10 Questions From one of My Favorite Former Blind Persons

10 Questions From one of My Favorite Former Blind Persons

Just in the last 48 hours alone, odds are you’ve had loss of story, loss of identity, loss of point, purpose, direction or destiny.

We all have these momentary lapses of direction and belief. What I read in John chapter 9 about the blind man who stood up and spoke truth to power gives me hope and encouragement for each new day of crisis.

John 9: 1 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. 2 “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”

3 “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered.

6 Then he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. 7 He told him, “Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”). So the man went and washed and came back seeing!

13 Then they took the man who had been blind to the Pharisees, 14 because it was on the Sabbath that Jesus had made the mud and healed him. 15 The Pharisees asked the man all about it. So he told them, “He put the mud over my eyes, and when I washed it away, I could see!”

A big back and forth between the man and the pharisees (Jewish church elitists); they even bring his parents in to testify. Then it gets REALLY interesting…

24 So for the second time they called in the man who had been blind and told him, “God should get the glory for this, because we know this man Jesus is a sinner.”

25 “I don’t know whether he is a sinner,” the man replied. “But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!”

26 “But what did he do?” they asked. “How did he heal you?”

27 “Look!” the man exclaimed. “I told you once. Didn’t you listen? Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?”

28 Then they cursed him and said, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses! 29 We know God spoke to Moses, but we don’t even know where this man comes from.”

30 “Why, that’s very strange!” the man replied. “He healed my eyes, and yet you don’t know where he comes from? 31 We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he is ready to hear those who worship him and do his will. 32 Ever since the world began, no one has been able to open the eyes of someone born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it.”

Here are some considerations for you that I think are power applicable (PA) to your life…

The rest of v. 3 says, “This happened so that the power of God could be seen”… where in your life is God trying to show the world how real he is, what evidence can you find of his work in your life?

Wash yourself in the pool of Siloam (the sending pool)… the thing, the material, the vehicle that corrects and heals, also sends… What is it in your life that God is trying to use to show, teach, reveal, correct in you but you possibly can’t even see that it’s a means of catapulting you into what’s next? v. 7

Recount how people just didn’t believe that this healed man was the same person… it’s a reminder that there will be people who mistake your identity but you declare it still. v. 8, 9

Your identity is closely tied to your story… stick to the facts and know your story, the truth of God’s work in your life is plain as day… how have you attempted to alter the narrative? v. 25

In the end do not give up hope, it is just a fact that some people will remain blind-never to catch the vision, your vision, God’s vision v. 27

How do you know if a thing is genuine and true? Test where it comes from. Jesus is from the Father, he does the Father’s work, that’s how you know he’s from the Father. Can you say the same thing about your so-called Christianity? The actual, tangible material of your life-does it reflect the One who saved and sent you? v. 32

Notice something and just let it mess you up a bit… this man comes to faith AFTER having been healed, AFTER being sent on mission  THEN Jesus has the conversation with him. What might this suggest about God’s grace, about his allowing people to be in process, about how his ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55) v. 38

Jesus ends by telling you the point of the story: some are blind and are blind to their blindness, and I want to make a point out of them. What are your blind spots… can you even admit that you have them? v. 39


But what is it that I love most about this story? Two things:

It is upside down kingdom at its finest.

If you look closely you can see that Jesus took a seemingly worthless side-of-the-road bum and turned him into a fire-breathing prophet right before the eyes of the religious elite. It’s just whether we view the world this way or not, whether we are intentionally pushing forth and multiplying the upside down in our daily lives…?

AND

It is the extraordinary use of the ordinary person at its finest.

This is how Jesus has made his name famous-through the names, faces, stories and sentness of each and every one of his billion-strong followers. It’s just whether we believe it or not, whether we believe we might be used in this way or not…?

Maybe, just maybe, these are the twin themes of Jesus’ entire coming…?

 

 

Warrior Bride

Warrior Bride

Don’t just be “pro-life” on a picket sign. Be pro-life in every phase and in every way. Foster care and adoption is our yes to life. 

Last week our fost-adopt journey turned the corner for a new chapter.

As is usually the case with social services*, slow and sparring information is the only information, so I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised when my wife got a call from the county saying, ‘birth mom is out of prison earlier than expected and she has a visit due this week… can you make it up town tomorrow?’

