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

July 25, 2017

Subtracting in order to Mulitply

Today we pay a return visit to popular pastor and author Greg Laurie. Click the title to read at source. If you’re clicking in July, there is a series running on spiritual battles for which you might enjoy reading several installments.

The Importance of Right Motives

“And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”

Jesus was becoming very popular in His ministry—maybe too much so. People followed Him in great numbers. The crowds swelled on a daily basis. But Jesus looked at these people and, being God, knew their motives.

He recognized that most of them were not interested in spiritual things at all. They wanted to be dazzled by a few miracles. Others heard that He had fed the hungry. A few hoped He would overthrow Rome and establish the kingdom of God.

There were various reasons people had for following Him, but He realized many of them were following Him for the wrong reason. Thus, He made a series of statements intentionally designed to thin out the ranks. He wanted to be left with those who really wanted to follow Him—not fair-weather followers but true, committed disciples and soldiers.

In the same way in the church today, there are many people who are not really interested in the spiritual. God wants us to follow Him for the right motives.

Jesus said, “Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. . . . Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14: 27, 33). Here Jesus laid out plainly what it is to be His disciple, to be a soldier in His service.

God has an unusual set of mathematics. He subtracts in order to multiply. Sometimes we think bigger is always better. But these words of Jesus show that He is more interested in quality than He is in quantity. Yes, He wants everyone to come into the Kingdom. He wants everyone to believe. But He wants us to come with the right motives, because a halfhearted soldier can be more of a liability than an asset.

 

December 3, 2016

Wishing You Had Never Been Delivered

Today we have a new writer who came recommended to us. Colin Sedgwick is a lifelong Baptist minister who writes at Welcome to Sedgonline.

I gotta say this article had me from the first paragraph, where Colin asks a rather provocative question which does follow logically from the key scripture text. Click the title below to read more at his blog.

No turning back!

That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! … Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt”. Numbers 14:1-4

Here’s a question that calls (please) for a strictly honest answer: Have you ever wished you had never become a Christian?

It may not have been for long; maybe just a brief phase. But you thought to yourself: “Hey, this Christian life is pretty tough going! When I first got converted it was all so exciting, so new, so fresh! But today…”

Perhaps you thought of all those prayers faithfully prayed, but which never seem to have been answered. Or the meetings you went to on dark, rainy evenings, when hardly anyone else bothered to turn up. Or the tensions and disagreements which flared up from time to time. You might even have thought of all the money you had given over the years to the church and other good causes – boy, tot all that up and perhaps you could have had the same sort of car as sits on your neighbour’s drive…

And you looked back and remembered the things you enjoyed in your pre-Christian days, but which you chose to sacrifice for Jesus’ sake. Were they really so wrong? You looked at your non-Christian friends and family and thought, “They seem to get on perfectly well without God.” Mmm.

It happens. It happened in the early church. The whole of the Letter to the Hebrews is concerned with this very thing. Didn’t Jesus talk about it in the parable of the sower (see Matthew 13:18-23)?

So if your answer to my question was “Well, yes, to be honest I have sometimes felt that way”, you can at least take some comfort from the fact that you are in good (or perhaps I should say bad!) company.

And here it is, tucked away also in the Book of Numbers. Remember the story…

God’s chosen people have been slaves in Egypt, but, under Moses and Aaron, God has given them a dramatic and miraculous liberation: the cruel tyrant Pharaoh has been humbled; the very sea opened up before them to give them a route out! They head into the desert with the faith that God will lead them to a wonderful new homeland, truly a “promised land”.

But… it won’t be quite yet. No, there will be a period of journeying in the desert, and that won’t be easy.

And guess what? They get disappointed and disillusioned.

And that leads to grumbling and discontent. And that, in turn, leads to outright rebellion.

You can read about the grumbling in (among other places) Numbers 11:4-6. Influenced by “the rabble” (presumably hangers-on who had joined Israel to get out of Egypt), they hanker after those lovely cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic they enjoyed in Egypt. They get fed up with that boring, tasteless manna stuff (heavenly bread, in fact) which God sent to feed them. “Give us meat and fish!” they cry.

