Tuesday, June 07, 2022

As Jesus Walked: Christ Revealed in the Synoptic Gospels, #11: Glimpses of the Kingdom


  (This post is part of a series. For previous posts in the series please see #1#2#3#4#5#6#7#8#9, #10)

Having just called the Twelve, Jesus immediately helps them learn to start walking in the new reality of why He called them - to be with Him, to send them out, and to give them authority (Mark 3:14-15). Before giving them specific assignments, though, Jesus does what any good teacher would do: He lays out the expectations. Specifically, He begins by breaking down their ideas of what it would mean to follow the Messiah - and gives them glimpses of the Kingdom He is asking them to promote.  

Glimpses of the Kingdom (Matthew 5:1-7:29; Luke 6:17-49)
Because this blog series focuses on learning to walk as Jesus walked, we won't be looking at every verse of the "Sermon on the Mount/Plain" or the controversies of interpreting a few of them. We won't take up the debate on whether Matthew & Luke present two separate sermons or two versions of one sermon. Instead, we will focus on what is clear: Jesus immediately moves from calling His disciples to teaching them, and in doing so gives them a vision of their calling that would have been quite countercultural to Jewish understandings of the Messiah at the time. In the Sermon, Jesus provides glimpses of the kingdom – glimpses of what life can be like if we truly embrace kingdom living nowThe best summary of these glimpses of the Kingdom is found in the Beatitudes.

(Matthew 5:1-12 NIV) - Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying: 
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

From start to finish, the Beatitudes are in stark contrast to our natural reaction to a given reality. The Beatitudes turn me on my head and shake me around, so that I find that what seems “upside down” is really “upside right”. In a word, they transform my mind. There's no doubt it would have been the same for the Twelve. 

Jesus didn’t call them so they could overthrow Rome - probably an especially surprising truth for Simon the Zealot who would have trained for that specific opportunity. Jesus didn't call them so that they could withdraw from the world, as the Essenes of their day did. Instead, He called them to be part of the prayer He teaches in this very sermon: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” 

As we learn to walk with Jesus, in order to truly live these words we have to first understand that the typical Western Christian's thinking about being “blessed” is all messed up. Think about it – when you hear someone says “God has blessed me” what are they usually referring to? Not always of course, but in the West that phrase often references material prosperity, or circumstances that have gone the way the person wanted them to go. We have an erroneous idea that challenging circumstances are tests we have to pass in order to get to the blessing. Before we can effectively be part of bringing a glimpse of His kingdom to earth, we have to learn what blessedness really means.

The word makarios literally means “a sense of God’s approval”. It’s a contentment that comes from doing what is right in His sight and is rooted in right relationship with Him. A.T. Robertson defines it as "happiness identified with pure character" that pictures the "ideal of a world-wide sympathy and of a happiness realized in ministry." The word is used in the opposite sense of “need” to describe a state of sufficiency and fullness. A literal rendering of Psalm 23:1 reads, “The Lord is my shepherd; I lack nothing.” This is a perfect definition of a state of blessedness. When we are "blessed" we are fully satisfied. Jesus’ words teach me that this blessedness, this satisfaction, comes when I chose holiness over sin, His way over mine, His presence over popularity; when I live congruently with the new creature He’s made me, then I experience true blessedness.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor and theologian who ardently opposed Hitler and the overwhelming majority of churches that gave into Hitler’s schemes. Over time, Bonhoeffer came to see the Sermon as a call to a lifestyle of radical discipleship for all Christians. In his insightful book, The Cost of Discipleship, he expounds on the Sermon in great detail. 

Bonhoeffer observes that while the crowds were present, it was His disciples to whom the message was directed. These disciples followed Jesus (like us!) but lived among the people (also like us!) to preach His call to discipleship. Bonhoeffer sees that the very call to follow Jesus led these men into a status of being poor, afflicted, and hungry – a place they might not have been if they had stayed in their businesses and minded their own business. Ultimately, Bonhoeffer sees the Beatitudes as encouragement for those whose call to discipleship has led them to a place of struggle.

