Parable of the Samaritan: There’s Life Being the Rescued. There’s Life Being the Rescuer.

Good morning! It is great to be with you. I am freshly back home after spending time away with family. I’m very aware of the luxury of having vacation and time off that many of us but not all of us get to have. So I’m doubly grateful to have the time away and to be welcomed back to this community to deliver a message of hope, life, and good news. God’s Spirit does speak even on vacation.  


A big chunk of my early years were spent in sunny southern California. The mountains, when you could see them through smog, were usually snow capped, and about 45 minutes away. And the cool waters of the Pacific Ocean was also about 45 minutes away in another direction. 

I remember that my Dad was always coming home with a “new to us car” that he purchased from a car auction.

One day my Dad came home with a motorhome for us to take on a summer family cross country road trip. 

We took to the road for a really fun road trip that we remembered for the rest of our lives. From the Pennsylvania Liberty Bell and Philly cheesesteaks to the monuments in DC, it was historic. But somewhere on an Arizona highway our motorhome flipped over onto its side going at a decent highway speed. 

I was in the back of the motorhome looking for a board game to play, singing a little song out loud to myself or to God, and the suitcases which were stacked up in the shower, for optimal storage space, all came crashing onto me and trapped me for a few minutes.  My family called to one another that we were okay, and my sister, pulled me out from underneath the clothes loaded suitcases. Miraculously, no one was seriously injured. I don’t remember much, but I do remember someone with strong arms pulling me up and out of the motorhome and as I stood in the shade of the fallen motorhome waiting for the rest of my family, a young woman noticed my head was bleeding. 

She eagerly, sweetly, cheerfully remembered she had a t-shirt in the back of the trunk of her car and returned quickly to give it to me so I could stop the bleeding. 

As a 10-year-old I don’t remember very many details, like how we ended up in a hotel or how we ended up back home to California (my mom said A LOT of people stopped to help), but I do remember the radiance and open handedness of that one person and I remember thinking to myself “Wow. How kind. Would I have done that?” I was grateful that she stopped to help me and aided in our family being rescued from that highway accident.

Today, we’re in the 4th week of a less topic based summer sermon series. Reservoir church is following a traditional scriptural reading called the Lectionary— an assigned assortment of readings for each day. 

I’ve been listening to my co-workers’ sermons online and I’ve noticed some similar themes emerging — even in today’s sermon, even without consulting one another, there’s consistency in the thematic nature of our sermons and what we’re gleaning from these scriptures. We’re inspired by the same Holy Spirit

The Good Samaritan

The principle scripture we’ll look at today is Luke 10. It’s a familiar passage to many in the religious world and even in the medical world, laws have been established after this passage. 

Let’s read The Parable of the Good Samaritan.

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[c]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[d]” 28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[e] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Points: No & Yes

Some helpful and unhelpful views of helping others: The point of this talk is not for us to be guilted in helping everyone we come across in need, nor is it to develop a martyr syndrome where we are sacrificially living for the service of others at the expense of ourselves. An unhelpful way of looking at serving others is through obligation or shame. 

The command for us, is to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus says, do this and you will live. It’s motivating for us to help others not only because Jesus says to do it, but because there’s life in being the rescuer, and there’s life in being rescued. We invest in others because it’s worth the cost for them and for us. 

Soft Power

I came across this phrase “soft power” coined by an American political scientist in the 80’s, named Joseph Nye.  “Soft power” is a way to influence or persuade others to want what you want, culturally, economically, in international relations through the admiration of the others values, and aspiring to their openness and prosperity, all without employing coercive measures. It strikes me that maybe parables was one method of influence employed by teachers in Jesus’ day. Getting others to want the same outcomes without a coercive approach. 

Questions & Bystander Effect

If Jesus is using this parable to answer the lawyer’s question about neighbor, the story only raised more questions for me. Maybe this parable also activated the social psychologist in you to ask some of the same questions I had, like:

Why was it so hard for the Levite and the priest to stop and help this person in need?They saw a situation where they were in a position to respond, and instead they actively avoided it.  For starters, maybe they were just selfish and late for a very important meeting. Okay, that’s a little harsh and judgmental. So maybe they didn’t know how to help, so they didn’t do anything. They may have assumed someone else knew more or could respond more effectively so they just left the situation as is. (This bystanding effect is called Pluralistic ignorance)- I’ve certainly been in situations like this. Or maybe they didn’t know if this person was still conscious, or “permanently” asleep. Does this person still need help? (ambiguity of need). Maybe they thought someone else would help (diffusion of responsibility). Or maybe they had a bad back and they couldn’t lift the body (there was some danger or cost to helping). Maybe there was some purity or social laws that they feared (fearing disapproval). 


I was talking with Steve, our senior pastor, about this topic and it made him recall a study from an episode called “Launching a Behavior Change Revolution” from the podcast Freakonomics. Tom Gilovich a Psychologist from Cornell University, did a study on regret. He and his team found that even though there was more immediate pain and consequence to regret of an action taken, over the course of life the more enduring pain was regret of inaction — advice people never followed up, a choice not taken, a priority or value ignored, a career path they didn’t end up pursuing. The team interviewed college students, prisoners in a state prison, a sample of geniuses, and group after group after group folks were found to regret their inactions.  One category of regret was due to fear of social consequences — this “spotlight effect,” the fear of what others would think of them if they were to choose that action (e.g. not going to a gym because the person next to them would be running at a faster speed, or afraid to take music lessons because they didn’t want others to hear them sing). Tom’s advice is the same as Nike’s slogan — just do it. Don’t wait for inspiration. Take the plunge. Inspiration comes from engaging in the activity.

