The Championship – The Finish Line

I recently read that after winning the National Championship in football a coach later remarked that: “Building takes passion and energy.  Maintenance is awful.  It’s nothing but fatigue.  Once you reach the top, maintaining that beast is awful.”  A commentator described this coach as: “a man running for a finish line that doesn’t exist.”

Sometimes I feel that our church experience has to be this way.  Or even our faith has to always be as exciting as when we first believed.  It is not.

Our walk with Jesus is not one “championship” after another.  Like Eugene Peterson has captured in the title of his book, it is a “long obedience in the same direction”.  He writes that: “One aspect of the world that I have been able to identify as harmful to Christians is the assumption that anything worthwhile can be acquired at once.”  And: “There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.”

Peterson identifies our lives not as tourists, but rather as disciples and pilgrims.  We are disciples of our master Jesus, and pilgrims through this world heading towards “our Father’s house.”

It is helpful to remember Thomas asking Jesus in John 14: 5-7, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  And Jesus answers: “I am the way the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well.  From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Let’s remain connected to the vine, Jesus (Jn 15:5).  Let’s focus on Jesus and get to know him keeping the long-range view in mind.  Yes we are running for a finish line, and the good new for us it exists!  And we have Jesus as our coach, and guide, who cheers us on and encourages us for the journey.  We also have each other, teammates on this journey toward being more like Christ.

 

 

How to Engage

Have you gotten into (or followed) arguments on social media where you and the other person exchange opinions lobbing verbal grenades at one another?   Have you or the other person ever been convinced of the other persons point of view?  Typically, these end in stalemates and only accomplish divisiveness.

In 2 Timothy 2: 24, 25a Paul writes:

And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.  Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth

 There’s a lot of 21st Century wisdom in this first Century scripture.  I think God anticipated Facebook…

The Greek word interpreted here for “quarrel” is literally: “a war of words”.  A servant of Christ is not to get into a war of words.  Instead a servant of Christ is to be “kind to everyone”.  So getting into a war of words could be equated to being disobedient.

The alternative is to first be “gentle” (typically not an internet volley tactic), and “able” to teach, and “not resentful”.  This does not say we teach the person right then and there.  Rather we are “able” to.  Typically, one volunteers to be taught.  So this says one is able to teach the other when there’s a willingness and opportunity.  And the attitude is to not be “resentful”.

Then notice that the Christ follower is to operate “in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth”.   So, it is God who convinces the person.  Not the one involved in the teaching.

This does not say that we don’t engage in dialogue or stand for the truth.  It just says how.  AMEN

But I Tell You Who Hear Me

“Love your enemies” is a common scripture, theme, and concept to most Christians and is even familiar to many non-believers.

Prior to giving us this command Jesus gave the Beatitudes, the blessings, then warned us that following him would not be easy.  Then Luke 6:27 follows when he says: “But I tell you who hear me: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

Luke 6:17-19 sets the scene. Jesus is in a very public setting surrounded by a large crowd from all around the region who had come to be healed and to listen to him.  He starts with: “But I tell you who hear me” in verse 27a.

The word for “hear me” is akouo which is to physically hear but also to understand, perceive, learn and comprehend.  Remember this scene is a large crowd who have come from near and far to be healed.  This is a very public event, a happening.

And he in effect says to them, to those who really get this, who really understand and comprehend me I am telling you to love outrageously.   To love in a very non-sensical way.   In Luke 6:28 he says to love your enemies, bless those who “mistreat you” and “hate” you.  In effect he is saying “don’t follow the crowd and get wrapped up in the healing and this public spectacle.  Rather this shows that I want you to love people in supernatural ways”.

He wants people to “really” get this.  To not get too wrapped up in the event, but to really perceive and understand the message behind the event.  A message to love beyond human ways.  And he is singling out those who really “hear me”. (Lk 6: 27)

He says if you do this you will be: “sons of the Most High”. (Lk 6: 35). You will be the true descendants of God, the real family members, the real followers.

This next year let’s really see Jesus with 2020 vision.  Let’s catapult off the decorations of Christmas and New Years celebrations and really “hear” Jesus’ message as he breaks into our world.   The message to go beyond the natural to the supernatural.  To love as he loved.  His miraculous birth, points to his miraculous love.  We are to love because he first loved us!  Hope you had a Merry Christmas and will have a great 2020!

Outside

When Jesus began his ministry in the synagogue on the Sabbath day he read the beautiful passage from Isaiah 61:1-2 proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor and declared: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Lk 4:21)  Everyone was impressed, and “all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. (Lk 4: 22)

The Jews must have been so encouraged and hopeful, their messiah had finally arrived to save them! But Jesus, not being politically correct, responds in Luke 4:23 by correcting their narrow thinking.   He relates his arrival to a physician who is there to heal others, and that he will not be accepted by his own people.  The very people who are hearing him at that moment.

Then he pours it on even more relating stories from their existing scriptures of their prophet Elijah who was sent to the Sidonian widow, not the “many widows” in Israel.  And he reminds them of the era of the prophet Elisha when Naaman the Syrian was healed of leprosy, not the “many in Israel” who had leprosy. (Lk 4: 24-27)

These infuriated the Israelites who felt their messiah would come to save them, the chosen, the insiders. “All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.   They got up, drove him out of town and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built in order to throw him down the cliff. (Lk 4: 28,29)

Jesus turns the tables of entitlement at the very beginning of his ministry.  His ministry is inclusive, even for those who are hated and seemingly undeserving.  The unworthy, ones with the wrong lineage, the outsiders.

