Tag Archives: Jesus

Surprising ways people come to know God (and never hear about Jesus!)

25 Oct

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Is God fair?  Will he send people to hell who never had a chance to know about salvation in Jesus?  Yesterday we looked at some options for how Christians try to answer this difficult question.

Today we seek for any other biblical passages that might give us some help.  Thankfully there are some.

Last week I talked about how God speaks through nature. Remember these verses?

In Isaiah 6:3 we read that the earth of full of his glory.

In Psalm 19:1, we read that the heavens declare the Glory of God.

And in Romans 1:19-20 we read this:

[S]ince what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Scripture teaches, therefore, that God speaks through Creation.  Of course God speaks a lot more through Scripture, but in Romans 1:19-20 Paul tells us that what God speaks through creation is enough that men are without excuse.  Meaning, when people stand before God one day, and God says to them, “Why did you not choose to believe and follow me?” those people can’t say, “Well, we never had the Bible in our language, we never heard about Jesus.”  There is enough, rather, in Creation, in nature, in the universe to point to God, without the need for people to hear the story of Jesus.

Some Christians say tribal people like the Yanomami in Brazil can know God just by nature.  It seems Paul was saying something like that.

Additionally, many reports have come out of Muslim nations in the past few decades, where God has come to individual Muslims in dreams, telling them the truth about Jesus.  Google it.  There are loads and loads of reports of these occurrences.

But what about those that mentally incapacitated?  They cannot look at nature and perceive God.  To respond to this question, many Christians fall back on God’s love and say that he will still accept the mentally incapacitated into heaven.  There is one story in the Bible that many Christian parents who have lost babies and infants look to for hope that they will again see their child in heaven.  King David lost an infant son and in 2 Samuel 12:23 he says “”Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me”.  That makes it seem like he, David, will one day go to where his son is.  We presume that David, a man after God’s own heart, as he is often described, will go to heaven one day, and that David himself believes he will go to heaven, so thus his son is already there.  That view is also in line with God’s love and mercy.

At this point you might say, “Wait a minute, don’t those views conflict with Solus Christus?”  Solus Christus means “Christ Alone”, and as we have seen this week in our continuing study of the Five Solas of the Protestant Reformation, the reformers taught that we are saved by Christ alone.  If we can see God in nature and if God allows babies or mentally handicapped people into heaven, then neither of those situations need Christ.  The same could be said of believers in the Old Testament.  Any believers before Christ’s death and resurrection.  On what basis were they accepted into heaven?  Were they accepted into heaven?

These are good complex questions, but the general answer is that when Jesus died on the cross and came back to life, this act of God was sufficient for all people, for all time.  Those true believers before Christ are accepted by God on the basis of Christ’s anticipated death and resurrection. Those true believers after Christ are accepted by God on the basis of Jesus completed death and resurrection.

We might not be able to answer all these questions, but we know this: we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  I am not telling you what to believe today.  You have to search the Scriptures and decide for yourself.  But I urge you to search the Scriptures.

There is something is even more compelling to me in this discussion.  And we turn to that tomorrow.

How to hear God speak through the Bible

20 Oct

 

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Many people say they do not hear God.  Many others say they do hear God speak.  I believe them.  God speaks through dreams, visions, audible voices, etc.  I’m sometimes jealous of that because I do not believe I have ever heard God speak to me in an audible voice, or in a whisper in my mind, or in an inner impression.  But I have heard God speak extremely clearly through the Bible.  God speaks in many ways, and one is not better than the other.  They are unique and different.  A person who hears God speak one way should not say they are more close to God than a person who hears God speak a different way.  The point is that God does still speak!

All week long we have been talking about Sola Scriptura, trying to understand why it was so important to the Protestant Reformers.

One important misconception about Sola Scriptura is when people say that God speaks only through Scripture.  Is that what Sola Scriptura means?  The Bible’s take on Sola Scriptura is not SOLO Scriptura.  Solo Scriptura means Scripture ONLY, that God would not speak any other way.  Those who hold to Solo Scriptura are reacting quite strongly about the possibility that God might speak through other means, usually because they have seen abuses of power.  The Reformers spoke out strongly against those abuses of power in the Catholic Church during the Medival age.  But is it right to go so far as Solo Scriptura?  Well, let’s take a look ate what Scripture itself says about how God speaks.

God speaks though his creation.

In Isaiah 6:3 we read that the earth of full of his glory.

In Psalm 19:1, we read that the heavens declare the glory of God.

And in Romans 1:19-20 we read this:

Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Scripture says that God speaks through Creation.  Of course God speaks a lot more through Scripture, but in Romans 1:19-20 Paul tells us that what God speaks through creation is enough that men are without excuse.  When people stand before God one day, and God says to them, “Why did you not choose to believe and follow me?” those people can’t say, “Well, we never had the Bible in our language.”  There is enough in Creation, in nature, in the universe to point to God so that men are without excuse.

Scripture is not Scripture ONLY, because God also speaks through creation.

God also speaks through his Spirit. 

I’ve already mentioned 1 Corinthians 2:12 where Paul taught that the Spirit of God helps understand the things of God.  I also encourage you to read John chapters 15-17, where Jesus talks a lot about the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  There Jesus teaches that the Spirit speaks in many ways.  In fact, Jesus said to his disciples that at some point in the future, government officials would take them into custody, and when questioned, the Spirit would help them know what to say.  Throughout the Bible, God speaks by his Spirit in dreams and visions.

Scripture is not Scripture ONLY, because God also speaks through his Spirit.

God also speaks through his people.

The Bible is loaded with instances where God spoke through prophets and teachers.  Ephesians 4:11-13 is possibly the most important verse that talks about this.  There Paul essentially gives the job description of pastors and teachers.  But it is not just the fivefold gifts listed in Ephesians 4 through whom God speaks.  We all have the opportunity, Paul goes on to teach in Ephesians 4, to speak the truth in love to one another.

