#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.

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!

 

 

Love and the Interests of Others A Spirit-Synced Way of Life

Love is all you need.  These immortal words from the Beatles have been sung billions of times (and I feel like that number is conservative!).  But is it true; is love all that we need?

Well, on the surface of things it’s obviously not true.  Love is an abstract concept and as such it cannot provide our needs for food, water, shelter, and clothing.

But love can and does provide much of our emotional needs and can, in certain ways and at certain times, provide for our spiritual needs.

So maybe a more correct line would be “Love is a really important thing you need.”  But that just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?

What Is Love?

To continue our musical theme, love is, as the Boston famously put it, “more than a feeling.”  I like to think of love as a choice, an intentional action which can lead to a lifestyle and not as a fleeting emotional pull toward someone or something.

But, still, what is it?  We’ve categorized it as an intentional action, a choice…but what is it?

Here’s where the Apostle Paul helps us.  In Philippians 2.3-4 he give us the best definition of love I’ve ever read (though, for full disclosure’s sake, he doesn’t use the word “love” in this passage).

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Paul’s implication is clear, love is an action that is aimed at the interests of others, not at the interests of the self.  Love is supposed to be others-focused.  It’s supposed to be sacrificial and communal.  It’s supposed to result from humility and not selfishness.

Love is, simply put, placing the interests of others before our own.

Geez, could anything be harder?!?

 

1 Corinthians 13 and Love

Paul gives us lots of information about love in the famous words of 1 Corinthians 13.1-8a.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.

I know, I know.  This passage usually conjures up images of mushy wedding services or vow renewals.  And that’s fine.  There are no interests we should put first more often than those of our spouses!

But the chapters surrounding 1 Corinthians 13 make it clear that what Paul means by love here is the love that is shared within the Christian community and that is to be shared and embodied outwardly to the watching world.

But what does Paul actually teach us about love here?  Love is about placing the interests of others before our own.  That’s what he means when he says it’s patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, and not proud.  That’s what he means by saying love doesn’t dishonor others or that it isn’t selfish.

Love being defined as putting the interests of others first is seen in that it’s not easily angered, that it doesn’t keep a record of wrongs, and that it delights in truth and not evil.  A love that puts the interests of others first is protective, trusting, hopeful, perseverant, and unfailing.

That’s the kind of love I want to experience from others!  And as I learn to put the interest of others first, that’s the kind of love I’ll show them as well!

 

How to Be More Loving

But here’s the rub: How do we become more loving?  How do we put the interests of others before our own?

Well, there’s lots of sound advice out there.

  • Think carefully about how to love those closest to you.  Consider how they would want to be loved instead of simply loving them the way you want to be loved.
  • Learn from other people who love well.  Read the biographies of people who consistently put the interests of others first, no matter the cost.  Spend more time with your friends who love well.  Consider getting a mentor to help you do a better job of loving others.
  • Just try really hard.  Work hard at putting the interests of others first, even when you don’t want to.
  • Do what Jesus did.  He loved people, so you should too.
  • Pray about it.  Ask God to help you.

 

Love as an Aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit

But since love is one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5, maybe we should seek Paul’s advice there.

In Galatians 5.16 Paul says to “walk by the Spirit” and in 5.18 he says be “led by the Spirit.”  These very similar concepts are set in contrast to the notion of succumbing to the desires of the flesh.

But how?  How do we walk by the Spirit?  How can we be led by the Spirit?  How can we not fall prey to the desires of the flesh?

