Things Conveniently Left Out (Jesus’ Miracles-Then and Now)

Things Conveniently Left Out (Jesus’ Miracles-Then and Now)

Over the past couple months I’ve been very slowly working my way through the New Testament Gospel of Luke.

I’ve had a couple revelations going through Luke’s narrative of Jesus’ life and ministry and one of them has been about how we, in our modern-day practice of faith, seem to have conveniently left some things out.

Big things… if you really read it.

I think there is one great big category of things we leave out today-in our Christian conversation and practice. And that’s:

Miracle work (healing… demon possession… basically God’s authority over all things).

I think we have high levels of discomfort around things like healing and Jesus setting people free from demons

So much so that today it seems we rather use the generalized term of “spiritual warfare.” But see even that seems a watered down disservice to the very explicit references in the Gospels…

Several times there’s a possessed person and Jesus commands the demon to come out.

Jesus doesn’t turn to Peter and say, “hey man how’s your heart?”
Peter to Jesus, “man this work is getting hard, I’m having a difficult time believing, and there’s just so much conflict with these fellow Jews… it’s really bumming me out
To which Jesus responds, “man, well that just really sounds like spiritual warfare to me

No, this was the reality:

33 In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an impure spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, 34 “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

35 “Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him. – Luke 4

Across the Gospels there are at least 25 references to this type of miracle work-battling demons.

Or consider the load of references to Jesus’ healing activity in the Gospels; some say there are 31 unique individual stories with a total of 727 verses that relate to Jesus’ miraculous work in this department!

The final broad category would be Jesus’ myriad examples of control over nature. From multiplying the fish and loaves to walking on water to calming the storm and so on and so forth, Jesus was consistently asserting his authority over the natural world.

So why does it appear in our modern conversations and practice that these topics have all but dried up?

Our first major hang up is that we dodge these topics because they’re hard to digest…

because we don’t see them anymore in our Western expression of faith and community, we easily dismiss them out of hand.

I think Christians are up against one great, big common mistake: we cherry pick scripture for the ones that are “easier to handle” more “feasible to grasp” or “in less dispute”…

The thing motivating that cherry picking is that, again, some things are easier to explain and fit within our modern conceptions of belief and practice.

In short, people-all people believing and unbelieving-have a hard time wrapping their heads around the supernatural… that’s kind of the whole fundamental premise of belief in the God of the Bible!

But let’s take that one step further, even as Christians; and consider this:

Why does it feel like a quantum leap for us to go from belief in a big, sovereign, creator God to belief in the tangible miraculous ministry of Jesus (and that of his disciples/apostles by the way!)?

In failure to take that leap, we will only scratch the surface of the power alluded to there…

My contention is that we can’t preach that way, we can’t live that way.

We either take the Gospel for the full force of what it was and is today or we scrap the whole thing.

We either take Jesus-the man and the ministry-as real and believable today as He was then or we don’t.

We can no longer say, ‘well yes of course we will take his wonderful sermons and confounding parables but the practice-not so much.’

We can’t pick and chose this deal; we must refuse the urge to cherry pick.

But the wrestling match between Christians of every stripe continues: do miracles continue on in our modern age?

That brings us to our second hang up: our perpetual failure to unite the “natural” and “supernatural” in our every day life and experience.

I’ll let Tim Stanford from a 2012 Christianity Today article speak for me:

Everything that happens in creation is pregnant with the power and the presence of God. Nowhere you can go escapes him. Nothing that happens, happens apart from his will. Everything is natural and supernatural at the same time.

I recommend that we go back to the wisdom of Augustine, who understood miracles not as violations of natural law (how and why would God violate his own work?) but as occasions when God walks on unusual paths. They are not more God-inspired than, say, the daily sunrise. They are just an unusual break from the way God ordinarily works, and thus a signal of something important.

Miracles are so unusual that we stop in wonder. By their rarity, their unusual character, they grab our attention. That is what signs do. They stand out from their environment so that we notice them. Otherwise, how could they point?

“Everything that happens in creation is pregnant with the power and the presence of God.” The sooner we take on that lens as a trademark of our worldview, the better it will be… for our personal faith, our community of believers and for those who are watching from outside.

One thought-provoking idea to end: as to the question, always, of how might this impact our leadership?

Just think how much better your odds are at influencing others who you think might never change, never grow into their potential or leading whole organizations no less that you hope might impact or influence the world… bold aspirational goals like these are so much better imagined when we maintain the faith in miracles… right?

The Missing Ingredient (Leading Change)

The Missing Ingredient (Leading Change)

I’m a new part of a church organization that is in the midst of finding itself. It is what a mentor called an identity discovery phase.

Another way of describing this unique place and process is leading change. Though I have not read John Kotter’s preeminent 1995 book by the same name, I have read the executive summaries and I have participated in models that mirror his principles and prescriptions.

The ethos, and indeed mandate, of leading change is critical for all leaders and organizations (who are striving for any degree of health or impact in the world, that is.)

