Absurd Trust Jesus Inspires Impractical Faith

At the bottom, faith in Jesus is utterly absurd.  Those of us who have followed Jesus for a long time take completely for granted things that are impossible to understand, much less trust.

Let’s just run through a few things that we believe that are hard to wrap our minds around:

  • God created everything seen and unseen out of absolutely nothing.
  • This all-powerful God of the entire universe cares about each of us.
  • God has always existed as Father, Son, and Spirit — three persons, yet one essence.
  • The second person of the Trinity, Jesus, became fully human while remaining fully God.
  • And Jesus did this because he loves humans, though none of us deserve his love.
  • Jesus, who was fully human, never sinned.
  • Jesus was killed as a rebel but was raised from the dead by the power of God.
  • Subsequent to Jesus’ death, the Spirit was sent to live within all who follow Jesus.
  • The God of the universe empowers his broken followers to live out his divine mission.
  • God calls together a community of diverse people who can love one another more closely than family.
  • And at the end Jesus will return to earth in power to serve as ultimate Judge.

And that’s just a few things!  Any item from that list could be examined on it’s own and could be labeled as patently absurd!

What we believe can really seem bonkers, which is easy to forget when we’re inundated with it all the time.

But there’s another aspect of following Jesus that’s absurd as well, namely, that Jesus can do great things with very little starting material.

We see this very plainly in John 6, which I’ll focus on for the rest of this post.

What’s Absurd in John 6?

Let’s look at John 6.5-9:

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.  Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”  Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

It’s pretty easy to see what’s absurd in this passage.  Andrew brings a boy’s small lunch to Jesus in response to a massive and hungry crowd of people.  What did he think Jesus was going to do with such a small amount of food?  Even in offering it us, Andrew waffled a bit when he said “but how far will [it] go among so many?”

Isn’t Philip’s response to Jesus’ question a bit more reasonable?  I mean, doesn’t it make more sense to take in the whole situation, do a quick quantitative analysis, and then present the facts?  Philip was right in what he said.  He was reasonable.  It would take a fortune for everyone to just have a little.

But when Philip was doing his calculations in his head, he forgot about the one huge wildcard, the one factor that makes the absurd possible.  That wildcard, that factor is Jesus.

And, if we remember rightly, Andrew, Philip, and all the rest already know that Jesus deals in the absurd all the time.  He turned a huge amount of water into really fine wine (John 2).  He healed a man who had been disabled for more than most people lived at the time (John 5).  And now a huge group of people were following him around because he had healed the sick (John 6.2).

They should have and could have known better.  And they perhaps would have known better had either of them been given three days to think things through.

But right there in the moment Andrew leaned on being realistic and strategic.  And even though Philip’s response could be seen as hopeful or even faithful, he ultimately hedged his bets by casting doubt on the situation.

We know the end of this story, Jesus causes the absurd once more.  He turns this little boy’s lunch into enough food to feed 5000+ people to fullness, with a bunch of leftovers remaining.

Jesus didn’t just use this as an opportunity to feed some people who would get hungry again.  No!  Instead, for Jesus this became a prime opportunity to engage in some leadership development.  Jesus knew that for his followers to begin truly to have absurd faith, they would have to be walked through the process carefully.  And he was willing and patient enough to take on this task.

Absurd Faith Today

What about now? Is Jesus still walking us through opportunities to trust him, no matter how crazy the scenarios we face might be?

Is he still teaching us to be curious and faithful?

The answers, of course, are “yes.”

Think abut this: Jesus came to accomplish a major rescue and restoration project on all of humanity.  He got the ball rolling (to put it lightly!) and then he entrusted this mission to us.

Us.  Broken, sinful, untrusting us.  How utterly ridiculous!

How does he expect us to do this?  How does Jesus expect us to help him fulfill this mission?