Scripture is not Scripture ONLY, because God also speaks through his people.

Look above at the three points.  We see that God speaks through Creation, through his Spirit, through his Church.  That means Scripture is not ONLY.

So if God speaks in ways other than his word, why is Sola Scriptura so important?

Sola Scriptura is important because it reminds us that Scripture is the foundational way we hear God speak.  In scripture alone do we learn the truths of Jesus.  Through Scripture, alone, we learn what the church is to be like.  Not the other way around.  Everything we think or hear must be in line with Scripture.

In other words, “Sola Scriptura,” one scholar says, “is the statement that the church can err.”

Here is another summary of Sola Scriptura that if found so helpful: “Scripture comes into its own when read by God’s people in God’s way for God’s purposes.”

And what are God’s purposes for when we read Scripture?

James 1:22 says “Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.”

Jesus himself said in Luke 6:46-49 that the difference between a wise and foolish person is all about whether or not we do what he says.

We are so, so blessed in our day with access to the Bible, and with access to the many, many tools to understand it.  We can read it, dig deep into its meaning, review what scholars have studied about it.

But our approach to the Bible should not just be academic, not just reading it to learn trivia facts about the Bible. Instead, God wants us to read the Bible to know him, to know his purposes.  We read prayerfully asking God to speak to us through his word.  And then we actually make choices to live his way as taught in his word.  When we read Scripture we should determine ahead of time, humbly, teachably, to do what it says.

This requires a couple important tasks:

First, we actually need to read Scripture.  

How about you?  How often do you read the Bible?  I’m not talking about the Verse of the Day from a Bible app.  That is good and can be very encouraging.  I’m talking about something more.  We need to read more and longer sections of the Bible.  My wife and I love watching Netflix, as do many of you.  Discovering new and great TV and film on Netflix has become a cultural fascination. How many of you have participated in conversations online or in person around the topic “What should I watch next on Netflix?”  I love those conversations!  Discovering hidden gems on Netflix’s vast catalog is so fun.  In other words, many of us sit in front of a screen watching hours and hours of media content.  Is it possible that would could increase the amount of time we give to reading the Bible?

I was listening to a podcast recently where the interviewee noted that those who say the Bible is boring or irrelevant probably haven’t really given themselves to truly read and study it.  Will you?  If so, you will find it to speak powerfully, creatively and decisively to our situation in 2017.  I’ve been reading the account of Saul and David in 1st Samuel, and I feel like I am watching the 11 o’clock news.  It is amazingly relevant.

Second, we need to learn how to read Scripture.  

Let me provide a disclaimer.  You can open up any contemporary English translation of the Bible, and you’ll be able to understand it.  I use the New International Version.  But we also need to remember that the Bible is book written by 40+ authors, 2000+ years ago, in different languages, in a very different cultural setting.  As I said, we can be so thankful that scholars through the ages have studied those languages, that historical/cultural setting, as well as the genre and structure of the many books of the Bible.  What I’m saying is that there are wonderful works by people who love Jesus that can help us read between the lines and understand the Bible much more as God intended it.

Do you want to learn how to read and study it better?  I would be glad to point you to some resources that can help you.

Finally, and most importantly, whenever we read the Bible, let us determine beforehand to do what it says God wants us to do.

As we conclude this week of looking at Sola Scriptura, be encouraged by the words of Psalm 1:

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

How to become more gracious

6 Oct

Image result for responding graciouslyHave you ever had an encounter with someone who was less than gracious?  Have you been accused?  Confronted?

Or maybe you’re in the store, waiting in line at checkout, and right in front of you is a family with young children.  Just then one of the kids start freaking out because the parent won’t let them have candy.  Is it hard for you to be gracious?

What if the parent is you and the kid is yours?  Are you able to graciously stand firm while your offspring is throwing a tantrum?  What if the other customers around you start acting frustrated with you, as if it is your fault your child is losing it?  So you’re being hit with your child’s poor behavior on one hand, and the poor behavior of adults on the other.  Are you gracious then?

What if your boss cuts your hours?  Gives you a poor performance review?  It can be very hard to be gracious.

I use the app IFTTT on my phone.  “If this, then that.”  It is an app that automates your phone to do tasks.  I have found it to be amazing.  For example, IFTTT helped me set up my phone so that I send myself a text message reminding myself to take out the trash on Thursday nights.  It sends me a text each 1st of the month to remind me that the mortgage is due.  IFTTT can do so much.  One interesting feature it can do is a rescue call.  And by “rescue”, I don’t mean rescue from danger.  Instead IFTTT will rescue me from one of those conversations when I badly need to go, but the other person won’t stop talking.  Or maybe they’re talking about something awkward, maybe politics, and I want to get away, but I don’t know how to do so graciously.  All I need to do now is tap the IFTTT phone icon on my home screen, and within seconds, IFTTT makes an automated phone call to me.  All I have to do at that point is say to my conversation partner “I’m so sorry, I need to go and take this call.”  Gracious!

There is hope!  Not only can we use technology to graciously rescue us in difficult situations, we can learn to become more gracious.  If you know there is bitterness or a habit of poor responses coming out of you, then you can be changed from the inside out.  You can become a more gracious person.  Read on!

This week we’ve been talking about grace.  When we accept God’s gracious gift, we are not only taking on a whole new family name, but we are also saying that we will live like a child of grace, to live like Jesus lived.

If you want to know how to live a life of grace, study Jesus.  In 1 John 2:6 one of Jesus closest friends, John, says “Whoever claims to live in Jesus must walk or live as Jesus did.”  Accepting God’s gracious gift, then, is not just saying “I believe in and receive the gift of God’s grace”.  It is living a life that looks more and more like the gracious life of Jesus.

But a life of grace is not always easy.  In fact, when calling us to a life of grace, God calls us to something that can be difficult.

