#DivisionOfLabor: New Wine Podcast #021

How should the division of the labor in the church between leaders and congregants be lived out? Who should be doing the work?

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

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

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

Thanks!

#Courage: New Wine Podcast #017

Why is courage vitally important for any missional endeavor?

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

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

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

Thanks!

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.

Following Jesus in the Real World What does this mean?

Following Jesus in the real world.  That’s a phrase that I use a lot on this website, on my podcast, and when I teach and preach.  But this phrase begs a ton of questions.

So, what does it mean to follow Jesus in the real world?

Let’s break it down!

FOLLOWING Jesus in the Real World

What does “following” mean in this context?  Well, to get a grip on that we have to have a basic understanding of what it meant when people were following Jesus in the first century.  What did it mean to follow someone in that day and age?

It’s certainly more than the way we use it when we ask someone who doesn’t know how to get to a destination to follow us.  That use implies a limited-time arrangement.  And it’s also much more robust than following someone on Twitter!

In the first century when someone would follow a teacher, rabbi, religious figure, or philosopher, that meant total devotion.  We see this when Peter, speaking for all the disciples who were following Jesus, said “We have left everything to follow you” (Mark 10.28).  Following Jesus caused a major disruption in their lives.  They couldn’t follow Jesus AND go about business as usual.

There’s something for us to learn there, isn’t there!?  We want to follow Jesus but not give up much to do so.  We think that following Jesus can be done while maintaining our selfish lives in more or less the same fashion.  This kind of “following” is more akin to Twitter than to what Jesus had in mind when he said “follow me” to the earliest disciples.

Though much more could be said about the notion of following, I want to focus on one more thing, namely that following Jesus is not passive.  Following Jesus is an active endeavor.  It’s not something that we do once years ago.  And it’s not something that only happens in our heads.  Nope!  Following Jesus is something that we do every single day.

Following in this way is disruptive and demanding.  It’s active and it requires all of us.

Following JESUS in the Real World

Who do we follow?  That answer’s easy, right?  Jesus!

But which Jesus?  Let’s be real for a second, we all want Jesus to be the kind of messiah that we want him to be.  If there’s something about the Jesus we meet in the Bible that extends beyond our comfortable messiah zone, we tend to ignore it or outright deny it.

And this is nothing new.  The disciples who first followed Jesus had this problem too.  Here’s Peter serving as a counter example again, this time in Mark 8.31-32:

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

Do you see it?  When Jesus said that he was going to suffer, be rejected, and ultimately die, this didn’t fit with Peter’s idea of who the messiah would be.  So Peter brashly decided to scold Jesus and tell him to get back into the comfortable messiah zone.

While it’s easy to scoff at Peter for his words here, don’t we all do the same thing today?  The Jesus we meet in the Bible doesn’t always line up with what we expect of him.

Maybe he focuses too much on the truth and sound ethical behavior for some of our likings.  And for others of us he may care too much about people who are marginalized, poor, and outcast.  And still others of us would prefer some vague disembodied notion of Jesus as our savior rather than the Second Person of the Trinity incarnated as a human that we meet in the Bible.

Friends, if we are to follow Jesus, then we are to follow the Jesus of the Bible, not the Jesus of our individual creation, not the Jesus of our church’s or denomination’s creation, not the Jesus of our political bent’s creation, and not the Jesus of anyone else’s creation either.  Instead, let’s look to the Gospels to learn about Jesus.  That’s who we are to follow!

One of my favorite authors and missional practitioners is Hugh Halter.  In his book entitled Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation down to Earth, he famously (at least in my book!) said that being missional means being disciples that live the human life of Jesus in our human lives.

In other words, following Jesus isn’t a game of cherry picking where we choose the parts of Jesus we want to follow.

Following Jesus IN THE REAL WORLD

Equally as important as the words “following” and “Jesus” is the phrase “in the real world.”  Here’s why…

All too often those of us who claim to follow Jesus do so in a fantasy world.  Let me explain.

Many of us surround ourselves with a Christian bubble.  We listen to Christian music, read Christian books, see Christian movies, visit Christian websites, hang out only with Christian friends, and even eat Christian breath mints!

This bubble mentality has gotten so bad that in America today one in five non-Christians do not know a Christian personally.  That’s crazy!  In a country with 80+% of us identifying as Christians, how is it that 20% of those who aren’t Christians don’t know any of us.

The answer is simple.  Those who don’t follow Jesus yet aren’t seeking us out and those of us following Jesus aren’t seeking them out.  We’re all okay with this fake bubble world.

Or perhaps more of us than any of us would like to admit are functional agnostics, saying that we follow Jesus but going about our lives as if the reality of God isn’t important enough to make an impact on our lives.

But, friends, Jesus didn’t live in a bubble like this, nor did he not allow the reality of God to impact his life.