Classic.

So it is that we were faced with the last-minute audible to gear up and get going.

And so we did.

But not before having a bit of a spiritual-psycho-emotional freak out.

You see up to this point in our fost-adopt journey (on baby number 2; Selah adopted last year, we’ve been licensed for about 3 years), we haven’t had what I would call the typical foster family experience…

We haven’t had to give kids back after years of bonding and attachment; we haven’t had to travel 30 miles twice a week for biological family visits (as some of our dear friends have-mind you with their other kids and family life moving ahead at normal pace/scheduling); we haven’t had to deal with multiple family members and the ups and downs of them making progress, back sliding, court mandating chaos that can be the very essence of foster care.

As I explained it to a friend recently, when you become licensed for fost-adopt your technical title is a “resource family.”

This means that you are like an expendable tool to be used at the disposal of the system, the kids and the biological families needs. This is the lens that you are trained to assume as a foster mom or dad.

Suffice to say, easier said than done.

Herein lies the essence of our spiritual-psycho-emotional freak out: you’ve held, carried, nourished, kissed, swaddled, midnight fed-in short loved the crap out of a being that-in this case-we’ve had since he was 2-days old.

All of this largely “uninterrupted” (meaning: most days, no ones come knocking to pick him up, take him away or even call to check in!). And when it’s like that-very few bio family visits and very few calls/court dates-you begin to really live the illusion that this child is yours.

And then one day you get a call with a stark reminder that, at least legally, that is not the case.

And so we have a  mental shock to the system and the mind begins to reel… ‘what if he is taken away… worse still, what if he is taken away and given to birth mom where he is abused or neglected.’

Stop for a second, imagine if you will that one of your biological kids was dropped off one day and handed to someone you barely know and definitely do not trust (and also has a history of abuse/neglect). Well biological or fostered, we do not know the difference-that is what it feels like.

So doubt, crisis, fear creeps in…

Insert the mental/biblical picture that God gave my wife…

It’s the picture of Abraham laying his son Issac on the altar. It comes from Genesis 22.

You remember the picture

IMG_0148

22 Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called.

“Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.”

2 “Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.”

It’s gnarly.

So many questions here-I get it… what’s God thinking about? What’s God’s deal? Just flat-out: why? Well besides the fact that I’m not here to talk about all that today, I do think the answer is 4 words into the first verse… God tested Abraham’s faith.

Ironic how that was essentially the title of a sermon I shared just 1 week prior. The one point was essentially this: God is using all things as a manner of testing and preparing us for what comes next. (And prayer, by the way, is our gift for having eyes to see this.)

It’s no different right here, right now with our little 7-month old baby boy.

A second truth paralleled in our lives with this passage is this: our kids are not our own.

Whether our kids are biological or fostered or adopted-not anymore than our past, present or future-do they belong to us.

I allude to the concept of time because that is the dual thing that God is asserting ownership over by the way, in this passage.

You see he’s not only testing Abraham’s faith, he’s not only reminding Abraham that he owns his son, but he owns what his son represents.

And what Issac represented was the hope of another son-Jacob, who was the hope of Israel, whose hope was Jesus, who is the hope of the world.

I digress, except to say this: he holds the people and he holds the plans.

Same is true for us right here, right now.

So hand him over…

That was the bright idea my wife got.. AND the reality we get the chance to live.

Starting today, in the new normal, of driving up to the group home to visit birth mom, making sure that she gets an audience with her son.

And the prayer that helps us navigate this all?

It is prayer no longer for 1 life, but for 2.

That’s the call after all isn’t it? To find whoever we may be diametrically opposed to and love that person, pray for that person?

I fear it is a lost or dying 1st century art form. But in truth, we just so seldom get the chance to meet our “enemy.” Besides the person in the car riding my tailgate, I fear I have never really met the enemy Christ spoke of… until now.

And please understand how I’m using the word enemy. It is not to make biological mom bad, rather it is to explain exactly what I meant when I say diametrically opposed, and the person who has the potential to claim back what we love like it is our own feels like no subtle opposition.

In the end, this post was meant to be an affirmation of my wonderful and amazing warrior bride-Rylee. After all it was the biblical-word-image that God gave her, that she in turn shared with the world via social media, which in turn appears to have been an incredible encouragement for the faith and struggles of others.

