Recently, I was reflecting with a group of people about the significant differences in the way that Jesus heals people in the gospels.  We were talking about Mark's gospel, but this is consistent across all four.  It's remarkable, really.  Sometimes Jesus simply says the word, and a person is healed from miles away; or he tells a paralyzed man to pick up his mat and walk and the guy does.  Sometimes, Jesus touches a person, or is touched by a person and they're healed.  Sometimes there's spit and mud involved.  Sometimes it takes more than one try, other times the healing is immediate.  It's kind of an odd witness to the way Jesus moved through the world--why the disparity? 

Then again, my friend pointed out, maybe it's a faithful witness to the way Jesus continues to move through the world.  Maybe each instance of healing is a reminder that Jesus isn't an objective, arm's-length miracle worker, but the intimate, personal presence of God.  Perhaps the truth is that each person needed to be healed differently.  Maybe one person needed to be touched, while another needed to reach out.  Maybe one needed spit and mud--tangible, material things--while another needed just a word.  Maybe one needed time, while another needed God's saving power now.  Maybe one needed his sins forgiven first, while another needed compassion and mercy. 

Is this not how God is with us, with our neighbors?  My faith story isn't the same as yours, because God doesn't work in general terms.  Your experience of Jesus isn't the same as mine, because Jesus insists on dealing with us, healing and loving and making us whole, as individuals.  Individualism has no place in the Church--we are all members of one Body (1 Corinthians 12), meant to grow and work together, for the sake of this God-beloved world.  But one of the most significant claims of our faith is that each person matters, especially and infinitely to the God who made each of us and whose image we bear (Genesis 1). 

I admit that I sometimes have "conversion envy."  I don't always feel like my faith story is terribly interesting.  I don't have a Damascus Road moment.  Instead, there have been lots of smaller moments along the way--and lots of divine patience.  All of which adds up to a story of salvation which is still being written; a story with cosmic value; a story of healing and repentance and forgiveness; a story all bound up in the redeeming, new-creation work of God.  We do ourselves no favours when we look down the pew and wonder why God isn't doing something in our lives that we see God doing in someone else's.  Because then we risk missing out on the fact that God is always dealing personally, intimately, lovingly with us.  And that Jesus invites us to deal personally, intimately, lovingly with him.

Life that is Truly Life

As I continue to work through the Book of Acts (slowly...), I've become more aware of all the different ways that Paul does the work of sharing the good news of Jesus, wherever he happens to be.  Whether he's working with Priscilla and Aquila in the tent-maker's stall, in the Corinthian market or talking to Athenian philosophers in the midst of idols, being dragged in front of the authorities for causing holy mischief or simply resting among friends, arguing in the synagogues or shipwrecked on an island, every moment seems to be pregnant with gospel possibility.  Sometimes his work is really intentional--going to where the religious folks are and proclaiming Jesus.  Sometimes the message bursts forth spontaneously--in front of a magistrate, or guest-preaching in the Areopagus.  What seems clear is that wherever he is, whatever the situation, Paul is eager to practice what he preaches: to let everything, all his words and deeds, be interwoven with the name of Jesus, to the glory of God, no matter the cost (I Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17). 

Now, one could make the case that Paul has a bit of a one-track-mind, by which we might dismiss him as a touch over-zealous.  We are, after all, part of a culture that is usually willing to let us believe what we want about the world, about life and God and sin and redemption, and whatnot--as long as we don't inconvenience anyone else with those beliefs.  And there are lots of days where, if I'm honest, that's alright with me.  And I'm sometimes inclined to fall back on the biblical truth that not everyone is meant to be a capital E Evangelist.  I have different spiritual gifts.  I really and truly believe that God chose Paul to do the critical work that Paul had to do precisely because he was the kind of guy who had that kind of one-track bullheadedness.  What he was called to do required an uncommon focus, relentless single-mindedness.  He was just wired that way; I'm not.

But whether or not we are built like Paul, and whether or not our gifts are specially tuned to the kind of teaching and preaching and witness that Paul, and the great Evangelists of the Church have done, the Scriptures do warn us against double-mindedness (James 1:7, 8).  As we grow up in Christ (Ephesians 3), the good news of Jesus, the hope, peace, joy and love of God (or the Fruits of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22), begin to take shape in everything we do.  There isn't secular work and Christian worship; there aren't some times that matter to God and others that don't; the gospel isn't a kind of spiritual broach that we pin on our "real life" to make us well-rounded citizens of the world.  Instead, our hope is that all things are being gathered up in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:3-13), all things are being made new (Revelation 21:5), even us, even here and now.  This is not a threat; it's a promise, into which we're wondrously called. 

