Category Archives: Discipleship

Fear and the Kingdom of God

in Mark 5:36, Jesus say to a father who has been told that his daughter has died…”Don’t be afraid;just believe.” This is remarkable, because in today’s world, in the average person’s life, death kind of is the ultimate take down and a source of fear. Yet Jesus isn’t even phased by death.

So Jesus isn’t bothered by death. He see’s it differently than we do. His command to the caring and concerned father is not to give in to fear. Not to give in to the words of the people/world saying it’s over. Do not give up your hope in me! You came to me with faith that I could do something about your daughter’s situation. The other voices want to distract you from that faith. The voices of the world want to convince you that your faith is misplaced. Jesus’ words are truth. “Don’t be afraid. Just believe.”

Dallas Willard writes: “As disciples (literally students) of Jesus, our goal is to learn to be like him. We begin by trusting him to receive us as we are. But our confidence in him leads us toward the same kind of faith he had, a faith that made it possible for him to act as he did. Jesus’ faith was rooted in his gospel of heaven’s rule, the good news of “the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 4:17).” [Italics added by me.]

We are called to view death the way that Jesus viewed it. We are called to think and act like our Lord did. And he wasn’t even phased by the message of the people to give up hope or to give into fear, or that death had the final say. Jesus knew the truth: that fear and death and this world do not have the answers that humanity needs. Only the Kingdom of God has humanity’s best interest at heart.

What are you facing right now? The loss of a job? The inability to find a job? The end of a relationship? Financial hardship? Under-employment? Drug addiction? A family member with an addiction? Abuse? A wayward son or daughter? Loneliness, depression, or your failing health? A time of waiting, when it’s the last thing you want to do? A time of confusion when all you want is direction and clarity?

I think there are many times in our lives and different situations where we face fear and the Holy Spirit is whispering “Don’t be afraid, just believe.” Fear has no place in the strong unshakable Kingdom of God. Jesus didn’t fear. His command to this father was not to give into fear and abandon his fatih. Jesus’ message was simply to believe in Him. For me, it is a message to trust. It is a message to not over-think. It is a message not to worry. It is a message to depend on Jesus, not my self. It is a message to let go of the steering wheel and trust Jesus to drive.

I’m not saying this is easy. I’m sure that the father of this daughter wanted desperately to rush Jesus along [from healing the woman with the issue of blood Mark 5:23-34]. This father had faith, but he was also afraid. Coming to Jesus is the answer. Trusting in Jesus is the way. This father’s faith hung in the balance. Jesus must have known that at this point, the father’s faith wavered between faith in himself and faith in Jesus. Jesus’ words, “Do not be afraid; just believe.”, are words that recognize this struggle and acknowledge the faith that is dangerously on the edge of no faith at all. Jesus’ words meet the father where he is, but also bid him to move in the direction of God.
Do not beat yourself up when you have fear and doubt, for our Jesus meets us there. And in that divine meeting, in the midst of the storm around you, pause, listen, and and in your journey hear the words of God’s own Holy Spirit say to you “Don’t be afraid; just believe!”