  • Firstly, we must pray.  Prayer should be the start of any pursuit of living a Spirit-synced way of life.  We must ask God to make us aware of the leading of the Spirit.  In my limited experience and based on the advice of people I deeply trust, the more we pray to be led by the Spirit, the more and more we’re likely to notice him showing up in our lives, guiding and directing us.
  • Secondly, we must stop indulging the flesh at every turn.  Maybe one reason why we don’t experience the fullness of the Spirit in our lives is that we’re so distracted by our flesh.  And with regard to this aspect of the fruit of the Spirit — love: putting the interests of others before our own — our flesh desires our own interests at all costs.  Maybe we should learn to take stock every once in a while by taking a deep look at ourselves and our motivations.  Perhaps as we listen less and less to our flesh, then we will hear the Spirit more and more.
  • Thirdly, we should look at the life of Jesus.  Who in the history of the world was more in tune with the Spirit than Jesus?  No one, that’s who!  So as we read about Jesus’ earthly life, we’ll notice him putting the interests of others first.  Then we should go out an imitate him!
  • Fourthly, obedience, obedience, obedience.  One of the hardest things Jesus ever said was this: “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14.15).  Thanks for that Jesus!  But he’s right.  Love is demonstrated by actions.  And our love for Jesus should be shown by obeying his commands.  And what were they, what were his commands?  Love God with all we’ve got, love others as ourselves, and make disciples.  Pretty simple to say but pretty difficult to live out!  Oh, and it’s no surprise at all that immediately following John 14.15 is a long discussion by Jesus of the Spirit.  Obeying Jesus and experiencing the Spirit go hand in hand.
  • Fifthly, do this with others.  The Christian life was never intended to be lived in isolation.  (Neither was human life for that matter!)  So why do we try to do things like live a Spirit-synced way of life in our own power?  That’s just setting us up for failure.  Instead, call together your friends who follow Jesus, your small group, your missional community, your Sunday School class, your family, whomever, and commit together to pursue the Spirit together.  Then check in on one another.  Tell stories about how the Spirit is moving you to put the interests of others first.  Hold each other accountable.  Pray for one another.  And, above all, love one another because walking with the Spirit is tough because the pull of the flesh is so strong!

What do you think?  When you think about love as an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit, what comes to mind?  And how can we stay synced up with the Spirit?  Let me know in the comments below.

#Purpose: New Wine Podcast #004

What is the goal or the purpose of following Jesus?  What are we supposed to be about?

In this podcast I explore these questions by looking at Matthew 28.18-20 and Acts 1.7-8.

 

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!

 

#Incarnational: New Wine Podcast #003

Here’s my latest podcast on following Jesus incarnationally.

 

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!

 

 

God So Loved

 

This is the single most famous verse of the Bible, at least according to the Barna research commissioned by the American Bible Society entitled “State of the Bible, 2013.”

 

Favorite Verses

Favorite Verses

 

Many people surveyed didn’t have a favorite Bible verse or didn’t know what their favorite was.  But when people identified their favorite verse, John 3.16 took the cake big time!

 

And this verse is every where.

At sporting events:

God So Loved

From the Daily Mail UK

 

On people’s bodies:

 

And even on the bottom of a cup at a fast food joint:

God So Loved

In N Out

 

But Why John 3:16?

Why this verse?  There are so many other great ones to choose from!  Why have so many people been drawn to this verse?

I’m not sure, at least not with regard to everyone but I know why I like it.  Even though it’s not my favorite verse, that “honor” belongs to Philippians 3.10, the message of John 3.16 is straight forward, compelling, and comforting.

All of those things can be summed up in three little words found in John 3.16: God so loved.

All that Jesus did for us, for the world, was done because God so loved.

God gave his one and only son because God so loved.

Our trust in Jesus grants us eternal life and allows us to avoid perishing because God so loved.

John 3.16 is a great verse because God so loved!

 

God So Loved…So What?

But all of that was in the past.  God so loved the world 2000 years ago that he sent his son.

What has he done for us lately?

Well, luckily for all of us, God continues to love.  He continues to reveal himself to us.  He continues to demonstrate his love for us by caring for our needs, surrounding us with loving community, and by granting us peace and power through his Holy Spirit.

But God didn’t love us and send us his son just so that we as individuals could feel safe and secure.

No.

God so loved so that we would so love too!  And if God so loved the world, then we should so love the world too!

 

How Can We So Love the World Too?

Here are a few practical ideas:

  1. Treat people like people.  All of us are tempted to pass people by, treating them as if they are extras in the movie of our lives.  We might be busy, tired, or scared.  We might just want to walk on by because that’s easier.  But one simple way that we can so love the world is by treating people like people.  Look folks in the eye.  Say “hello.”  Engage in conversation.  Do to others what you would want them to do to you!
  2. Bend over backwards.  Love isn’t easy; therefore so loving the world will be extra difficult.  Why?  The answer is simple.  We’d all rather be selfish and do what we want.  But just think back to the last time someone went the extra mile for you.  How did that feel?  Now imagine doing the same for someone else!  This kind of love can change the world!
  3. Love sacrificially.  Our normal mode of operation is to love people we really like or to love people we think will love us back.  Thank goodness God didn’t love us this way!  Instead, let’s love everyone we can and let’s do so sacrificially.  Love that’s not genuine is easy to spot, super easy.  But love that sacrificial feels right, every single time.

