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!

Disciple-Making: John 1.35-42

The term “disciple-making” can be very, very intimidating…even off-putting.  Here’s an example:

I was giving a talk recently on the topic of disciple-making when someone in the audience said that the disciple-making language didn’t feel very inviting to people who have yet to follow Jesus and is a big turn off to some followers of Jesus.  My response wasn’t as kind as it could have been.  I said something like this: “Well, that’s because for many, many generations we, the Church, have been totally okay with people not actually following Jesus.”  I think my comment came across quite a bit harsher than I intended but I stand by the sentiment.  And I do so because of passages like John 1.35-42.

 

 

Context for the First Example of Disciple-Making

So what is going on in this scene?  Where are we in the story that John is telling?  In John 1.19-34 John writes about John the Baptist.  John the Baptist really plays one role in the story to this point: to point to Jesus, to testify (as I have written about before).  And since John the Baptist was visible, popular, and seemingly charismatic, people listened to him, including the two disciples mentioned in John 1.35.

Though I’ve made this point before, it worth repeating that testifying, or pointing people to Jesus, is one of our chief jobs as followers of Jesus.  If Jesus has truly transformed our lives, and if all that the Bible says about him is true, and if he has set us on paths of participation in God’s will on this earth, then how could we not point to Jesus as often as possible?!?

This is exactly what John the Baptist does.  He points to Jesus, which the people within his circle of influence see and hear.  We could stand to learn a thing or two about disciple-making from him!

 

Disciple-Making: Four Biblical Principles

The story in John 1.35-42 is very straightforward.  John the Baptist points out Jesus.  Two of his followers start following Jesus.  Jesus turns to them and has a brief conversation, which turns into a longer one at the place where Jesus was staying.  One of these two first followers, Andrew, told his brother, Simon, about Jesus the next day.  When Jesus and Simon met, Jesus tells Simon that he’ll be called Peter.  That’s it.  But there are four important principles to be found in there that I want to tease out below:

  1. People Are Ready to Follow Jesus:  Sure, not everyone.  But lots of people are ready.  Did you see how fast the first two followers of Jesus began to be his disciples when they met Jesus?  It was immediate.  Now we shouldn’t expect this response every time we engage in disciple-making.  But sometimes it happens this way.  Other times we have to be John the Baptist, spending time with folks, testifying about Jesus.  Then, when the time is right, we point directly to Jesus and they will be drawn to him!
  2. Our Intentions Matter: Did you notice Jesus’ question to his first two followers?  He said, “What do you want?”  This question is important for many reasons, but here’s an interesting one: these are the first words that Jesus speaks in the Gospel of John.  This fact gives them great weight.  To me they reverberate down through the ages and confront each of us who wants to follow Jesus — what do we want?  Are we in it for “fire insurance,” business contacts, to appease a loved one, or because we’ve always done church?  Or do we actually want to follow Jesus as our Rabbi?  The word “rabbi” literally means “my great one” and figuratively means “teacher.”  Are we ready to submit to and learn from Jesus?  If that’s not why we want to follow him, we may need to do some re-evaluation!
  3. We Can’t Follow Jesus by Standing Still:  When the first two followers of Jesus ask him where he is staying, he says, “Come and you’ll see.”  Then, later, Andrew told Peter about Jesus and “brought him to Jesus.”  There’s movement in these phrases.  Following Jesus isn’t something that can be done by idly waiting, biding time until the Second Coming, or letting others do all the work.  No!  Following Jesus involves – GASP! – following!  This is an action word, a word dripping with movement.
  4. A “Made” Disciple Is Involved in Disciple-Making:  In this passage Andrew meets Jesus, then immediately wants his brother to know about Jesus too.  Here’s how DA Carson described it in his commentary on John: “The first thing Andrew did…was to find his brother and announce, We have found the Messiah.  He thus became the first in a long line of successors who have discovered that the most common and effective Christian testimony is the private witness of friend to friend, brother to brother” (155).  In other words, Andrew went about disciple-making just as had happened to him — he shared with someone else.  An integral part of following Jesus means speaking and embodying the good news in our lives where we work, live, and play.  This isn’t optional.

 

So, there are four disciple-making principles from this passage.  What do you think?  Did I miss any other important points?  Let me know in the comments below!