Category Archives: discipleship

A Word to Weary Small Group Leaders

After a long day of drop-offs and pick-ups, meetings and meeting needs, opening up our home and our hearts to more people is usually the last thing I naturally want to do. Yet, every time we host a small group or Bible study, I go to bed both tired and satisfied.

I love quiet. I love calm. And these are nearly always on backorder in a household of three growing boys in the context of ministry. I feel like I can barely keep enough food in our pantry for our children. As such, thinking for snacks for weekly guests grows my task list, my grocery bill, and my already-overflowing shopping cart. Keeping up with basic cleaning is a challenge for me, so getting the boys’ shared bathroom in suitable condition for strangers feels like a Herculean task.

However, once the people are finally gathered in our backyard, at our table, or on our couch, all those concerns flee.

Once God has gathered saints and strangers in our home, I am reminded of the priority of persons in the economy of the kingdom. Sentient, living, breathing, burden-bearing souls come to our home each week to be received by other sentient, breathing, burden-bearing souls. We talk about the weather and the latest taco spot, but we also share tidbits of our stories. We multiply each other’s joys and divide each other’s sorrows. For some portion of an evening, we are reminded that there are cares outside the casing of our own hearts.

In the Church, small group leaders do a lot of heavy lifting. They faithfully accommodate their homes and hearts to others. They are tempted to grow weary in well-doing, especially when it does not seem like huge things are happening week in and week out.

This temptation to have drooping hands and hearts is not new to the church. In fact, the writer of Hebrews continually reminded the Jewish believers to keep going in the seemingly ordinary act of regularly meeting together.

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

The Kingdom Hinges on Hospitality

For the past 6 months, I have been living in the book of Acts, studying it with multiple groups of people. This time through, a different cast of characters have been standing out to me. And it is not the likely crew of Peter, Barnabas, Paul, and others. It is people like Ananias, Mary, Priscilla and Aquila, Philip, and Jason.

I wonder if Mary was having a long day when the early church decided to gather in her home for a prayer meeting for the recently imprisoned Peter? We don’t get a glimpse into the whirling preparation she likely made to accommodate a group of prayer warriors who would stay through the night. We only know that, after the angel had released Peter, he knew where to find the believers. They would be gathered at Mary’s house. They were in the habit of doing so (Acts 12: 12).

When Jason opened his home in hospitality to Paul and Silas in Thessalonica, he had no idea that such a simple gesture would become so much more. Refusing to give them up a mob, he was dragged out of his own home, brought before authorities, and extorted for funds (Acts 17:1-9).

The kingdom hinges on seemingly small acts of faithfulness. The body of Christ must be housed, fed, and nurtured, both physically and spiritually.

Weary small group leader, don’t grow weary. Keep opening your home and feeding the flock of God placed under your care. Keep making room in your schedule and soul for the household of God.

Let us not grow weary in well doing, for in due season, we will reap, if we do not lost heart. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6: 9-10).

I must run now. I’ve snacks to purchase and bathrooms to clean.

Peace is a Person

Peace, as a concept, is easy to proclaim, but hard to purchase. It makes a good buzzword, but it is a near impossible goal for humanity.

As I write this, rockets rip across the skies in the land where Jesus Himself once walked and two people groups threaten to annihilate each other. As I sip my coffee, churches and families are being ripped apart by political ideological battles, whether they be aggressive or passive aggressive, virtual or actual fronts.To say we need peace is an understatement. To say we cannot achieve it ourselves is also an understatement.

God’s people longed for peace, and understandably so. They knew too much of war, both within and without. They also knew that peace would not be cheap. They innately knew it had to be purchased.

As an anxious soul, I have always had an eye for verses promising peace. In fact, when I first came to Christ, there were two anchor-line verses from Isaiah 26 which I memorized and to which I clung.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock (Isaiah 26:3-4).

O, Lord, you will ordain peace for us, for you have indeed done for us all our works (Isaiah 26:12).

In both of these Scriptures, God’s people realize that any hope of obtaining or experiencing peace on earth would only come from focusing on the very nature of their God, Yahweh. In a sea of adversity and in waves of shifting regimes and kingdoms, their only anchoring point was in the Rock Everlasting, the One who did not change.