Here are a few initial thoughts:

  1. Seek divine guidance. The first thing that we must do in order to build absurd trust in God into our lives is by reaching out to him.  We need to pray and ask God to help us trust him more and more.  And when we face crazy situations in life, and we will!, that’s when we need to pray for his guidance…and then do whatever he leads us to do!  And it will help us to peruse the Scriptures seeking to learn how God taught others to have this kind of trust in him and then attempt to make ourselves open to the same kind of divine assistance too.  And, very importantly, we will be best served to seek this divine guidance within community so that we can hold each other accountable and encourage one another.
  2. Submit to the Spirit. “Submit” is a pretty dirty word these days but it’s vital if we want to trust God more and more.  Why?  Because we are tempted to submit to all sorts of other things and people…and we often give in!  What are some of those things that compete for our submission?  Our selfish desires, our friends and family, our bosses, out cultural standards, money, power, possessions, comfort, etc., etc.  Instead of submitting to all of those things, let’s submit to the Spirit, who will most assuredly lead us into deeper faith.
  3. Hold to our strategies loosely. Philip wasn’t wrong to think things through.   But perhaps he was wrong in that he held to his strategy too tightly; so much so that he couldn’t see past it.  So as we seek to be closer to Jesus, become more missional, lead better, be better spouses, friends, parents, etc., let’s not let our versions of what will work get in the way of God’s version of what actually will work!
  4. Give to Jesus what we have access to. I’m being a little bit tongue-in-cheek here because Jesus already owns all that we have and all that we can potentially get.  It’s all his.  But when we pretend that we can selfishly hold stuff for ourselves, we miss out on opportunities to see what God might do with whatever we have to offer, even if it’s just some bread and fish.  So, our job is to turn all that we steward back to God (not just 10%)!  In so doing we will witness him do great things with what we have given him, thus making us more likely to trust him the next time!
  5. Be consistent in our efforts. It is hard to have absurd faith that God can do anything.  But as we make a habit of doing it more and more, it will become a more regular occurrence in our lives.  It will never be easy because we all still have to deal with the gravitational pull of our selfishness.  But with consistency we can build habits that in turn will grow into deeply-rooted patterns of behavior.  And that’s the zone that we all want to be in!
  6. Allow our trust to grow with evidence. But the Enemy and our old way of doing things won’t quit easily!  When we exhibit this kind of faith in God and he comes through like he so often does (though in surprising ways that don’t always match our expectations), we might be tempted to explain away how God moved.  Maybe it was a fluke.  Maybe it was really our efforts and skill.  Maybe this, maybe that.  But if we give God the credit he deserves, then our trust in him can grow so that the next time we’ll be a bit more likely to lean on him no matter what.

 

What do you think about absurd faith?  What’s difficult about it?  How can we make it a larger part of our lives?  Let me know in the comments below!

Haters Gonna Hate Giving answers to our detractors

Haters were a major part of Jesus’ life.  How did he deal with them?  Did he focus on them?  Did he ignore them?  Did he let the haters get in the way of what he was doing?  Or did he try to appease them by softening his message?

Let’s find out!

Jesus and Some Haters

Since Jesus had a knack for valuing people over rules created by people, he healed a man on the Sabbath in John 5.  This caused the haters to come out of the woodwork!

Jesus told the man he healed to pick up his mat and walk.  When the man did, some Jewish leaders, probably a few vocal Pharisees, told him that carrying one’s mat was considered work and that he shouldn’t do that on the Sabbath.  The healed man told them that he was doing as he was told by the man who healed him.

After a little while Jesus saw the man again at the Temple and checked in on him.  After he did so the healed man went right over to tell the Jewish leaders (AKA the haters), who it was that healed him.

This caused the haters to go into action again.  It appears that they were angry that Jesus was healing on the Sabbath, which they must have considered a “work.”

Jesus’ response infuriated them even further.  He said, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working” (John 5.17).  They were really mad that Jesus was healing on the Sabbath and that he called God his Father, which they interpreted as claiming equality with God.  So they decided all the more that they would try to kill Jesus.  These haters really overreacted to Jesus’ statement BIG TIME!

So how did Jesus respond?  Did he run away with his tail between his legs?  Did he promise never to do the things that angered them again?  Did he try to put the blame on someone else, like Peter, John, or even Judas?

Nope.  He did none of those things.

Jesus’ Response to the Haters

So what did Jesus do?

