Christianity 201

March 11, 2017

Jesus in Luke on Money: Part 2 – The Rich and the Kingdom of God

As we explained yesterday, through a friend I was introduced to the writing of Don Merritt. We asked him for permission to use two of them for which he graciously agreed, but then I decided to split these over the course of two days, since they were on the same topic. Don is working his way through the gospel of Luke, but his blog also features topical items as well. Click the title below to read this one at The Life Project, and then take a few minutes to look around.

The Rich, The Way and The Kingdom

Luke 18:24-30

Jesus was fully aware that the disciples would be confused after His conversation with the rich man because, as we noted last time, He had blown up a major cultural expectation of the time that the rich were more favored by God than others were. As a result, He begins to teach them, even while the man is standing right there…

Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (18:24-25)

The rich man hadn’t been overly enthused at the prospect of giving up all of his wealth, and Jesus underscored the difficulty that many have in entering the Kingdom and leaving the priorities of this world behind. Looking at His example here of putting a camel through the eye of a needle, I think we can safely say that He was engaging in a touch of hyperbole to make the point. The reaction of the disciples speaks volumes about the prevailing assumptions of that culture: “Who then can be saved?”

If you notice, Jesus in His answer blows up a second predominant assumption of that time:

“What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (18:27)

There are two cultural teachings that are being corrected here: First, that the rich are most favored by God, and the second is that a person can attain righteousness by reliance upon their own ability to keep the Law; both of these are false. This second teaching is still with us, sometimes it is obvious, and sometimes it is more subtle, we call it “works”. You cannot earn your way into the Kingdom by following the rules, “doing church right” or by doing good deeds, for you can only enter the kingdom by faith in God through Christ. Can the rich enter the Kingdom? Yes, they can, by placing their faith in God, and not in their earthly possessions and positions.

Peter is beginning to comprehend: “We have left everything to follow you!”  (18:28)

In reply to Peter, Jesus indicates that there may be more than just “stuff” that can get in the way…

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” (18:29-30)

Notice the relationships that may also need to be left behind, notice also that they are in the same list as “home”, Matthew has “fields”, which is to say material possessions. The real point is that the follower of Christ must be willing to leave anything behind if it interferes with following Him, for with the Kingdom, you are either “all in” or all out. Aren’t these things that we all struggle with at one time or another?

This is one of those cases when the theology of the teaching is very simple, but living it can be difficult, yet with God, all things are possible. Consider this: The man who wrote Matthew’s Gospel was a tax collector. He was rich, he also had a family, friends and associates, but by the grace of God, he was one of the Twelve, and he wasn’t the only one. Remember Zacchaeus? Joseph of Arimathea? Saul of Tarsus?

With God, all things are indeed possible!

March 10, 2017

Jesus in Luke on Money: Part 1 – The Rich Young Man

Recently, through a fellow blogger who is also a personal friend, I was introduced to the writing of Don Merritt at The Life Project. Because some of his pieces are shorter than what we do here, I asked him for permission to use two of them for which he graciously agreed, but then I decided to run these two over the course of two days, since they were longer and also related. Don is working his way through the gospel of Luke, but his blog also features topical items as well. Click the title below to read this one at source, and then go exploring!

Jesus Meets a Rich Ruler

Luke 18:18-23

This account matches up quite nicely with Matthew’s (Matt. 19:18-22) although Matthew tells us that the rich man was young as well.

Social conventions and customs are a funny thing; they influence most of us in a way that enables us to make sweeping assumptions concerning great truths, even eternal ones, and yet those very conventions change often through history. We should take this reality as a warning to question the social conventions of our time, and this tale is a case in point. In Jesus’ day, as in many other historical periods, it was assumed that most wealthy people were the ones favored by God; why else would they be so blessed? Yes, some were not so ethical in their conduct, but many were good, hard working people, the bedrocks of the community; surely God’s favor was upon them!

What a contrast to those little children in the last scene, those little ones that represented vulnerability and humility. Right after Jesus commented about the little ones, a rich young man walks up to Him and asks a question:

A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (18:18)

Here’s a guy who appears to have it all, but he apparently believes that he is lacking in the way he has led his life; there is an element of humility here that we often overlook. In the dialogue that follows, we learn more about this young man:

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”

“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. (18:19-21)

In Matthew’s account, the man asks Jesus what he was still lacking right here. This young man was righteous, and appears to have good intentions, and as you will see, Jesus doesn’t dispute his claim that he has kept all of those commandments. It would also appear that the man was beginning to realize, perhaps more quickly than the disciples, that merely keeping commandments as was the Jewish prevailing thought, wasn’t quite enough, after all, why else would he have asked Jesus in the first place? Yet, he still seems to have believed that eternal life was contingent upon his ability to do something. Maybe he was right:

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. (18:22-23)

Jesus told the man to sell everything he owned, give money to the poor and follow Him. I cannot over-emphasize how radical this was, for the prevailing thought of those times said that the rich were blessed, worthy and most favored of all, yet Jesus told the man to liquidate and give to the poor. Notice, He didn’t say to give everything to the poor (as some older translations say) but the implication is clear enough. The story ends with the man going away sad, because he had great wealth.

Traditional teaching assumes the man did not do as Jesus told him, but I want to point out that the text doesn’t say so; maybe he did, maybe he didn’t… but he was sad.