Yes, Jesus calls the disciples blessed in the presence of the crowd. This becomes a call to all who follow Jesus to live out what He makes us by His promise. For His path to satisfaction and joy has never been a path to more of this temporary, fading existence. Instead His promised depth of satisfaction and joy is directly linked to us bringing a glimpse of His kingdom to this broken, needy world. 

Lessons Learned

As noted in the previous posts,  I am seeking to frame my lessons learned, the "what does it mean for me" around four questions to help my theology meet my reality: 

What does this story teach me about Jesus and the life He gives? (1 John 1:1-2

Freedom for the oppressed. Meeting the tangible needs of people.  Trading in legalism and accusations for spending ourselves on behalf of others’ needs. Repairing things at a societal level. Enjoying the presence of the Lord. This is true satisfaction and joy. This is true blessedness. The life He gives is blessed in ways I could never imagine in my preconceived ideas of happiness. 


How does this story about Jesus reveal God to me? (Hebrews 1:1-3)
His ways are not our ways, His thoughts are not my thoughts, His priorities are not my priorities - and yet when I read these words, I see things as the way they are supposed to be. Living in a fallen world, I too often learn to accept as normal things which are simply "not supposed to be that way." God graciously lets us have a peek at His ways in this extended Sermon, and it is both challenging and incredibly beautiful.

What does this story teach me about walking as Jesus walked, being conformed to His image? (2 Cor 3:18; 1 John 2:6)
As followers of Jesus, we are called to be part of His kingdom in heaven coming down to earth – bringing “up there”, down here. Not in its fullness, and not in a worldly political way, but in a very real, tangible, practical way that expresses our faith and trust in Jesus Christ. To either spiritualize or legalize the Sermon misses the point. What Jesus wants us to do is live it.

How does this story increase my fellowship with God and others? (1 John 1:3-4)
What we need in the church is an expanded understanding of all it means to be Christlike. Too often we've limited Christlikeness to moral actions and failed to explore His deeper emotions and motivations. Scripture records Jesus as feeling compassionsadnessangerjoy. He sought the prayers of others. We see Him resting and eating and walking through the fields. As we behold Him, Paul tells us, we are transformed more into His image.  Keeping our eyes on Jesus, studying what is revealed in the Gospels about who He was in all His humanity and deity, will help us to know all that it means to be fully human - and we'll be changed in the process. If we're believers, we should be on a journey toward Christlikeness. Seeking to be authentic in that process of transformation means we let others walk that journey with us.

Monday, May 30, 2022

As Jesus Walked: Christ Revealed in the Synoptic Gospels, #10: The Call

 


  (This post is part of a series. For previous posts in the series please see #1#2#3#4#5#6#7#8, #9)

As Jesus' ministry grows, we have seen Him go small - reaching the one woman laying on her sickbed, the one man possessed by a demon. We've seen Him get deeply personal, choosing four fishermen and asking them to follow Him as their leader. We've seen Him reach beyond cultural prejudices to call a tax collector. We've seen groups start to follow Him, looking for miracles and watching Him at work. Now, we see Him once again doing something unexpected: He spends the night alone with His Father, then chooses twelve men from among the crowd. These will become His apostles, the "sent-out ones". But first, they would have to understand the call.

Calling the Twelve: (Matthew 10:1-5; Mark 3:14-19; Luke 6:12-20a)

In Luke's Gospel, the order of things is always important, as he sought out to present things in chronological order. It is not surprising then that he alone records that the call was precipitated by Jesus praying all night. We might find this unusual, since Jesus is fully God, but it shows the dependence on the Father that He demonstrated every day of His walk on earth. He is fully God, but He showed us how to live as fully human in relationship to God. As we will see, this time of prayer also models the call He is going to give these twelve men.

He chooses twelve, a number His Jewish followers would immediately understand. There were twelve tribes, each with a leadership structure. He is publicly calling out these men to be leaders. He will spend the rest of His time on earth teaching them what that means and then send the Holy Spirit after He leaves to empower them to fulfill this call. But for now, He lays out the basics for Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, Matthew, Phillip, Bartholomew, Thomas,  James son of Alphaeus, Thaddeus, and Simon the Zealot. 