It’s not just me or these researchers saying, but in fact The World Health Organization said that “bystanders must feel empowered to act and confident they will not suffer adverse consequences” (page 3)

This passage challenged me to look at what makes me “walk” past other people in need? Last week my family went on a rare outing, out to breakfast at a chain restaurant. My kids and I peered eagerly over the top of our booth over at the cooks window hoping for signs of our order. It took over 40 minutes for our breakfast to arrive. Our server apologized for the wait and said her mind was preoccupied with a customer who tried to walk out on a bill that was almost a $100. That really was terrible. Honestly. But I was still hungry, and it was a long wait. 

Just moments before our food had arrived, I was in no graceful mood. Let me just tell ya. My unhappiness had grown after I saw the fourth booth of folks who had come in long after us, get their food, finish it, and leave. I was so unhappy that I told my husband, if our breakfast didn’t come in the next minute, we were walking out of there and going to get donuts. 

But our food did arrive in that minute (the order was also wrong). And after we got that apology, stuffed ourselves and given our bill, the moment of grace and truth had arrived. Tip time. I milled around with the kids while my husband paid and we walked out of there. When we got into the car, the first thing I asked was, how much he had tipped. He said, just over 20%.  I was flabbergasted and my heart was sputtering trying to come up for air. Wait. Really?  I would’ve given 10% for the inconvenience. 

My mind was moved at the thought of being gracious and generous to someone (who just had a bad day)… because, really folks, those few extra dollars worth of kindness could’ve been meaningful to someone who was just having a bad morning/afternoon. But to be honest, my heart was being choked by stinginess and a sense of fairness and the meaning of a service tip.  It took me a few days, and to be honest I think I’m still in need of the jaws of life to pry open my stingy heart.

I read an old study in the Oxford University Press on medical doctors in travel medicine. In general these medical providers were in essence Good Samaritans from the nature of their career — traveling to a distant land, providing care. What I found interesting was that the decision to treat a patient even in remote places and regardless of the severity of the medical problem, was assessed by these doctors,  based on the distance from the patient and an established medical facility. So, if the distance was suitable they were more likely to lend aid to the patient.

 To me, I boiled this down to a matter of hope in the ability of the person to live. 

A Matter of Hope

That got me thinking about the Samaritan in Jesus’ parable. Our hero. And one who I believed possessed fearless hope — A hope that his efforts of aid would help to preserve life. Helping someone always has a cost and there is no guaranteed outcome. It’s highly risky. 

What was the motivation of the Samaritan rescuer? It goes back to Jesus’ original words, to love your neighbor as yourself. Perhaps the Samaritan knew what it was like to be beat up, to be overlooked, to be passed by, to have the value of her life or his life evaluated and determined by someone else? Perhaps the Samaritan knew such depth of despair and physical pain, that that compassion overrode every other fear and inconvenience. That Samaritan saw themselves in the body and flesh of that broken and bruised individual left on the road to die. I imagine the Samaritan tenderly taking a bruised and swelling limb of the traveler, carefully wrapping it, stabilizing bones that were out of place, speaking in a few words or not at all or detailing what they were going to do next “I’ve GOT you.”

That’s why peer support for those of us in recovery is so powerful — it’s because “just yesterday, we were in the ditch.” Those of us with lived experience of recovery of a condition or disorder are the most impactful to those living and strugging with the condition or disorder of today. As peer support we are impactful because we see ourselves in the life of another. 

Guilt is not a motivating factor in this situation.  Guilt is short lived. Guilt can become toxic to all involved. 

But what is good fuel for loving others, is when the rescuer sees themselves in the one they are trying to aid. When the rescuer sees something familiar, a commonality of struggle, or humanity. They can provide hope and insight and lived experience of survival and breakthrough. 

The more that I look at this story, the more clearly I saw Jesus in this parable. The Samaritan started to look so much like Jesus. Jesus, this story is about you. You know what it’s like to be beat up, your name, personhood robbed, cast aside, the value of your life left to the observation of another. You were the one robbed and beat up.

And You are also the Samaritan.  You have a fearless hope for the one you are rescuing. You pay it all without expecting anything in return. You rescue life. 

Our call is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Our call is to be like Jesus. 

Our call is to be like the Samaritan- aware of our need and not be ashamed of it. And to be aware of what we do have and to not be stingy with it (whether it be a smile, or a generous tip, a spare shirt in the back of our trunk of your car, an extra room for an asylum seeker, or offering to pay for someone’s college tuition). Our call is to see ourselves in others and to respond with love and kindness and generosity. 

Jesus says to do this and you will live

An Invitation For You

Ask Jesus to help you see your needs (where do you need rescue). Ask Jesus to help you see yourself in someone else’s humanity and need (where can you rescue). Help where you can, being motivated to love that person as yourself. 

Spiritual Practice of the Week

For the spiritual practice this week, try fasting with the intention of wanting to receive God’s love for yourself and the possibility of loving somone else. Fasting disrupts your attention and your habits to remind you about something that you want more of

Paying Attention to a Communicative God


As we’ve been in this spring series on prophetic living, we’ve talked about prophetic living as seeking best as we’re able to feel the feelings and think the thoughts of God in our day and age, and to live as if that matters.