This is where we like to bash people who have more than we do; I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this in class discussions and sermons and how many times I have read it, but I would suggest that we should not go rushing into this too quickly. I have known quite a few people who are quite wealthy, rich people, and they usually discover that their wealth, while handy for sure, is also a millstone around their necks; a burden more than a pleasure. Yet once they have it, it is hard to let go of. Even so, let’s not concentrate on those who have more than we do, let’s look in the mirror instead, for there is where Jesus message, and the young man’s predicament resonate:

Suppose Jesus came to you and told you to liquidate everything you have, that’s right dear reader, sell all your possessions, give to the poor and follow Him.

Would that make you happy?

If you answer “yes” to that question, then let’s take a closer look: Your home, your car(s), your accounts, retirement plans, investments, kids’ college funds, the contents of your house… everything. You show up to follow Jesus with only the shirt on your back. Hold on, the shirt on your back is also a possession, so you show up without even a shirt on your back or anything else, to follow Jesus. Are you happy?

More importantly, would you do it?

Maybe we should think carefully before we make this all about pointing fingers at others!

The good news is that we are still in that section where the instruction is for the disciples, and in the next part, we will see what Jesus has to say to them; will it get easier? Well, you’ll have to come back next time to find out!

January 28, 2017

Loving Your Neighbor in a Global World

In nearly 2,500 posts here at C201, only two or three times have I suspended the usual format in order to respond to current events or topical concerns. This is one of those days.

Over at Thinking Out Loud today, you’ll find an article the purpose of which is to link to Stephen Mattson’s article at the Sojourners website, American Christianity Has Failed. There are also some Tweets there from respected Christian leaders. The article begins,

For the last few years Christians have been singing worship songs that include lyrics like “ keep my eyes above the waves, when oceans rise …” and yet have rejected refugees who’ve seen loved ones die beneath waves, who themselves have literally struggled to keep from drowning in oceans. Those American Christians — particularly white evangelicals — continue to sing the words: “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders …” but fail to realize the shameful irony that they’re largely responsible for refusing shelter and opportunity to some of the world’s most helpless and oppressed people.

What struck me as something appropriate here was the collection of scripture verses with which Stephen ends his article:

…The gospel of Jesus has been traded in for a narrative of fear. But the Bible keeps reminding us to right the course:

Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah 1:17)

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt. 25:35)

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Lev. 19: 33-34)

Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him. (Prov. 14:31)

 Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Prov. 31: 8-9)

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? (1 John 3:17)

Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. (Jer. 22:3)

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” (Zech. 7:9-10)

…How anyone can see the pictures below and determine not to respond; not to help; is totally beyond comprehension. In a global world we don’t have the luxury of saying, ‘This isn’t our problem.”

In a time before mass communication, before satellites, before the internet, we could be excused for our ignorance. But this is not that world. Images appear in our Facebook and Twitter feeds and beg us to ask the ask the question, “What would Jesus have us do;” or better, “What would Jesus have me do?”

The gospel has not reached us if we simply turn our heads, or click to something else.

face-of-refugee-crisis

 

November 17, 2016

Who Needs Jesus?

by Clarke Dixon

  • How dare you call me a sinner?!
  • How dare you think you are better than me?!
  • How dare you think that, if such a thing as heaven exists, you are worthy and I am not?!”

This might be the kind of thing we hear from people as we share the Good News that Jesus came to save sinners. Good news, but with the bad news that you are a sinner. This also might be the kind of thing someone might not say, but that we imagine they will, so we shy away from sharing the Good News for fear it will come across as bad news. Let us consider a time “sinners” are the focus of Jesus.

The Pharisees came to the disciples with a question about Jesus: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:16 ) A good question considering the likelihood the people Jesus is friendly with would not be welcome in the local synagogue, never mind the Temple. Why is Jesus eating with these types? The answer is twofold.

One reason is so obvious we can easily miss it; Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners because he invites them to do so. This is made clear from the preceding verses.

As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” Mark 2:13

Levi, also known as Matthew, would have been collecting taxes on behalf of Herod Antipas, who would have been ruling by the power of, and on behalf, of Rome. This would make Levi one of those guys you do not want to be associated with if you have any desire to be truly Jewish and truly holy. At least according to the Pharisees. But this is the kind of guy Jesus invites to follow him.

The second reason is just as obvious; Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners because they accept the invitation. Notice Levi’s response to the invitation: “And he got up and followed him.” Mark 2:14. And then notice something about the tax collectors and sinners surrounding Jesus:

15 And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. Mark 2:15

Although Levi gets a specific invite to be a disciple, there are many tax collectors and sinners following Jesus around. They want to be with him. These are the kinds of people Jesus eats with because these are the kinds of people that want to be with him.

We see these two reasons reflected in the reason Jesus himself gives as to why he is eating with these sinners:

17 When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” Mark 2:17

Jesus comes to call the sick, and the sick respond to the call. Jesus comes to bring grace and healing to sinners, and sinners know they need grace and healing. Now notice how annoying these words of Jesus are for the Pharisees. They do not see their need of Jesus, but Jesus is clearly telling them that they do. But are they not the righteous, therefore not needing Jesus? Consider that the Pharisees would have known well the verses from the Old Testament that Paul brought together in his letter to the Romans:

What then? Are we any better off? No, not at all; for we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin,
10 as it is written:
“There is no one who is righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who has understanding,
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned aside, together they have become worthless;
there is no one who shows kindness,
there is not even one.”
13 “Their throats are opened graves;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of vipers is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 ruin and misery are in their paths,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”  Romans 3:9-18

The Pharisees would likely have agreed with Paul’s summary of the above: “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). They would have agreed about the need for God’s saving work in the lives of the sinful. But they also would have thought that if God was coming to save, they would be the insiders looking out, not the outsiders looking in. They would be eating at the table of God’s representative, congratulating themselves on how deserving they were of such an honour. But if God’s salvation activity is in Jesus, they are the outsiders looking in on tax collectors and sinners, the least deserving of society, sharing at the table with Jesus.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

So what are we to say to those offended by the bad news part of the Good News? To those who would object to being called “sinners”? To those who would object that we Christians in no way deserve the hope of heaven any more than anyone else?