I recently read the book, Messy Grace, by Caleb Kaltenbach, and I highly encourage you to read it as well.  Caleb is a pastor who parents are gay.  They were married, divorcing when he was 2yrs old.  Soon after the divorce, his mom started a lesbian lifestyle, and she raised Caleb in that community.  To him, therefore, it was normal.  His dad remained single, though years later Caleb learned that his dad was gay.  So Caleb grew up in a family environment, mostly with his mom and her partner, that normalized the lesbian lifestyle and felt the pain of hate and discrimination from less-than-gracious Christians.

But something unexpected happened.  Caleb, through friends, a youth group, and reading the Bible, learned about and received the gift of God’s grace.  As he studied the Bible, he changed his mind about same-sex relations.  Caleb then had to come out to his parents.  But it was a very different coming out.  Instead of announcing to his Christian family that he was coming out as gay, Caleb announced to his gay parents that he was coming out as a Christian and he no longer agree with their lifestyle.  It was brutally difficult for Caleb to live out the gracious life of Christ in his family.

Living in families is like that.  We all know this.  Sharing life together as a church family is like this.

Grace is not easy.  Grace can be very difficult when people are unkind to you.  Grace can be difficult when people make bad choices that affect you.  Grace can be difficult because people can be difficult. But as we learn from Jesus how to live the gracious life, we’ll notice how, time and time again, he chose grace when people were being extremely difficult to him and others.

Another difficult aspect of living a gracious life is that it doesn’t mean you get to do whatever you want because, “God is gracious, and he’ll forgive me.  His grace covers it all anyway!”  One of the writers of the New Testament, Paul, referred to this thought process in Romans 6.  There he asked, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace will abound?”  Have you ever thought something like that?  That you can do something sinful “just this once” because God will forgive you anyway?  If we’re honest, I suspect most of us have thought that about God’s grace.  Guess how Paul answers his question.  “Should we go on sinning so that grace will abound?  By no means!”  Accepting God’s gift of grace means that we surrender to our way of doing things, and we give our lives to do things God’s way.

In another writing, Paul says to Titus who was a pastor friend of his, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”

What this means is that we respond to God’s gift of grace by living lives of grace.  A graceful life is one that pursues self-control, purity, and treating others with grace.  That’s where this grace thing gets messy.  Imagine what it is like for God to be gracious to us when we are regularly thinking, doing, and saying things that are not self-controlled and pure. Imagine how he feels. He was so gracious to us, to the point of sending his son to give his life for us.  And how do we respond to that grace?  We choose to ignore it by sinning.

And just as we can messy to God, others can be messy to us.

So what will it look like to be gracious to people in your life? Sola Gratia means that we are children of grace, and we should be known not only for receiving God’s grace, but also for showering that grace on those around us.

I want you to think.  Who do you have a hard time being gracious to?  Remember that grace is undeserved favor.  Who rubs you the wrong way?  Who do you need to be actively gracious to?  Have you allowed yourself to develop a less than gracious attitude to people in your church family?  What about in your own family?  Is there anyone for whom grace is very messy for you?

What will you do to show more grace?  What will you do to demonstrate that you are a child of grace?

  1. Evaluate yourself. Have people ever told you that you are less than gracious?  That you are intimidating or difficult or argumentative?  Have someone who is able to speak the truth in love to you evaluate you.  Don’t trust yourself to give yourself an accurate accounting.  Some of us are too hard on ourselves.  Some of us are too easy.  Get a true perception of whether or not you are living as a child of grace.
  2. Learn to live graciously. Study Jesus’ life in the Gospels (the four accounts of Jesus’ life, recorded in the Bible), Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  And as you are reading, ask God to help you to learn to be gracious from Jesus.  Write down the ways you see Jesus being gracious.  Then seek out someone in your life who is known for being gracious, and ask them to teach you.  Get the book Messy Grace.  It is excellent.
  3. Practice. Are their people in your life who you have been less than gracious to?  Do you need to go to them and ask forgiveness?  And to show that you are seeking a new gracious pattern with them, what is a gracious act you can to do to start treating them differently?  Maybe a small gift, maybe a nice card, maybe a compliment?

Was God being manipulative when he said, “If you obey me, you will live”?

18 Sep

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Is God being manipulative when he says, “If you obey me, you will live”?

Is he being threatening?  Why in the world would God say that?  If you remove the Christian filter from your mind, you can read God as sounding an awful lot like an abusive boyfriend.

As we continue our study through Deuteronomy, we come to a passage where God says that.  Jesus says it too.  Let’s take a look.  What are we to make of this?

In Deuteronomy chapter 4, verse 1, and we read the word “Hear”.  “Hear” is the Hebrew word “Shema,” and Moses uses it many times in the next few chapters, the most famous occurrence is in chapter 6:4-9, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.”  That Shema is known as THE Shema, a kind of credal statement uttered by the people of Israel regularly still to this day.  For them it is like the Apostles Creed or the Lord’s Prayer.

Shema means, “Hear, Listen, understand.”  Moses is saying, “Pay attention, people! Important information is about to arrive. Listen up! You don’t want to miss this.”

And what is the important info Moses has for them?  Well, there is a lot.  Look at what he says in verses 1-5.  They absolutely must get this because their lives literally depend on it.  They need to hear the Law, and then follow and obey the law, he says, to live.  To live!

And why?  Because of verse 3.  Moses basically says to the people, “You remember that situation at Baal Peor, right?”  You can read all about what happened at Baal Peor in Numbers 25.  It was a fairly recent event in the life of the nation, so Moses doesn’t need to retell it here in Deuteronomy 4.  He just has to say, “You saw with your own eyes what the Lord did at Baal Peor.”  What they saw would have been hard to forget.