When I saw her post I was uplifted and inspired by her… after all she is at the home front with these precious babes logging far more hours than I.
She is the frontline soldier of love-mending wounds, wiping tears (and bottoms!), channeling screams and demands, listening, waiting, loving patiently and graciously.

So in a way it is her baby even perhaps a little more than my baby that is being asked to the altar now.
And so it is her courage and faith and boldness and prayers that emboldens us both now to keep taking one step after the next in faith and preparation for whatever it is that God has next…


*And not to disparage the many incredibly hard-working social workers out there-I am constantly floored by the amazing volumes of work and case loads they carry-and enormously gut-wrenching at times too. These workers match any ministry or church hustle I have ever seen-those who really are devoted and focused that is.

 

1 Thing You Never Knew About The 12 Disciples

1 Thing You Never Knew About The 12 Disciples

If you’ve ever struggled with doubt, insecurity or the feeling of inadequacy as a leader, this one is for you.

If you’ve ever wondered why the disciples of Jesus seemed like such a hot mess sometimes, this one is for you.

If you’ve lost sight of who you are and what you’re capable of as a person and leader, then this one is for you.

I’ve been reading this book bit by bit at night (as I’m sitting in the hall keeping a straying eye on my toddlers infinitely trying to finagle their way out of bedtime) on the topic of Discipleship.

First 5 chapters in and it’s not what I expected at all.

For starters, the author Robby Gallaty doesn’t go into the 5 or 7 step plan or program for discipleship. Instead he spends the first several chapters laying the ground work through topics like 1st century Judaism, church history/church fathers and this idea of Keshers-which are New Testament allusions to Old Testament references.

All of it very fascinating-making for a much more general educational experience too, by the way, which is a win for me (a pastor who is not “Seminary trained” whatever that means!)

But none so fascinating as this one chapter titled “Disciples are Made, Not Born” where Gallaty is having the broader discussion around just how normal these 12 men really were.

He lays out a profile of the disciples concerning 3 main categories: how they were blue-collar workers, how they possessed no formal religious training and how they were young men.

It’s this last profile item that has made an absolute proselyte out of me for this book.

Gallaty goes on to lay out a highly convincing 7-fold argument for why the disciples may have very well been… TEENAGERS.

Consider the following few as a sample:

When you look at the title Jesus often used for them; the original greek words Mikronos and Teknion they mean “little ones” or “little children”…

You think about their formal Jewish training which would have ended at 15 (these 12, Jesus’ 12 were not selected to progress onto the next elite stage)…

You take this reality and combine it with the normative age for getting married at the time-18 (it was frowned upon in this time and place to be a bachelor after 18; none but Peter was thought to be married), and you begin to see the power of the argument.

These facts along with 2 other major defenses: their tenure of ministry long after Jesus’ death along with their seemingly constant and petty quibbling-ridden immaturity… this really starts to make sense.

So my first thing is this…

Why have I never heard this before?!

I’ve been a Christian for over 30 years, I’ve gone to Christian College, I’ve worked in vocational ministry for over half a decade, read several books, listened to hundreds of sermons and not once did I hear someone allude to the disciples being teenagers.

I can only surmise that this is because the same scorn for youth and young people that exists today was alive and well  in the time and place of Jesus.

You see I think we, in the marketplace as well as church organizations, need to strongly reconsider the worth, value and investment ascribed to young volunteers and young staff.

And the key word is investment… worthy investment. We need to trade our scorn for open-minded and intentional investment.

Here’s a good question to consider in giving young people more opportunities:

Why are you still recruiting and hiring to skills and competencies?

The chapter title reminds me of something Craig Groeschel says in his leadership podcast:

Leaders are not found, they’re developed. 

The point is this: we need to start looking for the intangibles when it comes to our team members… character, attitude, heart, mindset and emotional intelligence.

With these as the baseline all else can be trained and equipped.

After all, if you’re a boss, hiring manager, CEO or lead pastor and you’ve ever been frustrated with the expense (material and immaterial) of letting someone go after they failed to meet the needs of the organization then you understand that 9/10 of those departures were based off of organizational culture and DNA fit.

In other words they were based off of the above baselines. Which, without these, excellence and proficiency in skills, tasks and competencies don’t matter because there’s never enough chemistry and unity to forge through to that level of productivity anyway!