Where they stood in the story of the slowly unraveling history of redemption, God’s people could not see what we see clearly on the other side of the Cross of Christ. They knew that peace could not only come when one’s mind was fully set on God. They did not know that the only One who would ever have His heart fully fixed on God would set His face toward Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). They knew God would ordain peace for them. They did not know that such peace would be purchased through the costly, sacrificial love of God-Himself-made-man (Ephesians 2:14; 1 Peter 1:17-19).

We have access to the life-transforming knowledge that peace is a person, the person of Christ.

Perfect Peace

The human record is wretched;
We’ve accomplished naught.  
All our most elevated efforts
Nothing but wind have wrought. 

Your peace will not be earned
By our ceaseless striving.
It is present and purchased,
While we await your arriving. 

Your long-promised peace
Is not to our performance tied.
It is wrapped up in the God-man
Who lives though once he died. 

All that our good God ordains 
He Himself will expertly fulfill. 
It is His to do and ours to trust,
As He accomplishes His will. 

You keep him in perfect peace
Whose mind is stayed on you. 
For all our God has purposed,
He’ll ultimately carry through. 

With such knowledge of the person of peace, we are invited to wage peace on this war-torn earth and to proclaim gospel hope to war-ravaged souls. But before we can properly proclaim His peace, we must let Him permeate our own lives.

And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (James 3:18).

Don’t Confuse Influence and Obedience

God is for influence. He gives it. He allows it. Think of Esther and her influence which was leveraged to save God’s people from imminent genocide. Think of Nebuchadnezzar and the way God humbled him and how God transformed his influence for the kingdom. Think of William Wilberforce and Mother Teresa. 

In the Sermon on The Mount, Jesus himself used the image of the idiocy of lighting a lantern and putting a bushel over it. He told his people to let their light so shine before men that they would see their good works and glorify their father in heaven (Matt. 5:15-16). 

Yet, Christ also knew the insidious danger of influence. He spoke harsh words to the religious leaders who were far more concerned with their influence than their obedience.  I have far more Pharisee in me than I care to admit.

The Pharisee in me loves to sit in a high seat and longs for the places of honor and titles of importance (Matthew 23:2 and 6–7). Yet the Spirit is slowly, steadily shaping me into one who clings to the feet of Jesus, washing his feet with my tears of repentance and dependence (see Luke 7:36–50).

The Pharisee in me wants to be seen and celebrated by human eyes as I do good works or walk in obedience (Matthew 23:5). However, the Spirit is slowly, steadily shaping me into one who is more comfortable with the prayer closet more than the crowds (see Matthew 6:16–18). The Pharisee in me wants to be called teacher, instructor, or mother (Matthew 23:7–12). Nonetheless, the Spirit continually puts in the place of a pupil and child. Jesus called the Pharisees blind guides, but the Spirit would make us seeing servants (Matthew 23:16).

Jesus repeatedly reminded his disciples of the One who searched hearts and prodded them toward purity of heart and motivation. When they were floored and ecstatic about the influence and power they had over demons, he ushered them towards greater joy that their names were written in the book of life (Luke 10:20). 

Obviously influence itself is not a bad thing. But in a culture obsessed with the star-studded and celebrity, we are liable to conflate influence and obedience.

Large-scale influence, for most people, doesn’t last very long. Thus, the coining of the term “five minutes of fame.” Even famous professional athletes have their prime. Eventually, they must learn to adjust to being a role player or someone coming off the bench. I always respect players and pastors who can make this transition with humility and grace. It exposes what has motivated their playing all along. Do they love and respect the game or the fame?

God has given us each a sphere of influence, but that sphere will shrink and enlarge in turns throughout the course of a lifetime. As such, it seems that we would do well to focus on obedience to God and let him determine the size of our spheres. 

Obedience is for a lifetime. Influence is for a season. 

I fear in myself and around me an insatiable hunger for a widening sphere of influence, not for the sake of obedience and the lords glory, but for self-aggrandizement and a feast for the flesh. 

