taking your eyes off the Lord, off the promise

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Matthew 14:22-33

What was happening when Peter took his eyes off the Lord? As the passage tells us, and this was immediately after the miraculous feeding of the 5,000, by the way, Jesus is walking, yes walking on the water. And the disciples had just witnessed the great miracle, so their imaginations were continuing to be changed. And after getting over the shock and fear of seeing Jesus walking on the water, Peter has the boldness to ask if he could do that too, at Jesus’ command. After all, Jesus is their Apprentice, and they’re to end up doing what he does, even while it’s only through Jesus that they can do it.

It begins wonderfully well. Peter is walking, yes miraculously walking on the water. One might ask what good walking on water is. Probably, unless you can’t swim worth much like me, probably of little to no value, and maybe even counterproductive in a world given over to sensation. Note that Jesus did not do this in front of the crowds, but only before his disciples. Maybe and maybe not people caught wind of it later. As we’re told in Jesus Christ Superstar when Herod asks Jesus to walk on the water of his pool, since Scripture does tell us that Herod wanted him to perform some miracle when he at long last had Jesus in his presence shortly before Jesus’s crucifixion. But this event was meant to be like a parable to us. So that no matter what we’re facing, our eyes so to speak spiritually are on the Lord, on God’s promise in him, and off the troubles we face.

This is difficult to say the least. The wind whipping up the waves was real. And there are situations and problems we face which we need to address in one way or another. I think what Jesus was trying to teach the disciples here, and by extension wants to teach us as well is that we’re to do what Jesus did. That we live in complete trust in God, boldly doing the unimaginable in the face of circumstances or reality as we might call it, which seems to make such a venture impossible. No, we’re not to literally walk on water, but in a sense we’re to live above the circumstances of life, and that includes in how we address such circumstances. Something I don’t have much of any handle on yet, although I probably and advanced compared to years past.

What happens when we take our eyes off the Lord and God’s promise in him? Like Peter we begin to sink so that our faith is not only failing us, but becoming weak and for all practical purposes, nonexistent. But when that happens, at least like Peter we should have the faith to cry out to the Lord to save us. And that’s what Peter did. But again, what happens? We no longer are thinking and acting like followers of Christ. That’s what was happening to Peter, and all too often happens to us, to me over and over again. I’m pretty strong in crying out to God when such happens, who isn’t? Unless one is not holding on to faith. Instead of being changed through looking to Christ and God’s promise in him, we are seized into the swirling, threatening trouble as if God didn’t exist, and as if we’re left to fate, left to ourselves.

Jesus wants to train us for something much better. Something Jesus wanted to get through to Peter and the other disciples, and to us as well.

Advent is looking to Jesus and God’s promise in him in spite of circumstances not only in our world, but in the world at large. We long for Christ’s return to clean up this mess, all the while trying to get his help to clean up our own messes along the way.

In and through Jesus.

what it means to be a Christian not just in name, and how

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

Mark 1:16-18

Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

Mark 2:13-14

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

Mark 8:34-35

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.

Acts 9:1-3

Christian is seen in all kinds of ways, but it has been common during my lifetime to view it as those who profess faith in Christ, go to church, and are more or perhaps less marked out from the culture as different. Much fits into this space. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that there’s often an insistence in accepting the penal substitutionary atonement theory, that Christ took the punishment for our sins on the cross. If you believe that, accept that for yourself, then you’re marked as a Christian.

Setting aside for now the problem with substitutionary atonement at the very least in the way it has been presented, I would want to say that all the truth about Christ’s death for the forgiveness of our sins and resurrection by which we receive new life however we formulate that ends up being a given, as long as the crux of the matter is right. And here is the crux of the matter.

To really be a Christian in the sense given in the New Testament, to become one in the first place is all very simple while being profound. It means following Jesus. Individually and in community. Becoming Jesus followers. 

Yes, we have to decide individually, but it’s meant to be lived out in community. This is where we start, where we continue, and where we end. Following Jesus. 

By the Spirit in the community of the church. The entire church is supposed to consist of those who are followers. That’s the ideal. Of course everyone is in a different place in their spiritual journey. But unless we press home the necessity of following Christ, then we’re falling short of what it really means to be a Christian. Following Christ’s lead and in so doing, changing over time. Becoming more and more like him.

All of this as always, in and through Jesus.

 

you have to want it

for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

James 1:7-8

It’s not enough to simply be a believer in Christ and that’s it. So that by and by someday you “go to heaven,” and you now enjoy the fruit of simply believing. Yes, we’re believers in Christ, but the heart of that is to be followers of Christ. At least some scholars nowadays argue that faith in Christ is primarily about allegiance to Christ. And as such, we’re no less than followers of Christ. Committed fully to that, even in the midst of our weakness and need for further growth.

