to others, and to follow Jesus well in the real world.  We need a cure for fear!

cure for fear

by: Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images; accessed at LATimes.com

A Cure for Fear

At his last National Prayer Breakfast, on February 4, 2016, President Barack Obama talked about how damaging fear can be and said this:

Fear does funny things. Fear can lead us to lash out against those who are different. Or lead us to try to get some sinister other under control. Faith is the great cure for fear. Jesus is a good cure for fear.  [SOURCE]

President Obama, like him or leave him, made a great point here.  Fear can cause us to do things we wouldn’t do otherwise.  Think about the types of fears we listed above.  Each one of them can lead us to hurt ourselves or others.  Each one of them cause us to distance ourselves from the “sinister other,” to quote the President.

The President’s words are self-evident.  All we have to do is look into our own lives and analyze, even briefly, some of the choices we’ve made.  Many times those choices have been heavily influenced by fear and as a result we and others were likely hurt.

And this need for a cure for fear is evident in our public discourse as well.  Think back to a little while ago when the Syrian refugee crisis first hit the news.  A little boy drowned as his family tried to escape their war-torn country and all of our hearts were ripped in two.

Then a little while after that fear took over.

Paris was attacked by a terror group and then San Bernadino, CA a short time after that.  The fear that these two terror attacks created made us lose our minds in the United States!  Our broken hearts over the little Syrian boy who drowned became dark with fear-induced hate, causing us to say all sorts of crazy and untrue things about the Syrian refugees.  I mean, just look at some of the comments on this post of mine on Facebook and judge for yourself!  The fearful hate is palpable.

Fear causes us all kinds of problems, including saying and doing hateful things to the very people God may be calling us to be and share the good news with!

We need a cure for fear!

I like how the President ended his quote above: “Faith is the great cure for fear. Jesus is a good cure for fear.”  While I agree in principle with him, I will quibble just a bit.  Here’s how I would say it:

Jesus and the ways of Jesus are the best cure for ear. While faith, generally speaking, is a good cure for fear.

What we need now, especially those of us who follow Jesus, is to emulate Jesus and his ways.  If we want a cure for fear, we have it!  It’s called love.  And not the love that we think we should share and to whom we think we should share it.  No!

It’s the love that Jesus had, a love that extended to the most vulnerable and to the privileged.  It’ the love that, as Paul puts it in Philippians 2, always puts the interest of the other before our own.

The cure for fear is Jesus and his ways.  And Jesus and his ways are best encapsulated by one word: LOVE.  1 John 4.18 says this:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

Love and fear are like oil and water, they just don’t mix well.

But let’s be honest for a second — we all still have fear and our fears cause us harm and move us to harm others.  This is a continual problem for us all.  Fear is something that will be with us until we shuffle off this mortal coil.

So what do we do?

Well, since we’ll always need the cure for fear, namely love as expressed by Jesus, then we’ll always need to reapply this cure for fear by constantly re-exposing ourselves to Jesus and his gospel.  I talk some more about this need for persistent exposure to the gospel in this the New Wine Podcast #016; give it a listen!

 

What do you think?  How big of a deal is fear?  And what’s the cure for fear?  Let me know in the comments below!

 

 

#Gospel: New Wine Podcast #016

What is the gospel, the good news, and why does it matter?

I answer this question in my latest podcast.  You can listen to it on the bottom of this post, on iTunes, or on Stitcher.

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

Also, if you’d like to help support the creative process that helps bring this podcast to life, then please check out my Patreon page (http://patreon.com/JMatthewBarnes).  There are some fun rewards there for folks who pledge support although any level support will be greatly appreciated!

Thanks!

Sharing the Good News

So my son and I have some good news to share, which is the entire point of good news…right?

Watch the video to find out what the news is!

 

:)

Punxsutawney Phil and Hope! Hope Springs Eternal...Get it?!?

Punxsutawney Phil is the “official” groundhog of Groundhog Day, the holiday, not the movie (though he is in the movie)!  And this year (2016) Phil did not see his shadow, which apparently means that spring will be coming sooner rather than later.