For every widely-scene Christian writer, artist, or teacher, there are scores of people living out extraordinarily ordinary faithfulness in their largely-unseen spheres. I fear that many of them feel less-than in the kingdom. I long that they would know and believe that their long obedience in the same direction deeply honors the Father. 

As always, the Father is far more concerned with the internals than the externals. He is the searcher of hearts and the knower of hearts (Acts 15). This means that He is most concerned with our prayerful obedience. Sometimes that will look like a lull on social media to have our motivations refined. Sometimes that will look like bravely and vulnerably sharing something on a larger platform. He seems to be more concerned that whatever we do, we do it in a manner that exudes humble, faithful obedience. 

Searching Questions:

  1. Do people whom I see regularly know about what I am about to post? Have I shared it with a neighbor, a friend, a disciple?
  2. Is there someone in my non-media life with whom the Lord might have me share these thoughts?
  3. Am I content to obey the Lord doing this, even if no one else ever knows? 
  4. Are there small acts of faithfulness I am neglecting in my hungering after a larger sphere? 
  5. Am I pointing those in my sphere of influence to myself or to the Savior?
  6. Will I gracefully receive the shrinking of my sphere if and when that happens? 
  7. How can I use the platform of influence I have been given in this season to champion the faithfulness of others? To show multiple paths of faithfulness rather than merely the large and loud? 

Whether your platform is the size of a pallet or Radio City Music Hall, the Lord intends you to walk in a faithful obedience that points to the Father in Heaven. 

May the words of our mouths and the mediations of our hearts (and the stewarding of our spheres of influence) be acceptable in your sight, oh Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer (Psalm 19:14). 

On Power Plays and a Peculiar Posture

Presently, churches all across the nation are splitting and splintering, being pulled quite literally left or right. Both sides are claiming their way to transform the culture and both sides are claiming the name of Christ. While both sides think they share little in common, they are both involved in a power play for positions of influence, assuming that God’s primary call on His people is to transform or better culture.

But God’s call on His people is that they become a peculiar people.

Like many of you, my mind has been spinning this past year trying to make sense of what is happening with Christian congregations. Recently, the Lord has used a book written in the 1990’s to help me see more clearly what is happening in the 2020s. In their joint book Resident Aliens, Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon address trends that were planted back in the days of Constantine and have been growing into full-fledged forests by now.

“That which makes the church ‘radical’ and forever ‘new’ is not that the church tends to lean towards the left on most social issues, but rather that the church knows Jesus whereas the world does not. In the church’s view, the political left is not noticeably more interesting than the political right; both sides tend towards solutions that act as if the world has not ended and begun in Jesus (Resident Aliens, page 28).”

Both sides are equally likely to fall into worldly patterns of thinking that change comes through positions of power and political prowess. Believers in either camp can want the right things but go about trying to get them through means that God has not ordained.

The primary job of God’s people is to be the people of God, not to transform culture. Culture may and likely will be transformed, but such transformation will be a by-product, not a means in and of itself.

“For to us, the world ended. We may have thought that Jesus came to make nice people ever nicer, that Jesus hoped to make a democratic Caesar just a little more democratic, to make the world a bit better place for the poor. The Sermon, however, collides with such accommodationist thinking. It drives us back to a completely new conception of what it means for people to live with one another. That completely new conception is the church (Resident Aliens, page 92).”

If the church is to do the work of Christ, the church cannot seek to accomplish His means through the mechanisms of a dying world. God has given us the church as His means to accomplish His work. Practically speaking, this means that Supreme Court justice appointments or decisions, while important, are not our hope. This means that laws enacted by our government do not sideline us from doing the work of God and being the people of God. We do not to be propped up by the government to be His people. In fact, when the laws of the land go against our beliefs, we have an even greater opportunity to stand out.

My fear is that our churches are missing their moment to show the watching world the compelling and true story of the gospel. A pandemic got the world’s attention, but the church has been so engaged in fighting each other, they look no different than the political ads.

When Paul spoke to the Church that he loved and helped establish in Galatia, his heart was heavy over their interactions with one another. They were using their new-found freedom in Christ to further their own agendas and catching each other in the crosshairs of their disparate aims.