The goal of the gospel is "life that is truly life" (I Timothy 6:19; John 10:10), that everything we do would be infused with the grace and love and joy of Jesus, the way, truth, and life (John 14:6).  So what if we were to ask God regularly what areas of our lives we are trying to keep separate from our Christian hope, trying to handle and manage on our own?  Where are we living "double-minded" lives?  What if, instead of worrying about what people think, we asked the Holy Spirit to guide us in every area of our lives?  It's a risk, to be sure.  Jesus regularly calls us to give up our lives, for him and heaven's kingdom (Luke 9:23-25).  But the promise is that when we do, we'll find our truest life, we will be more who we are meant to be than we can even imagine; and we'll be in cahoots with the God whose dream for us and this world is wildly good. 

If you want to know more about how to pray in this way, let me know.  I'd be very glad to talk with you.  Email me at     

What's Your Story?

I've been reading through the Book of Acts lately.  Something that stuck out to me this time around is the times that whole stories are repeated.  Specifically, it happens with Peter, and his vision in Joppa--a turning point in the inclusion of Gentiles in the Church (Acts 10, 11); and it happens with Paul's conversion story--three times we get the whole thing, with very little change in detail (Acts 9:1-19; 22:6-16; 26:12-18, not to mention Galatians 1, and other bits in Paul's letters). 

It occurs to me that this sort of thing happens more often than we might expect in Scripture.  In both the Old and New Testaments we get stories--personal stories, national stories, Jesus stories--repeated and riffed on.  This is a good reminder that when it comes to talking about our faith, life with God, the ways and means of God in this world--creation, salvation, grace, mercy, love, renewal, and on and on--stories matter.  Our stories matter.  We need to attend to them, and we need to tell them.

One of the difficult things for those of us who have grown up in the Church, or at least been hanging around for a long time, is paying attention to our stories--the particular ways that God has moved and acted and saved, in our own lives.  There's a reason that new converts often make good evangelists, are often better at sharing their faith than those of us to who faith has become second nature: their story is fresh, it's clear, it's new and wondrous!  The person who has just come to know the love of God, in Christ; the one who has just experienced the freedom of forgiveness, the newness of repentance; the one who has a sudden, unexpected rush of gospel hope; these folks have a story that often seems to overflow from them, like they can't help themselves.  They know the difference between life before and life after they started to follow Jesus, and experience his grace and love.  For those of us who have been at this a while, our own stories can fade into the background and lose some of their potency. 

I have sometimes said that I have "conversion envy."  I don't consider my faith story all that exciting.  I don't have a Damascus Road moment; the pivotal times in my life haven't been all angels and visions.  But the truth is, if I think back, I can point to times--minutes and days and months--where God moved in my life in ways that were utterly unexpected, and shaped my Christian walk in ways that only make sense years later.  Eugene Peterson writes, β€œThe Bible makes it clear that every time that there is a story of faith, it is completely original. God's creative genius is endless.”   There's no need, or warrant, for conversion envy in the Church.  We don't need to be struck down by a blinding, heavenly light, for the story of God's movement in our lives to be a thing of wonder.  What we need is attention to the personal ways in which God's love and grace have been active in our lives; we need attention to the ways in which we have been healed, our eyes opened to the glory of God; we need to savour those moments of clarity, that testify in us and through us to the truth of the gospel, the truth of God's redeeming love in the world.  And we need to develop an ease in sharing those moments of truth and wonder, so that we're ready to give an account of what gives us hope (I Peter 3:15).  

So, what's your story?  What are your stories?  If, like me, you have a hard time attending to your, pray about that.  Ask God to show you some moments, some times in your life, when God's guidance and grace carved out an unexpected path.  Ask God to remind you of moments of mercy, or a time when you felt God's presence in a special way.  (That might be a moment last week, last year, or decades ago.)  Write down whatever pictures, words, or phrases come into your mind--don't worry about editing, you can always pray through stuff after the fact.  Give thanks to God for your story, for the sure and certain knowledge, made clear in Jesus, that God cares about you, about all our comings and goings, and that your life, our lives, are the stuff that heaven's kingdom of hope, peace, joy, and love will be built with.  And then why not share some of what you see and/or hear in prayer with someone you trust.  Practice telling your story.  It matters.