Who are those in your life?  Relatives, criminals, politicians, work mates, people of a particular race, region of the world, country, religious group?

Radically, Jesus came for all.  In another physician reference in Luke 5:31 he states: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”   

We are all sinners in need of a savior, all sick and need a doctor.  The gospel is for all and we are not in any position to keep it to ourselves, or feel that anyone is undeserving.  Indeed, unless we are ethnically Jewish it would not have come to us with this kind of thinking.

Thank you Lord for including me into your family, and may I be privileged to share you with everyone.  Amen.

What Should I Do?

If people were coming to you for baptism wouldn’t you be thrilled and welcome, and encourage them?

In Luke 3 we see “crowds” coming to John, “The Baptist”.  And he responds with: “you brood of vipers!” (vs 7).  Hmmm, doesn’t seem like the most pastoral greeting.

He then challenges their motivations basically saying this religious event won’t save you, rather you must be changed from the inside and the evidence of this will be your life.  He confronts their identity as Jews proudly set apart from others in the line of Abraham saying your proud lineage doesn’t amount to much either by stating: ”that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham”. (vs 8)

He doesn’t stop there, warning them judgment is coming stating: “every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

By now I would guess most people at this party would go home.  But this was a Holy Spirit event.  They respond by asking: “What should we do then?”  Whew!  The party at the river can continue.

John responds telling them to be generous with their belongings and food. (vs 11)

Tax collectors ask: “What should we do?”  Quit cheating people he tells them. (vs 12)

Soldiers ask: “What should we do?”  he tells them to be content with what you have and don’t abuse power and influence by lying and extorting people. (vs 13)

He then testifies and points people to Jesus saying to all of them: ”one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” (vs 16). Again, he warns them about the consequences of their actions  and then: “with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.” (vs 18)

As we enter into Christmas let’s keep focused on the Savior.  With all the fun decorations, celebrations, office parties, and music let’s be sure to not lose sight of the one whose sandals we are not worthy to untie.  Let’s let Jesus change us so we ask: “what should I do?”

 

 

 

 

 

Definition and Value

In 2 Corinthians 10 Paul is addressing criticism and accusations from others about his motives and character.  And the comparison game of others comparing themselves to him.

Defending himself, and in defense of his ministry Paul says in verse 5:

“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ”

In this season marketers often portray ideal family images of celebrations, getting exactly what you want, having perfect bodies, the awesome new car.  The tactic is to get us to compare ourselves to the images set before us.  To compare, judge, and find ourselves wanting.

God says: “You are fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps 139:14), “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4), “before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jer 1:5), “while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

These scriptures are the weapons we fight with.  Not the weapons of the world which are finite, but rather weapons that: “have divine power to demolish strongholds”.  Weapons that: “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God”.

The word “demolish” is used twice here.  It is to use force, to throw down, refute, destroy.  This is the force of the weapons God gives us to use by which false arguments and pretensions that set up against the knowledge of God are to be eliminated.

Of course in this life we are not perfect, and we are always on a journey to be “more like Christ” (Rom 12:2, Eph 4:22-24).  However, our intrinsic value is set and firm.

Paul didn’t let others define him and neither should we. Our lives may not imitate the images we see in advertisements.  But it is Christ who defines us and gives us the ability to “take every thought captive” (my emphasis) and make our thoughts “obedient to Christ”.

Your value and worth is not defined by comparisons with others.  It is in the God who made you, defines you, and died for you.

 

Labor and Relax

Having read stories where people planted churches that sprung up into movements to Jesus where thousands of people accepted Jesus and were baptized I began to wonder why my efforts have never been rewarded with such fruit.

Was I missing something?  Unfaithful?  Not praying enough?  Not working hard enough?

Undoubtedly, I can improve on all the above.  However, recently I came across Mark 4, the parable of the seed sower, the farmer, and it really helped give me some relief and encouragement.

In verse 21-25 we see our place in society defined as always being a light to those around us and always being a testimony to Jesus.  We have the gospel which is so much, and we are not to hoard it nor hide it.

Then in verses 26-29 Jesus informs us of what the Kingdom is like.  It’s a seed (vs 26) that is scattered (by us).  And “night and day whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts” (vs 27).  In other words, it’s not up to us!  I fact it says: “the seed grows, though he does not know how”.

We cannot control the growth of the Kingdom, God will accomplish it – even when we are sleeping.  We have a part in it, no doubt.  However, it is ultimately God who grows his Kingdom.

The farmer sows the seeds and harvests, so we as “Kingdom farmers” are to participate in sowing and harvesting but it is not up to us to make the seeds grow.  In verse 28 Jesus states: “all by itself the soil produces grain”.

Jesus then steps back and further explains the Kingdom in verses 30-32 explaining that from the smallest seed a large tree grows providing shade for the birds.  From very small churches a whole movement of people to Jesus grows and multiplies.

This was so encouraging!  I am to be a witness.  I am to keep trying to plant churches.  However, ultimately it is the Lord’s job to make things grow.  And he will do it in due time.

What a relief!  As I press on I can relax.  And when the seeds I throw out grow, they will be a part of something very large, the largest trees in the garden providing “shade” for many.

So lets all be seed sowers.  Laborers for the harvest.  And leave the growing of those seeds up to the Lord.  He will grow those seeds in due time.  Amen!