“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another (Galatians 5:13-15).

We have been stuck in a brutal power play when we are called to be spending our time on being God’s peculiar people. We don’t need laws to be His peculiar people. We don’t need a sitting president who affirms our ideals. We have His Word and His Spirit, which is all the early church needed to be set apart.

The Church should be odd. We won’t fit neatly into a political system because God’s word wasn’t concerned with political systems. God’s Word was concerned with announcing an altogether different kingdom. In the words of Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, “We want to claim the church’s ‘oddness’ as essential to its faithfulness.”

Oddity 

Often the faithful seem foolish,
Their trust in Your Word naive. 
A world calculated and strategic
Estranges those who believe. 

For the story that grabbed them
Has sunk deep into their veins. 
The storyteller’s life-giving Word
Continues to guide their reins. 

Those who’ve heard such a story
Must see everything in its light. 
The One who’s seen through them 
Has Initiated them into His sight. 

Staking their lives on a Savior
Despised and rejected by men,
They are to reenact His story
Again and again and again. 

As they resist prevailing notions, 
The world calls the meek weak,
When power takes on the posture 
Of gently turning the other cheek. 

The odd way they try to trod
Is labeled limiting and narrow,
For they don’t know the One
Whose Spirit is their marrow. 

Lord, hold our fumbling feet
Fast to your glorious way. 
In your likeness let us live
Until that promised day

Stewarding Silence

“I have a need of silence and of stars.
Too much is said too loudly. I am dazed.
The silken sound of whirled infinity 
Is lost in voices shouting to be heard.”

William Alexander Percy’s words have been running through my mind on and off throughout the summer. In a home of three healthy, vibrant testosterone-laden little boys, silence during the summer is a rarity. In the midst of the trampoline soccer sessions and the Lego trading floor, I found myself longing for the proximate silence that having only the little fella home once school began would provide.

However, now that my boys have been back in school for a few weeks, I have been reminded that stewarding silence and stillness is a struggle. As much as I have craved it and cried out for it, I had forgotten that silence can be terribly uncomfortable.

Daily it is a wrestle for me to get myself to my favorite spot on the couch by the window for long enough to have my heart stilled. There is always another load of laundry I could fold, another email I could send, another sermon I could listen to, or another book I could read. My flesh resists quietness before God, which is all the more reason to fight for it. It seems our enemy and our shadow selves know the rich benefits that only silence before God can offer.

Bonhoeffer, in his thin treasure of a book called Life Together, defines silence as “the simple stillness of the individual under the Word of God.” He continues, “Silence is nothing else but waiting for God’s Word and coming from God’s Word with a blessing.”

Andrew Murray writes something similar in With Christ in the School of Prayer. He explains that all true prayer can only begin when we are stilled enough before God to truly say and mean the simple phrase, “My Father sees, my father hears, my father knows.” That sounds simple, right? It’s only three three-word phrases; however, it is no simple thing for a human heart to be able to say and believe them.

Much of my time on the couch is spent attempting to empty my heart of noise, fears, worries and self-sufficiency by the Spirit’s leading and empowerment. It is far easier to stifle silence by quickly filling it with noise or words or to selfishly squander silence than to steward it.

Mother Theresa taught the Sisters of Charity about the need for silence. “Listen in silence, because if your heart is full of other things you cannot hear the voice of God. But when you have listened to the voice of God in the stillness of your heart, then your heart is filled with God.” She goes on to say, “I shall keep the silence of my heart with greater care, so that in the silence of my heart I hear His words of comfort and from the fullness of my heart I comfort Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor.”

You know I love me some ethereal pondering, but here are some practical ideas to steward silence:

Leave your phone charging in another room while you sleep and during your stolen moments of silence. God gets the first and last word of the day.

Take a walk or hike in a local park or nature center. I do this even with my three yahoos in tow. Even though it is far from silent, God usually gives me a few moments of intimacy with Him somewhere in there. Additionally, this sets a precedent and pattern for our children that being quiet and out in God’s creation is valuable and fun.

Drive a few times a day without the radio. It’s amazing how much time we spend in the car. Little stolen moments add up.