Mark 3:14 records the elements of this call: 

  • To be with Him
  • To send them out
  • To have authority to cast out demons. (Matthew also adds that they were given authority to heal sickness.)
"To be with Him." The first thing they would have to learn would be the most critical - and in many ways the hardest. To take a group of men, many of whom were used to working at hard physical labor, at least one of whom was a "Zealot" (a Jewish sect trained for revolution), and ask them to learn to "be with Him" - that certainly turned their understanding of the Messiah upside down. And yet, in another sense it was completely in line with the idea of discipleship. Disciples in first century Judaism spent a lot of time with their leader, and learned to model him in every respect. The call, then, is a call to discipleship - and a call to prioritize Jesus above all service for Him and authority from Him. 

We are still learning this lesson today. When God stirs our hearts to desire to serve and minister to others, it is easy to start with the "go". We might seek Him for the "where" and "who", but ministry too often becomes an end in itself. When we use God-given gifts in His authority, we often find more satisfaction in the outcome than in Him. We must consistently learn (and relearn) how to be with Jesus and let Him send us out, giving us the gifts and authority we need to do what He asks us to do - and to be with Him in the process, so that whatever the outcome we have drawn closer to Him and ultimately become more like Him.

Lessons Learned

As noted in the previous posts,  I am seeking to frame my lessons learned, the "what does it mean for me" around four questions to help my theology meet my reality: 

  • What does this story teach me about Jesus and the life He gives? (1 John 1:1-2)
  • How does this story about Jesus reveal God to me? (Hebrews 1:1-3)
  • What does this story teach me about walking as Jesus walked, being conformed to His image? (2 Cor 3:18; 1 John 2:6)
  • How does this story increase my fellowship with God and others? (1 John 1:3-4)

What does this story teach me about Jesus and the life He gives? 
The life He gives is based on relationship - relationship with Him and relationship with others. Any assignments He sends us to complete must flow from this context of relationship.

How does this story about Jesus reveal God to me?
God wants us to prioritize His presence. He wants us to be with Him. As a (fairly) newlywed, I can now more fully understand the picture of Christ and the church that marriage offers. My husband and I love doing things for each other, but even more than that we just love being with each other. To fill a day with tasks and not connect with each other, then point to the marked-off to-do list, is not sufficient. Similarly, all we do in Jesus' name should flow from sitting at Jesus' feet.

What does this story teach me about walking as Jesus walked, being conformed to His image?
Jesus modeled what it looks like to be with God first. He spent all night in prayer before calling the Twelve. Everything He did flowed from relationship to the Father.

How does this story increase my fellowship with God and others?
If my focus is on being with Jesus, then I will naturally grow in fellowship with God. And since loving God and loving others are two sides of the same coin, I will also grow in love for others. I will learn to see with His eyes, hear with His ears, and feel with His heart - not seeing ministry as an end in itself, but as one part of a lifetime pursuit of being with my Jesus. 

Thursday, May 26, 2022

As Jesus Walked: Christ Revealed in the Synoptic Gospels, #9: Something Greater

                                               


  (This post is part of a series. For previous posts in the series please see #1#2#3#4#5#6, #7, #8)

In our last post we saw that Jesus showed Himself to be, at heart, compassionate. As we know from our own experiences, people who are merciful and compassionate draw others to them. They gain a reputation based on their character. Jesus is no different. As Jesus continues His ministry, we see more and more people coming to Him with their needs. We also begin to see the religious leaders feeling threatened by Jesus' presence. Why? Not because of good works (they knew their own Law prescribed such actions), but because from the beginning He made it clear that the religious boxes first century Judaism had placed around the Law were insufficient. Something greater had arrived - and He brought not a challenge to the Law, but a perfect fulfillment of it in ways that kicked down the sides of those boxes and let in the light of Love.