From John 5.19-47 Jesus give a long speech.  Here are some highlights from just the beginning of the speech:

  • Jesus said that he sees what God is doing and does likewise (vv. 19-20)
  • Jesus claims that he can give life like the Father does (v. 21)
  • Jesus says that the Father has given the Son all judgment (v. 22)
  • Jesus says that whoever honors him honors the Father and whoever dishonors him dishonors the Father (v.23)
  • Jesus says that whoever hears his word and believes in him will have eternal life (v. 24)
  • Etc., etc., etc.

Jesus’ response to the haters was strong, bold, and direct.  He didn’t soften any language.  He didn’t try any avoidance tactics.  And he didn’t run away.

In fact, a really strong case could be made that Jesus used the hatred of his enemies as an opportunity to teach his disciples and ultimately to bring his Father glory.  In other words, these haters didn’t derail Jesus from the mission he was on — a mission to make disciples and honor his Father.

When Haters Attack!

But what are we to do when we face haters?  None of us is Jesus.  None of us has the kind of confidence that he did.  None of us has the same kind of fortitude that he possessed.

Well, we can learn a thing or two from Jesus here.

  1. Face Haters with Friends — Jesus wasn’t alone here.  We can assume that he was with his disciples.  I think so often when we face opposition of any sort we’re tempted to do so alone.  We must think that this makes us look tougher, more perfect, or something.  But Jesus faced all of his trials with people who loved him around.  Jesus even had community surrounding him as he died on the cross!  So when we face haters, let’s not do so alone.  Let’s lean on our community to help us, to give us strength, and to encourage us.
  2. Stick to the Truth — When Jesus faced his opponents here he didn’t create lies about them to make himself look better.  And he didn’t embellish his own story either.  Instead he simply told the truth about himself and his relationship to his Father.  When we face haters we may be tempted to trump ourselves up or beat them down, even twisting the truth to do so.  Instead, let’s just focus on what’s true: we’re God’s children, saved by grace, set free to serve the King.
  3. Don’t Be Deterred — It would have been really easy for Jesus to get sidetracked by his opponents.  They were plotting to kill him after all!  But he didn’t.  In fact, he used their rude interjection into his life as a way to further his mission of making disciples and honoring the Father.  So when we face opposition, persecution, and the like, how can we allow God to use it to further his mission in the world?  We can start by praying that God be with us in these difficult moments through his Spirit.  And in so doing we will demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit, which will always help us stay on mission with Jesus and bring God glory!

 

What do you think?  How should we respond to haters?  Let me know in the comments below!

People > Rules Jesus always chooses people over rules

“Rules were made to be broken.”

While this old adage is said a lot, it’s definitely not true!

It seems to me that in most cases rules are meant to protect us in one form or another.  And sometimes they are made to ensure that we follow best practices.

But almost without a single doubt, rules were not made to be broken.

However, are there times when they should be broken?  Are there cases in which the rule, which was intended to protect or direct toward best practices, isn’t the best option?

Well, in John 5 we see Jesus choosing something above following a rule.

Rules and Jesus

First things first, Jesus wasn’t against all rules.  In fact, when Jesus was asked what the best ones were, he didn’t say “There are no rules, just love people.”  Nope.  Instead he said, “Here is the best rule: Love God, and the second one is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22.36-40).  Then after he had died and been raised again, Jesus gave his followers a rule.  He told them that as they were going about that they must make disciples (I phrased this sentence this way so that the fact that the command in Greek is not “go” but “make disciples”) (Matthew 28.19-20).

So Jesus didn’t dislike rules.  But he clearly understood that too many rules muddied things up.  If there are a thousand things we are supposed to be doing or not doing, then we may spend all of our time thinking about those “dos and don’ts” instead of living the lives that God set out for us.  And Jesus consistently encountered people who did this — the Pharisees.

Rules and the Pharisees

The Pharisees were not all bad guys, despite how we tend to think of them.  There’s Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea.  And Gamiliel seems like a good guy too.  And Paul, who was a Pharisee, would eventually come around too.

