Christianity 201

November 12, 2019

Anyone. Come After. Deny Themselves. Follow.

Do you know the 666 verse?

No, not that 666; today we’re looking at John 6:66 which says,

NIV • John 6:66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

A popular title eight years ago was Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman. Although we were quite familiar with his work before this, it was his breakout book, and I reviewed it here as well as reviewing the video curriculum.

The premise of the title is that Jesus had many fans, but few followers; and the verse in John describes a time when Jesus introducing what is sometimes called the “hard sayings” and after that, it seems as though he is culling the herd, deliberately emphasizing the cost of following over the benefits.

The Message • John 6:60 Many among his disciples heard this and said, “This is tough teaching, too tough to swallow.”

61-65 Jesus sensed that his disciples were having a hard time with this and said, “Does this throw you completely? What would happen if you saw the Son of Man ascending to where he came from? The Spirit can make life. Sheer muscle and willpower don’t make anything happen. Every word I’ve spoken to you is a Spirit-word, and so it is life-making. But some of you are resisting, refusing to have any part in this.” (Jesus knew from the start that some weren’t going to risk themselves with him. He knew also who would betray him.) He went on to say, “This is why I told you earlier that no one is capable of coming to me on his own. You get to me only as a gift from the Father.”

66-67 After this a lot of his disciples left. They no longer wanted to be associated with him. Then Jesus gave the Twelve their chance: “Do you also want to leave?”

68-69 Peter replied, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God.”

I got thinking about this when I received a notification that I had six new followers on Twitter. Because I have three fairly active blogs and had an association with a major Christian news magazine for nearly two years, I never thought my Twitter following would be so anemic.

So let’s say I’m gaining about five new people a day, shouldn’t I be growing at the rate of 150 per month?

Not at all. Someone explained to me that these people are clicking in hoping I will reciprocate and follow them. When I don’t, they un-follow, and there are no notifications for that. They disappear quietly. The point is, I don’t have a lot of time; I don’t carry a smart phone with me all day, and I prefer to follow a rather select list of authors and organizations, plus a few anonymous accounts to lighten the day. (I did pick one from among that recent crop of six.)

In other words, they were following me hoping I would follow them.

It’s the same in John 6. The timeline in John is a little different; if this were in Matthew, the chronology would put it around chapter 15. So this is well into the ministry life of Jesus.

It’s the same today. People are looking to Jesus to see what they can get, not what they can give. They will follow his agenda if he will fit into theirs. Like my Twitter account, many of our churches have many people arriving by the front doors, but we fail to notice those who are leaving by the back doors.

In Twitter-speak, what Idleman calls fans, I would call short-term followers. Jesus is looking for long-term followers. His book — the entire book — is based on Luke 9:23

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

We’ll end today with how I condensed Kyle Idleman’s breakdown of what that means:

Luke 9-23

November 7, 2016

Salvation Has Come to This House

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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NRSV Luke 19:8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

zacchaeusWe last connected with Peter Enns here in February, but I wanted to run this very recent post by him for two reasons. First, I’m currently reading his book The Sin of Certainty which we will probably run an excerpt from very soon. Second, this resonated with me because of a fresh take on Zacchaeus by Gary Burge which we touched on briefly here a few years ago. Click the title below to read this on his blog, The Bible for Normal People. Dr. Enns is a professor of Biblical Studies at Eastern College.

Zacchaeus gets “saved” and so can the rest of us . . . every day

Many of us know the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector from Jericho (Luke 19:1-10). Many of us are also probably stricken with paralysis at the sound of the Zacchaeus song, which haunts the memory of any parent who has ever done time teaching children’s Sunday school or VBS. But I digress.

Not at all unlike another famous resident from Jericho, Rahab in the book of Joshua, Zacchaeus a “sinner” (v. 7) welcomes a visitor into his home with stunning, life-shifting results.

Without Jesus even needing to say a word, Zacchaeus commits to giving half his possessions to the poor and paying back fourfold anyone he has defrauded. And Jesus responds, “Today salvation has come to this house. . . . ”

Perhaps like me, you have wondered what Jesus means by “salvation”? Perhaps you were taught that right there that day Zacchaeus was “saved” by accepting Jesus into his heart and receiving assurance of going to heaven when he died.

But that’s not happening here. Zacchaeus’s salvation is his committing to a change in life—from greed and dishonesty to generosity and justice. He is repenting, in the true biblical sense of the Greek word metanoia—a change of heart that is evidenced in a change in how one lives.

And to this change in how one lives Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house.”

Many of us might focus on the next life when we see the word salvation in this story. That’s how we were taught. But that misses the point.