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The Value of People

I have had my conscience pricked lately by they way our society values people; or the lack there-of. It has brought up some interesting questions, as I do an internal inventory to see how much of the world’s view has infiltrated into my own thinking. Do I dismiss people as unworthy? Do I write someone off due to their current actions or their ancient past? Do I draw conclusions about people based upon their __________________? [You can fill in the blank, but some that come to mind are gender, sexual preference, race, age, economic status, dress, etc.]
Ultimately, all these questions can be answered based upon value. How much do I value another person? What I am seeing in our world is a disturbing amount of value based upon selfishness. I value you or that person for what they can do for me. If you get in my way, cause me grief, don’t allow me to have my way, I have no time for you, and your value in my mind becomes vacant. While this is a terrible way to think and treat people, there is another level that is even more despicable. Many times we see the world assign value based upon how person can be manipulated. One only needs to observe the recent headlines regarding the firing of the FBI Director Comey so see that both sides hold him as valuable only as long as they can manipulate him to accomplish some other goal.
None of this is new. It is tragic, but it isn’t new.
In John 8:1-11 we see the story of the woman caught in adultery. The Pharisees brought her to trap Jesus. They were not interested in her feelings. They had no concern for her eternal future. They did not value her in any way, except to use her to manipulate Jesus. I had a conversation with a supposed “Christian” not too long ago. I was encouraging them to be on the look out for Godly encounters with people who were not Jesus followers. I mentioned, as an example, the barista at Starbucks. To which the person replied, “I don’t really care about them as long as they give me my coffee and get my order right.” Are we really any different from the Pharisees?
In Luke 19:1-9 we see a similar interaction with Zacchaeus. Tax collectors were people, too. Yet no one of “religious” value placed any value on them.
A Jesus follower will choose to find value in another person, not for what they can do, what they have done, could possibly accomplish, or how they can be used and manipulated. A Jesus follower will choose to find value in another person because that person is important to Jesus. Name one person Jesus didn’t die for. It can’t be done. Each of us holds value to our Father.
Maybe we determine the value of another person as less or more because we have not embraced the value that God has placed on us in Jesus. We think that we have to keep God happy. We think we have to obey all the rules. We strive to be a good person. We hope our good stuff out weighs our bad stuff. Thus, we completely miss the point of what Jesus did for us in going to the cross. I love this quote by Andy Stanley, “Stop worrying about how you are doing with God and start living out your faith [In Jesus] by loving other people.”
Each of us has value. Why? Because Jesus died for you! Our value does not come from the world, it does not come from within ourselves. It is not assigned by our actions, titles, bank account, or our outward appearance. Our value is found in Jesus. It is time for Jesus followers to stop circling up the wagons of what they are against. The “faith,” the “scripture,” the “church,” does not need our defending. All that is needed is for Jesus followers to do what Jesus said in John 13:34-35 – A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you re my disciples, if you love one another.”

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Running From? Or Running Toward?

We have so much in common with Jonah.
We want justice for our enemies. We want grace for our sins.
We want to take the easy route, ignoring the difficult path of repentance.
We ignore God’s instructions/directions/commands/laws/teaching, and then we are upset when we reap the difficult harvest of bad decisions.

As I was reading the book of the Prophet Jonah today, I was struck by two verses. The first was Jonah 1:3 – “But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish.”
What kind of God does Jonah have? Based upon his actions, Jonah’s God is one who can be avoided, who is not everywhere and has limits. None of this is true for the God we see in The Bible. But are we any different? Too many times we believe the lies of the enemy that we can not be loved, that what we have done is not forgivable, that God is angry and best be avoided. I would offer that if a theologian had sat down with Jonah prior to his escape from the call of God, Jonah would have affirmed that God was all the omni’s [Omniscience, Omnipotent, Omnipresent, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.] But just like Jonah, our actions often speak volumes about what we really believe deep down inside. Our thinking can agree with the “proper answers” but our actions belay a different belief system. We abandon what we are told in Genesis 1:26, that we are “made in the image of God,” and instead we remake God according to our ideas so that God fits in our box.

That leads me to the second verse that leaped off the page. In chapter two we have Jonah saved/held captive in the belly of the fish. We find him driven to prayer. This is a pretty normal reaction. In Jonah 2:8, we come to this verse, “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” Wow! How true this verse is. This verse could not be more true of our world today. We cling to what the market is doing. We agonize over what the election might bring. We chase after the latest and greatest tech [that may catch fire in our pants, i.e.: Samsung Galaxy Note 7]. We model our lives after what someone famous is doing. We mimic our societal norms. All the while, we are “forfeiting the grace that could be ours.”

“Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” Jonah 2:8

God loves us. It’s a fact. He proved it in the life of Jesus. Jesus loves us. He proved it in His willingness to die for us. What sports star/team, famous person, rich person is willing to die for you? Yet we idolize them, devour their tweets, and buy the products they hock. What 401K plan, stock option, bank account can really provide the grace that we need to forgive our selves, forgive others, and live a life free of mental burden? What new CEO, business practice, worldly exercise, advertising campaign, or cunning insight is really going to bring about the heart change that you and I need?