The rebellion is described here in chapter 14. This Moses is rubbish! Why don’t we just die right here in the desert (don’t worry – that’s exactly what they will do)? And then these shocking words: “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.

What? What! They’ve witnessed the plagues in Egypt, from which they were protected by God. They saw with their own eyes the waters open up for them. They have rejoiced in the miraculous bread from heaven. They’ve met with God in truly awesome fashion at Mount Sinai. They’ve seen demonstrations of both God’s mercy and his severe judgment. And yet they can say, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt”. Can you believe it?

Suppose for a moment they had gone back to Egypt, tails between their legs, humbling themselves before Pharaoh. I can’t really imagine what life would have been like. But there’s one thing I’m sure of: it wouldn’t have been long before they were grumbling again. After all, they’ve got plenty of “previous” when it comes to that: see, for example, Exodus 15:24).

For us Christians, the issues are generally two-fold when we are tempted to “go back to Egypt”. It’s either the seductions of this corrupt world; or it’s the sheer hardship of the cross-bearing business of following Jesus. (We’re not talking here about intellectual difficulties regarding our faith, or about the kind of spiritual crisis that sometimes happens: they’re a different matter altogether.)

I can only say: if that temptation does rear its head, the thing to do is sit down with a cool, clear mind, to pray with an honest heart, to remember the emptiness of the time before you followed Jesus, to remember too the many blessings you have received. And then to – once more – pick up your cross. You won’t regret it.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the day you changed my life as I came to believe in Jesus and follow him. However hard the way may sometimes be, help me to remain faithful to him until that day I enter the promised land of your eternal kingdom. Amen.


Of course we couldn’t look at this text without thinking of this Keith Green song!

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

 

February 26, 2011

Selwyn Hughes on the Hard Sayings of Jesus


” ‘Where then did this man get all these things?’ And they took offence at him.”  ~ Matthew 13: 56-67 

So many churches proclaim only half the gospel — the attractive half. It is true that our Lord is risen from the dead and offers peace, joy, and the promise of heaven to those who believe, but there is another side to the gospel — a side which regrettably in some sections of the Church is being played down.

I refer to some of our Lord’s sayings which seem to turn general ideas about life on their head, like dying in order to live, losing in order to find, going down in order go up, freedom in the midst of slavery, success through failure, and so on. Many Christians sidestep these issues and focus instead on more appealing ideas, like the prosperity gospel, healing for all, obtaining heaven now, etc.  When we ignore what have been called “the hard sayings of Jesus,” we end up with a form of Christianity that has little cutting edge and is devoid of power. Focusing only only on the attractive part of the gospel may fill the pews, but it leaves the heart half empty.

Now, as the more appealing truths of the gospel — comfort, rest, peace, joy, etc. — are so widely known and so well expounded, we need not make them our focus.  …Meditate with me on the less appealing but equally important truths, the knowledge of which will add depth and meaning to our discipleship. Someone has said that “it is only as we grapple that we grow.”

I think one reason the less attractive things are ignored or overlooked is because the hard sayings of Jesus contain thoughts and ideas that challenge our self-centeredness and cut deep into our carnal nature. Indeed, so contrary are our Lord’s principles to fallen human nature that at times they appear downright offensive. Take this for example: “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead” (Matt 8:22). Or this statement made to the Syro-phoenician woman: “Let the children first be fed, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Mark 7:27 RSV). These hard sayings of Jesus (and there are many more) present us with tough issues that we have to wrestle with in order to fully comprehend them.

Those who prefer to settle for a comfortable kind of religion prefer what theologians call “the comfortable words of the gospel,” such as “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). What we must learn however is that in grappling with the seemingly hard and offensive sayings of Christ, we come up against important issues which strike at those things which encumber our lives and prevents us from being the kind of disciples Christ wants us to be. If we refuse to face these issues then, although we may call ourselves Christians, we cannot really call ourselves disciples.

~Selwyn Hughes, Every Day With Jesus (Sept 1/2 readings, 1992)