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One story that is strangely encouraging to me about life and ministry comes from an interaction Jesus had with a dad whose son was overtaken by an evil spirit. (Mark 9:14-29)

The father brought his son to Jesus’ disciples hoping that they could cure him. After many attempts the disciples resigned to the fact that they couldn’t do it.

At this point the father turned to Jesus and asked, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” Jesus said, “If you can? Everything is possible for one who believes.” To which the father responded, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.”

I find this story encouraging for two reasons.

1. The disciples failed. I hate failing. Who doesn’t? There is nothing worse than being confronted with your own limitations and inadequacies. Whether in your job, relationships or in personal goals, failure always hurts. Especially after having had some success, failure can leave us deflated and questioning whether or not we should continue.

At this point in their ministry the disciples have a reputation for healing people. Earlier in Mark’s gospel Jesus gave them authority and power to drive evil spirits (Mark 6:7). And they’ve proven they can do it. But in this situation, they can’t and they’re confused by their failure.

As a pastor, sometimes I find myself believing I am not allowed to fail.  I’m supposed to have all the answers and always know what to do. Sometimes I find myself believing I’m supposed to lead with decisive courage and strength and never second guess a decision. But the truth is, if these guys who walked and talked with the living Christ didn’t always get it right, why should I think any different for myself?

The truth is, when I live and lead with the mentality that I can’t fail, I assume the belief that ministry success is about me and relies on me. In a strange way, failure brings a measure of freedom when it causes us to throw ourselves at the feet of Jesus knowing that He can do the things we can’t.

2. The father doesn’t believe. The word that comes to mind when thinking about the father in this story is hopeless. After having cared for his needy son for years on end, I can imagine the father is worn out and overwhelmed. Knowing that Jesus’ disciple have a reputation and ability to heal, he probably experienced a measure of hope thinking things for he and his son could be different.

After living in a difficult situation for an extended period of time, having hope that things might change can be dangerous. Each time you believe things could change, only to discover they don’t, further cements the belief that your situation is beyond repair. You start to believe you are destined for this reality for the rest of your life. The more this happens, the more you grow guarded and skeptical.

On the heels of another failed attempt for change, the father comes to Jesus wondering if he also is unable to do anything for him and his son. Hence his statement, “…if you can do anything.”

When I desire for situations in my life to change, I find that I look other places before I come to Jesus. I seek out advice from friends. I do research and weigh my options. Often, only after I’ve exhausted all other avenues do I come to Jesus for help. Typically by that point I’m half-hearted in my belief that Jesus can and will help.

But what I find most encouraging about both of these interactions is, even though Jesus is a bit harsh in his response, He still says yes. Jesus’ help isn’t dependent on how successful we are or how strong our belief is. Jesus helps and heals because he loves. Earlier in Mark’s gospel Jesus says, “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

No one sets out to fail or have weak faith, but even still, Jesus is willing even when we fall flat on our face or give up and throw in the towel.

Where have you seen Jesus meet you in your failure and unbelief?

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While working on my previous post, “I don’t wanna be alone,” I came across this video by Shimi Cohen. It’s a very creative and well thought through piece that highlights the epidemic of loneliness in our culture. If you have 4 minutes it’s definitely worth the time. The video draws on a TED talk given by Sherry Turkle titled, Connected, But Alone. If you have 20 minutes her TED talk is insightful and thought provoking. I would love to hear your thoughts on either. Enjoy!

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Over the weekend my family and I were hanging around my house with no where to go. As it happens, our oldest two girls (4 and 2 years) were following my wife and I like ducklings following their mother. If we went to the kitchen, they went to the kitchen. If we went to the living room, they went to the living room.

At one point I slipped into our bedroom and our oldest daughter followed. She made herself at home at the desk in our room, pulled out a pen and paper and began to draw. I don’t remember why I went into the bedroom, but after a few moments I was headed out on to what was next.

As I passed by our daughter sitting at the desk, I leaned down to kiss her on the head before walking through the bedroom door when she said with earnest, “Daddy, wait! Don’t leave! I don’t wanna be alone!” I replied back saying that she didn’t have to stay and she could go where I was going. She quickly gathered her things off the desk and trailed behind me out the door.

As we walked out of the room together I was struck by the thought of how loneliness is the prevailing fear for so many people. We were created to be in relationship. We were made for authentic connection, but in a society that values individualistic self actualization, loneliness is an epidemic that’s running wild.

We live in a time when connecting with others has never been easier. In fact, between tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram pictures and blog comments, the majority of people in our society are always connected, all the time. Between our mobile devices and social networks, getting in touch with anyone anywhere in the world at any given time is as simple as swiping your finger across a screen. The irony is, even with all of these opportunities to connect, people find themselves isolated and alone.

But I wonder if in part, even though were afraid of being alone, we’re equally afraid of being in true relationship. Relationships are hard and messy. They’re complex and require deep commitment. They demand significant investment and they don’t come with a guarantee.

Among other things, true relationships and authentic connection require three things.

1. Time - True relationship requires the investment of time. It’s one thing to “like” a picture or a Facebook post and have a conversation with a friend through out the day in bursts of 140 characters or less, but it’s another thing to sit face to face and talk through the deeper and more meaningful things of life. It’s been said, in relationships, you can’t have quality time with out quantity of time. In day in age when time is money and productivity is king, we are always looking for ways to get the biggest return from the least investment, but relationships don’t work that way. True relationships develop over lots of time together.

2. Vulnerability – Living our lives online affords us the opportunity to edit our lives as we go. We are able to project a manufactured image of who we are, what we look like and the experiences we have. We have the ability to control what other people see of our lives. Which means we can hide the parts of our lives we don’t want people to see. But being in true relationship is about being known for who we really are, even our fears, failures and insecurities. In order for people to see these parts of us, we have to be willing to take off our digitally constructed masks and reveal what lies underneath.

3. Self-Sacrifice - Much of our modern society is built around the question, “What’s in it for me?” Relationships built on that question are short-lived and shallow. In order for a relationship to last there has to be a willingness to be inconvenienced by the relationship.  When we go into a relationship looking only to receive, we will quickly exit the relationship when our needs and expectations aren’t being met. True relationships develop when we communicate love through sacrifice and service, by putting the other person before ourself.

In light of all of this, even though we may not want to be alone, perhaps it’s safer than being in relationship. True relationship is risky and costly. It’s not for the faint of heart. So while, just like my 4-year-old, we say, “I don’t want to be alone.” We must ask, are we willing to find the courage to take off our masks, give of our selves and put others first?

1. Where have you seen these three things play out in deep relationships that you have?
2. What other things would you add to this list?

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