At the heart of all discipleship is following, running toward whom we are following. It is time we stop running from God and forfeiting His grace. It is time to run toward God, and be blessed by His love. I am reminded of the old hymn with the stanza, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus name.” Let us stop running from God’s call on our lives. Let us stop trying to model God after our thoughts, and instead change our thoughts to match God. Let us stop running to the useless things of this world, so that we would not forfeit the amazing grace that God wants for us to enjoy.

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Constantly Representing Jesus

I have had the privilege of being a volunteer at our local police department for four years.  It was mentioned when I was “hired” and has been mentioned every time we have a new volunteer, that when we put on the uniform, we represent the Police department.  In our community, the police enjoy a strong relationship with the people who call our town home.  We don’t want to do anything while we are in uniform that would cast the police department in a negative light.  This is lived out by how we drive, talk, even stop in a local store or restaurant.  

Recently, I was asked to pick up a patrol car that had had some work done at a nearby dealership.  As I was driving home, I had the expectation that, driving a police car, other drivers would move out of my way.  In my mind, i was thinking: This is going to be the easiest commute I have ever had.  To my surprise, people driving in California don’t think anything about driving slowly in the fast lane with a patrol car right behind them.

Confession time:  had I been out of uniform and in my personal vehicle, I would have dropped the gas pedal to the floor, passed on the right, and given a look to the slow driver blocking traffic.  But because I was in uniform and driving a police vehicle, I did not.  I was very aware that wearing this uniform and driving a police vehicle was a privilege, and I needed to represent the department that I care so much about in the best light possible.

And then I was convicted by the Holy Spirit!  I am a follower of Jesus.  I represent Him to everyone I meet.  I have been made in His image.  I might be the only Jesus that someone may ever meet.  It is an honor to bear the name and to represent our Lord and Savior.  So why do I not conduct myself all the time in the same careful manor that I do when I am in uniform?  Why is there not the same conviction on my part to represent Jesus in the best light possible?

I know that I strive to follow Jesus and that living under His leadership affects my conduct, my conversations, my life.  But I do not feel the same weight to represent Jesus as I do when I wear my volunteer police uniform.  I am asking that the Holy Spirit lead me, remind me, convict me to represent well who Jesus is.  I am called to love God with all that I am, and to love others the same way Jesus loves me.  Some times I present well. Other times, I do not.  Thank God for grace!

So the next time that you think that no one is watching, or you are tempted to act in a non Christ-like way, represent well!  

Dusty Disciples Bring It!

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Dead to Sin – Alive In Jesus

Ephesians 2:4-5 “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”

What does it mean to be “dead” in sin? In Ephesians chapter two, Paul is contrasting the way of the world vs. the way of Jesus. Paul’s position is that there are two ways to live:
1. according to this world, which is controlled by Satan and is evident in the life of sin that this world displays through disobedience to God’s way [verse 2].
2. or according to our saved status, from Jesus,that is graced to us because of who God is. This Jesus status [verse 4 calls it “made us alive in Christ], that we share, boasts that we are seated with Jesus in the heavenly realm [verse 6], so that we might show off how amazing Jesus is [verse 7], and we are the handiwork of God, designed with a purpose to accomplish [verse 10].

This comparison, between the way of the world and the Jesus status, brings into focus what sin is. Sin is anything that is contrary to the will of God. Specifically, in verse 3, Paul shares with us that living for ourselves, seeking to satisfy our selfish thinking and desires, is of the evil one and deserving of wrath.

What is the will of God? It is that we love Him [God] and we love others [Matthew 22:37-40]. Anything that we do that is not loving toward another person, is sin. It is easy to pick out the obvious sin: gossip, lying, murder, abuse, cheating, adultery. But the not so obvious, that is not loving toward another person, is also sin. Like: assuming we know what a person is about/how they think, using guilt trips, manipulation, dismissive attitudes, passing judgement in our minds, taking a second [critical] look at another human being, is also unloving.

    Jesus is perfectly working on our perfection in Himself.