We really have to want it. As a member of our team, we grab books flying up the belt to check them for quality. I find, especially at my age that seeking to have proper technique and timing is often not enough. I also have to really want to grab those books. Otherwise I’ll miss one, hit it sideways, and it will stop the operation. The same goes for a sports team. They can have all the x’s and o’s down good, have good practices, have things in order. But unless they really want to win, to do well, then they’re likely to either get beat, or find themselves in an uphill battle. As followers of Christ, to shake the problems which over and over can plague us, we have to no less than want it.

The passage quoted above (see context by clicking reference above) from James is telling us that double-mindedness just isn’t going to get it. We could be double-minded in all kinds of ways. And one of them is to think that following Christ is easy street, that all is done for us, that we don’t have to make any effort. Yes, Christ’s yoke is easy and his burden light, but we still have to come to Christ, take his yoke upon us and learn from him (Matthew 11:28-30). We have to want it.

God helps us in all of this. For the realization to dawn and take hold of us. And then for us to walk in it. Again, we always have God’s help. In and through Jesus.

being preoccupied with Jesus and his teaching and vision, along with a complaint about the industrial revolution, and encouraging words about Mary and Martha

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

Especially in the past, there’s been many a discouraging word about Martha from this passage, along with encouraging words for Mary and those like her. I’ve noticed a redress to the point where you almost think the passage must surely be somehow exonerating Martha, and not giving the Mary there, the appreciation she deserves.

I think a careful look at John 11 along with this passage will help us appreciate both women, that they were both faithful followers of Jesus. Martha seems to have more of an assertive, take charge personality, while Mary seems more laid back, and more withdrawn. We probably side with one or the other, or see something of both in ourselves.

The problem with Martha which I think is evident in this passage is that she gets so preoccupied with necessary things, that she loses sight of what is altogether the most necessary. And as much as I can easily be withdrawn like Mary, which isn’t necessarily bad, I find too that certain matters can easily take up my complete attention to the point that I’m totally preoccupied with them, and not with the Lord.

That said, I want to say a word of praise for Martha. She surely was a master at what she did. She probably knew how to make up a meal and had the gift of hospitality with a flair. And when you think about it, that served Jesus and his disciples, along with whoever may have joined Martha, and her siblings Mary and Lazarus, very well.

Nowadays it sometimes seems that people change jobs and interests almost as often as clothes. While older folks like me tend to stay with one thing, the younger folks are much more flexible, which in itself is not bad. But for both what can be missing is really becoming good at something, and I mean good in the sense of decades of experience.

But for us who have done basically the same thing for decades, often it’s in terms of the Industrial Revolution in which work was depersonalized in most difficult, even dangerous work, or simply doing one simple thing all day, and all of that for a paycheck from an employer which all too often saw the bottom line as the only thing that mattered. But people were more than happy to do the same thing day in and day out to get what might have been a relatively good paycheck and benefits especially during the heyday of the unions. Essentially gone were the times when people specialized in this or that. With mechanization on an assembly line, it could all be done exponentially faster. Jobs were plentiful in those spaces, so that the breadwinner, normally always male, would get their job, and stay in it. Not only accepting the boredom, but enduring what was rugged, rough, even dangerous work, if it deserves to be called work. And oftentimes probably not living as long as a result. Even though we now live in “the post-industrial age,” we can’t assume that manufacturing jobs are of the past. Worldwide they are present, and still the backbone of much of what is going on in the business sector. All that to say, I think we tend to not even appreciate the gift of individuals like Martha as people once did, and don’t forget that Jesus was a carpenter, and surely a master at it.

The point I want to make here is not: Be like Mary and not like Martha. It’s more complicated than that. Instead whatever we not only have to do, but get to do in life, we need to in everything be preoccupied with Jesus, and with Jesus’s teaching and vision he cast. That is what should be our main preoccupation, even as we continue on day after day with the occupations and responsibilities we have.

And this is to be our preoccupation every day. For some reason I can easily slack off on weekends, and let up in that. I think it’s because there’s an element of rest from the busy and often hard workweek, and a kick back and relax kind of mentality. And we need some of that, indeed regular rest, even a weekly sabbath of sorts. But somehow within all of that we need to purposefully keep our Lord and his teaching and vision before us. Not only to help us, but so that we can find where we fit in our Lord’s vision along with everyone else. In and through Jesus.

Jesus’s invitation

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

I don’t know about you, but I know about me. It’s quite easy for me to take the burden of the world on my shoulders, or mostly the burden of my own world, which of course like everyone else’s, is challenging in itself. Even when I manage to get some soul rest in God, it’s not long before something else becomes concerning, and disconcerting.

Jesus’s invitation is absolute, for everyone at all times in every circumstance. Of course it’s specific: To those who are working hard at carrying heavy burdens and weary. Maybe fearful that they can’t keep it up, or just accepting the inevitable, and plodding on. It is to those that Jesus’s appeal comes. Not to the complacent, or those who think they can handle life themselves.