In some circles, though, the word prophetic has a narrower meaning, which is drawn from the source of the prophets of the Bible’s insights, when they claimed to hear and speak the voice of God. The claim or hope to hear the voice of God has both been one of the more wonderful and awful aspects of faith experience and faith communities for me.


On the one hand, to practice prayer as if it isn’t just a one way street, as if God can stir my imagination, activate ideas and thoughts and words I don’t experience as coming from me but from God – well, that’s been one of the sweetest and most powerful aspects of a life of faith for me. To feel that I’m never alone, and that there is a personal, spiritual force is with me, that is responsive to me, that cares. And yet on the other hand, running in circles where people think God is speaking to them has also meant on occasion that I’ve heard people confidently speak for God when I thought they were only working out their own fears and resentments. More than once, I’ve had a religious person with this sense of the prophetic go out of their way to curse me, literally curse me – like pronouncing bad things God will do to me and the people and work I care about.  And then they’ve told me that they were speaking on behalf of God against me, but you know they love me and will pray for me. Pastor life. Now I’ll say these experiences, which were odd and unpleasant didn’t seem to be of God at all for me.


I’ve also had people say wonderful things to me that they told me they thought God had spoken to them, encouraging things members of this church have shared with me. There was the time when I was 23 years old, and a stranger walked up to me and told me that when he saw me, he thought God spoke to him that I was to become a pastor. He was like 16 years early, but hey, it happened. That was cool.


But then on the other hand, I’ve had someone say to me, confidently, that God showed them that God was going to heal my hearing loss when they prayed for me, and they were wrong.


So, all to say, the talk about hearing God’s voice today has been mainly awesome for me, but it’s had its weird and uncomfortable sides too. How about for you, Michaiah? When did you come to this hope or faith or experience of people today feeling God was speaking to them?




Just to react and give voice to what I think some of us are thinking hearing your stories, is that some of those experiences you had sound yucky and yah, powerful too.


So when did I come to experience the feeling that God is speaking? If you will, I’d like to expand the term “hearing” from God before launching into my history and perspective, just  because that word “hearing” lends us toward a sensory experience or particular mode of communication.

And I’d like to swap or replace that word with “experiencing God.” It’s not a perfect word either, but “experiencing”, or “perceiving” or “recognizing” the presence of God, will more broadly capture our various ways of knowing God.


When I was young, there were times when people told me that I could perceive things about people’s lives that I hadn’t been told. People told me that this ability to notice and detect an event or particular difficult situation in someone’s life such as a struggle with an addiction or an affliction, was a spiritual gift. I was told that I had “discernment” and more specifically a gift of “discerning spirits”.

What I wrestled with the most in my young adult years was in understanding what the purpose for me in knowing or perceiving the weight and troubles of others? What was I supposed to do with this gift? I didn’t always know.

I had a long standing regret that I carried for years because when as a teenager I didn’t follow this clear sense I had in my spirit to tell a drunken man in a trench coat that God wanted him to know that he was loved by God.

I’ve learned to ask my questions directly to God- “What is this for? Why are you showing me this? What do you want me to do right now?” and then to wait.

Regardless of the invitation God gives me for each circumstance, I think the big purpose for every moment that we perceive the presence of God is for drawing us further into relationship with God– to hang in the mystery and the uncertainty, and to curiously ask God- what’s this all about? Why am I thinking this? That’s what spiritual growth is all about- this learning to have an ongoing conversation with God.

It was pointed out to me early on that it was God who was communicating with me. Because I am sensitive to people’s personal experiences and struggles, that has built my confidence in seeing the world in a particular way.  God speaks to me in the way that I know, and I know that I can access and talk to God through this way.


But the bottom line is that people don’t have to fit their round selves into a square hole- God knows how to communicate with all us- and it doesn’t look the same for all of us. So really the figuring out how God communicates with us is really important in having sustained communication or relationship with the One who knows us best.


Steve: So as I thought about the possibility of us hearing from God, or to honor the language you’re giving us, Michaiah, the possibility of us experiencing and perceiving a communicative God, I’m keenly aware that today in our services, we have people who feel this has been their experience, others who are entirely skeptical that a person could hear God speak, and others that feel curious but inexperienced.


And as I thought of that mix, this passage from the beginning of the work of the prophet Jeremiah, when early in his life Jeremiah also doesn’t find it realistic that any person – or at least not him – could speak for God. And we get this little dialogue…


Jeremiah 1:11-14 (CEB)

11 The Lord asked me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?”

I said, “A branch of an almond tree.”

12 The Lord then said, “You are right, for I’m watching over my word until it is fulfilled.” 13 The Lord asked me again, “What do you see?”

I said, “A pot boiling over from the north.”

14 The Lord said to me, “Trouble will erupt from the north against the people of this land.”


Jeremiah is a teenager, and he has this sense that’s he’s supposed to speak for God to his culture that is in huge turmoil and upheaval, but he’s not confident. So he has this training session of sorts, where he’s learning to experience and perceive the presence of God.


It starts with a play on words. My favorite hat was a gift made to me from two Uyghur friends in the Northwest Chinese province of Xinjiang. You may have been hearing of the inhumane treatment the Uyghurs have been going through over the past twenty years, and the past few years in particular. It’s heart-breaking, and personal to Grace and me.


Anyway, these friends gave me a hat with an almond embroidered on it, because they said the word for almond was very similar to a word for something like integrity, so the hat was an affirmation and a blessing as well.