We say

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

We spend time with Jesus, not because we deserve to, or because we are better, but because He invited and we know our need of him, just like the sick know their need of a doctor. And he invites you also:

Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. Revelation 3:20


All scripture references are from the NRSV. Read more of Clarke’s Sunday’s Shrunk Sermons at this link.

November 5, 2016

The Sermon on the Mount’s Impossible Demands

When we go back to a source we’ve used previously, I often look at the most recent article, decide it’s suitable and then format it for use here. But on returning to Barenuckle Bible, the website of John Myer, I read most of a 4-part series of articles on the lordship of Christ, published October 12, 19, 26 and November 2nd of this year.

For today however, I chose this article which I hope you will appreciate as much as I did. Click the title below to read at source.

Glad I Didn’t Dumb Down the “Impossible” Commands of Jesus

After many months and gallons of coffee, my Tuesday morning men’s group finished a study of The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

Those chapters have to be among the  most challenging in the entire Bible.  During our reading, I frequently had urges to tweak them just because it seems so patently impossible for mere mortals to turn the other cheek, love enemies, and not look at women with lust.

As the oldest man in that group, I felt obligated to be the voice of reason.  I didn’t want the younger guys spooked by a standard so far beyond them that being a Keebler Elf would appear more realistic than being a faithful Christian.

I’m glad I resisted the urge to dumb-down the Sermon verses.  After all, I’m not here to save people from Jesus.

These chapters weren’t meant to be immediately accessible, anyway.  We enter them in phases, like a kid growing into his dad’s shoes.  The standard described and commanded in Matthew 5-7 basically corresponds to the inner life of Christ.  You’re not supposed to read it and feel like, “I got this.”

In fact, Watchman Nee once wrote in his landmark book, The Normal Christian Life,

“A consideration of the written word of God—the Sermon on the Mount for example—should lead us to ask whether such a life has ever in fact been lived upon the earth save only by the Son of God Himself.”

Maybe then, the most reasonable instant reaction to this part of the Word is one of incredulity.  How on earth is someone like me ever going to live like that?

Ironically, after the Sermon was over, a leper approached Jesus, saying, “Lord, if you are willing you can make me clean.” (Matt. 8:2).  That’s about all anybody can feel after hearing those words—“I’m not clean.  I need serious help.”

Personally, any time I’ve ever started thinking I had the Christian life down cold—because I don’t use porn or drugs or run around on my wife—these dramatic verses reminded me all was still not well in Johnnyville.

At best I’m always a bit out of alignment, a good-hearted, inconsistent Christian, with plenty of blind spots. And frequently I’m a lot worse when compared to verses like this one: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).

Again, how will this ever come to pass?

I don’t think the answer is in the Sermon at all.  You’ll hunt those chapters in vain for special techniques, or spiritual hacks.

The key probably lies a few verses outside the Sermon in the conversation between Jesus and that leper.  He had asked for cleansing, and Jesus told him, “I am willing.”

That’s music to any leper’s ears.  No need for pretending to be clean, much less redefining the concept of cleanness into something less challenging.

It would be ridiculous to hope God would lower His standard to mine, when He’s willing to cleanse and lift me up to His.

 

September 6, 2016

Kingdom Incarnate

I’m currently reading a book scheduled for October release by California pastor Brian Loritts, Saving the Saved. I decided to see if he had anything online and discovered his blog and this article. Click the title below to read at source.

The Kingdom of God on Your Street/In Your Apartment Building

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said that if a Christian moved out of their neighborhood and no one felt a sense of loss, he wondered if that person was ever legitimately saved? Strong words, I know, but sobering.

Our family is settling into our new Northern California neighborhood, and all that comes with it—meeting new neighbors, figuring out grocery stores and vetting potential barbers. Amidst all the newness plays an old familiar question in our souls as we walk the sidewalks, “How can we bring the kingdom to this rustic neighborhood populated by old Victorian homes?” Of course this question leads to another more essential one, “What exactly is the kingdom?”

Jesus shows us in Matthew 9:35, “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.” In this one verse, we see the kingdom is both preaching AND healing; it addresses the physical AND the spiritual; the body AND the soul.

We Christians have made this simple, comprehensive question of the kingdom so complex and messy. Someone once said the mark of brilliance is the ability to make the complex simple. Well, if that’s true, then the mark of idiocy is the ability to make the simple complex. Historically, the church hasn’t been too bright. During the fundamentalist/modernist split of the early 20th century, the fracture took place over this very question of the kingdom with one side saying it’s essentially preaching, and the other countering with the kingdom being more about the body and issues of justice and care. During the civil rights movement, it was the church who marched in the streets, standing up against injustice, and it was the church who sat in the pews, at the same time, listening to truth and giving altar calls for people to get saved. A few years ago, there were some aspects of the church who were content to sit in bars, smoking a cigar and dropping a few expletives in jest as they took a break from reading the latest Brian McLaren book to form community with “pre-Christians.” While at the same time, hoards of Christians chose the cognitive route, rediscovering Calvin, and trying (and mostly failing) to make their way through his Institutes.

