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!

Jesus Was a Refugee Would we have not accepted him?

“Given the tragic attacks in Jerusalem and the threats we have already seen, Egypt cannot participate in any program that will result in Jewish refugees – any one of whom could be connected to terrorism – being resettled in Egypt,” Prefect Gaius Turranius said in the letter [to Caesar Augustus]. “Effective today, I am directing the Egypt Health & Human Services Commission’s Refugee Resettlement Program to not participate in the resettlement of any Jewish refugees in the State of Egypt. And I urge you, as Caesar, to halt your plans to allow Jews to be resettled anywhere in the Roman Empire.” [Adapted from Gov. Abbot’s letter to Presidnt Obama, found in this press release]

Thankfully this letter was never sent by Prefect Gaius Turranius, the person who served as Egypt’s governor when Jesus’ family fled Israel after Herod the Great went on a killing rampage in Jerusalem (Matthew 2.13-18).  Instead, it appears that Jesus and his family were able to find safety in Egypt for some time (estimates vary from a few months to three years).

refugee

“Escape to Egypt” by Sebastiano Ricci

But this letter (with the modern names, etc. added back in, of course) was sent in recent days from Texas’ governor to the US’s president, along with 30 other similar letters and declarations from other US governors.

That’s more than half of the states in the US!  More than half of the states in the US won’t accept people fleeing from the very threat is also feared within the US — ISIS, or the Islamic State.

Of course, ISIS is a horrible group that has committed numerous atrocities all over the world, one of which I’ve written about before.  And there is fear that some of those who are fleeing Syria are or will become a threat to America due to being radicalized.  And this fear may not be unfounded, since one of the suicide bombers in Paris was carrying a fake Syrian passport and apparently was himself on the run from the violence in the Middle East.

But none of this changes the fact that the Bible says some clear things about how to treat those who are refugees.  Let’s look at some of those passages (as found in this article at relevant.com):

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. (Leviticus 19:9-10)

He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)

Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt. (Exodus 23:9)

“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty. (Malachi 3:5)

“As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name— for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name. (1 Kings 8:41-44)

No stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveler (Job, discussing his devotion to God) (Job 31:32)

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matthew 25:25-36)

And add to all of these passages this passage from Matthew 2 that I referenced at the beginning of this blog:

When they [the wise men] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. (Matthew 2.13-21)

 

Jesus Was a Refugee…So What?

What does all of this mean?  For those of us who follow Jesus, what are we to do with the clear injunctions from Scripture to care for those who seek asylum in the places where we life?  And what does it say to us that our savior and his family were people that were shown compassion when they became refugees themselves?

First, I’m not going to pretend that governing a city, state, or nation is simple.  Let’s be honest, I have a difficult time governing my own life sometimes!

I understand that there’s a balance to be struck between compassion and protection and that where politicians fall on that spectrum is based, in my opinion at least, on whatever may help them get re-elected to their current gig or help them position themselves well for their next gig.  Let’s not fool ourselves.  Politicians on both sides play to the emotions of their constituents in order to remain relevant, popular, and electable.

So, for a little while at least, let’s leave governing cities, states, and nations to one side and look at our lives as followers of Jesus instead.  We aren’t called to balance safety and compassion.  Nope.  Look back at the passages above and search for others that talk about how we are to treat foreigners.  The Scriptures are clear that God expects love and provision to be extended to refugees from those who claim him as their God.

On a personal level, as followers of Jesus, we have no other option, other than disobedience, of course.

So let’s not let fear, misinformation, possible ethnic prejudice, and political posturing prevent us from obeying God’s call to love the refugee.

But what does the fact that Jesus was a refugee add to this picture?

Here’s what I think: The fact that our savior was a refugee himself shows that he understands completely what it is like to leave everything behind because of terror.  He knows the long and hard roads that refugees face — roads full of danger, pain, and suffering.

And since Jesus was a refugee himself, as he leads his people to care for the refugees in their midst through the indwelling of the Spirit, he will know how to direct them to show true compassion.  It’s our job as followers of Jesus to respond to the Spirit: listening to him, learning from him, and obeying him.

I’m about to use a word I don’t use all that often: duty.  Caring for the refugees in our midst is our duty as followers of Jesus.  Leaving this duty undone is a grave disservice to current refugees and a slap in the face of our once-a-refugee-himself savior.

 

What about US History?

What role does caring for refugees have in American history?

Here are some brief highlights:

  • Many European settlers in the US were refugees themselves, fleeing persecution, natural disasters, poor economic situations, and war.
  • All throughout our history the US has been a beacon for the lost and the hurting in the world, even in very difficult and complicated times, such as in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Saigon during the Vietnam War.  During that time around 125,000 Vietnamese made their way to the US [SOURCE], one of whom is a personal friend of mine!  And during the height of the Cold War, there must have been great fear about communism spreading in the US due to Vietnamese refugees, not to mention the potential security risk.  (Sound familiar?)
  • And for many years the US has had federal policies allowing for the migration of thousand of refugees into our country each year, many of whom are/were fleeing similar situations to that found in Syria.