The place was called Baal Peor because an idol to the Canaanite god Baal was there.  Some of the people of Israel were enticed to worship it, probably because there was temple prostitution there.  Some of the men indulged, which was bad enough, but they also participated in worship rituals, which included bowing down to the idol of Baal.  Imagine God watching them.  It was like a one-two punch to him.  First punch in the gut when they participated in sinful things, second punch right across the face when they bowed down to Baal.  How would you feel if you were God?

Betrayed.  Angry.  Jealous.   Maybe all that, maybe more.  God is a relational, emotional God, and Israel had really hurt him.  We learn that thousands of the Israelites died that day as a result of their severe disobedience.  Fast-forward to Deuteronomy 4, and the people Moses was talking to remembered that day.  The lesson God taught on that horrible day in the life of their nation was one they wouldn’t forget anytime soon.  Follow God’s Law and live.  Disobey and die.  It couldn’t have been more clear to them.

Moses also connects the obedience of the people to their ability to remain in the land. If the people obey, not only will they live, but they will also live in the Land.  In chapters 1-3 we learned that some of the tribes, 2 ½ of them, had just received their allotment of land on the east side of the Jordan River.  The rest had yet to cross the Jordan where they would receive their land.

They had come all this way from Egypt. Did they want to live in the Land?  Yes, they absolutely did.  So Moses reminds them that the promise of life and land was conditional.  God’s love for them was unconditional, meaning it would never change.  But life in the land was conditional; they could lose it.  If they followed God’s law, and held fast to them, they had nothing to worry about.

This is an instructive word for us too.  Jesus once said in John 14:15, “if you love me, obey my commands.”  In our modern sensibilities, we bristle at the suggestion that we are to obey another person.  It sounds demeaning or authoritarian.  Parental.  And to tie it to the idea of love sounds really manipulative.  “If you love, you’ll do what I say.”  If our friend was in a relationship with a person who said that, we’d tell them to break it off.  So why does God say this to the Israelites, and why does Jesus say it to his followers?  Are they manipulative?  Are they being demanding?

Maybe. Some people sure think so. But I don’t.  Instead, I believe God had the Israelites’ best interest in mind.  Just like Jesus does for his followers.  They know the best possible way to live.  They are not just trying to twist people’s arms into praising them and following them.  Instead they love us and want what the true good life for us.  That good life is found in obeying them.

God’s call for obedience from his people is a wonderful balance of what is best for them, and what he desires most.  Obey and live, rather than turning out to be manipulative, is actually life-giving, not just in the eternal sense, but in a well-rounded human way.  Paul would go on to talk about the Fruit of the Spirit, and I believe that teaching is an example of why it is so important and amazing to follow the way of Jesus.  Paul said in Galatians 5 that we walk in step with God’s Spirit, following his way, what will flow out of our lives are the best qualities of life: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

Jesus often talked about how following his way leads to eternal life, but it also leads to a new kind of life in the here and now.  Israel could access that life, God said, if they obeyed him.  We can access that life, if we learn to follow the way of Jesus.  What is that way?  Read the stories of Jesus in four accounts of his life, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  What do you see?

If you want to learn to be his follower, comment below.  I’d love to talk with you further. Take a look at what Paul says about following Jesus in the teaching right after the Fruit of the Spirit: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”  Let’s talk about how to do that!  Let’s talk about how to really live.

Jesus doesn’t want believers, he wants…

7 Aug

Jesus doesn’t want believers?  What?  Yes, he does.  Doesn’t he?

Yes, he does.  He even said “Believe in me.”  Read the Gospel of John and you’ll hear Jesus say that many times.

So a couple of years ago the leader of my denomination, Bishop Bruce Hill, made the statement in the title of this post.  When I first heard it, I thought it sounded so wrong.  A Bishop is supposed to uphold truth!  How could he say that???  See if it sounds wrong to you too: Jesus doesn’t want believers, he wants disciples.

Is our Bishop wrong?

Nope, not at all.  Here’s why.

Belief is important.  Jesus did want people to believe in him.  Jesus wanted them to learn some things.  There is content to the message of the Good News.  It is a story that has specific details.

What did he want people to believe?  One of Jesus’ first followers, Paul, summarized the content of the Good News in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4:

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.

Believing the details of that story is important. But here is why Bishop Hill is absolutely correct when he said, “Jesus doesn’t want believers, he wants disciples”: believing is not the end product.

Remember what James the brother of Jesus said in his letter?  In James 2:19 he wrote, “You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that.”  Clearly, believing is not enough, if demons do it.  There has to be something else that separates the demons from those who are true followers of Jesus.  James goes on to tell us exactly what that something else is when he says, “a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.”  It is not enough to just believe.

Remember the people in Matthew 7:21-23 who thought they were absolutely going to get into the Kingdom of Heaven?  They were believers.  Jesus shocks them when he says, “Away from me, I never knew you.”

There is something more than believing!  We have do something, James said, to move from believing into truly being known by Jesus.  This is what our Bishop is getting at when he says “Jesus doesn’t want believers, he wants disciples.”

Jesus himself taught us how to be assured that we would not hear those awful words, “Away from me, I never knew you.” He says later in Matthew that we can know that we are his disciples if we deny ourselves, carry our cross and follow him.  That is clearly moving beyond belief.  Belief is not enough.  We must believe and become his disciple. Our lives must show by how we live that we not only believe, but we also are living out that belief.

In my sermons, and in thus in this blog, I talk quite a lot about being disciples.  A very important way that Jesus wants us to live out our belief in him is not only to be his disciples, but also to make more disciples.

In what were some of his last words, found in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus told that his disciples priority #1 for them, their mission, was to make more disciples.

We need to ask, therefore, what is a disciple?  If this is our mission from our Lord, we should know what a disciple is and how to help others become disciples who can make more disciples.  A disciple is a believer who practices spiritual disciplines and lives out the life of Christ, a huge component of which is to make more disciples.

Paul would refer to this when he said to his disciple Timothy, “Teach men who can teach others.”  He said that in 2 Timothy 2:2.  Disciples of Jesus will make more disciples.  That is our mission.