In these passages, Jesus deals with two aspects of the law that the religious leaders knew very well - fasting and the Sabbath. First, in response to a question from John's disciples about why His disciples do not fast, He gives three pictures to help them understand:
  • There is no fasting while the bridegroom is present - that happens when he is taken away. 
  • A garment is patched not with unshrunk new cloth - otherwise it would tear. 
  • New wine must be poured into new wineskins - otherwise the old ones would burst. 
Much has been written about this passage, and my purpose here is not to delve into all the details of these pictures. Rather, what we see in Jesus' response is part of the larger message of this section of the Synoptic Gospels: Something new is going on

Around the same time, Jesus and His disciples are walking through a field on the Sabbath and the disciples begin to eat grain. This prompts an accusation from the Pharisees - they point this out to Jesus and the obvious sense of the passage is that they want to see Him correct them for disobeying their view of the "law". Instead, Jesus challenges them with a story from the life of David - a story of David eating bread that was supposed to be for priests. He reminds them that the priests break the Sabbath in the temple and are innocent. He tells them that the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath - and then on another Sabbath, He goes to the synagogue to teach and heals a man with a withered hand. This time the Pharisees' and scribes' accusations remained unspoken but Jesus addresses them directly - asking if it is lawful to do good or harm on the Sabbath, to save or destroy life. Of course, nobody could respond. It was obvious that the One who created the Sabbath was living out the core of its meaning - not a new meaning, but one reflected even by the prophets (see Isaiah 58, for example). We see the heart of Jesus in Mark 3:5 as He perceives their attitudes: He is both angry and grieved. Grieved at their hardness of heart. Angry at the unnecessary burdens they have placed on those who would pursue God. 

In the midst of these Sabbath exchanges, Jesus says something that I believe is key to understanding all of these controversies: "But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here." (Matthew 12;6). Greater than the temple? That was hard for first century Jews to fathom. After the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 586 BC, the scattered Israelites longed for their homeland and their temple. Under the authority of Cyrus, a group returned to Jerusalem, ultimately rebuilding the city and the temple. By the first century, King Herod undertook a building project to overhaul and refurbish it. The center of religious life for Jews, the temple was the heart of their worship. 

Yet Jesus says something greater has arrived. Greater than the temple. Greater than Jonah or Solomon, as we will see in a future study. As the author of Hebrews points out, greater than Moses or the angels. Jesus Himself is greater than all of this. And He doesn't reject the Law, or expressions such as fasting and the Sabbath. As we will see, He guides us to the law of love for God and others that is at the heart of it all.

Lessons Learned

As noted in the previous posts,  I am seeking to frame my lessons learned, the "what does it mean for me" around four questions to help my theology meet my reality: 

  • What does this story teach me about Jesus and the life He gives? (1 John 1:1-2)
  • How does this story about Jesus reveal God to me? (Hebrews 1:1-3)
  • What does this story teach me about walking as Jesus walked, being conformed to His image? (2 Cor 3:18; 1 John 2:6)
  • How does this story increase my fellowship with God and others? (1 John 1:3-4

What does this story teach me about Jesus and the life He gives? 
Jesus perfectly fulfilled the Law, but not in the ways people expected. His way of law-keeping prioritizes the glory of God and the good of others. He might not always move and act in ways I expect, but I will be able to see God's heart and others' needs more as I walk with Him.

How does this story about Jesus reveal God to me? 
God is grieved and angry when people misuse His Word in ways that move us away from love and toward "rules for the sake of rules." He wants us to have what is "greater", not the lesser ritualistic obedience but the deeper heart change He works through the New Covenant.

What does this story teach me about walking as Jesus walked, being conformed to His image?
Walk in a manner sensitive to His Spirit. Look for where the fruit of the Spirit is at work and join Him in that work. Don't let the expectations of others conform me into something that does not allow His deeper work to penetrate hearts.

How does this story increase my fellowship with God and others? 
When I am walking with Him, I will be pointing people to Something Greater. This gets me out of the way and allows Him to do what only He can do - and ultimately, that deepens my relationship with Him and with others.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

As He Walked: Christ Revealed in the Synoptic Gospels, #8: The Heart of Jesus

                                          


  (This post is part of a series. For previous posts in the series please see #1#2#3#4#5#6, #7)

As I write this blog post, the world around me swarms with chaos. Yet another school shooting. Painful revelations of abuse, even within churches. Another polarizing election. Shortages that leave people fearful that basic needs won't be met. As with every generation of Christians in every place and every era, it is tempting to say, "Take us now, Lord. We just want heaven." And yet here we are, living in the world. Like the people Daniel prophesied about in Daniel 11:32, we should bring the "but" into our context - "but the people who know their God." We are simply asked to bring glimpses of His kingdom into our here and now. What does that look like? Walking with Jesus, we find the heart of the answer: Compassion. 


