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!

Samaritan Woman: Role Model? Transformed, On Mission, and Effective

Could the Samaritan woman from the Gospel of John in the Bible be a good role model for those of us who follow Jesus?  And is she a better role model than many of the alternatives out there?

Samaritan woman

By: The U.S. National Archives — Rosie the Riveter served as a role model for millions of women during WWII.

Role Models Are Everywhere

I wonder if there was a time in the past where role models were harder to come by than they are today?  Think about it — with the constant bombardment of media today, we are quite literally surrounded by role models.

Fortunately, many of those role models are great!  Right in the palms of our hands or on the screens of our televisions we get to see stories about and created by the likes of Malala Yousafzai, Steph Curry, Lindsey Stirling, and Destin Sandlin, each of which would serve as great role models for adults and children alike!

Unfortunately, however, there are at least as many horrible role models we could be influenced by too.  And, equally unfortunately, these role models have just as easy access to our collective attention too (if not more due to our love of bad news).

So what are we to do?

Here’s an idea — why don’t we try to curate our role models a bit?  I know, I know.  This is a method that parents have been trying for years and years.  There’s nothing new under the sun!

But in today’s attention economy, the one thing that we can control perhaps the most is what we pay attention to.  So, for the next few minutes at least, let’s attend to a really good role model: the Samaritan woman.

The Samaritan Woman as a Role Model

I’ve written about the Samaritan Woman before: about how she was an avoided person and about how Jesus didn’t pass up the opportunity to connect with her.  In this post I’d like to discover what about her is worth imitating.  In other words, I want to investigate why is the claim that the Samaritan woman is a good role model is true.  I want to focus on three things about the Samaritan woman that are role-model worthy: she was transformed, she was on mission, and she was effective.

The Samaritan Woman: Transformed

In John 4 Jesus and the Samaritan woman have a great philosophical and theological discussion about spirituality, human insatiability, divine provision, her private ethical choices, worship, God, and the Messiah.

Her last words in this discussion are words of faith, saying that she knows the messiah is coming and that he’ll explain everything when he comes.

Then Jesus says something mind-blowing.  He says that he’s the messiah.  In fact, he uses a particular phrase that would have rung loudly in her religious ears — egō eimi.  These two little Greek words spoke volumes.

Egō eimi are the two words that appear in the ancient Greek translation of Exodus 3.14 where God identifies himself as “I AM.”  And here Jesus uses egō eimi to describe himself.  Jesus is making a claim about his divinity here, albeit in a slightly roundabout way.

But the Samaritan woman gets it.  She understands the reference.  In fact, it appears that when she hears these two words her entire perception of Jesus changes.  She probably played their conversation over in her head in a new light.  And, much more importantly, she let the truth that Jesus just revealed about himself play out in her future.  She saw that if Jesus truly was the egō eimi as God revealed himself to be to Moses, then her life could not be the same.

In an instant she was transformed!

So much so that in John 4.28-29 she leaves her water jar behind (perhaps a sign of her leaving her old way of life behind) and runs into town to tell everyone what had just happened to her.

Her faith in this moment changed her from the inside.  The external parts of her transformation would surely be more gradual.  She was still wrapped up in a deep relationship web after all (see John 4.16-18).

But the very fact that she would run into town demonstrates the reality of her transformation.  She was a known commodity after all.  People were well aware of her choices and judged her for the(which is likely why she was drawing water at midday instead of the morning or evening, as I wrote about here).

However, the transformation brought about in this encounter with Jesus trumped all her fears and concerns about how she would be perceived.

What a role model!  How many of us would have cowered when Jesus brought up our past and current ethical choices?  How many of us would have let the perception of others thwart what God wanted to do in and through us?

Let’s look to the Samaritan woman as an example of the amazing transformative power of Jesus!

The Samaritan Woman: On Mission

It’s true that the Samaritan woman was transformed on the inside.  But as we have already seen, she was transformed on the outside too.

Here it is in the text of John 4.28-29 itself:

Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”

These are the actions and the words of a woman on mission!

She had just had an amazing encounter with Jesus, the messiah, the egō eimi, and she simply had to share it with others!  She can’t contain what has happened in her life!  She has met the divine and she must tell people what she knows!