As I was considering Punxsutawney Phil and all of his antics, I realized something: this little mammal is all about hope.  Think about it, those who have suffered a long winter with mounds of snow, ice, and bone-chilling temperatures need something to remind them that spring is coming.  They need hope.

They need Punxsutawney Phil!

Unfortunately, the hope that this little groundhog brings isn’t all that great.  He only gets it “right” 40% 0f the time.

While 40% would be a great batting average in baseball (.400 is almost mythical in its stature), for a weather predictor that’s worse than flipping a coin!

The hope that Punxsutawney Phil brings is flimsy at best.

Better Sources for Hope than Punxsutawney Phil

So are there better sources for hope?  Absolutely!

Firstly, if we are searching for some hope we can be reminded of all the times and ways that we worked hard and got things done.  More often than not we succeed, in small ways and large ones.  But we end up failing ourselves since we aren’t perfect. Looking inward is not the best source of hope.

Secondly, we can search for hope in others, like our family and friends.  Most of us have people that we can count on.  When we’re in trouble, we contact them and they are there for us.  But we know that they’re imperfect people too and, oh by the way, they’ve failed us as well. Looking to others is not the best source of hope either.

Thirdly, we can search for hope in societal structures and governments.  More often than not, things like banks, infrastructure, and government agencies can be counted on to do what they are supposed to do.  But we all know the ways that they fail us too, seeing that they were created by and are run by flawed human beings. Looking outward to societal structures and governments is not the best source of hope either.

Fourthly, we can search for hope with organized religion, specifically within the Church.  In the vast majority of cases, the Church brings people hope and help.  But we all know that the Church is run by people who can influence things to go in the wrong direction based on their own predilections and brokenness.  Looking outward to the Church or organized religion is not the best source of hope either.

The Best Source of Hope

So is there one source that’s THE best?

Last night I was chatting with a new friend on Blab, a social broadcasting platform.  He said that he grew up in a Christian family but that based on various experiences he came to understand that the people who introduced him to Christ couldn’t be counted on, since they were flawed people.  He needed to turn to a better source of hope.

So he turned to a relationship directly with God.  His words were that “God could be counted on since he was perfect.”  However, my new friend admitted that his experience of God can’t always be trusted since he himself is also imperfect.  But he was more willing to trust in his relationship with God directly than any kind of connection to the divine mediated by others.

And, in my opinion, my new friend is on to something.  We fail ourselves.  Others fail us.  And the structures of the world fail us.  And even the Church fails us.

So where do we turn?

We turn to the true source of hope, Christ Jesus, whom Paul calls “the hope of glory” (Colossians 1.27).  And it is because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead that we “have been given birth into a living hope” (1 Peter 1.3).

And because our hope is “in the living God” (1 Timothy 4.10) and not “wealth, which is uncertain” (1 Timothy 6.17), it is secure and unfailing.  And this hope is not flimsily based on the meandering failures of humans.  Instead it rests in the unswerving character of God himself, as expressed through Jesus, therefore it is “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrew 6.19).

So where we fail ourselves, others fail us, society fails us, and the Church fails us, Jesus won’t!  We can rest assured that our hope in him is well-placed!

 

What do you think?  Are Groundhog Day and Punxsutawney Phil all about hope?  Where can and should we place our hope?  Let me know in the comments below!

Organized Religion Is it as evil as people make it out to be?

Organized religion, especially the “institutional” church in the West, has gotten a lot of flack in recent years.  Is this popular negative assessment fair?  What can we learn about organized religion from the life of Jesus?

organized religion

By: fusion-of-horizons Doesn’t this church look like some kind of Eldar building fromWarhammer 40k? Bonus points if you have any idea what I’m talking about here!     

Organized Religion and It’s Perception

It seems rather obvious that people are less and less into organized religion these days.  Church attendance is down and continues to decrease, so much so that some church buildings are being converted into night clubs, small businesses, and residences.

And when surveyed, people are increasingly saying that they’re spiritual but not religious.  Usually what people seem to mean by this is that they want to believe in a higher power or a generically loving Jesus, but not be connected to the big “C” Church with all of its baggage.