Here Jeremiah is praying outdoors and he’s looking at this branch of an almond tree, and the word “watching over” or “tending” which sounds just like the word “almond” in Hebrew, comes to mind. And he realizes God is tending to God’s words, that they will come to pass. A rich image for him.


Now our very next verse moves on to something different, but we should remember that scrolls in ancient times were very expensive, and writing was kind of a specialty activity, so things get condensed. It’s OK to imaginatively read between the lines – in fact there’s a whole Jewish tradition of doing this called midrash.


Anyway, so I imagine that later that day, after Jeremiah was thinking over the almond/watching play on words, he’d perhaps cooked some stew for lunch, and as he’s looking at that  boiling pot, and it looks menacing, and the thought pops into his mind – it’s coming, that army up in the North everyone is talking about. They’re coming to get us.


This passage is written like a dictation – Jeremiah sees this, God says this. But much more likely this is a shortened, simplified version of Jeremiah’s experience, recounted decades later… where he’s praying, sensing within this call to speak for God to his people, feeling inadequate and unclear, when he sees n front of him the branch of an almond tree, and another meaning comes to mind… and later, again, there’s a boiling pot and it comes to mean something more. Jeremiah is experiencing God communicating with him through the objects around him, as the word play and symbolism of those objects comes to life.


I think apart from the details of where Jeremiah is going, there is an invitation to us to imagine that God can speak to many people, and through many means….


Michaiah, I know that you spend some time actually teaching people, training people to try to discern the voice of God, to try to practice or learn God speaking to us? Can you tell us more how you do this, or specifically, how it is God can speak to us through many means?



Sure thing, Steve. The starting point of this conversation usually begins by naming or learning what God’s heart is toward us.  We believe that by learning what God’s heart and concerns are we’ll recognize what God’s nature and character, maybe God’s personality and temperament as well.


Many of the  stories in the Bible have been helpful to me because they capture qualities and attributes of God that resonate with my own experience with God.

These stories have shown me that God’s heart toward us is of -peace, love, to not leave us alone, God does not come to destroy us, God is for us and not against us, God cares and provides, and the cornerstone of our faith is that God is good.


The content of our various ways we perceive and experience God has the good fruit of – love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness… Even when God is sad, or correcting us…when we’ve turned against ourselves or another person or away from God in our hearts, the message won’t ever hold guilt, shame, or anxiety, but will have this message of deep and abiding love.


I heard before that you could read the Bible and learn God by asking two questions- “Who is God in this passage?” and “Who am I?” So if you read through the Bible asking those questions, you’d come out learning who God is and how God interacts with people.


Learning what God’s voice sounds like and how it’s distinguished from other voices is a good place to start when we’re talking about hearing or perceiving God.

Learning the method or manner in which God speaks to us, individually, is the fun part, because it involves some internal exploration. I read a line that said “Your personality may be a clue to unlocking how God speaks to you.” This is an art of uncovering your spiritual preference pathway, or spiritual personality type, or sacred pathway, or your spiritual wiring. There are many brilliant authors who have written books about this, which is where I get this language from.


Some of us are more relationally oriented, others of us are pragmatically oriented- knowing what your created language is might uncover how God relates or messages with you.


And just to say all of this is incredibly simplistic and if you’re like me you don’t fit into just one category. So a Thinking person- more analytical, theoretical, may be comfortable wrestling with text.Through their thoughts and knowledge from other sources (like books or podcasts or study…)may be their natural way of receiving God’s Spirit. A Feeling person-may experience God through their senses, sights, sounds, smells, images, pictures, metaphors. A Naturalist- may find God in more contemplative or outdoor spaces. They might encounter God in activities like gardening, or star gazing, or hiking or being in silence, or other meditative practices.


But you know many of us have been taught these painfully limited methods of knowing/perceiving/engaging with God. For example, I was taught that if I “read my Bible, pray every day, then I’ll grow, grow, grow”. And while these particular disciplines have been hugely helpful to me and many of our spiritual growth and development- It has also been short sighted in how and when and where our creator God can communicate this message of love to us. One of my favorite verses is Romans 1:20 that says, For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. This has been incredibly freeing to me to believe that God can communicate God’s message of love and existence without words.


I don’t think God only uses a landline phone to communicate. I think God communicates through land, water, sea, through creation, and other people, through dreams, spontaneously, like a lightning quick thought, glimmer. God isn’t limited to one method of transmission.


And figuring out how we receive that Word of life, and power, and love, is simply an act of discipline. Learning God is as important as learning yourself. So I’d suggest learn how to relate to God according to your unique self as opposed to relating to God through another.  


STEVE – Michaiah, that is so freeing, so personal, so good. Thank you. As you describe many people learning to listen to God in different ways, I have to say that I used to have a sense that claiming to hear or experience God was for people who were especially faithful or especially crazy (I couldn’t always decide which!) but I’m reminded that our faith teaches otherwise…


Joel 2:28-29 (CEB)

28 After that I will pour out my spirit upon everyone;

       your sons and your daughters will prophesy,

       your old men will dream dreams,

       and your young men will see visions.

29 In those days, I will also pour out my

   spirit on the male and female slaves.


STEVE – So Joel was a prophet from maybe the fifth century B.C. and in this section he’s hoping, imagining a future time when his nation is restored, there’s abundant food and drink, good harvests, military threats eliminated – all the great dreams of an agrarian society. But the hope goes way bigger and broader than that – that all of the earth will be drawn into this big redemption story, that God in mercy will reanimate and heal all people and cultures, in part through the inner renewal I just read about – God’s Spirit being poured out on all people.