 

Those are a few thoughts about what it means that God so loved the world.  What are some more ways that we can so love the world too?  Let me know 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!

 

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Waiting for the Drop

The Drop in Dubstep

Dub-what?  If you’ve not heard of dubstep, don’t worry.  It might not be for you.  Or it might.  Who knows?

But if you want to know what it is, well here’s the best way I can describe it: It’s a genre of electronic dance music which generally starts out slow but after a short while a large bass sound hits and the song’s aggressiveness increases.  Dubstep’s is chiefly characterized by its 140 or 70 beats per minute pace, its use of lots of “wub” and “wah” sounds, its sampling of vocal tracks (rapping or singing), and its “the drop” (that big bass sound at the beginning).

And it’s the drop that I want to talk about here.  Why you ask?  For one reason: the way some people dance to dubstep.  (Note: I rarely dance and never to dubstep, at least not to date.  All of my dubstep dance knowledge is due to So You Think You Can Dance? and YouTube.)

So when people dance to dubstep they typically do what is called “waiting for the drop.”  What this means is that the dancer does some light and slow moves prior to the drop.  But when the drop hits, well, things generally get crazy!  There’s lots of flailing, locking and popping, and general silliness!

Sometimes dubstep dance instructions are even given like this: 1. Wait for the drop; 2. Go nuts!

But what if the drop never came or took a long time to come?

Waiting for the Drop in Life

There’s something that I have done in my life from time to time that maybe you can relate with.  I wait for the drop.  What do I mean by that?  Well, let me unpack it a bit.

A lot of us who follow Jesus are convinced that at some point in our lives we’ll get some sort of a uber-clear directive from God (AKA “the drop”), after which we’ll get busy following Jesus for real.  So what do we do in the mean time?  Well, we try to be good by not doing things that we’re told are wrong.  We go about life like everyone else, working, dating, getting married, retiring, etc. (all good things!).  Sometimes we’re in a holding pattern until the drop comes.

But what if it doesn’t come?  What if we never get that uber-clear directive from God, that be-a-pastor, go-to-southeast-asia, lead-a-revolution-for-the-sake-of-the-kingdom directive?  Will we just continue doing what seems right to us, what we think pleases God?  Will we just simply continue to do what everyone in the culture around us is doing?

I’m not sure about you, but I’ve been guilty of this many times.  I’ve wanted to hear that call to a BIG obedience and missed out on all the things God might have for me day-to-day.  While waiting for the drop, life passes me by.

Can you relate?

The Drop Can Wait

Let me share with you something I’ve learned during my 25+ years of following Jesus — the drop can wait.  Can you or I control when God might want to call us to some sort of a BIG obedience?  No!?  But what we can control, with the help of the Holy Spirit, is what we do when we aren’t experiencing the drop.

And what does that look like?  How should we dance before (or after!) the drop hits?  Let’s turn to Scripture for some help…

He has told you, mortals, what is good in His sight.
    What else does the Eternal ask of you
But to live justly and to love kindness
    and to walk with your True God in all humility?”

(Micah 6.8 in The Voice translation)

So while waiting for the drop (or the second, third, fourth, etc. drop), let’s do these three things that are good in God’s sight:

1. Live justly.

Translated literally, this phrases says something like this “diligently seek justice.”  But the way the The Voice puts it is great — “live justly.”  Justice is not just something that we pursue only when we feel some super-obvious call from God (“the drop”).  No!  It’s something we live, something we seek with all we are.

And the justice that we are to live out it not our personal version of justice, American justice, Democratic or Republican justice, ethnic justice, or any other sort of justice.  It’s God’s justice — defined by him and his Word and sought after in ways that he sees fit.

So what might God’s justice and the pursuit thereof look like?  There’s one best place to look — Jesus’ life!  Read through the Gospels.  See how Jesus sought God’s justice for people, especially people who had been written off, like sinners, tax collector, religious zealots, work-a-day people, etc.  Then imitate Jesus in your life.  Live Jesus’ human life in your human life.

