the best kind of teaching

There are gifted teachers who sometimes help us see things we’ve never seen before. Two of them who have influenced me in my lifetime are N. T. Wright and Scot McKnight.  Both have helped many. Interestingly, McKnight, who has been a professor for many years (as well as a scholar and writer) teaches in a way to challenge others to have to grapple with what he’s saying, and put it together for themselves. He doesn’t necessarily put everything together, but enough so that the listener can figure it out for themselves. He wants interactivity, might be the bottom line. I really hesitate to speak for someone else, but I think that’s part of what’s going on. McKnight’s books do present a coherent whole. But part of the best kind of teaching is to get the listener to work through it themselves, not simply give ready made answers, so that the listener just passively receives that. The goal is to make learners or disciples who in our way of putting it, will learn to think critically, to think for themselves, but at the same time know how along with others to begin to follow Christ, to be the church. Of course the anointing of the Spirit is present in Jesus to teach us as well (1 John 2) as we wrestle through what is being taught.

We have been taking our grandchildren to Ada Bible Church, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised just how much I have liked it, usually wanting to avoid mega churches. Their ministry to children, and their simple straightforward teaching of scripture, with an emphasis on application is most helpful. And what I think it gets the listener to do is learn to engage with the text in the same way as it’s being taught. Another example of the best kind of teaching.

The first from McKnight is more challenging, and especially important for an academic setting. But I’m sure McKnight engages in something of the same that Ada Bible Church does. It’s not like he doesn’t give answers, but it’s more like he’s drawing out students to work through it for themselves, so that they might not only find such answers, but come up with something fresh themselves. Ada Bible Church’s task as a church is in part to feed and take care of the Lord’s sheep. And a big part of that is to help us learn to help ourselves, of course while under and following the Good Shepherd.

Where I work, Our Daily Bread Ministries, I believe does something of the same in its worldwide ministry, which I have come to appreciate more and more.

All of this to help us come to faith, and grow up together toward full maturity in Christ.

 

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the value of difficulty

Many men owe the grandeur of their lives to tremendous difficulties.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

It is interesting how often some do well in life in spite of difficulties which could have easily put them on a different course. Probably with most of us it’s a mixture of the two. Because of stresses or problems we have faced, perhaps we have not done as well as we could have. But along with that, have found something we can excel in.

I think of community, and specifically the church. In China the church continues to grow by leaps and bounds, still under persecution. And the church in the southern hemisphere both in Africa and again in the east seems to be growing exponentially in number day after day. There’s something to be said for that as we see in the book of Acts. Of course we don’t just want growth in numbers, but in spiritual depth as well.

Meanwhile the church in the west is either dying, or just holding its own with some exceptions to the rule, but even those exceptions at the current time seeing declining growth. Could it be that like arguably Europe in the past, this is becoming a Laodicean age for the church in the northern hemisphere, rich and increased with goods and in need of nothing (Revelation 3)?

For faith to be real faith, one’s life must be on the line. Of course when people first come to faith in Christ, they are not necessarily going to see that implication that is present. But they will learn to see it over time. God by the Spirit will not let us off the hook. Of course one’s eternal life is taken care of. But all of life is to be included in our utter dependence on God. So that when we’re up against it through whatever difficulties we face we must learn to commit it all to God and press on ahead, regardless. Following Christ means doing so no matter what.

So today that is my stand. To push ahead in faith, and do the best I can regardless of what I face. And to do so, thanking God for his promises and provision for us along the way in everything in and through Jesus.

the true blessedness

[Jesus] said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5:2b-12

Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount explaining to his disciples and the crowd who really is blessed which was in marked contrast to the ideals held among the Jews and Gentiles(/Romans) at that time. Jesus begins to reveal both the counter-cultural aspect of God’s kingdom come in him, how it would run against the grain of the world, a hint to where he was going, what we might call the cross culture, which at that time was not only avoided, but even despised. Only the lowest of the low were nailed to crosses.

Of course, what we call the Beatitudes gets specific enough and is interesting.  According to the Collins Dictionary, beatitude means “perfect blessedness or happiness.” There has been debate on precisely how to translate the Koine Greek word transliterated makarios. What is meant is more than just happiness, but that is certainly a part of it. It would go much deeper though, than what the world often seems to mean by the word, happiness, which is often superficial at best, and deceptive at worst. It is definitely a blessing and resultant happiness that is again, in contrast to what the world holds dear. And yet often admired by the world, with the attempt to emulate such, which apart from Jesus cannot fulfill what Jesus is getting at, and cannot be Christian.

We do well to remain in them for a time, so that they can get into our mind, our heart, and out into our bones in how we live. It is definitely part of the lifelong ongoing process to which we’re called in this life, a kind of goal. But more apt, this is really a description of Jesus’s followers, those who are part of God’s kingdom come under the Savior and Lord, King Jesus.

This helps us to see what the Spirit is working in us, and what we’re to work out of that as believers and followers of Jesus. In and through him.