There’s a radical expansion of the experience of the prophetic here, one that had been echoed in many other ancient prophets – that people, young and old, women and men, high and low status, even Jewish and not, could be filled with the Spirit of God and an experience of a good and communicative God. Never alone, never liable to despair or shame.


The early followers of Jesus believed that in Jesus, who they called the word made flesh – the communicative truth of God become a person, everyone around Jesus experienced God in this way. And that after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus released his spirit into the world in a new way, fulfilling this hope that God could be present to all people who seek God.


This notion of God present to us in a body, we call incarnational – from in-carnate, meaning in a body. And this experience of God present in Jesus, fully human and fully divine, gives us a pattern – an incarnational pattern – to understanding all experience of God that we can have. That it is all incarnational – fully human and fully divine. 100% us, even when it’s also 100% from God as well.


Michaiah, you’ve shared with me that you think of this process of listening to God as always fully human and fully divine – full of real experience of God, but very much full of our own selves. Can you say more about this?



Sure, yah. We can’t eliminate ourselves from the picture of hearing, interpreting, or even delivering any messages from God. As my friend Dorothy says, it’s never all you/it’s never all God. But you’re a big part of the equation.


This reminds me of a story that I love to tell from my days as youth pastor. I call it the “Hamburger story”. In youth group we had the practice of celebrating birthdays by giving a gift card to an ice cream spot and listening to God for words of encouragement for the birthday teen’s year ahead.


So here we are praying for LIzzy (we’ll call her), and Baron (we’ll call him) was asked to pray (because it was his birthday the previous month). The only thing that comes to his mind was hamburger.  So, we’re not going to discount this word, “hamburger” is in fact God speaking. So we press and say, “ok. Hamburger. Okay. God. What else?”


Baron, is pressing in, He begins to describe the burger- “all I can think is juicy, lettuce, tomato, cheese…” Kids start chuckling. He says, “I’m probably thinking about that because we had burgers for dinner last night, and my dad was talking about this book “Dancing with Jesus” …”


All of a sudden LIzzy lights up, and says, “I COMPLETELY forgot- I have a dance recital this afternoon and I’m so nervous about it” (and she may have had a sprain or an injury as well).


LIzzy and I go WILD- completely blown away that we went from someone’s hamburger dinner to someone else’s very personal and very relevant experience. I was ecstatic that God didn’t disappoint. That we trusted that God was speaking through the word “hamburger” and kept asking God. “Okay. What else?”


This experience happens every single Sunday with the prayer team. Many times the team will get a wild hunch and we name it without discounting that it could be our own imagination, or psyches, or any number of things affecting us. We just voice what we get and our group mulls it over in their minds, we talk about it, we ask Holy Spirit to help us make meaning and develop this concept/word or drop it. One time one of us got 4 specific numbers that we shared up front. It ended up being a significant date for a few people, and it was someone’s pin number to their bank account…


We are constantly amazed at what appears like something our imaginations created, but turns into something significant for one of us sitting in service that day. And this team does not hear or read the sermon message before the service- so any parallel prayer words that we share after the sermon is given,  we confidently believe that if it’s meaningful to someone sitting in service, that maybe God indeed is trying to get someone’s attention.


STEVE – Those are fun stories, even as they’re still kind of weird, which is what I guess we’d expect from experiences that are entirely us, but filled with something or someone spiritual outside of us as well, right? That our experience would be normal you and me, but with this weird extra truth or hope or presence that seems sort of more and better than what we’ve got just by ourselves.


But I have to say that for me this also begs the question of what God sounds like, what the voice of God is or isn’t, right? As we try to learn to listen to God, what can we chalk up to God, and what to toxic or unhelpful or false ideas of God. Or what’s just our own weird thoughts, all the garbage out there in the media, in the air, in society… And I think Jesus had hope that we’d have a sense for what God sounds like, that we’d learn that God sounds like Jesus…  There’s this bit in the gospel of John:


John 10:4,14-15 (CEB)

4 Whenever he has gathered all of his sheep, he goes before them and they follow him, because they know his voice.

14 “I am the good shepherd. I know my own sheep and they know me,15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. I give up my life for the sheep.


STEVE: So Jesus has this analogy, that sheep know the voice of their shepherd. Like dogs know the voice of their owner, it’s apparently a thing. And he’s like that’s how it is with God, you really can recognize the voice of God. It sounds like me.


And for me, through years of this strange but beautiful thing of trying to cultivate a friendship with Jesus, this has become more and more real to me. Where I sit in silence, often thinking about the circumstances of my life – highs or lows – and ask Jesus where Jesus is in all this or if there is anything Jesus has to say to me. My experience of God has been really shaped by the gentle, provocative voice of Jesus. I’ve never read about any person in history or literature that is as deeply gentle and provocative as the Jesus of the four gospels. And the God I experience in friendship as I pray is like this too – asking me great questions, turning my proclivity to avoidance back on me by asking, “What do you think? What do you want, Steve?” This Jesus who speaks to me, the Jesus in my head or heart, the Jesus of my imagination, is just really gentle and more surprisingly true and surprisingly encouraging than I’ve tended to expect of God.


And – you’ll notice – I say the Jesus of history and the Jesus with me and the Jesus of my imagining all interchangeably, not because I don’t think Jesus is real, but because of this whole incarnation thing – that any experience of God we can have is both fully human and fully divine – totally of God and totally of me, so I don’t spend a lot of thought or worry on what parts I’m just imagining and what parts an external God is bringing to me from without, as long as it sounds like Jesus.