It appears that the history of the US supports allowing for Syrian refugees to seek asylum here — plain and simple.

 

Now What?

The US is likely to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees, who will be placed all throughout our country, including in the states whose governors don’t want them.

So, what are we to do as followers of Jesus?  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Give.  Just think about it…currently half of Syria’s population has fled their homes.  That’s crazy!  So those of us who claim to follow Jesus can help by giving to one of the many organizations who are helping with the Syrian refugee crisis.  Here’s one I recommend: Texas Baptists Refugee Relief.  The Texas Baptists are giving aid to a network of churches in Lebanon, where 1.5 million Syrian refugees have resettled.  Many other groups are offering aid.  Research one that you like and give.
  2. Advocate.  If you are a follower of Jesus and are convicted by the truths of the Scriptures about how to treat the foreigners among us, write to your state and national politicians, asking them to enact policies to help bring aid and compassion to those seeking asylum in our land (especially if you happen to live in a state whose governor has tried to close its doors).
  3. Act.  There’s a good chance that some Syrian refugees are already living near you, especially if you live in a major metropolitan area.  Whether that’s true for you or not, talk with your pastor, community outreach person, and/or your missions person at your local church.  Ask them if your church has a plan to care for the refugees entering our country and potentially our cities.  Ask if they’d be willing for your church to serve as a host church for refugees.  Have them ask your church’s denomination or wider church network about next steps.  And, if the Lord is leading you, perhaps open your home, cook some food, or offer whatever other acts of love and hospitality that you can.
  4. Pray.  Pray for those who are fleeing the continuing war in Syria.  Pray for the health and safety of the refugees.  Pray for the followers of Jesus all over the face of the earth to rise up to this great challenge.  Pray that this crisis can be used by God in order for his church to share and embody the good news with and among people desperate for it.  And pray for God to use you as he sees fit.

 

Thanks so much for reading this!  You may not agree with me on every point, and that’s fine.  Either way, let’s follow our savior who was once a refugee as he leads us to love everyone, especially those who are most in need.

 

Is Faithfulness Dead? A Spirit-Synced Way of Life

Is Faithfulness Really Dead?  And Did the Millenials Kill It?

Full disclosure — I was born in 1979.  By most definitions of Millenials, I’m not included.  However, being on the cusp means that people my age or just about the same age as me are uber-judgmental about Millenials.  We tend to find as many ways as possible to distance ourselves from “them” and “their” ways.

Below you’ll find the predicted Google results that begin with “millenials are.”  I doubt that you’ll be surprised.

faithfulness

So they’re lazy, the worst, stupid, entitled, and broke.  The tree things on the list that aren’t necessarily negative are things that can be interpreted negatively.  They’re foodies — meaning that they’re picky about what they eat and they’re very smug when others eat things they deem “unworthy” (not to mention the constant photos of food on social media!).  They’re the most educated generation — meaning that even though lots of them go to college, they still don’t have jobs, don’t have good life-skills, and still live with their parents.  And they’re not lazy — meaning that Millenials have been stacking the search results by looking for ways to prove they aren’t lazy…”The lady doth protesteth too much.”

But here’s the truth.  Millenials are not better or worse than any other generation.  But every single generation ever has thought that they’re better than the ones younger than it.  This is called “juvenoia” and we all fall victim to it if we aren’t intentional.

But still, one of the things that people my age and older always say about Millenials is that they lack in faithfulness — they’re flaky.  They don’t keep their word, they’re always late, and the can’t be trusted.

But here’s some more truth.  Is this lack of faithfulness a Millenial problem or a human one?  The answer is easy.  It’s a human problem.

Want proof?  Look in the mirror and let’s be honest with ourselves.  Whatever age we happen to be we have ditched a commitment because something we’d rather do came up.  And I’m sure that we’re more late to things than we’d like to admit.  And if people knew who we really were on the inside, then they’d never, ever trust us!

And here’s some more proof: Faithfulness is a fruit of the Spirit.  Note than in Galatians 5 the Apostle Paul doesn’t say that faithfulness is the fruit of trying harder, more experience, or good intentions.  Nope.  He says that faithfulness is produced through the work of the Spirit.

So no matter what generation we’re a part of, even the much-heralded “Greatest Generation,” none of us can develop faithfulness on our own.

A Faithfulness How-To

So what do we do then?  Wallow?  Embrace our flakiness?

No!  Instead let’s follow Paul’s advice in Galatians 5: let’s walk with the Spirit and be led by the Spirit.  But how?

