Believing is seeing

Exodus 4:1-5:9 | It seems pretty unquestionable. The voice from the bush, a bush that is burning but not being consumed. God is here. And he wants Moses to free his people. Seems like the kind of thing if God asked you to do it you would do it.

Moses asks God, “What if the Israelites don’t believe me?” Maybe what he’s really asking is, but what if I don’t believe? What if I don’t believe what I’m hearing and seeing? Because the excuse Moses offers is kind of flimsy, isn’t it? Why would the Israelites resist being freed?

God gives Moses a sign right then and there. He turns Moses’ staff into a snake and then back again. He says it’s to show the Israelites. But Moses gets the benefit of seeing God’s power doesn’t he?

And then God does it again, just in case the Israelites don’t get it the first time. And this one, even more than the first, should get Moses’ attention, as God shows his power by causing Moses’ hand to become diseased and then restored. Did Moses receive this as a threat? God clearly has power (to do things to Moses)!

God even suggests a third display of power if the first two don’t work, turning water from the Nile into blood.

Moses clearly heard, saw, and experienced examples of God’s power. Yet . . .

How much power do we need to see before we will believe?

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A couple weeks ago I was resisting giving myself over to the vision that God was placing on my heart. It was – and is – a good, faithful vision (as God’s vision would be). But I wasn’t yet fully on board. I had lots of things I was weighing. Lots of reasons I thought it was maybe my own vision and not God’s. Lots of excuses holding me back.

As Kristine and I worshiped with our 3DM extended family, there was an opportunity to receive prayers for the gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12). I had never experienced that. I wanted that! A dramatic sign to confirm God’s vision and God’s power.

As we prayed, I received a gift. It was . . .

The gift of faith (1 Cor 12:9). Looking back, it makes perfect sense to me that it wasn’t one of the “dramatic” gifts I had hoped for. At the time, though, I wanted something with a little more flair.

The gift of faith. God was pressing me. “Do you have faith in me, in my love, in my vision? Do you have faith in me?”

And what occurred to me was this. Any answer but yes was no.

“Honey, darling, sweetie, do you love me?” Um, sorta. That’s just not going to cut it.

When it came to this vision God was giving me, he was saying, “You’re either in or you’re out.” Which is it?

I was finally able to move from saying “I’m sorta in” (which sounded an awful lot like “I’m not in”) to saying “I’m all in.”

What allowed me to do this on that day was the gift of faith. This was God’s power at work, too. Not so dramatic though. This is the other side of the same question.

How much power do we need to see before we will believe?

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Some practical advice on how to deal with conflict

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Matthew 18:15-35  |  Here’s what to do when another one of Jesus’ followers, a fellow member of your community, wrongs you or hurts you or is gossiping about you or seems out to get you.

  1. Talk to that person in private. Go work it out between the two of you. Did it work? If not…
  2. Maybe it’s a bigger issue and deeper conflict than you thought! Try again. But this time take one or two people with you so that the presence of witnesses “will keep things honest. (The Message)” How about now? If still not…
  3. Because this kind of conflict can tear a place apart if left unattended, it’s time to involve the whole community, so that the community can help encourage a turning back to the things that make for life. How about now? No?
  4. It sounds like that person doesn’t really want to be a part of the community, doesn’t it? Release them. They’re not going to get much out of continuing to hang around. Bless them to find a place where they may experience life and joy and peace.

It’s not about you

Matthew 18:1-14  |  God’s kingdom is breaking into ours. Through you.

But not because you’re so great.

Nope. In fact, our own greatness gets in the way.

When we rely on our competence, our skills, our effort, we fail to recognize the actual places and ways God wants to use our gifts.

Oh, I know, it often starts with God’s prompting. But then we take it and run. “Thanks, God, I’ll take it from here!”

And if we do succeed because we’re so great, such kingdom breakthrough will be attributed to our power not God’s. And the breakthrough won’t really be as great and lasting as it could be.

In being about what God is about, humility is the name of the game.

Unless you’d rather that people celebrate you instead.

I have nothing. Therefore I have everything.

Matthew 17:14-27 | “Do you think I’m always going to be around? Do you think I’m always going to be here to heal people? I won’t.” Jesus was frustrated. It was one more instance of his disciples not getting it.

The crowds wanted healing. They had been experiencing the power of God’s kingdom breaking into ours – the power of grace, love, forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, wholeness, life. Today, the disciples had given it a go, but they were unable to heal a suffering boy.

But Jesus wouldn’t always be here to be the one through whom the kingdom would be poured out. While Jesus would be the only Messiah, Jesus didn’t intend for him to be the only one through whom the glory of God’s kingdom could be experienced.