He engaged people in his world.  He understood the culture of the world well.  He didn’t shy away from relationships with less-than-desirable people (like Matthew the tax collector and Simon the zealot).  And when he went about his daily life, Jesus regularly engaged in conversation with people of all stripes, including the socially, economically, religiously, etc. outcast.

But it’s important to note that Jesus also personally interacted with people that he disagreed with.  He had face-to-face encounters with Pharisees, entering into personal dialogue with them and even eating with them.

Jesus wasn’t scared of the world!  In fact, he came to be the light of the world (John 8.12).  How could he shine his light into the world unless he entered into it and all its messy reality?

And we’re called to do the same!  Jesus has commissioned all of us (not just those who are full-time ministers) to share this light of Jesus with the world too (Matthew 28.19-20; Acts 1.8).

So let’s burst our Christian bubbles and go out there are follow Jesus in the real world!

Next Steps

So what?  What are we to do with all of this information?

  1. If you’ve never begun to follow Jesus, you can do so today!  I’d love to chat with you about that.  Please contact me by going to my “About” page.  Also, you can simply start reading about Jesus in the Gospels.  I highly recommend starting with the Gospel of Mark.  Here’s a website where you can begin today.  Here’s a further suggestion — read a paragraph or two of Mark at a time and then pause.  Ask yourself these questions: What did I like about that?  What did I not like?  What’s weird or confusing?  What did I learn about Jesus?  And based on what I read, what is something I can do about it in my life?  Feel free to contact me and I’ll help in whatever way I can!
  2. If you’ve been following Jesus for a long time but you’ve cherry picked what to follow about Jesus, then I recommend that you get reconnected with the Jesus of the Bible.  Gather a group of friends to read the Gospel of Mark with you and see for yourself the kind of person that Jesus was.  In this group, ask the same questions that I outlined in point #1.  Then hold each other accountable to living the human life of Jesus in your human lives!
  3. If you’ve been following Jesus within the Christian bubble, it’s time to burst out!  Think about where you work, live, and play.  Who do you encounter in those places that doesn’t follow Jesus yet?  Maybe it’s time to start up a friendship with someone who is far from God.  But do this authentically.  Don’t force it.  Don’t push Jesus down their throat.  Instead, allow Jesus to bubble up through you into their lives.  BE the good news in their midst.  When the time is right, you can share with words.  But in the meantime, live the loving, caring, ethical, and honest life that you see Jesus living in the Gospels in the plain view of those who don’t know Jesus yet!

 

What do you think?  What does it mean to follow Jesus in the real world?  How would you recommend that we do that?  Let me know in the comments below!

The Ugliness of Envy How to ensure that you'll be unappealing and unattractive!

I think we all have that one friend, co-worker, or family member who insists on being annoyed that anyone else has anything good going on for them.  Do you know what I’m talking about?

This condition is called “envy” and it is really pretty unseemly and downright ugly!

But I think if we’re all honest, then we know that we exhibit lots of envy in our lives too.  So that means that our behaviors, words, and attitudes make us pretty ugly to others too.  (Did you see what I did there…”pretty ugly”…get it!?)

Envy

Green with Envy

Envy Invades Us All

Recently my wife and I were having a conversation and I was talking about someone that we both know.  Everything in his life has seemingly just come together without much effort while many things in my life have taken great struggle and persistence.  I went on and on and eventually I veered off into envy territory.  I started saying things like “Well, if I were him…” and “It would be nice if my life were as easy as his…”

My guess is that this story resonates with you.  Envy is real and its reach extends to each one of us.

The Impact of Envy

What’s so bad about envy?  Some people argue that envy doesn’t really hurt anyone, so why would God tell us not to envy what our neighbors have (cf. the 10 commandments)?

Well, I think there are two reasons, at least:

  1. Envy is a sign that we can’t be content with what we have.  Envy is primary side effect of the disease known as “I wish I had that other stuff over there.”  Honestly, envy communicates loudly that our desire for things we don’t have trumps our desire for God and his will in this world.  And I’m pretty convinced that it is envy that drives our desire for more stuff, more stuff, and more stuff.  If someone else has it, then I have to too!
  2. Envy impacts the people around us.  Check out John 4.1-2: “Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John — although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.”  Do you see it?  The envy of the Pharisees about who was more popular led to Jesus leaving Judea and returning to Galilee.  Their envy impacted Jesus’ plans.  The same is true in our worlds — our envy impacts the people around us.

Envy Solution

So what’s the answer to envy?  Well, I don’t think there’s a quick fix.

Honestly, I think we have to start by being totally satisfied with God and God alone.  If we lost it all but still had him, would we be okay?  Would we be happy?  Or are we so tied to our stuff and relationships that we can’t exist without them?

A second area to work on would is being content with what we have (cf. Philippians 4).  Do we really need more shoes, more gadgets, more square footage, and more fame?  Will it ever be enough?