Look back and consider Jesus’ selection of these young men; he believed they had the right stuff, the stuff that could be built on.

One final question when considering the 12 disciples as teenagers:

Who do you think it is that is charged with changing the world?

There was 1 and then there was 12 and then there was 70 (Luke 10) and then there was 120 (Acts 1) and then there was 3000 (Acts 2-Pentecost) and then there was 6 million (end of 3rd Century) and then there was nearly a billion (today).

A movement that began with 12 young men… quite possibly teenagers.

Was Jesus, in fact, trying to tell us something… was he trying to send us a message by selecting these ordinary, common-even juvenile-mere teenagers?

These boys were just on their official summer job. School was out, except school was out for good and they did not get the acceptance letter for higher learning.

They’re taking back up that trade that paid their way last summer and except this time it’s for life.

Who would even have the gall to imagine something greater, something bigger, something more profound?

We know now looking back at history that  it was not “if” it was “when” for this group of leaders.

And so if a rag-tag bunch of teenagers could be grown up and trained in the way that they ought to walk in order that they might partner with the actual author of history to affect the trajectory of the human story… maybe, just maybe it’s possible that we could play a hand too…

Men, women, boys and girls, mom’s, dad’s, students, workers, blue-collar, white-collar, black, white, brown and yellow… all have a name and a place… all have a call that’s grander than the task at hand… all have the ability to multiply the way like those who went before them.

Asymmetrical Warfare (The Power Of The Cross)

Asymmetrical Warfare (The Power Of The Cross)

Sometimes I consider the hilarity of how long it takes me to remember that power grabs are never the way to real transformation.

The only real path is to lay power down.

Have you ever felt in the midst of a power struggle? Ever felt like your influence, control or very leadership call was at stake because it was being threatened by other power brokers?

Well let me ask it a different way: have you stormed out of a meeting (internally of course, no one physically storms out of meetings anymore) feeling ill-at ease because you didn’t have voice?

In my mind that’s still a power issue… because your voice is tied to influence and influence is tied to what kind of power you are allowed.

Don’t you just love being fed your own words sometimes? Well it was nearly 6 years ago-my 1st real year in church ministry work-that I began to realize the truth about laying down power.

I can remember even coaching another member of our staff on what appears to be an everlasting principle of ministry leadership and it is this:

The lowest man wins.

The first person who can lay prostrate on the ground, in the face of someone who is grabbing for power, wins.

And I mean this naturally and spiritually.

Naturally… think about your favorite people to work with or be led by… are they pompous, prideful and power-hungry or are they humble and meek?

The lowest man wins.

Spiritually… think about almost every word Jesus said to the very last that bound him to that instrument of torture and death: if you want to be first, you must be last, if you want to gain your life you must forsake your life.

The lowest man wins.

Mike Erre has this incredible podcast about “power over VS power under.” It’s a lovely reminder for us all.


In last week’s post I wrote essentially about humble leadership. That, ostensibly, was not the title or purpose of the post, but that is the precise example put on display by John the Baptist in John 3:30.

Well it turns out that last weeks post, along with that scripture passage, was written and directed for me, to me, about me for the following week (this week).

Somewhere in there I think I even prayed for humility… I’m telling you it’s so stinking true what they say “be careful what you wish (pray) for… cause you might just get it.” Well, done and done… I was put in my place this week.

And honestly, I can say it was good; it was very good.

In Patrick Lencioni’s great book, The Ideal Team Player, he outlines this concept of hungry, humble and smart-that’s the ideal staff, team member, person.

When I heard him speak at a conference exactly a year ago next month, I knew instantly which area I needed the development in: humility. And then this week it seemed that God was doling it out in kind.

First I was put in my place organizationally.

Then I realized the scripture, that I thought was meant for someone else (the one from John 3:30-I must become less and he must become more), was actually meant precisely for me.

Then I’m reading in a book about how really leadership is all about adding value to other people’s lives, not how smart I look or sound OR advancing my ends.

Leadership, at it’s best, is literally just about seeing other people win.

So it was left and right-healthy portions of humble pie. And it was cool; because I need it.


You ever been in a fight with a friend? But you realized that it was ridiculous at some point… like how did we get here and what are we even talking about right now?