Much depends on our sitting in silence and stillness before God. Much peace is lost, a peace with God that Christ died to secure for us. Many seeds of good works that might have been planted in silence are not sown.

The struggle is real and ongoing, but it is worth the fight to steward our silence.

Strengthened to Stay

Sometimes a slow, incremental exertion is harder to achieve and maintain than a sudden burst of strength.

My mother-in-law being daily empowered to care for her ailing husband is not as exciting in the world’s eyes as someone receiving a burst of dramatic strength to climb the warped wall in American Ninja Warrior; however, her staying strength honors the Lord far more than a sudden burst of short-lived faithfulness.

While marriages that last 25, 50 and 75 years don’t often make headlines here on earth, the sustained staying power deeply pleases and adorns God and His gospel.

Stay-at-home mommas washing the laundry, packing the lunches, and sifting through sibling spats don’t seem like they require slivers of the kratos (dominion power) of God; however, a decade into this calling of motherhood, I can vouch for the fact that the dailyness of motherhood most certainly requires His moment-by-moment empowerment.

Of late, I have been camped out in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. It has been a few weeks, but I haven’t been able to move on from his profound and power-packed prayers for the saints in Colossae.

Reading the depth and sincerity of his prayers is convicting to the core. He goes far beyond “God bless the Colossians” or “Please be with my friends,” placing very specific requests before the throne of God on their behalf.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.
Colossians 1:9-12. 

Notice that none of what Paul asks on their behalf is circumstantial. Paul is not asking for a secure housing situation or safety or provision of a physical need; rather, Paul daily begs God with his ministry partner and son in the faith, Timothy, that their knowledge and understanding of God would continually grow.

Auxano. To increase. To grow. To become greater in size and maturity. Paul uses variations of this word three times in a handful of verses. In the opening of his letter, as he was introducing himself to a church he had never met but only heard about through yet another ministry partner, Epaphras, Paul shares his joy in the way that the gospel had been spreading (Auxano) internally in their hearts and externally in the world. Then, he uses it a third time in his prayer that this same expansion and growth would continue always.

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Paul longs that their hearts and minds would grow in wisdom (sophia) and understanding (sunesis). He then prays that such wisdom would inform their living, their manner of life, causing them to bear fruit and consistently please the Lord in all things, the big and the little, the seen and the unseen.

Next, Paul starts dropping power words like a piñata drops candy. He prays that they would be strengthened (dunamoumenoi) with all power (dunamei), according to God’s glorious might (kratos).

Why all the focus on power? At this point, it feels like we are in a roller coaster that is slowly climbing the first huge hill, building up power and momentum. But to what end?

For all endurance and patience with joy (verse 11). 

Really? Doesn’t that seem a little underwhelming. Shouldn’t Paul have given us something big and wowing, like a fireworks show?

At first, I felt let down after all the power-filled words led up to enduring and long-suffering, rather than a sudden, phenomenal act or display of strength.

Then I realized that staying the course, remaining in the places and roles God has apportioned for us, however exciting or bland they may be, takes a far greater exertion of sustained strength than a sudden and dramatic act of prowess or strength.

He strengthens and empowers us, placing his dunamis (from which we get the word dynamite) in us that we might stay the course, living lives worthy of the callings we have received.

This morning, I find myself deeply grateful for the strength to stay. To stay the course, to not despise the day of small things, to do small things with great love as unto Him.

Today, may you, likewise, be strengthened to stay where God has placed you in quiet faithfulness.

Growing Backwards: Thoughts on General Revelation

I hate to admit it, but for a long time, I lived like I had outgrown general revelation. In college, I remember taking a course called Faith and Reason that taught me the words and corresponding concepts of general revelation and special revelation.

General revelation refers to the knowledge about God that can be gained through observation of the world He created all around us. Special revelation refers to the fuller knowledge of God that can only be revealed by God’s Word through the power and insight of the Holy Spirit.

At the time when I learned these concepts, the names said it all. General revelation sounded, well,  mundane and general, compared to special revelation, whose name carried an esoteric and elite tone.

