Tag Archives: James Bryan Smith

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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Discipleship is: The Work of God

Discipleship is the Work of God. Yes, you read that correctly. I know it seems backward. We assume that discipleship is our work, our devotion, our journey, our growth, our following. And it is, but it isn’t.

In spending some time in John chapter 6, we see Jesus discussing with the crowds why they followed him from one side of the lake to the other. Jesus tells the crowd that they came looking for him because they had their bellies filled and wanted more. Jesus then points out to them in verse 27 not to work for food that spoils, but for eternal life. The crowd responds, “What are the works of God that He requires? Jesus answers in verse 29: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

The journey to my premise, that Discipleship is the work of God, may be fraught with twists & turns, but hang in there with me. This is how my brain works…

It has been the modus operandi of the last half century, that salvation was equated to “right” belief. This comes out of our protestant heritage and is summed up in this type of thinking: “If I believe the right things, then I get into heaven.” The result of this approach generally leads to a hollow existence without much life change or transformation. Thus the “practice” of faith is open to accusations of meaningless mind games and a “christian” community looking not much different from the rest of the world.

Contrast that with the growing swell in spiritual practices, formation, discipleship, ancient practices and life change. People want to do something and like the crowd that asked Jesus by the sea of Galilee in verse 28 of John chapter 6, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

The mistake that many people make, some knowingly and others innocently, is when Jesus says in verse 29, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” is something that only happens in our mind/head. Belief is so much more. The classic example is that I can believe in the idea of flying. I can believe that air planes fly great distances. However, unless I am willing to put my self on the plane, to entrust myself to a belief that I do not understand, do I really believe? Now move this into the realm of following Jesus. I say I believe in Him, I say that I believe He is the Son of God, but do I do the things that the Son of God says I am to do? Do I forgive? Do I trust? Do I go last? Do I serve? Do I take the narrow path?

Belief in the one whom God sent, Jesus, is so much more than a mindset, correct philosophy, and mental gymnastics. Yes, apologetics are important, knowledge is crucial, healthy debate is needed. When we do the work, God’s work of discipleship, the journey becomes the adventure rather than the obligation. The discipleship connects us with our Savior, whom we love with all abandon. The drudgery, the lifeless monotony, the joyless worship fade into the back ground when we do the work God has designed us to do, discipleship, believing in Jesus, acting like Jesus, doing what Jesus said to do.

So when I say that discipleship is the work of God, what I mean is this… God’s work is to believe in the one He sent. The one He sent was Jesus. Belief in Jesus is not simply a cerebral switch flip. It is a journey of life practice, being covered in the dust of our Rabbi, Jesus. James Bryan Smith refers to it as “apprenticing,” in doing the things that Jesus did and calls us to do. The work of God that leads to life is discipleship. Let’s do this journey together!

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What is the big deal about Transformation?

Transformation is a term that is thrown around a lot these days.

We find it in the mission statements of churches, on T-shirts and web sites.

Seems like everyone wants to be transformed: business, medical practices, body image, computer industry, and even a movie series that really probably shouldn’t have been made. [My apologies to those of you fans of the Transformers movies. I’m not trying to offend, just be transparent with who I am and my journey.]

The obvious question to ask is: transformed into what exactly and why? The cultural connotation is that what I am or what I have is not good enough, and a transformation needs to happen so that I will be happier, smarter, faster, richer, better, etc.

A follower of Jesus, a disciple, is called to transformation into the likeness of our Rabbi, Jesus. It is not because we can’t be happy as we are. The truth is, we are not as we were created to be. Just as Adam was the first, so Jesus is the true Adam, as we were created to be. The first Adam; abandoned his relationship with God for a lie. Jesus; chose to never abandon His relationship/fellowship with His Father. It is this relationship, between humanity and God, through Jesus, with the power of the Holy Spirit, that enables real transformation to happen.

In my reading I was led to this quote by James Bryan Smith:

    The glorious Trinity (Father, Son and Spirit) is on a mission to transform every one of us. That does not happen by anything we do of ourselves. Jesus did it all. And Jesus does it all—by continuing to pray for each of us. But we do participate in this transformation. We set our minds on these truths: we are forgiven, and Jesus is praying for us. And when Jesus prays, things happen. He will not stop until he has made us all new people.

James Bryan Smith

Pivotal, for the disciple, are two verses that Paul writes, the first from Romans 12:2 NIV – “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” The second from 2 Corinthians 3:18 NIV “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

The Greek word here is metamorphoō, which means to change into another form. The first part of the word stresses the inward change that is to happen, and the preceding verb adds the stress on the outward change. The present continuous tense indicates that this is a process. Thus, for me, transformation is both an inward [my thinking, my attitude, my choices] and an outward [my behavior, my speech, my body language, my choices] journey into being more like Jesus. This takes time. [See my earlier post Discipleship Priorities: Time & Energy ]

Most disturbing to me is when churches talk about transformation, but they are not pursuing Christlikeness. Churches want their attendance numbers transformed, their church life cycle trajectory transformed, their budget numbers transformed. These are trivial, secular goals and far from Gospel transformation.

Transformation is a big deal. It is what we celebrate because we are resurrection people. Transformation is the entire ball game. Transformation is reversal from sin and death to life and being made new. Let us be clear what kind of transformation we are talking about: transformation into living and thinking like Jesus. Anything else is a cheap substitute that will not bring real joy, and thus our joy will not be complete.

This kind of transformation changes individuals, families, and communities. Jesus has changed my life. Jesus wants to change all of our lives, but not according to our agenda.

Consider these thoughts:
– What narrative from the world, about who I am in my life, do I believe, and needs to be transformed?
– Am I being consistent in working in concert with the “Holy Trinity” to transform me?
– How or where in my life have I sidelined real transformation, for a poor substitute of transformation?

As always I welcome your dialogue and thoughts as we journey toward and with Jesus…

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