It was revolutionary to me when I first heard that disciples should make more disciples.  We are not to make believers.  I always thought we Christians were supposed to get people to believe in Jesus, to pray a prayer of belief, and then hope they would follow through and become disciples of Jesus.  But, really, that disciple part was a bonus, it wasn’t really important.  Jesus, however, didn’t teach us that, and he himself actually made disciples. Take a look at what Jesus says in Matthew 28:19-20.  Jesus envisioned a progression, a multiplication, that would continue. His  disciples would make more disciples who can make more disciples…a cycle that is never-ending.

That cycle has been at work for 2000 years!  Read the book of Acts, and you see how those original 12 disciples made more disciples who made more disciples, and the work of making disciples for Jesus spread beyond Jerusalem to the Middle East and Europe and Africa and Asia and the Americas…and here we are.

A lady from Faith Church, Alice, told the story about a group at a different church that she went to when she was a young mom.  The group had an older lady of whom Alice said, “I wanted to be like her”.  That’s the heart of a disciple.  Saying “I want to be like them.”  Paul once said, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.”  Discipleship is a cycle that continues from person to person.  Now years later there are people in Faith Church who are saying “I want to be like Alice Royer”!

This is how Jesus made his disciples.  But don’t just take my word for it.  Get out your Bible or open it on an app, or online.  Would you take a few moments and walk through the book of Matthew with me, looking for descriptions of how Jesus made disciples?

Let’s start at Mt. 4:19-22 where Jesus first meets a couple of the guys who would become his disciples. This is where it all starts.  He looks at them and says, “Follow me,” and Matthew tells us, “at once they left.”  It’s kind of shocking that people would just up and leave their jobs to follow a preacher who is walking around town.  But scholars tell us that those guys who followed Jesus started out as Cultural Disciples. It was common practice in their society for people to leave all and follow a teacher.  This was step one of the process that Jesus used to make disciples.  He invited them to follow him.

Jump ahead to Mt. 8:18-22 and notice the progression to verse 23.  Jesus is expanding on what following him actually means.  There is a cost to it.  And what happens?  Jesus’ disciples physically got into a boat with him, still following him.

Also in Mt. 9:9 through 19, another man joins Jesus’ crew of disciples.  Matthew!  The guy writing the story.  He was a tax collector, considered a sinner.  The religious elite look at Jesus having dinner with Matthew and ask Jesus’ other disciples, “Why is Jesus eating with a sinner?”  Jesus heard it, responding, making it very clear that his mission included even those who were normally considered outcasts.  That is instructive for us.  Jesus wants all people to be his disciples.

Jump down to Matthew 9:19, and what do we see is happening in this group of disciples?  Jesus gets up to respond to a situation, and his disciples get up too.  They are following him.

After Step 1, the invitation,  we come to Step 2 of discipleship.  Thus far they have been answering the call to follow him.  Basically, they just accepted the invitation to follow him, and they watched him.  Now it goes a bit further.

Disciples are also learners. Step 2 is that they sat under Jesus’ teaching.  This has already started in Matthew chapters 5-7, where Jesus gives a lengthy teaching called The Sermon on the Mount.  At the beginning of that sermon, in verses 5:1-2, we see that his disciples are there, probably in the front row.

Jump ahead to where we left off in Matthew, and we come to chapter 10.  What do we see?  A lot of red words, if your Bible prints the words of Jesus in red.  Look at 10:1-5.  Jesus gives them authority, Matthew names the 12 disciples, and then we read in verse 5 that Jesus instructed them.  Earlier in chapters 5-7 he was teaching them in the midst of a large crowd.  Now in chapter 10 he is focused solely on his disciples. No one else is present.

Next turn to Mt. 12:46-13:10 and we see more teaching by Jesus.  Continue on to 13:36 and the rest of the chapter 13, and what do we see?  More focused teaching for his disciples.  Jesus is investing personally in these guys.

That is the second step: focused, individual investment, teaching where they learn his ways.  But Jesus doesn’t stop there.  He moves onto a third step, Shared Experiences – They saw his example. 

This was already starting a bit back in Mt. 8:23-27 when he calmed the storm and in Mt. 9:35-38 when they watched him in ministry, doing miracles, teaching and interacting with people.  Here at the end of chapter nine, though, he implants an idea in their head.  See it there in verse 38? “Ask the Lord to send out more workers.”  Jesus is laying a foundation for these guys. Basically, “you have seen my example, ask God to raise up more people to do what I am doing.”  Who might Jesus have in mind to be the answer to this prayer?

Jesus after investing time and teaching into these guys, after showing them an example of what life in the Kingdom is all about, he moves to Step 4 when he gives them the opportunity to be his co-laborers.

Remember that prayer at the end of chapter 9, “pray that God will send laborers?”  Look what happens in chapter 10.  He gave them power and authority, and he sends them out!  Jesus gives them the tools to serve, and then gives them the opportunity to serve.  A mission trip.  They are now the answer to that prayer, as they go on the mission trip.  In the process they are learning to make more disciples.

We have to jump out of Matthew’s account to broaden the story a bit.  In Luke 10 there is a further example of this, a second mission trip.  The first mission trip was just for the 12 disciples.  This second mission trip is for 72, Luke tells us.  Jesus is getting more people involved.

And look what happens in Luke 10:17.  They had an awesome trip!  In verse 21, Jesus is ecstatic! These men who have been following him for months are becoming disciples who can make more disciples.

These men have gone through a progression of following him, watching him, and then moving on to learning from him, having shared experiences with him, and now they are actually doing what he did.  Where there used to be one guy doing the work of the ministry, there are now 72!  This is a picture of discipleship.