Perhaps THE voice for this movement is Jefferson Bethke, the star of a viral YouTube video entitled “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus || Spoken Word.”  Here it is:

His piece of poetry was so popular that he ended up getting a book deal out of it (here’s the link to the book: Jesus > Religion).

Why is this the case?  Why do so many people want to be spiritual but also want to distance themselves from organized religion?

Here are a few ideas that come to my mind:

  • Organized religion represents closed-mindedness and bigotry for many, especially younger people.
  • Many people were hurt directly or indirectly by organized religion.  Maybe there was abuse, neglect, or misuse of power.  And perhaps people’s parents forced religion on them.
  • Maybe some people don’t like the feeling that religion brings with it obligations to obey things while being spiritual is more nebulous.
  • Being spiritual seems more open and inclusive than organized religion is typically represented.
  • And being spiritual is much less political in nature than being associated with organized religion tends to be.

I’m sure that there are dozens of other reasons (let me know some in the comments below!), but the point is this: many people are not pleased with organized religion these days.

Jesus and Organized Religion

And another reason that many people give for their disdain for organized religion goes something like this: Jesus was more about the heart and spirituality than all that religious stuff!

But is this sentiment true?  What do the authors of the Gospels reveal to us about Jesus’ connection to organized religion?

This morning I was doing my devotional time and I began reading John 5.  I didn’t get very far before something stood out to me.  Here it is (John 5.1):

Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals.

This verse is easily passed over when reading the exciting narratives of John 4 and 5.  But it highlights something interesting: Jesus was involved in organized religion.

Jesus left his home-base and traveled by foot or caravan to Jerusalem.  Why?  Did he like the mall in Jerusalem?  Nope!  He went up to Israel’s capital in order to participate in a Jewish festival.

To repeat: Jesus was involved in organized religion.

So the mentality that Jesus hated organized religion and was only about spirituality is simply wrong, the text doesn’t support this idea.

However, we should note that when Jesus engaged in organized religion, he did so in ways that brought glory to God and furthered his mission, the Missio Dei.

Often, when we engage in organized religion we do so out of obligation or tradition.  And even when we have good intentions, we often simply support the status quo of the religious group we’re part of instead of pursuing Jesus and his mission at all costs.

In the story in John 5, Jesus went up to celebrate the festivals.  But as he was in Jerusalem he kept his eyes open — and in so doing he met someone in need and helped him out.

At another time Jesus preached at a synagogue, another example of Jesus engaging in organized religion (Luke 4).  But, again, Jesus did so in ways that furthered God’s glory and mission, this time encouraging the people to share the good news with the downcast (which wasn’t a popular message).

And there are many, many other examples of how Jesus engaged in organized religion.

In fact, this was such a common part of Jesus’ ministry, that his earliest followers did the same.  Check out this passage from the first part of Acts 2.46:

Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.

The earliest followers of Jesus were involved in organized religion too, meeting in the temple courts.  Later, in Acts 3.1, we see Peter and John following Jesus again, going to the temple but keeping their eyes open to further God’s glory and mission by helping someone out.

And, lastly in this section, Paul almost always started ministry in a new area by preaching in the synagogue or whatever other organized gathering of Jews he could find.  And when he did so, he always found ways to point to the love and grace of Jesus.  In other words, Paul was involved in organized religion as well.

So What Does This Mean for Us Today?

So Jesus and his earliest followers didn’t shy away from organized religion.  Why, then, should we?  Wouldn’t it be better for us to follow their leads (especially that of Jesus) by engaging in organized religion but always with an eye toward bringing God glory and furthering his kingdom?

Here are a few initial thoughts about how we can move forward today:

  1. “Because” is not a good reason.  We need a better reason to be engaged in organized religion than “because.”  It’ not enough that we feel like we should or someone we love wants us to.  And “that’s the way we’ve always done things” isnot enough either.
  2. Actually ENGAGE in organized religion. Just like Jesus, Peter, John, Paul, and so many others, we should participate in organized religion on purpose.  As we do so, are there people for us to love?  Are there unhelpful tradition for us to challenge?  Are there opportunities to share and embody the good news?
  3. Make religion about connection.  From the beginning of God’s calling us to gather to worship him together, he did so in order that we would connect with him and with one another.  In fact, from eternity past and into eternity future, the Triune God has always been about connection, engaging in the divine and mysterious dance of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And as we gather to worship him together, we join in that dance, thus connecting with God and with one another.

