scripture, application and experience

I think the genius of the teaching at the church we initially found to take our grandchildren, and now are a part of ourselves is its combination of scripture, emphasis on application, and getting right down to the nitty-gritty of life, where we live, our experience. And that certainly comes from the teaching gift of the senior pastor, who ably, I’m sure has mentored others, who have their own unique gifting from God in the teaching ministry of this church. And a great teaching ministry, by the way, to the children and young folks.

We really don’t need anything fancy nowadays, just a straight shot of God’s word. But when we receive that, we find not only an appeal to doctrine, but also to application and experience. The so-called Wesleyan Quadrilateral, gathered from John Wesley’s writings, but which Wesley himself would not have approved of, as has recently been brought to light by Methodist theologians: Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, kind of correlate to this thought. But scripture not only has primacy of place, but a place all by itself. Whatever role tradition, reason, and experience have is all under scripture. Which is why I believe in what our church is seeking to do in helping us grow as disciples of Christ to become more and more like him.

When we go to scripture, we don’t have to worry about drawing this out, if we take scripture itself seriously. Scripture will ably do that for us, if we pay serious attention to it. We just take it for what it is, going through it, letting it, really God’s word do it’s work. Nothing more, nothing less. All of this in and through Jesus.

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wannabe disciples

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.

Luke 9:23

Dallas Willard in his book, The Divine Conspiracy coined the phrase “bar code Christianity” to describe much of what he saw, the idea of people becoming Christian without becoming true and committed followers of Christ. It’s the thought of believing in Christ so that one’s eternal destiny is settled, but going on to live life as one chooses. Of course we know that one who really has committed their lives to God through Christ will experience the work of the Spirit to help them be satisfied with nothing less than following Christ. There’s truth in that, but at the same time we must beware of complacency which results in an inevitable drift and eventual falling away from the faith, if I read the book of Hebrews correctly.

Jesus made it clear that to be his disciple requires the same commitment to God and in life that he had. The exact same. And there was nothing halfway, except that we know the Lord accepts us just as we are, warts and all, with all our fallibility and predisposition to what is contrary to following him. His disciple Peter is a good example of such. And it’s not like this is something optional, only for those committed, let’s say to a monastic sort of existence. It’s for all, all who would name the name of Christ and be called Christian.

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

Luke 9:24-26

There’s no watering this down. At the same time, I see grace as helping us to fully embrace this call. And the distinction here is quite sharp. You either put all your eggs in one basket or another, living for one’s self, or living for Christ. Perhaps gaining much that the world holds dear, but in the end, losing one’s self. In other words, we find our true self, and our true lives in Christ as opposed to finding it in this world. And it’s an embrace of Christ and his teaching for how we live from day to day.

God’s one call to us in and through Jesus.

leaving superficial comfort behind

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn

“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Matthew 10:34-39

Unfortunately we live in a world that doesn’t welcome the comfort God gives in Jesus. Instead we want our own comfort and the comfort the world affords us. And it’s not comfortable to opt for God’s comfort in Jesus, because to have that comfort means no less than the way of the cross. And a different turn than what people ordinarily opt for.

I know this doesn’t make sense on a natural level. Jesus’s call then sounded just as radical as it does now. Many people followed for a time, but at a certain point when their expectations for comfort were not being met, they no longer followed. And that included many disciples as well, when Jesus lost them with words that didn’t match their expectations (John 6).

I really dislike leaving the comfort of just going with the flow on many things, sometimes on matters which in themselves seem trivial and technical. But I’ve lived long enough to know that “live and let live” is not good, either. It is best to bet one’s entire life on Jesus, then go with that flow. By faith let Jesus’s words, with their verdict hit us right where it hurts. So that we can get the only comfort that will last. And hopefully so others who also are naturally offended, will with us accept that offense, and follow the one who took the offense of the world on himself at the cross. So that all might along with us, believe and follow.

Jesus’s call to follow

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’[a] For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Matthew 9:9-13

Jesus calling Matthew, the tax collector is quite interesting on a number of levels. Tax collectors were despised, and especially those who as Jews worked for what was considered by many to be the enemy, the Roman government. They collected taxes which could be costly, especially to a poor family. And often added extra money, not required by the Romans, for themselves.

But Jesus, as he was prone to do, is willing to upset the apple cart, so often challenging the norms of Jewish religious life, actually by just doing what he did, while maintaining other customs such as teaching in the synagogues. Jesus walks right up to Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth, and tells Matthew to follow him.

It is a call, and Matthew answers the call by literally getting up, and following Jesus. Such a call was based on the premise that the one calling was a rabbi. A rabbi, or we often translate that, teacher, is actually more than a teacher, say in a classroom setting as we’re accustomed to today. They certainly taught, but their students were more than just students, just like they were more than teachers. Their students were to be followers, to follow their example and emulate or imitate their life.

The story that unfolds here is instructive in itself, the Jewish religious leaders reaction, and Jesus’s response to them, pointing them to scripture, and their failure to understand, much less practice what it says.

Matthew goes on to write the gospel account that bears his name, part of which is quoted above. He answered Christ’s call, and left all to follow. Tradition tells us he was among the early Christian martyrs.