Jesus died [God’s mercy demonstrating grace] so that NOTHING could stand in the way of our relationship with God. Our creator loved us so much and so wanted to be part of our lives that, though we deserved wrath [verse 3], we did not receive wrath, but grace. God also wants this kind of relationship with every other human being. So, when we act in unloving ways toward others, we sin and we potentially stand in the way of that person’s relationship with God.

Any time we do anything that could damage our relationship with God or another person, that is sin. Sincere believers ask me all the time, how can I be dead to sin? The answer is that, if you follow Jesus, you already are dead to sin. Jesus accomplished this work on the cross and with the empty tomb. It is not something we can accomplish for ourselves. It has already been done.

Followers of Jesus are dead to sin when they live out their journey in light of the love relationship they have with Jesus.

A Jesus follower may struggle with surrendering a behavior or an attitude to Jesus. But that struggle is part of the relationship that is alive, growing, dynamic, interactive, real. Jesus is perfectly working on our perfection in Himself. He loves us so much that He is not willing to leave any morsel of sin hidden in our closet. Paul writes in verse 3 that all of us have lived according to the world at one time. It is God who makes us alive in Jesus.

A follower of Jesus who loves Jesus could simply ask this question when confronted with sin, “Will this hurt my relationship, or another’s relationship, with God?” Is this the loving thing/attitude/behavior/thought? We fail from time to time. We fall short, but we are alive in Christ, thankful and dependent upon His love.

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What Happens to the Church When Disciples Stop Listening to Prophetic Voices

Some basic definitions:

By “Church” I mean to imply those who self identify as the people of God by their attendance and giving at a local congregation.

Prophetic, as I understand it is to be a message from God to the intended audience of God’s choosing. The message comes to warn, convict, encourage to choose faithfulness to God. Though our pop culture has relegated prophecy to predicting the future, that is not what I am addressing in this post.

This may seem like a odd topic for a blog on discipleship. However, the subjects of obedience and responding to the call of God is a matter oft discussed in discipleship circles.

A prophetic voice is so valuable. It is one of God’s ways for us to hear a message that is different from the “me” centered message that we receive from the world every day.

A prophetic voice in a local congregation can come from anyone. God frequently uses the least likely person from the world’s point of view. Prophetic voices can come from scripture, movies, TV, musicians, other Godly people. God uses those who are open to hearing Him. God uses those who are already striving at faithful living with God.

Prophetic voices are usually irritating. They remind us of what we are not doing. Prophetic voices call us to accountability. They beckon us to return to our first love, God/Jesus/Holy Spirit. A prophetic voice is going to sound discordant with the status quo.

This voice will also be condemned. The prophetic voice is many times shouted down. It is on the receiving end of anger, jealousy, and accusations from laziness to ineffective. The saddest condition for the church is that most often the prophetic voice is forced out because for the prophetic voice to remain is a constant reminder to the church of what it is not doing.

This is a generalization, but most churches seek comfort. They want to exist in their bubble of “being saved” however reality rejects them not looking any different from the world. A casual perusal of the parking lot, the amount of debt, the number of smart phones, the amount of make up and “toys” is a strong indication that not much is different here in this building than down the street at the local mall.

God has something to say about all of this. His Son came and lived and died and rose again so that the way of the world would not be our way. Matthew 7:13-14 grates against our comfort driven lifestyle… “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Jesus’ prayer for His disciples in John 17:14-16 is yet another reminder that we are in the world but we are not of the world. Disciples are to be different. It’s simply part of who we are. We do what is not comfortable. We go where others think we shouldn’t. We create relationships with people any way we can, so as to have the opportunity to live out the Gospel in the context of that relationship.

So when the disciples within the church cease listening to the prophetic voices, we cave to the current of our existing world, tossed about as any rubbish would be in the wake of a flood. In short, without a prophetic voice, disciples cease to be disciples, the church desists being a church, and they look no different than the rest of the world. No better, no worse than a private club or a charitable organization.

