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!

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!

 

 

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!

God’s Timing: 5 Traits

Have you ever been anxious about an upcoming event?  Have you been worried that you aren’t where you think you should be in life yet?  Have you fretted about why you haven’t started the supposed next life-stage yet?

On the other hand: Have you been totally surprised by the perfect timing of a phone call from a friend?  Have you been encouraged by how certain circumstances in life seem to line up just right and just in the nick of time?  Have you ever been so glad that that thing you wanted to come so quickly didn’t because it would have caused you to miss important opportunities?

If any of these things apply to you as a follower of Jesus, then you’ve experienced God’s timing!  And as you and I strive to be more and more on mission with Jesus, then we need to be more and more in sync with his clock!

 

What Is God’s Timing Like?

Timinig

By: Kainet

  1. God’s Timing Is Mysterious:  Here’s an example: When will Jesus return? Who knows but it will be like a thief in the night.  And God’s timing in many stories in the Bible illustrates that human beings have to live within the tension of God’s mysterious timing.  For instance, Jacob wanted to marry Rachel but was tricked into marrying Leah instead.  He had to wait for 14 years until God granted him the thing that he wanted!  That’s crazy!  We don’t and can’t always understand God’s timing.  We have to live and obey in the tension.
  2. God’s Timing Is Wise: God has this uncanny ability to do things at just the right time.  It’s almost like he knows what he’s doing!  Here’s an example from my life: When I was deciding which university to go to, I had narrowed my choices down to two.  So I planned to visit them both on the same day together.  The one I liked better was first.  But when I got on campus, I hated it!  It was ugly, the professor I wanted to meet was unavailable, and the people weren’t friendly.  Then we went to the second one and it was great…especially in comparison to the first one.  If I had seen them in a different order I may have had different feelings, which could have led me to a different school, which would have meant that I’d never have met my wife.  God’s timing is wise and we have to trust it!
  3. God’s Timing Is Timely:  This one just sounds silly.  But it is so true!  We’ve all heard stories of people who receive the perfect sum of money at just the right time.  We’ve all had the experience of a friend or family member calling or dropping in with just the right timing.  And many of us have felt strangely compelled to reach out to someone, only to find out that God used us to help them in a special way at just the right time.  God also will sometimes step in just at the right time to help us when there’s a need.  I immediately think of the story of Abraham and Isaac and how God sent a ram to get caught in a thicket at just the right time to prevent Abraham from sacrificing his son.  God’s timing is always right on time!
  4. God’s Timing is Good: This one is probably the hardest one for me.  Why?  Because I think that my timing is good.  I think the way that I would schedule things out is good.  I think my life-plan is good.  And those things may be pretty good.  But when they’re good it’s only because they line up with the goodness of God’s timing.  So sometimes this means that God will withhold things that we thing we may need or want because he can see the bigger picture and therefore he knows what is best for us.  This is a handy reminder that we must have faith in the fact that God’s timing is always a realization of the fact that God has our best interests at heart.
  5. God’s Timing is Divine: Here’s a verse about God’s timing, among other things, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55.8).  It is fair to add here that God’s timing is not our timing.  And since God is smarter, more resourceful, and more selfless than all of us, his timing should always be trusted.  Why then do we so often trust our own timing instead of his?  The answer is simple: we’re proud.  At the bottom is plain ol’ selfish pride that makes it hard for us to accept God’s timing.

 

Friends, it’s high time that we begin to accept God’s timing and stop trying to manipulate him into doing things on our timing!  He’s the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator of the universe.  He can do with our calendars as he sees fit!

 

When you think of God’s timing what comes to mind?  Share some thoughts and stories in the comments below!