And a third way to combat envy would be to surround ourselves with community, the kind of community that will love us, correct us, encourage us, and hold us accountable.  So when we start exhibiting signs of envy, they can call us on it and help us change.

Lastly, a fourth way would be to pray.  We need to ask God to help us.  We can’t do this on our own — we’ll always default back to envy.  We need the internal power that only God can provide through the indwelling presence of the Spirit.

 

What do you think?  How big of a problem is envy and what can we do about it?  Let me know in the comments below.

#Humility: New Wine Podcast #008

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

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

You can listen to it on the bottom of this post, on iTunes, or on Stitcher.

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

Thanks!

 

 

#Prayer: New Wine Podcast #006

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

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

 

You can listen to it on the bottom of this post, on iTunes, or on Stitcher.

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

Thanks!

 

Thanks!

 

#Introduction: New Wine Podcast #001

The very first New Wine podcast!

MattFootballUncropped

You can listen to it on the bottom of this post, on iTunes, or on Stitcher.

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

Thanks!

Check it out and let me know what you think in the comments below!

 

Acceptance: A Missional Must-Have

We hear a lot about acceptance and tolerance today.  In fact, in certain Christian circles acceptance and tolerance are at the top of bad word list!

At some other time I want to tackle the idea of toleration — so let’s turn our attention instead toward acceptance.

What We Want Acceptance to Mean

All of us want to be loved for who we are.  We want people to validate us and our feelings and we want them to make us feel good about the choices we’ve made.  We want to be accepted.

And we want this acceptance to be conditional: the one accepting us can’t ask us to change, expect us to change, or hope that we’ll change.  Nope.  Instead we want them to simply take us as we are, warts and all.

And to be honest, if there’s something about us that we know needs to change, we still don’t really want people to call us out on it.

It’s almost as if we want people to accept us and then to ignore everything about us that is preventing us from living up to our God-given potentials.

We want love without risk, grace without truth, and acceptance without change.

The Kind of Acceptance We Need

If we stopped to think about it, we would gather that this kind of cheap, no-strings-attached acceptance is shallow at best.  We would figure out that it’s more or less meaningless because no one is asking us to be better, to be stronger, or to be more clued in.

But when we find someone who can accept us for who we are and then love us enough not to let us stay there, we will latch onto them for dear life!

I’m sure that as you read the last sentence you thought of a person or two in your life that simply makes you a better person.  Sure, they offer you unadulterated acceptance.  But they also have high expectations of you.  When you fail them, they don’t dismiss you; instead they help you grow.  When you hurt them, they don’t run; instead they teach you how not to be selfish.

It’s people like this that are worth holding onto!  In fact, if we’re lucky enough to have one or two people in our lives like this, we’re super blessed!

Jesus’ Acceptance

I can’t think of a better example of someone who demonstrates healthy acceptance than Jesus.  We can catch a glimpse or two of his acceptance style in John 3.1-15.

In those verses Jesus has an interaction with a religious leader named Nicodemus.  Since Nicodemus was an important person and since Jesus was a bit controversial, Nicodemus came to Jesus at night (John 3.2).

He desperately wanted to engage in conversation and dialogue with Jesus, but he was a bit scared to be seen with him.

I don’t know about you, but if someone treated me this way, I might be tempted to say something like this: “Come back during the light of day.  I can’t work with you if you’re ashamed to be seen with me!”

But this is not how Jesus responds.  Instead Jesus enters in to a discussion with Nicodemus.  He’s patient with him.  But he teaches him.

Jesus doesn’t just accept Nicodemus and let him stay there.  Jesus allows Nicodemus to come to him as is and he makes sure that he leaves a different man.

Now the transition from spiritual lostness to foundness was slow for Nicodemus.  Nicodemus and his pal Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus but in secret, helped ensure that Jesus’ body was taken care of after he died (John 19.39-42).  This was a big deal because doing so would be at least semi-public and because the spices and tomb for Jesus were not cheap.  Nicodemus and his friend had to make sacrifices because of Jesus.

Jesus accepted him, and then a long time later Nicodemus demonstrated his love for Jesus.

Tradition has it that Nicodemus continued to follow Jesus and was killed for his faith sometime during the first century.  This isn’t verifiable but it has a nice ring to it.

Maybe Nicodemus’ faith started slow and grew incrementally.  And maybe it continued to grow and to grow and to grow.

And it all started for Nicodemus because Jesus offered him the gift of acceptance.

 

Why do we find it so hard to offer acceptance to folks who are far from God?  If we want to follow Jesus and lead others toward his love too, then we must offer them acceptance.  What can we do to be more accepting?  Let me know in the comments below!

 

And if you want to follow my blog regularly, please join my email list near the upper, right-hand corner of this page (or near the bottom of this page if you’re on a mobile device).  Or you could simply like my Facebook page.  Thanks!

Exclusively for Everybody

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This tagline from Smirnoff is brilliant!

How well does it apply to following Jesus?