What is the kingdom?

As is often the case, Jesus presents us a third way, a way not marked by an either/or scenario, but a both/and posture. The Jesus of the gospels would’ve called people to repentance in church on Sunday, then jetted out the back door to march for voter rights in Selma. Jesus would go to the backyard party over my neighbor’s house, miraculously cause cases of the best wine to appear, blessing everyone there, and then proceed to preach an extemporaneous sermon inviting people into the joy of the kingdom.

Body and soul. Physical and spiritual. Feeding and proclaiming. This is the kingdom.

So what does it mean for us to bring the kingdom to our neighborhood? A few thoughts come to mind:

1. Mindful. I need to be mindful that God has planted our family on that block for a much bigger reason than a good investment, or safety and security. What if God wants us to be the chaplains of our street? I need to be mindful of this.

2. Presence. The house we bought doesn’t have a garage, and I’m kind of glad about that. It makes it much easier to interact with our neighbors. Already our family has taken long walks, and on the way we’ve met some people and had some great conversations. There’s just something about being out among the people. Jesus modeled this well.

3. Seek. What if Korie and I started to seek for tangible ways to bless others in our neighborhood? Gifts. Invitations. Cookouts. Help. All of this is in the category of Jesus healing and feeding.

4. Pray. While we’re helping to get the mail of our neighbors who’ve left town for a week, why not pray for them and others that God would save their souls.

5. Proclaim. Picking up mail is part of bringing the kingdom, but to do so without proclaiming how their deepest needs are met in the person of Jesus Christ is only half the story. Yes we need to be careful here. We don’t want to do the old bait and switch and make people feel as if our kindness is setting them up for a punch line. But people need to hear the good news. I want my street to come to know Jesus. How can they come to believe without hearing?

Check out Pastor Bryan’s messages on ALCF’s iTunes podcast

 

August 7, 2016

The Signs of Eternal Salvation

•••by Russell Young

Each of us wants assurance of an eternal hope.  The apostle John has provided clarification concerning this matter, but did not let assurance rest on a confession of faith once made.  Near the end of his first epistle he has recorded: “I wrote these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 Jn 5:13, NIV) The things that he wrote were contained in his first letter. From his epistle fifteen characteristics have been identified that expose knowledge of the believer’s hope. A person may know that he or she has eternal life if they:

  1. img 080716enjoy fellowship with Christ and the Father. (1:3, 2:24)
  2. do not keep on sinning. (2:29, 3:6,9)
  3. obey God’s commands (2:3, 3:24, 5:3)
  4. do not love this world or the things in it (2:15, 16, 5:4)
  5. purify themselves. (3:3)
  6. see a decreasing pattern of sin in his or her life. (3:3, 6, 9, 5:18)
  7. love other Christians. (2:9, 10, 3:10, 14, 4: 7, 11, 12, 4:19-20)
  8. experience answered prayer. (3:22)
  9. experience the ministry of the Holy Spirit. (2:27, 3:20, 24, 4:13)
  10. know the truth; can discern between spiritual truth and error. (2:21, 3:6)
  11. suffer rejection (hated) because of their faith. (3:13)
  12. love others. (4:7)
  13. have concern about the material needs of others. (3:17)
  14. are like Christ in this world. (4:17)
  15. have a clear conscience. (3:21)

No one can “work” to achieve what is required for eternal life and a single confession of faith will not accomplish it.  Without the Spirit the believer does not have the capacity to accomplish that which is needed, but would be left with his or her own sinful nature and a demanding body.  The life that manifests these characteristics is being worked in the believer by the Spirit of Christ in order that the Lord might be the first-born among many brothers and sisters in his likeness.  A person’s work is to believe and to believe to the extent that he or she is willing to submit to the leadership of the Holy Spirit (Heb 5:9; Rom 8:4).  The transformed believer will display the identified characteristics.

A person’s eternal salvation is not accomplished by adhering to the practices of an institution, nor living by a list of rules.  It does not take place through a specific religious experience or by engaging in a certain type of service.  Neither is it superficial “belief” that lacks trust and obedience.  Eternal salvation comes through Christ and the believer’s personal relationship with him.  The hopeful person must practice obedience so that Christ might live in and through the person who claims his name. (Col 1:27) A relationship must develop that leads the believer in a righteous walk because that is the only walk engaged by the Lord.

The apostle Paul said, “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I might be disqualified.” (1 Cor 9:27, NLT) He did not rest in the belief that he had mastered the life of faith.

God does not want his people to walk in fear but in love for him and in obedience to his will. Perfect love (which is obedience) casts out all fear and like the Israelites of old, his people have been told of his expectations. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Mt 22:37, NIV)

The love that God expects is revealed in a close relationship with him.  It requires reading his Word so that the Spirit might use it for any cleansing that is necessary to accomplish the believer’s transformation and develop holiness. And, it is based on an active prayer life through which sin is confessed and forgiveness sought so that a clean conscience can be maintained.  The importance of being made holy, washed by the cleansing of God’s Word (Eph 5:26), was made clear by Paul.  Righteous thoughts and actions lead to holiness (Rom 6:19, 22) and without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Heb 12:14)

All of God’s creation was fashioned for his good pleasure.  Humankind is part of that creation.  When all is said and done, God will be eternally satisfied with his work and the transformed believer.  Those who have listened to his voice, who possess the characteristics of his Son and those revealed by John, will be part of his eternal joy.

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

 

August 15, 2015

How Would You Define Holiness?

I wonder how I would fare with the question in the title above? I think my answer would involve some notion of separation or being set apart. Maybe that’s sanctification. Are the two not synonymous?