You know what is amazing to consider at this point?  These guys were disciples, but they were not fully convinced believers!  Think about it.  After all this that we have seen about how Jesus shaped these men into his disciples, what happened when Jesus was arrested in the Garden?  One of those men completely betrayed Jesus, leading the soldiers to arrest him.  All the rest of the men ran away, and the one who made the biggest claims about being Jesus’ best follower, Peter, denied him three times.  The next day as he hung on the cross, just one of the 12 disciples, John, came by to see him.  Two women were there, one of which was his mom, Mary.

Would you call those disciples believers?  They are not a pretty picture of believers.  Instead they look a lot more like betrayers, deniers, and cowards.

Except for one important detail.  Jesus had deeply invested in these men.  They might not have been committed believers, but he had formed them as disciples.  And those three years of following him, learning from him, having shared experiences with him, and finally of doing what he did, those three years were not wasted.

Because when he rises from the dead, and when he reveals himself to them, the belief finally catches up with their discipleship.

Now we can return to Mt. 28:19-20.  The disciples who are now believers have a whole new view of what it means to follow Jesus.  They have a new mission, to make more disciples.  They can go back through the past three years and review how Jesus made them into disciples, and they can use the same method to make more disciples.

So can we.

For so many years, many Christians have been taught a two-stage view of helping people follow Christ: First we share the content, getting people to believe in God. Second, we reach out to them and help them to be his disciples.

But many people are looking at that two-part method and thinking that it might not be appropriate.  Review all we studied in Matthew already in this post: what did Jesus do?  Did he make his disciples pray a prayer first?  No. He just said “Follow me”.  He didn’t try to get the disciples to believe anything.  He didn’t make them sign off that they believed certain things about them.  He just said “follow me”.  Three years later, and much investment later, they still had questions about who he was.  But as we have seen, their belief caught up with their discipleship.

And now what about us?  How do we make disciples?  Disciples do what their discipler does.

So don’t require people to believe first.  Lead them into doing something, living the lifestyle of Jesus.  The belief will catch up! No doubt, some people will believe first and then learn to be disciples.  There is no one right method.  But if we have any amount of respect for Jesus and how he made disciples, we would do well to follow his example.

What, then, do we actually have people do?  How do we lead them into the lifestyle of Jesus?  What are elements of the lifestyle of Christ that we can invite people to participate in?  Some sort of serving? We have to spend time with them. How am I to disciple people if I never spend time with them?  We need to open up space in our lives to them.

I also urge you to disciple your family first.  You parents and grandparents, make it your passion to disciple your kids.  Use that four stage process that Jesus used.

Then disciple others.  Maybe someone in your church.  Maybe a neighbor.  Maybe a coworker.

Then do what Jesus did.  Live as a disciple.  Teach others what you were taught.  Practice the spiritual disciplines, teach others to do the same.

Obviously, we can’t disciple people precisely like Jesus did.   He was an itinerant preacher.  His job was to walk around Israel and preach and do miracles.  And people followed him.

We don’t have a life like that.  Jesus did not intend that we would become itinerant preachers who walk around our towns and cities with 12 people following us.  We have families, houses, jobs, bills.  As did the people in the very first churches which we read about in the book of Acts.  Read the book of Acts and what we find is that we can make disciples in any setting.

Also, remember that you are not alone as you make disciples.

Let’s talk about that guy Peter, the disciple who denied that he even know Jesus.  In Luke’s Gospel, Luke 22:31, we read that earlier in that evening before Jesus was arrested, he said to Peter, “Satan has asked to sift you disciples as wheat, but I have prayed for you, Peter, that your faith will not fail.  When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

If I’m Peter I’m thinking “Jesus, I love you, but you say some really strange stuff sometimes.”  Peter wasn’t thinking anything at all about his faith failing.  He thought he was strong.  But I suspect these words stuck with Peter, based on what we read later.  Peter would go on to deny Jesus, and yet his faith didn’t fail.  By denying Jesus he messed up terribly, and he knew it.  After the rooster crowed just as Jesus said it would after Peter denied him, Peter went away weeping bitter tears.  It seemed like an abject failure of Jesus’ discipleship of Peter.  Peter was Jesus’ top guy.  Jesus spent loads of time with Peter.  He even once told Peter that he was the rock on whom he was going to build his church.  And what happened?  When it really counted, when Jesus needed his followers most, Peter said he didn’t know Jesus at all.  But there is a loophole.

Remember what Jesus said to Peter?  “I have prayed for you, that your faith will not fail.”  What I want to focus on is the prayer part.  Jesus prayed for his disciples, and in particular Peter.  He knew they were about to go through an incredibly difficult time.  He knew they would run away from him, and Peter would deny him.  But he had prayed for them.

Jesus knew that he wasn’t alone in the disciple-making process.  He prayed to God on behalf of his disciples.  So should we.  You are not alone as you seek to make disciples of your kids, when you pray for them.

You are not alone as you seek to make disciples of your friends, as you pray for them.

Yes, there is much to do with a disciple, much to teach them, but you are not alone when you pray for them.

So who can you disciple?  Who can you invite to follow you?

And who can you ask to disciple you?

Discipleship really is about training others and being trained yourself.  I love the imagery of training because if you’ve ever had a trainer, whether at the gym, or at work, you can picture it.  They are showing you how to do something new.  You might not believe in them or in yourself.  But you start practicing.  They step by step guide you into a new life.  And the belief catches up.

Who is training you?  Who are you training?

When Jesus was people-watching and taught his disciples how to be generous

1 Aug

Image result for givingI love people-watching.  When I was in college, I took a class in which one of our assignments was to go to a place where lots of people walk by and we had to people-watch. While we were watching them, we were to pray that God would give us a heart for people.  I never did this before, at least on purpose like that, and I found that it is fun!  The mall is a great place.  You see people do interesting things!  I encourage you to try it.

There was a time in Mark’s account of Jesus’  life where we read about Jesus and his disciples at the temple, and they are watching people when something very interesting goes down right in from them.