So that’s like a micro-taste of my own experience of God speaking to me.


But then sometimes, we want to listen to God when we want to help/pray for others. How does that work for you and for our prayer team, Michaiah?



Sure, now the practice of praying for others- begins first with the understanding that it’s not about the prayer team members prayers- this takes all the pressure off of our performance or perfectly making anything happen. As prayer ministers we are simply companions to the person asking for prayer and entering together into the presence of God, allowing ourselves to be loved by God- We are part of the equation, but really, it’s about the other person being able to experience God’s sweet and holy presence for themselves.


We normally invite the presence of God to come, and we wait expectantly.

God’s presence may come through a person’s thoughts, a memory or situation, physically, through a song, a phrase…….

In prayer team we try to be as invisible as possible so that whoever is receiving prayer can get what they need from God.


Now, sometimes praying for people requires a companion that intercedes on your behalf with God- joining the other person’s faith, or their hope, and praying to that effect.


Sometimes praying for people might jog a thought that we’ll share with the other person to see if it has any significance for the other person. But our prayer ministry trains with the understanding that the recipient is the final authority, or judge of the word. And as prayer team- we’re fine with that. We could be wrong with what we’re sensing.


Steve: One time, Michaiah, I was meeting with a person who’d visited our church a few times and loved it, but he asked me, “Steve, what’s with the body parts?” And I was like: “Um, no idea what you’re talking about.” And he said, “You know, every week, you say a couple of body parts that someone wants to pray for.” So I told him my answer, Michaiah, but what’s yours? What’s with the body parts?



HA! Well somewhere along my tenure on church staff, a coworker suggested a great way to generate faith in God is if we prayed and asked God for physical things that God wanted to bring attention to in order to heal or bring a message of love or freedom to in some way. So on prayer team we ask God if there are any body parts that God wants to heal, so that person will respond.


Steve: That’s great. And I know many of us have been encouraged by healing prayer for our emotions but also for our bodies. I was really helped too by the comments my friend Laurie made earlier this year when she and I gave a sermon on Disability and Grace. Laurie, who has lived with a life-long physical disability and also prayed with many people with physical disabilities, said that for some of us healing may involve changes to our physical condition, while others experience healing as God helps bring peace and acceptance to our physical limits and brokenness. That was really helpful for me.  


Now as we wrap up, I guess I’ll share a final word and we’ll do a couple quick next steps.


I guess I make of all this that being open to a communicative God, a God who can teach us to listen and experience if we pay attention, a God who pours out the Spirit generously on all people, this is both really weird and an enormous gift. And everything we’re going to experience of God in this life is going to be both fully human – very much of us – and fully divine – very much of a real God, we trust as well.


So it reminds me that it’s worth being attentive and serious and interested in what we can taste and see of a living God while holding it all in good humility and good humor as well. There was a time when wanting to hear or experience God more was clouded by all kinds of anxiety for me – what if it doesn’t happen? What if someone else experience more? And what if I’m wrong when I think God’s saying or doing something? And now it’s more like: hey, there’s no such thing as getting this all right. It’s just that my good and sweet God is open to being a parent and a friend to us and encouraging and leading us into more and more life. We’ve got two final tips to go after this, but first Michaiah, tell us about an offering you have for people that want to learn more.


Michaiah: You can come to a Spirit and Power Class on Sunday, June 23rd right after the 10:30am service. We’ll go into depth on hearing the voice of God for others and praying for healing both physically and emotionally. We’ll offer the entire class again in the Fall- so if you’re interested write a note on your welcome card.

Great, and now our closing tips.


Most of humans, for most of human history, have considered this earth to be a god-soaked world, where the divine can be present to us in many places and many ways, and where questions of meaning and mattering and significance are a joyful and special part of what it means to be alive. So, this week, for our whole life flourishing tip, consider this question:

An Invitation to Whole Life Flourishing

What is Jesus gently speaking to me through my life, world, and circumstances?



The purpose of this suggested practice is on intention and expectation.

Spiritual Practice of the Week

Set aside time for a 1-on-1 with God. Invite the Holy Spirit to guide the time. Where will you go, what will you do together? Tell someone you trust about it. See if you can find more times to be generous to yourself and be with God.

Looking Beyond Fear

Our Scripture this morning is Ephesians 6:10-20. It can be found on your program. It reads:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

At the risk of using a very dated image, I will share with you what comes to my mind when I read this description of rulers, authorities, Cosmic Powers of Darkness, Spiritual forces of evil above us:

Has anyone ever seen the movie The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring?

The Lord of the Rings is a mythology written by J.R.R. Tolkien.

The main characters is  Frodo Baggins, a 33-year-old hobbit who inherits a ring of power that controls the world and corrupts all who wears it. So a fellowship is formed of hobbits, elves, dwarves, and men to venture off to destroy the ring by casting it into the volcanic fires where it was forged. Their mission has been opposed by evil creatures and in one scene, Gandalf the Gray, a wizard, leads the fellowship of the ring through the dark caves. They are fleeing for their lives, being pursued by the enemy: the Balrog, this figure. And at one point as they are booking it across this bridge, Gandalf stops on the bridge and commands the Balrog “You cannot pass”.  With all its ferocity and intensity – his enemy halts, extends his vast wings, raises, and cracks its whip. Fire comes from its nostrils. But Gandalf stands firm. “You cannot pass,” he said. “Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.” Glimmering Gandalf seems small in the gloom, and altogether alone as his friends watch incredulously. The Balrog leaps, whipping, whirling, hissing. A blinding sheet of white flame springs up. The bridge cracks. Right at the Balrog’s feet, the bridge breaks, and the stone upon which it stood crashes into the gulf.