“That’s why,” Jesus says to the disciples, “I’m pouring my life into you. I’m giving you everything I have. I want you to be able to do what I do. God’s kingdom is here – through you.”

It is their birthright as children on God. It is your birthright, too. You are God’s kids. Therefore, you are heirs (Romans 8:14-17). Everything that belongs to God, our Father, our Abba, Daddy, belongs to you.

But the disciples didn’t have faith in this promise. That is, they weren’t claiming their kingdom authority as God’s kids representing their Daddy in the world. How were they – and how are we – to claim that authority?

“The Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. (John 5:19)” The Son is about what the Father is about. This is where kingdom authority comes from. Staying alert to where God is and to what God is doing in the world, and then going there and being about what God is about.

And we are only able to do this through humility. We must give up our own agendas and put on God’s agenda. We must surrender our need to be in control in order to recognize that God is in control. We must empty our hands, releasing everything we carry – all that weighs us down, all that holds us back, all the hurdles we put in our own way, all our struggles, all our joys, all our competency, all our skills – we must release everything we carry and allow God to sort through it and then give back to us the tools we need to do the job God is calling us to accomplish.

Your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:32). And we can only receive what God has to give us if our hands are empty.

Can I See Your I.D.?

Psalm 27:8 | My heart tells me to pray. I am eager to see you face.

We live with a God-shaped hole, that nothing else will fill. We try. Our appetite tells us to consume our way to meaning and satisfaction. Our ambition tells us to compete with others, doing unto them before they do it to you, showing them who’s boss, who has the power, taking all that you can get. We strive for affirmation – please, please, please tell me I’m good enough, I’m popular, celebrate me. (For an excellent unpacking of this, see Mike Breen’s original blog post).

In the beginning, God scooped up the dust and formed us, molded us into his people. God’s fingerprints are all over us. God’s handprint marks us. We were always intended to live with the outstretched presence of God’s hand on our lives. It’s how our Abba, our Daddy, created us.

He gives us our identity. We are his children. Because he says so. It’s all gift. It’s all love. It’s all grace.

And as we live in the power of God’s grace, as we live in the gift of our identity as God’s child, others can’t help but be impacted by it.

Photo attributed to Fergal of Claddagh via flickr and used under Creative Commons.

Matthew 17:1-13 | Up on the mountain the promise of identity is proclaimed once again. God declares about Jesus to the disciples, “This is my own dear Son, and I am pleased with him. Listen to what he says!”

Jesus is what it looks like to live fully in your identity.

In conversation about this Transfiguration event, one of my colleagues offered that the difference between transfiguration and transformation is that transfiguration is a transformation that reveals God’s glory and God’s kingdom here in our midst.

As we live more and more out of our identity as God’s children, your life is not just transformed, it’s transfigured.

God is saying to you, “With you I am well pleased. You are my beloved child.”

Embrace your identity. And as you do, you will see that God’s kingdom is breaking into ours. Through you.

Fear Tells Us What We Have To Do

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I was rereading Steven Pressfield’s excellent The War of Art last night. It’s about doing creative work. And while many of his examples focus on writing, creative work is everything where you are seeking to do something new, where you are making a difference, whether it’s writing a book, putting together a spreadsheet, tending a garden, meeting new people and developing new relationships, dieting, running a marathon, raising a family . . . .

Matthew 16:21-26 | It seems that Peter is letting Fear and Resistance get the best of him. And with a strong challenge, Jesus gives him the way to break through (and to breakthrough!).

Here’s Steven Pressfield’s take on it:

Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign.

Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do.

Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.

Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance. Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That’s why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance.

Have you ever watched Inside the Actors Studio? The host, James Lipton, invariably asks his guests, “What factors make you decide to take a particular role?” The actor always answers: “Because I’m afraid of it.”

The professional tackles the project that will make him stretch. He takes on the assignment that will bear him into uncharted waters, compel him to explore unconscious parts of himself.

Is he scared? Hell, yes. He’s petrified.

(Conversely, the professional turns down roles that he’s done before. He’s not afraid of them anymore. Why waste his time?)

So if you’re paralyzed with fear, it’s a good sign. It shows you what you have to do.

You Have No Idea How God Works

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To help us hear the text anew, Matthew 16:21-26 from The Message.

Then Jesus made it clear to his disciples that it was now necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, submit to an ordeal of suffering at the hands of the religious leaders, be killed, and then on the third day be raised up alive.

Peter took him in hand, protesting, “Impossible, Master! That can never be!”