In a church culture that chases after business models, success strategies, and strategic goals, what is really needed is a humble heart to listen to the prophetic voices that God lovingly sends. God asks us to care for the widow, provide for the orphan, lift up the downtrodden, bind the wounded, mourn with those that mourn…
Eugene Petterson says in The Message, in Micah 6:8
But he’s [God] already made it plain how to live, what to do,
what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously––take God seriously.

This is the part of the prophetic voice that we find incongruent with the message that we have adopted from the world. “It’s quite plain how we are to live and what we are to do, do what is fair and right for yourself, cutting yourself plenty of slack. Expect compassion and loyalty from those that you love, but for you it is nice suggestion. And take yourself very seriously, and give a general nod toward religion.”

May you and I tune into the prophetic voices in our lives, they are calling us to discipleship, calling us to faithfulness.

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Presence Deprivation

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Jesus as quoted by Matthew 7:13-14

Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, “The narrow gate is obedience–and the confidence in Jesus necessary to it…The broad gate, by contrast, is simply doing whatever I want to do.”

I have written before in this blog about obedience. There is no way around its life controlling grip. Thus stated, far too many people turn to obedience as a savior rather than a response.

Willard has the right idea here when he states, “the confidence in Jesus necessary to it.” Willard is talking about a relationship. A relationship, which when realized, delights and sustains. As a parent, I want what is best for my sons. Nothing is more frustrating to me than when my motives around this are questioned. Conflict occurs when what I think is best for my sons, and their idea of what they want do not mesh. I delight in my sons. Jesus delights in me. Jesus wants what is best for me. The entire “Sermon on the Mount” found in Matthew chapters 5,6 & 7 is His ‘journey’ for life with Him.

This is why in the 7th chapter, Jesus summarizes, telling us that it all comes down to obedience. Our obedience, to do what Jesus tells us to do, comes from our relationship with Him. Our obedience is our response, not out of drudgery, not out of manipulation with eternal goals, but obedience to someone whom we trust, because we know He has our best interests in mind.

So many relationships suffer from what I call “presence deprivation.” We do not put the time or the energy into our relationships, and thus they suffer. We are not present for each other, and thus deprived of the wonder of living life with another human being, we wander from one broken relationship to another. We find obedience hard, because we have not put in the time it takes to build a relationship with our Savior. We have chosen the wide path. We do what we want most of the time with a little bit of “religious action” thrown in for good measure.

So many spiritual relationships also suffer from “presence deprivation.” We assume some worship time here, some Bible reading there, and occasional prayer here, there and everywhere, will do the trick. Our relationship with Jesus, is perfunctory. We go through the motions because we think we should. The Kingdom reality is that Jesus delights in us, we are infinitely valuable to Him. When we delight in Jesus, obedience is our response. It is the narrow gate.

A wonderful human being that I have the privilege of guiding in the area of discipleship told me this week…”Lately I have been anxious with excitement to get to church on Sunday, joyful to open my Bible at work and dive in…expressing God’s love in day to day conversations. His words are what I have been feeling.”

Putting in the time, building the relationship, the delight comes, the relationship grows, the obedience follows.

David Platt, Follow Me, writes, ““The central question, then, is clear: Are you delighting in God? Are you emotionally overwhelmed, even at this moment, by the thought that you are his child? Have you truly tasted his transcendent pleasure in a way that provokes you to read his Word, pray, worship, fast, give, and share the gospel, all in addition to hosts of other actions that are now compelled by affection for God? This is the heart of following Jesus: enjoying God as Father through Christ the Son. And when this is a reality in your life, then your reason for living is utterly revolutionized.”

None of us do this perfectly. I don’t do this perfectly. There are times when our/my faith feels perfunctory. Don’t be discouraged or beat down. Instead, allow the conviction of the Holy Spirit to inspire time together with our Jesus. Let’s allow our ‘confidence’ in Jesus to inspire our actions to live out what He said is best for us. Let’s keep on the journey, in the reality that we live and move and have our being in the unshakable kingdom of God. We have all that we need in Jesus. Let us be embraced by and embrace Jesus, the act of which is the narrow path.