So that’s what images to me when I read this chapter in Ephesians about standing in the face of evil. And of course there are many different understandings of what this evil would like. And No doubt many of you could write a treatise on evil, a whole lot better than I can in 20 minutes,

But let me first describe a few thoughts about this force so we can get into the implications of standing and how we might possibly ever consider using this in the face of insurmountable fear or evil.

First of all, any threat to our peace, anything that cuts us off from giving or receiving love, any distortion of truth, is evil.

The Bible personifies evil in the form of the creature Satan, the accuser, a serpent, a murder, thief, a distortion of truth.

In our present lives we all encounter evil, whether that be in harsh accusatory thoughts of ourselves, systemic injustices, the sinfulness of others, our own sinfulness toward ourselves and others, and other spiritual forces that we can not see.

Our experience of evil varies in intensity and over time and by source. At times we underestimate its influence in our lives, and we overestimate its influence. We pay attention or we neglect.

Evil can have an effect on our mental, emotional, spiritual, physical well-being. And it urges us to hide/distance/protect ourselves from others. This evil can seem overwhelming and insurmountable — like a whole legion of darkness is waging itself against you and the strategy to stand seems like an impossible strategy to take on.

Whatever this evil is, these forces have an effect on our lives.

In my case, for a time this evil was depression and despair.

In the summer of 2010 — a very low time in this church’s life — we lost a pastor, friend, and brother to cancer. I was in grad school at the time. I remember feeling overwhelmed and joyless.

I remember the sun was shining in the sun room of our house- but I felt like the air I was breathing was the smog of depression and despair, and it felt like my heart was stifled. Entertaining thoughts about death was more desirable than thinking about anything else.

Darkness was around me and in me, and those Biblical words “pangs of death surrounding me” felt like the nearest description of this great weight.

I was alive and functioning and going about daily tasks, but I was so lost and confused and unclear.

I remember being in the hallway of my house, lost in dark thoughts, and all of a sudden Jesus out of nowhere flooded into my thoughts marvelous light, and yanked me out into reality. He rescued me.

I could still feel the darkness and the temptation to go back to my secret sadness. But for that moment Jesus gave me strength to stand.

That evening, I gave up enough information about myself to prompt my husband to ask me more direct questions about my thought life. He said I needed to see a counselor. And I found one. I did not have my private sad hideaway anymore, but I did have the attention of someone who loved me.

I don’t know why that day happened the way it did. I don’t tell my story as something that could be replicated. I don’t know what prompted my rescue from depression and despair. And I’m not blaming all mental illness on Satan or spiritual influences. Mental health can be chronic or episodic. It can be situational or biological.

But I tell this story to any of you sitting here struggling and relating to the description of darkness and hopelessness I described, to know that you are not the only one who struggles. And you are not flawed, you are not a failure. You are not a terrible person. I know that you are tired. I offer this piece of me to you, to expose the darkness and bring us into the light, to tell you: there is hope.

The word ‘stand’ also means  a group of growing plants of a specified kind, especially trees. As in “a stand of poplars”.

I stumbled across a study in the Annals of Botany written the summer of 2011 that I thought was pretty cool.  

It’s a study that found that plants in a crowded stand regulate their height growth so as to maintain similar heights to neighbors, even when they have potential advantages in height growth.

So what they did was to take stands of individually potted plants. Some plants they lifted over neighbor plants and some plants they lowered to be over-topped. They expected the lifted plants to keep over-topping because they would get more light. The lowered plants were expected to be suppressed due to the low light availability.

They found that lifted plants reduced their height growth in spite of the fact that they received more irradiant light than others. And the lowered plants, on the other hand, increased the rate of stem elongation despite the reduced irradiance. Consequently, lifted and lowered plants converged to the same height.

The results show that plants in crowded stands regulate their height growth to maintain similar height to neighbors even when they have potential advantages in height growth. And they thought this might contribute to avoiding stresses caused by wind blowing.

There is a network of trees, sharing resources, to help when the wind blows.

The gift of Counseling to me revealed that being together with others, like in a poplar stand, was how I could stay up (even when heavy winds blew that were bent on my destruction).

And many of the people that keep me standing are here in this congregation. As far as my eye can see, there are people here that are not bent on over-topping one another, or competing for light. They don’t want dominance or personal glory. They are not out for their own interest.

We have community group leaders, and prayer ministry members, and leaders in kids church who embody selfless humility and service. We don’t have a top down approach to following Jesus here. There is no one person that hears and discerns the voice of God truth for us all. We are are all partakers of God’s divine nature, and are listening for the voice of God — the voice of truth.

I encourage those of you, if you’re looking for life long-friendship, start being one to the people here and to whatever community you live.

And if you are someone needing rescue, seek the poplar stand of support: ask for a list of mental health clinicians from your Primary Care Physician or from a pastoral staff person here.

And in a moment, if you are a leader or consider this your home church I’m going to ask you if you’ll stand, just for one moment (sorry introverts), just find your footing, and stand, cause I want us all to see something really cool.

Alright now. If you are a Community Group Leader, participate in making Sundays happen on Welcome Teams — greeting, ushers, sound, prayer Ministry Team, Intercessors, Board, Staff — would you stand now.