But notice how she tells them — she says what Jesus did (told her everything she had done) and then invited them to come and see for themselves with a question (“Could this be the messiah?”).

Unfortunately this isn’t exactly the way that we usually think about sharing the good news of Jesus and his kingdom with people, is it?  Instead of the way of the Samaritan woman, many followers of Jesus try to reason, argue, or scare people into following Jesus.  And we’ve seen how poorly these methods have worked at growing the church.

Instead of doing things like we always have, let’s look to the Samaritan woman as a role model!  Let’s see in her not an attractive church model, but an attractive life model.  She didn’t beat anyone over the head with anything.  Instead she simply said what happened to her and then invited others to come see for themselves by drawing on their native curiosity.

What might this look like today?  Passion City Church in the Atlanta area uses the phrase “irresistible lives” when talking about this idea.  I think they are on to something.

If we live the good news with our own lives, incarnating Jesus and his kingdom where we work, live, and play, then our very lives are the curiosity-inducing questions.  Sure, there will be times where we should use our mouths too.  But what if we lived our lives so radically centered on the love of Jesus that people couldn’t help but be curious?

That’s a question I want to see answered in my own life!

The Samaritan Woman: Effective

Lastly, the Samaritan woman is a good role model not only because she’s transformed and on mission, but also because she’s effective.

When she invites people to come and see this guy who might be the messiah, they did so!  But it gets even better.

Check out John 4.39-42:

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.

They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

People first believed because of the testimony of the Samaritan woman, so much so that they pleaded with Jesus to stay with them longer.  After spending more time with Jesus, the egō eimi, many others believed as well.

So the effectiveness of the Samaritan woman came in two phases — Phase One: people believed her when she said what Jesus had done for her; and Phase Two: people were able to confirm what she said when they met Jesus for themselves.

So if the Samaritan woman is to serve as our role model, then what would this look like?  How can we be effective like her?

As mentioned above, invite people to meet Jesus.  Live irresistible lives.

But it’s the next step — we have to let them confirm what we say by actually meeting Jesus.

Do we get in the way of this today?  Absolutely!

In my humble opinion we are more likely to introduce people to institutionalized religion, the baptized American Dream, a religious self-help group, or even the church.

How, instead, can we introduce them to Jesus?  How can we peel back all the caked on crud with which we’ve covered him?

Here’s a radical idea — we can let them see Jesus in us and through us.  We don’t have the blessed opportunity to literally take people to the incarnated Jesus.  Instead Jesus makes himself known in us through his Spirit and then calls us to incarnate him and his message wherever he sends us.

So instead of inviting people to church (which is still a fine thing to do, it’s just not the most effective thing to do), let’s invite people into our lives so that they can meet Jesus there.

And we don’t have to do this alone.  We can invite them into our communal experience of Jesus too.  The Samaritan woman didn’t have community (yet!), so we’ll have to pave our own road here!

One more thing — if we want to invite people to meet Jesus after having shared with them what he has done for us, not only should we invite them to meet him in our lives, but we should also invite them to meet him in the Gospels.

In my experience people love reading about Jesus’ life in the Gospels.  So as we live curious lives, let’s point people to Jesus in us and our communities and to Jesus in the Scriptures as well!

 

What do you think?  Is the Samaritan woman a good role model?  Did I miss something about her that you find imitation worthy?  Let me know in the comments below!

Opportunity Taking Advantage of Each Moment

opportunistic

An Opportunity Missed

I’m not even sure that I can tabulate the number of times that I’ve missed out on chances that were right in front of my face.  Tons.  Every day.  From the time I was young up until today.

Today.

I parked my car and walked to our house.  As I did I walked by my neighbors’ place.  They had just moved in and one of them was working in the garage.  I had a thousand things to do, sure, but I could have offered to help.

Or I could have at least said hello.

But I didn’t.

I let the opportunity slip right by.

And what makes this especially bad is twofold:

First, I said hi to two other neighbors and even had a brief conversation with a third.  Why couldn’t I at least say hello to the new neighbor?

And second, I’m the guy that encourages people to be missional and to live life like God has set up divine appointments for us.  Honestly, I feel a little hypocritical right now.