This is from the archives of Logos Walk Word Journal:

Deuteronomy 33:3 • Your Steps and Your Words

“Indeed, He loves the people; All Your holy ones are in Your hand, And they followed in Your steps; Everyone receives of Your words.”
—Deuteronomy 33:3 (NASB)

Who are “the people” referred to here that “He loves”? Who are “Your holy ones” identified as being “in Your hand”? Well, the answer lies in two clues about their behavior that sets them apart: “they followed in Your steps” and “receives of Your words”. They are the ones who listen and obey. I read a report produced by The Barna Group titled, “The Concept of Holiness Baffles Most Americans”. Normally I wouldn’t be too concerned about a poll of “Americans” because that implies a mixture of both Believers and non-Believers alike, meaning that I would expect the views of non-Believers to deviate from those of Believers in a combined poll. However, it’s this mixture that IS alarming since on this point there is virtually no mathematical difference between the views of either group! The responses of born again and non-born again adults are virtually identical. When asked to provide a definition of holiness, the most common answer was “I don’t know”, followed by a wide array of answers. Only 35% responded that “God expects you to become holy”, meaning that most don’t believe it’s even really an important issue.

The report offers some opinions as to what this might mean, but considering the fact that the Bible is becoming less and less important to those who call themselves Christian, I’m not at all surprised to learn of a measurable disconnect between the group and the biblical teaching of holiness. Combine this with the fact that in America there is no statistical difference in the behavior and moral underpinnings of those who attend church and those that don’t, it’s really not hard to understand that greatly de-emphasizing—if not outright dropping—God’s Word is a necessary step towards enabling one to act any way they choose. Without God’s Word, one is not presented with the standards of being wholly separated and exclusively devoted — i.e. “holy” — to God.

“For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”
—Deuteronomy 7:6 (NASB)

The demand for holiness carries over into the New Testament as well.

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
—Romans 10:1-2 (NASB)

Lord, that we would be an example to everyone of your holiness, the product of receiving Your Word and following in Your steps, so that we will become Your exclusive and dedicated possession, rid of all ties to this world, exclusively bound to You.†††


Here’s a classic worship song that came to mind as I was preparing this:

February 24, 2015

A Cross-Carrying Kind of Life

cross at Grace ChurchThis is one of two posts in a series by Deb Wolf who blogs at Counting My Blessings. This is her third time appearing here at Christianity 201 and we do appreciate the work she does on her site; the tag line is “Encouraging you with stories of faith, hope and love.” Click the title below to read at source and/or read part two, “Jesus Answer to the Fear of Cross-Carrying.

When You Don’t Want a Cross-Carrying Kind of Faith

There is a verse in the Bible that did anything but give me peace and contentment. I tried to pretend I was obedient, but my heart knew it terrified me.

Then He [Jesus] called the crowd to Him along with His disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. Mark 8:34–35

[Last Wednesday] was Ash Wednesday—the beginning of Lent. For the next six and a half weeks followers of Jesus will fast, pray, and ponder His journey to the cross.

Followers who are called to deny themselves, carry their cross, trust and obey . . . lose their life for Jesus.

I didn’t want to carry my cross. I liked my comfortable safe life. Sure there were some problems and pain, but life—my life, my kid’s lives, my husband’s life, complete trust and obedience . . . what could happen to a life lost to cross carrying.

My doctor and a counselor said I was “high-strung,” anxious.

Lack of Faith

I knew I was a fear-filled worrier. Seriously, I turned worry into an art form. Not surprising. Look around. Have you seen all the truly terrible things that can happen?

I didn’t want to admit it, but I knew it was lack of faith.

But that verse and others like it:

But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.” Acts 9:15–16

For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in His steps. 1 Peter 2:21

 If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. Matthew 10:38

Giving Up Fear for Faith

“I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith . . . I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

It’s true. In this world there will be trials and sorrows. Worry doesn’t prevent it. Fear won’t keep it out of reach.

Trials and sorrows did happen, but.

What a small yet important word.

“You will have trials and sorrows. But take heart, because.

Take heart [don’t lose your faith], because…

I have overcome the world
I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.
Be sure of this: I am with you always.

Through trials and sorrows Jesus was faithful, and because of His faithfulness my faith grew. Faith that was greater than my fear. Faith that was impossible when I focused on my fears, but grew when I kept my eyes on Jesus.

Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Hebrews 12:1–2

February 18, 2015

The Transfiguration: Listen to Him

Today, our regular mid-week thoughts from Pastor Clarke Dixon.  Click the title below to read at his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

The Transfiguration Clarification

2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them,  3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.  4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.  5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.  7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (Mark 9:2-7 NRSV emphasis mine)

The transfiguration of Jesus may seem strange to us, with dazzling clothes, and the appearance of Moses and Elijah, but as strange as it may seem, this is a very important moment with much to teach the follower of Jesus, both then, and today.

Transfiguration of JesusTo understand it well we will want to notice the many references back to the Old Testament. The event occurs on a mountain, which reminds us of God giving the law to Moses on Mount Sinai. Also we have the radiance of Jesus, reminding us of the radiance of Moses’ face when he had spent time in God’s presence (see Exodus 34:29,35). We also have Peter’s reaction, which though most translations have as a statement, some Biblical scholars think should be a question: “Is it right for us to be here?” The Israelites were not to go up Mount Sinai with Moses, for God is holy and they were not. Peter may be reflecting that same concern of getting too close to where God’s presence and glory is being made manifest. Then there is Peter’s suggestion of building shelters or “booths.” The word for shelter can also be translated as “tabernacle,” and part of the intent of the tabernacle was to shield the people from the glory of God while God’s presence was among them. And of course we have the presence of two key figures from the Old testament, Moses and Elijah. These are very key as Moses represents the Law, and Elijah represents the prophets. Both the law and the prophets are associated with God’s speaking to the people and His expectation of their obedience.