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In Anticipation…

I have noticed something in my own life that is concerning. I am moving through life to get to something else in life. In short, I am living in anticipation of the future, not being fully present. This is not a new phenomenon. To quote the great poet Mike Reno, “Everybody’s working for the weekend.” Many are moving through life, to get to something that we think is better than our current reality.

Recognitions like this alert me to observe the landscape. What are other people doing? Am I more like them than I am like Jesus? This is not an attempt to shift the blame for my failures of perspective, but simply to take to heart that the measure of influence in my life has been shifted toward the world and away from Jesus. This allows for some self assessment and much needed course correction.

Anticipation can be our personal issue, leading us to distraction from Jesus. However, the anticipations of others that are placed on us can also cause us to shift focus. Mike Reno again: “Everyone’s looking to see if it was you, Everyone wants you to come through, Everyone’s hoping it will all work out, Everyone’s waiting they’re holding out.” Many of Jesus’ followers were followers solely in anticipation of his Kingship. They wanted to see what he would do, to ride on his coat tails into a new existence that they thought would be better than their present doldrums.

Anticipation in and of itself is not a bad thing. Throughout the Bible we see characters anticipating the coming of the Messiah. We see Jesus teach about the prepared bridesmaids who are anticipating the coming of the bride groom. So where does anticipation cross over to alter our course of following Jesus?

For each of us, anticipation that leads to distraction may be different, but for me it looks like this: the majority of my thought life is distracted by thinking about what is to come, what might happen. Instead, I believe I should be living fully present for Jesus here and now. In the decisions that I am making, in the conversations that I am having, in the text messages that I am sending, in my prayers, in my driving, in my walking, in my waiting for my Starbucks, in all of life, am I fully present to those around me? Am I fully present to the Holy Spirit’s voice guiding, directing, and influencing?

This past week, a rather peculiar thought came into my brain. I wondered why, but then identified it as the leading of the Holy Spirit to do something that I did not want to do. As I prayed through this, I was struck by the idea that I had a choice to make. I could dismiss the thought or I could be obedient. I reached out to some friends to pray for me as I had decided to be obedient and I had no idea how or where this obedience was going to play out. I wish I could tell you at the end of the day, I had an identified reason why the Holy Spirit asked me to be obedient. But I can’t, and I may never know. I just know that I was asked to follow, to be faithful, present, and so I did. I share this simply to illustrate that when anticipation leads to distraction, we miss opportunities to be used by God.

Spiritual Practice –

How do we anchor our thoughts in the work of being fully present? It is a work in progress but here are some suggestions:

Ask the Holy Spirit for help in this area? Ask Him to speak, lead, guide your thoughts and actions. How many times to do we pray that God will assist us with our plans for the day, rather than pray that we would be open to God’s plans for the day as we go about our normal duties?

Set yourself a reminder, a calendar date, a visual signal to refocus on Jesus. I have a friend who changed the home screen on his phone to a single white word on a black background, “Jesus.” For him, every time he opened his phone, it served to remind him what he was to be about.

Get yourself a blank journal and daily write down where you felt the influence of being a follower of Jesus, throughout your day. End your reflection time by asking for more of Jesus’ influence in your life.

Use your lunch break to read some scripture. This can be a great way to refocus on whose you are and who really is in control.

Link with an accountability partner. Agree to text one another two to three times throughout the day to keep one another on task for Jesus. Our Dusty Disciples group uses the phrase, “Bring it.” as a rallying cry to give to Jesus our best.

This journey of following Jesus has an end goal that can not be rushed. This end goal is only reached through the daily faithfulness of following our Savior.

Begin, patiently, to put these spiritual practices into your life, and you will hear Jesus say, “This is the way, walk here… I am the way, follow me.”

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Obedience is More Than Something to Do

A lot of people raised in the church, raised around religious people, grew up with this notion: following Jesus means following all the rules. It means no fun. It means not even thinking about fun. Depending on your age, you remember the blue laws, Sunday drives, boring afternoons.

Why do we teach others that following Jesus can be reduced to following a set of rules? Rules are easier than being in relationships. The Pharisees were experts at this. They had the form of faith, without function. A list of rules to follow allows us to be in control. We choose to follow or not. A list of rules allows us to bargain with God; “Please Lord, allow me into your heaven. I have followed most of the rules, most of the time.”