But this little anecdote is serving (and will hopefully continue to serve) as a kick in the pants to take advantage of each opportunity that comes my way!

Jesus Faces an Awkward Opportunity

In John 4 Jesus and his closest friends were tired (even Jesus got tired…see, he was fully human!).  They had been traveling all day and Jesus’ disciples went to go get some food.  Jesus didn’t go with them, instead he went and sat by the well in the Samaritan town named Sychar.

It was the middle of the day.  This wasn’t the time of day that folks generally went to the well to get water.  That activity was usually reserved for cooler parts of the day, like the morning or just before sunset.

But as Jesus sat by the well, a woman came up to draw water.  Even if Jesus wasn’t the second Person of the Trinity, he could have worked out that this woman was not well-liked by many people in town.  If she was, she would have drawn water when others did so that they could say hi to one another and catch up on the latest news and gossip.

But here she was.  In the middle of the day.  By herself.

Clearly she was a bit of an outcast.

And Jesus was the leader of a new religious movement and was considered by many to be a rabbi, or a traveling teacher.  And in his day, religious movement leaders and rabbis did not associate with the type of women that drew water in the middle of the day.

And to make this an even more awkward opportunity for the two of them, Jesus was a man and the woman was, well, a woman.  Men and women typically did not have much public interaction, and a rabbi certainly would try to avoid such a scandalous action.

And culturally there was a barrier too: Jesus was a Jew and this woman was a Samaritan.  These two groups had a nasty history and did not get along at all!

But the cherry on the top of this banana split of an opportunity was the fact that Jesus was tired.  He could have totally checked out and no one would have blamed him.  He had been traveling all day.  He needed some “me time.”

But Jesus didn’t let all of these hurdles prevent him from taking advantage of this opportunity.

He asked her for a drink.

He started a conversation.

He made an intentional act to reach out to her.

We Need To Take Advantage of Each Opportunity Too

Here’s the call to action: Let’s be like Jesus and take advantage of each opportunity that we face!

Here are some ways forward:

  1. Pay Attention — It’s so easy these days to completely check out of the reality around us.  We can chat on our phones, text, check Facebook, play music, etc., etc.  We all have a thousand and one ways we can stay completely distracted from our surroundings.  If we’re distracted, it’s going to be hard to even see an opportunity, much less take advantage of one.  So maybe we all need to put our phones down, take our headphones off, and pay a bit more attention to our surroundings.
  2. Start Simple — Jesus asked for a drink.  I should have just said hello.  We’re not talking about rocket science or brain surgery here!  When an opportunity arises, simply start somewhere comfortable and natural.  Here’s an example: you’re walking in the mall and someone drops their bags.  You can help them pick their stuff up and say something like, “Man, I do that all the time.”  That may start an important conversation that could change the course of both of your lives.  Or it may lead no where else.  Either is fine!
  3. Practice Makes Perfect — Over time these sorts of encounters will become more natural and more a part of our routines.  We won’t feel so awkward when we’re faced with an opportunity.  We’ll just take it!  But in order to get there we need to feel our way through that awkward phase first.  And that’s okay.  For some of us, like me, it might always be a bit awkward.  For others, like my wonderful wife Alida, being set free to take advantage of each opportunity sounds amazing.  Persistence is the key for all of us though!  It will get easier and more natural!  And when we fail to take advantage of each opportunity, which will happen, we can’t beat ourselves up.  Let’s just admit our mistake and move on!
  4. Don’t Discriminate — Even though none of us like to admit it, we all pick and choose who to talk to, who to smile at, and who to invest in.  Those of us who follow Jesus, however, shouldn’t pick and choose.  We shouldn’t try to stay away from certain people, no matter the reason.  We should reach out and connect with whomever when given the opportunity!
  5. Pray — Lastly, we should pray.  First, we should pray that God will bring people across our paths so that we can connect with.  Second, we should pray that the Spirit of God would aid us as we attempt to take advantage of each opportunity.  And third, as we are engaging in conversation, we should be internally praying that God would inspire us to share the good news with those we come into contact with, in tangible ways and by using our words too.

 

So, what do you think?  What about taking advantage of each opportunity seems hard to you?  What seems easy?  How should a follower of Jesus go about taking advantage of each opportunity?  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.