So what has this to do with my life today?

First, the transfiguration gives clarity to the identity of Jesus. The disciples knew that there was something special about Jesus. And many people today think there is something special about Jesus, but when asked what that is, they will talk about his great ethics, or his inspirational compassion and love of peace. But that does not capture it, for that quaint view of Jesus is not amazing enough. Consider how amazing it would have been for Peter, James, and John, to find themselves standing with Moses and Elijah. These were two key heroes of the people, representing the law and prophets. Yet God does not introduce Moses with “here is my servant, Moses. Listen to him,” nor Elijah with “here is my spokesperson Elijah, listen to him.” No, for there is one of even greater importance standing among them: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (Mark 9:7 NRSV). As amazing as standing in the presence of Moses or Elijah would be, it is not as amazing as standing in the presence of Jesus. Though Moses and Elijah could reflect the glory of God, Jesus is the source. Though Moses and Elijah could call people to repentance, Jesus is the One who redeems the one who repents. Far too many Christians today do not have an amazing enough understanding of who Jesus is. Let the transfiguration amaze us.

Second, the transfiguration gives clarity as to how to live as a Christian. Some people become Christians, but it is as if they are taking up religion. They want to know the rules, they want to fit into the denominational subculture, they want to be like everyone else in the religion. But Christianity is not taking up a religion, it is entering into relationship with God through a person, Jesus Christ, in the power of God’s Holy Spirit. Entering into relationship with Jesus is not taking up religion, but taking up the cross and following Jesus in the way of the cross. It is not being like other religious people, but becoming like Jesus. Being a follower of Jesus means: paying attention to the teaching of Jesus, paying attention to the example of Jesus, and paying attention to the example of the early Christians as they followed the teaching and example of Jesus. All this is recorded for us in God’s Word. In short, we are to “listen to him.”

Third, the transfiguration provides a response to certain accusations being made against Christianity. In our day we seem to be seeing a rise in violent militant Islam and many are saying that Christianity could be as likely to turn violent. People will point to passages from the Old Testament as proof. However, when people compare Christianity with Islam in this way they are really comparing apples and oranges with the conclusion of “we are all fruit after all.” Or comparing cashews with almonds and concluding “we are all nuts.” However, if you are allergic to cashews and not almonds, knowing the difference becomes very important. It is important to know the difference between Islam and Christianity on this point.

When a Christian turns to violence, he or she is not paying attention to the teaching of Jesus, the example of Jesus, or the example of the early Christians and how they follow the teaching and example of Jesus. He or she is not expressing the Christian faith, but rather a sinful heart. We are not thinking here of those times that violence may be a matter of national or personal security; that is a deep topic worth mining. That Christians have turned to violence is not in dispute. That the turning to violence is an expression of Christianity is. We are to “listen to him.” Rip out of context whatever passages you want from the Old Testament, we are to “listen to him.”

When a Muslim turns to violence, we are grateful that he or she (but typically he) is in the minority of Muslims. However, the militant Muslim can point to the teaching of Muhammed, the example of Muhammed, and the example of the early Muslims. Each has violence. Thankfully this is a minority view, but it is a possible view which the militant Muslim can defend theologically, and use to radicalize others. This is happening. The militant Christian cannot defend a violent expression of Christianity. We are to “listen to him.” When we do that we pick up a cross, not a sword.

October 22, 2014

What’s In It For Me?

Pastor Clarke Dixon continues his series on generosity; to read this week’s entry at source and check out previous installments, click the title below.

Selfish Generosity? Reflections on Matthew 19, 20

 

Rich Young RulerCan you be generous and yet remain selfish and self-centered at the same time? According to the Bible, yes!

First, let us consider the rich young ruler who asks: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16 NRSV). Notice incidentally that he is looking for only one thing to do! But notice especially what he is not asking: “Teacher, what must I do to see God’s name honored? Teacher, what must I do to see your Kingdom come? Teacher, what must I do to see God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven? Teacher, how can I be of help?” Instead his question is very self focused. He may as well be asking “What about me? What’s in this for me?” Being rich, he would have had the resources to be helpful to Jesus in His ministry, being young he would have had the energy, and being a ruler, his influence also might of been of help. But helping himself is the only thing on his mind at this time.

A short conversation between Jesus and the young man ensues, but there is something notable about Jesus’ response as to which commands the man should focus on:

And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honour your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 19:18-19 NRSV)

Do you notice anything about this list? These are all commands that focus on relationships. Jesus is here looking to wean the young man off his self-focus and instead to focus on others. Jesus takes this focus on others a step further:

“If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me (Matthew 19:21 NRSV)

The young man walks away grieved for being rich now he cannot fathom becoming poor and trusting the Lord with his treasures in heaven. He cannot focus on others. He cannot get beyond his self-focus.

Jesus takes the opportunity to teach, as we read 19:23-26 , about the difficulty of the rich entering the Kingdom of Heaven but things quickly get back to the theme of self-focus: “Then Peter said in reply, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?”” (Matthew 19:27 NRSV). Peter here is comparing himself and the other disciples to the rich young ruler. They had left everything to follow, the young man had not. Is there reward for that? Yes, great will be their reward according to Jesus in verses 28-29. However, notice how Peter’s question is very much like the rich young man’s? He may as well be saying “What about me? What’s in this for me?” It is a self-centered question.