To be a follower means to follow someone, and to the Jews in rabbinic tradition, that meant to do what they did, to become like them (see Lois Tverberg’s books and writings, which are most helpful along this line).

By the Spirit through the gospel that call continues today. We answer the call in the affirmative like Matthew did, or we fail to heed the call at all. A call to leave all behind and follow the one not only in what we do and don’t do, but in who we are, what we are becoming, our very mindset, heart, and life. To become like Jesus, in and through him.

the call to complete discipleship not only to those in ministry, but to us all in Jesus

In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Luke 14

We often think that only pastors or those in “full time Christian service” are called to be completely set apart for ministry (2 Timothy 2), while the rest of us will even necessarily be engaged in the affairs of this world.

But Jesus’s call to discipleship is to us all. We remember that Jesus himself was fully involved in the world he was raised up in. Doing carpentry or whatever kind of work it was (whatever the term actually means) up until the time of his call to ministry at around the age of thirty. But that time did not exempt him at all from complete devotion to his Father, which we have inklings of in the narrative before, when he was a twelve year old in the temple (Luke 2). The world system or aspects of it which are opposed to God (systemic evil) we must be completely opposed to. But the everyday matters which can occupy our lives, and so much of our time, we’re to be fully engaged in to the glory of God. And to do so as those who are followers of Christ by the Spirit.

This certainly involves so much as spilled out and spelled out in scripture. And only possible by God’s grace through the Spirit. Through God’s call we can overcome and follow fully. Even though along the way we will stumble, and we won’t do it perfectly. But we want to endeavor to get back up, keep going, and keep on following no matter what. Given to us, completely a gift in and through Jesus.

dependence on God

I am looking forward to reading this book: Becoming Dallas Willard: The Formation of a Philosopher, Teacher, and Christ Follower. We so often think life depends on us; in fact that is our default position to which we regularly go. Unless we’ve trained ourselves with the help of the Holy Spirit in God’s grace to learn dependence on God, so that we regularly practice that. Until it becomes more and more a part of who we are. This is what I think of when I think of Dallas Willard.

I have read at least three of his books, and heard him speak at a church, I think I remember shaking hands with him afterward, and on retrospect, given what I’ve heard of him and his life, I feel blessed. A humble, gifted man, who above all else practiced an utterly dependent life on God through Jesus, in the context of God’s will as given to us in scripture, and especially the New Testament.

Just the mere thought along with pondering it is a blessing to me. We need those who have gone before us and have practiced this. A true mentor in the faith knows what they’re talking about firsthand. Otherwise it’s completely empty, and will help no one.

That is my goal, relatively late both in my life, and Christian life. To learn utter dependence on God through Christ by the Holy Spirit. I guess I would say the most upfront goal, so to speak, the rest following out of that. Growth in compliance to the first and greatest commandment and the second like it: to love God with one’s whole being and doing, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, will arise out of this. Only by faith can we enter into the love that God is in Christ, experiencing that for ourselves, so that we can love others with that same love.

Of course there’s much too the Christian life: the church, continuing through trial including “the dark night of the soul,” etc., etc. What we have to learn to do is to trust God more and more. Which goes along with a passage God seemed to impress on me a few years back, Proverbs 3:5-6. In and through Jesus.

counting the cost

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

Luke 14:25-35

Jesus didn’t care about popularity, or even about being misunderstood, it seems. It’s not that Jesus didn’t want people to understand and follow. It’s simply that he knew better than to think that everyone would, in fact, just the opposite. He assumed most people would not (Luke 13:22-30; Matthew 7:13-14).

This passage fits into the “hard sayings of Jesus”. Hating loved ones, as well as one’s own life is not to be taken literally. It is a way of helping one understand just how supreme one’s allegiance to Jesus is to be. So that the disciple who does love their family, and in the proper sense their own life as well, does so out of their supreme devotion and allegiance to Jesus. And ironically to not love Jesus in that way would mean that one loves others and one’s self all the less. But when push comes to shove, there’s only one God and one Lord that we give our hearts completely to. And in so doing we find that there’s plenty of love to go around for everyone, even for, as Jesus taught us, our enemies.

We might as well face reality, because there’s no escape from it. Following Jesus in this world is not always going to be easy, and sometimes will end with the ultimate sacrifice. Indeed that was what Jesus was referring to in this passage, that whoever wants to follow him would have to take up their own cross, which meant one thing at that time: crucifixion. Jesus knew that only those who understood something of what they were getting into, would persevere. The call is stark here, but it is in the rest of scripture. We’re to have no other gods before God, and we’re to realize that the world in which we live is no friend of God’s. This is throughout all of scripture from almost the very beginning, to close to the very end.

Jesus calls us to count the cost. And to realize that unless we give up everything we have, we cannot be his disciple, which means his follower. It’s a matter of allegiance, as well as trust. It involves giving our all to the One who gave his all for us on the cross.

Jesus deserves all of this devotion because he is God. But also because he as God is completely human, one of us. So that he takes us with him on the one true way to life, through his death and resurrection. May we have God’s grace to follow, and keep following to the very end. In and through Jesus.