Jesus’s declaration of salvation is tied to what Zacchaeus does with no mention of a final reward. The point is what is happening today.

Zacchaeus needed salvation, a change of life now. Don’t we all.

Zacchaeus was “saved” because he committed to changing his way of life, to bring it into conformity with the mercy and generosity of God—which is to say, Zacchaeus was becoming more truly human, an image-bearer of of God.

Salvation isn’t something that happens once to get your membership card to heaven— “once saved always saved,” as the saying goes. Salvation is something that keeps happening in our lives, needs to keep happening, as we work to conform our lives by God’s kind grace to reflect the life of Jesus.

Over the years I have learned to pray differently. Hardly a day now goes by when I do not ask for deliverance.

For a change in the tired patterns in my life.

For salvation.

That kind of prayer would have been unthinkable to me some years ago, but I have come to see what I was missing all those years.

The membership card I keep in my wallet for future consideration is of little use. I need salvation right now.

Deliver me, O Lord. Save me . . .

from broken relationships
from fear for my family
from the fear of what might be or might not be
from not knowing
from the need to know
from the need to be right
from this horrid and subtle self-centeredness
from looking down on any other human being
from feeling misunderstood and undervalued
from being defined by my past
from judging others by their past
from manipulating my neighbor with clever words
from feeling not enough
from what I cling to
from all my failings
from all my accomplishments

Not later. Not at some point in time. But now.

Right this minute.

I don’t want things to continue as they are.

Save me.

Zacchaeus finds salvation. And so can we. Every day.


[A beautiful song by Audrey Assad, “I Shall Not Want, captures this idea far better than I am able to in a blog post. Also, a major theme in N. T. Wright’s new book The Day the Revolution Began is the New Testament’s emphasis on salvation as very much now rather than simply later. And if you want to read some of my books, here you go: The Sin of Certainty (HarperOne, 2016), The Bible Tells Me So (HarperOne, 2014), The Evolution of Adam (Baker, 2012), Inspiration and Incarnation (Baker 2005/2015).]

 

 

 

October 25, 2016

Choosing Between Being Useful to God, Or Not Being at All

Today’s thoughts are from Joe at the blog As I Learn to Walk, which came suggested to us. Click the title below to read at source.

Usefulness or Death

Jim Elliot has done it again.

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, a wise former pastor of mine gave me a copy of The Journals of Jim Elliot. I don’t read it often, but, when I do, I find that God uses it to challenge me more than almost anything else. This experience was no exception.

I picked up Elliot’s journals yesterday and read the following words:

“I covenanted with my Father that He would do either of two things – either glorify Himself to the utmost in me, or slay me.” (From his entry on October 28, “Senior Year, 1948, 1949″).

The very next entry, dated only four days later, records a prayer to God wherein Elliot simply admitted that he felt death would be best, for he feared dishonoring the Lord in his life (From his entry on November 1, same chapter).

I look up to Elliot, but I struggle to pray such a prayer. I imagine that many others do as well. This man’s faith shines with a genuineness, a sweetness, and a humility beyond any I’ve known. Though he felt inadequate upon seeing the extent of his inability, he surrendered himself to the Almighty, trusting God to lead and to work according to his perfect power and plan. Though he saw his weakness, he trusted in God’s strength. And because of God’s work in his life, he would rather die than fail to glorify his Lord. He never wanted to be a useless vessel.

I’m reminded of Paul’s words to Timothy:

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
1 Timothy 1:15-16

Paul, too, recognized his weakness, his complete inability to accomplish the mission in his own power and strength. But he recognized something more than this: he understood that his very weaknesses served to show God’s strength. As people looked at him, knowing his past, knowing his sin, they would realize that his transformation could only have been accomplished by God. They would know that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more (Romans 5). Paul’s life was a living testimony to God’s grace and mercy.

Eventually, Paul would give his life for his Savior. Many years later, Jim Elliot would do the same. Each man resigned himself to die for the one who died for sinners. Each man gave up what he could not keep and gained something he could never lose. Each man ran the race well.

The hip hop artist Lecrae echoes Elliot’s prayer when he cries, “Lord, kill me if I don’t preach the Gospel” (From “Go Hard” on Lecrae’s Rebel album). This idea haunts me, but in a good way. It challenges me to discipline myself in godliness. It challenges me to give less time to the things that won’t last. It challenges me to look at the world as Jim Elliot did, as Paul did, and as Jesus did. May I be so committed to Christ. May I allow God’s strength to be displayed through my weaknesses. May I be found faithful.

