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.

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what is the prevailing voice in our lives?

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

John 10:27

Jesus was talking to the Pharisees who saw themselves as the guardians of God’s tradition given to Moses, considered the same by a majority of Jews then. So people who listened to them may have been very well quite religious and faithful to the tradition they were brought up in. But according to Jesus that wasn’t enough. Of course Jesus was present and God had been on the move in a way in which the faith tradition had not anticipated or was prepared for.

But to us today: What are the prevailing voices in our lives? Or the prevailing voice? Often it’s our own voice in tune with voices of the past, often disparaging, and giving us a voice which is anything but helpful most of the time. We never measure up, and at least some of the time are worse than that. And then there are the voices in the world. Today in a near scream, certainly in rage, and it seems with ample justification at times, even if the rage itself is not good.

This gets to the heart of what I hope is a new revolution in my own life: the simple discipline, if you may, of practicing seeking to hear the Lord’s voice. Through the word, particularly while reading the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). With a sense of hearing the Lord’s voice. And with a focus set on listening for the Lord’s voice, so that my focus is not on my own voice and thoughts, nor on someone else’s.

I have found this particularly edifying the last few days. Like so many things that may seem to be revolutionary and helpful, they all tend to fade away in time, maybe leaving some kind of impact on one, but lost and gone. But this “discipline” might last as long as I can keep up the practice by God’s grace.

This can certainly help us to pray for others, to bring them to God’s throne because we’re living in response to the voice of the Lord, and not having our spiritual life drowned out by our own voice and many other voices.

But this does not shield us from struggles, pitfalls, and wrongdoing. But God’s grace is present always as we go back to this: listening to the voice of the Lord, the Good Shepherd who loves us, his sheep.

the sheep listen to and follow their shepherd

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

John 10:27

We should meditate on God’s word regularly, day and night (Psalm 1) which should lead us to meditate on our Lord, and as I’ve put it in the past, be in interactive relationship with him, in fellowship, communion, yes, person to person.

Christianity has been called a Book faith. And it is very much tied to scripture, to the Bible. But it doesn’t stop there. It is personal and interactive with the Three Person God, who in himself is personal. And a large part of what it means to be human seems to be relational, humans living together, and in the end, God living with humans (Revelation).

To be a Christian is to be a Christ one, “in Christ.” Christ in us, and we actually in him. God in Christ: the Father and the Spirit in the Son, and the Father and the Son in union by the Spirit. And us together in Christ, so that we exist in this holy communion together. And as we see in the passage above (click the link), Christ has other sheep, so that they are brought into this communion. And that would be part of our goal through prayer, to see others hear the Good Shepherd’s voice, and join us.

For prayer, and even for all of life this seems essential. Here is a good website to help us get started and grow in this way, called Soul Shepherding. So let’s be in the Book, but from that, also in interactive fellowship with Jesus. In and through him.

following the suffering Messiah

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Mark 8:27-38

We have to take the full Jesus as given to us in scripture, or else we risk having no Jesus at all. The Jesus given to us in scripture is no less than the suffering Messiah. What the Messiah was expected to do was triumph unscathed, definitely not suffer, as Peter makes clear. I think not only Peter’s concept of Messiah was threatened, but that probably Peter himself felt threatened, likely enveloped in fear.

God had given Peter the revelation that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. But then Jesus pointedly tells what the lot of the Messiah, his lot, is to be. One of rejection, suffering, and death, before rising from the dead. Jesus kept his Messiahship under wraps because people expected a conquering Messiah in the way of the world, likely with the sword. But instead it would be the way of the cross. Something unfathomable to everyone, no less to Jesus’s followers.

Peter took Jesus aside, and rebuked him, but then Jesus roundly rebuked Peter. And used the occasion to teach that their lives must be marked by what is to mark his life if they are indeed to be his followers, his disciples. And that it’s either or. You can’t have the world and Christ. You either lose your life for Christ and the gospel only to find your true life, or you end up gaining the world, but losing your life.

The issue is a question of identity. What defines us? What informs and out of that, forms our lives? For the Christian, it’s to be Christ. And not just any Christ or maybe something of the world’s, or even our own imagination. But the one revealed in scripture. And revealed to us by the Spirit. Peter knew by God’s revelation that Jesus was the Messiah. He had yet to understand the mission of the Messiah, how the Son of Man, a term for the Messiah, would fulfill scripture.

To follow Christ is to follow the way of the cross, as Paul says, to become like him in his death (Philippians 3:10). Something we’re to aspire to as Christians, given to us in and through Jesus.

a proper obsession

Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set my face like flint,
and I know I will not be put to shame.