Here’s the story from Mark 12:41-44:

     Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

 

The rich people they watched threw in large amounts.  Then along comes a widow who gives what?  The NIV calls it “two very small copper coins”.  In the language this was written in, Greek, the coins are called lepta.  But what is a lepta?

Scholars tell us that are many options for what these coins might be.  Best guess is called a Prutah, one version depicted below.  These were very common in Judea.

What were they worth?  The NIV says “a fraction of a penny”.  Other translations say “a cent.”  The Greek says they are equal to a kodrantes, which is a coin with a tiny value.  So the NIV gets it right.  The widow has given hardly anything at all.  Pennies.

I know Ben Franklin said “a penny saved is a penny earned” but he said that in the 1700s.  Transport Mr. Franklin to 2017 and he might be in line to argue that we should just get rid of the penny.

CBS News reported last year that pennies cost 1.5 cents to make.  Relative to their face value, the report states, pennies are in fact the most expensive coin the US Mint makes.  And they are worth the least.  Time to get rid of the penny!

This lady gives pennies in the offering.  It is easy to think, Well, that’s a horrible offering.  She’s giving money that is basically worthless.  What can God do with a couple pennies?  It is likewise easy to think the rich people gave a gift that is far more important, meaningful and valuable.  The rich people gave a gift that will actually make a difference!

That is, until Jesus points out something about the difference between the rich people and the widow.  The widow put everything she had in the treasury.  And Jesus’ conclusion is that the widow was the one who put in the most!

When I read this I wondered if it was just a one-time thing?  Maybe this widow never gave much at all during her lifetime.  And on that day she picked up two pennies and thought “Huh, these are worthless, I’ll just drop them in the temple treasury.” Maybe she was actually trying to look good and gain praise for herself.

But I don’t think so.  The reason I don’t think so is because it was Jesus who was people watching.  Jesus’ comments show that he had an inside view of this woman’s situation.  He knew she was giving all she had. He knew her heart, that her gift was a gift of complete surrender to the Lord.

When I think about that, I think it is much more likely that she was a woman who wasn’t making a one-time gift, or a random gift.  She is showing us what happens when a person knows how to practice the discipline of giving.

So how do we grow a habit, a discipline, of giving financially?

First of all, you can grow a habit of giving when you have the eternal view of giving.  In his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus talked about storing up treasure in heaven.

See your giving as having eternal value.  When you give an offering, you are not just giving money that is going into the church’s bank account here on earth.  You are making a spiritual impact in God’s Kingdom.

Next, we need to see ourselves as stewards of God’s money.  Jesus’ close friend, Peter, would later write about this.  See 1 Peter 4:10.  It is a hard statement, but we need to see our money is not ours.  It seems like it is ours because we work for it, we invest it, we bank it, we spend it.  It is really easy to forget that it is God who enables us to earn it, to have the money.  We simply need to see him as the source of it all.  It is his money, his bank account, his debit card, his credit card.  We need to spend his money in a way that honors him.

Third, God loves a cheerful giver.  Paul talks about this in 2 Corinthians 9:7 when he says “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Cheerful here is the word in Greek “hilaros” which is where we get our word “hilarious”.  God loves a hilarious giver.  By using the word “Hilaros” Paul is not saying that giving should be funny or comical and you’re laughing your head off.  Instead it is the idea of great joy in giving.

We need to see it as a joy to give.  We can be excited about it, knowing that giving is being obedient to God, and that God says he will bless us.  That does not mean that if you give a regular joyful offering to the church, God is going to turn you into a millionaire.  But instead it means that you will be trusting in him, and you’ll have the blessing of knowing that you are being obedient to God.  And perhaps the blessing won’t be realized until heaven.

There was a person in Faith Church who years ago came to worship with $10 in their wallet.  This person was a struggling single mom, desperate just to keep a roof over her kids’ heads.  She could have used that $10 to feed her kids lunch after church.  There is nothing wrong with feeding your kids.  But right in the middle of worship, that person felt convicted that God wanted her to give her $10 to the church.  It wasn’t a guilt-ridden decision.  Instead she gave joyfully, knowing she could trust God.

After worship was over another person in the church came up to her, having no idea what had just happened, and gave her $10 saying, “I feel the Lord wanted me to give you this.”

Next, know that you can give joyfully and sacrificially because God knows what you need and he is faithful to his promises to take care of you.

I also heard of a person who gave away a month’s salary and told not a soul about it.  One day that month a lady stopped by with groceries for this person and their family.

Or have you heard of George Mueller and the orphanages?  Mueller was a deeply godly man in England who ran a number of orphanages.  As you can imagine, it takes a lot of money to care for children and staff in an orphanage.  And Mueller had more than one!  But his practice was not to have a fundraising department.  Instead he would pray, and he would accept speaking invitations at churches to talk about the ministry.  He would not ask for money.  People would give anyway!  One day early on, the Muellers and the group of orphans sat down at the dinner table to eat.  There was no food left.  They set out the plates and silverware, and rather than eat, they prayed.  Just as they were praying, a bread man came knocking on the door.  He had day old bread that he could no longer sell, and he wanted to see if the Muellers could use it.

Then there is the story of a family from Faith Church that cared for foster children.  One day they received a call asking if they could care for a child immediately.  They had no bed for the child.  They prayed, and a bed showed up.

God is faithful.  As Isaiah 41:10 says, “Fear not, for I am with you.”

Again the teaching of Scripture is not that God will make you rich, or make life easy, if you give generously.  But he has promised to take care of your needs.

I recently learned of a lady who said the curious phrase, “I would be afraid not to give.”  We shouldn’t give out of fear, as if God is going to strike us with lightning if we don’t put 10% of our income in the offering basket at church each week.  That is not what this lady meant.  When she said “I would be afraid not to give,” her heart was in the right place.  She feared depending on herself, when God calls us to depend on him.