But even the “bad” Pharisees weren’t setting out to be bad.  They were focused on performing the works of the law in order to worship God well.  They weren’t trying to be bad guys and they weren’t hoping to be exclusive and dogmatic.  Instead they were doing the best they could with the tradition in which they lived.

So in John 5 when Jesus encounters some uber-rule-loving Pharisees (called “Jewish leaders there), it’s easy to paint them in the worst possible light.  But that’s not fair.  Their insistence on not working on the Sabbath has biblical and cultural roots.  They weren’t pulling this rule out of thin air to attack Jesus.

However, they’re focus was wrong.

Rules Can Distract Our Focus

In the first part of John 5 Jesus heals a man who had been suffering for decades.  It just so happens that this healing happened on the Sabbath (John 5.9b).  When some of the Jewish leaders saw that this man was healed and was carrying his mat (which is considered work), they pounced!  Their rule-breaker lights went off and they went into action.

They first told this man that he shouldn’t be carrying his mat on the Sabbath.  The man says that the person who healed him told him to do so.  The Jewish leaders insisted on knowing who the healer was but the healed man didn’t know.  (He would eventually find out and tell the Jewish leaders, who then got super angry at Jesus!)

But here’s the point: The Jewish leaders’ focus on the rules didn’t allow them to see what was right in front of their faces.  They totally missed the fact that this man was healed!  Their focus was so narrowly aimed at the Sabbath rules, that they entirely missed an opportunity to praise God that he had healed this man!

 

This makes me wonder about what sorts of rules prevent us from seeing God do his thing in our day.  What are we focused on so much so that we miss out on what Jesus is doing through his Spirit?  Let me know what you think in the comments below.

 

But here’s the big idea from this post: Jesus put the man who needed healing above rules — in fact, Jesus almost always put people before rules.  Therefore, as we seek to follow Jesus in the real world, we too should put people and their well-being above rules, especially those rules that are not the focus of Jesus himself.

 

What do you think?  Are people always greater than rules?  What rules do we tend to focus on more than people?  And is doing it the way Jesus did it even possible or practical for us today?  Let me know in the comments below!

Intellectual Hospitality and Justice Scalia Making space for others, even those with whom we disagree

Recently a judge named Antonin Scalia on the United States’ Supreme Court died and, despite how he is sometimes portrayed, Justice Scalia was apparently a man who exhibited intellectual hospitality, even to those who did not agree with many if any of his positions.

Justice Scalia’s reputation is pretty clear to most people.  He’s called “combative,” “tough,” and “fiery.”  And its his public perception that causes many to be surprised when it is revealed that he was not only willing to have Justices of other positions on the Court but that he welcomed it and even jockeyed for it.

After Justice Scalia’s passing, David Axelrod wrote an opinion piece on CNN.com that showed just that, namely that Justice Scalia tried to influence President Obama through a back channel to have a friend, now-Justice Elena Kagan, nominated despite the fact that she is more-or-less diametrically in opposition to all of his ideological positions.

Why would he want to do this?  Axelrod thinks that “if Scalia could not have a philosophical ally in the next court appointee, he had hoped, at least, for one with the heft to give him a good, honest fight.”

To put it more succinctly: Justice Scalia was a person who valued and demonstrated intellectual hospitality.

Intellectual Hospitality

What is intellectual hospitality?

My friend, colleague, and mentor Dr. Greg Waybright says this about intellectual honesty: it is show when we “speak to one another with 1) the grace to receive and consider differing positions and 2) the courage to challenge other positions with respect-filled questions.”  I love the twofold description, one in-coming (receiving other positions with grace) and one out-going (asking respectful questions).

And it appears that Justice Scalia had this kind of intellectual hospitality.  He was “best buddies” with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, with whom he had major disagreements, and his friendship with Justice Kagan, with whom he also disagreed, grew to such an extent that they became hunting buddies.

I can’t imagine the conversations between these legal giants never ventured into ideological territory.  And when it did, they all must have demonstrated great intellectual hospitality in order to begin, foster, and deepen meaningful relationships.