Jesus came with a message He was compelled to share. Matthew tells us He proclaimed "the Gospel of the kingdom." We previously looked at what that message entailed. The Gospel writers do not simply follow Jesus around recording his messages, however. Instead, what we see are vignettes that show us why that message was so compelling - miracles and attitudes that authenticate His words. 

These passages show Jesus healing a leper, healing a paralytic and forgiving his sins, and calling a tax collector to join His fishermen. Mark 1:41 captures the heart of Jesus in one verse: "Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, 'I am willing; be cleansed.'" Jesus didn't act just to show His authority (though it did) or reveal more about His identity (thought is also did). Instead, Mark records that He was "moved with compassion."

Compassion. This word is the most common emotion attributed to Jesus (seven times in the Gospels). The Greek word for five of these is splanchnizomai and in basic English terms it means "to feel it in your gut." Simply put, He personally connected with individuals and their pain - and in every situation, He took action. The same word is used for the attitude of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 and the father of the prodigal in Luke 15. Clearly, Jesus holds compassion up as a commendable virtue that should motivate those who walk in His steps. 

And yet so often, this virtue seems lacking. Sociologists speak of "compassion fatigue" when people face crisis after crisis and lose the ability to feel things so deeply every time. We've all experienced this; just last night I had to put away the bad news and let myself do some light reading just so I could go to sleep. We are human, and we have our limits. But as we continue to walk with Jesus, we find instruction on how to become the kind of person who can be "moved with compassion" in situtations where we are able to take action as Jesus did. 

Matthew 9 records Matthew's call. Immediately we see Jesus gathered with other "tax collectors and sinners." Challenged by the Pharisees asking His disciples why, Jesus responds: 
It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire compassion, and not sacrifice, for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners."  (Matthew 9:12-13)
"Go and learn." Jesus instructs them to learn what it means that He desires "compassion" (a different word, meaning "mercy", quoting Hosea 6:6). We too must learn what it means that God desires mercy. Mercy is translated "compassion" in some versions because it means showing "kindness or good will" to those who are in need, "joined with a desire to help them" (Strong's Concordance). Why must we learn what this mean? Because God's desire for mercy means He calls sinners, not the righteous, to repentance. He doesn't need a sacrifice - He IS the sacrifice. What He wants are hearts that see hurts and seek to bring His heart into the world so sinners can be transformed. Hearts like these are only possible by His transformation - as we are given new hearts that are continually made into His image, we will learn the ministry of mercy - and as we are able to make a difference in a specific situation, we will find ourselves moved with compassion, feeling it in our gut.

Lessons Learned

As noted in the previous posts,  I am seeking to frame my lessons learned, the "what does it mean for me" around four questions to help my theology meet my reality: 

  • What does this story teach me about Jesus and the life He gives? (1 John 1:1-2)
  • How does this story about Jesus reveal God to me? (Hebrews 1:1-3)
  • What does this story teach me about walking as Jesus walked, being conformed to His image? (2 Cor 3:18; 1 John 2:6)
  • How does this story increase my fellowship with God and others? (1 John 1:3-4

What does this story teach me about Jesus and the life He gives? 
Jesus' heart was characterized by compassion. He saw people, really saw them, and was moved to take actions that made a difference in their lives.

How does this story about Jesus reveal God to me? 
God sees all of my needs and those around me. He alone never gets "compassion fatigue." He places us in situations where He wants me to see with His eyes, hear with His ears, and feel with His heart of compassion.