I got into a little spat with one of my closest friends about a week ago over something that we both care deeply about and have potentially different views about how to approach it.

After we texted back and forth (to no avail in my mind at least), we finally spoke on the phone it was settled in moments. He texted me after and said, I think half jokingly, ‘I’m glad we’re not fighting anymore.’

And it’s so funny because my thought instantly in that moment was this:

I wasn’t fighting you… in fact, I ain’t never fought a man a day in my life.

And here’s the scripture passage behind what I meant:

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

As hard as it is to imagine the spiritual realm in today’s postmodern age of ‘trust only what is proven and palpable,’ in an instant I knew this was what was happening; as simple as daylight.


Now an appropriate question would be: what do these 3 stories have to do with each other?

Well whether you’re asking that or not, I’d like to know the answer…

Here are some common denominators:

  • they are my personal learnings from just the past 7 days
  • they are what God is showing me, speaking to me, teaching me
  • they are, I think, all rooted in 1 major point…

And it’s that point that I want to land today.

Here it is: asymmetrical warfare.

Asymmetrical warfare is defined simply this way:

warfare involving surprise attacks by small, simply armed groups on a nation armed with modern high-tech weaponry.

Here’s how I would paraphrase: a war being fought where the seemingly smaller and seemingly insignificant and seemingly easy to overcome and seemingly disproportionate side actually keeps winning.

One of the greatest ploys of the ‘evil rulers’ is power… AND one of the greatest, and most asymmetrical, responses to that ploy is the transcendent power of the cross (through a humble dying to oneself).

If power is the spearhead tactic of the enemy then humility is the power of the cross.

The fact is: there is a war waging all around us and I’d say if you’d like to stop forfeiting more battles, then join me as I learn to take up the asymmetrical power of the cross.

Leadership Lessons From John The Baptist (Know Your Lane)

Leadership Lessons From John The Baptist (Know Your Lane)

So much of confusion and frustration in leadership comes from not having clearly defined roles or expectations.

And one of the great things that role confusion and frustration leads to is serious identity crisis, which leads to purpose crisis, which I’ve even seen lead to a bout of depression and anxiety in some.

It’s actually a very interesting concept that our church leadership has been investing ourselves in recently.

It’s this John Piper idea of Be. Do. Have. (VS the way of the world which is Do. Have. Be.).

One of the problems with the above scenario is that the order is all out of whack…

What typically happens at work or life is:
First, you have problems in your role or expectation and;
Second, you develop a potential identity crisis.

When you know your identity (and hence the shape your leadership calling should take), the doing will always be secondary and thus less crippling when it doesn’t go your way.

I was reading about John the Baptist recently and I saw something which I think is powerful for keeping an accurate and fundamental understanding of our leadership lane. (Lane: defined as the straight and narrow path of which you are uniquely called.)

There are at least 7 amazing leadership principles from John chapter 3 and it starts off with one of the most amazing proclamational statements about identity I have ever heard of.

It comes from John 1.

Basically John is doing his thing (the whole wilderness stream-side baptism deal).

People are coming to him from literally every walk of life. Soldiers, tax collectors, your everyday Jew, which is an impressive sight unto itself. (Because it makes an early statement of how the Church is composed of people who are welcome… from every possible walk.)

But apparently there are some other, more “hardcore,” Jews who come up on John with a line of questioning (from their higher-ups) about who John is proclaiming to be…

Like ‘we’ve heard about you… there’s rumors… what’s up… who are you… are you someone special that was foretold about in the scriptures of old?’

To which John does something amazing… he says:

23 …in the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“I am a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Clear the way for the Lord’s coming!’”

ONE: Leaders stake a claim.

Unreal.

The way he stakes a claim in his founded and true God-breathed identity is just remarkable.

The boldness and confidence to stake an Old Testament prophecy for yourself, that was all yours… I just can’t even imagine what that must have been like…

Today, staking a claim could look like all sorts of things, mostly though it has to do with the all-out stubborn resistance to compromise your commissioning. It could mean:

  • refusal to make unethical decisions or go along with unethical practice
  • refusal to settle for a job that is not your lane
  • refusal to water down what you were called to produce

But we have to start there, because it shows you just how much of a direct and crystal clear understanding he had about himself, his namesake and his life’s work.