 

What do you think?  What value is there to be found in organized religion?  And how do we avoid its potential pitfalls?  Let me know in the comments below!

 

Zika Virus and God’s Compassion How God Responds When His People Cry Out

Usually when there’s an outbreak like the one happening now with the Zika virus, I don’t fret much.  Why?  Because it doesn’t usually hit home with me.

Normally the outbreak is happening somewhere far away to people I may have little in common with.  If I’m honest, this says some things about me that make me ashamed.

First, I typically lack empathy for the suffering of my fellow human beings around the world.

Second, I only really care about things that have that “x factor” that makes me pat attention, and this isn’t a good thing.  There are any number of significant issues that deserve my attention happening all over the world.  But if they don’t rise to a certain level of interest and visibility with me, then I don’t care.

And third, this lack of interest on my part likely illustrates something about my perception of God as well.  At a subconscious level, perhaps I think God is similar to me.  Maybe only certain things reach his perception.  Maybe he only cares and responds to human pain based on a very particular set of criteria.

Thankfully, I’m wrong about all of this!  All human pain and suffering is worthy of attention and God certainly cares about each person who is hurting.

But in the case of the Zika virus, I have paid a bit more attention than usual.  Why?  Because babies are the ones bearing the brunt of this disaster and I’m the father of a one-year old!  Sadly, my attention to human suffering is contingent on said suffering’s connection to me and my situation.

But as I was reflecting on this  Zika virus outbreak, a particular part of a famous story from the Old Testament, the Exodus from Egypt, came to mind.

Zika Virus and the Exodus

I don’t know about you, but when I think about the Exodus, the first thing that typically comes to mind is Charlton Heston yelling “Let my people go!” in the classic movie The Ten Commandments.

But there’s a more important moment in the story of the Exodus that is easy to overlook.  I’ll show it to you in the Bible from the Book of Exodus chapter 2:

23 During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. 24 God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.

The Israelites were suffering as slaves in Egypt, so they cried out to God.  God heard them, remembered his covenant with them, looked on them, and had compassion.

This easy-to-skip-over paragraph has huge implications for our understandings of God, especially when facing something scary like the Zika virus.

How Does God Respond When His People Cry Out?

  1. God Hears — We often wonder if our cries for help just hit the ceiling and reverberate back down at us.  But this passage from Exodus 2, like so many other passages from the Bible, reminds us that God does in fact hear us.  When we are in pain, when we are scared, and when we don’t know what to do, God hears us.  When the realities of the Zika virus and its explosive growth cause us great trepidation, God hears us.  And when any other things happen in our lives or in our world, no matter how big or small, God hears us.
  2. God Remembers — The idea of God remembering feels weird to our ears, especially those of us who typically think of God knowing everything.  If God knows everything, then how could he ever need to remember anything?  But the statement that God remembers is there for us, the readers.  It’s to remind us that no matter how bad things get, God has not forgotten his promises.  Even when there’s pain, death, and disease, God remembers his promises.  And even when the Zika virus put that most vulnerable among us at risk, God wants us to know that he remembers his promise to be with us to the end of the age (Matthew 28.20).
  3. God Sees — The ancient Israelites must have wondered if God was still looking after them.  In fact, I bet for some of them they were wondering if God even could see them.  But God’s eyes are always open.  He always looks in the direction of his creation.  There’s nothing that could turn his gaze away from us, not our sin, not our pain or humiliation, not slavery, and not even diseases like the Zika virus.  God sees.
  4. God is Concerned — God doesn’t just hear, remember, and see in some unfeeling, robot-like way.  He’s not just “up there” coldly keeping his end of bargains that he’s made.  No!  Instead God has deep concern for his people, especially as they are in pain.  When humans suffer, God feels great concern for them.  And he often goes into action on their behalf.  How?  Well, in most cases God sends some of his people to help.  In the case of the Exodus he sent Moses, Aaron, Miriam, and others.  Who is God sending to help with those who are suffering because of the Zika virus?