What does this story teach me about walking as Jesus walked, being conformed to His image?
Learning mercy is a process that flows from my relationship with Him. As I keep my eyes on Him and learn to walk as He walked, I will increasingly be focused on people, on relationships, on seeing as He sees and feeling what He feels. This requires intentionality, setting aside timelines and distractions at times. It requires a willingness to be part of the answer to my prayers for others at times. It requires time in the Word and in His presence to be sensitive to His Spirit. It requires silencing the voice of the world so I can better hear the voice of my shepherd. But as I grow in this, I will find that I'm learning mercy, and that active compassion in specific situations becomes my new default.

How does this story increase my fellowship with God and others? 
None of us can do this alone. The needs are too vast, the challenges are too great. We need the body, with our different experiences and abilities to step into situations. When we are in need we make those needs known; when others are in need we seek to step into that need as He guides us. This dependence on Him and interdependence on each other will deepen fellowship and guide us all to be compassionate Christians - people who, whatever happens, can be the "But the people who know their God..." in every situation.

Monday, May 16, 2022

As Jesus Walked: Christ Revealed in the Synoptic Gospels, #7: Ministry in Capernaum

 


(This post is part of a series. For previous posts in the series please see #1#2#3#4#5, #6)

After leaving His hometown, Jesus continues His ministry by going down to Capernaum. This town was a trading village and, being on the Sea of Galilee, attracted many fishermen as well as supporting industries. Jesus spent more time in Capernaum and the nearby region than in any other area, but we will see on this first recorded visit that His actions align with the Greek meaning of the city's name: "Village of Comfort." 

Jesus Visits Capernaum (Luke 4:31-41; Matthew 8:14-17)

Luke's account gives us a chronological account of Jesus' time in Capernaum. Entering the village, He begins to teach on the Sabbath. People recognize the authority of His teaching. He casts a demon out of a man without harming the man, and reports spread throughout the area - an easy task in a trading port. Yet just as His fame begins to increase, Jesus does the opposite of what human nature would suggest. Instead of finding a place for a large crowd, Jesus goes small and gets personal - He enters the home of Simon (Peter) and heals his mother-in-law. 

The woman immediately begins to serve those present, including Simon, Andrew, James and John. Apparently this miracle is shared as well, for we then see people coming to Him for healing and for casting out demons, fulfilling prophecies about the Messiah as Matthew's version below tells us. Jesus is comforting many in the "village of comfort." His ministry is growing and His fame is spreading. And then He goes small and gets personal again.


Two calls are mentioned in the Gospels - one by the side of the sea and another in the boat out on the Sea of Galilee. Rather than see this as different calls, it seems the Gospel writers view them as part of the same call. This should not be surprising; most of us who walk with Him can relate different stages of developing a relationship with Him and hearing His call over our lives. What seems most significant to me is that Jesus called them at all! He could have ministered alone, completing the work without the distractions that fallen humanity brings. He could have avoided the inevitable conflicts that would come with a diverse group of people from various walks of life. But He doesn't. Instead, He begins to build His church's foundation with four unlikely, rough, burly men who knew how to do one thing well: Fish. 

He also calls them together. These two sets of brothers, these four men, are called together. From the beginning, Jesus meant for His church to be built by people who rely on each other - whose differences become essential, despite all the challenges that brings. At the same time His call is deeply personal. He calls not in a generic, distant sense but in a personal, intimate one. We see this most obviously in the call to become "fishers of men" - calling them where they were, asking them to do something they knew how to do, in a different context. We see it also in a less obvious way. Jewish fishermen knew the size of the crew required to catch the hopefully half-ton of fish the boat held: Five. Four to row, and one to steer, supervise the catch, and watch for inclement weather. Based on Jesus' command to "Follow Me", these four fishermen would have known immediately that He would be the one commanding the boat. 

Lessons Learned

As noted in the previous posts,  I am seeking to frame my lessons learned, the "what does it mean for me" around four questions to help my theology meet my reality: 

  • What does this story teach me about Jesus and the life He gives? (1 John 1:1-2)
  • How does this story about Jesus reveal God to me? (Hebrews 1:1-3)
  • What does this story teach me about walking as Jesus walked, being conformed to His image? (2 Cor 3:18; 1 John 2:6)
  • How does this story increase my fellowship with God and others? (1 John 1:3-4

What does this story teach me about Jesus and the life He gives? 
His identity and character were revealed in the practical things He did for people (healing Peters' mother-in-law, casting out demons, healing others). He had a message - "repent and believe" - but never expected that message to be heard without corresponding actions. He entered the "village of comfort" to bring the comfort only He can provide.