November 30, 2015

The 666 Verse

No, not that 666; we’re looking at John 6:66 which says,

NIV • John 6:66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

A popular title four years ago was Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman. Although we were quite familiar with his work before this, it was his breakout book, and I reviewed it here as well as reviewing the video curriculum.

The premise of the title is that Jesus had many fans, but few followers; and the verse in John describes a time when Jesus introducing what is sometimes called the “hard sayings” and after that, it seems as though he is culling the herd, deliberately emphasizing the cost of following over the benefits.

The Message • John 6:60 Many among his disciples heard this and said, “This is tough teaching, too tough to swallow.”

61-65 Jesus sensed that his disciples were having a hard time with this and said, “Does this throw you completely? What would happen if you saw the Son of Man ascending to where he came from? The Spirit can make life. Sheer muscle and willpower don’t make anything happen. Every word I’ve spoken to you is a Spirit-word, and so it is life-making. But some of you are resisting, refusing to have any part in this.” (Jesus knew from the start that some weren’t going to risk themselves with him. He knew also who would betray him.) He went on to say, “This is why I told you earlier that no one is capable of coming to me on his own. You get to me only as a gift from the Father.”

66-67 After this a lot of his disciples left. They no longer wanted to be associated with him. Then Jesus gave the Twelve their chance: “Do you also want to leave?”

68-69 Peter replied, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God.”

I got thinking about this when I received another notification on the weekend that I had six new followers on Twitter. Because I have three fairly active blogs and had an association with a major Christian news magazine for nearly two years, I never thought my Twitter following would be so anemic. It’s been stuck at around 330 people for a long time. (I now joke that we’re very selective and you have to complete a lot of paperwork to be a follower. You can have pity on me by clicking here.)

So if I’m gaining about five new people a day, shouldn’t I be growing at the rate of 150 per month?

Not at all. Someone explained to me that these people are clicking in hoping I will reciprocate and follow them. When I don’t, they un-follow, and there are no notifications for that. They disappear quietly. The point is, I don’t have a lot of time; I don’t carry a smart phone with me all day, and I prefer to follow a rather select list of authors and organizations, plus a few anonymous accounts to lighten the day. (I did pick one from among that recent crop of six.)

In other words, they were following me hoping I would follow them.

It’s the same in John 6. The timeline in John is a little different; if this were in Matthew, the chronology would put it around chapter 15. So this is well into the ministry life of Jesus.

It’s the same today. People are looking to Jesus to see what they can get, not what they can give. They will follow his agenda if he will fit into theirs. Like my Twitter account, many of our churches have many people arriving by the front doors, but we fail to notice those who are leaving by the back doors.

In Twitter-speak, what Idleman calls fans, I would call short-term followers. Jesus is looking for long-term followers. His book is based on Luke 9:23

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

We’ll end today with how I condensed Kyle Idleman’s breakdown of what that means:

Luke 9-23

 

October 28, 2013

Tightrope Walking Without a Net

Mark Batterson mentions this story in his book All In and then it was posted on Ralph Howe’s blog. I decided at that point I was meant to share this. I thought of calling it, Leaving Yourself No Backup Plan. So often in the Christian life, we “step out in faith,” (imagine big air quotes) while at the same time, we have a backup plan in case the move/investment/job change/church plant doesn’t work.

On February 19, 1519, the Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes set sail for Mexico with an entourage of 11 ships, 13 horses, 110 sailors, and 553 soldiers. The indigenous population upon his arrival was approximately five million. From a purely mathematical standpoint, the odds were stacked against him by a ratio of 7,541 to 1. Two previous expeditions had failed to even establish a settlement in the New World, yet Cortes conquered much of the South American continent.

What Cortes is reported to have done after landing is an epic tale of mystic proportions. He issued an order that turned his mission into an all-or-nothing proposition: “Burn the ships!” As he crew watched their fleet of ships burn and sink, they came to terms with the fact that retreat was not an option. And if you can compartmentalize the moral conundrum of colonization, there is a lesson to be learned. Nine times out of ten, failure is responding to Plan B when Plan A gets to risky, too costly, or too difficult. That’s why most people are living their Plan B. They didn’t burn the ships. I prefer to be a Plan A person. Plan A people don’t have a Plan B.

1 Kings 19:21 “So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and become his servant (and eventually his successor).”

Elisha was a Plan A person . He burnt the ships. He removed any possibility of turning back to his old ways if things got too difficult, to uncomfortable, or too costly. Burning the plowing equipment meant he could not go back to his old way of life because he destroyed the time machine that would take him back. It was the end of Elisha the farmer. It was the beginning of Elisha the prophet.