  1. Be indwelt.  When Jesus is our Lord, we are filled with the Spirit.  And this reality isn’t something that comes and goes.  Instead, once the Spirit comes to live with us, he’s with us forever!  We have intimate access to the divine life at all times!  How cool is that!
  2. Get acquainted.  The Spirit indwells us but we still need to get to know him.  We can do this by learning about him in the Bible (which he’ll help us do!), meeting him within Christian community (since other followers of Jesus are indwelt by him too!), and by experiencing him in our lives (by doing #3 below!).  Over time we’ll know him better and better and our desires will bend to become more and more like his!
  3. Obey.  Ugh.  What a dirty word.  When I was in seminary some of my classmates told me that they hated the song “Trust and Obey.”  Here’s a line: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus…”  The word “happy” is a bit weird, but without obedience what’s the point of following Jesus and being indwelt by the Holy Spirit?  If all we have to do is to pursue what we like best, then why bother with all this God-stuff at all?  The truth is that in order for the fruit of the Spirit (such as faithfulness) to develop in us, we must obey the Spirit who indwells us.
  4. Share.  Lastly, if we want to be more faithful, then we must be synced with the Spirit and we must help others be synced as well.  How?  Lead them through steps #1-4 above, making sure not to ignore #4!

 

So that’s it.  In order to demonstrate more faithfulness, trustworthiness, reliability, loyalty, etc., we must be deeply connected with the Spirit.

What do you think?  How important is faithfulness?  And how can it be developed in us?  Let me know in the comments below!

Obedient: John 2.1-12

There’s a popular fashion trend that’s been a thing since 2001.  It’s called OBEY Clothing.  Surely you’ve seen their shirts and hats out and about.  Here’s an example:

Obedient

OBEY Clothing Hat

The great thing about the OBEY brand is it’s origins.  It began with the street art of Shepard Fairey and is heavily steeped in the cultures of punk rock and skateboarding.  Thus, it’s both funny and odd that the word “obey” is so closely associated with this company since Fairey, punk, and skateboarding are all known for individuality, independence, and spontaneity.

Here’s the way OBEY’s website describes the use of the word “obey”: “With biting sarcasm verging on reverse psychology, he [Fairy] goads viewers, using the imperative ‘obey,’ to take heed of the propagandists out to bend the world to their agendas.”

Thus, even though OBEY uses the word “obey,” they are clearly hoping that the people they influence will not be obedient to the culture of advertising in America…unless, of course, they happen to be obedient to the advertising of OBEY itself and buy some of their products!

Needless to say, it has always been an interesting tug-of-war in Western culture between being obedient to cultural norms and being independent and entrepreneurial.  Whatever the case, we, as Western people, are rather obsessed with the idea of being obedient.

Thus, it is only wise for those of us who follow Jesus to see what the Bible has to say about being obedient.  One place to look is Jesus’ first miraculous sign in the Gospel of John.

 

Obedient Servants

In a previous post, I wrote about the story of Jesus turning to water to wine from Mary’s perspective.  Now I’d like to look at the story from the perspective of the servants.

So there were some servants minding their own business at a wedding in Cana.  It had likely been a long day, or even couple of long days.  They had worked hard and were probably enjoying a moment of calm.

Then the wine ran out.

While the shame of this fact fell on the family throwing the party and not them, they knew that it likely meant lots of work for them.  They’d probably have to go out and find some more wine, buy it with the master’s credit, and haul it back to the party.  And they’d have to do all of that super fast!

But then Mary says to them, “Do whatever my son tells you” (John 2.5).

Apparently Mary had the authority to command them to do things, which likely meant that Mary was either serving as a wedding coordinator of sorts or that she was simply protecting the honor of the family responsible for the wine.  Either way, these servants were prepared to follow Mary’s orders.

They waited.

After a second Jesus told them to do the following: “Fill each water pot with water until it’s ready to spill over the top; then fill a cup, and deliver it to the headwaiter” (John 2.7-8).

I love the way John explains the next part: “They did exactly as they were instructed” (John 2.8).

They were obedient.  Exactly obedient.  They filled the part pots all the way up to their brims.  Then they scooped some out and served it to the headwaiter.

If you stop and think about that for a second, it’s pretty crazy!  They knew what they were doing.  They were putting water in pots and then serving water to the headwaiter.  And this headwaiter likely had the authority to get them in all kinds of trouble for serving him water when wine was in order.

But they were exactly obedient anyway.

For whatever reason they trusted Mary and by proxy they trusted Jesus too.  They obeyed.

And somewhere in the midst of their obedience Jesus did a miracle which led to a deepening of the faith of Jesus’ disciples.

 

Obedient Followers of Jesus Today

One of the most common questions pastor-types get goes something like this: “I was listening to an international missionary talk about the cool things that God does over there, like miracles and stuff.  Why don’t those things happen here in the West?”

I don’t really think there’s an easy answer to that question.  But as of late I’ve been getting a feeling that the Bible may be pointing to something helpful.

And here it is in plain language: In the Gospels Jesus often does miraculous things within the context of obedience.

It’s not that obedience “causes” the miracle, but it appears that Jesus responds to obedient people by doing cool things on their behalf, or at least in their midst.

Friends, if that is true (which I think it is!), then perhaps we don’t see as many miraculous signs here in the West because we’re not all that obedient to Jesus.

We are obedient though!

  • We’re obedient to the value of individualism.
  • We’re obedient to the value of commercialism.
  • We’re obedient to the value of materialism.
  • We’re obedient to our selfish desires.

And the list could go on.

So here’s the question: To what or to whom are we obedient?

 

In the comments below let me know what you think about being obedient to Jesus.