Whereas, a relationship requires trust, energy, surrender, vulnerability, transparency, self sacrifice, and is, overall harder, but ultimately worth the work. Take a moment, and think about each of those descriptive words in the last sentence. Do any of those words describe your faith journey with Jesus? If yes, how?

Or is your faith journey dominated by: calling on Jesus when life gets difficult, keeping track of your “good” status, counting on it being greater than your “bad” stuff? Maybe your faith journey is marked by Gracism. “I thank you God that I am more deserving of your grace than the person who…hurt me, did this, did that, doesn’t live how I think they should, etc.”

I have the privilege of being on a faith journey with some other men, as we strive to grow more like Jesus. This week we looked at 1 John 5:3-4a “This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world.” To this verse we posed 3 questions:

1. If I am to show my love of God by obedience to Jesus’ commands, how does this not become just a new set of Jewish laws, that ultimately ends in Pharisaic living?
2. If I am to show my love for God by obedience to Jesus’ commands, is obedience up to me?
3. If I am to show my love for God by obedience to Jesus’ commands’ how is it not burdensome?

So here is how I would answer this:

1. Because following Jesus is about our relationship with him, we obey not because the law saves us but because we love & trust Jesus! Jesus, when asked to sum up the greatest commandment in Matthew 22, tells us that we are to love God with all that we are, 100% of the time. Jesus is describing a relationship. Jesus tells us to treat our neighbors as ourselves, again a relationship. Jesus tells us to teach, baptize, remember and make disciples, again all done in the context of relationships. The greatest indictment of the modern era church is that we have reduced disciple making to an assembly line process. Do this, do that, take this class, attend this six week course and we will all be better disciples. However, I believe I have set the ground work for the fact that all that our assembly line discipleship making has achieved is vacuous hollow self justifications, devoid of real, life changing spiritual power. When was the last time you prayed to the Holy Spirit, asking to understand/know/hear from/be guided by/be convicted by/have a stronger relationship with the Spirit of Father and Son? After all, the Godhead, lives in a relationship within Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

2. Yes and no, it is up to us! Jesus won’t make the decision for us but; because of our relationship with the Holy Spirit, He is there to encourage, guide, influence, and convict us to choose obedience. How many of us make decisions, devoid of any other relational influence in our lives? We do what we do, and don’t do what we don’t do, to try and please a displeased spouse, an angry boss, garner the attention of a distant parent or a lost child. Our relationships impinge on every aspect of our existence. Why is it, then that so much of Christianity has been striped of it’s relational nature and been replaced with things to do? Is it any wonder that our pews are empty when “leaders” live passionless lives that reflect only themselves rather than the person of Jesus?

And finally,
3. Obedience to Jesus does not become burdensome because of our relationship, for we know he wants only what is best for us. Do not translate “not burdensome” as easy. Obedience will always be a conscious act of our will. However, as our relationship grows stronger with our savior, that relationship begins to influence our thinking and our decision making, and transforms our acts of rebellion into acts of faithfulness.

Here is how some of my dusty brothers chose to answer these questions…

“My love for God is not burdensome because I have the Holy Spirit dwelling within me. Nothing is impossible with God. By being obedient to Jesus I am in my Savior’s love…”

“…our obedience is not burdensome because it’s relational. When we care about someone, even hard work has meaning…”

“We love Jesus! Therefore we follow Jesus’ teachings! Therefore we love others.”

So how about you? I would welcome your answer to these three questions and your insights and thoughts. In the comments section below, join us on the journey of growing our relationship with Jesus.

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Jesus in a Bottle is Not Discipleship

I am not sure when it became en vogue to treat Jesus like a genie in a bottle and God the Father as His more powerful big brother.  It is alarming how often, in the face of hardship, people turn to God to fix everything to avoid any personal suffering on their part.  This is understandable for the non-believer, even expected and used by God to bring about an awareness of His desired presence in their lives.  However, for the follower of Jesus, our relationship with Him and the Father, through the Spirit, ought to inform us that Jesus does not promise us that following is easy. Instead He tells us we must ever bear a death sentence in this life (see Matthew 16:24).  
So why is it that most followers prefer an Easy Button that they can safely push from their pews, as opposed to life changing, real relationship?