How does this story about Jesus reveal God to me? 
He has authority over demons, including when and what they say. And yet He is intimately personal - at every stage, in every way, I can expect Him to speak and lead me in ways that sometimes only I will understand. I can expect the voice of my shepherd to be personal and, ultimately, comforting.

What does this story teach me about walking as Jesus walked, being conformed to His image?
Gospel proclamation must be partnered with Gospel actions. Jesus cared 
for people's spiritual needs without ignoring the physical (such as when the demon did not harm the man when Jesus cast him out). 

Additionally, just as He is personal with me, I should be personal with others. He didn't call with a formula - He didn't minister with a formula - and neither should I.

Finally, but perhaps most significantly to me, He saw the one. As His ministry grew, He intentionally chose at times to go small and focus on an individual or very small group of people. Years ago, God took me through a season where I had to learn lessons from obscurity. I've noticed that many people who have the deepest walks with the Lord have learned similar lessons. I'm learning again through this passage to keep my eyes open for the one.

How does this story increase my fellowship with God and others? 
He called us to walk with Him together. The apostles were from different backgrounds, sects of Judaism, social classes. But they followed Him as a group, not separately. Their differences would become essential to the mission of the church as time went on. Whatever He calls me to do, I should look for those He is partnering with me. He doesn't intend me to serve in isolation. He has someone to come alongside - even if it is just one, it will be sufficient for what He calls me to do in His strength and not my own.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Foot locker faith



2 Peter 1:3-4 By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.

Look at these two boxes. Which one of them is more like your faith?

Faith can be like a beautiful, ornate box that we put up on the shelf, look at every now and then and find comfort that it's there, occasionally dust it off, but never really open it to see what's inside. 

Or, Faith can be like a rough looking, beaten up foot locker that is filled with all kinds of beautiful treasures, that when we open it fills our home with beauty and fragrance and faith and hope and love and joy and peace and so much more, like Pandora's box but in a good way. Here's the thing - - foot lockers belong to soldiers. When our faith is something we fight for, and fight with, when we embrace the struggles that come with not getting all of our questions answered, when we walk with Jesus through the darkest places of our life and trust him to lead us through because we simply cannot even see to put one foot in front of the other, when we trust him to guard our heart because we can't even guard our own hearts successfully because they lie to us, our faith may look on the outside like this beaten up foot locker. It's not always going to be pretty, and it's not always going to be comforting to look at. But when we open it up, it fills us beyond imagination. 

I think that's some of what Peter is getting at in these verses. We have no clue really all that is wrapped up in what we have when we are in Christ. He's urging us to find out. If your faith has been like the pretty box, I encourage you to take it off the shelf and let it get beaten up, and open it up and just find out what you're missing.


Sunday, April 17, 2022

A Lament on Sabbath


Lament has been defined as "a cry to one who is there". It is an act of faith, because it's a complaint to someone we really believe can help. Holy Saturday is a perfect picture of grief. In between the loss of the one we love, and the joy of the resurrection, lies the stillness, the darkness of grief. I wrote these words to try to capture some of what the women may have been feeling on that Saturday, their Sabbath.


A Lament on Sabbath


It's over.

How can it be over?

He was doing so much good,

This miracle man,

The one who healed me.


It's over.

How can it be over?

He was completely innocent,

This holy man,

The one who set me free.


It's over.

How can it be over?

He was so young,

This God-man,

This son of mine.


It's over.

How can it be over?

Our Messiah, dead?

This can't be real.

And yet, we were there.

We saw the body taken down.

We saw the stone rolled over the tomb.


Why God?

Why did you forsake him?

What about the promises,

The freedom Messiah was to bring?

To end like this, in a dark tomb.


We'll do what we can,

To care for his body, to show him love.

Let's gather the spices,

And go to the tomb.

We'll need help with that stone.