What do you need to burn to remove your Plan B?

That’s the simple message.  Want to go deeper on this?

Here’s today’s two-for-one special! Terry Broadwater did a teaching on this that he called Kill The Cow and Burn The Plow. (That’s ‘plough’ for everyone outside the US.) Here’s the first one-third of that text with a link at the bottom to finish reading.  I like how he ties this in to the calling of James and John.

I love to hunt, eat meat, and I’m almost a pyromaniac!!  So, “Kill the Cow and Burn the Plow” is a great subject for me to talk about!

Matt. 4:21-22 21 A little farther up the shore he saw two other brothers, James and John, sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, repairing their nets. And he called them to come, too. 22 They immediately followed him, leaving the boat and their father behind.

This is early in Jesus’ ministry and he’s inviting some guys to “follow him.”  James and John are fishermen, they are in a boat, repairing nets, with their father- it’s a family business, doing what fishermen do.  Note: They “left behind” the boat and their father!

Not a spontaneous decision… They’re ready to take the next step… THIS IS A BIG DEAL!!!  They were in the family fishing business: “Zebedee and Sons!”  This was not a causal decision!

1 Kings 19:19-21 19 So Elijah went and found Elisha son of Shaphat plowing a field. There were twelve teams of oxen in the field, and Elisha was plowing with the twelfth team. Elijah went over to him and threw his cloak across his shoulders and then walked away. 20 Elisha left the oxen standing there, ran after Elijah, and said to him, “First let me go and kiss my father and mother good-bye, and then I will go with you!”  Elijah replied, “Go on back, but think about what I have done to you.”  21 So Elisha returned to his oxen and slaughtered them. He used the wood from the plow to build a fire to roast their flesh. He passed around the meat to the townspeople, and they all ate. Then he went with Elijah as his assistant.

This is an OT story about an old prophet who has identified his replacement and is about to begin a process of mentoring him.  And the young “prophet-to-be” has to go all in!  Notice:

  • He kills the cows!
  • He burns the plow!
  • He has no intentions of “going back” to where he once was!  James and John “left some things behind”- Elisha “let it all go” up in smoke!

There is no such thing as casual Christianity!  There is a cost to follow: Luke 14:28 “But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it?”  You must calculate what it means to follow Jesus!!

…continue reading here…

September 8, 2013

Obedience and Faithfulness that Pleases God

Another first time for a new source of great devotional and Bible Study material; this one goes by the name Quality of Life Ministries. The post is titled Loyalty and Obedience. (Click through to view other material and graphics.)

Loyalty and Obedience

“Consider the holiness of Christ.  We need this first of all to be firmly grounded in our security in Christ….  It is important  therefore that we understand the righteousness of Christ, and the fact that His righteousness is credited to us.

On numerous occasions the Scriptures testify that Jesus during His time on earth lived a perfectly holy life.

But the holiness of Jesus was more than simply the absence of actual sin.  It was also a perfect conformity to the will of His Father.

It is possible to do the right action from the wrong motive, but this does not please God.  Holiness has to do with more then mere acts.  Our motives must be holy, that is, arising from a desire to do something simply because it is the will of God….

Consider the holiness of Christ, because His life is meant to be an example of holiness for us….

Consider then His statement, “I always do what pleases Him, “Do we dare take that as our personal goal in life?  Are we truly willing to scrutinize all our activities, our goals and plans, and all of our impulsive actions in the light of this statement: “I am doing this to please God”? …

This is the example we are to follow.  In all of our thoughts, all of our actions, in every part of our character, the ruling principle that motivates and guides us should be the desire to follow Christ in doing the will of the Father.  This is the high road we must follow in the pursuit of holiness.

(From The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges)

Joshua 22:2-5

He told them, “You have done as Moses, the servant of the LORD, commanded you, and you have obeyed every order I have given you.  You have not deserted the other tribes, even though the campaign has lasted for such a long time. You have been careful to obey the commands of the LORD your God up to the present day.  And now the LORD your God has given the other tribes rest, as he promised them. So go home now to the land Moses, the servant of the LORD, gave you on the east side of the Jordan River.    But be very careful to obey all the commands and the law that Moses gave to you. Love the LORD your God, walk in all his ways, obey his commands, be faithful to him, and serve him with all your heart and all your soul.”

Before the conquest had begun, these tribes were given land on the east side of the Jordan River. But before they could settle down, they had to first promise to help the other tribes conquer the land on the west side (Numbers 32:20-22). They had patiently and diligently carried out their promised duties. Joshua commended them for doing just that. At last they were permitted to return to their families and build their cities. Follow-through is vital in God’s work. Beware of the temptation to quit early and leave God’s work undone.