Look around. This is the poplar stand. This is our version of a community that leads — a community that is strong, that shares resources, that helps one another grow and thrive in following Jesus. Thank you. You may have a seat.

This is who we lean on when we’ve lost heart, when we need God’s mercy, When our view of ourselves or of God has become distorted and we need truth.

This STAND is is how we face our personal Balrogs head on.

Let me close with one important observation which is how the passage of scripture began. It says: Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.

It seems like before we put on armor, and before we face the schemes of evil, of darkness, we begin by being strong in the Lord.

What does it mean to be strong in the Lord? Being strong doesn’t come causally or overnight.

Being strong is having a trusted relationship with someone who is looking out for your good.

There’s a reliability and confidence and trust.

So last week when I took my kids to the museum and I was mulling over this idea of standing in the face of uncertainty, I asked one of my twins how they could so easily walk into a different room of the museum without me, without being scared, and without so much of a look back over their shoulder.

I was also asking to test them whether they were ready for kindergarten — this twin responded without much hesitation, “Well, I don’t actually like holding hands all the time.”

Fair enough. Okay, they’re ready to start school.

This relationship of trust, knows that whether in physical proximity and closeness or in spiritual awareness or a remembrance of them giving you the knowledge that, you have the gaze of one who loves you.

My children know that I am watching them. And that I will come to their aid if they need it. The same is true of God. Except that God doesn’t get distracted in conversation or get irritated when interrupted.

When the parent is absent, the child internalizes the values and words and lesson they saw from their parent, and is able to mimic what they saw and rely on those words when they feel unsure.

Jesus did the same thing. He said “the Son (referring to himself) can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. Because the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing.” Jesus was able to do what he did, even though he was not in the physical presence of his father.

Even as an adult, I look up to someone that I respect when I’m faced with an experience that’s new. I’m using this relationship of trust in comparison to a child and an adult relationship.

As an adult, Jesus also relied on what his father did as an adult. So the goal is not to self-sufficiency or to be perfectly independent, or a pioneer — left to figure things out on your own — but the goal is to recognize weakness and rely on God’s strength in relationship.

Being strong in the Lord doesn’t mean you’re fearless.

Last month, a news alert popped up on my phone, inviting me to watch former President Barack Obama give a lecture speech in a tribute celebration honoring the centennial birth of former president Nelson Mandela. I was able to watch the first couple of speeches, which is quite impressive with the demands of three young children in the morning. So when the chairperson for this event began talking on the “masked armor of Madeva” — Nelson Mandela — I grabbed up my notebook because I was thinking a lot about armor, and that was a buzz word for me.   

He retold a story, I only imagine he’s told countless times before, of being with Mandela in 1994, during his presidential-election campaign, on a tiny propeller plane flying down to give a speech to his Zulu supporters. When the plane was 20 minutes from landing, one of its engines failed. Mandela told him to go to the cockpit and tell the pilots that the engine was out. The pilots said they knew it and to go back and put their seat belts on. The chairperson said the only thing that calmed him was looking at Mandela, who quietly read his newspaper as if he were a commuter on his morning train to the office. The airport prepared for an emergency landing, and the pilot managed to land the plane safely. When Mandela got in the backseat of his bulletproof BMW that would take them to the rally, Mandela turned and said, “Man, I was terrified up there!”

This chairperson said of Nelson Mandela, that his ability to act and yet feel intensely was the mark of a leader — that through will, a leader must do what is required of them to be courageous. It was an ability to suppress an inner fear to wear an inner armor.  

Being strong in the face of evil doesn’t mean you are not afraid. It means you are courageous.

There have been a number of people throughout the course of time that have been quoted saying “courage is not the absence of fear.” Mark Twain, Nelson Mandela, Ambrose Redman, and Thomas the Tank Engine etc., etc. My favorite ending to this quote is that “courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”

What can be more important than fear? Your principles? Your life? Lots of things, in the moment of uncertainty. And all you can think is Run, Fight, Hide, Win.

The Bible says in the book of Hebrews that when we are afraid, we can look at Jesus — no — we can fix our eyes on Jesus, lock your gaze onto him, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Even Jesus was probably afraid. So we can look to Jesus when we’re afraid as an example of endurance.

Jesus faced death. He looked it squarely in the eyes. Jesus saw behind death and the fear of death on the cross. He judged that there was something more important than the fear of death. He looked beyond fear. He saw us. And we were his joy. His great delight. He stood and endured the forces of evil. He saw something worth standing for: he saw us.

And he broke death’s power, he conquered evil by his death and his resurrection. And he was able to stand because of great love. Hebrews says he owns the right, and offers to us freedom — to all of us held in the prison of fear of death.

When I’m afraid how can looking at Jesus’s be good news for me?

Because when I am afraid — whether it’s a new experience or an unknown thing (childbirth, being a parent, starting a new job, riding my bike on a new route, walking into a new store…), what’s deeply comforting is knowing that others have gone through this before, that I am not alone. I can stand. You can stand because you are not alone. You have the gaze of the one who loves you and you have this stand of planted trees.  

So how are we able to look beyond fear? When you are low and without strength, say “Jesus Help.”

We are made strong in the Lord through the power of his life and death and resurrection — and through the strength of others.

Remember this is not a strategy. This is a lifestyle. We are called to ongoing relationship with God and with others.

Let me pray for us this promise from 2 Corinthians 7:

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side,but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.