The next parable in 20:1-16 develops this. Some laborers are hired to put in a full twelve hour day, while others are hired for less, some even for only one hour. But at the end of the day they all get the same amount, and understandably the workers who worked the longest are upset. But to this the master responds:

Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous? (Matthew 20:13-16 NRSV)

That we are to take this parable as furthering the thoughts of reward in the previous chapter is made clear by the repeating of “So the last will be first, and the first will be last” in both 19:30 and 20:16. To summarize those two passages: “First; yes you will be rewarded. Second; do not focus on your reward.” Someone who has fully surrendered to the Master will trust Him with the final outcome of all things. Someone who has a self focus, however, will focus in on the rewards and make comparisons with others receive. Though we may leave all to follow Jesus, we may still be self-centered rather than fully surrendered. Self-sacrifice may not be sacrificial at all if it is an attempt to come out on top.

Keep reading and we will keep seeing this lesson on self focus. Next up, Jesus speaks of His own death in 20:17-19, which of course has its focus on you and me. Right after that in 20:2-,21 the mother of James and John, with both of them along, asks Jesus to give her sons the best places in the Kingdom. They didn’t get the lesson on being focused on others. They didn’t get the lesson on being focused on God. They didn’t get the lesson on being focused on the Kingdom. They had left everything to follow Jesus. But they had not yet left their self focus. Have you?

August 5, 2014

“Lord, to whom can we go?”

I discovered this article over a week ago, and hesitated using it here because I would have to reformat it. But I kept returning to it and decided to just go for it. The blog is named Redbird’s Roost and the author also links to a large number of faith-focused blogs by women. To read this at source, click on the title below:

Is Jesus Your Kind Of Christ?

“As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.” John 6:66-69 (NASB)

Some persons have a fixed notion of what the Messiah, the Christ, ought to be. He has to conform to that idea or they will not have Him. The five thousand whom Jesus fed expected a Christ who would deliver them physically from the humiliation of political bondage to Rome. Some of Jesus’ works had led them to believe that He could gain that freedom for them. A new Moses, He could feed them with bread from heaven and do other marvelous things for them. If Jesus would be that kind of Christ, they would gladly have Him.

But we read that “many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.” How did that come about? Jesus simply refused to be their kind of Christ. He offered Himself to them as “the bread which came down from heaven” (John 6:14). He said other things that were strange to their ways of thinking, and it was all too much for them to take.

Have we set the terms on which we will have Jesus? Have we said to ourselves, “If Jesus does thus and so for me, I’ll follow Him”? Often what we do today is not to reject Jesus outright, but to distort His mission and message so as to get rid of Him less painfully. Perhaps we gladly accept the idea of His Saviorhood and reject His Lordship over all of life, or we gladly accept the idea of His demanding Lordship and ignore His gracious Saviorhood. Or we may do other things that minimize His real mission.

Most of us who have met Jesus would be reluctant to give Him up. He has an eternal fascination. But we may be confused and frustrated as to who and what He is and what He expects of us. Among the five thousand who heard Jesus and were fed by Him were many who forsook Him temporarily and later came back to Him to be faithful disciples. A loud minority can work havoc among a confused majority or can confuse a majority and take advantage of it. Looking for leadership, the majority often takes the ideas of a vocal minority too seriously. Suppose a few leaders had openly accepted Jesus’ teaching. Would most of the people gone along with them? We don’t know, of course. But it is quite likely. Years ago, a famous preacher presented a sermon on the theme, “The Hope of the World (Is) in Its Minorities.” But ignorant, prejudiced, selfish minorities can cause great mischief–as can majorities when confused in value judgments.

Who stirred up the crowd that wanted to make Jesus King? Who cause the confusion? Could it have been Jesus’ own disciples? They were slow to understand His teaching and His plans. Mark tells us that Jesus made His disciples go to the other side of the lake. Was it because the disciples themselves had added to the popular misunderstanding about the Messiah and about Jesus in particular? It is certainly true that sometimes Jesus’ truest friends make it difficult for others to believe in Him and take Him for what He actually is. Some potential disciples, therefore, have to wait for the air to clear a bit before they are ready to commit themselves to Jesus.

It must have been appalling when many went away from Jesus disappointed. Doubtless Jesus felt the pain of it and the disciples shared Jesus’ pain. Was this the way to win a world to God?

The disciples could have parted company with Jesus then. The situation was right. They were free. “You do not want to go away also, do you” Jesus asked.

Jesus does not force us to follow Him or to continue to follow Him. The best religion is free, spontaneous response to the promise and challenge of God’s love. The community has to compel its citizens to conform to certain forms of behavior. It does this through laws, courts, and certain judgments. However, every true Christian is a Christian by his own choice. God has given us the freedom to walk out–anytime. But Simon Peter replied to Jesus’ question, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

As far as the disciples were concerned, all escape routes were closed. The disciple, of course, could walk away from Jesus physically; they could join the departing crowd physically. Nothing could prevent that. But psychologically and spiritually they could not leave. They were too closely bound to Him by love and conviction to ever leave Him. Staying with Jesus was their hearts’ deepest desire. In Him they had discovered the depths of reality; eternal life, the experience of God.