But Jesus didn’t swerve. “Peter, get out of my way. Satan, get lost. You have no idea how God works.”

Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?”

Mission: Inflatable

By mission we mean building relationships, being in loving service to others, making a difference in the world. And it doesn’t have to be complicated, I mean unless you don’t already know how to make balloon hats.

I learned about Addi Somekh through the mental_floss Watercooler Ammo Newsletter. He took his passion and set off to make a difference with it. I believe he has.

What’s your passion? Where might it lead you?

Believe. Then Act.

Psalm 26 | Genesis 46:1-27 | Matthew 16:5-20

Consider this. This rock upon which Jesus builds his church is not Peter himself, but Peter’s confession (or the content of Peter’s confession): “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

John Nolland points out that the Gospel writers regularly speak of him as Peter, but they record Jesus calling him Simon. “[This] suggests that Jesus gave the name ‘Peter’ to Simon not as an affectionate nickname nor even in the first instance as an alternative name, but rather as a means of marking destiny in some manner. ‘Peter’ is not used to address Simon during Jesus’ ministry, but it becomes the name by which he is called when this destiny is being worked out in the early life of the church.”

Every time those early followers of Jesus said Simon’s (new) name they were reminded of who Jesus is and what Jesus is about and, therefore, who they are and what they are about.

They are God’s very own, beloved children who have inherited God’s kingdom and are being called to extend God’s kingdom in the world. This is the church that Jesus is building, a kingdom community. The church is not so much an institution, but a gathered group of God’s people and, also for Jesus, a renewed and restored nation.

Jesus’ words call Simon into a new role and a new future. They do to us as well.

Hugh Mcleod | gapingvoid art

These words recall Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:24-25: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”

It’s about hearing and doing. A confession like Simon’s calls for a response. Faith expresses itself in fruits. Experiencing the kingdom invites us to live in the kingdom which calls us to extend the kingdom.

I can’t confess, “Jesus, you’re really making a difference in my life!” and then not make a difference in the lives of others. Jesus’ doing something in my life looks like me doing something in the life of others.

I’m not allowed to become comfortable, that is, to become complacent. We are called into a kingdom future.

Believe. Then act.

A Dish Best Not Served

Psalm 25:8-22 | Genesis 45 | Matthew 15:29-16:4

Genesis 45 | Joseph could have chosen to hold a grudge or to exact revenge against his brothers. He had every reason to do so. They beat him up and had him kidnapped, selling him into slavery in a far off land (this after their oldest brother Reuben talked the rest out of going through with their plan to kill him!).

Who could let such a thing go? Many of us would allow those kind of life circumstances to define us for the rest of our lives. We’ve been wronged! It would be a weight we would lug around forever, a heaviness that would beat us down. We would be burdened by resentment, bitterness, distrust, lament. And we might even come to be proud of our suffering “No one has suffered like I have.”

But not Joseph.

The truth was Joseph’s brothers did send him away in order to end his life. But, Joseph recognized that it was equally true that God sent him ahead in order to save lives.

Joseph chose to see how God was working in the midst of all that life threw at him.

He chose to see that reconciliation was overcoming separation. He chose to see that wholeness was repairing that which was broken. He chose to see that order was being brought from chaos. He chose to see that being joyful was a better way to live than being miserable.

God’s power to free is greater than the world’s power to bind. Actually, Gods weakness is greater, too.

I choose to find my identity in the one who can bring life from death.

Because He Said So!

Psalm 25:1-7 | Genesis 44 | Matthew 15:21-28

Matthew 15:21-28   |   In the Canaanite woman we see that faith isnt simply and quietly accepting your fate. She is no marionette content to let God pull her strings. Rather, faith is believing Gods promises and then believing that God will make good on his promises. And its even more than that. Faith is holding God to Gods promises. Actively. Persistently.

Such persistence shouldn’t be misunderstood as resisting God’s will. Quite the opposite. Such persistence seeks to be aligned with God’s will. It is surrender to God’s goodness. It says, “God, I know your kingdom is breaking into ours and I want to get caught up in it!”

God’s promises are so awesome — grace, love, forgiveness, healing, joy, wholeness, life! Hold God to his promises and don’t let go!

You Are What You Eat

Psalm 24 | Genesis 43 | Matthew 15:10-20

Matthew 15:10-20 | This text is about diet, but not about what goes into the mouth. It’s about what goes into our hearts and minds.

On what are we feasting? Is it good “food” or bad we are filling ourselves with? What are our hearts and minds full of? Because that is what will come pouring out.

You are what you eat.