A strong leader once told me that great organizations should experience change every 8 months (just to keep up with culture, technology, economy, etc etc) and that made sense to me.

The problem, of course, is that many of us don’t like change and then for the rest of us who are open to change it’s a painfully slow and difficult process.


Let’s handle those 2 obstacles right off the bat:

1. For those who are change averse: you maintain an extreme sense of irony.

At a certain point you must admit that very world around you is constantly changing; and not just a macro level either.

So you can go on “not liking” change all day long and even keep screaming it from a mountain top if you like, but with that attitude and posture you will always being sitting in immediate juxtaposition with the natural world around you.

2. For those who believe it’s just too hard or too late to change: you have chosen the poorest excuse.

If people succumbed to “it’s too hard” mentality we would not have a single lick of innovation from the last century (let alone since the beginning of time). What if Lincoln would have said, ‘reconciliation is too hard’… if Ford had said, ‘building a “car” is just too complex’… if MLK had said, ‘this thing will never change.’ I think you get my point.

To cease tackling a thing because it is too hard is to cease doing the very central thing we are called to do: live well.


The fact of the matter is: all organizations and systems (even the family system!) are in need of change.

How do I know?

Because all organizations experience stuckness.

In their good intentioned pursuit to diversify, spread out the eggs, reach into new markets, industries or niches organizations get stuck for so many reasons-most of which we are not here to discuss today.

I think one of the most important reasons people and organizations get stuck is this:

a loss of focus.

On the why, the win, the action and execution.

You can imagine the snowball effect above, but lets take a closer look at the importance of each…

1. The why: the mission; the vision; the values…

If you don’t have them, if you don’t hold tightly to them, if you don’t have them at the top of your performance dashboard then what’s it really all for anyway-it’s anyone’s guess and it’s up for grabs and when its up for grabs people will create their own why.

2. The win: how we know what success looks like…

First of all have you defined it? Second of all, have you defined it BEFORE you execute (run the event, program, marketing campaign). Most people and organizations operate in the opposite order, ‘lets just do it and see what happens.’

3. The what: this constitutes the bulk of your working hours…

What kind of action are you taking? Is it the right action at the right time? And is it focused action? If you’ve set a target (the why and the win) then you should be able to filter every working hour through those first two things. When we fail to do this, we are now facing a stewardship (management) issue (i.e. How will we be judged by the way we invested every waking hour of our lives?)

4. The execution: the final delivery.

If you are a manager or leader of people and you can’t account for why your staff, team, people aren’t producing better results than you need to seriously evaluate the above three. Odds are: all this lack of focus in the why, the win and the what are leading to a high level of stuckness at the execution level.


Committing to Change…

We have only to first admit that we are stuck.

Therein lies the first principle from Kotter’s work: change will be most successful when the greater percentage of your leaders carry a mutual sense of urgency around change.

It was not an intentional plan of mine, I have to admins, coming into my new organization but I found myself saying the same thing over and over again to key staff and volunteers.

In my envisioning to people about this new season at the church, with just as many competing ideas, programs, initiatives as the marketplace, I found myself encouraging our team that it may be time to say a healthy “no” to the options and ideas out there.

…to forgo doing several things very half-heartedly and inefficiently and, in the end, poorly. And instead to focus on one thing, and here’s the mantra:

We are committing to do a very few things, very well…

As to what those things are-that’s our plan and our issues. You probably just need to work your plan. But make sure people understand the why, the win and the what. Whether its your family or your startup, hold fast to these things and you will not only bring about focus, you will have a great shot at bringing about change.

Book Review: Monday Morning Atheist

Book Review: Monday Morning Atheist

I’m going to try a little something new this time and cover the great learnings that someone else has thoughtfully and excellently elucidated.

In other words, I’m reading about 6 or 7 books simultaneously right now (I know just the nastiest habit… call it A.D.D.) and I’d like to share those outcomes with the world.

The first one is from Doug Spada and Dave Scott’s great little (just over 100 half pages) book called “Monday Morning Atheist.”

First of all, props for a great title; it definitely caught my eye and I’m a total victim for book marketing-in titles and in cover artwork (one reason why I’m messing around with more than 5 books at once right now).

But more than that, the book title caught my eye because I have been hounded by the challenge of what it takes to carry the Sunday morning church experience into the week beyond.

I feel the burden (and danger!) of church simply being relegated to 90 minutes of information transfer, lukewarm musical engagement and surface level community.

I want to be a part of a generational movement where Church is defined as so much more than that.

But the principle has to do with physically being the church and carrying our faith outward.

That’s the essence of Spada and Scott’s great work in this book.

I will briefly highlight their 3 challenges for us as people who leave the church Sunday and go into our workplace Monday (as always, whether that place takes you to corner offices or kitchens):

1. We tend to leave God back at church because we are still hung up on this sacred/secular spiritual divide

I love this reminder so much.

And there are scriptural references left and right but a few of my favorite are:

(God Speaking to Peter in a dream about Jewish/Gentile reconciliation) “The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”- Acts 10:15

(God Speaking to Moses giving him his mission to free a people from captivity) “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” – Exodus 3:5

All the ground on the earth is God’s ground; everything on heaven and earth belongs to God so how can you call it unclean, “secular,” or unholy…?