Here Joshua briefly restated the central message Moses gave the people in Deuteronomy: Obedience should be based on love for God. Although the Israelites had completed their military responsibility, Joshua reminded them of their spiritual responsibility. Sometimes we think so much about what we are to do that we neglect thinking about who we are to be. If we know we are God’s children, we will love him and joyfully serve him. We must not let daily service take away from our love for God.

Psalm 119:33-37

Teach me, O LORD,
to follow every one of your principles.
     Give me understanding and I will obey your law;
I will put it into practice with all my heart.
     Make me walk along the path of your commands,
for that is where my happiness is found.
     Give me an eagerness for your decrees;
do not inflict me with love for money!
     Turn my eyes from worthless things,
and give me life through your word.

In today’s world, people most often covet financial gain. Money represents power, influence, and success. For many people, money is a god. They think about little else. True, money can buy certain comforts and offer some security. But far more valuable than wealth is obedience to God because it is a heavenly treasure rather than an earthly one (Luke 12:33). We should do what God wants, regardless of the financial implications. Make the psalmist’s prayer your own, asking God to turn your heart toward his statutes and not toward making money; it’s in your own best interest in the long run.

John 21:15-17

After breakfast Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”
“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.
 Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”
“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.
 Once more he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was grieved that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know I love you.”
Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.

In this beach scene, Jesus led Peter through an experience that would remove the cloud of his denial. Peter had denied Jesus three times. Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. When Peter answered yes, Jesus told him to feed his sheep. It is one thing to say you love Jesus, but the real test is willingness to serve him. Peter had repented, and here Jesus was asking him to commit his life. Peter’s life changed when he finally realized who Jesus was. His occupation changed from fisherman to evangelist; his identity changed from impetuous to “rock”; and his relationship to Jesus changed—he was forgiven, and he finally understood the significance of Jesus’ words about his death and resurrection.

Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him. The first time Jesus said, “Do you love (Greek agape: volitional, self-sacrificial love) me more than these?” The second time, Jesus focused on Peter alone and still used the word translated into Greek, agape. The third time, Jesus used the word translated into Greek, phileo (signifying affection, affinity, or brotherly love) and asked, in effect, “Are you even my friend?” Each time Peter responded with the word translated into Greek as phileo. Jesus doesn’t settle for quick, superficial answers. He has a way of getting to the heart of the matter. Peter had to face his true feelings and motives when Jesus confronted him. How would you respond if Jesus asked you, “Do you love me?” Do you really love Jesus? Are you even his friend?

Philippians 4:3

And I ask you, my true teammate,  to help these women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News. And they worked with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are written in the Book of Life.

Those “whose names are written in the Book of Life” are all who are marked for salvation through their faith in Christ (see also Luke 10:17-20; Revelation 20:11-15).

1 Peter 1:14-16

Obey God because you are his children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of doing evil; you didn’t know any better then.  But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God—who chose you to be his children—is holy.  For he himself has said, “You must be holy because I am holy.”

The God of Israel and of the Christian church is holy—he sets the standard for morality. Unlike the Roman gods, he is not warlike, adulterous, or spiteful. Unlike the gods of the pagan cults popular in the first century, he is not bloodthirsty or promiscuous. He is a God of mercy and justice who cares personally for each of his followers. Our holy God expects us to imitate him by following his high moral standards and by being both merciful and just.

After people commit their lives to Christ, they sometimes still feel a pull back to their old ways. Peter tells us to be like our heavenly Father—holy in everything we do. Holiness means being totally devoted or dedicated to God, set aside for his special use and set apart from sin and its influence. We’re to be set apart and different, not blending in with the crowd, yet not being different just for the sake of being different. God’s qualities in our life make us different. Our focus and priorities must be his. All this is in direct contrast to our old ways (1:14). We cannot become holy on our own, but God gives us his Holy Spirit to help us obey and to give us power to overcome sin. Don’t use the excuse that you can’t help slipping into sin. Rely on God’s power to free you from sin’s grip.

Ramblings

Do you really want to follow Christ’s example by doing the will of the Father?  Are you ready and willing to submit your plans, thoughts, and behavior to him?  If submitting is difficult for you in a particular area, pray specifically that God will help you.

Still need more help; work on loving God with your whole heart, mind, soul and strength.  If you make progress on that; God will give you the help to truly be His, “Good and Faithful Servant.”  Then all other things will fall into place.  You will still have battles to fight, but you will be on the winning side.