Do you need to practice the spiritual discipline of giving?  I encourage you to start.  But maybe get a trainer.  Who do you know that is a very generous person?  Who do you know that gives regularly, generously, sacrificially, and cheerfully?  Talk to them, and ask them to train you how to give.

Steps to become humble (yes, you can become more humble!)

10 Jul

Image result for picture of humilityI learned something surprising this week.  I was studying humility for my summer sermon series on Spiritual Exercises (spiritual disciplines).  What surprised me is that humility is not simply a state of mind or a belief.  It starts there, but it doesn’t stay there.  Humility, Jesus in particular showed us, and the biblical writers tell us, is lived.

Consider Jesus’ act of self-sacrifice, which Paul describes like this in Philippians 2: “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

Humility is lived out by what we do.  James, the brother of Jesus, says in his letter (James 4:6) “humble yourself in the sight of the Lord.”  Peter, one of Jesus’s closest friends says in 1 Peter 5:6 “humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand.”

We can and should practice humility.  Even if our heart is not totally humble, humility is something that we can work on.  We have to be intentional about it.

So how do we become more humble and practice humility?  I found numerous excellent suggestions from the biblical writers and others.  Here are a few steps to become more humble.

Pray for God to humble you.  Pray for change in your life so that you become humble in your heart. Pray to be humbled? Sounds a bit scary, and it requires that we believe achieving a greater amount of humility is worth it.  But if you want to become more humble, ask God to humble you.

In conversations, practice the 60/40 rule.  My seminary professor, David Dorsey, taught that to a class I was in.  His goal in every conversation was to listen about 60% of the time, and talk 40%.  I love how that emphasizes the humility of listening, but doesn’t negate what you yourself have to offer.Force yourself not to be the one to talk.  Actively battle a tendency to make yourself look good.  Ask the question of people who will speak honestly to you “Do I talk too much?” Discipline yourself to realize how long you are talking.  Try to listen, and ask questions of your conversation partner to show you are listening and interested in them, even if you aren’t!

As the wise teacher says in Proverbs 27:2 “Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth.” Force yourself not to say what you have done that is good.  Whether in conversation or on social media.  Ask people to tell you if you are pumping yourself up too much.  Hear me on this.  It is not wrong to recognize that you have abilities.  When I was little, I once overheard my dad saying to my mom that he felt he was getting good at computer programming.  At the time he was in his doctoral studies for computer education.  His comment was simply an attempt at honest evaluation.  He didn’t go around bragging about his skills.  In fact, that was the only time I ever heard him say that, even when he got a computer game he programmed published in a programming magazine.  So there needs to be balance.  Don’t go around saying how great you are.  Let others praise you.  Let your work, your achievements, your skills do the talking.  As I have said to my kids, don’t tell me how good you are at a certain sport.  Show how good you are on the field.  It can be really tricky.  Really evaluate why you are saying what you are saying.  Stay attuned to your heart.  Even if you are giving a rundown of what you did on a certain day, and you are listing it out on Facebook, realize that you can be promoting yourself.  When have you crossed the line from humility into pride?  I can’t answer that for you. But we all should be evaluating that.

Hold your judgment for a while. Here’s a guy that needs a dose of the needed patience humility can bring.

It can be so easy to rush to judgment.  But the humble person says “I’m going to keep my mouth shut and my mind open because I could be totally wrong about this situation.”  Wait to evaluate.  Then wait some more.  Collect data.  Make sure it wasn’t just a one-time anomaly.  Give grace.

Fourth, be like John the Baptist, willing to decrease so that others can rise.  “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit,” Paul says, “but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”  I recently heard of a guy who was recently hired at a company.  This guy so badly wanted to impress his boss.  He wanted the boss to like him, he wanted to rise.  So when another employee told this guy in confidence that he (the other employee) was looking for other jobs, this guy who wanted to rise saw an opportunity. He spilled the beans to the boss, broke confidence, and told the boss about the other employee’s plans. The boss, of course, talked with the other employee saying, “So, I heard you’re leaving us…”  The other employee was shocked and embarrassed, his confidence betrayed by the guy who wanted to rise.

Fifth, go last.  Jesus also taught quite a bit about humility. In Luke 14:7-15 he was at a big fancy dinner, and he noticed people scrambling for the best seats.  So you know what Jesus says to them, “he who exalts himself with be humbled.  Take the last seat.” Many times Jesus said things like this.  One of his famous sayings was “the last will be first, and the first last.”  So at a gathering, be last.  Make sure everyone else before you goes first. Trying to decide what TV show to watch? Let the other person get their way. Trying to decide where to go to eat, let the other person get their way. Be willing to enter into a situation that you don’t like. Don’t get your way. Give up your way.

Next, Paul taught in Romans 12:16, “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.”  If you live in the Lancaster, PA, area volunteer at places like CVCCS, Water Street, or Church World Service…and don’t tell anyone about your volunteering.

Here’s another idea: get an accountability partner. Just the act of having someone tell you what you need to work on is humbling, and we need that.

John Dickson, in his excellent book Humilitas, encourages a few more practical steps.  I suggest you get his book and read it.  I’ll share one step he recommends.  Study the lives of the humble.  In the Old Testament book of Numbers, we’re told that Moses was the most humble man alive.  Why? How? Read about his life and find out why. I have some theories, and I’m not going to tell you them.  Find out for yourself.  Of course, study Jesus.  But there are others. Mother Theresa, for example.  Find more people who are considered humble.  Study them, learn how they were humble.  Why they were humble.  Imitate them.

Get a trainer. Know someone you consider humble?  Ask them to help you become more humble.  Get Humilitas and start reading it together, working on implementing its ideas into your lives.

And handle your foray into humility with grace and generosity and love. Don’t be a begrudging humble person. Humility can be, well, humbling.  And being humbled is hard.  It can make us grumpy.  But we need it!