The major challenge put to the believer is to stop compartmentalizing our lives into sacred/secular, holy/unholy, spiritual/non-spiritual…

As believers we have the Spirit of God within us, that means that wherever we go we at least have the opportunity to make it sacred… to make it holy… to make it spiritual.

2. We tend to take matters into our own hands because we leave God out of our work lives, which results in us feeling alone, isolated and separated from God in our work.

This is your basic truth about how we always try to control things. Since birth we are bent toward this reality.

Because we feel like work is ours to produce and manufacture and manipulate, just like everything else in our lives, we end up refusing to let go and let God.

We don’t give to him what rightfully belongs to him in the first place (the plan, the circumstance… destiny!) and when we do that, the result is actually a greater sense of loneliness in the world.

3. We tend to buy the lie that because our work doesn’t have the coolest mission or vision, that it’s all a waste

This is one of the saddest and most grave of all and it hits my generation with unusual poignancy. 

The millennial generation is particularly plagued with finding meaningful work and purpose.

We have this desire to be change agents and cultural movers and shakers, yet when we feel like our minimum wage job doesn’t chalk up to that, we slack off in our pursuit of making a difference or we just up and change jobs altogether.

God wants us to delight in everything we put our hands to, because he delights in it and because when we do, ultimately, that’s an incredible example to the world around us.

The way that Spada ties all of this together is through this very consistent thread around light and darkness.

We have the greatest opportunity, and indeed call to action, to take our faith and our God into our work week and yet most days we walk around like the light of the Lord is virtually non-existent in our lives.

The idea comes most clearly from Matthew 5:

16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

That’s the bottom line.

We have to enter into our work week with a newfound sense that we have a very bright light in our lives and others want and need to be a part of that too…

Go ahead and let them in by proving by the way you act, talk and live that its a worthy endeavour, that it’s a beautiful thing, that it’s a life changing force for the greatest good and transformation!

Doing What Matters Most (And the People Who Pull you Along)

Doing What Matters Most (And the People Who Pull you Along)

Ever feel scattered brain and divided in your work load? Lack of clarity in your job description? Or simply what you’re trying to accomplish in a given day?

Ever felt slow or stagnated in seeing movement toward your personal or corporate goals?

Today marks the end of my first month at our new church job.

Looking back I can see some instructive moments on these subjects already…

First, a few words on my job description and position. I’ve been hired on as an Associate Lead. At a smaller church with fewer resources and staff this means I wear many hats and fill a very generalist role.

Knowing this would be the case before I began work, I had a few hopeful goals: get clarity around the most important hats to wear the majority of the time, which would dictate my highest priorities thus leading to more focused action.

Let me break that down once more:

major hats > highest priorities (which dicatates hours in the day by the way) > focused action (which leads to better execution by the way).

Whether it was the role or the task, the principled expectation I had coming in was: you just focus on what’s important now (or W.I.N. for short).

As a generalist I knew that I could not focus on 15 different things at once. I wanted to pick 3-4 things and do those well.

Two of those W.I.N. projects have been within the realm of mission/vision clarity and leadership development.

But before (or simultaneously) chipping away at these two great and worthy endeavors I knew that I would have to just sit with people. Sit with the paid staff, sit with volunteer staff and then sit with pretty much anyone who has influence at this organization.

Sit, hear their story, listen to their heart for this place, receive feedback and build trust.

Then at the end, give just the tiniest insight into how I would love for them to consider participating in our upcoming leadership initiative.

These meetings have been amazing, encouraging, clarifying and uniting. What I’ve learned from sitting with 15 different people (in as many work days) is:

That they are all hungry for something new;
That they all have a heart language for the needs of our communities and;
That they are all ready to play a part.

It’s a pretty neat thing to witness because as the “new guy” you bring very particular culture and DNA all to yourself. And the 500 pound gorilla in the room is whether what you have, are and bring will sync up with what’s in the place you are entering. 

I’m hopeful that through these meetings with people they are encouraged and together are spirits are being knit together.

And that’s one of the key and timeless principles that you have to remember:

It’s all about people; people matter most; people build things-especially highly invested and highly influential people.

Meet People. See People. Hear People.

It all begins and ends with people; human to human sync up and send! 

Actually this is so paramount that I would be willing to make the following bold statement:

The what and how don’t even matter yet; even the big WHY doesn’t matter yet. It’s all about the WHO that matters most (right now).

I could have the most compelling mission & vision (the big why) you’ve ever heard, but if you don’t even know me, if you haven’t met me, if we haven’t heard each other just eyeball to eyeball, it’s not gonna mean much. AND we’re not gonna go very far…

Who is a person within your organization or circle of influence that you could really use a reconnection with? *Hint: you may have some unresolved stuff with this person OR you might just be vital for each other in the joint pursuit of some grand mission or vision!

If this is impacting your life or leadership, please feel free to repost and share!