Right before college, I was brought into the world of special revelation, though the words and concepts didn’t click for a few more years. Before my conversion, the Word of God was merely a confusing reading from the lectionary on Christmas and Easter; however, with the indwelling of the Spirit, the Bible was no longer idle words for me, but my very life (Deuteronomy 32:47). Somewhere shortly thereafter, I inadvertently set general and special revelation at odds with one another.

In my mind, general revelation was like an old step stool, necessary only until special revelation was received and allowed me to stand fully in awe of God. General revelation was for spiritual babies who had not yet seen the bigger show of the gospel. In light of these unspoken, almost subconscious thoughts, I pushed general revelation into the attic where it gathered dust.

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A dozen or so years after my conversion, I have found myself growing backwards, pulling general revelation back out.

Don’t get me wrong, my view toward special revelation has not changed an iota. God’s fullest revelation of Himself in the person of Jesus is truly the masterpiece, the crux, the keystone, the cornerstone of my life.  I continue to proclaim the words the Holy Spirit spoke through Peter at the inception of Christendom. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved. Acts 4:12. 

However, over time and with continual hearing (in bodies still ravaged by the dying flesh) we can grow accustomed to the grace of the gospel. We can begin living in a world marked by of courses.  “Of course God came to the earth and redeemed humanity. Of course He set His love on us.” Unfortunately, special revelation can begin to sound matter-of-fact or ho-hum to us, as familiarity tends to breed contempt.

When I find myself in these places, more often than not, God uses general revelation to snap me out the world of of course and back into the world of wonder at special revelation.

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The more I observe the bugs and butterflies,  the landscapes and sunsets that fall into the realm of general revelation, the more special special revelation seems. The God who created an insanely elaborate circulatory system in the giraffe to allow blood to flow against gravity to its head is the God who shed His own blood for me?  The God who mapped out the incredible migratory abilities of monarchs migrated to earth to speak to me?

General revelation reminds me of the immensity and ingenuity of a limitless Creator God. When God becomes more vast and more imaginative, more complex and more mysterious, the reality of special revelation becomes more amazing.

Today, on Earth Day, I pray that we would be Christians who lean fully into the world general revelation that makes us live more in awe of special revelation.

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The Seeing Ministry of Jesus

We hear often about the preaching ministry of Jesus or the healing ministry of Jesus or the discipling ministry of Jesus. And well we should. However, each of these has its beginning in the seeing ministry of Jesus. 

How Jesus Saw

The Greek word “horao,” which is most often translated as “see,” carries deeper meaning than mere physical sight. It implies perception, discernment, and experience. This one word is used a dizzying 138 times in the gospel of Matthew alone. Obviously, Matthew sought to capture something about Jesus and his ministry of sight.

In Matthew 4, directly after his season of temptation in the wilderness, the first thing Jesus did in his public ministry was to simply see.

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen (Matthew 4:18).

While that may seem like an unnecessary detail, the Holy Spirit, through Matthew, intended these words for purpose. Fishermen were a dime a dozen by the Sea of Galilee. That would be like saying to a person from Great Britain, “Walking into the stadium, I saw a soccer fan.” Of course, he saw fishermen. But Jesus saw these particular fishermen. He perceived them, saw their hearts, and acknowledged their existence in a way that no one else had. He saw them for who they were on the surface, but he saw far beyond that to the level of their souls. He knew who He intended to make them into and His seeing changed their sight.

Later, when Jesus was on his itinerant preaching and healing circuit with these same disciples whom He had seen, Matthew tells us the following.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest (Matthew 9:36–38).

In every town and village He entered, Jesus saw the crowds. Yes, he saw them physically, but He also saw them spiritually. He saw their troubled souls and their leaderless-ness. He saw their spiritual hunger and their broken condition, and His sight stirred his soul to pray.

In fact, just before this summary statement regarding Jesus’s sight, Matthew shares with us the story of Jesus seeing a woman who was hidden in shame and fear from her chronic bleeding condition. She had a plan to sneak up behind Jesus and merely touch his garment to be healed and then sneak away. But, Jesus, in His compassion, saw her.

Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well” (Matthew 9:22).