2. Love kindness.

Things get more sticky with this second idea.  Why?  Because I can try to live justly in an unkind manner.  But we aren’t given that option in Micah 6.8.  We are told to also love kindness.  So while we’re waiting for the drop, not only should we live justly, but we should love kindness.

The word for “kindness” here is one you may recognize: hesed.  It is often translated as follows: “mercy,” “loving kindness,” “unfailing love,” and/or “loyalty.”  The ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, which is called the Septuagint, translates this word as eleos, which means “mercy” or “compassion.”  So the idea seems pretty clear — hesed is not a one-off kind of word.  It means to show mercy or compassion consistently.

And not just to show kindness to others…but to love it!  How many of us love showing kindness?  I don’t always!  But that’s our instruction.  We are to love having compassion on others.

And what does this look like?  Well, again, look at Jesus’ life and words.  He said “love your neighbor as yourself” and he did just that, giving away his time, his sleep, his comfort, and ultimately his life.

3. Walk with God in all humility.  

Sometimes the best way to understand something is to think of the opposite.  So, what would it look like to walk with God in all pride?  Perhaps you would walk with God only to get out of him what you think is best.  Maybe you would walk with God, pretending like you are an equal with him.  Perhaps you would walk with God in such a way to improve your reputation and not his.

So a good start with walking with God in all humility might be NOT doing those things!  Instead let’s follow God in order to serve him and his will in this world.  Let’s follow God while keeping in mind an honest appraisal of ourselves as sinners desperately in need of his grace and forgiveness.  And let’s follow God in such a way to make ourselves less and to increase his fame.

So while we are waiting for the drop we should walk with God humbly.  Walk.  That implies action, movement, and consistency.  Walking humbly with God is not a one-time decision.  It’s a lifestyle.

 

So let’s stop waiting for the drop.  Let’s start living for God now!  And when the drop comes, when he asks us to something specific and “big,” then we’ll be ready.

 

What do you think?  How should we live as we wait for the drop?  Let me know in the comments below.

Mission: Make Disciples

For the last few years I’ve been doing quite a bit of processing.  Specifically I’ve been thinking about mission.  What’s my personal mission?  What’s my family’s mission?  What’s my small community’s mission?  What’s my Sunday School’s mission?  What’s my church’s mission?

What’s the mission of a follower of Jesus?

And, to be honest, for a follower of Jesus the answer to all of these questions is relatively straightforward: to make disciples (Matthew 28.19-20).  The rub, of course, comes with how one defines these things.  What is a disciple?  How is one made?  And what does it mean that our mission as a follower of Jesus is to make disciples?

What would this look like?  How would we get from the places where we find ourselves to the places we think we should be?

Honestly, however, there are a ton of people who have written or spoken about this.  Most, if not all of them, will do a better job than me.  And most, if not all of them, will probably have more experience.

However, I still think there’s some wisdom to be found in simply following the ways of Jesus as we see them in the Scriptures, whether lived out in Jesus’ own life or in the lives of his earliest followers.

 

Mission: What Are We Aiming For?

Zielscheibe target aim

As I was doing some of this self evaluation, I ran into some common denominators.  Here they are:

  1. Comfort — At a really core level I want to aim for things that won’t rock my various boats too much.  I want stability and safety.  And other things I’m involved in appear to be bent toward this end as well.  I mean, really, who wants to intentionally do something that might be uncomfortable?  That’d be crazy, right?
  2. Autonomy — And not only do I want to be all cozy, but I want to have choice in how I make myself cozy.  And if I don’t have choice, I want to at least feel like I have choice!  I want to be the master of my own destiny.  And as I look at the things I’m involved in, the organizations and the people within them all want autonomy too.
  3. Accumulation — Lastly, I will tend to accumulate stuff that I choose to make me comfortable.  I have this gadget and that gadget and the other one too.  Each one supposedly makes my life better, but the gadgets are building up.  And this desire toward hoarding stuff shows up in the programs, buildings, etc., etc. that our churches accumulate.

These are the things that we tend to aim for.  And doing so seems to place us right in line with typical American/Western behavior.  But are these things the things we should be aiming for?  Or are we way off?