Isaiah 50:7

Last evening in our church small group, my wife leading our book study from Francis Chan’s book, Crazy Love, the chapter on being obsessed, I was reminded of my current reading through the gospels. If you don’t call that an obsession, what Jesus was doing, and his disciples following him, learning to do the same, I don’t know what an obsession is. To be obsessed is to be intensely occupied with something. Jesus’s life was wrapped up in his Father, obedience to him, and in doing so, being a servant to all, even unto the death of the cross.

The quote from Isaiah above is from what is called the servant songs, fulfilled by Jesus. And the idea of setting his face like a flint is echoed in the gospels when Jesus set out to Jerusalem for the last time, knowing this visit would end in his crucifixion.

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.

Luke 9:51

That was the culmination of Jesus’s obsession. Just begin to read through the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and you’ll see that they’re marked by a singleness of vision and devotion to that. And in and through Jesus, we carry on that same life. We either follow Jesus in that way, or according to Jesus, we’re not following him at all. That’s the life to which we’re called by God in Jesus. The life we’re redeemed to in turn for the redemptive good of others. In and through Jesus.

 

when it comes to the election and politics, first things first

I am thankful to live in the United States, a nation which in spite of all its problems (and you can’t escape serious difficulties in this world) does allow people to worship as they please. There is no question that there are serious issues which very much engage the public. And to list them would not be hard for anyone who pays any attention at all to the news.

I think it’s fine for Christians to be involved in speaking out on political issues, and especially to participate in voting, if they so choose. But of first importance always is to be faithful to the gospel, both in one’s personal life, and out from that, into the lives of others. Jesus called his disciples to make more disciples of all nations to the end of the age, with the promise of his presence. That is our calling, regardless of what happens in the political world.

I think it’s essential for Christians to take care in the political choices they make, particularly when it comes to alliances with any party or candidate. In a sense we should be for all the parties and candidates, and those in office, because we wish for the good of all, and for the good of the nation in which we live. Even when we stand in opposition to them on certain issues.

Regardless of what happens in the upcoming election, and elections elsewhere in the world, Christ is the one who reigns, and God is sovereign over all. Christians where they can, can express their views, but we must get back to first things first. It is the gospel, the good news in Christ which is the power of salvation for all who believe. And we are to be disciples of our Lord, following him in all of life. Everything else is secondary to that.

We must beware of getting caught up into the political wind to the extent that it marks what we are all about, our identity, either in supporting or opposing this or that. I’m referring to Christians in general, not to those who are actually in the process as candidates themselves.

Following Christ as believers and as the church might well involve some public stands. But I wonder if it might be different if we avoid following either the conservative or progressive line. We can and probably should consider what people are saying from every angle. That is important, since as people of God it is good for us to understand our times, if we’re to know what to do (1 Chronicles 12:32). But what we do, including what we say and don’t say, how we act should all be dependent on one thing only: Christ, and God’s will in him, or the truth as it is in Jesus.

Let’s not lose the sense of who we are because of the strong opinions which we or others hold. We will be concerned about the unborn, immigrants, the environment, and other matters, and will have our views. What must not be lost in the shuffle is how first and foremost, beyond anything else, we are disciples of Christ, servants of the gospel. Our lives marked by that, come what may.

their hearts right, their heads wrong

Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me,  for it is written:

“‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.

Matthew 26:31-35

Peter’s heart was entirely right, but his head was entirely wrong. And the other disciples with him. Jesus had already made them clean through the word (John 13), I take it meaning regeneration, new birth. But little did they know or understand either Jesus’s words, or what was happening before them right at that time, the momentous event, and the shaking and sifting, along with the tragedy.

Earlier we remember that Peter had roundly rebuked the Lord for saying that he would have to die on a cross, that such a thing would never happen to the Messiah. The Lord summarily dismissed that, and made it plain that not only would he be taking that route, but that all who really follow him would as well.

Peter still had it in his head that there was a place for the sword. He is the one who cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant. Jesus ends up healing that ear, and makes it plain that all who draw the sword will die by it. And that he had come for this, that the prophecies of scripture were being fulfilled (big in Matthew).

This can be so much like us. Yes, the Spirit in Pentecostal fullness had yet to come. That would make a big difference. But everything had to unfold before them, Jesus’s resurrection, and post-resurrection appearances, and his ascension. Yes, we have the benefit of this now, both in hindsight, and the Spirit’s ministry to us today. But we too can easily not begin to understand what we’ve gotten ourselves into. As Jesus told Peter, along with James and John at the Garden of Gethsemane, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

So our hearts can be right. But are we being changed by the renewing of our minds, so as to know God’s will, and not be conformed to the world (Romans 12:1-2)? That’s the question.