It’s an invitation to a yoke, an easy one. Alongside Jesus who surely bears the brunt of it, but who teaches us to live as he lived on earth: in complete dependence on the Father, trusting and then knowing that God will take care of it.

Something we need to keep coming back to again and again. And better yet, learn to live in. In and through Jesus.

follow Christ by following those who follow Christ

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.

Philippians 3:17

Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:9

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

1 Corinthians 11:1

I’m not well convinced that just a steady diet of being in Scripture and prayer is the most important way to change. I’ve been pretty heavy in the Scripture part, and that’s helped. And I’ve prayed. But what really helps me is to find those people who are humbly following Christ, yes imitating him. And hopefully having their lives rub off on my own.

It’s interesting that so to speak that’s the way Christianity started. Jesus called twelve men to live with him, for him to be their Rabbi. It was not so much a matter of writing things down that Jesus said and did, but it was much more a matter of becoming like their Master. And that dynamic continues on. True spiritual leaders are not those who preach lights out or dazzle people somehow with this or that. No, it’s simply those who learned to follow and imitate Christ from others, so that others could learn to follow and imitate Christ through them. That can make the difference needed. By the Spirit in and through Jesus.

letting the truth sink in and settle

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:31-32

Then Jesus turned to the Jews who had claimed to believe in him. “If you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. Then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you.”

John 8:31-32; MSG

The heart of the Christian message is about relationship and truth. The two go together in a number of ways. By faith in Christ we begin to understand not just the truth about God, but God himself, or God’s self (since, strictly speaking, God is neither male nor female, while at the same time, male and female human beings are made in God’s image). But as Jesus I think was suggesting to those who had believed him, it’s not enough just to have the light turned on, and truth dawn on us. We need to let that sink in and settle to make the needed difference in our lives. We need to keep the truth from and of Jesus front and center, and make it central to how we live. Nothing less than that will do.

If we do that, then we’ll begin to experience the freedom God wants to give us, not only from sin, but for what is right, good, of God, and truly human. As disciples/followers of Jesus. In and through Jesus.

to follow Jesus, we must leave all else behind

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Matthew 4:18-22

It is striking here, how the first disciples Jesus called left everything to follow him. Notably that included James and John leaving their father in the boat by himself, to follow Jesus. They left everything, period. I’m not sure that means they could never fish again. It’s just that this would no longer be their occupation and preoccupation. They would now be following Jesus.

I found these words from James as rendered in The Message interesting in relationship to this:

If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open.

James 1:5-8; MSG

The idea of “keeping all your options open” doesn’t work when one would follow Christ. You must leave all else behind if you’re really to follow the Lord. Or else at best, you won’t be a good follower.

This is much easier said than done. The disciples got it right, at the beginning. They answered Jesus’s call immediately. But that doesn’t mean it was easy for them to stay on track. In a sense, once they started on this journey, there was a commitment and confirmation which went along with it. So it’s not like it was a snap of the fingers to get off that road, either.

Much later, when Peter was the established leader of the early church, we remember that he wasn’t true to the gospel, so was confronted by Paul. In that sense, he meandered from his following of Jesus. No one is immune to this.

I find this helpful in this for me:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
he’s the one who will keep you on track.

Proverbs 3:5-6; MSG

For me to follow Christ I have to turn my back on what comes oh so natural to me: not “letting go, and letting God.” Somehow thinking whatever depends on me. I want to simply follow on, following Jesus with others. In and through Jesus.

the salt of the earth, the light of the world, the city on a hill = true followers of Jesus

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:13-16

In context these words apply to disciples of Jesus, those who are following him. The key here is not some kind of spiritual experience, but simply the needed commitment and follow through.

What Jesus is referring to here is a different kind of people. Marked, indeed changed by their identity with and in him. They used to be called “Jesus people,” “people of the Book” secondary to that. This impacts everything. How they read the Bible. How they live from day to day in their families, and in their places of work. How they spend their time, their money. How they see the world and live in it. Recognized by their good works.

This is the people who alone are the “city* on a hill,” “the salt” and “light” that the world needs. All because of Jesus. But participants in this. In and through him.

*KJV

Jesus’s invitation to all (to be discipled)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

I really want to emphasize in this post that this is an invitation to us from Jesus. To all of us who are weary and tired, down and out. This is an invitation to us, open for us, but not forced on us. So the door is unlocked so to speak, but we have to open it. Or like in the image we read in the letter to the church in Laodicea, Jesus knocks on the door, but we have to open it.

This is an invitation to be with Jesus, and to be discipled, that is taught, mentored, directed by him, imbibing his tone, content, something of his very life.

In response we need to take the step and wait. Jesus will begin to take over, but we have to remain committed to this new relationship. It is one of following Jesus. And considering the yoke, doing what he is doing. In and through him.