This type of deference for “the other” is badly missing in the world.  (Full disclosure: I almost ended that last line with the word “today” but then I remembered that humans have been around this world for quite some time and, thus, there’s always been a great deal of need for others-focused ethics!)

Jesus and Intellectual Hospitality

Much more can be said about this topic than I’m going to say here.  But I want to make a similar point about Jesus that I made about Justice Scalia — namely, that Jesus was willing and able to interact meaningfully with people very different from him.

Think about the people that surrounded Jesus on the regular: Matthew (who was the mob-muscle kind of tax collector), Simon the Zealot (who may well have been part of a political terror group), and Judas Iscariot (who would betray Jesus, which Jesus knew from the beginning).

Then think about some of the people that Jesus went out of his way to spend time with: The Samaritan Woman (their conversation in John 4 is a great example of intellectual hospitality in action!), Nicodemus (who was a religious leader that may have been too ashamed and/or fearful to meet with Jesus in the light of day), Zacchaeus (who was the mob-boss kind of tax collector), and even the thief of the cross (who, unlike Jesus, earned his way to his capital punishment).

Jesus has no equals among any of us human beings and yet he chose to relate closely to all sorts of us when was incarnated here on earth.

And if we are to follow Jesus, then we too should exercise a bit more intellectual hospitality too.

Intellectual Hospitality: A Few Starting Points

So, how are we to manifest more intellectual hospitality in our lives?

Here are a few starting points:

  1. Interact with people who are different.  We are all deeply impacted by tribalism — we want to spend time with people just like us.  That’s simply not what Jesus did.  And beside the usual Jesus-did-it-this-way-and-so-should-we argument, being friends with an array of different sorts of people makes life much more meaningful and fulfilling.
  2. Show respect before acting on anger. If we interact with people different than us, then we are sure to come up against ideas that make us angry from time to time.  In those moments we have a choice to make — we can 1) lash out at the person espousing the offending idea(s) or 2) respectfully engage in conversation despite our anger.  Remember, we hold positions that make others angry too!  We don’t have a monopoly on indignation!
  3. Grow. There’s little that’s more narcissistic and ego-maniacal than refusing to grow.  Think about it, not wanting to grow communicates to the world that we don’t need to grow.  And we all know for a fact that we haven’t arrived — we all have miles and miles to go.  Therefore, in all our relationships we need to admit that we could learn something important and make space in order to do so.  And the best kind of space for growth is respectful conversation.
  4. Give others the same benefit of the doubt that we want given to us.  This is the golden rule of intellectual hospitality.  Would we want someone to belittle us for our ideas?  Would we want to be ostracized because of our beliefs?  Would we want someone to refuse to see the logic in our position?  Would we want our personal narratives to be disregarded without a second thought?
  5. Pray.  Intellectual hospitality can be difficult, whether we are just beginning to practice it or if we’ve been at it for decades.  And, if we’re honest, none of us can do this on our own.  We need the power of the Spirit within us to help us.  We need him, the Spirit of God, to develop in us his fruit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  And each aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is necessary for us to exhibit intellectual honesty.  So let’s pray for the Spirit to grow his fruit in us!

 

What do you think about intellectual hospitality?  Was Justice Scalia a good example of it?  What do we learn about it from Jesus?  How can we demonstrate it in our lives?  Let me know in the comments below!

 

**If you’re really into this idea of intellectual honesty, then check out this post.  In it Bob Trube makes a really strong case for having intellectual hospitality with those who differ from us greatly.  It’s a short but meaningful read!

 

Probing Questions Jesus' Way of Helping People See

Jesus liked to ask probing questions.  This 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!

 

 

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!

Gentleness Is Power Under Control A Spirit-Synced Way of Life

By: Corey Leopold
This tiger reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ Aslan, an epitome of gentleness.

What do you think of when you hear the word “gentleness”?

I tend to think of two things: my dad and servant leadership.

 

What’s so gentle about my dad?  Well, if I’m being honest, my dad doesn’t look like a gentle man.  He’s large and traditionally quite masculine.  He has the kind of strength in his hands that can only come from a lifetime of manual labor.  And my dad is a fiercely protective husband, father, and friend.