Friends, here’s my conviction: The victims of the Zika virus are crying out to God.  He hears, remembers, sees, and is concerned.  And he’s sending us!  Now he may be literally sending some of us to help!  But he is calling all of us to help as we can.

How can we help?  Here are a few ideas: 1) Ask your local church how they are going to respond and help out; 2) Keep your ears and eyes open to hear about opportunities to help humanitarian aid groups that will be helping with the Zika virus response, groups such as World Relief, The Red Cross, or The United Nations; and 3) Pray for the families and children impacted by the Zika virus.  Pray that God will heal, that the Church will rise up, and the peace and wholeness will be restored.  Pray for the governments of the countries most impacted, that they will be wise and lead well in a time of crisis.

 

What do you think? How does God respond to situations like the Zika virus outbreak?

#Judgment: New Wine Podcast #015

What is wrong with being judgmental and how does being judgmental impact our ability to follow Jesus well in the real world?

I answer this question in my latest podcast.  You can listen to it on the bottom of this post, on iTunes, or on Stitcher.

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

Thanks!

Curious? Curious Leadership and It's Results

“Many leaders are the ‘walking wounded,’ but their followers are the ‘sitting silent.'”  That’s a quote from the book Curious: The Unexpected Power of a Question-Led Life by Tom Hughes, Co-Lead Senior Pastor at Christian Assembly in Eagle Rock, CA (a city right around the corner from where I live).

curious

Curious: The Unexpected Power of a Question-Led Life by Tom Hughes

Linking Being Curious and Leadership

Curious is a great book and I highly recommend it!  There are many reasons why I like it but one of them stands behind the quote with which I started this post: healthy curiosity fuels good leadership.

But Tom also makes the point that a leader that is answer-driven instead of curiosity-driven will ultimately burn out, becoming the, as he calls it, the “walking wounded.”  And what’s the result of this kind of leadership?  Well, it isn’t good, that’s for sure!

The way Tom puts it is perfect: the “sitting silent.”  Leaders who try to answer all the questions will eventually burn out and produce passive followers.

And here’s the really odd thing (and this is my commentary now): Many of these burned out leaders blame their followers for their burned-out status and they blame them for not being a more active part of their business, church, etc.

This isn’t entirely fair.  Had the leader done his/her job from the beginning, namely leading from a place of humble curiosity and relentless authenticity, then he/she wouldn’t have to have every answer and his/her followers would be intrinsically compelled to be more active.

So, leaders, instead of complaining, let’s start leading from a place of curiosity!

 

What do you think?  What role can and should curiosity play for a leader?  And what do you think of the idea of the “walking wounded” producing the “sitting silent”?  Let me know in the comments below!

Proof and Faith What does evidence have to do with believing in Jesus?

“I want proof.”

So many of us say these words when confronted with the idea of God, much less the idea of following Jesus.  In order to make the existential jump of faith, most of us want some evidence.  At least a little.

But it doesn’t end with the beginning of a faith journey though, does it?  Nope.  Those of us who follow Jesus often want proof before we trust God with a new area of our lives, an important decision, etc.  We want an inkling of what God is up to before we fully hand over the reins.

Is this normal?  And is this okay?

Our Need for Proof

Not much needs to be said here.  The bald truth is that most of us humans are an un-trusting lot, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  And un-examined faith is pretty boring.

But sometimes we can take our desire to hold definitive proof in our hands too far.  We can demand evidence that is so clear that it can’t be controverted.  This level of scrutiny is just silly.  We don’t ask for this kind of proof when we fall in love, flip the light switch, or buy food from a local grocery store.

But we often demand proof in this way when it comes to faith.  And I honestly think that’s okay.  It’s okay to need some level of confidence before going all in.  To do otherwise would be irresponsible after all!

In John 4.43-54 we read about an official who needs some proof for his faith too.  We see this in three stages, and these three stages I believe will sound familiar to many of us.

Faith in Jesus’ Potential

I’ve written a little bit about this official before, specifically about how even though he was privileged, Jesus cared for him.  But how did their interaction begin?  What was its genesis?