How can we explain it when a man stands with a minority–or even alone–on some vital issue? Or doggedly goes on believing in God when others around him are losing their faith one by one? Or faces crushing tragedy without giving up? The answer is very simple: Jesus Christ has given them something–an illuminating experience of God–that brings meaning to life. Because of what Jesus has done, there is something to live for, and even die for. Simon Peter would no doubt have a hard time explaining all his reasons for continuing with Jesus, but he put his finger on the basic, the most important reason: none can measure up to Jesus Christ in answering our deepest needs, especially our need for God.


Is there a subject you’d like to see covered here? A scripture verse you’d like addressed? Another devotional blog you’d like to recommend? Leave a comment any time in the current post or better still go to this page.

August 1, 2014

Humility Reminders

Today’s post appeared jointly with the blog Thinking Out Loud.

 

Some of you know that in the last two or three years my go-to portion of scripture has been the place in Philippians 2 where Paul breaks out into a section that translators set out from the text as poetry, leading many to conclude it was either a creed or something that had been set to music as an early church hymn. This is the passage I mentally recite when I can’t get back to sleep, and if you invite me to speak at your church on less than 72 hours notice, this is the passage I will speak on.

I’ve created my own version of it, but for sake of familiarity, this is the NKJV, which is usually not my default translation:

5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who,being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

So in practical terms, how do you adopt that mindset, that attitude; or to put it another way, how do you get to be humble?

He took on the role of a servant

Of the four things the text states this is really the only one that is open to us. We have already entered into the human condition, and we will almost certainly taste death, even if it is not the excruciating form that Jesus endured. Since we have no options vis-a-vis three of the four things stated, what we must press into is the idea of adopting the towel and the basin as our personal symbols; to give up the stallion in favor of a donkey; to take a seat at the back, not the front; and to seek not be served, but to serve.

We need to remember our sin

When spiritual pride comes knocking at the door, we need to remember our sinful condition. Like David, our sin is ever before us. If you’ve mastered holiness, good for you; but I still live in the middle of two conditions, in the warfare of two wills, two natures battling for control of my mind and actions. Without making this a confessional, suffice it to say that, like my apostle namesake, I haven’t attained it, but press on to it. Remaining in Christian community will help keeps us transparent and accountable.

It’s a really big planet

We are also humbled when we consider not only our place in the universe, but that we are members of a tribe seven billion strong. No matter how large your Facebook friends list, or whether you take significance in being either a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond; on a global scale sense of personal importance fades dramatically. You may be a superstar in your local church, or your denomination, or you may have won public service awards in your community, but on an international scale you’re probably not such a big deal.

Identifying humility’s opposite

I wrote about this a few days ago and suggested that while we often name pride as the culprit that undermines a humble spirit, ambition can be equally deadly. Being able to name the players in the spiritual battle that’s always ongoing really helps us see the root of the problem. Philip Yancey, in What’s So Amazing About Grace wrote about how the larger society operates by the rules of un-grace. Probably most people equally operate by the laws of un-humility. Timothy spoke of the last days being characterized by people who were “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy…” We certainly do see a lot of that. When I remember how contagious these attitudes are I recognize the need to guard myself from trying to ‘keep up with the Joneses.’

I have a good example to follow

The whole point of this passage is comparison. Let the attitude or mindset that was in him also be in you. Three months ago, I wrote about the classic CCM song Understudy that uses Hollywood imagery to describe us apprenticing to the one with the starring role. No wonder the early followers of Jesus were called “little Christs.” Or, if you prefer, you can think of the students of who “walk in the dust of the rabbi;” doing everything their teacher does.

What other aspects of Christian living can serve to keep us humble?

 

 

June 21, 2014

Some Followed at a Distance

But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome.  (Matthew 26: 58)

Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire. (Mark 14:54)

Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs.  (Matthew 27:55)

I was thinking today that I’ve never included one of my oldest son’s favorite worship songs here, I Just Want to be Where You Are by Don Moen.

The opening lines are:

I just want to be where you are
Dwelling daily in your presence
I don’t want to worship from afar
Draw me near to where you are.

The line that got to me was, “I don’t want to worship from afar.”

I realize this is rather superficial, but in my years in church I have attended some churches which fill the back rows first, and other churches in which the front rows fill up right away. I’m not sure what accounts for the difference in church culture. I’ve been to seminars and conferences where people will pay top dollar for airfare, hotel, food and conference admission, only to grab a seat in the very last row. But I’ve also seen people at Christian events who run to grab a seat near the front, with Bibles and notebooks already open before the speaker is even introduced.

Turning to today’s scripture texts, we certainly know why Peter followed Jesus from a distance. Jesus had just been arrested, and for all he knew, he might be next. So he became a ‘distant’ follower. The same applies to the women. Matthew Henry says that either way, it was either the ‘fury’ of those who arrested Jesus or the ‘fear’ in themselves that kept them from getting too close.

Between these two considerations, where do you find yourself?

In terms of the superficial, do you gravitate to the front rows at Christian gatherings, or are you content to stay near the back? Even if life circumstances currently make you one of the people Ruth Graham calls “broken on the back row;” may I encourage you to try moving up.

In terms of the scripture text and today’s song, can you say, “I just want to be where you are;” or are you “following at a distance?” Perhaps where you live there is a stigma associated with Christianity, or a local church. Whatever it is, it probably doesn’t compare to what Peter and the women felt on that terrible night. What if Peter hadn’t denied his association with Jesus? I can say from personal experience that life changes when you are willing to identify with the body of Christ no matter what may come.

There’s something about this simple song that intensifies as you hear it. Take time to listen to it more than once. Enter fully into God’s presence.

Next Page »