But he goes on in chapter 3 and says some things that should give every leader pause about their identity, calling and lane.

23 At this time John the Baptist was baptizing at Aenon, near Salim, because there was plenty of water there; and people kept coming to him for baptism. 24 (This was before John was thrown into prison.)

TWO: Leaders go for broke

It’s kind of sad actually but I fear for most of us “career christians,” this whole ‘getting carted off to prison’ thing becomes quite unsurprising to us…

Partly, I presume, because we have read the other instances in the Gospels where this was frequently taking place but also for a much more profound reason:

We have virtually no frame of reference for what it would mean or look like: having a willingness to go to these depths for our faith, our Jesus, for the saving of this world.

Something that John reminds us about leadership is the absolute comfort and familiarity around death and dying…

death and dying to oneself,
death and dying to ones resources,
death and dying to all the things we may hold dear for the greatest cause there ever was.

25 A debate broke out between John’s disciples and a certain Jew over ceremonial cleansing. 26 So John’s disciples came to him and said, “Rabbi, the man you met on the other side of the Jordan River, the one you identified as the Messiah, is also baptizing people. And everybody is going to him instead of coming to us.”

THREE: Focus on the real target (which is never you)

Another temptation, as someone who was raised in the church, is to succumb to the notion that some Apostles and Prophets spoken about in the Bible are untouchable.

Untouchable meaning: we fail to take into consideration their humanity in light of their authority, their inerrancy, their word or deed.

I think we do a disservice to ourselves (and others!) if we neglect one of the most contextual pieces for interpreting scripture: the fact that every Biblical icon, besides Jesus, was still a human being full of sin and general shortcomings!

I think we see that here in the way that John’s disciples were fiercely loyal to him even to the point of becoming envious and spiteful of Jesus attracting away their crowds!

To their credit, Jesus was still a new figure and the fact of him being the one and true Messiah was far from widely accepted at this point, but maybe, just maybe we see here a glimpse of how John could have done a better job pointing his fiercest companions toward the ultimate target and not his charismatic self.

Also, it’s a powerful reminder that it’s never about the crowds. It’s always about people. Good leaders know the difference.

27 John replied, “No one can receive anything unless God gives it from heaven.

FOUR: Understand that YOU ultimately don’t produce results.

There is one source and giver of all things and that’s God. As leaders we need this pride check:  Every. Single. Day.

28 You yourselves know how plainly I told you, ‘I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for him.’

FIVE: All the work we do here is just about preparing the way

We are given a limited time here on earth, truly in the scope of eternity… so what does preparing the way look like for you.

As leaders we really must get busy living or get busy dying and SETTLING on devotion to your lane is a form of slow death.

29 It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the bridegroom’s friend is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success.

SIX: part 1, descend into obscurity

Notice that it says bridegroom’s FRIEND… it doesn’t even say ‘best man’ or ‘first mate’ or ‘fellow priest;’ it says “friend!”

I was taught one invaluable principle for officiating weddings and it was this: become invisible. This day is not about you so do your best to prop up the bride and groom and then fade into obscurity.

This is our call in leadership, it is a lane of assuming humility.

30 He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.

SEVEN: part 2, descend into obscurity

This last verse is one of my favorite throughout the whole of the Bible. I think it is because I am so aware of how prideful and selfish I truly am.

I need this verse as a daily mantra.

I need this verse before and after every meeting with a leader.
I need this verse before and after I step on stage to preach.
I need this verse before I walk in the door at home and before I step out in the morning.
I need this verse when I rise and when I lay my head.

This is it. It’s everything… He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less. He must become enlarged in my life and the life of others around me and I must be reduced to insignificance.

 

Anger and The Filling Of the Holy Spirit

Anger and The Filling Of the Holy Spirit

I struggle with anger.

I have, I wonder sometimes, replaced one addiction for another. They say (recovery and rehab “experts”) that’s what happens anyway… you give up on one thing and you replace it with another intoxicating habit.

I gave up booze 3 years ago this August. And while I’m not convinced that I am an alcoholic (I’ve probably been drunk 2 or 3 times in my life), I do believe that I might be a user.

So I’ve given up alcohol and before that it was probably pornography, but what about today? Am I an anger addict? Do I need anger management?