 

Mission: Perception vs. Reality?

But before we answer the question of what our mission should be, we have to honestly take stock of what our mission appears to be.  How would we figure this out?

  1. Time — How do I spend my time?  What takes precedence?  It seems to me that I spend an awful lot of time trying to make cool things that will attract people to me or to the communities I’m part of.  If I build it, they’ll come…right?
  2. Money — On what sorts of things do I spend my money?  Where do the material resources I have go?  All too often my money is spent on maintaining my comfort and on stuff that does so.  And all too often the money in our Christian communities goes toward the big gathering on Sunday, programs, salaries, and buildings.
  3. Dreams — What do I dream about?  What kind of vision is cast?  It seems to me that in my life I dream about my immediate future and the happiness and peace that can be had there.  And in communities our dreams tend to be about the glory days that we’re so sure are right in front of us if we just tweak this one thing, have an expert speak into this one area, or focus on a particular market audience.

 

Mission: Jesus’ Way

It’s not my way or the highway…it’s His way is the HIGH way!  And what is Jesus’ way?

  1. The Kingdom of God — Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God (Mark 1:15).  He did this preaching through the use of his words and by embodying it for the sake of others.  And what is the kingdom of God?  Much ink has been spilled trying to define this phrase.  But I think we’ve overly complicated things a bit.  The kingdom of God is what happens when God is in charge.  So, when God’s in charge people repent from their sins and follow Jesus.  When God’s in charge people begin to live like Jesus did, centering their lives on the kingdom of God too.  When God’s in charge his clear desire to reach out to the most in need will be lived out in the lives of Jesus’ followers.  When God is in charge Christians won’t look, sound, and behave just like their neighbors; they’ll be different.  It will be obvious; it won’t be subtle.
  2. Loving God and Loving Others — Jesus was asked once what it’s all about and he said loving God and loving others (Mark 12.28-31).  So love God by praising him, praying to him, learning about him, spending time with him, obeying him, etc., etc.  No brainer.  And we love others by putting their interests above our own (Philippians 2.3-4).  Hard as all get out; but a no brainer too.  Jesus’ way is all about love!
  3. Being Agents of Reconciliation — Lastly, Jesus’ way is to turn us all into his ambassadors of divine reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5.18-21).  Jesus didn’t take on our sin so that we can be saved but live like we’re not!  He did this for us so that we would be set free to live the lives he made us to live — lives of reconciliation.  This reconciliation, which is just a fancy word for the mending broken relationships, is dual-directional: up toward God and out toward other people.  In other words, it’s our job, all of our jobs!, to help people have their relationships to God mended and to help folks mend their relationships with one another.

 

Mission: Make Disciples

So the summary of what it means to live out the fact that Jesus is Lord can be stated like this: make disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples.

  1. But what’s a disciple?  A disciple in the first-century world was a student of a teacher, especially a traveling teacher.  Carried over into our context a disciple is a life-long learner of the ways of Jesus.  A disciple is centered on the kingdom of God.  A disciple loves God and loves others.  And a disciple is an agent or reconciliation.
  2. How is a disciple made?  Well, in the first century a disciple was made by literally walking behind the teacher, imitating what he does, learning from what he says, and emulating his attitude.  Today this process is a bit different since the risen Jesus, though alive and real to us through the inner working of the Spirit, is not tangibly present.  So we have to learn what he does and says in Scripture and imitate it.  And we have to watch as trusted disciples exemplify the ways of Jesus for us and then do what they do.  And we have to help others meet and follow Jesus in the Scriptures and in our lives.  Making disciples can’t easily be accomplished through programs or preaching.  It has to be life on life, apprentice-style.  Think about how a blacksmith trains an apprentice.  He teaches him what to do with his words and actions.  That’s what we need to do.  Person to person, all throughout the body of Christ, teaching one another how to follow Jesus.

 

And that’s it.  Our mission is to make disciples.  As we examine our behaviors and see that our mission appears to be something else, then we must change it to THE mission!  There are no other choices.  There is no getting around this.  This isn’t just for the super-Christians or the paid church staff.

Making disciples is the call on the life of each and every follower of Jesus.  That includes me.  And that includes you.

 

What do you think about the mission of your life as a follower of Jesus?  As a community?  As a church?  Let me know in the comments below!