In Luke there is a parallel “Sermon on the Plain” (Luke 6:17-49), good to read along with the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

doing the hard thing

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

John 6:60

There are some things I want to put off, and other things that are just plain hard to do. I don’t think we have to look long in scripture at all to find the latter. The hard sayings of Jesus is not an empty slogan. And even in and through grace, it’s not always easy to put to death the insistent flesh which wants to have its way. We certainly cannot do that in our own strength, but only in God’s grace in Jesus by the Spirit. And this is not just something that happens at salvation. So that from then on, if it’s grace, it’s the easy and natural thing for us to do. It can become more and more that, but to even take that step of faith and do what we’re called to do can be oh so hard. It’s so much easier to stay in our comfort zone, better yet, stay in bed, so to speak, and not get up to face the music that is playing. Not to say that some bad stuff we’re not to pay attention to doesn’t come, because it surely does. Guilt trips and condemnation have nothing to do with doing the hard thing in grace. In fact the hard thing then will be to reject all such because of God’s loving provision for us in Jesus. And accept God’s love and acceptance in Jesus.

I am a procrastinator on hard things which have no deadline. If it’s part of my work for the day, then I won’t hesitate to do it, but if it’s just something which needs to be done with no deadline, chances are it won’t get done anytime soon. They say for some who are that way, there’s the fear of failure, or sense that they won’t do well. Sometimes it’s just out and out dread of what has to be done, preferring to delay that as long as possible. This nearly gets us into another subject away from something like keeping the hard teachings of Jesus, maybe into the wisdom genre like we find in Proverbs. And I’m sure we could draw some wisdom from there to help us in this.

Grace calls us to go on in Jesus, to believe and do what doesn’t come naturally for us to do, what we really can’t do, left on our own. We can through Christ. And we do well to prayerfully attend to the difficult tasks put in front of us. Along with the difficult things, we would rather put off. Of course we know the difference between what we could let go for another year, and for whatever reason, what we need to address now. May God help us to know the difference, and by grace do it, as imperfectly as we will. In and through Jesus.

 

back to work

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Paul’s words need to be seen in context (link takes you to 1 Corinthians 9 and 10). This was all for the gospel, which is all about reaching people. It means the good news, so that is Paul’s aim given his mission. And by extension it seems clearly that he is calling the entire Corinthian church to the same commitment, of course in their various callings, but this one call directing all of that.

It’s our mentality and attitude up front that is crucial, which is why we’re told that we’re not to be conformed to this world, but instead transformed by the renewing of our minds. Paul’s heart and mind were for Christ and the gospel, and involved in that is not only the message, but the medium for the message which must never contradict the message itself. Paul, and by extension we are that medium. Yes, not all of us are called to proclaim the good news like Paul was as the apostle to the Gentiles. But we are all called to be witnesses to it, which will involve both word and deed. Our lives must line up with what we say, otherwise our words will be empty.

It is utterly crucial for anyone in the ministry to take the hard discipline Paul exerts on himself to heart for themselves. When you read the passage in context (again, see link above) you will note that it’s about the gospel, and with reference to sexual immorality and idolatry. Money, power and sex, not necessarily in that order, have grounded many an aspiring person to follow Christ. Or perhaps it uncovered their true heart. At any rate, we are told in this passage that we all must be careful, and beware lest we fall into the same trap (1 Corinthians 10:1-13).

Yes, we are present to work, to roll up our sleeves and be in God’s work by his grace in Jesus. Whatever form that work might take. What God has put in front of us, what we can do and find joy in doing in that work, we must give ourselves to fully. Rest is good, and must be incorporated along the way. But the work is what we’re called to, and what we must not let go of. And that requires a commitment and the discipline that goes with that. All for the gospel in and through Jesus.

whatever else, “Follow me”

Then [Jesus] said to [Peter], “Follow me!”

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

John 21:19b-22

On the eve of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation when Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the door of the (Catholic) church in Wittenberg, there is some fanfare, and much thought given to what the Reformation means for us today. There is no question as to its impact on both the church and society in the west, and really from that, throughout the world.

I am interested, yet wary and weary over the entire thing. I’m glad there are younger people, and those set apart in their study to pursue these questions. They certainly have relevance for our time and beyond. And it’s not like I’m going to tune out completely.

But like Peter, I think we do well to hear our Lord’s call to us, regardless of what else goes on around us, or what others are doing. We need to hear that call and be faithful to it. Certainly not apart from the church, but as a part of it, which is an important aspect of what following Jesus involves.

A call to follow Jesus. In everything. By God’s grace in and through him.

Paul’s witness in trouble and weakness

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

2 Corinthians 4:7-12

We live in a society, in a world which is indeed allergic to trouble, as well as death. The American Dream isn’t directly about a trouble free existence, but for many, at least having all of our troubles taken care of by our own ingenuity and strength.

Enter Paul. Paul’s world was about following Christ, others following him as he followed Christ, living in Christ, living for the gospel. It didn’t exclude what is considered the mundane matters of life, in his case, tent making. Paul’s passion was Christ and the gospel. And his own witness was to let the gospel become evident in large part through his life, and specifically in his weakness. No, we’re not referring to sin here, but to his mortality and the inherent weakness of his body.

2 Corinthians is a beautiful book laying all of this out, a great read from start to finish.

Paul’s passion in and through Jesus ought to be ours. Yes, we are all weak in ourselves, but that’s exactly where Christ’s strength comes through. And we are broken, cracked jars of clay, as it were, but through that comes Christ’s light. So that we should never give in to despair, or the lie that somehow we’re not succeeding because life’s circumstances are at best difficult. We should see all of life as a window of opportunity for the light of the gospel, the good news in Jesus to shine even through us, through our brokenness.

When we have it all together, we’re on our own. But when we’re broken, in great need, and living on the edge of what seems to be death, if we’re seeking to live in and for the gospel in the midst of that, then Christ’s life will become evident even in us, in our lives. In and through him.