Perhaps more powerful than the miraculous stopping of her decades-long bleeding was the reality that Jesus saw her and acknowledged her. In fact, He named her daughter, using it in the same cherished, doting way the ruler spoke of his own physical daughter just moments before. 

How We See

While subbing in my son’s second grade classroom last week, I experienced a profound moment with the Lord. As it was a Friday, I tasked with administering a slew of tests. By the third test, some of the children were hitting a scholastic stride, but some were struggling. One of these little girls came up to me in tears later and asked to have lunch with me. She said she was not having a very good day, and my selfish heart which was craving solitude melted. We sat and chatted about her water bottle, her vacation, her hair clip, and about twenty other seemingly insignificant things. About fifteen minutes later, she skipped happily off to recess, leaving me with my thoughts.

She simply needed to be seen. Really seen. And known. And in those quiet moments, the Lord reminded me that I was no different.

My heart has simply found more sophisticated ways to try to fill that same need to be seen. Body image, significant work, approval and rewards. All of these are my ways to be seen. I had to wipe away tears from eyes as the students came charging back in from recess. I was just like them. We all wanted to be seen.

Thankfully, we have a seeing savior. As those seen and known by the living God, we are invited into His ministry of sight.

While writing to the Corinthian Church, the Apostle Paul reminded them that their method of seeing had changed through the gospel.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer (2 Corinthians 5:16).

The hospice worker who slows down on her rounds to see my mother-in-law’s caregiving fatigue and asks about her flower arrangements, knowing it brings her relief from the harsh realities of debilitating disease. 

The counselor who sees his or her client’s scars and creates a safe place to process their pain.

The after-school care worker who sees the last student to be picked up, waiting on his or her parents to come off of a long shift at work as a single parent.

We don’t need a seminary degree or a doctorate in biblical counseling to join our Jesus in the ministry of sight (though those are great things to have). Each one of us is called to be conformed to the image of Jesus, the One who sees.

Jesus, remind us each today that you see us as no one else does. As those who are seen and loved in Christ, give us eyes to see as you see. Amen.

A Scriptural Stomachache

We go to the Word of God to settle our souls. We look to fill ourselves with God’s words that are sweeter than honey (Psalm 19:9–10). We rush quickly to grab the promises contained therein. And well we should.

But, read rightly, the Scriptures should also unsettle us. They should stir us up. They should prod us with commands as they protect us with promises. We should sometimes leave our time in the Word with a Scriptural stomach-ache. God’s Word both comforts and confronts.

God’s Word is certainly sweet; however, it is simultaneously a sword and scalpel (Hebrews 4:12–13). We don’t get to choose which one we get when we open the Word. We let the Spirit of God do His painstaking work in us. Sometimes that work feels like a gentle hug, but sometimes it feels like an invasive search light.

Eugene Peterson’s book Eat This Book about a proper approach to the Scriptures is built around the Apostle John’s strange vision in Revelation 10. After seeing a mighty angel come down from heaven and stand with his right foot on the sea and his left on the land open up a scroll and begin preaching, John wanted to take notes. He wanted to record this crazy scene he was witnessing; however, he was instructed to step forward and eat the scroll.

Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go take the scroll that is open in the hands of the angel who is standing on the sea and the land… Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey” (Revelation 10:8–9).

While the scene sounds as strange to us as it likely was to John, Peterson’s words regarding the bitterness of the Scriptures deeply resonated with some of my experiences in the Word of God.

“But sooner or later we find that not everything is to our liking in this book. It starts out sweet to our taste; and then we find that it doesn’t sit well with us at all; it becomes bitter in our stomaches. Finding ourselves in this book is most pleasant, flattering even; and then we find that the book is not written to flatter us, but to involve us in a reality, God’s reality, that doesn’t cater to our fantasies of ourselves.”

Lately, I have been reading the book of Acts with a few groups of women. But rather than reading Luke’s account, I feel like the Holy Spirit has been reading my own lackluster faith back to me.

The early church was marked with expedient obedience, wonder, awe, and expectancy. My own walk with God is often more muted and mundane. Often, I don’t see God doing the same types things because I am not obeying and living with my eyes wide open. While the accounts of the early church first stirred me, the longer I sit in them, I find my heart increasingly sickened by my selfishness and lack of trusting obedience.