But at the same time my dad is utterly kind.  And while he has all the physical strength that many people spend their valuable time and money at the gym trying to obtain, he only ever uses it to provide for his family or to protect those he loves.  My dad is a wonderful example of my working definition of the idea of biblical gentleness: power that is is used under control for the benefit of others.

And this same idea is idealized in the leadership style that has grown in popularity in recent years called “servant leadership.”  There are a number of conceptions of this style of leading others.  Here are a few that stand out in my opinion:

  • Robert Greenleaf, the person who coined the phrase “servant leadership,” says that a servant leader “is servant first…It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead…the servant-first [efforts] to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served”  (SOURCE).
  • James Hunter, a popular leadership author and business consultant, says “[t]he role of the leader is to identify and meet needs. We’re not here to do what people want—but we are here to do what people need” (SOURCE).
  • The CEO of Popeye’s Chicken, Cheryl Bachelder, says her idea of a leader includes being “courageous enough to take the people to a daring destination, yet humble enough to selflessly serve others on the journey. The dynamic tension between daring and serving creates the conditions for superior performance.  This is a Dare-to-Serve Leader” (Dare to Serve, 3).

So it appears to me that my working definition of biblical gentleness (power that is used under control for the benefit of others) meshes really well with the definitions of servant leadership which are offered by some of the thought leaders on the topic.

And if you’re like me, and I suspect that you are!, then it may be surprising to think that an effective leader needs to be gentle.  I think we generally think of leaders, especially business leaders and managers, as aggressive, selfish, and cold.  But anecdotal evidence, as well as some hard research, seems to point to the effectiveness of servant leadership, that is, gentleness in leadership.

Imitating Jesus’ Gentleness

The Apostle Paul encourages those who are connected to Jesus to imitate him in their attitudes (Philippians 2.5) and one word that defines Jesus very well is “gentle.”  Jesus uses this word of himself in Matthew 11.29: “I am gentle and humble in heart.”

But how do we do this?  As followers of Jesus, how do we develop gentleness in our lives?  Can we try harder, is that the answer?  Well, take the gentleness challenge: for one week try to be more gentle.  Record how it went and share your results with the world!

Here’s how it went for me: I started last Monday.  Things went pretty well for a few hours.  Then my son, Myron, woke up from a nap and cried loudly.  I was working on something important and didn’t really want to stop at that moment to go see what he needed.  So I sighed heavily and tramped upstairs very ungently.

Later that day I was driving home from the store and was behind someone at a red light.  I needed to to turn right and they hadn’t moved all the way over, thus preventing me from being able to turn.  I wanted to yell at them and let them know how stupid and selfish they were, but I resisted — not because I was trying to be gentle, but because my son was in the car with me.

Then later that night I dumped the stress of my day on my wife in a very ungentle way, burdening her with all my drama without taking a minute to think that she may have had a stressful day too.

So I didn’t make it through one day.  I need help to imitate the gentleness of Jesus!

So what’s the solution?

It’s not trying harder, knowing more, or anything else like that.  Nope.  Instead, Paul says in Galatians 5 that being connected to the Spirit is the answer.  As we live in step with the Spirit, the gentleness of Jesus is developed in us.  This is what Paul means when he calls gentleness an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit.  Gentleness is one manifestation of a Spirit-synced life.

 

So instead of trying to be more gentle, let’s invest our time and energy toward furthering an intimate connection to the Spirit through worship, Christian community, and serving the mission of Jesus to reconcile all things to himself!  In so doing, God will generate gentleness in us through his Spirit, the same gentleness that Jesus’ demonstrated in his human life!

 

What do you think?  How do you define gentleness?  How can gentleness be developed in us?  Let me know in the comments below!

 

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.

Mother’s Day Joy and Sorrow Mingled Together

It’s time for Mother’s Day once more.

Yay!  Moms 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 them on 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, which is often really difficult!

But for many of us who have neutral, good, or 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 generally, 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 father.  I’m not writing this out of frustration over being single or not being a parent.  And I’m not writing this because I don’t like being married or being a father.
  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?