The story starts with this man having a sick child.  He’s probably at the end of his proverbial rope.  I imagine that he’s sought out the best care that a government official could afford.

Then he catches wind of the fact that Jesus was back in Galilee.  This is the same Jesus who had dome miraculous things in the area already.  So, based only on this potential, the official makes the trek from Capernaum to Cana to visit Jesus.  When he arrives, the official begs and pleads with Jesus to heal his son (v. 47).

I think this kind of faith is the kind of faith that helped many of us begin our journeys with Jesus.  We probably saw the difference that Jesus made in the life of someone we loved and we wanted some of that for ourselves.  That’s faith in Jesus’ potential.

The proof that we’re looking at is in the lives of the followers of Jesus, the transformations that they’ve experienced, etc.  But this faith in Jesus’ potential is only really the first step.  It’s believing in what Jesus did for someone else.  It’s the kind of faith that leads us to Jesus.

(As a quick aside, this is the attractional life idea that I talk about quite a bit on my blog and podcast.  If we live the human life of Jesus in our human lives, then our very lives will serve as proof of Jesus’ potential for others.  Our lives can be the catalysts that first lead people to Jesus!)

Faith in Jesus’ Words

Once the man’s faith in Jesus’ potential led him to Jesus, the official then was privileged to hear Jesus’ words with his own ears.  Jesus says to him “Go, your son will live” (v. 50).

And the official has faith in these words which he demonstrates be obeying Jesus’ command to go.  John puts it interestingly in v. 50: “The man took Jesus at his word and departed.”

Where was the proof though? you may ask.  And I don’t have a solid answer.  Once this official met Jesus, based on his potential, he must have experienced something of the force of Jesus’ personality.  He must have felt his love.  He must have caught the vibe of his wisdom.

How do we know this? Because even though Jesus’ first response to this man was cryptic and a bit odd (“Unless y’all see signs and wonders, y’all won’t believe” [v. 49]), the man still obeyed Jesus.

As followers of Jesus we must move beyond faith in Jesus’ potential to having faith in Jesus’ words.  And how do we demonstrate this faith?  Despite however unclear we think God may be most of the time, when we do have a clear call from him, we’ll take him at his word and obey.  That’s the kind of faith that trusts in Jesus’ words.

(As a quick aside, if we follow through on this step, we’ll start living the kind of lives that serve as proof of Jesus’ potential for others.  Think about it: Jesus clearly calls us to do some very appealing things: love our neighbors, love and pray for our enemies and those who oppose us, care for the outcast and under-resourced, etc.  If we did these things as followers of Jesus, people would be drawn to us instead of being repelled by us!  God doesn’t want us to obey because he needs us to as if he were some desperate autocrat!  He wants us to obey because in so doing we will further his will to reconcile all things to himself through Christ Jesus!)

Faith in Jesus’ Fulfilled Promises

Lastly, as this official is on his way home, in obedience to Jesus’ words, his servants meet him and tell him that his son has been healed.  Upon further investigation of the evidence, the official learns that the child was healed at the exact time Jesus said that he would live.

This promise of Jesus was fulfilled.  And people witnessed it.  Firstly, the child witnessed it.  Then the servants.  The rest of the family.  The rest of the household, including all those who worked with and for this official.  And John tells us that, based on the fact that Jesus’ promise was fulfilled, the entirety of this man’s household believed (v. 53).

This is amazing!  Jesus’ fulfilled promised served as proof for those of this man’s household.  They probably then heard the story about how the official obeyed, perhaps also inspiring them to learn to obey as well.  And as they obey, they’ll experience Jesus coming through on his promises, which, in turn, will inspire others.

That’s a cycle that I want to be a part of of!

(As a quick aside, let’s do this!  Let’s get turned on to Jesus, obey him, and then celebrate when his word comes to pass.  In so doing, we’ll serve as testimonies and proof of the potential of Jesus to change the lives of others!)

 

What do you think?  What role does proof play in having faith?  And how does our faith and obedience influence those who may be far from God?  Let me know in the comments below!