Don’t get me wrong-I don’t run around punching holes in walls or throwing things (at least when people are looking or indoors), smashing phones, getting physical with people… I’m not verbally abusive. But I do get temperamental, impatient, aggressive, angry in a way when it comes to my kids in particular (having 5 under 5 might have been a little ambitious after all).

So maybe I’m my biggest critic… maybe I’m not an anger junky… but I struggle and I fall short… tremendously short sometimes. I feel weak in this area, incapable, insufficient… sometimes at a total and complete loss of how to get better.

And yet somehow, someway I’m meant to get in front of a bunch of people this weekend and preach on the following subject:

how the filling of the Holy Spirit makes you live an altogether different life. 

Basically it’s like this: on our own-our own power, will, ability, effort we will always and forever fall hopelessly short of living any kind of good, true or just life.

But the premise, LITERALLY OF THE WHOLE NEW TESTAMENT, is that though we can’t on our own, with the Holy Spirit (i.e. The power of the living God inside ourselves) we can.

See this is where it gets interesting. I am a fallen and broken man. And I’m supposed to get up in front of people and explain the truths about how the beginning of God’s power, through the Holy Spirit, meets precisely at our end.

Our end is where He’s beginning.

That’s actually the meaning of the verse, “my power is made perfect in your weakness”  (2 Corinthians 12:9) it means that his strength, his power, his ability is made complete, it comes to a whole when we can no longer ‘keep it together, get it going, try our best’

Well here is what, in part, I have decided to share with them.

I learned about what is really the word with a million meanings; it’s the Greek word used in Ephesians 5 for Paul’s instruction to be “filled with the Spirit.”

He’s just finished outlining all these behaviors and lifestyle choices (of his time-yes indeed still prevalent today) like greed and slanderous talk, promiscuous sex and getting wasted at parties (literally that’s what he says-told you not much has changed).

He says the old is gone (he’s talking to a whole bunch of folks who are saying yes to the Jesus way for the first time-no Judaism as a starting place-just from pagan to follower “overnight”) and with the new you can expect to look, smell, think differently.

And he says this can come only by means of the Holy Spirit. He, in fact, states it as a command, “be FILLED with the Holy Spirit.”

So what of this Greek word?

It’s the word plēroō

I’ll briefly unpack at least 3 different meanings of just his one word.

The first is like the filling of a sail thereby carrying the ship along. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit then and only then will we witness some movement.

That’s what we are after isn’t it? Enough of this definition of insanity! Enough of this stagnancy! Let us move from this place!

The second is like the drenching of a preserved meat with salt. It is a level of saturation that one just cannot shake. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit such that it permeates our every breath then and only then will we witness a different life.

A salty life, a life of flavor and preservation, a legacy that lasts… that’s what we’re after isn’t it?

The third meaning is about control. I have no metaphor to describe this last aspect but it is very simple:

You will produce that which consumes you. What you are filled with-that thing will control you.

When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we will be controlled by the Holy Spirit and my oh my what a thing will that be to behold…

That’s what I want. That’s what I want for me, for my family, for my faith community, for the worldwide body of believers.

That’s all I have for you this week. Though you will see that I have attached the 12 steps below. I just always come back to these. Because they are the mental/emotional prescription or doorway to work in conjunction with the spiritual one I’ve given above.

I’ve said it before but for those who want to work on whatever issue they battle in their life-social, emotional, chemical-it doesn’t matter; these steps if taken seriously, I think could usher in serious levels of health that you never thought imaginable.


CELEBRATE RECOVERY 12 STEPS AND BIBLICAL COMPARISONS

1. We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.

For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. Romans 7:18 NIV

2. We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Philippians 2:13 NIV

3. We made a decision to turn our lives and our wills over to the care of God.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Romans 12:1 NIV

4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord. Lamentations 3:40 NIV

5. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. James 5:16a NIV

6 We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. James 4:10 NIV

7 We humbly asked Him to remove all our shortcomings.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 NIV

8 We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

Do to others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6:31 NIV

9 We made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23-24 NIV

10 We continue to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 1 Corinthians 10:12

11 We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us, and power to carry that out.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Colossians 3:16a NIV

12 Having had a spiritual experience as the result of these steps, we try to carry this message to others and practice these principles in all our affairs.

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore them gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Galatians 6:1 NIV

 

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?