I don’t like feeling convicted. It is terribly uncomfortable to be exposed as one who likes to talk and write about the gospel but is slow to share it with others. But God’s Word is doing its good work and beginning to compel me to simple obedience in the spaces where God has placed me. If I want fresh accounts of God’s faithfulness, I will have to step out in clumsy obedience and faith to my neighbors and fellow soccer mommas.

Read slowly and spiritually, the Scriptures should sometimes leave us with a stomachache. The Word of God convicts and exposes, but it will not leave us there. For the sick finally seek the aid of a physician, and the soul sick will run to the gospel medicine offered by the Great Physician.

When was the last time the timeless and timely Word of God left you with a tummy ache?

Being Chased by a Lion

Throughout this entire year, a short phrase from a worship has been running long loops in my heart, mind, and soul.

“Your goodness is running after, it’s running after me.”

Typically, I don’t like being chased in any form or fashion; however, a happy exception can be made for the idea of being chased by the goodness of God.

“Your goodness is running after, it’s running after me.”

It’s a catchy phrase to a melodic tune. As such, it doesn’t surprise me that I find myself humming it as I vacuum the hallway or singing it as I sit waiting in the carpool line. Yet, I find myself wrestling with what it implies for our lives.

After all, when we think about being chased by the goodness of God, we tend to think of dreams fulfilled, longings met, and successes secured. When we think of goodness chasing us down, we tend to bring our own picture of goodness to bear.

However, the longer I have sat with this phrase and sung this song, the more I realize that God’s goodness running after me tends to look and feel wildly and widely different than I imagine it might.

His goodness does not take the tame, worldly molds I wish it might. Rather, His goodness more often takes the form of a scouring brush or a sharp goad pressing me in ways that I do not initially wish to trod. Sometimes, his goodness running after me seems to take the form of suffering and hardship nipping at my heels as I am seeking to arrive in a place of long-desired comfort and rest.

In C.S. Lewis’s book The Horse and His Boy, the main character Shasta experiences goodness running after him in sharp and even frightening forms.

Throughout his horse back journey, a young boy Shasta has multiple experiences of a lion pursuing him. The lion chases him, forcing them to swim for his life. Then later, the lion chased and even wounded his traveling companion just when they thought they were finally about to reach their destination.

Exhausted, confused, and feeling sorry for himself, Shasta begins to open up to a mysterious companion about all the interruptions and troubles that had seemed to follow him all of his life.

“I do not call you unfortunate,” said the Large Voice.
“Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?” said Shasta.
“There was only one lion,” said the Voice.
“What on earth do you mean? I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and –”
“There was only one: but he was swift of foot.”
“How do you know?”
“I was the Lion….I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so you could reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.” …

Shasta was no longer afraid that the Voice belonged to something that would eat him, nor that it was the voice of a ghost. But a new and different sort of trembling came over him. Yet he felt glad too” (pages 175-176).

All along he thought danger and harm were pursuing him. Yet, the One who was chasing him had been guiding him and pushing him towards his desired end. It did not make sense until much later that the Lion was protecting and providing for his perilous journey.

Just as Aslan pursued Shasta, our God pursues us. Only He does not always chase us with a lottery check or a basket of obvious blessings. His goodness is so much deeper and wider and longer than our small and earthly images of goodness. He chases us with His goodness in varied forms that often do not feel like blessing or prosperity. But his chasing and provision always press us towards the ultimate Good. He keeps us moving toward His glory which is our ultimate good, even when we would prefer an easier, less arduous way.

He stands as a rear guard behind us (Isaiah 52:12 and Isaiah 58:8). He hems us in behind and before (Psalm 139:5). He follows us as a watchful parent trails a child just learning to ride a bike, ready to catch or steer or redirect.

His goodness is indeed running after us, but it is a goodness that barely fits into the tiny boxes of what we typically define as good. His goodness always runs after us, chasing us deeper into the everlasting arms of the only One who is truly good (see Mark 10:18 and Luke 18:19).

This Good One runs after us today. May we not miss His goodness and all its sometimes surprising forms.