Only a part of the answer lies in the tragic fact that largely we have ignored Jesus’ relationship with the Father, and how that informs the kind of relationship we are to experience with the Godhead.

The relationship Jesus had with His Father is the relationship we can and are supposed to have. God wants us to know Him and trust Him of fully, that obedience becomes an assumption on our part. It is if we are to say, “of course I will obey you, Jesus; I can’t imagine doing otherwise.”
It is the same response Peter had when Jesus asked, in John 6:66-69, if the disciples are going to abandon him like the rest of the crowds. Peter’s response is “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Part of what Peter means when he says that he and his fellow apprentices “know that you are the Holy One of God” is that he, Peter, has a relationship with the Holy Son of God. Given what Peter has experienced, given the many miles traveling, given the conversations around the camp fire, the laughter over a glass of wine, the sights, the sounds, the miracles, and probably, most of all the calling that Jesus has placed on his life to leave the fish business for the disciple- making journey, Peter can not fathom leaving Jesus just because things have become difficult.

It is directly because of the relationship that Jesus has with the Father that he can perfectly trust that God knows best. In spite of the great personal suffering He is about to endure, obedience to the Father is not a question for Jesus. Jesus trusts His Father enough to be honest with the Father and to tell the Father his preference, that this cup, the cross, might be taken away. Yet Jesus trusts the Father enough to choose the will of the Father over his own.
For us, we can not over look the role that the Holy Spirit plays in teaching and encouraging our relationship with the Father, through the Son. It is the Spirit who is always whispering the truths of Jesus in our hearts and minds. It is the Spirit that calls us to Journey with Jesus. It is the Spirit who reminds us that God is trustworthy and loving.
Thomas A. Small has written a book entitled, “The Forgotten Father”. In it he writes:
“When in the Spirit we dare cry Abba (Father) like Jesus, the one on whom we call is the God of Gethsemane who can ask for anything including ourselves because he gave everything including himself.”

The pinnacle truth is that this trustworthy God loves us so much that He wrought the mantle of heaven for the mire of earth so that we might know the kind of relationship we were designed to have. By looking at the relationship of the Father with the Son, we glimpse the possible realities that exist for us.

What does this mean for us? Some hard questions… Can we embrace the cancer diagnosis? Not because cancer is good but because God is good. Can we live with the pain, not because we deserve it but because Jesus endured pain? Can we hold on to our marriage relationship, not because it is what is expected but because He asks us to trust and obey. Can we let go of the plans we have, trusting that He has a different plan? Will we let go of our desperate grasp of the steering wheel of control and allow Jesus to drive our relationship?. Are we willing to trust God and suffer the hardship in front of us rather than constantly pleading for the hardship to be removed? In short, will we choose God rather than our own will?

In Luke 7:18-23, we are confronted by the story of John the Baptist in prison, asking Jesus for assurance. Erwin McManus, does a wonderful retelling of this in chapter two of his book, “The Barbarian Way.” Essentially, and this is a generous paraphrase, in verse 23, Jesus is telling John, “Yes, I raised Lazarus from the dead but I am not going to come through for you. I am not going to get you out of jail.” Analyze this: Lazarus is a friend, John is a cousin. Lazarus is just a guy, but John, according to Jesus, is so great that no man who has ever lived is greater than John, v. 28. Yet God had different plans for both men. They don’t have to understand the plan. Neither do we. The don’t have to like the plans; and, if it means personal suffering, we most definitely do not like that plan.
Will we continue on the journey to be covered in the dust of our Rabbi, Jesus, even if Jesus doesn’t come through for us the way we would like? Let us look to the relationship of perfect trust and love between Jesus and His Father as formative for our own relationships both divine and human.

Some difficult questions to answer for ourselves, as always, I invite your comments and to enter into the dialogue as we journey with Jesus.

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